I tried the ciabatta recipe printed in the LA Times---the one that used 1/384 teaspoon of yeast in the biga---and was blown away by how the combination of water, flour, salt and yeast can turn into a complex living thing. Step 1 was to mix a biga (flour, water and a tiny bit of yeast) and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours. The recipe said it would double or triple in size, but mine appeared to have not changed at all. Nonetheless, I pressed on and mixed the biga with flour, water, salt and more yeast. The dough was very wet, almost like cake batter, and as I mixed it (using the paddle attachment, not the dough hook) a web of gluten strands started to form, some seeming to stretch across the width of the mixing bowl. As I poured the dough into a container after mixing, some of it stuck to the sides of the bowl to make a strands of gluten thread almost 12 inches long. The process of the dough coming together was so amazing that just getting to this point made the effort worthwhile (beauty appears in unusual places).
The dough was the wettest and softest that I have ever handled, but with enough flour (and the handy-dandy flour wand and bench knife) the manipulations were relatively easy. Baking it was simple: just slide the loaves onto the preheated baking stone, with no need to throw a cup of water into the oven or spray water on the oven walls.
The picture above shows my result: a beautiful deeply colored crust, uneven hole formation, but a little too puffy (I should have been more aggressive with the dimpling just before baking). What can't be seen is the complex flavor of the inner crumb and the satisfying stretch of the crumb. I'll definitely make this bread again.
tags :: food : and drink : baking : cooking