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Marjoram ciabatta

by Victoria Glass
Marjoram Ciabatta

Marjoram ciabatta

PT4H

Why not try?

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.

Ingredients

Metric

Imperial

1
Sift the flour and add the yeast to 1 side of the bowl and the salt to the other. Pour over the olive oil and half of the water. Get 1 hand in there while using your clean hand to keep the bowl steady. Mix and knead the dough until all the water has been absorbed before adding the remaining water and the chopped marjoram
2
Continue to use your hand to mix and stretch the dough. It’s less messy to do all of this process in the bowl, but be warned, it does take some time
3
By the end, the dough will still be slightly sticky and loose, but it should come away from the sides of the bowl when lifted. Remember, be patient. Alternatively, you can do all of this with a dough hook in a food processor, but it will still take around 10 minutes
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4
Tip the dough into a large, oiled container and cover the top with a tea towel. Leave at room temperature for at least 1 hour, but more likely 2, or until the dough has tripled in size. That’s right, tripled
5
Dust a large sheet of baking parchment with plenty of flour and turn out the dough on top. Dust the top with more flour and cut in half as neatly as you can
6
Carefully but quickly lift each piece of dough onto the baking sheet, with enough room between them to allow for spreading. Tidy up the shape a little if you need to, by gently patting the sides with your hands. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove again for 45 minutes
7
Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 8
8
Take the tea towel off the bread and pop them straight into the oven to bake for 25–30 minutes, or until your bread is nice and golden and if you tap the bottom, they sound hollow
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