BBA Challenge Week #7: Ciabatta

Success! Holey Ciabatta!

For the “officially-scheduled” Ciabatta week for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge (I just squeaked in under the wire by making this yesterday!), I decided to go with the mushroom variation. I’d actually already made the regular Ciabatta recipe during the Artos week because Artos required the same poolish starter but didn’t use it all, and I didn’t want to waste the leftover. Considering that was what, week 2 of this bread journey? It’s no wonder the holes in my first try left a lot to be desired! There’s no comparing this:


Wouldn’t you agree? Read on to see what I changed!

For the Mushroom Ciabatta, first you prep your mushrooms (duh) of which you have some dried:

And some fresh:

While we’re on the topic of mushrooms, I just have to complain for a minute: Why oh why are there no volume or weight measurements for the dried mushrooms in this recipe!?!?! Everything else in this book is so specific that I couldn’t believe there was nothing at all about how much dried mushroom to use. The description “5 mushrooms” really doesn’t cut it when it comes to a standard measurement, don’t you think? I ended up using about 5/8 oz of dried mushrooms for mine, in case you want some sort of number to work from . . .

Anyway, you prep the dried mushrooms by soaking them in a bit of water:

And the fresh mushrooms by sauteing them with some oil and garlic:

The mushrooms will release lots of liquid, which you drain out into the dried mushroom mixture and save to use as the “water” in the recipe.

Now comes the part where I changed things from Try #1 to Try #2. I made two big changes:

  1. Used more water than called for
  2. Used AP flour for all the flour except the flour in the poolish.

I made these two changes after reading some discussions online and in the BBA group about other Ciabatta recipes that yielded bigger holes. If you read the sidebar in the book, it says that you can experiment by adding more water and tells you that “more is better” when it comes to water in this recipe, so I decided to use all the liquid that came out of the mushrooms. First I mixed up all the non-mushroom ingredients, then I dumped the mushrooms with all their liquid right on top:

And mixed it up until it looked like this:

I tried mixing this with the spoon but quickly found that it wasn’t working right, there were unmixed sections rolling around between chunks of mushroom and dry bits of flour. I ended up having to stick my hands in there and mix it up by hand, that way I was able to feel the unmixed parts and break them up with my fingers. As you can see, the dough was VERY wet. If you decide to mix by hand when you do this recipe, I have a killer cleanup tip for you which I picked up from the Baker’s Banter blog (King Arthur Flour): To get the wet dough off your hands, stick your hand into the bag of flour so that dry flour sticks, then rub your hands together over the trash can. Bits of dough will fall right off your fingers!

Oh, and my own tip for working with very-wet dough: Scrape as much of it as possible off the bowls before washing them! Trust me you do not want to see what a sink pipe clogged with dough looks like . . . don’t say I didn’t warn you!

As I was saying, the mushroom version was a very wet dough. Compare what it looked like after one “folding”:

With what the first ciabatta looked like at the same point:

No comparison! The mushroom one was a big blob and you could hardly tell which part was folded over the other. I think it’s possible that I went overboard on the hydration with the mushroom ciabatta, but the other one was clearly under-hydrated.

When it finished fermenting, the blob had grown so big that it spilled right off the counter onto the floor (no pictures of that, I have to draw the line somewhere!). It grew so much!

Compare how it looked set up on my brand-new couche:

To how the first try looked set up on a lowly kitchen towel:

Again, no comparison! The Mushroom Ciabatta dough was so wet that I was afraid I’d never get it off the couche. I ended up lining the couche with plastic wrap (covered with flour) before putting the bread on, just in case. The other one? Wasn’t even wet enough to hide the left-to-right folds that shaped the loaves!

I actually ended up adding a sheet of parchment paper under the loaves on the couche because I realized there was no way I was going to be able to transfer the bread from the counter to the stone without a sheet of paper to use as a peel. I just rolled each loaf onto its side using the plastic wrap, then slid the paper underneath and rolled the loaf back to its original spot, with the couche wall in between the two:

This proved crucial as dealing with a 500-degree oven is quite intimidating! You do not want to be messing around putting the bread into the oven, trust me!

I followed the instructions to make a steam oven using a pan with hot water and spraying the sides of the oven with water, but it was very nerve-wracking (just as much as it was the first time, actually). In the future I may try making one loaf without steam and one with to see if I notice the difference, I’m sure there is a good reason why this is called for but I’m not sure it’s worth doing for me personally. Too much room-for-error for my klutzy self, I could end up with a serious burn and/or a broken oven door!

When the loaves came out of the oven, I thought they might just be winners:

Compare how good they look vs. the last attempt:

Not actually ugly, but doesn’t look like ciabatta!

And the proof was in the crumb! The mushroom version was moist inside (perhaps too much? I can’t be sure) with nice big holes. The crust was crusty but not too hard to slice through. On the first attempt, each loaf was block-hard and it took a lot of effort to slice into the bread. I think it’s possible that I over-cooked the first one and slightly under-cooked the second, and in my opionion under-cooking is the way to go for this recipe! Interestingly enough, we thought that both needed more salt.The mushroom flavor was spot-on though!

Next time I make this I’m going for the onion version and will keep the other mods the same . . . or an olive version might be really good, too . . .

Want to join us in the BBA Challenge? Get yourself a copy of Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the incredibly comprehensive how-to-book for bread, and play along! Full details on the challenge are here.

9 thoughts on “BBA Challenge Week #7: Ciabatta”

  1. Very very nice with nice big holes. Unfortunately, my ciabatta came out like your first try, all dry. I knew something was wrong. I am dreading doing my Ciabatta write-up…

  2. Just from my novice experience, the steam bath makes a world of difference in making bread cuttable when you take it out of the oven. I have made bread with and without, and without fail it’s super crunchy without the bath. Of course, every oven is different, that’s just my experience :)

    My ciabatta came out very similar to your original one, with a bit more holes to it. Definitely not the best ciabatta, but then I was feeling a bit burnt out on bread anyways so I’m ready for a bit of a change in pace. Looking forward to the cinnamon buns, even though they’re dreadfully unhealthy :)

    As always, beautiful pictures and absolutely delightful reading.

  3. Beautiful ciabatta! Like you, I had to do this twice. I have an improvement on the 2nd try, but not nearly as nice as yours! Thanks for the tips on the hydration. I think that wetter IS better and gentle handling of the dough (parchment DOES help!) are keys to making a successful ciabatta.

  4. Great post! And thanks for doing the comparison between the two methods. Seems the wetter the better in this recipe. Congrats on those beautiful holes!

  5. I made both the poolish and biga versions, and I guess both were underhydrated. I was going to give up and move on to the cinnamon buns. but after seeing yours, I kinda want to try a third time with more water.

  6. The bread looks great but what brought me here was this comment, “Trust me you do not want to see what a sink pipe clogged with dough looks like.” Unfortunately, I do know, right now … the kids did the dishes after fish&chips and washed a good deal of extra batter down the drain. Clogged solid. Is there something safe that could eat the dough out of the way? You sound experienced; how did you fix it?

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