You might find ciabatta tricky to make, and I think that’s because the dough is so wet. You can’t knead it in the traditional sense, you can’t shape it in the traditional sense either, and that’s the beauty of it!
So, I have given this recipe a Medium difficulty because although it may be a straight forward version as ciabattas go, you might get in a mess if you’re not careful. I’ve written this in a way to keep the process as low maintenance as possible, to sidestep potential areas of stickiness using oil at times and flour at others. Theoretically, the dough shouldn’t even come out onto the table until the dividing stage.
Ciabatta is the shape of a ciabatta because there’s not much else you can do with it. It’s a testament to gluten, and everything we do to our ciabatta dough is to build structure and give the dough the strength that it needs to be able to hold large inconsistent bubbles. We make a preferment called a Biga a day or so ahead of time to bring plenty of flavour to the bread and as an opportunity add more time for gluten development, resulting in the characteristic open crumb.
Remember, the beauty of a ciabatta lies in it’s imperfections. Without them it would nothing. Just another roll or loaf or bap. It needs those imperfections, those signs of homemade-ness, so don’t try to avoid them. Don’t try to make the perfect because if you do, then you’re not making ciabatta. Have fun!
This dough is wet. It stays in the bowl when you work it and it stays in the box when you rest it. Don’t be shy using oil on your hands in the folding stages, and be generous with the flour when it comes to dividing.
This recipe will make 4 ciabattas
My Kitchen Temperature: 21°C/70°F
Start to finish: 10 hours
You’ll need to make your Biga ahead of time to allow 6 hours as a guideline for it to ferment nicely at room temperature. Once the Biga is ready the bread will take 4 hours to make and bake.
For the Biga
250g Strong white bread flour
250g Room temperature water
3g Fresh yeast or 2g of dry easy bake yeast
For the final dough
250g Strong White Bread Flour
8g Fresh Yeast or 4g of dry easy bake yeast
125g Room Temperature Water
25g Olive Oil
For the Biga (make this ahead of time)
1. In a large mixing bowl mix together the ingredients for the Biga until it becomes a smooth paste, I normally use a whisk to make sure it’s all well incorporated. Take a good smell of your Biga now, and you’ll really appreciate the change after fermentation.
2. Cover the bowl with cling film and rest at room temperature for 6 hours. After this time, it should be puffy, bubbly, wobbly and smell amazing.
For the Final Dough
1. Weigh your yeast and then water into a jug, mix to soften the yeast.
2. Place your biga bowl onto the scales and make sure they are on zero. Weigh in the flour first, zero the scales again and weigh the salt on top of the flour. Give it all a little mix with your scraper, just enough to lose the salt in the flour.
3. Pour your liquid into the dry mixture, add the olive oil, and bring everything together into a dough.
4. Work your dough really well inside the bowl with a scraper for 8 minutes. To do this bring the dough into the edge of the bowl that is closest to your body. Scoop the dough up underneath with your plastic scraper, stretch it up out of the bowl and drop it down again in a circular motion. Then, pour the dough into a well oiled rectangular plastic box, cover with the lid and rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
5. Oil your hands, and carefully slide them underneath one end of the dough, lift that end and fold it over the top. Do the same with the other end. Then turn the bowl 90 degrees and do the exact same thing. That’s four folds on four sides of the dough. Cover again and allow another 30 minutes rest.
6. Repeat the folds a second time, resting again for 30 minutes.
7. Repeat the folding of the dough once more. By now, you should feel a real change in the structure since first making the dough. It will have become like a nice pillow of dough, really alive and airy. Let the dough rest again for 30 minutes. The more you repeat these folding stages, the stronger your dough becomes and the more air it can hold!
8. Before the next stage, line two baking trays with parchment paper.
Dividing the dough
9. Turn the dough it out of the box onto a well-floured surface, then flour the sticky side of the dough too. Carefully pick up the corners and pull them out slightly making a definite landscape rectangle. Be gentle with your dough, the aim is to keep as much air inside the dough as possible. Divide it vertically into four long pieces with the flat side of your scraper.
10. Transfer your loaves to the lined trays by getting as much of your hands under each end of the dough as possible. Lift and stretch each piece very slightly, making them slightly longer, and place onto your parchment lined baking trays. Two loaves on each tray.
11. Preheat the oven to 230°C Fan/445°F/Gas Mark 9 while the loaves prove up again for 30 minutes.
12. Bake for 5 minutes using steam if you like, then turn the heat down to 180°C Fan/355°F/Gas Mark 5 and bake for a further 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.