Ciabatta – Italian Sandwich Loaves

I always thought ciabatta was a recipe from antiquity. But it was actually invented in 1982 by Arnaldo Cavallari as a response to the threat posed by French baguettes. It seems resistance to a foreign invader created a new cultural phenomenon.

I’d tried making them before but failed to master manipulating the super wet dough (80% hydration). John Kirkwood, of Pro Food Homemade, helped me crack this problem. His video and instructions for making ciabatta are so simple and clear. And, so far, fool proof. I have, of course, changed the recipe, but the inspiration was definitely John.

This ciabatta recipe uses a poolish, made the night before. Technically Italians use a drier preferment called a biga and the French go for the 100% hydrated poolish (one-part-flour-to-one-part-water ratio by weight). There you go, those French interfering in Italian bread making once again. But the recipe works well despite the cultural crossover. I can start the process at night and have three lovely loaves by lunch time the next day. It takes a while but needs surprisingly little effort. And no kneading. Just a bit of beating in my KitchenAid mixer, then three folding and resting cycles. My family love these light Italian slippers, I mean, sandwich loaves.

Four loaves of ciabatta

Ciabatta - Italian Sandwich Loaves

Steven Thomas
This ciabatta recipe uses a poolish. I can start the process at night and have three lovely loaves by lunch time the next day. It takes a while but needs surprisingly little effort. And no kneading. Just a bit of beating in my KitchenAid mixer, then three folding and resting cycles. My family love these light Italian slippers, I mean, sandwich loaves.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Resting Time 14 hrs
Total Time 14 hrs 50 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings 3 Loaves (270 grams each)

Ingredients
  

Ingredients for poolish

  • 200 grams Strong white bread flour
  • 200 grams Cold water
  • 1 gram Active Dried Yeast (or 2 grams Fresh Yeast)

Ingredients for ciabatta

  • 1 batch Poolish prepared the night before
  • 350 grams Strong white bread flour
  • 240 grams Cold water
  • 5 grams Sea salt (I use Kosher Salt)

Ingredients for bowl

  • 1/2 teaspoon Olive oil (used for oiling the bowl)

Instructions
 

Method for poolish

  • At night add the flour, water and yeast for the poolish to a small bowl
  • Stir until mixed (I use the handle of a metal cocktail muddler at moments like this as it is strong enough to stir with without breaking)
  • Cover with plastic (I use a medium sized reusable elasticised food cover rather than cling wrap)
  • Put the bowl in the fridge until you need it (from 12 hours up to 3 days)

Method for ciabatta

  • Then pour the poolish into the bowl of your stand mixer (I use a KitchenAid)
  • Add the the remaining water to the poolish and stir it around
  • Pour the poolish into the bowl of your stand mixer (I use a KitchenAid)
  • Add the remaining flour and salt
  • Attach the paddle to the mixer (Do not use a dough hook. We need the paddle because the dough is so wet)
  • Mix on the slowest speed (KitchenAid 1) for 1 minute (Note: if the dough pulls away from the sides at this point them add a splash of water)
  • Mix on the next speed (KitchenAid 2) for 1 minute
  • Mix on the next speed (KitchenAid 4) for 4 minutes. The dough pulling away from the side of the bowl is a sign that it is ready
  • Oil a wide stainless steel bowl. Just 1/2 teaspoon of oil is enough. A wide stainless steel bowl is convenient to fold the dough in.
  • Transfer the dough from the mixer bowl to the wide stainless steel bowl. Be careful about this so you don't bash the air out of the dough. A plastic scraper will help.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic (I use a extra large reusable elasticised food cover)
  • Rest dough for 45 minutes somewhere warm (24-26°C)
  • Turn the dough which means stretch and fold the dough in the bowl four times - North, South, East and West. I use a one-handed stretch and fold but others like two handed or slap and fold like John Kirkwood. Wet your hands with a little water to prevent sticking and then lift up one side (North) of the dough with one hand while the other hand holds down the bowl. Stretch the dough up high enough just so that you can fold it completely over to the other side of the dough in the bowl. Rotate the bowl 180° and do the other side (South). Finish the other two sides (East and West) to complete the set.
  • Rest dough for 45 minutes somewhere warm (24-26°C)
  • Turn the dough with one-handed stretch and fold (North, South, East and West)
  • Rest dough for 45 minutes somewhere warm (24-26°C)
  • Turn the dough with one-handed stretch and fold (North, South, East and West)
  • Rest dough for 45 minutes somewhere warm (24-26°C)
  • Give both your work surface and baker's chouche (or tea towel) a good dusting of flour
  • Gently pour the dough onto your floured work surface
  • Give your dough a good dusting of flour (don't be afraid to use a lot; you'll need it for the shaping)
  • Using a scraper, gently nudge the sides of the dough to form one large rectangle roughly 3:2 in dimensions
  • Using a scraper, cut the dough into 3 equal parts
  • Using a scraper, gently nudge the sides of the three pieces of dough to form rectangles
  • Using two scrapers, transfer the dough to the Couche. Do one piece at a time. Slide the scrapers in from both ends of the dough at the same time, this squashes the dough a bit, and then transfer the piece to the couche. The secret is to do this quickly and confidently. Tidy up the dough a bit and ensure the couche is folded up on each side so that it holds its shape while resting.
  • If you haven't already preheat your oven to 230°C with a baking stone inside
  • Cover the dough with a tea towel and rest dough for 20 minutes
  • Put a oven proof dish with hot water in the floor of the oven to provide steam
  • Cut out 3 pieces of baking parchment into a long narrow ciabatta shape; for me this is just cutting one large of piece of parchment into four
  • Put a piece of dough into the oven. Start with the dough nearest to you on the couche. Place a piece of parchment on your peel. Uncover the dough. Roll the selected piece forward so it doesn't stick to the fabric of the couche. Using both hands gently get your finders under each end of the dough, then lift the dough and place it on the parchement, stretching it a bit as you do it. Quickly and careful use the peel to slide the parchment and dough onto your baking stone. Use a spray bottle, to spray water onto the sides of the oven or throw in some ice cubes at the bottom. Then close the oven door to retain heat.
  • Repeat for the other two loaves.
  • Bake until golden (about 20 minutes) turning the loaves once
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack (about 30 minutes)

Notes

The recipe was inspired by John Kirkwood's ciabatta recipe  and video instructions.
John made two large loaves from his recipe (each 410 grams). The photo is when I tried making four loaves from the same ingredients (205 grams each). But I have settled on three loaves (270 grams each). There are a couple of reasons for this: (1) firstly I can fit three loaves in my oven at once but not four; (2) our local waitrose sells ciabatta which are 270 grams, so perhaps that is a magical size.

Leave a Reply