Ciabatta Bread

  • Serves: Makes 2 loaves
  • Views: 14429

Recipe by Sarah Phillips © 2007 Sarah Phillips

Bread and photo by Kelly Hong © Sarah Phillips
Ciabatta bread is a rustic, oblong, flat bread whose name means "slipper" in Italian. It is one of "the" breads of the artisanal basket. It is made from a biga, the Italian name for "starter dough". Unlike focaccia, its top is usually unadorned with herbs and oil and is made with flour, salt, water, and yeast and sometimes with olive oil, too. It has a heavy, dull, tannish-brown crust with a striated appearance because of the flour used to keep the wet dough from sticking to the bench (work surface) and proofing (rising) cloth. Loaves should be more flat than high. Inside, the bread should have big alveolus (air holes) and lots of them.

KELLY SAYS: "I made a mixed bean soup for dinner so I decided to bake some rosemary ciabatta to go along with it.
I topped one with sesame seeds and the other one with coarse salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.
We just slice off pieces and dip it in olive oil, that is seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh garlic. We also like to dip it in the soup.YUM!!
This bread also makes really good sandwiches and toast. We LOVE IT!"

SHARONSZ, Premium Member, Says:  "Sarah, I made your recipe last night and it was absolutely delicious! It rose very nice, had a great texture and a very good taste. It's a keeper. Thank you, Sharon"


Refrigerating the firm starter dough, called a biga, overnight transforms it into a loose, spongy mass. Pulling the biga into pieces the next day makes it easier to mix with other ingredients.
Unlike standard bread doughs, during the initial mixing stage ciabatta dough is very soft, almost like cooked oatmeal. Mixing it in the bowl keeps the dough contained. Use only one hand so that the other stays clean.
During the second mixing stage, the dough is stiff soft but less sticky. Because it has developed some gluten, which lends elasticity, it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Since dough remains soft throughout, shape it right on the baking sheet; pull the dough into the traditional long, rectangular-shaped loaf. Semolina keeps the dough from sticking to the sheet.

Biga Starter Dough:
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon room temperature water (75 to 80 degrees F)
1, 1/4-ounce active dry yeast
3 1/3 cups bread flour and more, if needed; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim

Ciabatta Dough:
Biga starter dough (above)
3/4-cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water (75 to 80 degrees F)
Pinch of active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons semolina flour, plus 1/4 more for dusting ( Also called pasta flour, semolina flour is available at natural foods stores, Italian markets and some grocery stores)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt; do not reduce the amount

Make the biga the night before:
1. Place the water in a food processor. Sprinkle yeast over. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 2 to 5 minutes. Add 1 cup flour; process until blended. Scrape down sides of work bowl.

2. Add 1 cup flour; repeat processing and scraping. Add remaining 1 1/3 cups flour (or more if needed.) Process until small moist clumps form.

3. Gather dough into ball (dough will be firm); place in large bowl. Cover; chill overnight (biga will soften, resembling thick oatmeal in texture).

Make the dough:
1. Pull the biga into walnut-sized pieces and place in a clean large bowl. Add water, yeast and 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons semolina.

2. Using one hand, squeeze ingredients together, taking about 1 to 2 minutes. Work dough 4 minutes by scooping sections from sides of bowl and pressing into center, blending into very soft, shaggy mass. Using spatula, scrape dough from sides of bowl into center. Let dough rest in bowl, uncovered, 10 minutes.

3. Sprinkle salt over dough. Using one hand, knead dough by rotating bowl 1/4 turn at a time, scooping dough from sides and folding down into center until dough starts to come away form the sides of bowl, about 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hand and sides of bowl. Cover bowl with towel; let dough rest 20 minutes.

4. Rotating bowl 1/4 turn at a time, fold dough over onto itself 6 times; turn dough over in bowl. Cover with towel and let dough rest 20 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle work surface with additional semolina. Using pastry scraper or large knife, cut dough in half; keep halves separated. Let stand uncovered, 20 minutes.

6. Sprinkle 2 large baking sheets with additional semolina. Transfer each dough half, semolina side up, to 1 sheet. Stretch each dough half to a 16 x 4-inch rectangle. Press fingertips into dough in several places to dimple surface (characteristic of this bread). Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool or serve warm with olive oil poured into small dishes.

SARAH SAYS: The recipe be prepared 2 weeks ahead.

Artisan breads keep for about a day or two at room temperature. Double-wrap in aluminum foil to freeze for about a month or more.