Intial mix, it can really be this wet.
Ciabatta is one of those breads that is really satisfying for me to make at home.  It's kind of magical--turning what starts out looking like kindergarten paper mâché paste into a lovely artisan loaf of bread.  It's also one of those breads you can never really get anywhere else, at least in my experience.  I'm not sure if my version is truly authentic, but it's WAY better than the facsimiles served at chain restaurants, and even some of nicer places I've seen it offered.

After a first "turn" in the bowl, it's starting to have some structure
I mainly use the formula from Artisan Bread Bakers Across America, a pretty coffee-table type book that is a great read, but also has some very reliable recipes.  I make two changes:  I use sourdough starter for my initial biga stage, and I use a lot more wheat flour than called for.  I also tend to make my biga a bit wetter than their version, and depending on my sourdough activity level I sometimes don't let it ferment for a full day.

The key to ciabatta is starting with a ridiculously wet dough--more of a batter--and then doing several turns until it starts to gain structure.  While this is somewhat of an advanced technique, it's not really that different from the no-knead recipes out there, it just takes a minimal effort during the long rising process.

I generally do my first few turns right in the bowl, dusting it with flour and using a bowl scraper to flip the mixture up and over itself a few times.  I do this "turn" three times every 30 minutes.  The fourth/last turn involves dumping the dough out onto a heavily floured counter.  It's still very close to being a liquid at this point:

Now, I use a metal bench knife and slide it under the (floured) edges, and fold the dough over itself a couple of times:
after the fold on the bench
It has a last rise, untouched, for another 45 minutes to an hour.  Then the dough is divided and GENTLY folded into rustic loaves for a final proof.  This is a simple three-fold like a letter, and I put the seam-side down on a cloth.  Dust this cloth with a LOT of flour, it can be sticky at this stage still, and will also give you the classic ciabatta look after baking.

These rise for about 45 minutes or so, in the meantime preheat your oven (with a baking stone) to 450 degrees.  When ready to bake, carefully lift or tip them out of their cloche and give them a stretch as you put them on the peel.  You can also add some finger pokes to make the overall thickness of the loaf somewhat even.  This is an excellent occasion to use parchment paper--it makes sliding the sticky loaves into the oven painless.  (Otherwise, you'll have to use a lot of flour to prevent sticking).  For whatever reason, I have found that if you are gentle with the initial shaping,  but rougher with this final handling, you end up with the lovely rustic open holes you are looking for.

Let these bake until well browned, let them go a little longer than you think as the inside can be pretty wet if you don't.  For these smaller loaves, 25-30 minutes is about right.

I like the smaller loaves as they are great sliced horizontally for a sandwich.  They also freeze quite well, and will thaw in a few minutes while you're making dinner, making a perfect accompaniment for a salad or soup.

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  1. Lovely looking loaves, Sara. When I was doing the market bread business I worked up a ciabatta using Carol Field's recipe from "The Italian Baker." It seemed odd at first in that it included milk in the dough, but it produced great bread. And--that dough made the best pizza crust I've ever had, SUPER thin and crisp. See if yours doesn't, too.


  2. Thanks for the tip, I've now thrown that title on my library hold list. It's true, my favorite pizza crust of late (from Local Breads, by Leader--a great book by the way) is very similar to ciabatta. Milk is an interesting addition though!

  3. "Local Breads" is a fine book. Another good one (cuz you can never have too many bread books, right?) is "The Art of Handmade Bread" by Dan Lepard. I think it was also published with an alternate title, but it's his only book as far as I know. Lots of interesting regional breads in it, and he lays out the nearly-no-knead method that you and I and many other home bakers have hit upon through experience and intuition.


  4. I think I may have had that one from the library at one point, no reason not to get it again though! :)

    Leader's original (Bread Alone) is what really got me started with preferments and sourdough, and I found with this new one every formula just turns out perfect, no tweaking of liquids etc. After a few I know I can just measure out ingredients, toss them in a bowl, and go.

  5. would you mind posting the recipe. it looks lovely

  6. The main recipe is from Artisan Baking Across America, by Glezer. Well worth getting from the library. But I found another blogger who had the ingredient list:

    The only changes I make are to increase the wheat flour (keeping the total flour amounts the same) and sometimes I substitute a few spoonfuls (1/2 cup?) of sourdough for the yeast in the biga.

  7. thank you for the link and the side notes - they are much appreciated! we'll give it whirl and see how it goes.


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