Those two words pretty much sum up my weekend Ciabatta attempt in the latest installment of the BBA Challenge.
I was excited enough about the recipe, with its wet and sticky dough to sink my fingers into and the adventure ahead as I tried to transform my ’50s gas transplant into a hearth oven as part of the quest for the perfect Ciabatta.
Similar to the Artos celebration bread, Ciabatta-making begins with a Poolish or a Biga pre-ferment that is made a day ahead. With a busy schedule, I left my poolish to ferment overnight in the refrigerator, which worked out just fine for the yeast as it gave them more time to develop their yeasty flavors. Reinhart’s recipe allows for the use of water, milk or olive oil, with the latter ingredients producing a softer, more tender version than a water-only concoction. I opted to go along with the milk and the resulting crumb was indeed a tad softer than what I recalled Ciabatta to be.
So I mixed together the flour (all three cups of it), salt, yeast and the poolish, adding the six tablespoons of milk called for in the recipe. With my trusty dough whisk (and a somewhat reluctant arm), I worked tirelessly to incorporate all the ingredients into a sticky ball, continually adding more milk until I reached the 3/4 cup limit as specified in the recipe. At that stage, the dough appeared sticky enough, having cleared the sides of the bowl while still clinging onto the bottom. After a 30 minutes’ rest, I began working the dough using the stretch and fold method to strengthen the gluten and, when done correctly, produces the large holes that this bread is famous for. As you can see from the pictures, the holes in this Ciabatta attempt were rather stunted coy, preferring to live harmoniously with each other rather than encroaching on their neighbors’ real estate.
Although the bread tasted pretty good, I must say that the smattering of holes that greeted me was a little underwhelming.
Based on the experiences of other bakers in the Challenge, I now know that the key to a holey Ciabatta is in ensuring that your dough is sufficiently hydrated. A wet dough holds together far better during the stretch and fold process, allowing the gluten to strengthen and fully develop and in turn produces those lovely holes that make each Ciabatta slice look like the yeast counterpart to Swiss Cheese. The dough that I worked with tore apart around the edges when I attempted to stretch it to twice its size, making it difficult to reap the full benefits of this kneading method in the final loaves.
Yawning gaps or no, the Ciabatta made delicious book-ends for this herbalicious Chicken Mayo that I comforted myself with.
The Perfect Chicken Mayo For Ciabatta
Serves 2, with some leftovers
For the Mayo:
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded into thin slices
1 green onion, finely chopped
A handful of fresh thyme leaves (about 1-2 sprigs)
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
A drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 slices of tomato
2 sprigs of parsley
In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, green onions, thyme and mayonnaise until you get a smooth paste. The mayonnaise should fully envelope each shred of meat and the green onions should be well-dispersed throughout the mixture.
Add the vinegar, mix, then drizzle some olive oil to get a spreadable consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
To serve, spread a dollop of good mustard on some freshly toasted Ciabatta, top with a slice of tomato, then add the mayo and a sprig of parsley per sandwich. Bite and enjoy.
Next up: Cinnamon Rolls!!! But check out these Ciabatta adventures before you go: