Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ciabatta 1.0

So maybe my focaccia turned out bitter, but what a ciabatta it inspired!  How could a bread taste bitter?  Beats me.  It was a no-knead focaccia recipe from sept - oct 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated.  I followed it to the letter and ended up with a bitter bread.  Here is my guess as to the culprits: a starter that went bad or using non-stick cake pans.  Since the cake pans are exactly the ones recommended by Cook's illustrated (not for this recipe per say, but in general), I am guessing they probably didn't cause the problem.  The recipe does call for using them at a higher heat than they are designed for (I don't think you should normally use teflon pans at 500F), so I was concerned that might have contributed an off flavor.  But when I started investigating the biga starter they have you use, I figured the pans were probably not my problem.  Cook's suggests using 1/4 tsp instant yeast per 2.5 oz flour in the biga.  That's about 4 times the normal ratio of yeast to flour in biga.  They also suggest that you let it rise for 8-24 hours.  A normal rise for biga is up to 6 hours.  I let it rise for 18 hours and I am guessing it went bad.

Under normal circumstances, I'd set up a few experiments to figure out exactly where this recipe went wrong. But I have a 3 year old and 6 week old on my hands right now and baking more bread that ends up in the trash is not my idea of fun at the moment.  Besides, the texture of Cook's focaccia seemed much more appropriate for ciabatta.  That's what I decided to learn to make inspired by the lovely open crumb (big holes) of my unsuccessful focaccia experiment.

At first, I thought I'll modify Cook's recipe to turn it into a ciabatta, but on the second thought decided to go with Rose Beranbaum's ciabatta from The Bread Bible.  As most of Rose's recipes, it turned out extremely well even on the first try.  But once I messed with it a tad, it was absolutely fantastic.  I upped the salt from 3.3 grams to 4.5 grams and decided to add another rise before shaping and proofing.  The basic schedule looked like this:
  • make a biga, let rise for 6 hours, deflate and refrigerate overnight
  • make dough and let rise until tripled (4 hours at about 65F)
  • knead a bit by folding with a plastic dough scraper right in the bowl where the dough is rising
  • let rise again until almost quadrupled the original volume (4 more hours at about 65F)
  • shape, and proof for 1.5 hours 
  • bake
The recipe suggests to be careful not to pop the bubbles when shaping.  I did that the first time and ending up with bubbles that were too huge.  On the second try, I was a bit more aggressive with dimpling and stretching and the texture was perfect.

The only annoying thing about this bread is the schedule.  If I could get rid of biga and replace it with another rise retarded in the fridge, the whole thing would be much more doable on regular basis.  If I manage to make it work, I'll post the recipe.  Meanwhile, try Rose's.  It's lovely.


Anonymous said...

A longer time on the starter should not have caused bitterness. Longer starter times tend to make dough more sour.

For culprits I would closely examine the olive oil you used and the herbs you sprinkled on top. Both could cause bitterness.

I routinely cold retard pizza dough for days in the fridge, and have sour dough starters that go for several days before I make bread and bitterness has never been a result.

Helen said...

ah, yes -- retarding in the fridge is fine and even desirable, but sitting at room temperature for 18 hours is not. I could have gotten away with 18 hours at room temp if the amount of yeast was a lot lower. The reason I know it's not my olive oil or rosemary is that I've made a focaccia using my own recipe with those exact ingredients just a few days before Cook's focaccia with no problems.