Who has never been attracted to the smell of hot freshly baked bread? You will not be able to resist this ciabatta, an Italian bread staple.
Tips to make perfect bread
Bread is a simple, inexpensive, and universal pleasure but to bake a good bread, there are some basic rules that I would like to share with you before heading to Italy for the famous ciabatta.
First and foremost, you need to know about gluten, which is the basis for the formation of these bubbles that will make an airy dough and bread. In reality, few grains contain gluten, which is why you can’t make bread with only oatmeal or rice for example, as you would get flat galettes that would not rise.
Here are some valuable tips:
– Water should be warm, not too hot. 95 F is the ideal temperature. If the water is too hot, the dough will not rise nearly as much as hot water greatly reduces the effects of yeast. Cold water would have the same effect on yeast.
Pay attention to tap water! If it has too much chlorine, it can “kill” your yeast bacterias. If you don’t know about the quality of water in your area, then use filtered water or spring water.
– Not all flours are the same and they do not react the same with water. I recommend incorporating water gradually. Some flours absorb a lot, others not. If you always use the same flour brand, you will very quickly be able to know the right amount of water that should be incorporated for each of your recipes.
If a recipe calls for a specific amount of water, this amount may not be applicable exactly to the type of flour you use.
– So, what about flours?
The Europeans, and especially the French are very particular about their types of flour, and they have a whole system with various applications for each flour.
T45 white flour would be used for fine pastries, cakes, or puff pastry.
T55 white flour is used in white bread, pizza, pastry. This is what we would call “all purpose flour” in the United States.
T65 white flour is used to make rustic bread, or any other artisanal bread.
T80 is a semi-whole wheat flour commonly used in organic artisanal bakeries.
T110 is another semi-whole wheat flour that is often used to mix with white flour.
T130 is whole wheat flour.
T150 is a whole wheat flour used to make wheat bread.
In the United States, you will mostly find all purpose flour and sometimes unrefined bread flour, which is more applicable to the bread recipes we are sharing with you this month.
Feel free to try and mix plain flour with other flours such as rye, spelt, chestnut, or corn flour.
– Salt and yeast should not mix. Salt kills the yeast bacteria by absorbing the water it contains. I suggest incorporating the salt once the dough is formed and, of course, at the beginning of kneading so that it is well distributed and dissolved.
– The temperature of the room is very important. For a good rise, it should not be below 75 F, and more importantly away from drafts or air flow like A/C. I suggest to place the dough in an oven whose temperature is between 75 F and 85 F.
– For a crispy crust, it is necessary to have steam inside the oven. A ramekin with boiling water on your baking sheet will do.
– And finally, be positive and think that making homemade bread is easy! For this, you have to be in good spirit, be relaxed and put all your baker soul into it!
What is the origin of ciabatta?
I am taking you today to a family mill northeast of Italy, in Adria in the region of Veneto.
This bread has an unusual origin. Did you know that the famous ciabatta bread is the baby of Arnaldo Cavallari, a racing driver, winner of international competitions with Alfa Romeo, who in 1982 gave up racing for… the family mill?
What Cavallari was most concerned with was that most sandwich breads were imported raw from France to be baked in Italy. Yes, those Italians can be patriotic! This gentleman felt “offended”, especially because he also did not like the fact that additives and preservatives were used to preserve the dough during transport.
Cavallari then set up an experimental bakery near the family mill, and used several different flours to try its various methods.
In 1979, he studied all the fermentative qualities of a new type of flour, rich in gluten, and he developed his recipe. He often went to Lombardy to learn to produce various types of bread. During one of these tests, as he was invited by Antonio Marinoni, then president of the association of Italian bakers, he had the honor of meeting Professor Calvel, who was at the origin of the revival of French-style breadmaking. He suggested to him that, beyond using quality flour, a good bread should be worked by increasing the amount of water.
This is how ciabatta bread was born, a bread whose dough is very soft and very humid (70%), with plenty of water. Cavallari boasted of using only natural products that gave his ciabatta recipe a unique taste. It has been hailed as the bread that saved Italy, and shook the sandwich industry worldwide!
In Italian, ciabatta means “slipper” in connection with its flatter and more elongated, rectangular or oval shape. Arnaldo Cavallari called it ciabatta Polesano, Polesano being the city where he lived.
Today, ciabatta bread is a globally known bread used throughout Europe and the US as a sandwich bread. Also, there is a famous pressed sandwich that is prepared with a small ciabatta roll, which is almost as famous, if not more famous than ciabatta. It is called the panino or panini (plural)!
When ciabatta was born, Cavallari shouted loudly to everyone: “I am touching the sky, I am so happy that it is so good!”
Come on, let’s fly! Yes, because it’s so good that we could almost fly as we enjoy it hot!
- 8 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2¼ cups warm water (about 95 F)
Place the flour and yeast in the bowl of the food processor, and mix well. Make a well in the center and pour the olive oil.
Add water gradually as you are kneading. Then, incorporate the salt, and continue kneading until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until it no longer sticks.
Form a ball and cover with plastic wrap (a cloth would absorb some of the moisture and the bread would not be as soft), and let it rise for an hour in a warm place, away from drafts.
After one hour, fold the dough in 4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of about ¾ inch.
Fold the top of the dough down on a third, and fold the bottom of the dough up like a wallet.
Likewise, fold the left side to the center and the right over it.
Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise again an hour.
Place the dough on a baking sheet and spread with fingertips (not with a rolling pin) to a thickness of 3/4 inch.
Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for another hour.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Lightly flour the top of the dough and cut out breads: with a knife, cut rectangular shapes and place on the baking sheet. Place a container filled with boiling water in the oven, so that the bread does not dry out.
Bake the individual rolls for 15 minutes and the larger loaves for about 20 minutes. The crust must be golden. Check the color before taking the loaves out of the oven.