Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dutch Oven Artisan Bread - Italian Ciabatta

I decided to try one of those "artisan breads" so many people are talking about. I kinda wanted to keep pressing my skills and see how far it will stretch, ya know? After a bit of searching, I came to an Italian Ciabatta. I'm doing a pasta dinner for some out-of-town friends tomorrow night, and I wanted to find something that fit, but would also be impressive, too.

It's kind of interesting. It's a very wet dough and it's got a very long pre-ferment time. In fact, it was very tricky for me to figure out exactly when to set it up and when to start so that the times of activity (mixing, kneading, baking) and the times of inactivity (rising, proofing, etc...) would all co-incide with times that I'd be able to do them.

I haven't tasted the end result yet. It looks good, but the crumb is more dense than the pictures in the book I used (The Art Of Bread (Cooking Arts Collection)). The pictures show a lot of large bubble holes, and a strong crust, but I got a very light crust and kind of normal crumb.

Perhaps someone with more expertise in bread making can point out where I went wrong. Still, it smells great, and I think it will taste great tomorrow, too. Of course, I had to make some adjustments to the procedure to adapt to outdoor cooking in the dutch oven. I think this process needs more tweaking.

Dutch Oven Ciabatta Bread

12" Dutch Oven
19 coals above/10 coals below

The "Starter"

  • 1/2 tsp dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup water (at about 100ºF)
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp honey
  • 1 cup bread flour

The Dough

  • 1/2 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 cup water (at about 100ºF)
  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2-2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

I started early yesterday morning, very early, when I got up and made the "Starter". So many different books call this step so many different things. Some call it the pre-ferment. Others call it the start or the starter. I've heard it called the sponge. I don't know what to call it. But at any rate, I combined the water and the milk, then dissolved the yeast into that mixture, letting it sit for about 5-10 minutes. Then I added the honey. Finally, I stirred in the flour. It was pretty runny and sticky, for dough. I set this aside on my kitchen counter, covered by a cloth towel.

About 12 hours later, (according to the instructions in the recipe), I looked at it. In fact, I'd been checking on it along the way, except for the hours we were out swimming as a family. Fun stuff, bad sunburn, the usual.

It had foamed up and sank back down. I hope that was what it was supposed to do.

At that point, it was time to make the dough. I added the yeast and the water to activate and dissolve the yeast. I set it aside for 5-10 minutes, again, like I had done before. I added this and the olive oil to the starter bowl with the sunken glop that was the starter, and mixed that up. It wasn't easy to mix with a wooden spoon. But it got tougher...

Next I added two cups of flour and kept stirring. According to the instructions, it should remain very sticky and quite loose, not like a good, firm, kneadable dough. I could see that the stirring up time was the only kneading it was gonna get. It was very difficult, and tiring to the ol' wrist, to stir it all over and over for 6-7 minutes. I had to do it, though, so I did.

I pulled it out for a moment, and sprayed the inside of the bowl with Pam spray, and then put it all back in. I set it aside with a towel over it, and let it rise for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

At about 2 to 2 1/2 hours rising time, I started some coals. I checked, of course, and it had risen a LOT! The recipe said to let it rise to triple it's original size, and it had certainly done that.

The next set of instructions were a little unclear in the book, and even less clear as to how to translate them into the dutch oven. The idea is to handle the dough as little as possible so as to not degass it. While I was contemplating that process, I got some lit coals out on the lid, pre-heating it. I essentially put all the coals listed above on the lid.

Finally, I made a decision. I sprayed the inside of the dutch oven, and then, as gently as I could, upended the bowl into the dutch oven. It did degas some. I'm not sure how else to do it. I let it proof in the dutch oven for another 20 minutes or so, while the lid got good and hot. Then, I sprinkled the dough with flour, primarily just as a topping, to pretty it up.

Then, I put it on the coals. I rotated it every 10-15 minutes, and replenished the coals. I did, however, let the coals die out a bit more this time than usual before replenishing, and I wonder if that's the reason for the lighter colored, softer crust...

Anyway, when the thermometer read done, I pulled it out and let it cool. Then, I sliced it open and put it away in the fridge for Monday night. We'll see how it goes!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: The Oquirrh Mountain Mormon Temple Dedication


  1. Hi Mark!
    Wow sounds scrumptious! I don't know either how they get those huge bubbles. I usually get midsized ones throughout, with just a few big ones. Couple of things- oil and milk will tend to soften the crust and so will honey. Not a problem- still tastes great just not really crunchy. You will get better holes if your oven is BLAZING hot before you put the bread in. Don't worry about sticking, just lightly dust the top of the dough before you upend it into the oven. I also do ciabatta in a mixer on hi for 10 min. (wimp!) It will look like cake batter for most of that time, then start to clean the bowl. When that happens it's ready for the 1st rise. Hope it helps!

  2. I think this is another bread type where just heating the lid won't work as well. It did taste great, tho.

    I also noticed that it had a bit of sourdough taste to it. Yummm...

  3. Try the recipe in "Arisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" I have had excellent results and I have only been doing bread a couple of months. No prior bread or roll experience at all. I am not afraid of bread now, and will definately do fresh breads camping oh I am sorry I don't camp any more I have a hybrid TT. I do all the cooking outside though.



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