The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Reinhart's Ciabatta

dolfs's picture

Reinhart's Ciabatta

Today we're having a party and I figured (yesterday), I'd make some ciabatta. I never made it before and decided to make Reinhart's (BBA) recipe based on biga. I did scale it up a little to make slightly more. In the process of doing the calculations, I think I discovered some errors in the percentages and corrected them. I made the bread using the corrected recipe (I'll post on that seperately). For the final dough, I used buttermilk instead of water, and I did add about 70% of the optional olive oil.Reinhart's Ciabatta (Biga)

Reinhart's Ciabatta (Biga)

Ciabatta, excellent holes and crumb

Ciabatta, excellent holes and crumb

The dough came together as described, mixing in a KA, 4 minutes with paddle, and another 3 with the dough hook, adding just a little flour. While the rest of the baking proceeded as written, I noticed that my dough was actually rising a lot more than I expected. Now, I have to note that the weather is really warm right now (90F+) and my air-conditioning is set at 78F. I let it happen while I remembered some people had had issues with these recipes, so I looked up these old posts. Biggest problem people had was not a good open crumb, so I started to worry...

When I cut the dough in three pieces for placing in the couche it definitely collapsed some, but I decide to just let it rise again. It did. Then I baked, as described, and the result, as far as I am concerned, was just wonderful in shape, texture, crumb.

I will report in a separate post about some of the observations and my thoughts as to why this worked out so well. 


Floydm's picture


Jeffrey's picture

Ooh! do i ever need to try that recipe again, thanks for the nice picture.

Paddyscake's picture

nice job..I'm really impressed that was your first try at ciabatta.

hedera helix's picture
hedera helix

I know you said you'ld post on this elsewhere, but I wonder what it was that made you think the recipe for the ciabatta was wrong?

They look great by the way, spot on! I recall when I was shown how to do ciabatta for the first time, the 'kneading' (for want of a better word) was described as "like juggling with jelly"! I see you mxed it with a machine, give it a go by hand some time, it's a real experience.

I'm inspired to give it another go as well seeing your pics. Good effort.

dolfs's picture

Here is the story about the error (that wasn't there). I like to keep all my formulas in a spreadsheet for easy scaling etc. For reasons I won't go into here, in those spreadsheets I like to express everything as percentages of total flour in the whole dough, and not separate for biga and final dough as the BBA does. So, I set about calculating that and in doing so made an error. I did not realize that the biga formula on page 107 produces 18 oz, and the recipe only uses 16 oz. So my calculations were based on using 18 oz of it. Consequently I ended up finding several of the percentages to be slightly off. I baked my bread based on my (supposedly) correct formula, scaled up to produce 3 lbs of dough. The results you have seen. Today I sat down to describe the "error" and found my own error and concluded the recipe to be correct after all. So why/how did my bread work out anyway? Below are the original recipe (in my percentage approach), and the correct (original) one. Notice that while there are differences, the main thing is that total hydration in both is very, very similar.

What I had, incorrectly, calculated and used:
Biga:Unbleached bread flour: 55.56%, Instant Yeast: 0.27%, Water: 37.06%
Final Dough: Biga: 79.11%, Unbleached bread flour: 44.44%, Salt: 1.83%, Instant Yeast: 0.84%, Water: 37.02%, Oil: 10%
Total hydration: 74.08%

Original from BBA:
Biga:Unbleached bread flour: 52.63%, Instant Yeast: 0.26%, Water: 35.09%
Final Dough:  Biga: 84.32%, Unbleached bread flour: 47.37%, Salt: 1.94%, Instant Yeast: 0.90%, Water: 39.46%, Oil: 10.52%
Total hydration: 74.55%

So my version ended up (luckily) being very close anyway, and worked. So that raises the question why so many others had problems getting this recipe to work. I don't know the answer, but here is some more information on my baking:

  • I use a gas oven in non-convection mode
  • I use a 3/4 in thick square baking stone (thicker than your typical pizza stone)
  • I pre-heated the over for 45 minutes at 500F
  • My kitchen was at 78F so fermentation was fast. This is California (SF Bay area) and relative humidity was low
  • I use (fresh bought) KA unbleached bread flour
  • Despite the formulas, I only used 7% oil. I have no idea whether this made a significant difference in the final texture
  • I think, after tasting, the bread could use a little more salt, but original formula had a little more to begin with, so that may fix it 
  • The biga fermented overnight for about 8 hours in the fridge. The fridge had shut down unknown to me (don't ask) and it took 3 hours to discover. The fridge had been at about 60F until I turned it back on. The next morning the biga had more than doubled and was contained in the plastic container by a tight fitting lid. When I opened it, the excess gas pressure made a loud pop.
  • The biga warmed up for 1 hr, was cut in 12, and had another hour, as in the original instructions
  • Dough mixed extremely well in the KA, as indicated and came clear of side, but not bottom. I ended up using 7.5 oz of water (converted to original recipe size). No additional flour during mixing.
  • Instructions mentioned two folds, each time folding once letter style. I actually performed three folds first time, and two second time. 
  • Original instructions mention that dough may not double during the initial ferment, but it did, quite impressively.
  • There was some rise during secondary fermentation  in the couche as well 
  • The dough seemed not quite as extensible as I expected it to be, so during the final stretching of the "slipper" I had to pull a little.
  • I had three loaves, first one baked by itself, so the other 2 had a little more time (about 20 minutes) before going in. Results were very similar in all three.
  • I use a heavy gauge cast iron pan for producing steam with a cup of heated water. I use to use a much more flimsy pan and found that this works much better. 
  • There was quite a bit of oven spring for all three, much more than I expected from reading about this bread.
  • After having cut into all three loaves (the party) I noticed that open structure was much better in the outer thirds of each loaf than in the middle. I attribute this to destroying it during the stretching due to lack of extensibility. 
So, to those that had problems I would suggest to try again and watch for proper gluten development. If you can, increase hydration, I certainly will a little next time. Perhaps do some extra folds. Use a baking stone, and steam well. Good luck!
pjkobulnicky's picture

It must have been something in the air because of Labor Day. I made a recipe of Craig Ponsford's Ciabatta from Maggie Glazer's book (one of my favorite recipes for many purposes including pizza) and they turned out equally as well ... and I too retarded the dough for about 8 hours (while I was at work with my wife punching the dough down once at noon). When i got home, I took the dough out of the fridge, let it warm for an hour, shapped the loaves and waited till the oven and my stone came up to temp. Even though I did the ritual dimpling before loading them in the oven, the little suckers just sprang up into loaves in the oven. They were terrific and the hit of my dinner party on Friday.


Paul Kobulnicky

Baking in Ohio

beefcake1970's picture

I too have made this ciabatta but NEVER as pretty as the one's you've displayed! Post that recipe please!

dolfs's picture

As mentioned earlier, what I made was not exactly (but close) to the formula in the BBA. I have no idea if I just did everything right, or if the difference in formula was the reason why I was successful and others had trouble in the past. Here is a PDF Document of the "WRONG" formula. Here is a PDF Document of the "RIGHT" formula.  Note that my spreadsheet makes a little too much of the biga (on purpose, using a hidden extra factor) because you'll have some losses with dough sticking to the hook, spoon etc. Just weigh out how much you need for the final dough and discard what little remains.   As far as instructions go (from the BBA pp. 136-): 

  1. To make the biga, stir together flour and yeast and then add the water until you obtain a coarse ball (low speed 1 minute with paddle). Dough should be neither too sticky, nor too stiff. Adjust if necessary. Err on the side of sticky.
  2. Mix for 4 minutes, medium speed, with dough hook, until dough is soft, pliable, tacky, but not sticky and has a temperature between 77-81F.
  3. Lightly oil a bowl, transfer dough and coat with oil. Cover and ferment at room temp for 2-4 hours, until nearly doubled in size.
  4. Remove dough, knead lightly to degas, place back and put in refrigerator overnight, or up to 3 days.
  5. For the final dough, remove biga from refrigerator 1 hour before to let it warm up. Cut into about 10 small pieces. Cover and let sit for 1 more hour.
  6. Mix together flour, salt, and yeast before proceeding to ad biga pieces and water and oil. Mix with paddle on low speed until you have a sticky ball.
  7. Mix on medium speed, with paddle, 5-7 minutes until dough is smooth, but sticky.
  8. Create a bed, 8 inches square, with plenty of flour, on your work surface, and turn out the dough onto it. Perform 1 stretch and fold, , mist the top with spray oil, cover with flour, and cover with plastic wrap. 
  9. After a 30 minute rest, fold again, mist again, dust again. Cover and let bulk ferment about 1.5 to 2 hours. It may not double in size.
  10. Setup a couche, remove plastic from dough and (for this amount of dough) divide dough into three equal pieces using a wetter scraper (careful not to degas). 11) Generously dust each piece on both side (or roll in flour), pick it up gently using the dough scraper and transfer to its spot in the couche. In the couche, gently fold over from left to right into the expected "slipper" shape.
  11. Cover and proof for 45-60 minutes, until dough has noticeably swelled. 
  12. Prepare oven for hearth baking, preheat to 500F
  13. Generously dust a peel with semolina, or corn meal. For each piece (perhaps baked separately), pick up gently and transfer to the peel and before putting it down, gently tug until it is 9-12 inches long. If there is a bump in the middle, dimple with your fingers.
  14. Place loaf(es) on baking stone or baking sheet, apply steam as per book. After 1.5 minutes, reduce to 450F and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate loaf, and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until internal temperature is 205F.
  15. Remove, let cool, enjoy.
 NOTE: Formula is © Copyright by Peter Reinhart
 NOTE: While I have included the essential instructions here, the book has more detail, and helpful photographs. Just get the book!