Monday, March 12, 2012

Ciabatta with Biga: A Hamelman Bread

I would like to thank Richard Miscovich for this video; 
Formula for Success: Jerry Garcia+Bread=Happy Dave 

This is the first of three loaves which I baked with Brett, who is my friend and who was my clinical preceptor during my dietetic internship. I also want to note, that I think I have found an error in one of Jeffrey Hamelman's formulas from his book Bread and I am quite surprised. I had given Brett the book earlier in the week, so that he would be able to produce the preferments for the breads the night before.

As I took one final look at the instructions before scaling out the ingredients, I noticed that the book said to add only 3.5 ounces of water. I immediately questioned this because ciabatta dough is supposed to be very wet. Then I looked at the following formula (Ciabatta with Poolish) and it called for 13.8 ounces, so I knew something was wrong. I went back to the overall formula and took the total water and substracted the water in the biga from the total amount of water. I used the resulting number in the final mix which was 19.6 ounces of water. I am glad I did this or I would have been short more than two cups of water on this dough. 

I have made ciabatta in the past, but I have never baked a bread this big before in a home oven. It barely fit onto Brett's baking stone. Ciabatta, by nature, is a very wet dough, and because of its high hydration, it requires several folds. This bread also calls for a long bulk fermentation of 3 hours. This long fermentation helps to provide flavor and the high amount of water helps to provide an open crumb and a wonderful crisp crust. This bread also uses a biga, which helps to provide flavor and strength to the dough. This biga contains only 20% of the flour included in the final dough, but it contributes to the bread significantly. 

Since I had an extra pair of hands in the kitchen for this bread, I was able to take several of action shots. You can see the wonderful gluten development in these three sequential shots of pouring the dough onto the bench for the final fold.

As you can see, the dough has a very sticky, loose look. It is goopy and requires a good amount of flour on the bench to prevent the dough from sticking. A very good dusting should be enough. You need to prevent the dough from making direct contact with the wooden bench. I have to admit, I was really looking forward to baking in Brett's kitchen because he has a very large butcher block counter, and it was particularly helpful in preparing this bread. During the folding, I always make every effort to stretch the dough as far as it will go without breaking. This serves to maximize the effect of the two folds that it receives. The fact that the dough is 100% bread flour, helps to ensure wonderful gluten development and elasticity. 

Here is the dough before the first fold

And after the second fold. 

In general, every mixer has a friction factor, which is the amount of heat that the dough absorbs during the mixing process. Usually it is between 12-25 degrees Fahrenheit. When you mix a bread such as ciabatta, which has so much water in the dough, the friction factor is not used. This is because the dough is very loose to begin with and the dough will absorb very little heat during the mixing process. 

As you can see below, this bread is huge. We decided to make one large loaf rather than three smaller ones. We decided on this because Brett's baking stone is round and we did not want to make a complete mess of his oven. (It was bad enough that we smoked up the kitchen with the burnt cornmeal that we used.) (see pictures is my next post). 

Here is the proofed loaf, ready for the oven

And a picture to show you the sheer size of this bread

A close up with the measuring tape.

This bread barely fit on the stone and I had to shift the dough a couple of times during the bake to prevent the dough from splooging onto the heating element. I think this probably tightened the crumb in the final product. We did have some good air pockets, but not as many as we would have liked. Normally, I would bake this bread again to achieve better results, but ciabatta is not one of my favorite breads.  I am more content baking and eating other breads such as rye sourdoughs and levains. As a case in point, I baked a Walnut Levain today.

Because of the huge size of this bread, (It weighed over 3 pounds when it came out of the oven.) I don't think it was possible for us to finish baking this loaf properly in a home oven. The sheer mass of this bread was simply to much for our oven to handle. 

Thanks to ReadyMadeBouqet for reminding me to post this photo! This is about two thirds through the bake. The stone is 17 inches in diameter!

All in all, I would say it was sort of a success. If I were doing it again, I would make smaller loaves to ensure a much more open crumb. 

Bake on


  1. There are no end pictures...So did you not finish baking it? That would have made one awesomely large sandwich!

    1. I will add it now! I must have forgotten.