How to bake the perfect ciabatta – fourth place in the ciabatta bake off

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Fourth in the great ciabatta bake off goes to a recipe based on that of Paul Hollywood and it’s a nice all rounder.

The judges pronounced it “tasty with a nice texture and crumb structure”.  The flavour was good, and the crust was “a little soft”.  That being said, it’s very easy to prepare.

Lovely all rounder - ciabatta from Paul Hollywood
Lovely all rounder – ciabatta from Paul Hollywood

Like all ciabatta dough, the dough was wetter and stickier than people may be used to.  Simple rule:  No more flour!  I have adapted this recipe slightly by taking out the oil altogether (I did not use oil in any of the recipes).  As with all the recipes tested in the search for the best ciabatta recipe, I did this as a “no knead” recipe because I was at my parents’ house and they don’t have a mixer with a dough hook and I was too lazy to do all the kneading by hand.  So, if you have the time to return to your dough during the first rise, you can try the no knead method laid out below.  If you don’t want to do that, simply knead it either by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook for 10 minutes and then cover and leave for 1-2 hours or until the dough is blistered on the top (you can see a photo of that below).  Finally, for the purposes of consistency, I shaped all four test recipes for the perfect ciabatta in the same way.  The method I use is different from the one Paul Hollywood uses.  There are many ways to shape ciabatta – all are “correct” (or none of them is correct) and you may have to experiment to find the one that works best for you.

Fourth Place in the search for the perfect ciabatta

Ingredients (makes four):

For the biga:

200 g white flour (I used an 11% gluten stone ground organic wheat flour)
150 g water
pinch instant yeast, 2 g dry active yeast, 4 g fresh yeast

For the dough:

the biga
200 g white flour
150 g water
pinch instant yeast or 1.5 g dry yeast or 3 g fresh yeast
7 g salt

Dough stats:

biga:  89%
total dough hydration:  75%
total biga hydration:  75%
total dry active yeast:  0.88%
total salt:  2%


If you are using dry, active yeast:  12-48 hours before you want to bake, measure water and the yeast into a big bowl and give them a stir.  Wait for 15 minutes until the yeast has dissolved and then add the flour.  Stir it all together and cover with plastic wrap.  Wait 12-48 hours for the biga to ferment.  The longer you leave it the more sour the ciabatta will taste.  if you are using instant or fresh yeast you can simply measure everything into a big bowl and give it a stir.  Cover and leave.

When you are ready to bake:

Pour the water on top of the biga and add the yeast.  Let it sit for 15 minutes or so and then squash up the biga with your hands into a milky paste.  Add the flour and the salt and squish everything together to get rid of all the lumps of flour.  The dough will be ragged but it should not be lumpy.

After 30 minutes stretch and fold the dough, working around dough ball a few times until you find it a little difficult to stretch the dough out.  Then cover it and let it rest.  Do this four times in total (so, three more times).  Once you have done the fourth “stretch and fold”, cover the dough and let it rest for 1-2 hours (depends on how warm your kitchen it) or until the dough has risen considerably and has blistered.  Click here (scroll down a bit) to see a video on how to stretch and fold.

Blistery ciabatta dough ready to shape
Blistery ciabatta dough ready to shape

To shape the ciabatta, heavily flour two tea towels and the counter top.  So you need a bit of space!  Scrape the dough out on to the floury counter top and you will see that it spreads out like a doughy puddle.

Puddle of ciabatta dough on the counter
Puddle of ciabatta dough on the counter – look at the bubble at the bottom of the photo!

Using a scraper or very floury hands, get under the dough at the edges and gently stretch it out into a square.  Just tug at the edges because you don’t want the dough any thinner, you just want it more regular in shape.  Cut a “+ ” into the the dough to get 4 smaller squares, rather than cutting it into four strips.  Move them apart from each other on to separate floury islands as you cut them.  The dough is going to stick to the scraper so you may want to flour the scraper. Try to avoid flouring the top of the dough at this point.  Try using two scrapers – one to cut and one to get the dough off the scraper – if that helps.

With each square of dough, do the following:

– with floury hands, pick up the top edge, fold it into the middle of the square and gently lay it down.  Don’t press on it.
– take the bottom edge and fold it right over the dough to the top edge
– now flour the top of the dough and, with floury hands, gently squeeze the dough all along its length to “de-gas” it.  You will hear some air bubble popping and the dough will become much thinner and longer. You want it to double in length.  To do this, literally cup your hand over the top of the dough and squeeze it – gently of course.
– pick the dough up with two hands and place it up-side-down in one corner of the floury tea towel.

Repeat with the other three pieces of dough.  Place two pieces on one half of each of the towels and then fold the towels over to cover the dough.  Let it rest for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees celsius.

Line one or two (depends on how big they are) baking sheet (s) with non stick baking parchment or scatter semolina or polenta over them.  Pick up the dough and place it right side up (ie, turn it over again) on the baking tray.  You do this for two reasons.  The first is to even out the bubbles on the inside of the dough.  The second is that the bottom of the dough has a really pretty pattern.

Make sure there is about 10 cm of space between the individual pieces of dough.  If you need two trays and you only have room for one in your oven, bake them one tray at a time, leaving the unbaked ciabattas to continue resting on their towel. The dough looks very unpromising at this stage – kind of flat and sad but worry not!  It puffs up in the oven.  If you want to try spraying the oven, the Italians spray three times in the first 10 minutes of baking (set a time) and then not at all.  You do not have to spray – I did not spray for any of the test recipes.

Bake the dough for around 20 minutes.  When you tap the bottom of the bread it will sound hollow.  If you have a probe thermometer the inside temperature will be 98 degrees celsius when the bread is done.  Remove from the tray and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.  Don’t cut it open until it’s cool or you will not see a perfect crumb.  Bread is still baking as it cools and if you cut it too early it’s still a bit gummy.  Exclaim in delight!

Inside of the ciabatta based on a recipe from Paul Hollywood
Inside of the ciabatta based on a recipe from Paul Hollywood

Want to learn more?  Come and take the Italian bread class with us – in addition to perfecting your ciabatta – and learning new methods – you will learn to bake lots of other Italian bread too!



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