Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tweaked Ciabatta

I have tried many recipes for ciabatta over the years, including Peter Reinhart's several different ones, but our favorite, tastewise, has always been Nancy Silverton's Rustic Bread in Breads from La Brea Bakery. However, I couldn't get consistently the result I wanted using her recipe straight from the book. Since ciabatta is the perfect sandwich bread and summer is the perfect season for picnics and sandwiches, I have given it some thought lately and came up with a process which gives me exactly that, a very tasty and resilient dough which delivers, day after day, even if it has to wait in the fridge a bit longer than scheduled (yesterday it had almost bulged out of its container when we came back from a day of sightseeing).
In our cabin by the river, I have no way to guarantee proofing at the right temperature and I don't even have a proper oven. I have to turn it up all the way to 500 F/260 C to have a chance to get enough heat to bake. It is widely uneven and I can only steam from a spray bottle since there is no room for an empty pan into which to pour water. So I would say I am baking against the odds and still, the dough gives me what I want.
Besides using some whole wheat flour, my trick (or my tweak if you like) is that I mix starter, water and flour in equal proportions the night before the baking and let the mixture ferment at room temperature. I then use it as the levain for my dough. My other twist is that I now always refrigerate the dough - at least for a couple of hours - once properly fermented before dividing and baking it. I can't explain why all these changes make such a remarkable difference but they do. I now consistently get the delicious wheaty taste that Nancy's recipe has always provided AND the airy crumb that characterizes a good ciabatta.
Ingredients (for two big loaves):
For the levain:

  • 340 g mature liquid starter
  • 340 g all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 340 g water

For the final dough:

  • 773 g all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 203 g white whole wheat flour
  • 630 g water
  • 540 g of the above levain (the leftover can be used as seed for a new batch)
  • 40 g milk
  • 27 g extra-virgin olive oil
  • 24 g salt
  • 6 g instant yeast

  1. The afternoon before mixing the dough, mix together all the ingredients for the levain and let it rest at room temperature
  2. The morning after, mix the flour, the yeast, the levain and 500 g of the water on low speed in the bowl of the mixer until just incorporated
  3. Let rest, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes (autolyse)
  4. Add the salt and mix on low speed until the salt is incorporated and, when pulling gently on a piece of dough with wet hands, you can see that the gluten structure has barely started to develop (the mixing time should be kept rather short, especially if using a KitchenAid type mixer. I use a spiral mixer which is very gentle and only has one speed and, after the autolyse, I only need to mix the dough for 3 to 4 minutes)
  5. Mix the remaining water with the olive oil and the milk and slowly, very slowly, dribble it over the dough at it spins (a process known as "double hydration")
  6. The dough should become progressively slacker. When all the liquid is incorporated, stop the machine and transfer the dough (it will be very sticky) to an oiled container (oblong shape is best as it makes it possible to fold the dough straight in the container. I use an Ikea sturdy food container which a snap-on lid)
  7. Let it ferment about 2 hours, with folds every 45 minutes (every 30 minutes if extremely slack)
  8. Then put it in the fridge for two to three hours (this will slow down the fermentation and help build up the taste) (as mentioned above, yesterday the dough sat in the fridge for 8 hours awaiting our return and was none the worse for it, so you can definitely cut yourself some slack at this stage)
  9. Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured countertop and dust it with flour before slicing it in two (lengthwise)
  10. Gently transfer each piece on a piece of parchment paper dusted with semolina flour and flour (I do it with a metal dough scraper in one hand towards which I kind of fold the dough as an accordion to carry it over to the paper. As I set it down, I stretch it a bit to give it a rough oblong shape)
  11. Dust the dough with flour again and dimple it with your fingers
  12. Then let rise another hour at room temperature in a large clear plastic bag filled with air
  13. Pre-heat the oven to 500 F/260 C at least 45 minutes before baking
  14. When ready to bake, heavily mist the interior of the oven with water and slide in the loaf (as my oven is tiny, I can only bake one at a time). Spray twice more at 2 minute- intervals, then bake for 15 minutes (at home, in my "normal" oven, I then lower the temperature to 450 F/232 C). Rotate the loaf and bake another 8 minutes
  15. At this point, Silverton advises turning the loaf over and baking it upside down for another 5 minutes (in my experience, it hasn't made much of a difference, so I skip this part)
  16. Set the loaf on a rack to cool and bake the other one the same way.

The Tweaked Ciabatta goes to Susan, from Wild Yeast, for Yeastpotting.


  1. Hi MC
    This is a lovely ciabatta and I bet the dough would be great for a baguette too!

  2. Oh, that goes straight onto my very soon to-do list! How wonderful to be able to benefit from your experience and 'tweakings'. Un grand merci!

  3. Nice texture on that ciabatta

  4. It's so wonderful to have a recipe that's reliable even when your equipment and your timing aren't. Really nice ciabatta!

  5. You are my hero! I just made Reinhart's ciabatta and, while delicious, I had no lovely big holes, and it could have been a bit better in the flavor department. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this.

  6. @Shiao-Ping, thank you for your visit. I am not sure about making a baguette out of that dough as it would be pretty tricky to shape. But maybe a filone?
    @mimicooks, thank you!
    @Susan, thank you too and yes, it is pretty comfy to be able to rely on a recipe, especially when you have no time for experimenting and have to get some decent bread on the table no matter what.
    @Madam Chow, please let me know if the tweak works for you too.

  7. Thank you!

    Today (well yesterday as they proofed overnight in the fridge) marks the fourth time that I have made this bread. And if how they looked just a minute ago when I took the steam cover off them is any indication this will be the fourth successful attempt.

    I feel like I have now completed a right-of-passage in that I can honestly say I can make a ciabatta.

    Thanks again,


  8. @Tom
    So glad to hear the tweaked recipe works for you too. Thank you for letting me know!

  9. Any suggestions on how to achieve this wonderful product without and electric mixer?

    Your blog is filled with such excellent recipes.

    Thank you,


    1. Hello Peter and thank you! I imagine you could try and do it by hand with lots of stretches and folds but it might be hard on your wrists. I know I can't risk it because I have had trouble in the past.
      If you do decide to give it a go, I would hold off adding maybe 20% of the water until towards the end and maybe use a spray bottle to add it in, letting the dough absorb it before adding more.
      My guess is that other mixer-less bakers have tried their hand at ciabattas. Have you tried searching through The Fresh Loaf (
      Good luck and please keep me posted!

  10. Made a double batch

    Thank you!




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