16 - 22 HOURS
This recipe shows how to make perfect ciabatta bread which is fantastic for sandwiches, panini and dipping in soup. Ciabatta is a relatively common these days, but real ciabatta bread like this one is hard to find outside of Italy.
Enjoy using a biga preferment to give flavour, structure and aroma. We will also proof in a couche which supports the shape of the dough.
How to make ciabatta bread video tutorial
Method to make ciabatta bread
Prepare the biga
Start the biga the day before by whisking the yeast and the water together. If using dried yeast follow the instructions below. Once dissolved, add the flour and gently mix for a minute or two until the mixture has a fairly even consistency. Cover and leave on the kitchen table for 12-18 hours.
Prepare the ingredients for mixing
When the biga is developed it will have large bubbles appearing on the surface. Weigh the remaining ingredients and add the biga to the water and then put all ingredients excluding the 2nd water and the olive oil in a large mixing bowl or dough mixer.
Using a dough mixer:
Add the biga, flour, 1st water, yeast and salt to the mixing bowl and knead for 8 minutes slow, followed by 8 minutes fast. Next add the 2nd water and knead slowly. Once the dough has pulled together, knead on fast for a minute before adding the olive oil, again on slow speed. Move to step 6.
Mix the dough slowly, first with a dough scraper and then using a stretching motion on the table. Continue this for 7 minutes, by now the dough should have an even consistency. Place the dough into the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a bag and place it in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Take the dough out and back on the table to knead fast for 5 minutes. Use the stretch, slap and fold method for best results. Cover again and place back in the fridge for another 10 minutes.
Add the second water
Remove the dough from the fridge and place on the table. Knead for 2 minutes before adding the 2nd water. To do this put the dough back in the bowl add the water and push the dough into the water until it incorporates then fast knead for 2 minutes. After the water, use the same technique to add the olive oil and again knead until the dough looks smooth, even and feels strong.
Bulk fermentation pt 1
Place the dough in a clean but oiled bowl and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Stretch and fold
Complete a stretch and fold or give it a gentle knead for 20 seconds.
Bulk fermentation pt 2
Place back in the bowl, cover and leave to rest for another 20 minutes.
Stretch and fold again
Stretch and fold or lightly knead again and return to the bowl.
Bulk fermentation pt 3
Leave the dough to rest for a final 20 minutes. At this point the dough should pass the windowpane test. If not, repeat the stretch and fold and 20 minute rest.
Getting ready to divide the ciabatta's
Dust flour and semolina onto the workbench and turn the dough onto it. Very lightly shape the dough into a rectangle shape - be careful not to push air out of the dough. Leave to bench rest for 20 minutes.
Prepare the couche
Prepare a couche by dusting with flour and semolina. Make a crease on the left-side edge of the cloth. Then, working left to right, as each ciabatta goes into the couche the edges on the righthand side are going to be folded to act as a barrier between the next dough piece.
Divide the ciabatta's
Being careful not to push any air out of the dough, use a metal dough scraper to divide it into roughly 320g pieces - don’t try to be too accurate with this as you will knock the air out.
Preheat the oven to 230C (440F) with a baking stone. Proof for 1 ½ hours, use the poke test to identify when they are ready.
Loading up the oven
Use a long peel to remove the ciabattas from the couche and either drop them into the oven individually, or place them on a floured board and slide them in one go.
You'll get a different style to the crust of your ciabatta depending on whether you flip them, or slide them onto the peel. Putting the keeping the smooth side down gives a smooth, more uniform ciabatta that you will be familiar with in supermarkets. Flipping them onto their rough side gives a more rustic ciabatta that looks like what you'd expect to find in the side streets of Tuscany.
Bake at 220C (420F) for around 25 minutes. Add a small amount of hot water to the tray beneath the stone as they go into the oven. Only a little bit of steam is necessary. Open the oven door ⅔’s of the way through the bake to release the steam.
Remove and cool
You can choose to bake them lightly or leave them in longer for more colour as you wish. When you are happy with the colour, use a peel to remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.
Using dried yeast
If using instant yeast, divide the amount of fresh yeast used by 3 and follow the same method as fresh yeast.
Active dried yeast needs to be activated before use. In this case, warm the water for the biga to 35C (95F) - no higher. Add the yeast to the bowl, whisk and leave for 10 minutes to bloom. Combine the flour for the biga with the yeasty water, place the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes to cool. Return to worktop and allow to ferment as above.
When ready to start the dough, warm 10 grams of water to 35C (95F), add the yeast with half a teaspoon of sugar, whisk and leave to stand for ten minutes before adding to the dough. Remove 10 grams of the 1st water addition from the recipe.
Top tips for the best ciabatta
Usually when baking bread, we bake with just the bottom yeast setting turned on.You may choose to turn the top heat on during the last 5-10 minutes to get a nice golden colour on the top or your ciabatta.
When removing the ciabatta's from the couche you can turn them upside down which gives a more uniform shape with lines running down them. Or you can opt to keep them the same way up which creates an irregular bread shape.
If you don't have a couche, you can make do with a clean tea towel. You may find a few strands of cotton on the bread crust though!