Ciabatta: 16 buns

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Ciabatta is Jen’s absolute favorite bread.  There’s nothing better than fresh-baked ciabatta!

Yes, you can just go to the store and buy a bag of ciabatta buns, but this no-knead recipe makes it pretty darn easy to bake your own crispy, chewy buns.

These will be used for buns for the vegan lentil BBQ, so please try to make them hamburger-bun sized.

Estimated cost: 

  • 16 buns homemade: $4.41 total
    • 2 pounds of organic flour = $3.20
    • 1 tablespoon of yeast = $0.79
    • 2 tablespoons of salt = $0.18
    • 1 hour of oven time = $0.24
  • 16 buns from a bakery: up to $16, probably!

Time required: 

  • Sometime (one day up to two weeks before the wedding): 10 minutes mixing, 2 hours resting
  • On baking day (day before wedding or really early morning of wedding): 5 minutes shaping, 30 minutes’ oven preheating, 13-15 minutes’ baking

Equipment:

  • Oven that will go to 450ºF
  • Refrigerator
  • a 6-quart food-grade container like this works great, but you can use any 1-gallon or larger bowl
  • Your hands to stir the dough with (if you want to get fancy, apparently a dutch dough whisk works great, but really your clean hands are fine)
  • A baking stone is ideal, but if you don’t have one, a large cast-iron skillet is great, or baking sheets/trays will work just fine
  • Something to create steam: a broiler tray or cookie sheet with sides that you can pour water into, a clean spray bottle, or a large metal bowl that you can put over the buns in the oven
  • Parchment paper (essential, because this is ridiculously sticky dough!)

Ingredients:

  • FOR 16 BUNS:
    • 3 cups WATER at 100-110ºF
    • 6 cups (2 pounds) FLOUR (all-purpose baking flour, unbleached organic preferred; you can substitute up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour, but please don’t make them all whole wheat)
    • 1 packet or Tablespoon active dry YEAST (if you bake a lot, it’s cheapest to buy a 4-oz jar and use 1 Tablespoon). 1 packet has 2 1/4 tsp, which is close enough for this recipe.  This is a very forgiving recipe; there’s no need to be too precise on the yeast amount.
    • 1 Tablespoon SALT (feel free make it a slight heaping Tablespoon [up to 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt])

Steps:

  1. At least one day before, but up to 2 weeks before the wedding:
    1. In your large container or bowl, mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon, dutch dough whisk, or your wet hands until thoroughly combined.  HINT: it’s easiest if you heat up the water a little bit (it should be bathwater temperature, but no hotter than 120°F) and then if you dissolve the yeast in the warm water first; otherwise, you’ll get clumps of yeast in your flour which are hard to work out.  Don’t pour the salt directly onto the yeast or you’ll kill it.  Don’t be tempted to add more flour; it’s supposed to be a very wet dough.
    2. Let this mixture rest at room temperature for 2 hours.  Cover it.  If you’re using a container smaller than 6 quarts, expect the dough to rise to the top of the container, so don’t cover it with a towel, or it will stick horribly.  Use plastic wrap, a lid, or a loose plate instead.
    3. After 2 hours, the dough should have risen and then fallen a little bit again and flattened out on top.  You can cover the container tightly and put it in the fridge, where it will store for up to 2 weeks, or you can go directly to Step 2: BAKE!
  2. On baking day (the day before the wedding, or the morning of, if you are a super early riser), shape the dough into 16 buns:
    1. First, get your parchment paper ready.  If you’re using a baking stone or cast-iron skillets, then put the parchment paper on a pizza peel or something that you can use to easily slide the paper onto the stone with.  If you’re using baking trays, just put the parchment paper on the baking trays.  Dust it liberally with flour.
    2. Get your hands really wet.  No-knead dough is very wet, so you don’t want to add any more flour to it.
    3. In this step, try not to handle the dough too much: Grab a very small handful of the dough, pull the handful up from the container, and separate that little handful of dough from the rest of it.  You can either pull the handful off if the dough is wet enough, or else use a pair of scissors to cut it off if the dough is too stretch to separate by pulling.  See this video at 0:10 to see the scissors method.
    4. In this step, try not to handle the dough too much (finish each bun in 20-40 seconds): Using your very wet hands, shape the small handful of dough.  Gently stretch the surface of the dough around the the bottom.  Do this several times, rotating the dough ball turn as you go, keeping the top of the dough ball on top and pulling the sides down to meet the bottom.  The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking.  Here’s a video of Jeff Hertzberg shaping a loaf.  Drop the dough ball, bottom-side-down, on your prepared parchment paper.
    5. With your wet fingers, flatten out the dough ball to about 3/4″ thick on the parchment paper.
    6. Repeat steps 4-5 for the other 15 dough balls.
    7. Let the dough rest on the parchment paper for 20-40 minutes (20 if your house is warm, 40 if it’s cold or if you’re using a baking stone or cast-iron skillets).
  3. While the dough is resting, preheat your oven to  450ºF.  If you have a baking stone or are using cast-iron skillets to bake on, then put those in the oven to preheat for at least 20 minutes, preferably longer so they get fully hot.
  4. Prep your steam equipment: if you’re going to use a broiler tray or cookie sheet with sides to make steam, pour water into the tray when you first put the bread into the oven.  If you are using an upside-down metal bowl, put one over a row of buns as you put the bread into the oven.  If you’re using a clean spray bottle, spray the buns 3 times in the first 10 minutes of baking.  The more steam the better; you’ll get a much chewier crust that way.
  5. After the oven is preheated: Slide the parchment paper with the rested dough directly onto the stone or into the skillet.  Or, just put your baking tray + parchment paper + rested dough directly into the oven.
  6. Bake for 13-15 min.  You’ll know they’re done when they’re a nice golden-brown on top, and when you flip one over and knock on the bottom, you hear a hollow sound.
  7. Let the buns rest on a cooling rack or drying rack for 1-2 hours before wrapping it up in plastic to bring to the wedding

If you choose to bring this recipe, please bring a knife and cutting board as well so we can slice the buns up on the day of the wedding, or let us know if you can’t so we can provide them.  Please don’t pre-cut them; this kind of no-knead recipe with wet dough doesn’t do well if you cut the bread when it’s still hot, or if you cut the bread too long before serving.

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