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. 

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

“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

  • Quick Glance
  • (69)
  • 30 M
  • 4 H, 20 M
  • Makes 4 loaves
4.6/5 - 69 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Italian Baker cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Special Equipment: 2 baking stones

Ingredients


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. Originally published March 8, 2012.

Print RecipeBuy the The Italian Baker cookbook

Want it? Click it.

    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.

    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.

    HUNGRY FOR MORE?

    #leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

    Comments

    1. I’ve got the 4 loaves rising by the fire, oven is preheating as I type…I’m so hoping that I get nice big holes! Fingers crossed.

        1. Ok, an update…the 2nd loaf was perfect. Looked just like the loaf in the photo!!

          I did fumble a bit when I was flipping one of the loaves onto the pizza stones…perhaps is was the first one we ate 🙂

          1. We all have our learning curves…and sometimes, especially with baking, we find there just seems to be a little magic at play. Again, so swell to hear things went so well!

        2. Very happy with how the ciabatta turned out. My wife and I ate a loaf straight out of the oven 🙂 The taste and the chewy texture was fantastic, but it wasn’t quite as holey as I was hoping for (there were holes, just not as many as the pic at the top of the page). There seems to be a trade-off between a wet dough and lots of holes vs. having a slightly drying dough that’s easier to handle but with not so many holes.

          1. Hey, that’s fantastic, John! And yes, a very astute observation, there is absolutely a correlation between the stickiness of the dough and the number of holes. But taste wise, as you found, it makes no difference. Am so happy that you had a terrific breadmaking experience!

    2. At long last it looks like I have found a Ciabatta recipe that looks like the real thing. Can you help me with a yeast issue. In your recipes, you use “active dry yeast”? I prefer using live yeast blocks. How does the conversion work to suit your recipes?

      1. Hi Wayne, our testers made the recipe with active dry yeast. Usually, it is a multiplier of 3 to switch between active dry and fresh yeast. The website for Red Star Yeast also has a conversion table based on flour amounts. If you try the ciabatta with fresh yeast, please let us know what amount worked for you.

    3. Hi so I just finished the bread and it came out good and a nice hard crust, I followed your recipe virtually perfect.. But my bread was not “hole-y” and it did not have big air holes in it. It was too dense…. Does this mean I added too much flour?

      1. Hi Tyler, that is a possibility as the dough is very wet and sometimes too much flour is added in the attempt to make it easier to work with. How much additional flour do you think that you added?

        1. Well i read other comments with the same issue so i realllllly tried hard not to add any… After the second rise on the parchment paper, is it wrong to move or touch the bread anymore??

          1. Tyler,

            A few things.

            1. As you implied, the big, impressive holes in the final product are the result of the fermentation that’s happening in the final stages, so if you handle the dough too much it will let go of a lot of gas and not puff up quite as much.

            2. Are you baking on a stone? That can really help with oven spring. (If you’re getting problems with the bottom of your crumb being “soggy,” buy some semolina and go parchment-free – live dangerously!) You must preheat the stone for a long time at a high temperature, though. I generally preheat mine at least 450° for at least 30 minutes before even thinking about putting bread on it.

            3. If you’re really struggling with getting holes, try adding a couple of tablespoons of vital wheat gluten to your dry ingredients. It makes the dough more cohesive and helps it to trap gas.

            4. I make my own yogurt and strain the whey off, so I sometimes have whey sitting around in my kitchen. As I wrote in one of my comments above, I’ve made this bread with whey substituted for water in the final mix (not in the biga). Whey is loaded with protein, which (again) helps with cohesion.

            5. About whether you’re adding too much flour… How are you measuring your flour? If you measure by weight, you’ll get the same amount of flour every time. If you measure by volume, you may get more or less flour based on settling of the flour. You can take measures to counteract this settling (go to http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/measuring-flour.html), but REALLY the best way to measure your flour is to use a kitchen scale and figure exactly 4 1/4 ounces of weight per cup of flour in the recipe.

            I mentioned that last one because a lot of the time bakers will measure out flour by volume, thinking that they are using the amount of flour specified in the recipe – when in fact they are using significantly more, since the flour they are using is more dense than the measurements are intended for.

            Best of luck. Even with the excellent directions on this site, this is still a challenging recipe.

            -Steve

            1. Wow thank you guys so much. You both truly are masters at what you do.

              I do have a stone so that’s a plus.

              So if I weigh it out, don’t mess with it at all in the final fermentation stages and be sure I do not add any flour, I think ill be good to go..

              I will let you guys know.

              Thanks again for the great advice.

            2. Wonderful advice, Steve! Thanks so much for jumping into this conversation. So, Tyler- how did the second batch turn out?

            3. Ok so round two, still no big holes. Here’s what I did.

              I weighed out the flour so there would be none extra.
              I used a baking stone.
              I did not touch the bread during final rise, so I would not degas anything.
              I made 100% sure that I added zero flour while working the dough.

              So I’m kind of confused here. Could quality of flour prevent this? I use “King Auther” flour, is this not a good brand? Does preheating the baking stone really make a difference as far as getting the big holes?

              The only other thing I can think of would be to add some type of protein to promote better gas. But I feel as if I’m still doing something wrong.

              I would like to make it clear that the taste of the bread is great, I am just really striving for those nice holes

            4. Hi Tyler, we’ve been in touch with Carol Field, the author of this recipe, to see if she can provide some assistance with your questions. Stay tuned…

          2. Hi Tyler, it is possible that too much movement could cause the dough to degass a bit. There were helpful hints by Steve on this subject in the comment section. Have you seen those?

      1. Hi there thetuscanheart, I asked Cindi, our master baker extraordinaire and this is her advice

        “I brought home some of our dough from school and it sat in the frig, basically proofing, for a day and a half. It was still good bread, but it did not have the classic ciabatta open crumb. The yeast in a dough can, after a time (depending on the composition of the dough) exhaust all its food and become inactive. Plus, with such a slack dough there is some escape of the gasses produced. Plus plus, the alcohol produced as well as some CO2, again especially in the presence of all the water here, can dissolve making the dough a bit acidic, further weakening the structure.

        So basically, dough is alive. And like all living things it’s complicated. Time, temperature of the proofing, activity of yeast all matter. It’s one of the reasons I find bread so fascinating. No matter what, it really is never the same thing twice. Not exactly. Maybe you can view that as a challenge, but I like to think of it as a reward.

        To the reader, I’d say go ahead and bake the dough. Just expect that the crumb will likely be tighter and the flavor may be a bit more “sourdough”.”

        1. I went ahead and made it yesterday and yes, the crumb was tight and without many holes. It didn’t brown, either. I was careful not to add more flour when kneading, just a throw of flour for the board. It did taste really good, just NOT what I wanted. Thanks for the info!

      1. Hi “info”, the authenticity comes from the biga starter and resultant very wet dough. Let us know if you try it!

    Have something to say?

    Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

    Rate this recipe!

    Have you tried this recipe? Let us know what you think.

    Upload a picture of your dish