Ok, so I freely admit it...I am DEFINITELY an experimenter in the kitchen!! I love new gadgets, new recipes, and new flavors. It's fun...and with my roomies so willing to eat whatever I toss at them, my creative moods happen more often than not.
Well, today, I was going through a new baking cookbook that I got, and ran across a recipe for Ciabatta bread. Ciabatta has a dense, chewy crust, but is very light and airy inside, having lots of nooks and crannies. Among the many uses for it would be Muffalettas, a type of sandwich that will feed an army, because it's made with the WHOLE loaf!! While this post will be mostly about making Ciabatta, I promise to include a recipe for a classic Muffaletta, too...it's SOOO worth the effort to make!! One CAVEAT - the Ciabatta recipe won't be given in the typical fashion...this bread takes steps, so the ingredients will be given as each step is reached.
STEP 1 - to make Ciabatta, you have to make a starter. Anyone familiar with sourdough bread knows about starter, but the one for Ciabatta is lot easier to create. For those who DON'T know what a starter is, here's a quick explanation: starter is a fermented potion made with flour and water that's been grown over a period of time. What is does is replace the yeast most breads call for...it provides naturally grown yeast, so to speak. For our Ciabatta, we WILL use a small amount of yeast, simply to hasten the process.
To make your Ciabatta starter, combine 3/4 cup all purpose flour and 3/4 cup barely warm water in a bowl, whisking until all lumps are gone. Sprinkly 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast over the top, and allow to sit for about 3 minutes. Once the time is up, use your whisk to blend it all together, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to stand at room temp for 1-2 hours. It will double, maybe even triple, during the standing period, which is what you want. This starter will provide for the lift in the bread, and will also create all those delicious nooks and crannies I mentioned earlier.
STEP 2 - Once your starter is ready (at least doubled in size), you're ready to continue. For the next step, pour your starter into the bowl of a stand mixer (you CAN do it by hand, but it's a rather wet dough, and utilizing a mixer makes it MUCH easier). Add the following:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup PLUS 2 tablespoons barely warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
Mix in your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook for about 2 minutes, or by hand for about 2 minutes. Cover again with plastic wrap, and allow to stand for 20 minutes.
STEP 3 - After your stand time, add 3/4 teaspoon salt, and knead with the dough hook for 7 minutes (10 minutes by hand), or until the dough is very smooth feeling. Turn the mixer all the way to high if needed to get the dough to slap against the sides of the bowl. Now, cover it AGAIN with plastic wrap, and let it sit at room temp for about an hour (2 would be better...helps develop the flavor). Alternately, you can let it stand for 1/2 hour, then place in your fridge to slowly rise overnight.
STEP 4 - Because it's so wet, ciabatta dough is very difficult to shape. So, at this point, you need to grease (butter is best) whatever pans you are going to bake it in (I recommend a pair of 9 inch cake pans...simply divide the dough evenly between the two). GENTLY slice the dough in half with a sharp knife, then turn the dough out into each pan. Try not to deflate the dough if you can (it will some, can't be helped, but don't punch the dough down like you would normal bread). Ready? Cover the bread...AGAIN...and allow to rise at room temp for another 2 hours, until at least doubled in size.
STEP 5 - Time to bake!!! Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a sheet pan on the bottom rack (or even the bottom) of your oven, and fill with hot water (this is to raise the humidity in the oven). Slide your loaves onto the rack directly above the hot water, then spritz your oven walls with water. Once you close the oven door, reduce the heat to 425 degrees, and bake for 45-50 minutes (it takes a while cause it's so moist), or until it sounds hollow when tapped and is browned on top. Remove from oven, let cool for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to finish.
Ouila!!! You have 2 luscious loaves of some of the best bread you'll ever eat!! Now, how to use it? Well, here is that recipe for a Muffaletta sandwich I promised you...and trust me, it will be big enough to feed a family of 4!!
Olive Salad ingredients:
3/4 cup pimento stuffed green olives
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 cup gardeniera (pickled vegetables)
2 large pepperoncini peppers
3-4 pickled onions
2 tablespoons capers
1 medium clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 loaf bread (ciabatta or italian)
1 cup olive salad
1/4 pound sliced ham
1/4 pound sliced mortadella (an italian bologna...regular works, too)
1/4 pound sliced Genoa salami
1/4 pound sliced provolone cheese
1/4 pound sliced mozzarella cheese
To make the Olive salad - place all the ingredients in a food processor, and pulse several times to chop and mix. Pour into a bowl, and chill well.
To make a Muffaletta sandwich - slice loaf of bread horizontally. Spread the olive salad on bottom half, then layer the meats and cheeses over top. Cover with the top of the loaf, then slice into quarters. Makes 4 LARGE servings.