When you are away from home you miss everything about it, especially the food! I am a serious south Indian food lover and I can’t go without rice and rasam for even a week! Lol…
Our dear friend and my cousin’s fiancé Paul who is an Italian American is here in India. Paul and Gowri both live in New Jersey and are here with us for 3 months. While Gowri is totally loving being back to rice and curries Paul naturally is missing his moms hearty Italian cooking! He says (and we are very sure!) his mom makes the best pizzas and pasta in the world!! After an overdose of rice for more than 2 months he is seriously craving some freshly baked Italian bread dipped in olive oil!
As usual I jumped out of joy at the opportunity of baking fresh bread. I wanted to put my bread making skills to test and get it certified from a bred loving Italian American!
Paul requested for some crusty Italian white bread and I decided to bake some Ciabatta bread for him. I thought it’s the perfect choice as its hearty, crusty, chewy and airy! And it’s the REAL Italian bread!
Ciabatta literally means “slippers” and is called so because of its flat elongated shape. There are many variations of this bread and I baked simple bread which is quite ‘pure’, without garlic or herbs. Ingredients are simple with just flour, water, yeast, sugar and salt. It’s an overnight method which is really simple and since it has a very long rising period it takes very little kneading. After a LOT of reading and researching online I found out that the best ciabatta is the one with crispy crust with a wonderfully open and airy crumb. I also found out that it’s not a beginner’s bread! People bake and try variations for years to master the art of perfect ciabatta!
Here’s my version of the recipe which is a no knead recipe. I started at 5 pm and let it rise over night so I have the bread ready for lunch. I served it with some good olive oil and fresh homemade tomato sauce to dip in and parmesan on the side!
The Bread turned out AMAZING! After reading about how it’s not easy to bake the perfect ciabatta bread, I was quite nervous about the result but the bread turned out great! It definitely was better than expected! It was perfectly porous, airy and soft inside, golden brown and crisp outside! What a delicious bread that was! It soaked up all the olive oil and tomato sauce like sponge and tasted out of the world!
Paul dug into it and smiled with satisfaction! He said I am the only one who can bake bread good enough for his dad when he is here in India. Then my entire family jumped into it and within minutes the first loaf was over!
Nothing makes me feel better than seeing happy faces and left over bread crumbs after a long baking session! I was proud and excited about my new found bread baking skills! You will definitely see many many more bread recipes from me!
Ciabatta bread is simple, rustic bread. It takes very simple ingredients and a LOT of time. Time doesn’t really mean a lot of work though. You just need to plan ahead and be patient. But it’s well worth the effort I would say. Make this ciabatta bread the next time you have friends over for lunch/dinner and you will definitely win over many hearts!
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- 8 cups of all purpose flour
- 4 cups of water
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp yeast
Place 1 cup of warm water in a big vessel and dissolve the sugar into it. Sprinkle the yeast and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. Now if you are like me you can just sit by the pot full of water with yeast and gaze with lots of amusement! Tiny little yeast balls will slowly sink to the bottom of the vessel and then start popping up to the surface one by one. Then they start to get really frothy. That’s when your yeast is ready for all the work ahead. Now add the salt and stir it well. Add all the 8 cups of flour and remaining 3 cups of water to the yeast water and stir it with a wooden spoon. Stir it really well till it all comes together into soft sticky dough. Cover it with a wet cloth and leave it to rise in a warm place for 18 hours. Yes! You read that right J it needs to sit and rise slowly for 18 hours or more. It’s best to leave it overnight.
Next morning/afternoon the dough will triple and will look nice and bubbly. It will also be unbelievably sticky. Now with a wooden spoon stir it once again to get all the air out.
Generously dust a flat work surface with lots of flour. There is nothing like too much flour so be very generous here. The dough is VERY sticky and will be stuck to the surface if there is not enough flour on it. Pour half the dough on to the surface. Dust your hands well and carefully shape it into a ciabatta which is basically slightly shorter and wider than a baguette. Dough will be really soft and sticky so it’ll not be easy to shape it.
Once you are done shaping it place it very carefully on a well dusted baking tray. I am saying VERY CAREFULLY once again! Sprinkle some more flour on top of the loaf and cover with a wet cloth and let it rise for one more hour. Loaf will not really double but will spread more horizontally but don’t worry, that’s how it’s meant to be!
Pre heat the oven at 250 degree C. You need to make sure the oven is fully hot. Now place a little pan with about half a cup of water in it. This is basically to steam the oven. By steaming the oven before you place the bread inside you are keeping the surface of the loaves moist and supple so that the bread can spring for as long as possible. Place the baking tray with the loaf inside.
After a few minutes when the water in the tray is dried out, take the tray out and continue to bake.
When the loaf looks cooked, turns golden brown on the outside and sounds hollow when tapped its ready.
Repeat the same with the remaining dough.
Now at this stage I know it’s really hard to be patient but please let the loaf rest for a few minutes before you cut it. If the bread is too hot, the soft, fluffy inside will collapse as you slice it.
When cool, cut the loaf into thin slices and enjoy it with olive oil, cheese, olives or butter!