How to Make Authentic Ciabatta Bread
Learn how to make ciabatta bread with this step-by-step recipe. This recipe will help you achieve artisan homemade ciabatta bread that is chewy and moist with the best flavor! Pin it for Later »
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Ciabatta Bread Recipe Overview
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Techniques Used: Pre-Ferment (Biga) & Stretch & Fold Method for Bread Making
Ciabatta is a classic Italian style of bread similar in makeup to its French counterpart, baguette. Ciabatta is made from a lean yeast dough meaning that there is not fat present in the dough. This creates a very chewy bread with a slightly crispy crust.
Ciabatta is made from a very wet dough which gives it its unique moist texture and one-of-a-kind flavor. The flavor is not only created from the high hydration dough, but also from a preferment called a biga.
The word ciabatta translates to mean slippers which makes sense you you see the classic shape.
What is a Biga?
A preferment is when part of the flour, water, and yeast of the bread dough are combined many hours before the final dough is mixed and allowed to ferment. A biga is an Italian style of preferment that has a lower ratio of water than a poolish, which is a French version.
The biga is added to the ciabatta dough to improve the flavor, texture, and keeping quality of the final bread.
What is the Difference Between Ciabatta and Focaccia?
Because of their names, ciabatta and focaccia sometimes get confused for each other. Ciabatta and focaccia are both Italian style breads but they are different in their makeup. The main difference is that ciabatta is a bread that is formed into loaves while focaccia is a flatbread. Ciabatta also typically does not contain any fat which creates a very chewy texture while focaccia typically has oil in its dough which creates a softer texture.
Tips, Tricks, & Techniques
- By design, ciabatta dough is an extremely wet dough (almost a very thick batter.) You may have the urge to add more flour to do the dough, but trust the process and avoid doing this. It will take a little practice to get comfortable shaping this wet dough.
- I highly recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients for this recipe. This is by far the most accurate way to measure for baking, especially for bread baking.
- Wet dough does not stick to wet surfaces, so keep a bowl of water close by and to dip your fingers in before handling the dough.
How to Make Ciabatta Bread
As with any bread recipe, there is not one way to approach it rather many different techniques that could be used. This technique produces authentic ciabatta bread that are soft, pillowy, and chewy.
Note: I prefer to utilize Red Star’s Platinum Superior Baking Yeast for my ciabatta because it increases oven spring and creates a beautiful texture for the bread. However, you can also use their quick rise yeast or their active dry yeast.
Mix the Biga
Ciabatta starts out with an Italian style preferment known as a biga. Making the biga is very simple to do. Some of the flour, water, yeast and salt is mixed together at least 12 and up to 24 hours before the final dough will be made. I typically do this the night before I’m going to make the bread.
Mix the Dough
After the biga has fermented for at least 12 hours, combine it with the rest of the ingredients for the ciabatta dough. Since ciabatta is a lean dough it only contains four ingredients: water, flour, yeast, and salt!
Use a wooden spoon to stir together all of the ingredients. Resist the urge to add more water or flour. It will at first look shaggy and then will look too wet. Just trust that it will work out well!
The Stretch & Fold
Ciabatta dough is an extremely wet (high hydration) dough. To give you an idea, most bread recipes sit around 60% hydration while this ciabatta recipe is at almost 75% hydration. Because of this, the dough is not kneaded the same way other yeast dough is. Rather, it is allowed to slowly ferment with a series of brief stretch and folds. (This is exactly the same process as when we made baguettes.)
The stretch and fold method serves three main purposes: it layers the gluten to build structure in the dough, it redistributes the heat within the dough, and it puts the yeast back in contact with its food source.
The dough will ferment for 3 hours, with 3 rounds of brief stretch and folds between each 45 minutes. To stretch and fold, lightly damp your fingers (this will help the dough not to stick) and pull up on the side of the dough and fold it back down on itself. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Do this until you have stretched and folded all 4 sides of the dough. Turn the dough over, cover, and allow it to ferment for 45 more minutes until the next round.
Prep the Oven
To prep your oven you need a surface to bake the loaves on as well as a surface to create steam. The oven should be preheating for at least an hour before baking so that every part of it is extremely hot.
A baking stone or baking steel are by far the best surfaces to bake bread on. If you do not have one of these, then you can use a sheet pan turned upside down. Position your baking surface on the middle rack in your oven.
To create steam in your oven, preheat a cast iron or other oven proof skillet on the very bottom rung in your oven. You want the skillet to get very hot so when you throw ice cubes into it in the oven it will immediately start evaporating, creating steam. This helps with oven spring and the texture of the bread.
Shape the Dough
After the dough has fermented, pour the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. It will be very wet and sticky. I find that if I dampen a flexible bench scraper it is a great tool to scrape the dough out of the bowl. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a pizza peel, unrimmed baking sheet, or sheet pan turned upside down and dust it with semolina or cornmeal. This way you can slide the parchment right onto the hot baking surface.
Dampen your hands and then pick up one piece of the dough and place it on the prepared parchment paper. Stretch and pat out the dough to a flat rectangle shape. It will be very sticky but wet hands work best to shape it. It can be a rustic shape. Repeat this step with the second piece of dough. (alternatively you can shape all of the dough into one big loaf)
Let the Ciabatta Rise
Dust the top of the shaped loaves with some flour and cover with a floured towel. Let the loaves rise for one hour.
Bake the Ciabatta
Fill a bowl up with about 2 cups worth of ice cubes and set it near the oven. You will need to work quickly and carefully.
Open the oven and slide the parchment with the ciabatta onto the preheated surface. Pour the ice cubes into the hot skillet and quickly close the oven door. Bake the ciabatta bread until they are golden brown and sound hallow when tapped.
Making ciabatta bread is a technique that takes some practice and patience, but even imperfect ones will taste incredible! Each attempt at this Italian style bread will reveal something new about the process and I encourage you to dive in and give it a try!
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For the Biga (preferment)
- 165 grams (1 cup plus 6 TBSP) bread flour
- 130 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 TBSP) water, room temperature
- pinch of Red Star platinum, quick rise, or active dry yeast
For the Final Dough
- the biga
- 180 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tsp) water, room temperature
- 250 grams (2 cups plus 1 1/2 TBSP) bread flour
- 3 grams (1 tsp) Red Star platinum, quick rise, or active dry yeast
- 5 grams (1 tsp) kosher salt
- cornmeal or semolina for dusting
- MAKE THE BIGA: At least 12 and up to 24 hours before making your ciabatta, make the biga. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the biga and stir together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
- COMBINE THE DOUGH: Add the rest of the ingredients for the ciabatta dough into the bowl with the biga. Stir until well combined. It will appear as if there is not enough liquid at first, but as you work it together it will become a very wet and sticky dough. You may need to use your hands to knead it slightly to hydrate all the flour. As soon as all of the flour is hydrated with no dry spots, cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and let it set at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- STRETCH AND FOLD: After the dough has rested for 45 minutes, you will do a series of three stretch and folds with the dough. With the dough still in the bowl, lightly dampen your hand (this will prevent the dough from sticking) and pull on one side of the dough and stretch it up and then fold it down over the top of the dough. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and do the same with the next side. Do this again until you have stretched all four sides of the dough up and over on itself. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 45 more minutes. Stretch and fold the dough for the second round. Cover and let rest for 45 more minutes. Stretch and fold for the third round. Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 more minutes. This is a three hour process from when the dough is mixed to when it is ready to be shaped. Four 45 minute resting periods with three stretch and folds in between.
- PREP THE OVEN & OTHER EQUIPMENT: During the final resting period, prep your pans and your oven. Position one oven rack in the very bottom position in the oven and another rack in the middle position. Place a cast iron skillet or another heatproof skillet on the bottom rack and a baking stone, baking steal, or a sheet pan turned upside down on the middle rack. Preheat your oven to 450F (230C). You want your oven and pans to be heating for at least an hour before the bread goes into the oven. Additionally, prepare a pizza peel or an unrimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper sprinkled lightly with semolina or cornmeal.
- SHAPE INTO CIABATTA: Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. It will be very wet and sticky. Use a damp bench scraper to scrape the dough out of the bowl. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Dampen your hands and then pick up one piece of the dough and place it on the prepared parchment paper. Stretch and pat out the dough to a flat rectangle shape. It will be very sticky but wet hands work best to shape it. It can be a rustic shape. Repeat this step with the second piece of dough. (alternatively you can shape all of the dough into one big loaf)
- LET THE DOUGH RISE: Lightly flour the top of the loaves and then cover with a floured towel. Let the dough rise for 1 hour.
- BAKE: Fill a small bowl with about 2 cups of ice cubes. You want to work quickly and carefully when transferring the ciabatta. Open the oven and gently slide the whole piece of parchment paper with the ciabatta onto the preheated baking stone or sheet pan. Quickly pour the ice cubes into the preheated skillet and immediately shut the oven door. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the ciabatta loaves are a light golden brown and sound hallow when tapped.
- COOL: Allow the ciabatta to cool before slicing. This will completely develop their flavor. Ciabatta is best when eaten the same day. However, leftover ciabatta can be wrapped in foil once completely cooled and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.