What a gift! January 9, 2011--Atlanta gets dumped on. There were at least 5 inches of snow on my car. I got the calling post from school on Sunday evening. Snow day Monday! I scuttled out to my porch to take in the wintry scene. My rosemary plant was giving me that look. Can we bake tomorrow?
Of course; what better to do with a day off? Thus begins the adventure of two fresh rosemary ciabatta loaves. I worked from baker Daniel Leader's ciabatta recipe in Local Breads. One turned into a pizza along the way. Who knew?
We'll start this recipe using a month-old starter that has been hanging out happily in my fridge, cultivating wild yeast particular to the Atlanta region.
Mix some of the starter, unbleached all-purpose flour, and lukewarm water. Leave overnight to talk amongst itself.
In the morning, make the dough! A note on flour: I mixed two types of flour for the ciabatta: unbleached, all-purpose flour and bread flour. Bread flour contains more protein than all-purpose, and that means it forms a better gluten structure.
Add flour and salt to the starter gradually until a very moist dough forms. Knead the dough until it is smooth and stretchy. You should be able to stretch a small piece so thin that you can see through it before it breaks. If you can't do this, keep kneading. Then, place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and leave it to rise, about 3-4 hours.
While you're waiting, set up your workspace. Put baker's parchment on two cookie sheets. Drizzle with ample amounts of flour. Flour a kitchen surface, like a breadboard or countertop. Then, take a romp in the snow. Wear those fancy boots you haven't worn yet this year and enjoy a cinnamon roll with the neighbors.
Done! Elapsed time: four hours.
In one fell swoop, separate the dough from the edge of the bowl with a rubber spatula or baker's helper and pour it onto your well-floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
Stretch the dough across the well-floured baking sheet. Dimple the surface of the dough with your fingertips.
Set the dough aside for about 40 minutes to rise again. Bubbles should appear beneath the surface. Meanwhile, prep your ciabatta base. I blended fresh rosemary, olive oil, melted butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. We'll brush this over the top of the bread before baking.
Then, slice your toppings. I chose red pepper, green pepper, onion, tomato, and sausage. Hm...this is beginning to resemble a pizza. (A side note: the sausage I am using is an all-natural chicken sausage that contains no artificial preservatives and meat from chickens that were raised without hormones. These can be some expensive packages of sausage, so I grabbed a couple during a bogo sale and froze them.)
Brush rosemary mixture over ciabatta. Then, strew ingredients evenly over dough and press down with fingers to secure.
Bake at 475 for about 25 minutes, or until the ciabatta turns golden brown. (Hint: for a crispier crust, place a pan of ice cubes on the bottom rack of the oven while preheating. This creates steam and mimicks a bakery oven.)
Meanwhile, crumble about 3/4c goat cheese or a similar cheese of your choice.
Watch as the crust turns golden brown. About five minutes before removing from the oven, drizzle the goat cheese over the ciabatta. (Note:In retrospect, I think I would've added the goat cheese about 10 minutes earlier. It doesn't look quite cooked.)
Take this baby out of the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let cool before cutting.
Done! Enjoy with a glass of red zinfandel and a side of snowed in.
As for the other ciabatta, I thought I oughta keep this one simple. I brushed the top with the rosemary mixture and baked it for about 22 minutes at 450.
Yum, check out that crumb structure! This is made possible by keeping the dough very wet (I think). Ciabatta keeps for about two days and should be reheated gently before serving. It'd go great with a minestrone soup, marinara, or dipped in some olive oil and spices.