Olive Ciabatta for #TwelveLoaves February

Food Blog February 2015-0394The February assignment for Twelve Loaves left me stumped for a few weeks. Olives. What bread would I bake with olives? I couldn’t think of much that fit and sounded delicious. I mean, there was olive ciabatta of course, but apart from that… bagels? Pull-apart bread? Nothing sounded too inspiring except… oh. Well. I could make olive ciabatta. Sometimes the first ideas – the immediate ideas – are the best.

Food Blog February 2015-0375I tried making ciabatta once before, in the early days of my dough challenge. Though the rolls tasted fine, they were not the crunchy crusted, flour dusted, chewy, bubbly, homely smash of a loaf that makes a good ciabatta what it is.

Food Blog February 2015-0370Ciabatta is a reasonably recent Italian response to French baguette, and means “slipper,” which refers to the elongated, flattish shape – I imagine a well-loved pair of house slippers worn by an old man as he shuffles through his day. The lovely contrast of ciabatta loaves – the crisp exterior hiding a honeycomb of fat holes in a lovely chewy center – is achieved through several challenges: an overnight ferment of flour, water, and a touch of yeast called a biga (I kept saying it out loud. Biga. Bee-gah. Beeeeeegah), an extremely wet dough, and quite high oven heat.

Food Blog February 2015-0376For mine, I settled on the extremely clear directions from the kitchn. I’ve made only very minor adaptations, adding olives (as you might expect), and a glug of olive oil to pump up the olive flavor and add a touch of richness. A bit of fat in the loaf also prevents it from going stale quite so quickly, though you likely won’t need to worry about these loaves hanging around long.

Food Blog February 2015-0378Food Blog February 2015-0379Apart from the biga, which transforms overnight from a strange, unappealing paste to a bubbling puddle that smells vaguely alcoholic and is quite clearly alive, this bread follows the standard process: knead, rise, shape, rise again, bake. Here’s the deal, though. Above I mentioned “extremely wet dough.” I mean it. I wouldn’t make this bread without a stand mixer. Though it collects together a bit around the dough hook during its long knead, it never forms a real ball, before or after the rise. When you dump it out onto a board, it sticks to everything. I mean everything. That whole dusting of flour that makes a ciabatta so recognizable? That’s not aesthetic. That’s necessary. “Well-floured board” has never been such a serious statement of setting.

Food Blog February 2015-0381Fortunately, I’ve been making sourdough lately with a fairly wet dough, so the look of the olive-speckled, bubbly mass after three hours of expansion didn’t unnerve me too much. When it came time to shape the loaves (I opted for eight sandwich-sized rolls and one large loaf), I picked up the first one and just laughed. “Shaping” is a word you can use, but without a banneton or brotform of some sort, the dough just sort of sighs into the form it wants to be and stays there, a slightly contained puddle oozing its way threateningly toward the edges of the parchment paper you’ve so carefully flopped it onto. When I handled the rolls, in texture they reminded me bizarrely of – don’t laugh – a fresh oyster or an egg yolk sitting in my hand.

Food Blog February 2015-0383Despite the dicey textural proceedings, as bread so often and comfortingly does, it did what it was supposed to do in the oven. The loaves didn’t spring up all that high, but they did retain a network of lovely bubbles, and they did develop that moist, almost tacky texture that I, at least, require in a good ciabatta.

Food Blog February 2015-0387When I considered how to serve these, after I got past the urge to just tear into them and eat four or five (I stopped at one), I decided to go back to the first, unsuccessful attempt. In our previous, not-ciabatta meal, I’d used the rolls as vehicles for salmon burgers inspired by an old favorite restaurant in Eugene. Salmon burgers, then, it would have to be: a mixture of fresh and smoked salmon kneaded with egg and flour to help hold them together, parsley, a bit of garlic, and some salt and pepper. The olives in the bread were a nice addition, lending some light brininess to the burger appropriate to its marine origins.

Food Blog February 2015-0396I have to admit, though, as civilized as we were with those initial rolls, the remainder got packed into a Ziploc bag, stowed in the backseat of the car, and torn into just as they were when we needed a snack during this past weekend’s mini vacation. And that way – a day old, unheated, unadorned – they were just as good. Food Blog February 2015-0402

Olive ciabatta
Makes 2 large loaves, 16 sandwich-sized rolls, or 1 large loaf and 8 rolls
Adapted (barely) from the kitchn
For biga:
4 ounces (1/2 cup) room temperature water
½ teaspoon active dry yeast
5 ounces (about 1 fluffed cup) all-purpose flour
For dough:
17 ounces (just over 2 cups) water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Rested biga
20 ounces (about 4 fluffed cups) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup drained, rinsed, and coarsely chopped kalamata olives


  • To make the biga, combine the ½ teaspoon of yeast and the 4 ounces of water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir and let sit to dissolve for 5-10 minutes. Add the flour (I highly recommend using weight measurements, as does the kitchn recipe) and stir by hand or with the paddle attachment for 1-2 minutes to start the gluten chains working. It will form a thick gluey goo. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature overnight.
  • The next day, the biga will look bubbly – rather like the top of a pancake when it’s ready to flip – and smell slightly fruity or alcoholic.
  • For the ciabatta, combine the 17 ounces of water and 1 teaspoon of yeast in a small bowl and stir to combine. I used my 2-cup glass measuring cup for this. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is slightly bubbly and smells like bread. Then, dump the yeast and water into the rested biga and use a spoon or your hands to break it up a bit – this will feel disgusting but it’s necessary to ensure smooth integration.
  • Add the 20 ounces of flour, the salt, and the olive oil, and stir to form a thick, wet dough (though it’s more like a batter). Leave it to rest for 10-20 minutes to give the water time to hydrate the flour.
  • After 10-20 minutes, add the chopped olives to the dough/batter and knead on medium speed with the dough hook attachment for 15-18 minutes. On my stand mixer (brand KitchenAid), this was level 6. As the kitchn notes, keep an eye on your mixer, as it tends to walk its way across the counter at this speed.
  • The dough will remain very wet and fairly loose, sticking to the bowl, though the kitchn’s procedure says it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl and begin slapping the sides around the 7 minute mark. Mine didn’t start this slapping pattern until I turned up the speed to medium-high for a minute or two. (If your machine seems to be heating up a lot and you are worried about it, pause halfway through the knead and let it cool down a bit – this won’t hurt the dough at all; it will simply collapse back into a wet batter while you wait.)
  • After 15-18 minutes, the dough will still turn into a loose puddle when you turn off the machine, but it should be smooth and shiny with bits of olives scattered through it. Cover it with a layer of plastic wrap and set it in a slightly warm place (70-75F) for 2-3 hours, until it triples in size.
  • Before we get into the messy part, preheat your oven to 475F and, if you have one, stow a baking stone inside. If you don’t, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place that on one of the racks instead. I used one baking stone and one inverted cookie sheet.
  • Now, here’s where the “well-floured surface” comes in. Scrape and pour the dough out of the bowl onto a very well-floured board, trying not to deflate it too much (we want those bubbles), then set two pieces of 9×13 inch parchment paper near your work surface. Sprinkle another layer of flour on the top surface of the dough. Use a pastry scraper or a pizza cutter, again dusted with flour, to cut the dough in half. If you are making rolls, cut each half into the desired number.
  • With floured hands, gently but quickly scoop the loaves or rolls one at a time from the board to the parchment paper. To achieve a dimpled, textured surface, press your fingers lightly into the dough. This will also flatten it into the expected “slipper” shape.
  • Let the loaves or rolls rise, uncovered, 30-40 minutes. They will puff a bit, but more out than up, and more big bubbles may develop.
  • When it’s time to bake, use the parchment sheets to slide the loaves right onto the baking stone or inverted baking sheet, parchment and all. Keeping them on the parchment ensures their bubbly structure won’t be disrupted by the relocation. Bake 20 minutes for rolls, 25 minutes for loaves, until golden brown, lightly crusty, and puffed. Remove from parchment to a wire rack to cool.

Smoked Salmon Burgers and Not-Ciabatta

In 2009, as N. and I were working through the Oral Examination phase of our graduate program – one of the most difficult aspects, as far as I’m concerned – a little restaurant opened on the south side of town.  Sharing space with a small bakery called the Humble Bagel, and run by the bagel shop owners’ daughter Anni and her husband Ari, the Humble Beagle quickly became our favorite restaurant in Eugene.  The feel is an intriguing blend: casual neighborhood gastropub, seasonal local food, layered with Israeli influence.  Macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad with amazingly lemony dressing, or penne with fresh pesto share menu space with shakshuka, house made pita, and lamb pizza dolloped with labneh.  In the summer, weekly specials are determined by what is producing best in Ari and Anni’s backyard garden.  In the winter, Ari makes his own pastrami and quick pickled cabbage for their take on a reuben.  The beers on tap are mostly from Oregon, and even the soft drink selection is carefully chosen for its local, natural ingredients.  The check comes with homemade, sugar dusted shortbread cookies.  It’s a pretty good example of the slow food movement in delicious action.  If you want a quick meal, don’t bother.  You’ll be there at least two hours.  If you want a place to bring your sixteen unannounced relatives, don’t show up without reservations.  This is a small, local pub, not a diner or high volume chain.  If you want tasty, thoughtful, belly-warming food at a relaxed pace, get in your car right now.  For a while, as N. and I neared the dates of our respective exams, we were going to the Beagle every Friday evening for dinner.  Almost without exception, I got the Fisherman’s Stew, a lovely collection of shellfish and moist, flaky halibut in a tomato and fennel broth with garlic aioli melting achingly over the top.  We could barely afford the luxury of these weekly visits, but we also couldn’t stay away.

The Beagle entertained us for the next three years.  We went there for birthdays – N.’s 30th, when Ari let me bring a cake I’d made at home, gave me the biggest chef’s knife I’ve ever seen to slice and serve it, and then took a leftover piece back to the kitchen where he shared it with the cooks.  We went there for the yearly day-after-Thanksgiving meal with my family.  One year, fifteen minutes into the meal we were the only patrons, and it was like our own private restaurant.  Ari came out and told us stories about his family’s holiday, and we were suddenly not in a restaurant anymore, but in the home of our friend.  We went there for dinner after my dissertation defense too, and even though we ended up being an annoying group – people arriving late and leaving early, special menu substitutions and requests, perhaps slightly-too-boisterous behavior – our server said it was okay, and that Ari had told him we were royalty.

On their Summer 2010 menu, the Beagle introduced an item I was instantly drawn to and still haven’t gotten enough of: the Smoked Chinook Patty.  This was a salmon burger on fresh ciabatta (made in the bakery next door), but what pulled me in was its blend of fresh and smoked salmon.  It’s immediately richer, deeper, brinier than any other salmon patty I’ve tasted.

This week, needing both a new dough challenge and a taste of that chilly, rain-soaked, allergen-laden city I still think of as home, I decided a recreation was in order.

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The Beagle’s patty comes on freshly made, perfectly crusted, well-toasted ciabatta rolls.  Looking in Ruhlman’s Ratio this week, I noted that the only difference he gives between ciabatta and a standard baguette or boule is the shape and cooking time.  This seemed promising and so, despite my claims last week about fear and being unready, I decided to dive in.  What else is a Thursday morning for?

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I dutifully mixed, then kneaded, bread flour, water, yeast, and salt.  I tore off a chunk to perform the windowpane test, and I cuddled my ball of smooth, elastic dough in an oiled bowl to rest and rise.

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Ruhlman doesn’t give any suggestion of how long to bake individual ciabatta rolls, only a full loaf, so I went to the internet for help.  I quickly discovered that what I was making wasn’t going to be the bread I’d had in mind: the tremendous bubbles that bake into cavernous holes, the flour-dusted, almost gravely crunch of the crust, and the soft, perfectly chewy texture of the interior are achieved through a slightly different ratio of ingredients, and a more involved process, as this article on The Kitchn depicts.  Since I was starting on the day of baking and didn’t have a biga waiting in the wings, I was just going to have to work with my mix.

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Ultimately, though what resulted was more like a super crunchy, slightly flat mini boule, it was crisp and buttery golden delicious and an excellent vehicle for the smoky/briny/rich/tastes-like-home burger it enclosed.

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10 ounces bread flour (or 2 cups)

6 ounces warm water

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon active dry yeast

Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water and set it aside for five minutes or so to come back to life.

While you wait, whisk flour and salt in a mixing bowl.  Make a little well in the center and pour in the yeasted water.  If using a stand mixer, beat with the paddle attachment just until things come together, then switch to the dough hook and knead at medium speed for 10 minutes.  I had never executed this switch between tools before, but it worked really well.

After 10 minutes, the dough should be stretchy and lovely and firm, and all traces of unincorporated flour on the sides of the bowl will be gone.  Do the windowpane test to see if the bread is ready.  If it’s not, continue kneading.  If it is, transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise.  I like to put it in an oven that’s been warmed for five minutes, then turned off for five minutes.

Let the dough rise until doubled in size – mine took 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough gently and then knead it on a floured board for a minute or two to deflate it a bit.

Let it rest for 15 minutes.

At this point, divide the dough, shape it into the bun shapes you want, and let it rise on an oiled baking sheet for another 1½ – 2 hours.  I ended up with seven mismatched, homely little balls, but I lovingly covered them with a clean kitchen towel and went about my business.  (I think I went about my business a bit too long – 2 hours became almost 3½, and the resulting buns didn’t puff much during baking because they’d expended so much of their rising power as they sat on my counter.)

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When the buns have risen again, drizzle them with olive oil and bake in a preheated 450F oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375F and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until golden brown and done in the center (with a full-size loaf you can thump the bottom and if it sounds hollow it’s done, but I suspect these are too small to yield satisfying results with this method.  Since I had 7, I just tore into one to see if it was done, and when it was, I ate it.  No one else has to know).

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Set aside to cool while you make the salmon patties.


Smoked Salmon Burgers

These are robust in flavor but, especially if you are using canned salmon, must be handled with some delicacy to prevent breakage.  They are, I think, a perfect blend: rich, fatty salmon, salty smoky deepness, and the sour zesty bite of capers and lemon.  If you don’t want to bother with the buns, you could certainly encase these in crisp leaves of butter lettuce.

15 oz. canned salmon, picked through and bones removed, or about 1 lb. fresh, finely chopped

4-6 oz. smoked salmon, flaked with a fork

2 cloves garlic, *pasted with salt or grated

3 green onions, finely diced

1 TB capers, minced

1 TB fresh dill, minced

1 tsp each lemon zest and lemon juice

Pepper to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

If you are using canned salmon, combine all ingredients except the egg and taste for seasoning.  That way your mixture is perfectly seasoned before adding raw egg to the party.  You will likely not need any additional salt, because the smoked salmon and capers are briny already, and if you paste your garlic you will already be adding salt to the mixture.

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If you are using fresh salmon, combine all ingredients, mix well, and then fry about a tablespoon of the mixture until cooked through to taste for seasoning.

*To paste the garlic, mince cloves, then sprinkle with salt.  Using firm pressure, draw the blade of your knife across the garlic on the board several times.  It will begin to lose its integrity as the salt breaks it down, until you are left with a paste that is much easier to incorporate into your salmon mixture.

When it is seasoned to your liking, quarter the mixture and form four equal sized patties of 3-4 inches in diameter.  Pop these in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let them firm up and meld – they will hold together in the pan much better this way.

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Before cooking, let your refrigerated patties stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes, just to take the chill off.

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Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and gently fry the patties.  They should take 5-8 minutes per side.  Cooking time will depend upon whether you have used canned or fresh salmon and how plump your patties are.

To serve, enclose in buns lovingly with some spring mix and your choice of condiments.  I suggest horseradish or wasabi mayonnaise.  If you had homemade mayonnaise that would be a lovely splurge here.

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We had ours with paprika spiced kale chips, but to really get the Beagle experience you would need to serve with garlic French fries.

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