June 7, 2011


Then there was ciabatta, another indirect fermentation dough with a starter called biga, made the day before with 3 lb 4 oz bread flour, 26.5 oz water, and a big pinch of instant dry yeast.

The dough itself consisted of 6 lb 11.5 oz bread flour, 0.5 oz instant dry yeast, 90.5 oz water, 4 oz of salt (which I usually dissolved in the water first for even distribution), and 4 lb 14.5 oz of biga. All of this was mixed on low speed for 4 minutes and medium speed for 1 minute, then put into a box for fermentation: 30 minutes, fold, 30 minutes, fold, 15 minutes, done. (The fold for ciabatta is different than other doughs though - instead of folding the corners in and turning over, the dough is folded in half, then half again, then turned over.)

pulling dough

Ciabatta is the most watery of all the doughs, which results in it having the largest and most irregular holes (caused by the water evaporating into steam as the bread bakes). This was why the workbench had to be intensely floured in order for the dough to be turned out - anything else and the dough would just stick to the bench. The shaping of ciabatta is actually more like the pulling of it, and the key is getting an even thickness throughout the pulled dough mass (the tendency is for the edges to be thinner than the middle).

portioning ciabatta

Once the dough mass is pulled to about 2 feet wide and 3.5 feet long, it gets to rest a little, and then we portion it out into 15 loaves.

ciabatta for proofing

Like the other doughs, the portions are transferred to couches and put in the proofer for about an hour. (Side note: somebody remarked that ciabatta dough looks like old lady skin. It is quite true.)

ciabatta loading

Then they're loaded into the oven. Again, given their relatively high moisture content, they're the most difficult to load - the transferring boards are floured to help.

ciabatta from the oven

Once baked, they are taken out with a hoe and put on racks to cool.

ciabatta mitt

One thing I forgot to mention is that much of the baked bread is sliced and served as an accompaniment to the cafeteria entrees. While slicing the ciabatta, I came to a piece at the end of a loaf that had almost no interior (due again to the water evaporating away). I decided it would make a good mitt/boxing glove.

bread basket

And here is an example of the assortment of breads we put out in the cafeteria!

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