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How to Make Perfect Italian Ciabatta Bread at Home

Author: Brian Lagerstrom Time: 2024-01-13 18:30:00

Table of Contents

Introduction to Ciabatta Bread - A Delicious Italian Yeast Bread

Ciabatta bread experienced a surge in popularity in the 1990s when it became a staple on cafe menus across North America. Roasted turkey, sun-dried tomato, and fresh mozzarella ciabatta sandwiches were ubiquitous during this time. While many of the mass-produced versions left something to be desired, authentic Italian-style ciabatta is an exceptional bread that deserves the hype. With its shatteringly crispy crust and soft, satiny interior crumb, ciabatta can be used in much the same way as a classic French baguette.

In this post, we’ll explore the history and background of ciabatta bread, the key ingredients that go into it, a step-by-step recipe to make it at home, pro tips for achieving bakery-quality results, and plenty of serving ideas to enjoy fresh ciabatta.

History and Background of Ciabatta Bread

Ciabatta traces its origins to Italy in the 1980s. A miller and baker named Arnaldo Cavallari was experimenting with ways to use soft wheat varieties in bread. He landed on the formula for ciabatta, which translates to 'slipper' in Italian. The name refers to the elongated, flat shape of the loaf. Ciabatta is made from a very wet, almost batter-like dough. This high hydration gives the bread its signature holes and irregular shape. The dough itself is very wet and sticky, which is why ciabatta needs to be handled delicately when shaped.

Benefits and Uses of Ciabatta Bread

Ciabatta has a number of advantages that have contributed to its popularity:

  • The open crumb texture makes it perfect for sandwiches, allowing it to absorb sauces and juices without getting soggy.
  • The crust gets ultra crispy when baked at high heat, providing a nice contrast to softer sandwich fillings.
  • Ciabatta has a light, airy texture despite being made with all-purpose or bread flour. This makes it easier to eat in quantity.
  • It can be flavored with herbs, garlic, cheese, or other mix-ins while still maintaining its structure.
  • Sliced ciabatta also makes excellent bruschetta or garlic bread.

Ciabatta Bread Ingredients - Simple Yet Powerful

For such an impressive artisan-style bread, ciabatta has a surprisingly short list of ingredients:

  • All-purpose or bread flour: The base of the dough. Bread flour gives maximum gluten development.

  • Water: Ciabatta uses a high percentage of water relative to the flour. This hydration provides moisture and structure.

  • Instant yeast: Only a small amount of commercial yeast is needed to leaven the bread.

  • Salt: This balances out the sweetness from the fermentation process.

  • Olive oil: Adds flavor and helps prevent sticking during bulk fermentation.

  • Malt: Provides food for the yeast as starches break down into sugars. Optional but recommended.

  • Biga pre-ferment: Made from flour, water, and a pinch of yeast. Gives extra depth of flavor.

Step-by-Step Ciabatta Bread Recipe - From Biga to Baked Loaf

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s walk through the full process of making ciabatta dough and baking it into those picture-perfect loaves:

Mixing the Biga Pre-Ferment

The biga is made by combining flour, water, and a tiny bit of yeast. It ferments for anywhere from 6-24 hours beforehand. This extra time gives it a mature, complex flavor and allows enzymes to break down starches into sugars. The biga also helps strengthen the overall dough. Mix together the flour, water, and yeast until fully incorporated. Cover and let sit out at room temperature overnight or up to 24 hours.

Performing the Final Mix

In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine part of the water, the yeast, salt, oil, and malt (if using). Mix until the dry ingredients are hydrated, then add the biga. Mix thoroughly until the dough comes together into a shaggy, sticky mass. Knead for 5-8 minutes to develop the gluten structure.

First Rise

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 30-60 minutes. This allows the dough to relax after mixing and build early strength. After the first rise, perform a stretch and fold to align the gluten strands and encourage oven spring.

Stretch and Fold

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently pull the dough outward, then fold it back in on itself. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat this stretch and fold 3-4 times total. Form it back into a ball.


For extra lift, flatten the dough into a large rectangle. Fold like a business letter - bring one side into the center, then wrap the other side over the top. Roll up the dough tightly to form back into a ball. This lamination gives layers for maximum rise.

Second Rise

Place dough back in the bowl, cover, and proof for 60-90 minutes until puffy and jiggly. It will spread out and dome up when ready.

Shaping the Dough

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface. Pat it into a rough square using the tips of your fingers. Let it relax for a few minutes before attempting to shape it. Handle the dough gently to preserve air pockets.

Final Proof

Transfer the dough to a parchment lined sheet pan or peel, cover, and proof for 30-45 minutes before baking. It will puff up slightly and begin to relax.

Baking the Ciabatta

Preheat oven to 500°F with a pizza stone or steel inside. Slide the loaf (with parchment) onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of ice cubes into a steel pan on the oven floor and quickly close the oven door. This creates steam for maximum oven spring. Bake for 25-30 minutes until deeply browned. The crust should sound hollow when tapped.

Tips for Perfect Ciabatta Bread

Here are some handy tips and tricks for troubleshooting issues and getting picture-perfect results when making ciabatta at home:

Using a Stand Mixer vs Hand Mixing

A heavy duty stand mixer makes the process easier, but ciabatta can be made by hand. Just mix the dough a little gentler and proof for the full time recommended. The dough will be very wet and sticky either way. Use wet hands and bench flour as needed when mixing and handling.

Creating Steam in the Oven

Steam is vital for maximum oven spring. Place an empty pan on the oven floor and pour in 1 cup hot water right before loading dough. Quickly close the door to trap steam. Avoid touching or opening the oven for at least 20 minutes.

Getting a Dark, Crispy Crust

Bake at the highest temperature your oven allows, 500°F ideally. Let the loaves go until quite dark, even bordering on burnt. A dark crust means you’ve baked through fully and developed that signature shatter.

Enjoying Freshly Baked Ciabatta Bread

Once you’ve mastered the basics, here are some ideas for enjoying your freshly baked loaves:

Serving Suggestions

  • Cut or tear ciabatta into chunks for dipping into olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or other marinades
  • Slice and toast for bruschetta
  • Make sandwiches stuffed with meats, cheeses, roasted veggies, spreads, etc.
  • Fry slices in olive oil or butter to make crispy croutons
  • Bake open-faced until toasted; top with cheese for quick garlic bread

Storage and Freezing

  • Let loaves cool completely before sealing in plastic to retain moisture
  • Ciabatta keeps well at room temperature for 2-3 days
  • For longer storage, slice loaves and freeze in airtight bags
  • Thaw frozen ciabatta in the refrigerator or at room temp

FAQs About Making Ciabatta Bread

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about troubleshooting issues and customizing your ciabatta:

Troubleshooting Common Issues

  • Dough too dry and won't stretch: Increase hydration slightly
  • Loaves spreading out: Make sure to handle dough gently when shaping
  • Dense crumb: Knead thoroughly to develop gluten; proof fully between steps
  • No oven spring: Ensure dough is fully proofed and steam is added

Adapting the Recipe

  • Add herbs, garlic, cheese, olives, or other mix-ins to the dough
  • Substitute whole wheat, rye, or other flours for a portion of the all-purpose
  • Make mini ciabatta rolls for sandwiches or appetizers
  • Braid two pieces of dough for a twist on the classic shape


Authentic Italian ciabatta requires patience and a few specialty techniques, but the payoff of achieving those textbook loaves is well worth it. The complex flavors that develop through slow fermentation, the chewy, irregular holes in the crumb, and the crackling crust are sensational.

Hopefully this deep dive has provided you with everything you need to know to start mastering ciabatta at home. Pay close attention to managing the wet, sticky dough during shaping. And don't be afraid to really crisp up that crust for bakery-quality results. Enjoy experimenting with mix-ins and different baking vessels too!

What tips or tricks can you share from your experiences making ciabatta? Let me know in the comments!


Q: What is the difference between ciabatta and other breads?
A: Ciabatta has a signature crust that is thin, brittle, and crispy, along with an open crumb structure with large irregular holes. It differs from chewy, tighter-crumbed breads like sandwich loaves.

Q: What is biga and why is it used?
A: Biga is a pre-fermented dough starter that enhances flavor and texture in ciabatta. It allows the dough to be more extensible and rise higher in the oven.

Q: Is a stand mixer required for this recipe?
A: No, you can mix the dough by hand but a stand mixer will produce a slightly more open crumb structure.

Q: Can I shape ciabatta into rolls or other forms?
A: Yes, ciabatta dough can be shaped into rolls, braids, and other shapes before the final proof.

Q: How do I get the signature holes in the ciabatta crumb?
A: The long fermentation, wet dough, and gentle handling create the open crumb structure. Avoid degassing the dough when shaping.

Q: Why is having steam in the oven important?
A: Steam creates a moist environment that allows the ciabatta crust to fully expand before setting, creating better rise and thin, crisp crust.

Q: How do I store leftover ciabatta bread?
A: Cool completely before storing in a paper or plastic bag at room temperature for 2-3 days. For longer storage, slice and freeze in an airtight container.

Q: What do I do if my ciabatta is dense or didn't rise well?
A: Check that your yeast is active and dough fully proofed. Allow for a longer initial mix and fermentation time to develop more structure.

Q: Can I make substitutions in this ciabatta recipe?
A: You can substitute bread flour for a portion of the all-purpose flour for a chewier crumb. Reduce hydration slightly if using whole grain flours.

Q: How can I adapt this into olive ciabatta or other flavored breads?
A: Add olives, herbs, roasted garlic, or other mix-ins before the final shape and proof for flavored ciabatta variations.