It might not actually look much like a slipper, or at least any kind of slipper I have ever worn, but Cavallari certainly succeeded in creating a bread fit to rival France’s finest. In fact, only three years after its inception, Marks & Spencer brought the bread to British shores, stocking it on their shelves as early as 1985. Despite its relative youth, making this bread is not the simplest of endeavours.
This is a quick ciabatta made without using a starter dough, or biga, so they didn’t need at least 6 hours to start the fermentation process before beginning. The flavours are more intense and a little more authentic if you use a biga, but it is by no means essential, especially if time isn’t on your side.
A ciabatta is only a worry to make if you’re expecting the dough to look and feel like a basic farmhouse loaf. It would be tempting to the novice baker to keep adding extra flour to the mix, but hold off! The characteristic air holes could not be created from a drier dough.
Aside from taking your time with the initial mixing and kneading, it is extremely important to wait it out when the dough is proving. Paul Hollywood stipulates oiling a square container in his book, Bread, to help keep the shape when you turn it out, but I found the dough splatted out into an amorphous blob, despite using a square Tupperware box.
The next complication is shaping the bread. You should handle the bread as little as possible at this stage and certainly should forego the usual 'knocking back' needed for basic bread recipes. Here the earlier caution for using extra flour can be thrown by the wayside. It’s better to use more, than less, or else the dough will become stuck to the surface and you’ll end up manhandling it to prise it off. I find the easiest method is to turn the dough out onto baking paper dusted with plenty of flour, before dusting the top. Use a dough scraper to cut the dough and then lift it straight onto baking paper lined and flour dusted baking sheet. The action of moving the dough will elongate it naturally to the desired length.
I added finely chopped marjoram to my dough as a nod to the Roman tradition of seasoning ciabatta with oil, salt and marjoram, but chopped black olives or sun-dried tomatoes are also delicious additions.