Last week I finished bread #7 in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. The bread was ciabatta and while I was excited to try it, I admit that I was a bit nervous. Lots of BBA Challenge members finished their ciabatta before me, so I knew that the bread wasn’t turning out perfectly for many people. Everyone seemed to be saying the same thing: great flavor, but not enough holes!
In addition to its signature flat and rectangular shape, ciabatta is known for its open crumb with lots of big, shiny holes. And I’ve learned over the years while trying to perfect my own loaves of sourdough, the open crumb with big shiny holes is much harder to achieve than a great flavor!
Peter Reinhart offers many variations for his Ciabatta formula. We had the option of using either a Poolish or Biga for the pre-ferment — the main difference being the amount of water added to the flour and yeast during the pre-ferment stage. A note in the sidebar mentions the option of enriching the dough with olive oil, milk or buttermilk, for a softer, more tender loaf. And he also gives directions for Wild Mushroom Focaccia, Ciabatta with Cheese, and Caramelized Onion and Herb Ciabatta! But even with all those choices and variations available, I decided to stick to original formula using only flour, salt, yeast and water. Continue reading →