I hate to waste anything, especially levain discard. I’m in the middle of creating a new starter so of course I have a daily or twice-daily discard, and rather than just toss it – and I can’t give it away because everyone I know who bakes has gotten a starter – I use it. Yesterday I made baguettes from the discard and today I’m making ciabatta buns.
This is a super-straight-forward recipe that doesn’t require a feeding like you would with a levain. And the great thing with making ciabatta, it’s a same-day bread! No overnight bulk or final fermentation! The challenge, as with any ciabatta, is that it’s a wet dough, so it’s sticky. But as long as you develop the gluten structure in the process, then it’s not too hard to work with.
Note: To help the discard microbes, I use a small amount of instant yeast ~ just 2 grams. No, it’s not cheating. I do this because discard can sometimes be a little unpredictable, and that little bit of yeast helps boost the fermentation activity just enough to keep the process on schedule. That said, the yeast amount is also highly dependent on the temperature of my kitchen that varies wildly. When I made this the other, my kitchen temp was 84° F, and I used just half a gram of yeast! Even with that small amount, the fermentation went a bit crazy and I had to shorten my bulk fermentation to just 10 minutes!
Whole Wheat Flour 100 g Bread Flour 300 g AP Flour 600 g
Combine the flours and mix thoroughly.
Weigh out 100 grams of discard from your container, then place that directly into the flour.
Add all the water to the flour/discard mix and combine everything until you fully incorporate all the ingredients, and you form a shaggy dough.
Rest for 30 minutes.
Sprinkle the yeast and salt evenly over the surface of the dough then mix thoroughly until smooth. I do all the mixing with a stand mixer. It’s just more efficient.
Regarding “shaping,” as I mentioned in the process I linked to, I letter fold my divided pieces to shape them into pillows. And especially if I’m making sandwich ciabatta where I want the mini loaves to come together during baking, shaping them ensures that each piece has its own structure. Also, if I’m making sandwich ciabatta, I use parchment paper on my transfer board, and I place the mini loaves about 1/2″ (roughly a 1 cm) apart so they’ll spread out and come together during baking.
So in my imaginary bakery – well, at least it’ll be imaginary until I make it a reality after I retire – I’m only going to offer a finite set of loaves. I’ve decided on three loaves so far, but I probably won’t offer more than five. It’ll be a small-volume shop where I can sell all my stuff in the morning, so I can go and play in the afternoon.
One type of loaf that I will for sure be making is ciabatta. Now THAT is a loaf I’ve been wanting to make since I started baking, but up until recently, didn’t want to learn until I had baguettes down cold. And now that I finally have my master baguette recipe, it’s time to move on to ciabattas!
I’m SO excited to get this loaf down. To me, learning to bake ciabatta is like baguettes: So easy to learn, but very difficult to get right. But I’ve been doing my research, and now I’m ready to go for it.
What turns me on about a ciabatta is that like a baguette, it’s the perfect medium for a sandwich. Surprise! If you want to know just one thing about me, I love to make sandwiches! Even when I first started out making my early Dutch oven boules, I always had sandwiches in mind.
My first attempts at ciabatta have been well… just okay. They’ve certainly tasted absolutely delicious, but I need to get them a bit more puffy. It’s tough because the hydration rate of the recipe I’ve learned is 85%. It’s almost like a batter! And to create structure, you have to do letter folds. I’m okay at it, but I certainly need more practice doing those folds with a super-high hydration dough.
But as with anything, all it takes is practice! I can’t wait until I’ve fully arrived in Ciabatta Town!
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 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.
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.
Poolish – Day 1
100 g Whole Wheat Flour 400 g Bread Flour
Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add water in batches until you form a smooth, thick batter batter. Set aside at room temperature for 12-16 hours. I shoot for 14 hours. As an early-riser, I make the poolish at about 4pm then mix the final dough at 6am the next day.
Final Dough – Day 2
500 g Bread Flour
If you’re wondering if the amount of yeast listed seems to be a bit much, bear in mind that Chef Markus uses 15 grams fresh yeast. The instant/active yeast equivalents are roughly 30-40% less.
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 incorporated 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 480 dF. (~250 dC)
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, again 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.
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.
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 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 the oven and let cool for at least 45 minutes.