At one time I subscribed to about 13 different magazines, most of them food related. However, over time I have let most of them lapse because I just never had time to read them. Now I only get Gourmet and Cook’s Illustrated. Even with just those two, I am still behind in my reading. However, in this instance being behind happened to be a good thing. Last week I picked up the March/April issue of Cook’s Illustrated and began to look at the Table of Contents. And there on page 22 was an article titled “Authentic Rustic Ciabatta”. How about that? In the very same week I was about to tackle the Bread Baker’s Apprentice version of ciabatta!As I read through both versions I began to compare and saw that these were two very different breads. The BBA bread used bread flour, while Cook’s called for all-purpose. Both recipes call for a starter of some type but the ratio of starter to flour in the final dough differs. In the BBA version, the ratio is approximately 2:1 (16 ounces biga: 9 ounces bread flour). In the Cook’s version, the ratio is about 1:1 (9 ounces biga: 10 ounces all-purpose flour). The shaping method in the Cook’s version is also quite different. They propose a method which reminded me of making puff pastry, where you fold and turn the dough about 16 times.
I was intrigued. I had never made Ciabatta before and was very curious to see which one I’d prefer. In order to make this as scientific as possible, I decided to make them at approximately the same time. This is where it got interesting. Note to self (and others who may try this), if you are testing two recipes, do them sequentially, not simultaneously. I got a bit mixed up in the instructions and ended up using the Cook’s instructions on the BBA dough.
Day One was a breeze! I made the Poolish for the BBA version and let it sit on the counter for 4 hours and then put it in the fridge overnight. I made the Cook’s Biga and let it sit overnight on the counter for 12 hours.
Day 2 was a sweaty marathon of baking. I made the BBA dough with just water and olive oil but used water and milk in the Cook’s version. The other big difference was the type of flour. BBA called for bread flour, Cook’s uses all-purpose.
BBA mise en place
Cook’s mise en place
The BBA dough is placed on a well floured counter and is stretched and folded into thirds, like a business letter. The dough rests for 30 minutes and is stretched and folded a second time.
Stretched BBA dough
Folded BBA dough
While the loaves were proofing I made the mistake of checking my e-mail. I discovered that the Theraputic Horseback riding association where my son rides, was having a fundraiser the next day and needed some baked goods. I decided to bake some Skor Bar Cookies. These are my go-to cookies when I have limited time but want to make a maximum impact. So I quickly whipped up a batch while my various ciabatta loaves were proofing. The counter looked like a war zone but the Skor Bar Cookies are idiot proof and didn’t let me down.
While the loaves were proofing I preheated my oven and baking stone and got my steam pan in place. The peel was dusted with cornmeal and I was ready. I thought I could only fit two of the three loaves in the oven at once so I left one loaf to continue proofing while I baked the first two.
This is where it all went wrong. In transferring the dough and shaping it, BBA says to gently tug the dough into a 9 inch length and gently dimple it with your fingertips if it bulges in the middle. Cook’s says to use your fingertips and poke the dough into shape. I used the Cook’s method on the BBA bread and I think I poked too hard for this dough and completely degassed it.
BBA dough stretched and poked
They slid into off the peel and onto the baking stone very easily. The spraying of the oven walls had me very nervous. Peter Reinhart warns us not to get any water on glass in the oven, as it could cause the glass to shatter. This was going to be tricky as there are glass lights on both sides of my oven walls. I covered the glass door with a towel, took a deep breath and sprayed and prayed. My spraying aim was good and I did not shatter any glass. After about 13 minutes the loaves were done. As you can see, they did not get very good oven spring. I suspect it was my overzealous finger dimpling!
First two BBA loaves done
However, mistakes are how we learn, as my sister Jody is fond of telling her kindergarten class, so on the third BBA loaf I was more gentle and did not do any dimpling with my fingertips when I shaped the dough.
Third BBA Ciabatta rose nicely
The shaping of the Cook’s ciabatta is conpletely different. Instead of stretching and folding on the counter, the Cook’s dough stays in the bowl for a series of 16 folds and turns. Using a bowl scraper, the dough is lifted and folded over itself and then the bowl is turned 90 degrees. This is repeated 7 more times for a total of 8 turns. The dough rests for 30 minutes and the process is repeated a second time. Cook’s Illustrated says that this helps with getting a higher rise. Then the dough is divided into 2 and each half is pressed into a 6 x 12 inch rectangle. Each rectangle is then folded into thirds, like a business letter. Each loaf is placed on a 6 x 12 inch sheet of parchment and left to rest for 30 minutes.
Cook’s dough pressed into rectangle
Cook’s dough folded into thirds, like a business letter
After the rest period, using floured fingertips, the dough is evenly poked to form a 6 x 10 inch rectangle.
Cook’s dough poked with fingertips into rectangle
Although the Cook’s recipe says to spray the loaf directly with water to help create steam, I used the BBA method and sprayed the oven walls instead as PR had warned us not to get any water directly on the bread because it will cause splotches on the dough.
Cooks dough in the oven
I baked them for 15 minutes until the internal temperature reached 210 degrees F. These were lovely loaves. When I allowed all the loaves to cool I sliced into them. The crumb on the BBA ciabatta was tight with no large holes that Ciabatta bread is known for. The crumb on the Cook’s ciabatta was more open and had afew of the large holes, but I was hoping for more. Then we tasted. Everyone in my family preferred the Cook’s version. It had more flavour and the texture was more reminiscent of great ciabatta we have eaten before. Would I make Ciabatta again? Perhaps. Ask me in a few days after I have recovered from my scientific baking marathon.