Classic Ciabatta Bread Recipe – Not as classic as you may think

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.

Ciabatta biga

The biga after 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.

Ciabatta dough risen

Ciabatta dough risen

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.

Ciabatta shaped ready for the ovenPre-heat the oven to 425F (220C) and cook the loaves for about 25-30mins until well risen and light golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Ciabatta with olive oilOther 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.


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  1. I’ve had a few people asking what the spout is over the olive oil dish. It is an Italian Olive Oil tin that holds about 3 litres of oil in a light and air-tight environment to prevent spoiling.

    • Nicole on June 1, 2015 at 9:32 am
    • Reply

    Made a wholemeal version. Delish! Now for sourdough… and maybe Rye version

    • JJ on August 27, 2017 at 8:28 pm
    • Reply

    I’m making this for the second time (because i still have half a gallon of whey left from the cheese i made 2 weeks ago!!!) but I totally cheat on the ciabatta and make it in a bread pan. I think that is illegal/no longer ciabatta, but it tastes great. I stirred some raisins and busted up pecans into half the dough last time, too. I definitely will be revisiting this every time I need to use up whey!

    • Pix on October 31, 2017 at 5:25 am
    • Reply

    Hi Stuart and JJ

    Do you replace the water in the biga as well as the ciabatta?

    1. No, just in the main bread, but you could experiment to see what happens

    • debra Colavecchio on April 19, 2019 at 11:34 am
    • Reply

    I thought a bit of sugar was needed to activate the yeast?

    1. Yeast can easily be activated with just flour and water. Sugar only helps speed up the process, but with instant yeast nothing else is required.

    • Debra on May 8, 2019 at 6:16 am
    • Reply

    I learned something new! Thank you!
    The ciabatta was so successful this recipe will move to the front of the line! I doubt any other recipe will be attempted when this is a sure win!
    I love the dense and moist texture of the bread. The crust was perfect. And tasty! 🙂

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