Ciabatta literally means slipper translated from Italian, and though the shape of the bread vaguely resembles a slipper, it must belong to a clown. The loaf itself is elongated, broad, flat and irregularly shaped, usually with large air bubbles, a crisp crust and a soft, chewy texture. It is excellent for making into sandwiches, if cut along its length or for dipping into olive oil or soup.
Ciabatta is a fairly modern bread, and though similar breads, and methods for producing them have existing for centuries, what we know today as Ciabatta was developed by Arnaldo Cavallari in 1982. His recipe for Ciabatta ends up with a very wet dough, which can be a little tricky to handle and can be a bit intimidating for the novice bread maker, because it is unlike normal bread production.
To make Ciabatta you first have to create a ‘biga’ or pre-ferment, similar to the French pre-ferment ‘Poolish. To add complexity to the bread’s flavour and texture, a lot of modern Italian breads incorporate the use of a biga, since the advent of bakers yeast replaced sourdough.
Ingredients for the Biga
- 1 cup (235ml) tepid water
- 1.5 cups (355g) unbleached white bread flour
- 0.5 tsp rapid rise active dry yeast
Method for the Biga
First add a little warm (not hot) water to the yeast in a small bowl to activate it and leave for a couple of minutes. Pour the rest of the water into a mixing bowl, the yeast mixture and then sprinkle on the flour. Mix the ingredients together for a couple of minutes to form a wet paste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (cling film) and leave in a warm place to rise and develop for at least 12 hours.
Ingredients of the Ciabatta dough (2 loaves)
- The biga
- 1 cup (235ml) of tepid water
- 2 tbls milk
- 2 tbls olive oil
- 3 cups (710g) unbleached white bread flour
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 0.5 tsp sugar
- 0.25 tsp rapid rise active dry yeast
Method for the Ciabatta
Like before add a little warm (not hot) water to the yeast in a small bowl to activate it and leave for a couple of minutes. To a large mixing bowl add the yeast mixture, water, sugar, salt, olive oil, milk and the biga. Use a wooden spoon to break up the biga a little. Add the flour and mix until it comes together. DO NOT be tempted to add more flour, it is meant to be very wet.
Knead the dough with your hands (don’t be scared of it) for about 10mins, cover with plastic wrap and then leave in a warm place for about an hour until it has tippled in size. You could use a dough-hook or a bread maker for kneading the dough if you have one.
Using a dough scraper or spatula pour half the dough onto a well floured baking sheet (repeat for the other half) and form into a rough rectangular shape using well floured hands. Pull and stretch the dough to approx 1cm (0.4″) in thickness, but be careful not to knock the air out of the dough. Sprinkle some flour over the dough and leave uncovered in a warm place for about 30mins to rise again.
Other options are to make Ciabatta rolls instead of loaves or you could also add add herbs, oil, or olives to the Ciabatta dough before baking it which turns out a bread that sort of resembles focaccia, another popular Italian bread.