I finally nailed it!!!! After about 4 years and 2 dozen failed attempts at making restaurant style succulent Italian bread, I had completely given up on bread making. We had resigned to a mindset that you needed Italian blood flowing through your veins to get it just right. and we couldn't find an iota of Italian DNA in either the Thirunelveli or the Thanjavur roots we had at home. But 3 weekends ago, we were watching our favorite food channel and America's Test Kitchen had a bread special episode going on. For the first time I came across a recipe demonstration to that detail with real temperature settings and exact timings and of course a visual of the dough at all stages. And then it dawned upon us...there is no shortcut to good bread. The recipe itself called for about 8+4 hours of just waiting at different stages for fermentation. And then the baking time of course. So we decided to try it one more time with a very low expectation level since I have fallen on my face multiple times before. We were so desperate to find the key that we went and bought the exact same mixing equipment they had on the show. So I followed the recipe to the tiniest detail and voila we actually landed a really good loaf indeed....but it was still missing the ZING. It was by far the best bread I had made but still not restaurant style. So I tried again a week later. This time the bread was so stiff and dense, and I thought I lost it again! And then I pondered another week over what I was doing differently and it dawned upon me. I was so fixated on the recipe that I had lost sight of the most important advantage of a visual demonstration. The look of the dough at every stage! I compared and saw that my dough was a lot less wet and had too few bubbles compared to that the video. Now I knew I had to tweak something and the most key step occurred to me. The fermenting does not happen on a cold counter top. I had to set the dough in a temperature controlled area for the fermenting to happen just right. So at every stage of fermenting, I made sure I set the oven to a 100 degrees Fahrenheit and let it cool to a warm temperature like 80 degrees. I also tweaked the amount of water and kneading time resemble the dough in the video. Finally, I landed the PERFECT restaurant style Ciabatta I had been itching to make for years!!!!!!!!!! Deliciously airy and light inside and a golden crisp crust outside.
I was almost in tears of joy at the success. We couldn't believe our taste buds!!! I am jotting down the recipe with all the tweaking I had to do to make it work for me. I would however first like to credit America's test kitchen because the basic recipe came from them and there was no way I would have landed this without their video. To check out the original version, please go to their website at America's Test Kitchen
~5 cups All Purpose Flour
1 sachet Active Dry Yeast
Garlic Herb Butter/Jalapenos (Optional)
2 oz 2% Milk
To make the Biga:
Pre-heat oven to 100 degrees and let it cool down with the door half open for 3-5 minutes.
Take 1.5 cups of flour in a big round bowl and add 1/4 tsp of yeast in it.
Blend it with 8 oz of water using a heavy spoon.
This is a very wet dough and will be very sticky to work with your hands.
Cover it tightly using a cling wrap and leave it in the oven closed for about 8 hours.
To make the dough:
The biga would have fermented and should be a little bubbly and clinging to the sides of the bowl.
I used a Kitchen Aid mixer to make this dough.
In the mixing bowl, transfer the biga.
Add 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp yeast, 2 tsp salt, 2 oz milk and 8 oz of water.
Finely chop an herb of your choice like sage or rosemary and add about a tbsp of it into the dough for flavor.
Mix it on the lowest speed using the mixing ladle attachment for about a minute.
Pause and scrape the dough from the sides into the center and mix again on medium low speed for about 4 minutes.
Pause and scrape the dough again and swtich the attachment to a dough hook.
let it knead this dough at medium low for 10 minutes and then on medium for an additional 7-9 minutes.
Transfer this dough back into the glass bowl without stretching it too much. It will be very very sticky. Using a silicone spatula would be a good idea.
The transfer should be quick and in a big lump so we do not loose the structure we built with the kneading.
Again pre-heat the oven to 100 degrees and let it cool off for 5 minutes.
Put a cling wrap back on and set the dough in the oven for an hr.
Remove the wrap and do about 8 to 10 turns on itself to lightly mix the dough without breaking any bubble.
GENTLE is the key.
Put the wrap back on and set it back in the oven for another 30 mins.
Redo the 8-10 turns and set it back for another 30 minutes.
The dough is now done.
It will be one helluva sticky dough and we will need to flour it up a lot to handle it.
Flour a smooth working surface and transfer the dough into it without stretching it., We want all the fermented bubbles to stay in place to make this a light and airy loaf.
We will be dividing this dough into about 6 portions using a pizza cutter or a bowl scraper.
Very lightly work each portion into a flat 5x4 size and fold it on itself 3 times .
Do not break any bubbles in the process.
Take a baking sheet and set a parchment paper sheet on it and flour the surface.
Place the dough portions about 2 inches apart.
Cover the sheet with cling wrap (yes..again!) and let it sit for about 30 mins.
In the meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 460 degrees.
After 30 mins, remove the cling wrap and spray the loaves with with a little water and put it in the oven.
Do the water spraying 2 more times at 2-3 minute intervals.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the loaves are well puffed up and a golden crust has formed.
They should have at least doubled in volume.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack immediately.
Smear some herb/garlic butter on top and let it melt on the surface.
Let the loaf relax and cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it.
It is pretty delicious as it is but you can always dunk into some warm marinara or olive oil for the indulgence.