If you only know the sad, commercially-produced Ciabatta that supermarkets sell, then I have wonderful news for you. Homemade Ciabatta is the real deal, as evidenced by its crackling-crisp crust, its yeasty perfume, and its soft, “open” crumb. You can make this bit of heaven entirely by hand, just as I do. Here’s how:
Before you proceed to the printable recipe, please watch the video above. I want you to get a “feel” for making Ciabatta, from mixing the “Biga” to kneading, forming, and baking the dough. A video is worth a million words, my friends.
What’s Ciabatta Bread?
Ciabatta is a white bread made from wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt. The bread is known for the myriad air holes (properly called “alveoli”) in its interior. The dough from which the bread is made is much wetter than traditional Italian bread or French baguettes. It is a high-hydration dough.
According to Wikipedia, “Ciabatta bread was first produced in 1982 by Arnaldo Cavallari, who called the bread ciabatta polesana after Polesine, the area he lived in. The recipe was subsequently licensed by Cavallari’s company, Molini Adriesi, to bakers in 11 countries by 1999.” Cavallari and other bakers in Italy were concerned about the popularity of sandwiches made from baguettes imported from France, which were endangering their businesses, and so set about trying to create an Italian alternative with which to make sandwiches.
Flour Notes for Homemade Ciabatta:
Use strong bread flour. I’ve tested this recipe with both all-purpose and bread flour. All-purpose flour (11.7% protein) produced a respectable loaf. Bread flour (12.7% protein) produced a superior loaf, with more air holes than its all-purpose kin. Remember — Ciabatta is only ciabatta if its interior is riddled with air holes!
Measure the flour by weight. Ciabatta is a high hydration dough, with a specific ratio of flour to water. To insure accuracy, measure the flour by weight, not by volume.
Here’s the printable recipe:
Homemade Ciabatta Bread
For the Biga:
- 250 grams bread flour (12.7% protein)
- 250 grams (1 cup) room-temperature water
- 2 grams (or a rounded 1/4 teaspoon) instant yeast
For the final dough:
- 250 grams bread flour
- 4 grams (or 1 teaspoon) instant yeast
- 8 grams (or 1 1/2 teaspoons) salt
- 125 grams (1/2 cup) room-temperature water
- 2-3 teaspoons olive oil
Making the Biga (do this 6-24 hours ahead of time):
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the Biga ingredients until smooth. Cover the bowl with cling film, and let rest at room temperature for 6-24 hours. After this time, the Biga should be puffy and bubbly. You will know it's alive!
Making the final dough:
- Pour the ingredients for the final dough on top of the Biga. Stir brusquely with a stout wooden spatula until combined.
Kneading the dough:
- Knead the wet, sticky dough for 8 minutes. To do this, use the spatula to roughly manipulate the dough, lifting it up and letting it fall back into the bowl, and/or by stirring, Feel free to take 30 second rests whenever your arm gets tired from manipulating the dough!
Resting the kneaded dough:
- Grease a large, clean mixing bowl with some of the olive oil. Transfer the kneaded dough to the oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and let rest for 30-45 minutes at room temperature. (Use the greater time if your kitchen is below 70°F.)
The first fold:
- Grease your hands with olive oil. Then slide your hands under one end of the dough. Stretch that end upwards, and then fold it over the top. Repeat this same procedure for other end of the dough, as well as the sides. You will have 4 folds in total. Cover the bowl and let rest for 30-45 minutes.
The second fold:
- Repeat as for the first fold. At this point, you will notice the dough has developed just a hint of structure. Cover and rest the dough for 30-45 minutes.
The third and final fold:
- Repeat as before. By now you will feel a definite change in the dough -- it will be less sticky, and more elastic.
Forming the loaves
- Generously flour your work surface. Also, line a baking sheet with parchment. Without deflating the dough, turn the bowl upside down on the floured surface, and let the dough naturally (and slowly) drop onto the flour. Generously flour the top of the dough. Use a floured bench scraper to gently form the dough into a square. Then use the scraper to cut the dough in half for 2 loaves. If desired, cut each half in half to create 4 loaves.
- Taking care not to deflate the dough, lift each loaf and place them, upside down, on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rest until nearly doubled in volume -- 45-60 minutes.
- Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the upper third level. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Baking the Ciabatta -- 30 minutes at 450°F
- Put the baking sheet in the preheated oven. Then quickly mist the loaves with water, and close the oven door. Mist the loaves 3 times during the first 5 minutes of baking, always quickly opening and closing the oven door. Bake until the bread is richly browned -- about 30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.