Ciabatta has a reputation for being difficult to make, but it can actually be easy when you follow the steps here. Any effort is worth it when you break off a piece and top slices with a little extra virgin olive oil, fresh ripened tomatoes, and the tiniest sprinkle of sea salt. It'll make you feel like you're in Italy.
Ciabatta dough is soft and sticky when made, so you will find it easier to use a stand mixer with a dough hook. Handling the soft dough is messy but not impossible if you don’t have a stand mixer, but always keep a bowl of flour handy to dust your hands.
Gather the ingredients and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir lightly to combine before sprinkling in the yeast.
- Never add yeast and salt together as the salt will destroy the yeast. They should only ever meet when liquid is added.
Add all the oil and 1 cup of the water, reserving the rest to use as needed, then start to mix on a slow speed initially to bring the dough together. If you start too fast, the flour will fly everywhere.
Increase the speed gradually. As the dough starts to form, add in the remaining water a little at a time until you have a dough sticky enough to cling to the side of the bowl. At this point, increase the speed to bring the dough together and start kneading. A dough hook will variously throw the dough around the bowl and pull it back together thus creating a silky smooth and well-kneaded dough in about 8 minutes.
Oil a bowl large enough to hold roughly three times the dough you have in the mixer. Hold the mixer bowl over it and let the dough slowly slide inside. Do not be tempted to prod or poke the dough, simply cover with a tea cloth and put into a warm, but not hot, draft-free place and leave it to do its thing and prove for 2 hours or until the dough had tripled in size.
Once the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 425 F.
Heavily dust your work surface with flour. Remove the cloth, then let the dough slip from the bowl and take care not to be too heavy with it. It is incredibly light and should full of bubbles, which you want to keep. Slowly and carefully stretch the dough into a square approximately 12 inches x 12 inches, but don’t be too precious about the size; you should not pull it so much that it tears.
Generously sprinkle the surface of the bread dough with flour. Cut the dough evenly to create three rectangles 12 inches x 4 inches. Dust your hands with flour and lift the loaves one by one onto the baking sheet, stretching again just a little. You may find that where you have handled the ends of the loaves will widen slightly. This is the traditional shape of ciabatta and what gives it its name, which translates to "slipper" in English.
Let the dough rest covered under a cloth for 15 minutes, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the oven. The ciabatta is cooked once it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. If you can resist not eating it, leave to cool on a rack, but don’t leave it too long before as it genuinely is at its best when just a tad warm.
- Ciabatta is by far its best when freshly baked, and it is the perfect bread to serve alongside most Italian dishes, hot and cold. Other great ways to serve it include using the bread for your next burger. The bread is strong so load it up with all of your favorite toppings.
- Ciabatta is the go-to bread for all things bruschetta and crostini.
- If you have any leftovers, then try using it in a panzanella.
- This recipe is for a traditional Italian ciabatta, but like many popular recipes, once you have mastered the basics you can start to make variations. As the ciabatta has a lovely delicate, olive oil taste and a light texture, do not overpower this with strong flavors or heavy ingredients. Herbs are a good way to go, perhaps a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary or tiny thyme leaves added in at step 2.
- The delicious flavor of basil marries so well with the oil in the bread. Drizzle the surface of the bread just before baking with a little basil oil.
- For another great olive oil, combine it with 1 tablespoon good quality tomato purée at the beginning of step four. This will bring a light tomato flavor and a gorgeous color to the bread.