Here’s an idea for the next rainy or wintry day that comes your way. Try making Ciabatta bread in your bread machine. But beware! It will be hard to stop once you produce a perfectly hole-y loaf.
My obsession with Ciabatta started with the British Baking Show series. Have you seen the show on PBS or Netflix? A friend at church told me about it, and within 24 hours, I was binge-watching. In one of the first episodes, Paul Hollywood picked Ciabatta as the “Baker’s Challenge”. When questioned about his choice, he told Mary Berry, “because it is so hard.”
Mr. Hollywood challenged me when he said those words. I pulled out my bread machine and several recipe books and went to work. After I perfected the recipe, I had to figure out a way to shape the loaves without losing my mind over all the messy dough stuck to my fingers. As you can see in the video below, the dough doesn’t “stick and pull away from the side of the pan” like normal bread dough. On the other hand, it should not level out like cake batter, either. The dough should stick to the sides but still maintain some shape as it kneads.
A companion show to the British Baking competition is the Masterclass where the two judges show exactly how to make the recipes they assign as challenges. Paul makes the ciabatta in Masterclass 2 of Season 1. I watched it more times than I can count (and I recommend the same for you if you decide to try this).
In my opinion, his method of shaping the dough is genius. A well-greased square or rectangle-shaped plastic container is used to contain the dough while it proofs. When ready, the dough is slowly and patiently dumped onto a well-floured surface. Because it is already in a rough square/rectangle shape, it only has to be cut in half with each long half rolled about a quarter of a turn away from the other loaf. With well-floured hands, you then pick up each half of the dough and gingerly but quickly transfer it to a prepared cookie sheet.
The secret to success with this process is “well-floured” and “well-greased.” You may have noticed how many times I used those words in the last paragraph of the recipe.
If the dough is the proper texture (not too dry) and you are careful not to burst the holes in the dough as you handle it, you will be rewarded with the hole-y texture you see in the first picture above. I’ve never been proud of holes in my baked goods until now.
Although mixing ciabatta dough in a bread machine is super easy…this is not a beginner recipe!!
In other words, don’t expect perfection the first try. I have made this bread at least 10 times and am just now getting enough confidence to share the recipe.
Is this bread really worth the trouble? YES!
The yeasty flavors are well-developed and extremely tasty. My oldest grandson was thrilled to get a few slices for a snack when I finished taking pictures.
Three parting notes:
- Paul Hollywood from the British Baking Show emphasized the baker should never try to rush the proofing or rising time. Translation: Only add cold water and cold milk in the recipe. Let the dough rise at room temperature–not in a warm humid place like we usually do with other bread. The longer it takes to rise, the better the flavor.
- Using the optional semolina during roll-out makes the crust more tender but still crunchy. It’s worth the hunt, and you can always order online.
- This recipe involves a biga–a water and flour mixture with a small amount of yeast that needs to incubate from 12-24 hours. You must start the day before you want to eat your Ciabatta. If plans change, you can always refrigerate the biga after the first 12-24 hours, then use it sometime in the next 3-4 days.
- ⅛ teaspoon instant yeast
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup bread flour
- ½ cup cool water
- ¼ cup milk
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- ½ bread machine yeast
- Flour and/or semolina for flouring the board, your hands and the baking sheet you will be using for the bread
- Make biga (the first 3 ingredients listed above) at least 12 hours ahead of time. This is a sort of "starter" that will contribute flavor and great texture to your bread.
- Combine yeast, water, and flour in bread machine or another container. You may need to use a small spatula to scrape flour in the corners into the mixture. Turn off machine (or unplug) and let sit for 12-24 hours. By the end of that time, the yeasty mixture should be bubbly.
- (Note: If not using the biga within 24 hours, place the foamy mixture into the refrigerator where it will keep for 3-4 days and only get better. Allow the biga to come to room temperature before proceeding to the next step.)
- When ready to mix Ciabatta dough, add all ingredients to your bread machine in order listed, starting with the biga. Select dough cycle and push start.
- When kneading stops, remove the pan from the machine. (Do not let dough finish the dough cycle as you normally would.) Dough should stick to the sides but still hold a loose shape. It should not flatten out completely like cake batter.
- Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into your hands. Use your greasy hands to lightly grease every square inch of the inside of your 2-quart square or rectangular container (available at the dollar or grocery store or most likely in your plastic container collection) and the inside of the lid.
- While your hands are still greasy, grab the sticky dough inside the bread machine pan and transfer it into the prepared plastic container. Flip the dough over so that all surfaces of dough are greased. Pour another teaspoon or two of olive oil around the edges of the dough so it will not stick to the sides as it proofs. Cover and allow dough to rise at room temperature. Don't try to rush it. Let rise until almost tripled in size. If you are using a 2-quart container, it will be full.This could easily take 2 hours or more depending on the ambient temperature.
- When fully proofed, empty dough by slowly tipping the container upside down onto a very liberally-floured surface (I use a silicone baking sheet since it's easy to throw into the dishwasher). Gravity should be the only thing causing the dough to fall out. Go slowly so as not to lose any precious air bubbles. The dough should be in the same general square or rectangular shape of the container it proofed in. DO NOT PAT OR PUNCH THE DOUGH DOWN like you would normal bread dough.
- Sprinkle dough liberally with flour and/or semolina. Cut dough in half with a greased and floured bench knife and roll each loaf away from the other a quarter turn so that each loaf has two lines down the middle. With liberally-floured hands, carefully transfer cylinder of dough to a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper which has been sprinkled with flour and/or semolina (or cornmeal). Carefully straighten and clean up shape with your hands and a bench knife.
- Let loaves rest for about 30-45 minutes.
- Bake at 425 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. For a crispier crust, spray the inside of the oven with a spray bottle of water 2 or 3 times in the first 5 minutes of baking.