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Homemade Ciabatta Bread

February 25, 2011

Why are so many people afraid of making bread?

And I mean really making bread. I don’t mean buying a bread machine and having it make bread for you. There is absolutely no need for any that. You might as well buy a machine to stir the milk into your coffee.

I think the problem people have with bread might really be a problem with yeast. For years I had trouble with the yeast that comes in individually-wrapped envelopes, most often Fleischmann’s. Bread only came became possible for me when I switched to instant compressed yeast – the Saf brand in particular. In five years of using this yeast, I have never had it punk out on me. And on top of that, each package contains about a year’s supply and yet costs less than $5. Just look for the red stripe. It’s available at Whole Foods and even on Amazon.

I like to make lots of different types of bread, but my standby is a ciabatta recipe adapted from 100 Great Breads, a great cookbook I happened upon in the sale section at Barnes & Noble. The hardest part of this recipe is the waiting time between steps, and the waiting time can be compressed without significant consequences. There have been times when I skipped one or two of the risings altogether. The bread is always better when you let it rise as recommended, but it is still good when you don’t.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 cups flour (I recommend King Arthur Bread Flour, but any white flour will do)
  • 1 tablespoon instant compressed yeast (Saf brand if at all possible)
  • 1 1/2 cups water (or whey, if you have it!)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt

What you’ll do:

  • Step 1: Whisk half of the flour and the yeast together in a mixing bowl. Add half of the water, mix with a spoon, and then knead for a minute or two to form a ball. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1-3 hours.
  • Step 2: Add the rest of the flour and water, as well as the salt and olive oil. Combine at first by stirring and then by kneading. This will be a bit messy, but it gets better. Knead for a minute or two to form a ball. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1-3 hours.
  • Step 3: Tear ball into three pieces and shape into loaves on a greased pan or nonstick pan. Let rise for 1 hour.
  • Step 4: Bake for 15-20 minutes at 420 degrees F until you begin to see golden color around the edges. You’ll also start to smell fresh-baked bread at this point. Slice horizontally or vertically; store on the counter covered by a towel.

I can’t even begin to tell you all of the things this bread is good for. Perfect for most soups, awesome for panini, toasted for crostini, at home even in French toast, and delicious in the morning with butter or jam, and the list goes on. Please give it a shot! You won’t be sorry.

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