Ciabatta

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

Ciabatta

A loaf of ciabatta, sliced, and filled with large air holes
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. 
Carol Field

Prep 30 mins
Cook 3 hrs 50 mins
Total 4 hrs 20 mins
Sides
Italian
40 servings
86 kcal
4.62 / 70 votes
Print RecipeBuy the The Italian Baker cookbook

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Equipment

  • 2 baking stones

Ingredients 

  • 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
  • Cornmeal

Directions
 

  • 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.
Print RecipeBuy the The Italian Baker cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Notes

Tips for Handling Ciabatta Dough

Before 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.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 86kcal (4%)Carbohydrates: 17g (6%)Protein: 2g (4%)Fat: 1g (2%)Saturated Fat: 1g (6%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 145mg (6%)Potassium: 29mg (1%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 4IUVitamin C: 1mg (1%)Calcium: 6mg (1%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

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

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Comments

  1. Hi! I’m looking forward to making this recipe, but I was wondering if you’d recommended refrigerating it during its rise. I know for most breads that helps develop its flavor, but is there a reason this one should be kept room temperature the whole time? And at what point/how long should the dough be put in the fridge?

    1. Anna, this dough can be finicky, so I’d recommend making the recipe as written and not refrigerating it during the rise. The use of biga in the dough will give it flavor, and refrigeration during the rise would slow the process significantly. We have had some readers try refrigerating during the rise, and the result is a different texture than expected. If you want to bake some of the loaves one day and the others the next, you can pop the remaining ones, shaped and ready to go into the fridge overnight and bake them the next day.

  2. 5 stars
    I am neither a novice nor an expert bread baker and was inspired to try an authentic ciabatta while watching the “Great British Baking Show.” This is my first attempt with biga and with ciabatta. I did not get the rise nor air pockets I had hoped, but I sensed from the start that my dough was a bit too dry. I also don’t have much experience shaping and stretching, since I normally do simple loaves. However, it is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, so I consider that a win! It was a great learning experience and I will try and try again. Thanks!

    1. For your first try at ciabatta, it looks fantastic, Beth! Very nice crumb. We can’t wait to hear about what you learn as you work through the process of finding the right balance in your dough.

    1. Mary, there are a few different reasons that bread can taste yeasty. One is using too much yeast, so if you were heavy-handed with the yeast addition, that could contribute to it. The other factor is rising time, which has multiple influences here, since you’re also using a biga. Letting bread rise for too long can contribute to a yeasty taste. I’d suggest checking your biga earlier. If it’s ready before the 10 hour mark, use it at that point. I hope that helps.

  3. I made this recipe yesterday. It makes a nice, soft bread with lots of holes of various size and even some large mouse holes (1-inch or larger) . The loaves look very similar to the picture with the recipe above.

    I converted everything to metric measurements then rounded the amounts. Here is how I did a few things different that resulted in a great ciabatta bread:

    1 – I used unbleached bread flour instead of all-purpose flour for both the dough recipe and the biga recipe linked therein. I used what flour I had on hand, Artisan Plus flour from Central Milling.

    2 – For the dough, instead of 490g of biga, I rounded up to 500g, then thought, “what the heck!” and just tossed in ALL of the biga, I did not make sense to waste the few grams over 500g the biga recipe makes. I suspect the original recipe may have called for using all of the biga.

    3 – The biga recipe calls for 1/4-tsp of active yeast – instead, I used 1/2-g of instant yeast. I made the biga at 10pm and let it sit overnight. By 9am the next morning it was ready to go.

    4 – The dough recipe calls for 1-tsp of active yeast. The equivalent would be 2g of instant yeast, but I use only 1/2g of yeast, again, as I did with the biga. I figured the biga yeast was still alive and active and would add leavening potential. It did.

    Note: I use this conversion table to go from active yeast to instant yeast in older recipes.

    http://www.theartisan.net/convert_yeast_two.htm

    5 – After mixing the dough I did a series of 4 stretch-and-folds, 10-mins apart. After the second s-n-f the dough was already holding somewhat of a ball shape with the development of the gluten chains.

    Note: there are two ways to handle this wet dough; since the recipe has olive oil in, you can use olive oil on your hands without affecting the recipe and NOTHING will stick to your hands. Secondly, and the method I used, I left the faucet running with cold water and simply wet my hands whenever the dough became tacky while stretching/folding. Wet hands can handle wet bread dough with very minimal sticking.

    6 – With the reduced yeast content, it took about 5-hours for the dough to double in size. I like a long, slow fermentation. This was perfect!

    7 – I gently scooped the dough onto a well floured surface and gently divided it into 3 (not 4) loaves. I did not seem to me there was enough flour in the recipe (biga + dough) to make 4 loaves. I would say this is actually a 3-loaf recipe. From this point on the handling of the dough was GENTLE so as not to damage the bubbles forming inside the dough.

    8 – With well floured hands, I gently stretched each piece of dough enough to accomplish the traditional ciabatta tri-fold. Lightly floured the top of each piece and let it sit on the table, fold-side up, for 15-mins to dry a little. Then, gently lifted and pulled/shaped the dough, placing it onto a piece of parchment paper, fold-side down, without addition flour. I thought the dough would be dry enough to release from the parchment. It was, it did.

    After 45-mins I placed another piece of parchment on top and gently lifted and rolled the dough over so the fold-side was now up with the new parchment on the bottom, and removed the original piece of parchment from the top. Let it sit for 45-mins then baked on a stone, 450F, 13-mins then rotate and baked another 15-mins.

    There was so much oven spring each loaf looked like a pillow coming out of the oven. Beautiful caramel color. However, the traditional ciabatta tri-fold scar was lost, did not survive the proofing, it was absorbed back into the dough. I ended up with 3 greats ciabatta loaves without the scar.

    1. Joe, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. This bread can often be tricky, especially for new bakers, and this detail is very helpful. Much appreciated!

  4. 4 stars
    Mine did not rise as much as I would have liked, I would have preferred more bubbles. It kinda squatted. If I use bread flour will it squat less? Or maybe it was too wet?

    1. Marco, this bread definitely takes some practice. Make sure you are weighing your ingredients, if possible, and you can skip the inverting step at the end when you transfer the loaves to the baking stone as this will help to keep more air bubbles in the dough.

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