Recipes engineered for perfection—what exactly does that mean? We take you inside Cook’s Illustrated’s science experiments.
While developing our recipe for ciabatta, we kept encountering a vexing problem: loaves pitted with air holes so big, there was hardly any bread. Would adding a small amount of milk—a technique often used by commercial bakers—fix the problem?
We replaced ¼ cup of water in the ciabatta dough with an equal amount of milk and compared the baked loaf to one prepared without milk.
The ciabatta with milk sported air pockets decidedly smaller than those in the no-milk loaf. Why was this? It turns out that milk contains a protein fragment called glutathione that slightly weakens gluten, the network of proteins that give bread its structure and chew. When the bonds in gluten weaken, more steam is able to escape from the dough, leading to smaller bubbles.
MAKE IT NOW: Our recipe for Ciabatta is free through May 21, 2013.
Planning to bake the Ciabatta? Watch below to see the test kitchen’s Keith Dresser explain the best way to handle the wet bread dough you’ll be working with.