Small mise-en-place for the home artisan baker
I've got a couple of books on artisan baking, and recipes are a snap to find - even better, formulas are easy to find. I converted all my baking (and a lot of my cooking recipes) to formulas starting about three years back. One thing I notice about a lot of the artisan formulas is the large amounts of flour they call for - 6-800g being the norm.
I'm more of a fresh loaf kind of guy - I needed to downsize. So I did some casting around and found a little hand mixer - the Cuisinart HM-50 - on-line for under $50, and a pair of Cuisinart dough hooks to go with it for another $8. I've never been an electric mixer user, but I have to say that this little combo is great. No way am I going to clean up after myself if using my wife's Cuisinart 5q - it's overkill on tiny loaves.
If you're like me you'd rather bake a single 200g loaf each day than eat three days of frozen loaves from an 800g outing. The dough hooks for this little mixer are the spiral variety (Ciril Hitz likes spiral). The low speed is plenty low enough for even these small loaves, especially if you're using preferment. So you can ignore the average review that says slow speed is too fast - not too fast for bread. And the mixer has plenty of power for my small loaves.
So my "new standard" ciabatta:
For the preferment:
100g KA Sir Lancelot (50%)
100g water (50%)
Mix by hand, place in a snap-lid plastic container overnight. Hefty makes a great series of little snap-lid containers in various shapes. You get them in the grocery store.
For the dough:
100g KASL (50%)
66g water (33%)
3g salt (1.5%)
Mix on low speed for about 6 minutes, finish on speed 2 for 3 additional minutes. I've found that with the high hydration rate in ciabatta, good gluten development at the mixing stage is the best way to go.
I usually do 3-4 stretch-and-folds per Ciril Hitz, then simple shaping, being sure to turn the loaf over before it goes into the oven. I've also found that drenching the loaf with a spray bottle works better than any of the steaming techniques I've come across.
I can bake these little 200g loaves in the countertop convection oven in my basement kitchen. I heat the pizza stone on a burner instead of in the oven to get the "spring" I need when the bread goes into the oven.
That little Cuisinart mixer is a snap to clean up - the dough hooks pop out and soak clean in no time. Like I said, a nice setup for us "small-time" bakers -