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Hand-mixed Ciabatta-My First Blog Entry

tothpianopeter's picture

Hand-mixed Ciabatta-My First Blog Entry

Hi everybody,

I joined TFL only a few months ago, this is my first blog entry. I am a musician by profession, baking is my hobby. Recently I have been obsessed with ciabattas. This is the last one I baked today. It was all hand mixed (I don't have a mixer), containing 80% biga. After reading Alan's blog entry about his fabulous results (see here), I needed to try it myself. However, I had to make a few changes to the formula due to the absence of a stand mixer. I reduced the yeast significantly to 0.14 percent, so the dough was allowed to have a longer fermentation and develop gluten through time. I like to experiment a lot in baking, so I thought I would raise the hydration up to 85% and see what happens. I didn't include oil because prefer 100% lean ciabattas. So, I ended up with this formula:

100% KA AP flour

80% prefermented flour in biga (60% hydration, fermented overnight with 0.06% IDY)

85% total water

2% salt

0.14% total IDY (including yeast in biga)

3-hour bulk fermentation, 2 stretch & folds during bulk at 45 and 90 minutes

1-hour final proof on couche

In order to incorporate the biga into the final dough by hand, I cut it up into small pieces with my bench knife. The incorporation took about five minutes of intense mixing. Then, I kneaded it for about 15 minutes using the Rubaud method. The result was a smooth dough, although it didn't demonstrate a lot of strength. But I hoped time and folds would develop the gluten further.

After the second fold, the dough felt much stronger than the beginning. It more than doubled in three hours.

By this experiment, I was surprised by two things. First, the dough moved surprisingly fast, given that I used only 0.14% instant dry yeast in the entire formula. My kitchen temperature was not crazy hot either, it was only around 74 degrees. Second, I wouldn't have thought that I could actually get away with 100% AP flour at 85% hydration, let alone the hand mixing! I know that King Arthur's All Purpose Flour is a high-end AP flour, but still. In retrospect, I think maybe keeping it down at 80% would have worked slightly better, as after the 1-hour final proof the dough felt kind of week and spread out a little, but I might have also overproofed it a little bit. Next time I might try it with only 80% water and maybe a slightly shorter final proof.

Any comments and suggestions will be appreciated!


alfanso's picture

During the Ciabatta CB someone - Ilya?, or maybe more than one person, baked ciabatta without he assist of a mechanical mixer.  Good results, but my money is on this being the best of the hand mixed lot.  These just look great.  It is really a fun bread to figure out and to get consistent results when baking, and it feels so satisfying to see the crumb looking so, er, ciabatta-like!

I've also made these without the oil, as a levain and also with some fine results.  The oil adds some silkiness to the feel of the dough and perhaps a softer crumb. 

IDY.  The Bouabsa Baguette uses an insanely low percentage of IDY in a straight dough formula, and after a single BF hour, with sets of letter folds ever 20 minutes, the amount of growth in the dough is astounding.  Ain't baking fun?

I've mentioned this probably a dozen times or more on TFL, but taking on someone else's formula and changing even one thing - and it becomes your own.  And that's a great thing about a skill like baking.

Congratulations on a fine fine bake.


tothpianopeter's picture

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Baking is so much fun, indeed. I love to experiment, like changing just one component of a formula and see what happens. 

I still want to improve this further. My goal is to achieve more evenly distributed large holes. I may try to reduce the hydration a bit, maybe to 80%. I also had the feeling that the dough might have gone slightly too far in the fermentation. When putting it in the oven, it felt very fragile. Also, I didn't do much shaping, just folded the dough over onto itself.

Regarding the community bake, I was one of the persons who posted a hand-mixed ciabatta :)

I might try to add a little olive oil next time, maybe the standard 3% or so. While I enjoy lean ciabattas the most, they are best when they are fresh, they go stale rather quickly. With a little oil, I may be able to extend their shelf life a bit.

Benito's picture

Wonderful wonderful wonderful ciabatta with biga.  Great first blog post, well done Peter.  I still haven’t succeeded with ciabattas after having two disasters.  I keep saying that I need to try again, seeing your bake is motivating me to do so.


tothpianopeter's picture

Thanks so much. Talking about ciabatta disasters, I had quite a few myself, like totally flat and dense loaves coming out of the oven with no oven spring at all. I can't speak for formulas that include stand mixers because I don't have one, but as far as hand-mixed ciabatta goes, what I have learned from all my successes and failures is that because of the more gentle nature of hand mixing, more time is necessary for the dough to develop the gluten through time and folds. I think it is quite impossible to fully develop the gluten in a ciabatta dough by hand right at the outset, before bulk fermentation. A mixer can do that. I tried it today by hand, and gave up after 15 minutes of kneading. But then the dough developed the gluten almost by itself through time, with the help of just a couple of folds. I am sure you will succeed! Let us know how it goes!