How to Make Ciabatta Bread

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Start to Finish:18 1/2 to 22 1/2 hours
Servings: 2 loaves
Difficulty Level: Advanced


Ciabatta, known for its light, airy crumb and crisp crust, begins as a wet and sticky dough. Unlike most breads, no shaping is required before baking. This recipe, adapted from a recipe by Jeffrey Hamelman in Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, relies on a biga to develop its flavor and texture. When preparing ciabatta at home, you must create steam in your oven and bake the bread for the full length of time, otherwise the crust will not reach the characteristic crunch of ciabatta.

Ingredients

  • Biga

    • 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
    • 6 tablespoons warm water
    • 1 cup bread flour

    Dough

    • 3 3/4 cups bread flour
    • 1 2/3 cups warm water
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
    • Biga

Prepare the Biga

  • In a medium bowl, stir the yeast into the water. Add the flour and mix just until smooth. The biga will be dense and stiff.

    Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours, until domed with a slight impression in the center.

Mix and Proof the Ciabatta

  • Grease a large bowl with olive oil or cooking spray. Set aside.

    In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add all of the bread ingredients except for the biga. Mix on medium-low speed for 3 minutes to incorporate, adding the biga in small pieces throughout the mixing. The dough will be very sticky and loose.

    Increase the speed to medium-high and mix for another 4 minutes. The dough will still be loose and sticky, but will have more strength and body. Do not add extra flour in an effort to absorb moisture.

    Move the dough to the greased bowl and cover with a clean, damp towel or plastic wrap. Place the dough in the warmest part of your kitchen to rise for a total of 3 hours.

    After one hour, turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Take one end and fold a third of the dough toward the other end, so that half of the dough has two layers. Press the dough gently into itself, then brush off any extra flour on the surface. Fold the remaining third over the already folded section.

    Return the dough to the bowl. After one hour, repeat the folding process and return to the bowl for one final hour of fermentation. Do not punch down the dough.

Bake the Ciabatta

  • Flour two cutting boards or large pizza paddles and set aside.

    After the three hours of fermentation, when the dough is approximately double its original size, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough.

    Cut the dough in half into two rectangles. Gently work your fingers under one piece of dough and move to one of the prepared boards. Repeat with the second loaf and board. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.

    Preheat the oven to 460 degrees Fahrenheit. Place two sheet trays or baking stones in the oven during the preheat with plenty of space between the racks and the top of the oven.

    Pull 1 cup ice cubes from the freezer. Working rapidly, slide the dough from each board onto its own pan in the oven. Toss the ice cubes onto the bottom of the oven, or onto a small pan placed on the lower-most rack, and shut the door.

    Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the sheet trays halfway through baking. The bread is done when it is golden brown and sounds slightly hollow when tapped on the bottom.

    Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool before slicing.

Tips and Variations

    • During mixing, the water temperature should be warm enough to activate the yeast. Test the water by holding the back of your hand to the stream from the faucet. When it feels quite warm but not hot enough that you must pull your hand away, measure the water for the recipe.

    • If you skip the ice cubes, there will not be the steam necessary to allow the bread surface to stay moist during expansion. This will lead to flatter, more dense loaves that do not have the airy characteristic of ciabatta.

    • Do not open the oven to check the loaves until halfway through, when you turn the bread, as doing so before then will allow steam to escape.

    • If the bread is darkening too quickly during cooking, reduce the temperature by 10 to 20 degrees F so that you can keep the bread in the oven for the full cooking duration. Removing it too early will result in a soft crust.

    • Portion the dough into small rectangles of 2 to 3 ounces each to make ciabatta rolls.

    • Add fresh chopped herbs such as rosemary or thyme to the dough during mixing.

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References

  • Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes; Jeffrey Hamelman
  • Photo Credit vonEisenstein/iStock/Getty Images
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