The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

here we go again... no knead ciabatta issue..!

Sballe's picture

here we go again... no knead ciabatta issue..!

So, like many others, the NK Ciabatta (Lahey style) has been an obsession of mine for the last couple of years. I am getting 'decent' results every time -- but I am not 100% happy yet.

Basically, I am looking for at way to get the BIG airholes. I always get a light and airy crumb, good crust. But I've NEVER had the BIG air pockets like many others.

I've tried everything, and cannot seem to locate the problem!!

I've probably read EVERYTHING on the web about this, and definitely read everything on TFL.

- Bread on the picture has 90% hydration! I typically use 80%-90%, which really should be wet enough for big air holes. It has a fine crumb - but has fairly small pockets and very homogenous...

- I've tried probably 20 different brands of flour. Also in different combinations. With protein content from 9-14%!

- Bulk fermenting, both in the fridge and at room temperature! (I seem to prefer the fridge, since the very wet dough is easier to candle when cool!)

- I've tried being 'aggresive' in my shaping, doing many stretch-and-folds. And I tried NOT shaping at all! Barely touching the dough after the 1st ferment -- this actually produces the best results!

- using casting iron dutch oven WITH additional pizza-stone. Preheating for up to 1,5 hours!!

- Bulk fermentation 12-18 hours! Tried doing a bunch of S&F's every hour or so, 3-6 times...

- Tried with poolish, biga. More complicated, and the result doesnt get better!


SO - I know the theoretical ways to get the result - but cannot seem to work it out!! What do I do next?? I have experimented on probably hundreds of breads, tweaking on little thing at a time, but I just cannot come up with any more ways of experimenting !!!

Please HELP :)



FlourChild's picture

I haven't worked with your specific ciabatta formula, but in my experience the factors that contribute most to large holes are as follows (roughly in order of importance):

1) gentle and minimal dough handling (after the structure is properly developed),

2) higher hydration (you're good there),

3) hot oven temp (your crust looks a bit pale, which makes me think you could increase the baking temp),

4) gluten structure developed just enough to support all that water, but not overdeveloped, 

5) a flour with medium or lower protein content and designed for superior extensibility, like Better for Bread (Gold Medal).  Higher protein content (you mentioned trying 14%) contributes to smaller holes.

6) Don't get too carried away with long bulk ferments and/or long stints in the fridge, as these can build up enough acid to tighten the gluten and contribute to smaller holes.  Your pale crust could also be from the long ferments if your yeast levels aren't low enough or if your ambient temps are too warm.  

I would also add, as a part of factor number one, to choose a shape that is flatter and doesn't require much, if any, handling.  Your bread looks great, but it is shaped into a boule rather than in the classic slipper shape.  A boule requires more handling and so it is more challenging to get those holes.

Good luck!

Editing to say I forgot to mention the final shaped proof- too long or too short and your holes won't be their largest.

Sballe's picture

Thx for your reply:

- YES, this particular bread is a little pale - but this is rarely an issue. I bake at 525F (275C), which is the max. on my oven...

- your no. 4) and 5) puzzles me a bit. As far as i've researched, the more protein the better. More protein resulting in more and stronger gluten-network. And you say, that this could actually be the reason for a tight crumb?? (Also, I've found that higher protein flours can absorb more water, thus being able to create a wetter dough without collapse)

- and how do you define an over-developed gluten-structure?

FlourChild's picture

-Sounds like your oven temp is fine :)

-re: high-gluten flours, they are great for bagels or for highly enriched doughs like panettone, but they are not the best choice for a bread with large holes.  The structure can become too strong, tightening the crumb.  If you have access to Gold Medal's Better for Bread flour, it is one of the most extensible flours I've worked with, I like it a lot for ciabatta.

-an over-developed gluten structure is one that is too strong for the desired type of bread.  For a shreddable, fine-crumbed sandwich loaf or panettone, one would develop the gluten structure (i.e., knead) a lot; for ciabatta with large holes, the gluten needs to be developed to a medium degree.  I'm failing you on an exact definition, to me it is a matter of knowing how the dough should feel- just enough structure and elasticity so that it comes together and is no longer a puddle, but not so much that it will fight being stretched or hold a boule shape without spreading out.

Hope that helps!

dabrownman's picture

listed the issues but i would concentrate on the handling portion.  It looks like you are handling the dough too much.  It doesn't require any shaping at all really.   Read through the most bookmarked ciabatta recipe on TFL here to get an idea about ciabatta handling for large holes.

and you will see than after mixing the dough is allowed to triple in a bowl. dumped pout onto a counter, cut into pieces allowed to rise stretched into final shape and baked.

Happy no handling the ciabatta

evonlim's picture

Totally agree with dabrownman

Sballe's picture

I'll give it another shot. But honestly, I have made bunch of breads where I hardly touched the d**n thing :) Did'nt do any shaping at all. 

I've read all about Jason's coccodrillo version -- it has almost 95% hydration, and requires a mixer, which is why I havent tried it yet. But I'll give that one a go - handmixed version - right away... sunday is bread day, right? :)

dabrownman's picture

in place of the mixer but stuff will go everywhere at first - no worties.  Or you an do stretch and folds too and not have dough on the ceiling,.

Blacksilk Helen's picture
Blacksilk Helen

Try a lower protein flour, say 12.5%.  do remember that high protein flours are not the best for long fermentation.


ananda's picture

There is some good advice here, especially from FlourChild.

Blacksilk Helen, we are agreed that protein content does matter, but I think clarification might be in order.   For Ciabatta and many types of artisan bread, for sure flour with lower gluten content, but good extensibility is optimal. However, the strong flours [high protein being the phrase you used] are excellent for "long fermentation" in many ways, as they produce extremely tolerant dough which will take the longest to break down.   But they definitely don't make the best Ciabatta, for sure.   

Maybe what needs most emphasis [and I believe this is where FlourChild is leading] is the handling of the dough after mixing.   Use a little oil, or water to employ gentle stretching and folding during bulk proof.   Use plenty of flour and handle minimally with great care when it comes to scaling and dividing.

The strength in doughs of this type comes from using an overnight biga [I prefer a stiff pre-ferment].   This should reduce the need for long bulk.   I never used retard this type of dough.

For reference, a typical "00" flour for this type of bread would have protein content of 10.5 - 11.5%.   BUT, protein content can only ever be a guide.   Gluten potential and quality are the most important factors.

Best wishes


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Combine the dough ingredients until all the dry flour is wet, then stop.  Cover & let the dough stand 30 or more minutes without touching it, then gently fold as the others have suggested but when it starts to pillow up, don't fold too soon.  Make those folds very simple:  flip the dough,  1 simple fold from each of the 4 sides, flip the dough back over, cover and rise.

By the way...  I think your bread looks perfect.  It has a nice variety of holes.  Don't know why you want it to have big holes...  Got a kitchen syringe?  Wet the needle and pump some air into it. (or cheese or peanut butter or...)  :)


Marty's picture

Small item, but I noticed you put a slash in your loaf. I don't with ciabatta and as stated the shape should be flatter.


Sballe's picture

Sballe's picture

Ok - picture above is my latest attempt: as recommended in this thread, i tried the jasons' quick crocodrillo...

This has a much higher hydration - 95% - which made a huge difference I think.

About handling - the image above is actually two breads (and a couple of slices of each). The one on the top-center of the image, lying on top of another, was treated roughly in the shaping, several stretches and folds. And the one under it, hardly touched at all. There isnt really much difference between the two crumbs - except the one shaped and folded got much better oven spring - thus much nicer bread. The flat one is REALLY flat, less than an inch in places, so really not that appealing...

conclusion; handling of the dough, probably not the culprit... go figure...

The major difference in my regular recipe and Jasons... is jason has 95% hydration and more yeast/shorter fermentation... so, probably one of those is the place to look...

FlourChild's picture

The no-knead process works best with medium hydration doughs, because as you increase the proportion of water, it takes more and more effort/manipulation to form a proper gluten network.  So as you increase hydration, you need to work the dough more in its early stages to get some structure.  The gentle handling that everyone is recommending refers to after the gluten structure has been adequately formed.  You may have to beat the liviing daylights out of the dough if it is very highly hydrated.  I suspect the reason the loaf with more handling was better was that the structure wasn't adequately developed before the bulk fermentation, this is common in high hydration doughs, especially if you are hand kneading.

Ciabatta can be made without a mixer, to do it you might want to take a look at Bertinet's slap and fold method for wet doughs, as mentioned by dabrownman, above.  You will probably need at least 10 minutes and maybe as much as 20 minutes of slap and folds to develop the structure before you start the bulk fermentation.  There are good videos on YouTube of Bertinet teaching the slap and fold.  If the dough is too wet even for slap and folds, you can hold back some of the water until the dough structure is developed, then work in the rest of the water.  If you choose to use a pre-ferment it should be a firm one in order to help boost structure.

Sballe's picture

Thx flourchild for your reply -- it makes sense, but seems to contradict what I've read other places (including on this site)

I thought that the wetter the dough, the BETTER gluten network. Since the wet environment makes it easier for the gluten to form connections? Therefore, the wetter the dough, the less work -- only time -- to develop a good gluten network...

I'm a littel confused now :)

mwilson's picture


you can simply omit the tomatoes if you wish.


Sballe's picture

Thx Michael - I will give it a shot! 

The only issue is, I have no mixer. So I do everything by hand, pref. no knead (or almost no knead), which should be possible....

barryvabeach's picture

Sballe -  I see the difference in the two loaves and have noticed the same when I make ciabatta, either Jason's or from other recipes.  Most ciabatta recipes say to handle the dough very gently at the end of the first rise.  Alton Brown, on the other hand, said in one of his shows on bread that yeast are not very mobile on their own, and that part of the reason for the second rise is they get moved around enough to find new food sources -  so I think the rough handling moves the yeast around and gives them a second wind so to speak.  America's Test Kitchen has a ciabatta recipe, and they call for you to pour out the dough at the end of the first rise and kind of catch each end, and let the middle fall to the counter, then fold the two ends over the middle, sort of like a stretch and fold, but much more gentle.  I made two loaves, one following their suggestion, and one handled more gently, and found greater rise with the one that was folded.  I guess that the  cutting and weighing that commercial bakers do involves enough moving that the yeast get redistributed so they don't suggest any extra steps like folds.  I have also tried doing a number of stretches and folds, and I didn't get much oven spring, I think it made the dough stronger than it needed to be.  

Sballe's picture

Thx barry -- I usually do the 'slapping', or at least some pretty decent slap-n-fold, stretch-and-fold. I usually do this at 20-30 min. intervals a few times after the dough is handmixed into a wet-dough, during the first fermentation...

What I find odd about this, though, is that many suggest NOT to do too many S&Fs since the dough then becomes to stiff -- quite the opposite happens for me. During the first few S&Fs the dough will stiffen up a bit, but if I do just one too many, it will sort of collapse into wet mush again... strange..

dabrownman's picture

stretch and folds in any way. Wet doughs always take longer to develop the gluten.  A 70-72% hydration dough will take about 8 minuts of slap and folds to get right where a 100% hydration dough will take 30 - 40 minutes.  An 85 % hydration ciabatta will take about 20 minutes and you don't want to stop them until the gluten is well formed since this is the only time you will have to get it right.  After that don't mess with it.   30 minutes, latter fold it once letter style and turn it over on parchment to let it final proof.

FlourChild is correct about gluten development.  There are all kinds of videos on slap and flods you should watch to learn a good way how to handle wet doughs.  Then you need to get in shape for the 40 minutes of straight slap and folds it takes to do pannetone the Michael Wilson way :-)  His 100 % spelt loaf with slap and folkds is a classic.

Happy  baking.