Two weeks ago I went to the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market in search of breakfast. There’s a vendor who sells all types of incredible bread including these bread twists that come in all sorts of delicious flavors, my personal favorite being garlic/red pepper. They unfortunately were out by the time I got there but as I trudged home another stand caught my eye.
In the midst of all sorts of earth tone crafts and root vegetables I saw these incredibly bright hot pepper/flower bouquets. Perhaps it’s not a new concept, but it was new to me and I thought it was really neat. I bought one, figuring it would look nice in our apartment and also had a practical use. Of course whilst walking home with them I remembered that we had an entire bag of dried hot peppers that will take a lifetime to use.
I had been planning to make ciabatta and wanted to give it an extra kick with these hot peppers. Ciabatta is an exceptionally simple bread to make and since it relies on so few ingredients the use of a pre-ferment (making some of the dough the night before) helps add to the flavor.
The night before you’d like to bake the bread make your poolish (pre-ferment) by mixing the listed amounts of flour, water, and yeast. It will have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.
Let it sit out at room temperature for about 4 hours, then place covered in the fridge overnight.
The next day take the poolish out and let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand), combine the remaining ingredients and mix until combined. You want the dough to be fairly wet but not so much that it is impossible to work with. When your mixer is kneading it it shouldn’t stick to the sides of the bowl, although it will stick to the bottom. It is at this point that I also incorporated the hot peppers that I cut up.
Similar to the high hydration sourdough I made a while back, you want to utilize the ‘stretch and fold’ method as a means of helping to shape the dough. Perform a few stretch and folds, and the let the dough sit for 30 minutes. This is difficult for me to do, since I don’t have a large stable surface to work on (I use a plastic mat on my counter). Repeat the stretch and fold process, and let it rise for about 2 hours (it should have almost doubled in size). Throughout this whole process make sure the bowl/surface the dough is on is oiled.
Transfer the dough to a well floured surface and cut it in half (or thirds, depending on how big/how many loaves you want). I chose to make round boules but you can just as easily form them into a more rectangular loaf shape (using the stretch and fold method). Either way, once you’ve shaped the dough let it rise for another hour. I thought the pepper flakes on the outside gave it a pretty cool look.
Generally when I make bread it’s with the intention of making sandwiches or breakfast toast so that’s why I went with the round shape. If I could do this recipe again (which I intend to soon) I would probably go with the flatter rectangular shape.
Preheat the oven to 500° with a baking stone on the top rack and an empty pan (I use an old warped cake pan)on the lower one. This ‘hearth baking’ technique which I have used before makes use of the super hot temperature to create a large amount of steam at the start of the baking process. When the oven is heated place the loaves on your stone and pour 1 cup of hot water into the pan. Close the oven door, and then at 30 second intervals open it up and spray the walls of the oven with water. Do this twice, then lower the temperature to 450°. The loaves will need to bake 15-20 minutes (mine took about 18) and should be rotated halfway through.
I didn’t get as hole-y and open crumb as I was expecting, partially I think because in transferring the dough into the oven I handled it a lot which caused it to deflate. I also had to add a bit more flour than I would have liked in order to make it possible to work with the dough.
Despite not being as happy with the shape/crumb, the bread tasted very good and I seem to have not overdone it on the peppers. It didn’t last very long in our apartment, but the bread should keep for about a week at room temperature (always best to keep in a bag or else it gets stale super quick).
Hot Pepper Ciabatta
- 2.5 cups bread flour (for poolish)
- 1.5 cups water (for poolish)
- 1/4 teaspoon yeast (for poolish)
- 3 3/4 cups bread flour (for dough)
- 1 3/4 teaspoons salt (for dough)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast (for dough)
- 2 tablespoons to 3/4 cup water (for dough)
- 10 small hot peppers, finely diced (optional)
The night before you plan to bake the bread mix together the bread, water, and yeast for the poolish. Make sure it is all combined and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours. Place covered in the refrigerator overnight.
The following day take poolish out and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Mix together remaining yeast, flour, salt and (if using) peppers. Slowly add water until dough clears sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.
Turn dough out onto an oiled work surface and perform several ‘stretch and folds’. Let dough rest for 30 minutes then repeat. Allow to rise for 2 hours and then turn out onto a well floured work surface.
Divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces and shape as desired. Allow to rise 1 hour. Preheat over to 500° and prepare for hearth baking by placing a pan on the lower rack of the oven. When the oven is heated place the loaves on your baking stone and pour 1 cup of hot water into the pan. Close the oven door, and then at 30 second intervals open it up and spray the walls of the oven with water. Do this twice, then lower the temperature to 450 degrees. Bake 15-20 minutes, rotating halfway through.
Recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.