This ciabatta recipe for traditional Italian bread is made the authentic way with a biga, or starter, and turns out a loaf that’s incredible on its own or in a sandwich.
“I did not have ciabatta this good even when I was in Italy. Amazing.” That’s what folks are saying about this Italian bread recipe that’s made by hand with a biga, or starter. And author Carol Field says “Everyone who tries this homemade Italian bread loves it.” It’s literally one of the most popular recipes on our site. With good reason. Ciabatta is, in the words of Field, “a remarkable combination of rustic, country texture and elegant, tantalizing taste. It’s much lighter than its homely shape would indicate, and the porous, chewy interior is enclosed in a slightly crunchy crust.” If you’re wondering how to make it, look no further than the recipe below. Note, it can be tricky to obtain those ginormous air bubbles within the dough, although rest assured, the taste will be the same, regardless of the crumb of your bread. And if you’re wondering how to pronounce it, we were told by a bread-loving Italian that it’s “chah-BAHT-tah,” with the “ah” sound on every syllable.–Renee Schettler Rossi
- 2 baking stones
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) warm milk
- 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons (9 1/2 ounces) water at room temperature (if using a food processor, use cold water)
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) olive oil plus more for the bowl
- 2 very full cups (17 1/2 ounces) biga rested for 12 hours
- 3 3/4 cups (17 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for the work surface
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) salt
- If making the bread in a stand mixer: Stir the yeast into the milk in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the water, oil, and biga (be sure to weigh the biga, don’t just measure it by volume) and mix with the paddle until blended. Mix the flour (be sure to weigh the flour, don’t just measure it by volume) and salt, add to the bowl, and mix for 2 to 3 minutes. Change to the dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at low speed, then 2 minutes at medium speed. The dough will be very sticky. Knead briefly on a well-floured surface, adding as little flour as possible, until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show evidence of being velvety, supple, springy, and moist. (If the dough seems almost impossibly sticky to work with, reread the headnote above from author Carol Field.)
If making the bread in a food processor: Stir the yeast into the milk in a large bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons of cold water, the oil, and the biga (be sure to weigh the biga, don’t just measure it by volume) and mix, squeezing the biga between your fingers to break it up. Place the flour (be sure to weigh the flour, don’t just measure it by volume) and salt in the food processor fitted with the dough blade and pulse several times to sift the ingredients. With the machine running, pour the biga mixture through the feed tube and process until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky. Process about 45 seconds longer to knead. Finish kneading on a well-floured surface until the dough is still sticky but beginning to show signs of being velvety, supple, moist, and springy. (If the dough seems almost impossibly sticky to work with, reread the headnote above from author Carol Field.)
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours. The dough should be full of air bubbles, supple, elastic, and sticky.
- Turn the dough onto a generously floured surface and cut it into 4 equal portions. Roll each portion into a cylinder, then stretch each cylinder into a rectangle about 10 by 4 inches, pulling with your fingers to get each portion of dough long and wide enough.
- Generously flour 4 pieces of parchment paper placed on peels or upside-down baking sheets. Place each loaf, seam side up, on a piece of parchment. Dimple the loaves vigorously with your fingertips or knuckles so that they won’t rise too much. The dough will look heavily pockmarked, but it is very resilient, so don’t be concerned.
- Cover the loaves loosely with damp towels and let rise until puffy but not doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The loaves will look flat and definitely unpromising, but rest assured that they will rise more in the oven.
- About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) and slide 2 baking stones on the center rack to heat. [Editor’s Note: If, like us, you haven’t yet bought yourself a baking stone, flip some large cast-iron skillets upside down and bake the bread on their bottoms. It ought to do the trick. It has for us.]
- Just before baking the bread, sprinkle the stones with cornmeal. Carefully invert each loaf onto a stone. If the dough sticks a bit to the parchment, just gently work it free from the paper. If you need to, you can leave the paper on and remove it 10 minutes into baking.
- Bake the ciabatta for a total of 20 to 25 minutes, spraying the oven 3 times with water in the first 10 minutes. Transfer the loaves to wire racks to cool.
Tips for Handling Ciabatta DoughBefore you make this authentic ciabatta recipe, understand that the dough can be tricky to handle correctly. It’s wet. Incredibly wet. It will stick to your hands. It will stick to your work surface. It will stick to everything it comes in contact with. That’s okay. Don’t add extra flour or you’ll get disappointing results. Just rest assured that, as you make the dough again and again, you’ll become practiced in how to handle it. Here, a few tips. Weigh the ingredients. If you pack flour into the measuring cup, it will come out weighing substantially more than what you expect or that the recipe intends. If you must measure it by volume, first pour it into a bowl, stir it to aerate it, and then scoop it into the measuring cup. [Editor’s Note: We understand that the weight-to-volume equivalents in the recipe below are off-kilter compared to what most of us home bakers are accustomed to using. We took these measures directly from the book in which this recipe was printed because they’re the author’s intended cup measures when you use her pour, stir, and scoop method we just outlined.] Have a bowl of water nearby when you’re shaping the dough. Wet dough won’t stick to wet hands, so dip your hands in the water before you scoop up the dough. You can also dip your dough scraper into the water and then use it to cut the dough into 4 portions. Wet your hands before you roll the dough into a cylinder so it won’t stick as much. And then, with those wet hands, pull it into the rectangular shape. Do NOT worry if the loaves look flat and unpromising. Here’s what Field has to say on the topic. “Trust me when I say they will rise on the floured pieces of parchment paper, even though they certainly don’t look as if they will. Let them rise until they’re puffy but not doubled. They still won’t look as if they will be anything you could believe in. If the thought of turning the little loaves over onto the baking stone is too daunting, you can put them still on their parchment paper straight onto the stone without turning them over. You’ll miss the veining of flour that makes the loaves look so attractive, but you might gain confidence this time and then be bold enough to try turning them over the next time.” This recipe should ideally be made in a stand mixer. It can be made in a food processor. And while folks have made it by hand, it’s not recommended. (The natural inclination while kneading it is to add lots of flour to the very sticky dough, and pretty soon you won’t have ciabatta.) So just follow the instructions below. The dough will feel utterly unfamiliar and probably a bit scary. And that’s not the only unusual feature: the shaped loaves are flat and look definitely unpromising. Even when they are puffed after the second rise, you may feel certain you’ve done it all wrong. Don’t give up. The bread rises nicely in the oven. Follow the recipe. It’s written by a baker with untold experience baking bread and seeing home cooks through the inevitable learning curve that comes with handling Italian bread dough, which is much different and wetter to work with than the standard American bread dough. Trust us. When you heed her words, you’ll make it through this recipe with ease and grace—or as close to grace as you can manage when you’ve got flour smudged on your nose and bread dough clinging to your fingers. We also suggest you take a look at the comments beneath the recipe from others who, like you, were curious about trying their hand at this bread so you can learn from their collective experience, tactics, and techniques.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I absolutely love the crisp crust and large holes common to this Italian “slipper” loaf, so I was most excited to get started on this recipe. As I was making the very sticky “biga,” or sponge, it suddenly seemed familiar and I immediately recognized an old friend in The Italian Baker! This book has remained on my shelf while other books have come and gone several times over during the years.
This bread, because it has relatively little yeast and is a slow riser, is a great Sunday afternoon side project — a Superbowl Sunday idea for those of us not glued to the game? The resulting bread has the much-desired crispy crust and soft and “holey” inside, ready to be eaten warm with some wonderful grassy olive oil or sliced lengthwise for some delicious paninis! Most of the time involved is related to hovering over the rises…and not with the actual ingredients, so it’s perfect for a cold afternoon or game day. The directions were explicit and any questions or issues along the way seem to be addressed. A winner.
This recipe makes 4 wonderful loaves of bread. The instructions are letter-perfect and could be followed by even novice bakers. The dough is “sticky” but not really that difficult to handle. As warned in the recipe, my parchment paper did not release when I placed the loaves in the oven, but after a few minutes the paper pulled off easily.
It was this attention to detail in the recipe that made it so user-friendly. The flavor of this bread is fairly mild because the starter (biga) is not fermented for very long. It’s this delicate flavor, enveloped in a nice chewy crust, that makes ciabatta so appealing. I will definitely be making this bread again. Probably the next time I will have the biga already made in my freezer, allowing me to make the bread all in a single day.
The recipe makes wonderful bread with a crisp, thin crust and an airy crumb. I could easily eat a whole “slipper” by myself with nothing more than olive oil. It’s great to see a baking recipe with weight measurements. That is what I used, and the loaves came out perfect. Note, though, that 4 of these would usually not fit on a baking stone together. I had to bake them 2 at a time, but at 20 minutes or so for the baking time, that is not such a big hassle.
This brad recipe was a delight to make! I loved the feel of the dough when I was briefly kneading it before the first rise. I was initially afraid that I wouldn’t be able to determine when the dough was velvety, springy, and moist, and that I’d add too much flour.
In fact, it was easy to tell when it was ready. I ran out of all-purpose flour and had to add about 150 grams white whole-wheat flour. As far as I can tell, it didn’t make much of a difference in the finished product. The loaf baked up nicely on a regular baking sheet (I don’t have a baking stone). I threw ice cubes onto a pan in the bottom of the oven to get steam. I let 1 pan with 2 loaves rise for about 1 1/2 hours and the other for closer to 2 hours. Both sets of loaves were very nice, but the 2-hour rise resulted in fuller loaves with a chewier crumb. It would be helpful to have weights for all of the ingredients, as in the biga recipe.
It was very satisfying to make this recipe and the results boosted my confidence in baking yeast breads.
I really love this recipe. I love the ritual of bread making, and this recipe has it all. The final product has a dusty, crisp crust and a soft, delicious crumb. Try not to knock the air out as you transfer the loaves to the stone and you will be rewarded with those fabulous holes which make this great bread interesting!
Already had The Italian Baker cookbook from years ago, and I am so happy to have kept it. I have made some sweet breads using its sponge which were just wonderful. This recipe sure didn’t disappoint, either.
I made the biga, which was a snap, and left it to bubble and triple. I refrigerated it until the next morning and used all but a little bit, which I put into another recipe. It’s a really soft, sticky dough, so I put it on parchment and let it rise. I have a pizza stone, and when it was time to bake it does work to slide it off onto the stone. I put ice cubes on the bottom of the oven to create steam instead of misting the loaves. They baked up to a really nice chewy golden brown.
This is a wonderful recipe, and I’m sure we can make some wonderful sandwiches out of these. First, though, I’m going to share with my daughter. Love it!!!
This is a great recipe. I found the instructions very simple to follow. I like ciabatta, though it isn’t my favorite bread to bake. I was a bit surprised that the recipe called for all purpose flour and not bread flour. But it worked.
I made the biga 24 hours prior. It was happy and bubbly when it came time to make the bread. The paddle attachment was not ideal in combining the biga, oil, water, milk, and yeast. So I switched to the dough hook and it came together just fine. Otherwise the only deviation I made from the recipe is I used semolina instead of cornmeal on my baking stone because I grabbed it in error from my pantry. The dough rose in the time suggested. First rise was exactly 1 1/4 hours. Second rise of the shaped loaves was 2 hours. The dough was sticky. But I enjoy working with wet dough so it was fine. Three of my four loaves puffed up beautifully (I am pretty certain I over handled the one that didn’t rise flawlessly).
I honestly am not sure why people seem to struggle with the recipe. I read through the comments, and I think the main issue is that this is a bread maker’s recipe. If you are inexperienced in working with dough, perhaps the texture of the dough could feel “wrong” and you may instinctively add flour and ruin its texture. But otherwise it is a fun simple recipe.
Originally published September 08, 2019
My biga for this recipe came out very nice. I had 540g so I just put it all in the bowl since it was such a small amount over. In adding the yeast to the milk it did not want to foam up like it does in water so I added a teaspoon of sugar to help it. This yeast comes from a large batch kept in the freezer and worked perfectly just last week. It doesn’t expire for a year.
My dough was extremely wet, not really anything you could knead by hand. So I used my bench scraper and did the best I could without adding too much flour. The first rise was great and I had a nice bubbly dough. I shaped 2 loves and 12 squares to use as buns. I just flattened the dough into a square and cut them and moved them to parchment. Again this dough was more like a large sticky mass. Nothing you could actually knead into any kind of shape. After 2 hours I baked my breads. The first one that I flipped over lost all its shape and baked up as a flat bread. The remainder I just baked on their parchment. None of them rose anymore once they were in the oven. They taste good but are really extremely flat.
We love ciabatta and I would make it all the time if I could perfect it. My other breads come out really nice.
Hi Sharon, I asked our baking expert about your questions and she offered several suggestions. First, for many bread recipes the excess amount of starter wouldn’t matter much. Here it may very well make a difference for two reasons. First, this is a very wet dough and a little extra hydration (the biga being even wetter, at about 79%, than the finished dough, at about 73%) may slacken the dough too much. Second the difference may be more than it seems. The biga recipe should yield 590 grams, as opposed to 540 grams. If the proportions of flour were off, then the biga was even more hydrated than it should have been.
The amount of water in the dough does make it harder to handle. It also makes it require less kneading. It does, however, require some kneading to develop enough structure to trap air on both the first and second fermentations. The shaping involves a little rolling too which helps with structure. Pouring the dough out and cutting it wouldn’t form any sort of “gluten cloak” to help contain the air bubbles. It sounds from this description that the dough may have been deflated when shaped. They ARE pretty flat and the second rise doesn’t get them to double, but they should be puffy; it should be obvious there’s air trapped within.
Hope this helps!
I have the loaves resting right now before they go in the oven. I made the biga with water, but used whey instead of water when mixing together the actual dough; hopefully the higher protein content will help it to form a strong internal structure to hold all those awesome bubbles in.
I have to say, every time I’ve tried to make ciabatta, the big holes have all been at the top, so I find the idea of flipping them right before baking really attractive!
One question. This recipe was not unusually messy EXCEPT for the part where I needed to get the dough onto my work surface and knead for a couple of minutes. I covered everything with a ridiculous amount of flour, but still my hands ended up a sticky mess PLUS the dough was really too slack to be able to “knead” by hand anyway (it ended up being repeated “folding”). What is the benefit of the step where the bread is kneaded by hand? Is it to incorporate a small amount of flour?
I’ll post again after baking!
Steve, we’ll be standing by to hear how it went! Clever thinking on the whey, curious to learn what effect that wrought. In the meantime, we’re reaching out to our resident baking experts to answer your query about the kneading….
The bread turned out fabuloso. I’m not experienced with baking directly on a stone, so I inverted the loaves onto parchment before sliding the parchment onto the stone. I made the recipe-specified four loaves, and they came out of the oven less than 24 hours ago. We now have about 1 1/2 loaves left, after a whole bunch was consumed by snacking and an entire loaf went to pan bagna last night.
One of the things that really impresses me about this recipe is that it uses all-purpose flour but returns such an authentic result. I would have expected 00 flour to be necessary for this kind of bread—I was even considering ordering some “rinforzata” flour specifically for ciabatta. Thank you for saving me a bunch of money. 🙂
I will be making this regularly.
Oh, and just so that I’ve said it: massive holes all over the place. Something came out of *my* oven that has those cobweb-looking strands of bread that go across the huge holes! I’ve only ever seen those come out of commercial ovens, from professional bakers. It’s a pretty awesome feeling to know that now I can make ciabatta for around $0.40 per loaf that my wife and I both agree tops the store-bought stuff at $3.50 per loaf.
Wonderful, Steve! Just wonderful. And while there’s a lot to be said for a reliable recipe, Steve, there’s also much to be said for the deft touch of the baker, especially when we’re talking about bread.
Steve, words can’t convey just how relieved and triumphant we feel right now on your behalf! We’re also feeling rather impressed and amused by you having such una buona forchetta, that is, a good appetite, for those loaves. And rightly so—you earned every single memorable mouthful of that bread. You are quite, quite welcome.
I am making this recipe for Ciabatta loaf for the very first time tomorrow Saturday morning. Thought I would make a half recipe first to test and experiment and to familiarize myself with the procedure and art of making it. My question now is with the proving time if doing a half recipe, do you still follow the same hours as stated in the recipe? Would appreciate your help on this. Thanks muchly.
Yes, Angelina, you still need to allow the dough the same amount of time to rest and rise, even if making just half a batch…or perhaps just a few minutes shy of the full time. Let us know how it goes…
Thanks for the response. I am baking it right now, the batch that I made was not like the one pictured above. It did not have big holes. I don’t know what went wrong. ):
Angelina, we’ve found that with many bread recipes–including this one–the type and amount of flour can make a substantial difference in the resulting texture. I believe you’re baking in Australia, yes? We’ve run into this issue before with the difference in brands of flours. Baking can be such a science, and as noted in the response to Nick just above, any slight tweak to the ratio of flour to water can wreak havoc with the holiness, so to speak, of the ciabatta. This dough tends to be a little sticky, so I’m wondering, is there a chance that you added a little more flour to compensate? And do tell, how was the taste and texture?
Yes, I am from Australia. And I use the organic unbleached all purpose four. I followed the recipe and no, I did not add more flour and followed what was in the recipe.
The taste and texture were no doubt to compromise. Great taste and chewy texture except I did not get much holes. I will try and make it again until I master the art of making the ciabatta bread. Both my hubby and myself enjoyed the bread for lunch. 🙂
Thank you so much for your help. I will keep you posted. Cheers!!!
Thanks for your response, Angelina. I didn’t mean to implicate you, I just had to ask, as often we receive messages from readers saying “You know, this cake wasn’t as rich as you said it would be…” and then it turns out they substituted skim milk for the whole milk and used only egg whites and snuck in applesauce in place of butter…but it’s lovely to hear that you are undeterred. I’m nudging one of our most experienced bakers with your query, as I know she’s made this recipe time and again, and will get back to you with her response. In the meantime, I am so relieved to hear that you are both undeterred and sated from a slice (or three) at lunch.
Well, yesterday I made a bigger batch of the Biga to keep in the freezer. Once we finish the first batch I made, I will make it again, hopefully I can achieve the big holes the same as shown in the book above. 🙂
Angelina, we’re sending you hole-y ciabatta mojo. And we’ll be waiting to hear how it goes…in the meantime, I heard back from our resident ciabatta baker (as well as recipe tester and baking instructor), Cindi Kruth, and here’s what she had to say (don’t worry, it’s quite reassuring…) about your experience: “There is enough variation just in flour and humidity to affect the size of holes and crumb of the loaf. Especially with organic flours, which tend to less finely milled. I don’t know a thing about Australian flour, although I do know European flours are quite different from U.s. brands. This is not generally an issue for most recipes, but for cakes and breads, the results can vary enough to be noticeable. Also, bread recipes can never be reproduced exactly. There are too many variables to get it the same every time in every kitchen with every possible brand and type of flour. You get used to that if you bake a lot. Even artisan bakeries produce some variations. But this is a solid recipe. I’ve done it several times. No two loaves have been exactly alike. She may just need to experiment a little.” So have faith, Angelina! And please report back…