In my post last night, I mentioned something about "Gus' 16-Hour Pulled Pork on Homemade Ciabatta" during the Super Bowl. There is something you should know about my friend Gus: He loves to make sandwiches. A lot. He is a true master of the art of sandwich building. Even though he's inches away from getting his PhD, I've told him to quit and become a full time sandwich-making-guy. That's how good the sandwiches are.
So, because I'm flogging myself over the head with a baking challenge this year, and because Gus loves sandwiches, we came up with pulled pork and ciabatta rolls. There was a lot of drooling for about a month until this actually came to fruition. Gus used a crockpot to cook a pork shoulder with onions and ginger ale for about 12 hours, and added Stadium Sauce for the last 4 hours. The pork literally melted in your mouth.
As for the ciabatta? Well... it was fine, but it was not ciabatta. I had many problems with Peter Reinhart's recipe. In trying to find an online version, it appears that a lot of people have problems with the poolish version. The most common complaint is one of my major issues--there are very few holes, and very small crumbs. That is just simply not ciabatta, no matter what the crust looks like. My other major problem was presumably my fault somehow (because no one else's dough looked like this), and that was my dough was in no way soft or sticky. It was super heavy and kind of hard. Obviously, there was too much flour. The end product was a really heavy, soft roll (which worked well for pulled pork, but it ain't ciabatta!). I know now by looking at other people's doughs online, that the dough should be wet, wet, wet. Really wet. Too wet to handle. Well, live and learn.
Ciabatta - Poolish Version (from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart)
-2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour (11.25 oz.)
-1 1/2 cups water (12 oz.) -- at room temperature
-1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
-3 1/4 cups Poolish (essentially, all of it)
-3 cups unbleached bread flour (13.5 oz.) **NOTE: One site said to use AP flour here instead of bread flour, as it resulted in yielding larger holes in the bread. Something to consider!**
-1 3/4 teaspoons fine sea salt (preferred) -- or table salt
-1 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
-6 tablespoons - up to 3/4 cup buttermilk (milk or water can also be used)
1. In a medium bowl, combine all the poolish ingredients and mix well to be sure the flour is fully hydrated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 3-4 hours to ferment, or until the sponge becomes bubbly and foamy. Immediately refrigerate. Poolish will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
2. Remove the poolish from the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to mixing up the dough to take off the chill.
3. Into the bowl of your mixer whisk together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the poolish and 6 tablespoons of the water. Using the paddle attachment with mixer on low speed, mix until ingredients begin to form a sticky ball, about 3-4 minutes. Switch to dough hook, increase speed to medium, and mix/knead for 2-3 additional minutes.. The dough should just clear the sides of the bowl and be very soft, wet and sticky, and stick to the bottom of the bowl.
4. Sprinkle enough flour onto the kneading surface to make a bed about 8 inches square. Using a bowl scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and proceed with the stretch-and-fold method. Stretch the dough to twice its size, then fold the dough over itself like a business envelope. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil, again dust with flour, and loosely cover with plastic wrap or in a large food grade plastic bag.
5. Let dough rest 30 minutes, then repeat the stretch-and-fold process again. Mist with spray oil, dust with flour and re-cover. Allow dough to ferment on the counter for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. It should swell considerably but not necessarily doubled in size.
6. Carefully remove the plastic from the dough and shape the dough (**this is the point at which you would cut it into rectangular thirds for 3 loaves, or several pieces for rolls!**), placing the loaves into the troughs of the couche. Mist the dough with spray oil again and dust with more flour. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Proof for 45 to 60 minutes at room temperature or until the dough has noticeably swelled.
7. While the loaves are proofing, prepare the oven for hearth baking by placing an empty sheet pan in the bottom of the oven, and preheat to 500 degrees.
8. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina or cornmeal. VERY GENTLY transfer the dough pieces to the peel or pan, using a bench knife or pastry scraper to support. Lift the dough at each end and tug the dough out to lengths of 9-12 inches. If the dough bulges, dimple it down lightly with your fingertips.
9. Load the loaves into the oven---either directly onto the baking stone or tiles, or else bake the loaves directly on the sheet pan. Pour 1 cup of hot (simmering or boiling) water into the pan in the oven, taking care to avoid the steam. Shut the oven door immediately. After 30 seconds, spray the sides of the oven with water, then shut the door. Repeat two more times. Reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees and set timer for 15-20 minutes (depending on your oven and the way it bakes). Check half-way through the baking for uneven browning---if so, rotate the loaves 180 degrees and finish baking.
10. The bread should register 205 degrees in the center and should be golden in color---the flour streaks will also give it a dusty look. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow to cool at least 45 minutes before serving.
Yields: 2 large loaves, 3 small loaves, or 6-10 buns (depending on how big you want them to be)