The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Rescuing my BBA Ciabatta dough

CoveredInFlour's picture

Rescuing my BBA Ciabatta dough


I've made ciabatta only once before, using the recipe from "Bread" by Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno. I had no problems with that recipe (that I know of), getting a feel for how its supposed to be slack and moist instead of firm and dense.

Yesterday I decided that I was going to make another ciabatta, using the recipe from BBA. I made up the poolish as directed, leaving it out for 4 hours until it got nice and bubbly then putting it in my fridge overnight as directed. This morning I took out the poolish an hour before making the dough to "take the chill off". When it was time, I mixed in the rest of the ingredients, using the "by hand" directions.

Well, it firmed up like a giant baseball. I was mixing it into a shaggy dough and as I was doing it I was dipping my hand in water as per directions all the time thinking "this is too dense..". I'm in no position to question *anything* in BBA, but there was no way this was a loose slack dough. It was dense as a rock.

Mentally shrugging it off as a "well, let's wait and see..", I moved the dough to the flour bed as described in BBA and tried to stretch and fold. There was no stretch. There was ripping and tearing, but no stretch. I did it anyway, and folded, but it looked like puff pastry. I oiled it and let it rest 30 minutes, looking up "BBA ciabatta problems" on google. I found that some people have had issue with this recipe, but I was already in the middle of this fiasco.

After the 30 minutes, it was still dense and hard, but I stretched (ripped and tore) and folded again. Then I noticed that the oil had mixed with the flour to create hard bits all over the dough. By now I was hating Peter Reinhardt.

I let it sit for 2 hours, hoping that it would slacken. In that time I moved it to what I was hoping were warmer and warmer spots in my house. I had it on my wooden dough board so the oven was out of the question. After the 2 hours, it hadn't done a thing. I put it on a parchment covered baking sheet, turned the oven on to 200 for 30 seconds, turned it off and stuck the dough in for another 30 minutes. Didn't do anything. At all.

By this point I was ready to throw it against the wall and stamp my foot in annoyance. Instead, 'cause I'm an adult :), I put the dough back on my now defloured dough board and kneaded it heavily, spraying with water every few turns to remove the caked on flour. It's still tearing, but less.

It's now sitting in a bowl on a 2 hour re- rise. My intentions towards this dough have changed. When it's done rising (if it rises), I'm turning it over onto a baking sheet and popping it into the oven as a rustic blob (or boule if it looks nice).

I am sharing this with all of you in case I go mental and really do throw it against the wall in frustration. I *had* good intentions. :D Needless to say, I doubt I'll be using this particular recipe again. I doubt it's the recipe's fault, but I have to blame someone and I really don't want it to be me. :D

AnnaInMD's picture




AnnaInMD's picture

roughly 72% hydration. Weird that it became a baseball.  Hmmmm.

JustinB's picture

Ciabatta is such a messy pain. It sounds like maybe there was too much flour added, or not enough water in either the dough or poolish.

I know when I am making ciabatta and have messed it up, it was usually in the pre-ferment (we use a biga). Just reading the recipe wrong and adding 2-3 extra # of flour can dramatically change the recipe in a large batch, so a small mis-calculation of flour/water in a small batch can go a long ways

CoveredInFlour's picture

The poolish *looked* nice and loose and runny when I took it out of the fridge this morning. But as I haven't made it before I don't know if it looked right.

I measured out the flour carefully and added it as per the directions. I then added the 6 tbs water directly to the bowl, then dipped my hand in the water and mixed it again as per the directions. It *did* say 6 tbs to 3/4 cup, but I didn't put the 3/4 cup in the dough.

It says " If there is still some loose flour, add the additional water as needed and continue to mix." I added 2 additional TBS water in addition to dipping my hand in water to mix it together.

The sidebar commentary mentions that "as you feel more comfortable working with wet dough" you can add more water. "The wetter the better, as long as it holds together enough to make the stretch and fold maneuvers."

So maybe today my flour needed more water and I just didn't add enough.

I just took the blob out of the oven, having baked it at 475F for 15 minutes and knocking it down to 450F for the remaining 15 minutes. It's crackling away on the cooling rack, looking edible even if not very pretty. :)

Here it is:

So you're all saying it's baker error and not the recipe.... Hmm.. I just don't want to accept that, LOL! Can we make it partially my fault and partially the recipe's fault?

AnnaInMD's picture

looks tasty !

jowilchek's picture

After many attempts, and formulas. I made my first good ciabatta today. I took several formulas that had failed and came up with a formula that worked, at least for me today. I would like to hear some comments on the it about right???MVC-855F.JPG

AnnaInMD's picture

crumb :)

Great job !

jowilchek's picture

Thanks Anna for your kind words!

Roo's picture

Did you weigh or measure your flour and water?  Did you sift or fluff the flour beforehand?  Give weighing a go at this recipe.  I think you will find a world of differnece in the outcome.

What you slavaged looks good on the outside.  Will be interested to see what the crumb looks like and your thoughts on flavor.

CoveredInFlour's picture

It was really tasty, so tasty that I didn't get a shot of the crumb, it was gone in 4 hours!

It looked like a regular loaf, small cell sized holes. It had a ncie creamy tender tangy taste, which is why it was gone in 4 hours. I would probably make it again, doing the same thing and use a different recipe for ciabatta.


Gotta run, sick kid!

Jo_Jo_'s picture

We just finished making the BBA Challenge 2011 ciabatta and found that most of us ended up with a crumb that was more sandwich like than like a real ciabatta.  Chris raised the hydration up to 79% and got a really nice loaf, but even the biga version of Reinhart's recipe was only about 74% hydration and still produced something more like a french bread than ciabatta.  Here's the link to some of our results...

I posted mine on my blog here and it shows a picture of my sourdough bread vs my bba ciabatta, which I was very disappointed with.  I think the recipe is flawed, simply by not putting enough liquid into it.


sarafina's picture

ugh. I am working at ciabatta too... using the cooks illustrated recipe. what a big fat flop... looks like a boring sandwich loaf, only drier...

tmcdouga's picture

I also tried the BBA ciabatta recipe, and it turned out much denser than I thought it would.  I watched a video of Peter Reinhart working with Ciabatta dough on youtube and it was really runny dough.  I don't claim to be a bread expert (and I think Peter Reinhart is AWESOME), but after trying to figure out why mine didn't look like his, I've come to the conclusion that there is definitely something off about the Poolish recipe in BBA.  

If you look at it, the Poolish recipe calls for 2.5 cups flour and 1.5 cups water, but the Baker's Percentage formula shows water at 107% the amount of flour.  That would mean you should have at least 1 more cup of water when making the poolish.  Can anyone confirm what the hydration should be for a Poolish?  Does a 50/50 mix of water/flour seem right?

If that is the case, then if you try to make ciabatta using the faulty polish recipe, it would make a lot of sense that the dough would be more like french bread in terms of its hydration.

I tried bumping up the the water content and definitely got dough that looked more like his video.  Now all I need to do is improve my wet dough handling skills :)


mrfrost's picture

A poolish is made typically of (roughly)equal weights of flour and water(liquids).

Repeat: Baker's % calculations are based on weights(always), not volumes.

However, as far as for achieving large holes, it (probably)would be easier for most if the formula's total hydration was increased, in addition to skillful development and shaping.

Also, if you are using milk and your holes are not big(and random) enough, don't use it. Milk may tend to help produce a more even crumb structure.

karooart's picture

Now my "flop" ciabatta makes sense:-)  I also used the BBA formula and was all the while thinking that the dough is not wet enough.  It tasted good - but oh....I missed the beautiful holes!