Tricks of the Trade: June 2012

Mario Fortin
May 29, 2012
Written by
Ciabatta is a wonderful bread that was born in Lombardy, in northern Italy. Today, this bread has became almost as popular as the French baguette. Ciabatta is a bread with thousands of possibilities. Its homemade artisan appearance is original and does not pass unnoticed around the world.

bread  
The moisture content of ciabatta has to be between 75 and 80 per cent to give it a honeycombed crumb.
 
In Italian, Ciabatta means “slipper.” In Italy, we make it in all the sizes because the bread is sold by weight rather than by unit. Here, our market is different and breads are presented in identical formats according to the weight in order to create a standard price.

Ciabatta is not only wonderful on the outside. Inside, this bread stands out with its magnificently honeycombed crumb. One of the secrets of the success of ciabatta is its moisture content, which has to be between 75 and 80 per cent based on the weight of flour.
The original composition of Italian ciabatta is: wheat flour (usually not cleared), rye flour, water, yeast or (pre-ferment), salt, malt flour and sometimes a dough improver. The olive oil is added only to work the dough, which will be rather smooth and sticky. It is for that reason that it is best to use a plastic bowl coated with olive oil to deposit the dough for the first bulk fermentation.

In Europe, bread is bought not only every day but often at every meal. Here, some people add olive oil to the dough because we look for the longer shelf life needed because of the distribution chains. The oil is not necessary but it will help to prolong the life expectancy and will improve a little of the softness and taste.

Here are guidelines for making ciabatta. After the first bulk fermentation, pour the dough on an abundantly floured surface. From there you will cut breads in pieces of your desired thickness and deposit them on a cloth or pan according to the type of oven used. Ciabatta appears in several formats but the most popular are the individual portion (60 to 100 grams) or the big size of 200 to 300 grams. Some make it into a stretched out shape and call it a “ciabatta baguette,” which is not shaped but only stretched. Industrial bakeries use an automatic stress-free line to cut the dough, preventing shrinkage.

After the final fermentation, you will have to turn over the dough rolls by stretching them a little just before they are put into the oven. When dough rolls ferment, the face of the bottom is wetter than the top. That is why you turn them, so that the crust is very crunchy even if it is floured. We also stretch dough rolls to prevent ciabatta from having too much volume. This makes ciabatta part of the flat breads family.

Several methods of production exist. The pre-ferments used to make Ciabatta are BIGA, poolisch, rye sour and natural sour, or levain, with varying fermentation times of 12, 16 or 24 hours before being added to the dough. The pre-ferments bring a more acid taste and flavour of fermentation. They also allow for the use of less yeast. The method of fermenting dough with a higher level of yeast will result in more of a yeast taste than the fermentation aroma.

The only way to make ciabatta at home is to mix the dough by hand, because bread making machines do not run fast enough. The flour absorbs so much water that it will make the dough difficult to get out. If we cut the water to have solid dough, it will not be ciabatta anymore, because water is the characteristic that marks this bread. The resting time brings the body to the dough.

Here are some definitions to demystify the differences between ciabatta, foccacia, fougasse and rustic bread, etc.

Ciabatta dough can be used to make foccacia, fougasse and rustic breads, especially if we have already added the olive oil. We often find the same ingredients in the composition of these breads. Ciabatta can be used to make a sandwich, or individually shaped and formed into a baguette. Foccacia is round or oval shaped, flattened and garnished with olive oil and vegetables on its surface before baking. We serve it warmed as an hors d’oeuvre, whereas the fougasse is characterized by holes with vegetables mixed into the dough. Some consider ciabatta a rustic bread because of the flour, which gives it a rustic look.

The name ciabatta has become so popular that today we use the name with profusion to associate very honeycombed bread of different flavours:
  • ciabatta bread rolls
  • ciabatta made with olive oil
  • ciabatta with black or green olives
  • ciabatta with sundried tomatoes
  • ciabatta with onions
  • ciabatta with herbs
  • ciabatta made with whole-wheat flour
Ciabatta can be bought fresh or frozen and keeps in a plastic bag. Warming an oven to 400 F / 205 C will restore its crunchy sound. We also use this bread under the press or the heating plate for the panini sandwiches. There are endless ways to enjoy ciabatta. Try one of them today!


Mario Fortin is an international bakery consultant and owner of FORMA-LAB, consulting services to Bakers and Suppliers. If you need technical information, send your question to info @forma-lab.com.

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