Chef Emerson’s Homemade Ciabatta Bread

Em Ciabatta

(Pictured above is the loaf that was made by my daughter at cooking school)

What is more delicious than the smell of fresh homemade bread? How about fresh homemade bread that is baking right in your own oven? This simple recipe comes directly from the children’s cooking class at Sur La Table that my daughter has participated in for the third year in a row. This recipe requires a little advanced preparation as you need to prepare the “sponge“, a fermented bread starter, the day before but once that is ready to go it’s really a very easy recipe for both kids and adults to make. The end result is a delicious, crusty, warm loaf of bread perfect for sandwiches or as a side to your meal.

Ciabatta, pronounced [tʃaˈbatta], is one of my most favorite breads. I love the crusty cracked outside and the soft, delicate inside. The word ciabatta is Italian in origin and translated it means, “slipper” which is descriptive of this bread’s distinctive flat, tapered shape. Ciabatta bread originated in the region of Italy known as Liguria and quickly spread across the country in popularity. Depending on the region of Italy you are in, ciabatta bread can vary in its texture from soft and porous to a more crunchy, firm crust with a dense crumb. Here in America it is easily found in most supermarkets and bakeries and has what is commonly known as an “open crumb” structure. This is due to the use of a sponge, otherwise known as a “starter“, that is added into the dough preparation. Regardless, it is a wonderful and delicious bread that is the perfect accompaniment to any meal. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbs warm water (110°F to 115°F)
  • 1/3 cup water, room temperature
  • 1 cup ( 4 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

For the bread

  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbs warm whole milk (110°F to 115°F)
  • 2/3 cup water, room temperature
  • 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups bread flour OR unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions

To make the sponge – In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water and let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast dissolves. Mix in the room temperature water and flour until well incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge stand at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to one day.

To make the bread – In a small bowl stir together the yeast and milk and let stand for 5 minutes or until it looks creamy and a little bubbly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, blend together the yeast mixture, sponge, water, oil and flour at low-speed until the flour is just moistened.

Beat the dough at medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the salt and beat for another 4 minutes on medium. Turn the dough out into a large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it’s doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. The dough will be bubbly and quite sticky.

Line a rimless baking sheet with a 12X12″ piece of parchment paper and generously dust with flour. Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and cut in half using a bench scraper or knife. Transfer the halves to the prepared baking sheet and form into irregular ovals about 9″ long. Dimple the loaves with floured fingers and dust the tops with flour. Cover the loaves with a damp kitchen towel. Let them rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425°F and place a pizza stone in the center of the oven.

Transfer the loaves on the parchment paper sheet to the pizza stone. Bake until pale golden and the loaf sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped with a finger, about 20 minutes. Using a large spatula, transfer the loaves to a wire rack to cool.

“How-To” Baking – Proofing

In baking, the term proofing actually has two applications. With regards to yeast, which is a living organism that can weaken over time, it’s a process that is used to determine if the yeast is still active and capable of leavening bread dough. Proofing is also the term that is used to describe the second (or final) rise of a shaped yeast dough.

To proof yeast – Mix the yeast with warm water (between 105ºF and 110ºF) and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If the yeast becomes creamy and foamy, it is still active. If the yeast does not foam and become creamy it is no longer active and should be thrown out as it will not work properly in the dough.

To proof shaped dough – For the final rise of a shaped yeast dough simply place the dough in a warm, dark, draft free area and allow it to rest undisturbed. Many ovens today come equipped with a PROOF function and it works exceptionally well. If you have an oven that has this feature, take advantage of it when proofing dough.

Easy Beer Bread

beer bread

Everyone loves beer bread but few realize just how easy it is to make completely from scratch. There are so many boxed versions available and while they are good nothing beats making something completely homemade. It’s fresher tasting and you know exactly what goes into it. The great thing about beer bread is it takes less than five minutes to pull together and it requires NO rising so within an hour you can have a nice, hot loaf of bread ready to serve.

Beer bread is also very versatile so feel free to use this recipe as a base and then change up the flavor profile. Try making a Cheddar Jalapeno, Cheesy Green Onion, or even a Savory herb bread. Click here for a few other great variations that you can try! I prefer to use red ales for this recipe, in particular I like Killians Irish Red, but you can use any beer that you like. The beer bread will have a stronger or milder beer flavor depending on which brand and type that you choose. Serve this bread alongside chili, stew, or any hearty meat dish. It also makes a great, simple appetizer! Cut the loaf into chunks and serve with an herb or spinach dip.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 (12 oz) can of beer
  • 1/2 stick (4 tbs) of salted butter, melted

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Lightly grease a 9X5 loaf pan and set aside.

Sift all of the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Slowly add the beer and stir until well combined.

Place the dough into the greased pan. Pour the melted butter all over the top. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.