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Ciabatta - Crusty Italian-Style Bread

Makes 1 large loaf.

Active time: about 30 minutes.

Elapsed time from start to table: about 30 hours.

Equipment: heavy duty mixer with paddle and dough hook attachments; baking stone; baking peel. (See notes for alternatives.) 


For the biga

  • 3/4 cup bread flour (see note)
  • 6 tablespoons warm water (about 110º)
  • 3/8 teaspoon instant yeast (such as SAF - see note)

For the dough: 

  • 1 1/2 cups + 3 tablespoons warm water (around 110º), divided
  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast (such as SAF)


1. Combine the ingredients for the biga and allow to ferment at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap, about 24 hours (see note). 

2. Cut the biga into 6 or so smaller pieces and place in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer with paddle attachment in place. Add 3 tablespoons of the warm water and 3/4 teaspoon yeast. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. 

3. Add 1 1/2 cups warm water to the bowl and 2 cups of the flour. Mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. 

4. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Add the rest of the flour (1 3/4 cups) and knead for 2 minutes at minimum speed. (Scrape any unmixed dough from the sides of the bowl into the dough after 1 minute.) 

5. Cover the bowl and allow to rest for 30 minutes. 

6. Add the salt to the bowl and knead with the dough hook on medium speed 8 minutes. 

7. Turn the dough into a large oiled bowl. Set in a draft-free place, covered tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 3 hours. 

8. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. With floured hands, gently pat the dough into a rectangle about 12" by 8". Gently roll lift the long side of the dough and turn it towards the rest of the dough, then continue rolling it like a jelly roll into a loaf shape. 

9. Spread a half cup of cornmeal over the peel. Place the formed loaf on the peel and set it aside, covered with a clean towel, to rise for 1 hour. 

10. Place an ovenproof skillet or baking dish on a lower rack in the oven, filled with 1 1/2 - 2" water. Preheat the oven, with baking stone on middle rack, to 450º.  

11. With a long sharp knife, make a deep longitudinal cut in the top of the loaf. 

12. Slide the loaf onto the baking stone and bake 30 - 40 minutes, until browned. (See note.) The loaf should have a distinctly hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

13. Cool on a rack about 20 minutes before slicing. 

Ideally this bread is served the day it's made. If the bread is to be stored, allow it to cool on the rack several hours before sealing in a container -- otherwise condensed moisture will modify the bread characteristics. 


1. Heavy duty mixer. If you don't have a machine to knead the bread it may be possible to do it by hand. However, the dough is initially quite wet so kneading by hand might lead to a signifiant addition of flour to the mix to keep it from sticking to board and hands. (I did not test a version where the kneading was done by hand.)

2. Baking peel and baking stone. This method simulates traditional brick oven conditions and insures a good crunch to the crust. The standard replacement recommendation for a stone and peel is a dark-colored metal baking sheet, spread with corn meal or lined with parchment paper but this might affect the crust quality. I haven't tested these alternatives with this recipe so if you do, let me know the results.

3. Ingredients. Flours vary so I try to always use the same brand for consistent results. (For bread flour I use King Arthur.) If you use a different type or brand of flour your results may vary. Regarding the yeast, active dry yeast is said to be equivalent to the instant variety in terms of quantity but I haven't tested the recipe with a active dry yeast. Follow the manufacturer's proofing instructions if you substitute active dry yeast.  

4. Biga. If you want, the biga can be refrigerated up to 2 days after its initial fermentation. Allow it to come to room temperature for an hour when you're ready to use it. 

5. Baking time. Ovens vary widely, so it's best to check the baking progress the first time at 25 minutes and then again at 5 minute intervals. My loaf was baked 35 minutes at a verified 450º temperature on the middle rack of a conventional oven. 

6. Nutritional estimate. If you are looking to control calorie or carbohydrate intake you need to use a scale to portion bread. Because of irregularity of loaves (both size and density) and inaccuracy of hand-sliced portions there's really no other way to be sure you have an accurate calorie and carb count. My finished loaf weighed 34 ounces and for the Nutritional Estimate I used 1.1 ounce per slice, which is the weight used in the both the Calorie King and USDA nutritional databases for a "large" slice of Italian bread. 

Nutritional Estimate: 30 Servings, about 1.1 oz each (see note). Per serving: 74 Calories; 15 g Total Carbs; 0 g Dietary Fiber; 0 g Sugars; 0 g Fat; 0 mg Cholesterol; 116 mg Sodium; 2 g Protein. Weight Watchers: 1 point.


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