Ciabatta for Dummies (or for those with unresolved anger management issues)

Chris grows 60 hectares of wheat on the farm, which in a few weeks time will be harvested and sent to a miller-cum-baker up the road. I will watch with a wistful stare truckload upon truckload of wheat heading out the gate to be turned into flour and used in someone else’s bread. I know it’s business; I know it’s commercial farming. But I want some of that wheat! For my bread!

The wheat, changing from green to brown, on the farm.
The wheat on the farm, turning from green to brown.

Soon after my arrival on the farm in February last year, I realized I had to find, or create, a recipe for quality bread. There was none, as far as I knew, in all of Zambia. I had been spoiled for choice living in America and Europe: I could buy fresh bread whenever I wanted that looked and tasted like it had come straight from the boulangerie. But I needed to find a recipe that would be simple and easy; that would work with basic ingredients; that was changeable if I couldn’t buy a type of flour; and that I could bake in a tiny gas oven with a dodgy temperature range (the Kenya Settlers’ Cookery Book’s Simple Test for Temperature notwithstanding).

Ciabatta bread straight out of the oven.
Ciabatta bread straight out of the oven.

Ciabatta, with its crusty outside and airy, chewy inside, has always been my bread of choice. Its rustic, country-table feel and look compliments our food and lifestyle. It was to this bread I turned when researching my ideal recipe, and lucky for me, it didn’t take long.

I found a foodie from New Zealand who, in 2010, posted a recipe for quick and easy ciabatta in her blog Pease Pudding (www.peasepudding.wordpress.com). She stated she’d been shown it by “the lovely Rafaella of Al Dente, who put the recipe together for her husband while on his sailing trips so that he could enjoy fresh bread on his journeys.”

All I can say is that this recipe changed our lives. Thank you Allison of Pease Pudding and thank you the lovely Rafaella. I just cannot imagine our table without a loaf.

Quick Easy Ciabatta

Ingredients:

  • 500g/4 cups bread flour, or a strong all-purpose flour
  • 450ml/2 cups water at room temperature
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200/400 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl sieve flour and combine with the sugar and yeast.
  3. Pour in the water, add the salt, and then ‘beat’ in the bowl with your hands for 5 minutes. The dough should be like a very thick pancake paste not a regular bread dough. To beat the dough, grab with your hand, stretch it up high, and then slap it down again. [This is when you can rid yourself of any frustrations or anger because the sound effects are just like a good slap.]  This pushes air pockets into the dough to create the ciabatta texture. You will ‘feel’ when the dough is aerated and thus ready. [The consistency changes and the dough becomes more malleable.]
  4. Form a ball of dough in the bowl, and pour the olive oil over the top so it is covered and slides down the sides.
  5. Allow the dough to rise covered with plastic wrap for about 1 hour, or until it doubles in size.
  6. Pour the dough onto a well-floured work surface, without kneading any further, and [gently] fold over like an envelope length-ways to create the ciabatta shape.
  7. Lift dough onto a floured baking tray and bake for about 45 minutes, until golden, and when tapped, sounds hollow.

 

Note: This bread lasts a long time if kept refrigerated. To ensure you have a crunchy crust and soft interior a few days in, give the ciabatta 15 minutes in the oven at 180/350 degrees before serving. It will come out as though it’s just been baked. It also freezes really well.

Let the slapping begin!
Let the slapping begin!

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.

13 Comments

  • Am definitely going to try it…our closest really good ciabatta is and hour and a half away in Kalk Bay at the Olympia. Remember the bakery? A bit far to go for fresh bread in the morning! Love your description of the wheat being grown on the farm xx

    Reply
  • I remember that cool bakery very well, Hellie! We loved it. This bread is really easy, but know it’s all in the slapping. You need to ‘aerate’ it … xo

    Reply
  • Nice for camping. Have you found a way to incorporate the farm wheat into yours? Your own stone grinder?

    Reply
    • Hi Trudy … yes, this bread would be great for camping. Chris has tried hammermilling the wheat, but this method heats up the gluten and destroys its baking quality. We need to find a stone grinder, thus the search has begun. Thanks for your interest! Annabel

      Reply
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