The Little Engine that Does
As a bread baker, I naturally use a lot of yeast. My favorite brand is SAF. Yeast is the miraculous micro-organism which is responsible for transforming flour, salt and water into the light and airy loaf you use for your morning toast. Or the buns for your hamburgers or hot dogs for dinner. Yeast is incredibly powerful; a little goes a long, long way. Not sure what I mean? Check this out.
One of my favorite breads to make is ciabatta. The recipe for this classic Italian bread starts with a biga. Made the day before I want to bake bread, the biga is a simple mixture of one cup AP flour, a half cup of water and 1/8 teaspoon of instant yeast. Yes, you read that correctly - 1/8 teaspoon. Here is what the biga looks like just after I mix it together. Stiff and somewhat dry looking. Leave the biga in the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit out on the kitchen counter overnight. You can let the biga sit out for up to 24 hours.
Now, here's the same biga 16 hours later. Just look at all those bubbles!! Can you believe that just 1/8 teaspoon of yeast can do all of this?? Isn't yeast just totally amazing?
After the biga has developed, it's time to make the dough. Mix your beautifully bubbly biga (say that three times fast!) with 2 cups of AP flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of table salt, 3/4 cup of water, 1/4 cup of milk and ... just 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast. As with all breads, the dough has to be kneaded in order to develop the gluten. However, due to the high liquid content in this dough, it can only be kneaded with a mixer or bread machine.
After several rises and gentle degassing with pulling and stretching, the dough is divided and shaped into two loaves. Just look at those loaves! Can you see how light and airy they are? Don't forget, you get all of that loft with a total of only 5/8 teaspoon of instant yeast. Can I say it again? Wow!
After the final rise, the loaves are dimpled with your fingers to create the distinctive slipper shape of ciabatta. A quick spritz of water and the loaves go into the oven for 22 to 27 minutes. Don't forget to spray the loaves with water two more times in the first five minutes of baking. This helps with carmelization of the crust.
Here are the finished loaves of ciabatta - beautifully golden, chewy crust; light and airy crumb. All thanks to the little engine that can and does - a mere 5/8 teaspoon of yeast!
Let's eat!! You bring the dipping oil and I'll get the bread knife. Yum!