Bread is something that always prompts people to ask me about my problems with baking at altitude. I find that funny, because bread is one of the few things that I find reliable at altitude.
Cakes, quick breads, cookies? Prepare for them to be flat in the center.
Sugar and candy-making? Be absolutely certain of the accuracy of that thermometer, and expect it to take twice as long as the recipe calls for. Oh, use an extra-large pot, so it doesn’t boil over.
Boiled eggs? Don’t even ask.
Fortunately, bread is surprisingly forgiving, as long as you know what the dough is supposed to look like and you’re able to adapt to the low humidity. The yeast will do its job as long as something is there to feed it. It’s not hard to adjust the moisture content of the dough; just try to err on the side of too little flour, and knead in a little more as necessary. Rises tend to take a bit long in my kitchen because I have a lot of cool surfaces, but I try to choose a preferred spot on the counter over my running or recently finished dishwasher.
This ciabatta is a good loaf for branching out into making bread on a regular basis. Although it takes a bit of advance planning (it needs to be started the day before, and requires an afternoon when you can be available for punching down dough), there’s nothing complicated about the recipe, and the results are terrific.
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Ingredients for Biga (Starter):
- 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
- 1 c water
- 1/4 t active dry yeast dissolved in 1 t water
Ingredients for Ciabatta:
- 1 1/2 t active dry yeast dissolved in 1 T water
- 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 t salt
- 1 t sugar
- 1 T nonfat dry milk
- 1/3 c water
- 2 T olive oil
First, prepare the biga by mixing all biga ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and rest overnight. It should expand and become very stretchy.
The next day, start working early in the afternoon if you want to eat the bread in the evening. In a stand mixer, combine all bread ingredients. Beat at medium speed using the paddle attachment for 5-8 minutes, until it begins to come together and take on some shape. It will still be very wet and sticky, and nearly impossible to knead by hand, but if it’s more like a batter, add a bit more flour. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours, turning with a spatula after about 45 minutes.
Pour the dough onto a well-oiled surface. Divide it in half and shape each half into a long oblong shape, about 10 inches long. Place each half onto a parchment-covered, well-oiled baking sheet. Cover with well-oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.
Remove the plastic wrap, oil your hands, and poke deep holes into the dough. Re-cover and allow to rise for another hour. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Remove the plastic wrap and spray the loaves with water. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Turn off the oven, remove the loaves from the baking sheet, and place them directly on the oven racks. Prop open the oven door and allow them to cool in the hot oven.