Thursday marked the end of my first baking and production class, Hearth Breads and Rolls. It’s amazing how quickly the blocks go by and just how much information and experience you gather in that time frame! The block culminated with my team moving to ciabatta production.

This station sort of brought me back to feeling a little nervous. Unlike the other breads produced in class, the ciabatta is hand mixed. It’s also the first item to go into the ovens so you are on a bit of a time crunch to get it mixed, all the folds in, divided, and time for its final fermentation.

Ciabatta is an extremely wet dough at about 80% hydration. Most of what we worked with was probably in the 60-68% range. This added moisture really made it unlike what I was used to handling. After its bulk fermentation where all the yeast starts doing its thing and creating gas and flavor with its alcohol and organic acid by products, I had to do the first fold. The dough literally poured out of the container and was a sticky mess…but it’s supposed to be. What was amazing was how the folding action immediately showed how it helped the gluten strengthen and reinforce. The dough immediately became more strong. The following fold and mini-fold were a bit easier to do because of this.

Dividing the dough was a bit more difficult because of the additional hydration as well. The dough kept rolling and the skin side you wanted to keep up would slowly start to migrate to the side. It also wanted to stick back together so copious amounts of flour were required to keep this from happening. We had to work fast as well to keep it from overproofing.

The end result–a ciabatta with a nice crunchy crust and large irregular holes–was worth all the craziness from the dough. Although all the breads we produced in class were hands on, it was actually really cool to physically mix the ciabatta dough and it left me with a true feeling of “I made this.”