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The Very Lightest Ciabatta

in Diana's Recipe Book

Average Rating: 
(total ratings: 12)
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Servings: Makes 1 loaf
We love this recipe. It yields an extremely light, air pocket-riddled loaf, wonderful for dunking in soup or splitting lengthwise, to make a sandwich. Ciabatta literally means "slipper" in Italian, and the name refers to the shape of the bread -- a flattened oval, kind of like a comfortable old bedroom slipper you just can't bear to throw out. However, Ciabatta has come to mean, at least in this country, any airy, dimpled loaf dusted with flour, of just about any shape. We like to remain true to the original spirit of the loaf, and shape it into a rough oval.

This bread begins with an overnight sponge, which means the finished loaf has just the barest of sour tangs. As the sponge ferments, it creates certain acids that not only give the bread flavor, but affect the gluten, making the bread chewier. The use of a sponge will also increase the loaf's shelf life.

Carol Field, in her wonderful book The Italian Baker, claims that this dough is one that simply can't be kneaded by hand; it's just too sticky. Keep this in mind when you're preparing the dough. During the winter you'll need to use the greater amount of water in the range indicated below. In the dog days of August, when your flour's been in a humid kitchen all summer, you'll use the lesser amount. Your goal is a dough that is very sticky, but holds its shape; when you scoop it out onto your work surface, it will settle into a flattened mound that is best approached with oiled hands and a bench knife or bowl scraper.

For the Sponge
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (or any other brand of unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

For the Dough
Sponge (from above)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (or any other brand of unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Sponge:
Mix the sponge ingredients, in a small bowl OR in the pan of your bread machine, until well combined (program the machine for Dough, then cancel it once the ingredients are mixed, after a couple of minutes). Let the sponge rest overnight, covered, or for up to 15 hours.

Stand Mixer Method:
Place all of the dough ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer, and beat it at medium speed, using the flat beater, for 5 to 8 minutes. The dough will never completely clear the sides of the bowl, though it'll begin to acquire some shape. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours; it will get very puffy.

Bread Machine Method:
Place all of the ingredients into the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for Manual or Dough, and press Start. Examine the dough about 10 minutes before the end of the second kneading cycle; it should be very tacky, but should be holding its shape somewhat. Adjust the dough's consistency with additional flour or water, as necessary. Allow the machine to complete its cycle.

Transfer the dough to a well-oiled work surface. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet, and your hands. Using a bench knife or your fingers, divide the dough in half. Handling the dough gently, stretch it into a log about 10-inches long, and place it on the baking sheet. Flatten the log with your fingers till it's about 10-inches long and 4 to 5-inches wide. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Lightly cover the dough with heavily oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for 1 hour; it'll become quite puffy. Oil your fingers, and gently poke deep holes all over the dough. Re-oil the plastic wrap, re-cover the dough, and allow it to rise for an additional hour.

Dust the dough very lightly with flour. Bake it in a preheated 425°F (220°C) oven, throwing four or five ice cubes on the floor of the oven as you put the bread in. Allow the ciabatta to bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it's golden brown. Turn off the oven, remove the ciabatta from the baking sheet, and return the loaf to the oven, propping the oven door open a couple of inches with a folded-over potholder. Allow the ciabatta to cool completely in the oven; this will give it a very crisp crust.

Makes 1 oval shaped loaf.

Nutrition information per serving (1 slice, 1/4 of loaf, 98g): 187 cal, 3.5g fat, 5g protein, 33g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 1g dietary fiber, 406mg sodium, 78mg potassium, 5RE vitamin A, 2mg iron, 91mg calcium, 53mg phosphorus.

Source: King Arthur Flour
Date: June 1, 2003


Reviewer: Jessica
I really liked and was quickly eaten up. I will be making this again! 7-1-06

Reviewer: Iwona
This is fantastic. I followed the recipe exactly and it turned out excellent. Crispy delicate crust, light porous insides and the lovely aroma of olive oil.

Reviewer: colleen
I have made this a couple of times and it is fantastic. There is an awful lot of dough for one loaf (but the body of the recipe suggests shaping it into two loaves), but we have made it as one loaf and it turns out fine and is gobbled up quickly. I prefer not to let it cool in the oven - the crust is a little hard for my liking this way, and it is plenty crispy letting it cool on a rack. I would also suggest erring on the side of "more" when adding the water, as this dough is very much like a foccacia in quality and benefits from being very wet.

Reviewer: Candy
Unfortunately, I accidentally made this recipe using my active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, and I have a feeling that might have affected the results- a lot less rising/puffiness than expected, a flattish loaf, and a very normal crumb- not full of all the beautiful holes like in the picture. I'll definitely be trying it again with instant yeast to see if it makes a difference.

I also made one loaf instead of two; next time I'll try that instead and see what happens.

But even if the texture was less ciabatta and more plain ol' white bread, it was still VERY yummy, taste-wise- the bread is utterly delicious, very light, and the crust is perfectly light and crispy.

Reviewer: Maggie
February 13th 2010:

Despite the affirmation that you cannot mix this bread mixture by hand, I did and it turned out wonderful. It does take patience and correct kneading but it can be done without a mixer. Also remember to oil your hands very well with olive oil whenever you handle it. It is so much more easier to manage. If you find that you do not have INSTANT YEAST but you do have ACTIVE DRY YEAST, go ahead and still use it as it produces a wonderful bread. Overall, this recipe is wonderful and you will have a delicious loaf of bread at the end of it.

Reviewer: Maike
This recipe was my first experiment in the world of bread baking and I gotta say it was fantastic. Easy to make and lovely outcome. This was definitely a motivation to try more.

Reviewer: Lisa
My review is really a question. This recipe was a total failure for me and I'm not entirely sure why. Everything was going great with the sponge and when it came time to knead all of the ingredients I just used a spoon because I don't have a bread machine or a mixer that can handle bread dough. The dough was VERY wet and would quickly fill the bowl after mixing. I considered putting it onto the table and kneading, or maybe adding more flour, but I had just made another "no knead" Ciabatta recipe where the dough was a similar consistency so I thought it would be fine. I let it rise and then took it out and shaped it. The loaves seemed to rise outward, which was also similar to the other recipe I used. I punched it down with my fingers for the final rise. They looked very flat but so had my other recipe so I thought it would be ok. When baking, the bread did not rise AT ALL. They were like hard, huge crackers! I'm assuming the lack of kneading and maybe too little flour made a dough that wasn't strong enough to rise? Does this sound right? I need some help!

Reviewer: dianna
I made this recipe all was fine until it came to dividing the dough in half, which I did and made two loaves as the recipe suggests but the loaves did not rise in the oven. Is this recipe for one loaf or two, and what might have caused it not to rise in the oven?

Reviewer: dianna
I used SAF instant yeast... would this make a difference?

Reviewer: Bread lover

Reviewer: Sandra
Impossibly light, wonderful! I used white flour in the sponge but used whole wheat flour with 1 Tbsp gluten and 1 Tbsp lecithin added and they were still light and airy. Makes great buns too.

Reviewer: Colleen
Excellent!And so easy, great for a beginner. I have also made this down to the last rise, then put in the fridge overnight and taken out an hour before I want to bake it to warm up and have its last rise and it has turned out great. This is a good way to have fresh ciabatta on a weeknight - you can come home and let it rise then bake while you get other things ready. For those who have had trouble with rising -- one idea I have is that salt can kill yeast, so when I make it I add all the dough ingredients EXCEPT the salt, mix those in until just mixed then add the salt so that the salt never comes in direct contact with the yeast. Then I mix it all for the recommended 5-8 min. You could try this and see if that helps.


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