Shane Van O’s Whole Wheat Ciabatta

Follow along as Shane teaches us to make delicious whole wheat, vegan ciabatta using his trademark “Sponge Blob.” Shane is an accomplished artist, author, cook and gardener who blogs at The Passionate Gardener.

Whole Wheat Ciabatta Bread

I love making rustic breads. Here’s a great recipe for whole wheat Ciabatta that also happens to be vegan because it is made without the traditional milk powder. Ciabatta is made with biga, which is prepared in advance of making the dough. Biga feeds the yeast and produces a pre-ferment that is necessary for the bread’s flavor and texture. The dictionary definition of biga is “a two-wheeled chariot drawn by two horses harnessed abreast.”

Biga:

½ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
2 cups whole-wheat flour

Combine in a liquid measuring glass or small bowl:

½ cup of the lukewarm water. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon active dry yeast into the water and gently mix together. Observe the yeast for about ten minutes. This will put you in a Zen state and it gives you an opportunity to ensure that the yeast isn’t dead. When the yeast forms a little pond of pungent foam on top of the water, you know it’s alive, and you can forge ahead. If this does not happen, your yeast has already gone to heaven, so chuck it out and start over with fresh yeast.

Pour the yeast mixture into a large bowl. Add remaining 1 cup warm water and 2 cups whole-wheat flour (I highly recommend King Arthur—it’s an exceptionally good quality brand). Mix it up just enough to gently combine, no more. Cover the bowl thoroughly with plastic wrap. Now the concoction will grow into a spongy blob as the yeast chows down on the flour’s delectable starches. Do not allow Sponge Blob to dry out or catch a chill. Room temperature is ideal. Let it sit for 8-18 hours.


When the biga is ripe, combine in your mix master:

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 cups all purpose, unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons salt dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
White flour for dusting

Add the 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water to your mix master bowl then sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir until the yeast is dissolved.

Next add all of the biga into the water and yeast mixture. Using the paddle attachment combine the mixture on the lowest speed for about 2 minutes or until blended.

Switch to the dough hook attachment.

Add the flour and the salt mixture, and mix well on low speed. The dough will be wet, soft and sticky, which is exactly what you want. Resist the urge to add flour, which will dry out the dough. You will need to stop the mix master a few times to scrape down the bowl with a spatula, but as soon as the mixture is thoroughly blended, stop the machine.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap (spray a bit of oil on the wrap) and let it stand in a warm place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size. If your kitchen is cold, the rising time may take 2-3 times longer. I have a setting on my oven that warms it to about 75 degrees, which is absolutely perfect for rising dough.

After the first rise is complete, lift the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a smooth surface. If you like, you may very lightly flour the surface before turning out the dough. Now tuck your hand under one side (or use a bench scraper) and gently pull the dough until you have stretched out one end at least six inches. Do the same on the other end. Fold one end over the other, turn the dough 90 degrees, and repeat the process. By doing this you are allowing the gluten strands in the dough to rest. They are tired after all that chariot pulling.

Cover the dough again and let it rise until doubled in size. Notice how fragrant it has become!

Turn the dough out of the bowl and divide it into two equal pieces. Place each section on a large piece of parchment paper (use the Reynolds’s brand—the Meijer brand is a disgrace). Gently press out the dough with the palm of your hand until you have a large rounded rectangle shape, approximately the width of a cookie sheet and ½ as wide. No need to be fussy, just let the shape sort of define itself. Cover thoroughly with oiled plastic wrap so that no part of the dough dries out. Smooth the wrap with your hands to press it directly against the dough.

Allow the dough to rise another half hour or until it has doubled in volume. Lift the plastic wrap and prod the dough with your fingertips, gently deflating it. Cover and allow it to double in size once more.

About 20 minutes into the final rise, place a pizza stone in your oven and set temperature to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat for one hour. Using a pizza paddle, slide the dough onto the hot stone along with the parchment.

Baking time will be about 10-15 minutes, just keep your eye on it. When the crust has turned a beautiful golden color, remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Voila, you now have authentic Ciabatta, which in Italian means “old shoe (or slipper).” This bread goes wonderfully with warm soups and stews. I end up eating most of it drizzled with a good olive oil that I’ve infused with a twig of fresh rosemary or a few leaves of just-picked basil.

This shoe is 5,000 years old and probably does not taste good.

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