A rustic Italian ciabatta, made over two days for extra flavour. Super easy to make, this bread has a soft, open crumb & is perfect for sandwiches or dipping in olive oil.

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ciabatta crumb

What Is Ciabatta?

Meaning slipper in Italian because of its’ shape, ciabatta is a rustic bread, made from wheat flour, water, salt, olive oil, yeast & a biga (or pre ferment). Ciabatta doughs tend to have a high level of hydration (80% and higher), which is what creates the soft & chewy, open crumb. This also makes the dough fairly tricky to handle but luckily it needs minimal shaping.

whole ciabatta loaf

What Is A Biga?

A biga, or pre ferment is a mixture of flour, water & a small amount of yeast, that is left to ferment for several hours. Typically around 12 but in some cases more. Using a biga adds an extra layer of flavour to breads & helps achieve a soft, open crumb.

In the ciabatta dough, we’re using a very small amount of yeast (2 grams) alongside our biga. This extra addition of yeast allows the dough to prove in less time whilst still having the complex flavour from the pre ferment. If we just used a biga, the dough would take much longer to rise.

When it comes to incorporating the biga into the dough, there’s a couple of ways to do this. I’ve found the easiest & most effective way is cutting the biga into small pieces using a pair of scissors. Dipping the scissors in water first stops the dough from sticking.

Biga Vs Poolish

A biga is a stiff pre ferment which means it contains less water (a lower hydration level) & is a similar texture/consistency to a dough. In this recipe, our biga has a hydration level of roughly 60%.

A poolish on the other hand is a liquid pre ferment. With a much looser consistency, these have a hydration level of roughly 100%. Because of the higher hydration, a poolish will ferment in a much shorter amount of time, which means it is not suitable for a ciabatta. It is typically used for pizza dough instead.

biga pre ferment
The Biga, After A 12 Hour Ferment.

Ciabatta Ingredients

A loaf of ciabatta contains only a few ingredients. When it comes to making bread, the better the ingredients, the better the final loaf. For this recipe, I’d recommend using a high quality flour, Maldon sea salt & a good olive oil.

ciabatta dough cut in half to shape

The Flour


For this recipe, we need to use a white, wheat flour with a high protein level – around 14%. The high level of protein supports the bubbles of air that develop during a longer fermentation.

For a lighter, authentic dough, I’ve gone for an Italian 00 flour from Caputo. This is available online but a strong, white bread flour can also be used.

The Yeast

For the best results, I’d highly recommend using an active dried yeast as apposed to instant. If you do use instant, you won’t need to activate it in water before using.

The Autolyse

An autolyse is where we mix the flour for the dough with most of the water. This is then left at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This hydrates the flour & improves gluten development.

Coil Folds Explained

Before we cold prove the ciabatta, we must first develop gluten in the dough using a series of folds. There are two methods for doing this. Either stretch & folds or coil folds. For the purpose of this recipe, we’re using the latter. The coil folds are done at 20 minute intervals over 1 hour then the dough is refrigerated overnight.

How To Perform A Set Of Coil Folds

  • With wet hands (this stops the dough from sticking) gently loosen the dough from the sides of the bowl
  • Using both hands, gently lift the dough up from the middle until one side is released from the container/bowl.
  • Fold the released side back under the dough.
  • Turn the bowl 180° and repeat the folding process.
  • Now turn the bowl 90° & repeat.
  • Finally, turn the bowl another 90° and repeat one last time.

The Windowpane Test

The best way to assess the gluten development in your dough is by using the windowpane test.
Here, you take a small piece of dough & stretch it between your fingers. If it stretches thin enough so that you are able to see through it, enough gluten has been developed. If it tears, more coil folds are required.

Shaping The Ciabatta

The dough for this bread is pretty tricky to work with. Luckily the shaping is very minimal.
First we need to shape the dough into a rectangle using a dough knife, then simply cut it half lengthways then transfer to a lined baking tray. Easy as that.

The rustic nature of a ciabatta means that it’s not meant to be perfect!

shaped ciabatta dough
Shaped Ciabatta.

Making The Ciabatta

Making ciabatta is surprisingly easy. Here’s the process.

  1. Make a biga with flour, water & yeast. Leave to ferment at 15-20°c for 10-12 hours.
  2. Mix together 00 flour & water, autolyse for 30 minutes.
  3. Add in biga, yeast, salt & olive oil. Knead until smooth.
  4. Leave at room temperature for 1 hour, coil folding every 20 minutes.
  5. Refrigerate dough overnight.
  6. Shape dough into ciabatta & leave to rise for around an hour.
  7. Bake in a high temperature oven for 20-25 minutes.
  8. Leave to cool then serve.

Equipment Used

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Two Day Ciabatta

A rustic ciabatta loaf with a soft, open crumb. Made over two days for extra flavour.
Prep Time1 hour 35 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Proving Time1 day
Total Time1 day 2 hours
Course: Appetizer, Bread, Lunch
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 6 People
Author: Ben Racey

Equipment

  • Digital Scales
  • Digital Food Probe
  • Measuring Jug
  • Small Mixing Bowl
  • Stand Mixer
  • Scissors
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Plastic Dough Scraper
  • Metal Bench Knife
  • Large Baking Tray
  • Baking Stone
  • Spray Bottle

Ingredients

Biga

  • 180 g 00 Flour
  • 110 g Water 38°c/100°f
  • 1 g Dried Active Yeast Or ¼ tsp

Dough

  • 270 g 00 Flour
  • 200 g Water 25.5°c/78°f
  • 50 g Water 38°c/100°f
  • 2 g Dried Active Yeast
  • 9 g Maldon Sea Salt
  • 25 g Olive Oil

Instructions

  • The Biga.
    In a jug, whisk together the water & yeast. Leave somewhere warm to go frothy, roughly 5 minutes.
    110 g Water, 1 g Dried Active Yeast
  • In a small mixing bowl, place the 00 flour & the activated yeast. Use your hands to bring together into a rough dough.
    Make sure not to overwork the biga as this will make it get too warm. Stop mixing as soon as a rough dough forms.
    180 g 00 Flour
  • Cover the bowl with clingfilm & leave to ferment at 15°c – 20°c for 10-12 hours.
  • The Dough.
    Half an hour before the biga is ready, place the flour & 200g of water (@25.5°c/78°f) into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, mix until a rough dough forms.
    Leave to autolyse for 30 minutes.
    200 g Water, 270 g 00 Flour
  • Next, combine the yeast & the 50g of water (@38°c/100°f) then leave to go frothy.
    50 g Water, 2 g Dried Active Yeast
  • In the meantime, use a pair of scissors dipped in water to cut the biga into small pieces. Place this into the autolysed dough along with the activated yeast.
  • Mix on a medium speed until combined then add in the salt & olive oil.
    9 g Maldon Sea Salt, 25 g Olive Oil
  • Keep mixing on medium speed until the dough passes the windowpane test, roughly 5-10 minutes.
  • Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl & leave at room temperature for 1 hour, performing a set of coil folds every 20 minutes.
    If your kitchen is warmer than 26°c/78°f, leave the dough at room temperature for 45 minutes, coil folding every 15 minutes.
  • Cover the bowl with clingfilm, place into the fridge & leave for 12 hours*.
    *Give the dough at least 10 hours in the fridge but no more than 18 hours.
  • Next, carefully transfer the dough onto a worksurface dusted with plenty of 00 flour. Use a plastic dough scraper to release the dough from the bowl if necessary.
  • Dust the top of the dough with more 00 flour then use a metal bench knife to push the sides in to form a rectangle roughly 15cm x 25cm.
    Use the dough knife to cut the dough in half lengthwise then carefully transfer each piece of dough onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment, leaving plenty of space between.
    I like to use an upside down baking tray as the flat surface makes transferring the dough onto the baking stone easier.
  • Cover the ciabattas with an upside down baking tin/roasting tray & leave to rise for 1-1½ hours.
    The dough is ready to bake when it has risen slightly. If you press the dough lightly with a fingertip, the indentation will slowly fill back in. If it springs back straight away, it needs to prove for longer.
  • Whilst your ciabattas are proving, preheat an oven to 220°c/200°c fan. (430°f/390°f fan). Place a baking stone or large baking tray in the oven at the same time & leave to preheat for at least 30 minutes.
  • Fill a spray bottle with cold water.
  • Once ready to bake, carefully slide the ciabattas onto the baking stone/baking tray (leaving them on the baking parchment), spray the dough generously with cold water then immediately shut the oven dough.
    Alternatively, when you preheat your oven/baking stone, place a roasting tin onto the bottom of the oven at the same time. When you go to bake the bread, pour 100-200ml of water into the roasting tin just before shutting the oven door.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown & sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  • Once cooked, transfer the ciabattas onto a wire cooling rack & leave to cool completely.

Notes

To Cook In An Aga.
Cook the ciabattas on a baking stone/tray on the bottom set of runners in the roasting oven. Bake as above.
Kept airtight, the ciabattas will last for 2-3 days.
For this recipe, I’d recommend using an 00 flour with around 14% protein. Strong white bread flour will work as well. 

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