La Ciabatta – What is it? Slippers or Bread
La Ciabatta, many fast food franchises are trying to capitalize on the tendency to return to wholesome foods by giving their industrial, preservative filled, saturated fat abundant, foods an Italian name. One of the most recent is the Ciabatta. Then they show this sandwich with enough calories to feed a refugee camp for a week on a square piece of bread and call it a Ciabatta. Either they are showing their ignorance or great contempt for the American mass market consumer.
A Ciabatta is a slipper, worn in the house. Every Italian wears slippers in the house and should some poor unsuspecting foreigner not wear slippers they will quickly be told of stories of arthritis, rheumatism, colds, back pain and numerous other illnesses that will overcome the person so unwise as to not wear their Ciabatta. This is because Italian floors are made of stone, usually marble or granite. The stone remains at the earth’s temperature, about 48 degrees, even when the house is heated. The feet transfer heat very quickly resulting is a lower body temperature thus the illnesses.
As with most things that have been around for a long time many breads have taken the name of the things they look like. This is true with the Ciabatta bread. So unless your feet have been amputated or have a serious defect a Ciabatta will never be square and just as you would not wear a pair of shoes with a hump in the middle the Ciabatta will be flat. The very form of the Ciabatta makes it perfect for panini. An Italian would not eat some meat or cheese directly out of the refrigerator instead he would allow it to come to room temperature and usually would heat the panino on the grill, pressing down hard to make sure the heat transferred and the meat would be warm and the cheese start to melt.
2 cups (500gr.) Biga
1 package (7 gr.) Active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups warm water
¼ cup milk (room temperature)
3 ¾ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Stir in the yeast and allow to activate for about 10 minutes until the yeast water mixture creates a nice foam on top.
Mix the salt into the dry flour.
Place the biga in a mixing bowl. Pour the water-yeast into the biga and stir together. Pour the flour into the biga mixture and start mixing. While mixing, add the milk and the olive oil. Mix until the dough separates from the sides of the bowl. If, after 2 minutes, the dough has not separated from the bowl add ¼ cup flour.
Knead by hand for about 7 minutes. The dough will show signs of breaking down. Place the dough on a floured hard surface and throw it hard against the surface several times. This will create gluten. Roll into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise for 1 hour. It will rise about 1 ½ times the original size if the biga is good.
Place dough on a floured surface. Cut into eight pieces. Roll each piece into a log with your hands. Turn 90 degrees and roll again into a log. Each log will be just smaller than your fist. Roll back and forth to elongate the log until it is about 6-8 inches long. Let it sit. Many bakers will tell you to stretch the dough to flatten it but the Italian bakers I watched making the Ciabatta would let it sit for about ½ hour. Let the dough rise for about 1 ½ hour then flatten gingerly with your hands. It should become as wide as your hand and 7-8 inches long and ¾ inch high. While flattening be sure to push the dough from the center to the edges otherwise it will rise in the middle defeating the purpose of the Ciabatta.
Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise for 25 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425. Just before baking push down lightly on the bread with your fingers. If you have a spray bottle spray the bread with a bit of water. Bake for 23-25 minutes. Again if you have a spray bottle, spray the bread several times in the first 10 minutes of baking. This will allow the bread to rise before the crust is formed.
Allow to cool for 20-25 minutes.
Tags: Ciabatta Bread Italian Bread Italian Recipes Food and Wine Travel Italy