Good bread aka ‘the staff of life’ is certainly sustaining, comforting and bloody tasty when done well. With most of us spending more time at home, we’ve noticed a lot more baking going on amongst us winedirecties and out there in Facebook and Instaland too.
We’ve been playing around with bread and wine matches and have discovered to our delight that a good homemade bread can be successfully paired with wine, with or without toppings.
Here’s a recipe for a Ciabatta we’ve been baking fairly regularly, along with some wine pairing suggestions. You can bust this recipe out in a day (it’s not a lot of work, you just need to be patient). If you want the full gourmet experience, it’s a two to three day job, again, not a huge amount of actual prep time is required, you’ll just be stretching out the process to allow for maximum flavour development which in turn will make a wine pairing all the sweeter. You can make formed loaves (with the help of a cake tin), freeform traditional looking ciabatta or rolls (just shape roll size balls and coat in olive oil before packing them into a cake tin and baking). This recipe also works as an awesome pizza base.
Ciabatta works a treat with Viognier, Cab, Chianti/Sangiovese and Merlot. You don’t even need toppings, particularly, if you’re tucking into it about half an hour after it comes out of the oven… even the butter is optional. That said, you can top with Brie and grill to get it nice and melty, Provolone Piccante, Asiago with a bit of age, Gorgonzola and even Buffalo Mozzarella…
So, here’s the ingredients, methods and stuff - this makes two bloody big loaves, four mediums, half a dozen big pizza bases or a heap of crusty, chewy, stretchy rolls…
Day One: The Starter
Late in the day make a starter. This isn’t like a sourdough starter with lots of waste – it is just an awesome way of building extra flavour and stretchiness into the final loaf.
Mix 400 grams of quality bread makers flour (like the Laucke Wallaby which you can still find in supermarkets, unless some bugger has cleaned them out) and 400mL of lukewarm water. Add a pinch of dried yeast and stir it all up. Cover the bowl and let it ferment at room temp for at least 8 hours. Up to 16 is fine. If you are doing the full 16 hours, add only half a pinch of yeast.
By making this starter you’ll get better extensibility in the final dough, the bread will have better flavour and it will also keep better (not that it’ll take you long to knock off a couple of loaves of this bread).
It is worth using digital scales – accurate measurements make a difference to the final recipe in this instance.
Day Two: Making The Final Dough
Take 750 grams of flour, 500mL of warm water (35-38 degrees Celsius), 3.5 grams of yeast, 22 grams of salt and your starter, which was prepared on Day One. Put them into a stand mixer on a low speed for 6 minutes (or thereabouts), with an additional mix at high speed for about a minute at the end.
Because this dough is highly hydrated it’ll look like a sloppy mess at this stage - but it will all come together, I promise!
At this stage you want to put the dough into a large, sealable container which you have greased with a touch of olive oil. You don’t need to knead this dough (though after you’ve tasted the final product you’ll need to need this bread) – just proof, degas, stretch, fold and repeat for a total of 3 or 4 cycles. Stretching and folding builds strength in the dough and develops gluten while also making sure the temp is even across the dough, so your final rise will be uniform. Initially the dough will be extremely sticky (just coat your hands in cold water before handling). By the last cycle it will have come together nicely.
Wet your hands, remove the dough from its container, and place it on the bench. From there, stretch the side closest to you towards you and fold it over the top of the remaining dough. Repeat with the other 3 sides. Once done, put the dough back in the container with the seams down for at least half an hour.
After three or four rounds of this, the dough will be much less sticky, and you’ll be able to do a gluten window test – where the gluten is so well developed that you can stretch a section of the dough so much that you can see light through it. Once achieved, you will need to divide up the dough.
At this point you have four options, you could;
- roll the dough out into pizza bases and proof for half an hour.
- shape into a heap of balls, coat in olive oil, pack into springform cake tins, cover with a damp tea towel, and allow it to be able to rise for 30-50 minutes. By doing this it will give you deliciously crunchy crusted, chewy rolls.
- make loaves – again you can proof these in cake tins, covered with a damp tea towel.
- for a rustic freeform ciabatta, proof a few large bowls and when it comes time to bake, transfer to a baking tray carefully and whack them straight in the oven - no need to line with baking paper, nor to grease the tray.
Scoring? No need, the high hydration of this dough makes it too slack to score.
Now it is time to bake.
Preheat the Oven to 250 degrees. You’ll need a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven or a soaked face washer - this will stay in the oven for the first 15 minutes of the bake. The resulting steam will inhibit the crust from developing quickly, which in turn will allow the loaves to rise more… you beauty! Just remember to take the cloth/pan out after 15 minutes - it’s done its job, now you want that crust to develop. You probably don’t want the face washer to dry out and catch fire either.
At the 25 min mark of the bake check the colour of the crust. If it’s a deep brown you may need to drop the bake temp by 20 degrees or cover the loaves with alfoil.
Check the bake with a cake skewer after 35 minutes, if still not quite cooked it may need another 5 minutes.
Once the bake is done get the loaves out and onto cake racks to cool.
After 40 minutes to an hour, you are ready to enjoy this with some vino. The bread by itself or with just a little butter works really well with Viognier, Cab, Chianti, Sangiovese and Merlot. You could also have a crack at the following combinations, just have a go and see what works for you:
- Melted Brie or Buffalo Mozzarella – Viognier or Chardy
- Provolone Piccante, Asiago with a bit of age, Gorgonzola – go the Cab, Chianti or Sangiovese
Ciabatta believe that the possibilities are endless, you might want to rub slices with garlic, drizzle with olive oil and top with chopped tomato and basil, in which case a crisp Pinot Grigio is the go, maybe a Riesling.
Feeling meaty, we suggest adding thinly sliced smoked wagyu, paired with a big Barossa Shiraz or a Coonawarra Cab.