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The Holiest Bread Ever

Nov 22, 2008 | From the kitchen of Rose

One of my greatest bread challenges in bread baking was achieving the wonderful open-holed crumb of artisan bread such as it appears on Maggie Glezer’s magnificent bread book “Artisan Baking Across America.”

I tried everything until in desperation I decided to call Maggie herself. It was a ‘cold call’ as we had never met and I felt mighty shy about it, so when Maggie answered and said she’d call me right back I feared she was just being polite and didn’t have time to talk to me. Wrong! As wrong as I could paranoidically have been. The adorable Maggie called back in moments to tell me that she just had to tell her mother that I had called! I couldn’t stop giggling with relief and amusement.

Essentially Maggie explained the importance of hydration (high water content), keeping the dough very sticky, and maintaining the bubbles through gentle handling when shaping. I went on to make many of Maggie’s wonderful recipes from the book and did succeed in achieving those elusive holes.

Recently fellow blogger Beth Glixon reported making and enjoying the Ciabatta from Maggie’s book so I had to try it. When I cut into it I was astonished by the size and shape of the numerous holes which were coated with the slight shine indicative of well-fermented artisan bread. I ran right into the bedroom to show my husband. His hopeful response: “Oh! is that the no knead bread?” But these holes are even more magnificent and the crumb lacks that slight pastiness of the no knead bread.

Granted it’s a little more work but not much. Here are my testing notes:

When making the biga for the pre-ferment, stir with the water/yeast mixture before measuring out the ½ teaspoon as most of the yeast settles to the bottom. After 14 hours of no activity in the biga I added another ½ teaspoon which I had saved from the bottom and it worked perfectly. Also, I found it had started to receded after increasing in volume by 2 ½ times rather than 3. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did use 100% Better for Bread flour instead of the mixture of Bread Flour/all purpose so it might have been slightly weaker (all the better for the holes though).

When the shaped dough is rising on the couche the bottom of the floured cloth pulls moisture from it, causing a fine but brittle crust on the bottom. This makes it risky to pull when it is transferred to the parchment and before dimpling it. If this happens to you it is probably best to just allow it to take its own free form shape which is somewhat rectangular.

When dimpling the dough, if you have fingernails that extend past your fingertips, be sure to use a blunt tool such as the rounded end of a wooden spoon handle instead of your fingers. I used my fingers and you’ll see the little dented designs in the top crust. We’re talking perfection here as it didn’t affect the crumb.

If you’re dying to make this bread, I’ve already given Maggie’s Fillone recipe on this blog (with permission from Maggie of course) so you’re just going to have to buy the book. But you won’t regret it! By the way, the hard cover edition is very expensive but if you follow the link and scroll down to the bottom you'll see the paperback version which is highly affordable.

Artisan Baking Across America: The Breads, The Bakers, The Best Recipes on Amazon.

Comments

Rose, I finally got around to making this bread, and it is absolutely delicious! Thanks so much for the recommendation. You're always so generous to feature other author's works in addition to your own, Maggie's book is great.

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erich, the bread isn't dry in the least--if it were it wouldn't have big holes!

louise, you should be just fine as long as you don't change the size of the pan or the amount of batter in each pan.

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Louise Allen
Louise Allen
06/13/2010 11:06 PM

I need to make 9 batches of Cinnamon Crumb Surprise. I planned on tripling the recipe so I could complete the project in 3 batches. Will that compromise the wonderful bread/cake? thanks, Louise

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Your bread looks very dry

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charlie, it's the protein in milk that strengthens the gluten.

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Charlie of Monsey
Charlie of Monsey
12/21/2009 11:11 PM


Rose,
In the Bread Bible (a book for which I will always be in your debt) you write that milk "contributes to flavor and strengthening the gluten" (pg 558) - but isn't milk the alkali - and as you mention the enzymes can actually cause it to become weaken if not scalded? How does it make gluten stronger? please explain if you can.

-Charlie

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i agree with matthew--those breads are stunning.

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It is also nice to finally have a good term for this.

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Interesting Steve, I've been using this technique for a couple of years for hand kneading very sticky doughs. I've posted about it here a couple of times. I knew I must not have been the only person to think of this, so it is nice to see other people using it too--your ciabatta looks gorgeous!

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I've never been able to get the wide open crumb structure of a ciabatta using a countertop stand mixer until I devised a double flour addition mixing technique that seems to work well for a wide range of flour hydrations. The results can be seen here:

http://www.breadcetera.com/?p=162


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Thanks for the recipe!

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Another fun thing about Maggie Glezer's recipe for ciabatta is that the biga contains 1/384 teaspoon of yeast. I can't recall any other baked-good recipes that measure out such a small amount of an ingredient. (I blogged about this interesting quantity here.)

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Matthew, thank for your very clear suggestions. I'll certainly try some of these. Somehow the notification emails about responses are not going out, so I just saw your suggestions. Beth

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I divided the challah into two equal portions. I then took away 1/3 from each portion. I used a 3 braid for each large portion and a 3 braid for each of the two smaller portions. I glazed each large loaf with an egg wash and placed the smaller braid on top of each of the larger loaves, then applied egg wash over the smaller braids. This will help anchor the smaller braids atop the larger ones. I let them raise as specified in the bread bible and baked.

I do this, b/c I am not very good yet at doing a 4 or 6 braid. Even though Rose's diagrams for the various braiding in the bible are very clear, I am just not good at more than three! I'll have to practice with rope! My 4 & 6 braid loaves always turn out misshapen. By adding a top braid, this gives my bread more height and also tends to keep the base of the loaf from spreading out. Even though I try and braid tightly, I still have some spreading. This method has all but eliminated that.

p.s. I have very picky family members when it comes to sesame vs. poppy. So, I resolved that by toppng each loaf with half. Now everyone's happy. I like both, actually.

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Jack, what type of braid did you use for the challah?

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Jack, both breads look beautiful. I love the challah.

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your breads are gorgeous. yes-for more chew by all means use some higher protein flour.

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Im bringing some deserts & bread for Thanksgiving this year. This is my first attempt at ciabatta and I used your recipe from my copy of the bread bible, with some changes in the handling of the dough.

I left the wet dough rise until at least 3x it's original size and did not touch it until then. I formed into 3 loaves and let them rise about 45 mins. I then flopped them over onto my peel, stretched them and plucked them with my fingertips. Into a 450 degree oven they went. Misted as directed.

My only issue, is all three loaves were as light as a feather. The largest loaf (pictured) is over 13 inches long and weighed in at 8.5 ounces. I was wondering what I need to do to add some more tooth to the bread? I used all a/p flour--maybe next time substitute a small portion with some bread flour or semolina flour?

And the challah pictured is of course your recipe from the bible as well. My favorite! Happy Thanksgiving. Jack


Thanksgiving bread:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/29426825@N06/

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Hi Beth,

I can share a few techniques I have used for hand kneading very sticky doughs. I have kneaded doughs by hand up to 100% hydration--I have found this to be about the limit, after which the gluten tends to dissolve and you end up with a batter instead of a dough. After working with 100% hydration, though, I can tell you that kneading ciabatta by hand seems like a breeze! Here are some tips and techniques:

My preference is to use un-powdered latex gloves for hand kneading.

Technique 1: Squeezing, instead of kneading, the dough--technique described in the Bread Bible for the herb focaccia. This works particularly well for brioche. For brioche, I squeeze it directly in a bowl and then chill it, after which it is easier to handle.

Technique 2: You can use the no knead method for ciabatta and other high hydration dough. I posted pictures and a description of this a year or two ago on the blog.

Technique 3: This is my own method I have not seen elsewhere, but I'm sure someone else has thought of it. To me, the greatest challenge of kneading high-hydration breads is not the mess, but rather developing the gluten sufficiently. It occurred to me that I could fully develop the gluten at a lower hydration and then gradually add more water to reach the goal hydration.

Here is how I do it:

Knead the dough at a comfortable hydration (say 65%) and measure out the remaining water. After the autolyse and final knead, pour the water over the dough in a bowl and wait 1/2 hour. Then stretch the dough gently for about 5 minutes (in the bowl) until the water is absorbed and the gluten is evenly distributed. If you have a lot of water to add, it may work best to do half at a time and repeat the process again.

Here are some sample pictures from each of the hand-kneading techniques:

Technique 1: Herb Foacaccia

Continues below:

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Here are some sample pictures from each of the hand-kneading techniques:

Technique 1: Herb Foacaccia

Technique 2: Ciabatta (not a great picture)

Technique 3: Ciabatta

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Hi Beth,

I can share a few techniques I have used for hand kneading very sticky doughs. I have kneaded doughs by hand up to 100% hydration--I have found this to be about the limit, after which the gluten tends to dissolve and you end up with a batter instead of a dough. After working with 100% hydration, though, I can tell you that kneading ciabatta by hand seems like a breeze! Here are some tips and techniques:

My preference is to use un-powdered latex gloves for hand kneading.

Technique 1: Squeezing, instead of kneading, the dough--technique described in the Bread Bible for the herb focaccia. This works particularly well for brioche. For brioche, I squeeze it directly in a bowl and then chill it, after which it is easier to handle.

Technique 2: You can use the no knead method for ciabatta and other high hydration dough. I posted pictures and a description of this a year or two ago on the blog.

Technique 3: This is my own method I have not seen elsewhere, but I'm sure someone else has thought of it. To me, the greatest challenge of kneading high-hydration breads is not the mess, but rather developing the gluten sufficiently. It occurred to me that I could fully develop the gluten at a lower hydration and then gradually add more water to reach the goal hydration.

Here is how I do it:

Knead the dough at a comfortable hydration (say 65%) and measure out the remaining water. After the autolyse and final knead, pour the water over the dough in a bowl and wait 1/2 hour. Then stretch the dough gently for about 5 minutes (in the bowl) until the water is absorbed and the gluten is evenly distributed. If you have a lot of water to add, it may work best to do half at a time and repeat the process again.

Here are some sample pictures from each of the hand-kneading techniques:

Technique 1: Herb Foacaccia

Technique 2: Ciabatta (not a great picture)

Technique 3: Ciabatta

REPLY

Hi Beth,

I can share a few techniques I have used for hand kneading very sticky doughs. I have kneaded doughs by hand up to 100% hydration--I have found this to be about the limit, after which the gluten tends to dissolve and you end up with a batter instead of a dough. After working with 100% hydration, though, I can tell you that kneading ciabatta by hand seems like a breeze! Here are some tips and techniques:

My preference is to use un-powdered latex gloves for hand kneading.

Technique 1: Squeezing, instead of kneading, the dough--technique described in the Bread Bible for the herb focaccia. This works particularly well for brioche. For brioche, I squeeze it directly in a bowl and then chill it, after which it is easier to handle.

Technique 2: You can use the no knead method for ciabatta and other high hydration dough. I posted pictures and a description of this a year or two ago on the blog.

Technique 3: This is my own method I have not seen elsewhere, but I'm sure someone else has thought of it. To me, the greatest challenge of kneading high-hydration breads is not the mess, but rather developing the gluten sufficiently. It occurred to me that I could fully develop the gluten at a lower hydration and then gradually add more water to reach the goal hydration.

Here is how I do it:

Knead the dough at a comfortable hydration (say 65%) and measure out the remaining water. After the autolyse and final knead, pour the water over the dough in a bowl and wait 1/2 hour. Then stretch the dough gently for about 5 minutes (in the bowl) until the water is absorbed and the gluten is evenly distributed. If you have a lot of water to add, it may work best to do half at a time and repeat the process again.

Here are some sample pictures from each of the hand-kneading techniques:

Technique 1: Herb Foacaccia

Technique 2: Ciabatta (not a great picture)

Technique 3: Ciabatta

REPLY

There's hardly any bread on the inside! What's there to eat?

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one more thought--wetting your hands also helps to prevent sticking.

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Hi Beth,
I'd be happy to share, such as it is...Rose's book probably has more heavily researched and detailed instructions. I have two strategies to cut down on adding extra flour. First, I just let my hands get sticky. Once they are fully coated, if the dough has any body at all, the coating seems to stop attracting it as much. I try to move quickly though not too harshly, whenever I stop, I lose progress. I also beat up the dough in the bowl with a spoon as long as I can stand it, adding biga in little bits. I hear that scrapers are helpful, but I don't have one. I also cheat sometimes and use a trick Daniel Leader mentions for other breads, oiling my hands. The oil must affect the composition of the final dough, but I haven't noticed it as a negative. Mostly, though, Rose has pinned down the issues, resist flour and be prepared for sticky. Some times seem to work better than others.

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Zach Townsend
Zach Townsend
11/24/2008 05:16 PM

True, I'd probably be beaten up for asking that my bread be ciabatta and my butter AOC from Bretagne. ha!

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beth, be sure to check my book as i give kneading instructions for very wet doughs that will be helpful.

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Katya and Matthew:
Could you please describe your hand-kneading (or non-machine) methods with ciabatta? I'll be in some apartments without mixers (back to the bowl and spoon), and am always looking for hints. I also won't have my stone or my cast iron skillet, but bread must be made!
Beth

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it would have to be a french prison, or one in northern ca.!

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Zach Townsend
Zach Townsend
11/24/2008 04:04 PM

I love the way you positioned the slice against the window and backdrop of the neighborhood, with the light shining through.

It's easy to imagine that slice dipped in olive oil with a little herbs.

Bread and butter are two of my favorite all time things to eat, hands down, so I'd do very well if I ever ended up in prison.

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It's very possible. I tried to hold the flour to a minimum, but I suppose there's always a little more. I didn't add any more than the initial counter-dusting, though. I think about 15 minutes more of proofing might help too. I'll be trying again soon--thanks for your support.

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katya, thanks for the posting. i'm sure the reason your holes were not quite as large is that by hand one is tempted to add too much flour. you have to be willing to have gopey dough all over your fingers especially at the early stages. but sounds like yours was a great success anyway and i applaud you for taking the leap!

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This post inspired some ciabatta-baking in my house, Daniel Leader's Local Breads style. His ciabatta is one of several recipes in the book that he doesn't give hand kneading instructions for, saying that a mixer is the preferred method. That leaves me without a mixer, i.e. nowhere. Finally, in frustration, I ignored this advice and have made several of his mixer-only recipes by hand. I expected some trouble with the ciabatta (after all, soaking wet dough = trouble kneading), but either I'm getting better or the recipe was less challenging than I feared (or the temperature was just right). Either way, the ciabattas (I sliced them into rolls) looked and tasted perfect, though I didn't get them quite as holey as you managed, Rose. Pictures will be up on my blog shortly, but most were eaten before photography was possible. Thanks for the inspiration.

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actually you're right--my ciabatta is very similar except it's more like the ones in italy than northern ca. in that it is less chewy and lighter in texture.

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The crumb looks quite a bit like when I have made the ciabatta in the Bread Bible using the no-knead technique. A little shiny and with many large holes, minus the pretty little specks of bran of course.

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Rose,
Thanks for your tips on the Ponsford ciabatta. I'm glad you found the loaf as satisfying as I did. As I wrote earlier, I did not see much of a rise in my biga after 24 hours, but went ahead with the process anyway (I've learned that from you - when in doubt, bake it off anyway). I don't have a couche, so I just had the dough proof on parchment paper before transferring to the other parchment. I haven't made this loaf again since making three of them in 24 hours several weeks ago for a potluck. It's really hard NOT baking more of the ciabatta, but I make myself bake and eat mostly whole grain bread these days, so I'm waiting to indulge in this bread again. The ciabatta also makes amazing toast. I should say that whenever I ask my husband what bread he wants me to make, he always says "ciabatta." Many people at "the fresh loaf" make Jason's Quick Coccodrillo Ciabatta, but I haven't tried it yet.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. My cousin Louise (fellow blogger) and I will be up at my Mom's house. I wonder what we'll bake up together!

Beth

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There is another good ciabatta called Jason's Quick Coccodrillo Ciabatta at the Fresh Loaf. I had only gotten mediocre results with the Bread Bible and the Baker's Apprentice. It takes 5 hours start to finish and has big holes and excellent flavor. The dough is kneaded up to 30 minutes in a heavy duty mixer. Love your blog. The Bubka is amazing.

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