This recipe makes use of a pre-ferment to add flavour and texture to this bread which is ideal for bruschetta or serving with soups and stews to sop up the flavours. You can read more about using preferments here. Ciabatta, which translates as Slipper, was invented in the 1980’s by an Italian baker as a response to the popularity of the baguette.
Ciabatta using a biga (using a pre-ferment)
For the biga (pre-ferment):
130g strong white flour
¼ tsp easy bake yeast or 2g fresh yeast
Mix the flour, yeast and water together. This is only 54% hydration so it is a very dry dough. You will need to get your hands in there to give it a proper mix. Leave to ferment overnight in a cool room or fridge or at least 4 hours in a warm room. You want it to double in size and be full of bubbles.
For the final dough:
200g biga, from above
300g strong white flour
100g plain white flour
2g easy bake yeast (can be reduced if you have time to wait for a rise or increased up to 5g if you are in a hurry)
10g fine sea salt
Chop the biga into small pieces and place into the 350g water. This helps with even distribution of the biga through the dough. The boba doesn’t need to dissolve, it just helps to get to wet before you start to add the other ingredients.
Place the flours, salt and yeast (keeping the salt and yeast separate) into the bowl. Mix it all together well. This is a very wet dough at 80% hydration, so you need to keep it in the bowl and pull and stretch and fold it for about ten minutes, or as long as your arms will take it. Otherwise, you can place it in a stand mixer and beat on a low setting until it comes away from the sides of the bowl and stretches to almost transparent when pulled (about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a KitchenAid).
Leave to rise for about an hour. Fold and stretch the dough over itself again and leave to rise again for another hour. This fold improves the strength of the dough when shaping.
When the dough has doubled in size, tip out onto a very well floured surface (I use a mixture of semolina and flour). Try to keep the bubbles intact by handling it as gently as possible. Fold the dough over onto itself. Flour the top really well and cut the dough in half.
Stretch each piece into a slipper shape (ciabatta means slipper in Italian) and place each one onto a well floured piece of baking paper, (dusted heavily with semolina), on a baking tray or wooden board. Leave to prove for about 1 hour again.
Preheat your oven to 240℃, placing a solid shelf or baking tray on the shelf to heat up (remember you will need to fit two loaves in, so may need to prepare two shelves). Place the proved ciabatta into the hot oven and on the hot tray and steam the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Ready to learn more?
Alternatively if you would prefer to learn online then my Savoury breads course shows you to shape and flavour your breads in different ways.