The scent of bread baking in the oven and soup simmering on the stove while snow falls outside your window is one of life’s pleasures.
Ok, ok, so relaxing on a Caribbean beach with a Planter’s Punch while your friends and relatives back home are slipping on icy driveways is pretty high up there, too.
But if you can’t hop on a plane to Barbados or the Bahamas, you can at least satisfy your craving for really good bread with this recipe from Jim Lahey.
Lahey, if you recall, is the guru behind the no-knead bread recipe that swept the country (with good reason) many years ago. His first book, “My Bread,” contains this recipe for ciabatta that will spoil you for anything other than artisanal bread.
The only hitch is you need a special clay pot – a Romertopf – and a pizza stone.
If you don’t have them, or don’t want to buy them, make Lahey’s original no-knead bread with the recipe here.
My kids bought the clay pot for me a couple of years ago when I first made this recipe.
I haven’t made it since — that is, until a couple of weeks ago, when snow was falling in the Northeast U.S.
Never mind that it’s nearly 70 degrees F. this week in New Jersey. You’ll want to bake this any time of year, no matter the temperature.
You have to give it some thought ahead of time, since the first rising takes 12 to 18 hours. Very little yeast is used, hence the need for a long rise, resulting in a dough that’s got a great texture – filled with wonderful small and medium sized holes.
After it’s risen to double in size, add just enough additional flour to shape it into a loaf, then let it rise again for an hour.
You’ll then cut it in half before placing it in the oven.
You need to stretch out the dough into a flatter shape and place it on top of the pizza stone (don’t worry, it seems like you’ve deflated it, but it will rise a little more in the oven.)
Then cover the dough with the overturned Romertopf pot that’s been heating in the oven – careful, it’s extremely hot!
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the pot and bake another 10-20 minutes. Repeat with the other loaf, and you’ve got two gorgeous, crusty and delicious ciabatta loaves.
I guess you know that ciabatta means “slipper” in Italian, referring to the squat shape of the bread.
If it’s not stretched out sufficiently, the ciabatta becomes a little “stouter” in shape, which is fine too. It tastes just as good.
Another time, you might want to try shaping part of it into smaller, sandwich size rolls.
Add some prosciutto and burrata for a delicious panino.
Enjoy with some homemade soup for a satisfying lunch or dinner.
Or skip the soup, open a bottle of good red wine, add a chunk of cheese, slice up the bread and call it a day.
You won’t even miss that warm beach and Planter’s Punch.
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from Jim Lahey’s “My Bread”
printable recipe here
3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 t. table salt
1/4 t. instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees F.) water (I needed more – just add enough until you get a “loose” consistency but not so wet that it can’t be shaped)
additional flour for dusting
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and, with lightly floured hands, nudge the dough into roughly a 14 inch square. Fold the dough in half, and then crosswise in half again, so you have a square, roughly 7 inches on each side.
Place the dough in a warm, draft-free spot, cover it with a tea towel, and let rise for 1 hour. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, soak the clay baker for 10 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. with a rack in the center. Place the baker on the pizza stone, and put the stone and baker in the center of the rack.
Using pot holders, carefully remove the hot pot and stone from the oven, taking care not to set them on a cold surface. Using a dough cutter or sharp serrated knife, cut the dough in half. Shape each piece into a long flat loaf. Generously dust each loaf with flour (you will bake 1 loaf at a time). Pick up 1 loaf with both hands, quickly but gently stretch it to almost the length of the clay pot (roughly 10 inches) and place it on the stone. Using pot holders, cover the loaf with the inverted pot, and bake for 20 minutes.
Uncover the loaf and place the pot on another rack in the oven, to keep it hot for the second loaf. Continue to bake the first loaf for 10 to 20 minutes, checking the color of the loaf once or twice. It is done when the crust is a light chestnut color. Using pot holders, carefully remove the stone from the oven. Transfer the ciabatta to a rack to cool thoroughly, and bake the second ciabatta the same way.