No way am I going to take credit for developing this recipe, though I have made my own tweaks to the flour. The recipe comes from master chef Markus Farbinger. I had no idea who he was until I happened to stumble on his baguette shaping video on YouTube. His technique was so incredible that I ended up buying his baguette and ciabatta video series on Vimeo. This ciabatta recipe is from that series.
To be honest, even though I’m documenting the recipe, I’m really only scratching the surface. I highly recommend renting or purchasing the series. Chef Markus the former Dean of Curriculum and Instruction for Baking and Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, and is co-owner of the Ile de Pain bakery in South Africa where he uses a wood-fired oven to bake his artisan bread. In other words, this dude is totally legit!
Like traditional baguettes, this ciabatta uses a poolish that you make the night before you bake, then in the morning, you mix the final dough. With this particular recipe, the process is quick! I mean, real quick. Things happen much faster than with your typical artisan loaf. Once you mix the final dough, your loaves are in the oven within an hour-and-a-half!
On top of that, you only manipulate the dough three times before baking and two of those times are devoted to creating structure. So you really only have two opportunities to create structure and strength in your dough before you bake. That third time is just pushing the dough into a loaf shape and transferring it to a couche. There’s no formal shaping and scoring with a ciabatta. So you have to get the structure-building steps down!
Now don’t go thinking that this is a beginner’s bread simply because of the short prep time or the use of commercial yeast. It isn’t. What makes it difficult is the hydration rate which is a whopping 85%! At that level, it’s almost like working with a batter, and even for seasoned bread makers, that kind of hydration rate can be a little daunting. So like making baguettes, making a great ciabatta is less about the ingredients and so much more about the technique.
If you read the recipe table, you won’t see any olive oil. The only time it is used is to coat the mixing bowl after the second fold, just prior to the final fermentation. I’m not sure why this is, but the results are pretty marvelous just the same.
Like baguettes, the process occurs over two days. You create a poolish the night before, then mix the final dough and bake in the morning.
I’m providing the overall formula because it is possible to do this as a straight dough.
(10% Whole Wheat)
(90% Bread Flour)
Poolish – Day 1
|100 g Whole Wheat Flour|
400 g Bread Flour
|500 ml||0.4 g|
If you’re using yeast packets, simply take a healthy pinch from a packet to use for the poolish, then use the rest for the final dough.
Final Dough – Day 2
|500 g Bread Flour||350 ml||20 g||6 g||1000 g|
Dough Temp: 75F/24C
Before you start, I recommend using a round-bottom mixing bowl for the fermentation steps. The dough is so wet that it will be difficult to do stretch & folds if you use a vertical-sided container. Also, a couche is very helpful to have, especially for the final proof.
Note that the times listed are approximate! I just baked a batch yesterday and because it was early in the morning and very cool, I had to extend the times to 30 minutes, and I let the final proof go for 20 minutes.
- Mix flour, salt and yeast in a separate container until well incorporated (I use a whisk).
- Loosen the poolish from its container by slowly pouring around 250-350 ml of around the outer edges of the dough. Then use a scraper to further loosen the sides and get water all the way to the bottom of the container. The poolish will pour right out of the container – it’s cool.
- Use the remaining water to rinse poolish container of any leftover dough, then pour that into mixing bowl.
- Mix up the poolish so that the water fully incorporates into the dough and you have a smooth batter.
- Working in batches, incorporate the dry ingredients. It’s important you take your time with this because you want to avoid creating lumps, which is very easy to do.
- You can also do this in a stand mixer, but don’t use the dough hook! I use my KitchenAid’s nifty scraper/mixer attachment at the lowest speed. It keeps the sides of my bowl clean as well as breaking up lumps more effectively than a dough hook.
- Mix the dough until smooth. It may be a bit shaggy, but there shouldn’t be any lumps and no dry ingredients.
- Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and incorporate any stray ingredients into the dough.
- Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for 20 minutes.
- At this point, it’s a good idea to preheat your oven to 480F. (~250C)
- After 20 minutes, working your way around the bowl, do a series of stretch and folds, picking up about a quarter of the dough, pulling it up to stretch it a bit (but not tear it), then folding it over to the other side.
- NOTE: Don’t just do this 4 times! While you’re stretching feel how the resistance in the dough builds. When you first do it, you’ll be able to stretch the dough easily. You’ll know when to stop when you feel resistance in the dough. At that point, you’re good!
- Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then loosely cover and let ferment for 20 minutes.
- Here’s an important point. You should see some bubble production after 20 minutes. If you don’t, let the dough sit for another 20 minutes. I had to do this this morning because my kitchen was still a little cool.
- After 20 minutes, liberally sprinkle flour on your board and gently pour the dough onto the surface and scrape out any residual dough from the bottom and sides of your mixing bowl.
- Once all the dough has been transferred, try to move the dough to see if it sticks. If it does, use your scraper to lift up the dough and get flour under the dough.
- Using quick, but gentle motions, laminate the dough using the letter folding technique. This is a good tutorial. The chef in that video uses oil, but we’re going to use flour as Chef Markus does. Laminate the dough three times, gently pushing out the the dough into a rectangle shape, being careful not to degas the dough too much.
- After the last fold, roll the dough onto the seam, and cupping your hands, form the dough into a nice neat ball.
- Lightly brush oil around your mixing bowl, then place the dough into the bowl.
- Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for another 20 minutes.
- Again, like the previous fermentation step, if you’re not seeing many bubbles, let the dough sit for another 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, liberally sprinkle flour on your work surface, then slide the dough ball out of the mixing bowl.
- Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Technically you could scale the dough, but you don’t want to run the risk of popping any bubbles that have formed in the middle.
- “Shape” the dough by gently pushing the sides and forming a rough loaf shape.
- I actually veer from Chef Markus’ process here and do a set of letter folds, then nudge the dough into loose loaves to ensure I’ve got at least some structure and forming a “pillow” which is what ciabatta literally means.
- Alternatively, you can cut the dough into smaller pieces if you want to create smaller sandwich loaves. Based on experience, 200 gram pieces work great for large subs (note that that’s a lot of bread, so I usually end up cutting the sandwich in half).
- Once you’ve formed the loaves, gathering them from the long ends and cupping under the dough, transfer them to a well-floured couche.
- Sprinkle the loaves with a bit of flour, then cover them and let proof for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, check the loaves for springiness using the finger dent test. You want to have some spring. If there’s a bit too much; that is, the dough immediately springs back, let it rest another 10 minutes.
- Transfer the loaves to a well-floured loading board. You can use a peel, but it should have a straight edge, not round. Myself, I use a thin 3/8″ cabinet siding that I’ve cut to size.
- If you don’t have a transfer board, the loaves will get a little misshapen. Just prod them back into shape.
- If you don’t have a baking stone, instead of putting the loaves on a loading board, you can use a flat baking sheet.
- Bake the loaves for 20 minutes on steam at 480° F
- After 20 minutes, remove your steaming container, then turn your oven down to 400° F (~200° C). Finish baking for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 45 minutes.