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Parmesan Ciabatta

  Is it just me, or does the phrase "I trust you" seem to be dying out?  I don't mean that trust itself is dying, I mean our ability to say that we trust.

  I'm not talking about looking deeply into somebody's eyes and muttering it while you hand over your heart or whatever, I mean more everyday occurrences.

  Things like handing over your kid to somebody else for the afternoon, lending your car, people borrowing money from you, or letting your little sister cut out the cookies.

  I like it when people say "I trust you," it makes me feel empowered.  When's the last time you said that?  If you're one of those people who doesn't trust easily, I get it, saying it is even harder than doing it.  You can ask your dad to watch the oven, or have your mom take a picture, but you don't always say "I trust you" afterwards, do you?  It's just assumed.  That's nice, too, but sometimes the receiving end doesn't take this so well.

  In short, sometimes there are situations where you should really consider saying it.  Be aware of that, it's much appreciated.

  Well we're on the subject, yeasted bread dough requires a goodly bit of this trust stuff.  However, it doesn't really require being told that.  Because, you know, who talks to bread dough? *cough* me *cough*

  Essentially, you're throwing stuff together in a bowl with yeast and then hoping like heck it rises.  Why does this intimidate people?  Well, because flops happen.  Last summer I had a straight week of yeast flops.  Nothing.  Rose.  It was a nightmare, but you know what?  I learned.  I learned that you should check the date on your yeast jar, that your ingredients should all be at room temperature, that the liquids should be warm but by no means hot, and that instant yeast doesn't really require proofing like active dry yeast does.

  And now, am I an expert?  No.  I'm still picking up the tricks of the trade, but that's why it's fun.  I do my best to depict every step of the process for you whenever I work with yeast, so I think the least you should do is just give it a try!  Once you've discovered how to gauge the right texture, the best place to let your dough rise, and so on, it just gets easier.

  Oh, and this ciabatta?  It's amazing.  No joke.  It never lasts more than two days here.  I love this bread when it's come out of the oven and just cooled to room temp, the cheese is still slightly melty and the air pockets are moist.  It's also amazing cold and slathered in butter.

  If you're looking for a trustworthy bread dough, then this is as good a place to start as any.

Parmesan Ciabatta
Yield: 2 large loaves

Ingredients for the biga (AKA the starter):
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat, pumpernickel, or rye flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast (AKA Bread Machine's yeast)

Ingredients for the dough
  • all of the biga (starter)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 4-5 oz. Parmesan (or other) cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice, plus extra for grating on top


To make the biga, combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix until well blended.  Cover the bowl, and leave it at cool room temperature (68-70 degrees F) for 12-20 hours, until the biga is very bubbly.

To make the dough, mix the biga and the remaining dough ingredients, except for the cheese, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed just until a shaggy dough begins to form.  Switch to the dough hook and continue kneading on low speed for 6-8 minutes, until the dough is soft and only slightly sticky.  Add additional water or flour as necessary, a tablespoon at a time.

Mix in the cheese; don’t worry if some pieces pop out.  I usually knead them in by hand.

Transfer to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Gently punch down the dough once with your fist to deflate and turn out onto a well-floured surface.  Divide the dough into two pieces and shape into two long loaves, about 12 x 4 inches each.

Place the loaves onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Cover the loaves with well-greased plastic wrap and allow them to rise for 45 minutes up to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and sprinkle with additional grated cheese (I used mozzarella on top, which melts and browns a lot easier than a hard cheese like Parmesan, but it still tasted awesome!).  Once the oven is preheated, bake the loaves for 22-26 minutes, or until the tops of the loaves are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

Sources: adapted from Annie's Eats, who adapted it from Amber's Delectable Delights, originally adapted from King Arthur Flour