February 14, 2012

First Try at Chibatta Bread

I love fresh baked bread.  There is just something about the smell of baking bread that takes a person home.  Even though we didn’t bake bread much when I was growing up, I think the smell just makes any place feel like home.  After mastering focaccia bread, I have been feeling confident in my bread baking abilities, so I decided to move on to another, more complicated Italian bread: chibatta.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a baker, so whenever I find a recipe that actually turns out the way it is supposed to I am somewhat amazed and delighted that I could actually bake something.  I can made a mean chocolate chip cookie, and I help make Christmas cinnamon rolls each year, but bread has always been intimidating to me.  It seems like something Moms and Grandmas (and Dads) are always good at making bread and they made it look so easy, but I just have to remind myself that they had to start somewhere too. 

With football over and baseball waiting to start, I figured why not try a new bread this weekend.  I had all the ingredients I needed to make a quick and basic chibatta bread, so I didn’t have any excuses to not at least give it a shot.  Flour, salt, active dry yeast, olive oil and warm water are all the ingredients I need for this basic bread.

Chibatta bread has a light an airy inside with a crispy crust that is achieved by an extended rising time (up to 2 days!) and a hot oven.  I try to be patient, but when I stumbled across a chibatta recipe that only took 4 hours to make, and that didn’t require a bread maker or electric mixer, I jumped on it.  I have to say I was skeptical going in that this recipe wouldn’t achieve the light and chewy interior, but I was ready to give it a try. 

I start by combining my ingredients and immediately run into a snag.  For 2 loaves the recipe calls for a packet of active dry yeast, or 7 grams.  I am not sure a 7 gram packet of active dry yeast exists and since I only had 21 gram packets I had to figure out a way to get 1/6 of the packet out.  Baking is all about the precise measurements, so I didn’t want to get the yeast wrong.  I poured all the yeast on a dry paper towel and separated it into 3 sections (you know 7 x 3 = 21) and poured 1/2 of the 3 into my dry mix.  Close enough…

Next it was time to add the wet ingredients to my dry mix.  I needed 110 degree water, so I nuked it (I hate using a microwave, but I was being lazy and didn’t want to wait for water to boil on the stove).  I poured in the hot water and oil and started to hand mix my dough.  Yes I didn’t think this through, and yes my hands are now on fire but it’s too late to turn back now so grit my teeth and keep going.  I’m glad I did because the dough quickly came together and was soon the smooth consistency I needed. 

Here is a little trick for all you out there who don’t keep saran wrap on hand: if you need to have bread rise in a air tight container you can use a large tupperware with a lid.  Just make sure that there is enough space for the dough to double in size.  So into my tupperware container my bread goes and I let it sit for about an hour and a half.  It has almost doubled in size, so I give it another 20 minutes or so. 

Time to fold the dough.  I was slightly confused about this part.  Usually you would punch the dough down and let it rise again, but this recipe called for folding the dough over and then letting it rise before repeating.  Then I figured it out, this folding method allows more air to get inside the dough so it forms the bubbles inside the bread.  I fold the sides in and then the top and bottom before placing it back into my tupperware.  I let that sit another hour before doing it all over again. 

My dough at this point is getting big and light and I’m getting excited.  After the last fold is done and rising again I preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  I am not a bread maker so I don’t know if this is really hot or not, but I would imagine that it needs to be super hot to make the outside crisp while the inside keeps it’s spongy texture.  Having a gas oven means that it is going to take a while to heat so I figure that the timing will come out just right.

And I was right on with the timing.  The oven beeped as soon as I was getting ready to take the dough out.  I form the dough into a slipper (chibatta means slipper in Italian and I’m sure you can see why) and dust it with flour before popping it into the oven.  After about 20 minutes I am ready to pull the bread out.  I had a note written on my recipe that says “when bread sounds hollow it is done” but, sadly, my bread never really got the hollow sound.  It did however turn a wonderful golden color.

I am ready to dig into dinner with my freshly baked bread for a side.  I made myself some spaghetti and meat sauce and served up a heaping plateful.  The meat sauce ended up being the star of the dish.  The bread, while not bad, just wasn’t what I had anticipated.  The exterior had a good crunch to it and the inside was spongy but it was too heavy for my taste.  The flavor was right on, slightly sour but light and sweet too and it was a perfect sauce scooper, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Next time I am going to try letting it rise more, and maybe adding a touch more yeast to the mix.  I am also going to try the 2-day recipe and see what the difference is.  I will absolutely make this again though.  Also, as I am typing this I see step 4 for apparently the first time.  I definetly didn’t let my dough rise like that!  Maybe that is why my bread just wasn’t as light as I had anticipated.  Ha!  Guess I will be having a round 2 here shortly. J

Quick Chibatta Bread
  • 1-1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3.5 grams active dry yeast
  • 1 tbl olive oil
  • 1-1/4 c warm water (110 degrees)

  1. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.  Add in oil and water, mixing with hands or wooden spoon. 
  2. Once  dough is smooth an elastic (should be able to toss the dough without it sticking to your hands), place in a sealed container and let bread double in size, about 1-1/2 hours.
  3. Remove loaf and fold.  Return to container and let sit another hour.  Repeat 1 – 2 more times.
  4. Grease a large baking tray and form dough into a flattened rectangle and cover with a damp towel and let rise another hour.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees about 30 minutes until bread sounds hollow when tapped lightly.

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