Coccodrillo Ciabatta (Crocodile Bread) Recipe

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(Photo: Courtesy of Dr. K., whole wheat and durum ciabatta)

The importance of quality bread cannot be overstated and I’m convinced that access to the very best bread would cause a food revolution in the United States (how’s that for a shocking claim on a Tuesday afternoon).  Like pasta (or noodles) and beans, bread is a staple food product found in most food cultures and societies that place high worth on staple food products seem to have the very best food on the planet.  Examples include France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Greece, etc.  
Specifically, the cultures of France and Italy place great importance on well made bread and it can be found on the dinner tables of both the old and new generations living in Europe.  Elevating the status of bread in any given culture yields the production of outstanding breads of all shapes and sizes (there’s no magic formula, if people have high standards then only the best product will make it to market).


In the United States, we don’t place much value on consuming great bread (our values are centered on capitalist goings on) and outside of the larger cities and a few random locations you’ll be hard pressed to find airy, crusty, and fresh bread.  So, what’s a bread snob to do (it’s ok to create bread snobs if you’re a parent, for example, start them young and they’ll eat great bread and then demand it when they’re older)?  Make his or her own bread, of course, just like our reader Dr. K. has done via Carol Fields excellent Coccodrillo (Crocodile) Ciabatta recipe found in the seminal book, Italian Baker.

 
(Photo: Courtesy of Dr. K., whole wheat and durum ciabatta)
Dr. K. used durum and whole wheat flour, but you can use either 100 percent bread flour or a combination of bread flour and semolina.  As Dr. K warns the bread is delicious, airy, and crumby but the recipe yields a very wet dough which is difficult to shape (keep this in mind if you’re looking for a thicker loaf).
Quickly, the word Ciabatta is used to designate a very light and fluffy style of bread that originally derived from its typical shape (viz., a slipper ).  Ciabatta was originally produced in Liguria but is now made in every region of Italy (with slight variations, of course).  Ciabatta makes wonderful sandwiches including paninos.  
The following recipe was originally posted in the wonderful alt.bread.recipes group by Jason Molina and thereafter re-posted on the freshloaf.com web site (again Dr. K.’s recipe utilizes durum and whole wheat flour) :
Ingredients:
Variation 1

  • 500g bread flour 
  • 475g (~2 cups) water
  • 2 tsp. yeast 
  • 15g salt
Variation 2 (Semolina)

  • 350g bread flour 
  • 150g semolina flour 
  • 475-485g (~2cups) water 
  • 2tsp. yeast 
  • 15g salt
 

(Photo: Courtesy of Dr. K., whole wheat and durum ciabatta)
Process:
  1. In Kitchen Aid style mixer: Mix all ingredients roughly till combined with paddle, let it rest for 10 minutes.
  2. With the paddle (I prefer the hook to prevent the dough from crawling into the guts of the mixer), beat the living hell out of the batter, it will start out like pancake batter but in anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes it will set up and work like a very sticky dough. if it starts climbing too soon, then switch to the hook. You’ll know it’s done when it separates from the side of the bowl and starts to climb up your hook/paddle and just coming off the bottom of the bowl. I mean this literally about the climbing, i once didn’t pay attention and it climbed up my paddle into the greasy inner workings of the mixer. It was not pretty! Anyway, it will definitely pass the windowpane test.
  3. Place into a well oiled container and let it triple! it must triple! For me this takes about 2.5 hours
  4. Empty on to a floured counter (scrape if you must, however you gotta get the gloop out), cut into 3 or 4 pieces. Spray with oil and dust with lots o’ flour. Let them proof for about 45 minutes, which gives you enough time to crank that oven up to 500F.
  5. After 45 minutes or so the loaves should be puffy and wobbly, now it’s iron fist, velvet glove time. Pick up and stretch into your final ciabatta shape (~10″ oblong rectangle) and flip them upside down (this redistributes the bubbles, so you get even bubbles throughout), and onto parchment or a heavily floured peel. Try to do it in one motion and be gentle, it might look like you’ve ruined them completely, but the oven spring is immense on these things.
  6. Bake at 500F until they are 205F in the center (about 15-20 minutes), rotating 180 degrees half way through. Some people like to turn the oven down to 450F after 10 minutes, but whatever floats your boat. I usually bake 
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5 Comments

  1. I’ve got to learn to bake bread. You’re absolutely right: the bread here in the US (even at fancy places like Whole Foods) is almost always disappointing. Too soft, not much taste at all… Thanks for the recipe and the cookbook tip!

  2. Hi Frank,
    My pleasure! I’ve been meaning to send you a note about your site/blog -it’s great and I’ve added it to our list of Italian food sites (thanks for adding ours as well!).
    Good crust and an airy interior is what’s missing in US bread, even with good ingredients most mast market places (including WholeFoods can’t get bread making correct).
    Vince

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