The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Ciabatta at 66% and 76% hydrations

alfanso's picture

Ciabatta at 66% and 76% hydrations

A bit of a come-on, but for comparison the lead photo is my standard 84% hydration ciabatta crumb, as is this next of a full loaf.

Friends soon visiting asked if I could bake ciabatta for them.  I had to re-aquaint myself. Rather than make my old standby ciabatta at 84% hydration, I wanted to try another option.

A video by The Artisan Crust’s Scott MeGee has an interesting take on this bread.  In response to two separate comments, Mr. MeGee quotes the hydration first as 66% and later as 76%.  If you’ve ever made ciabatta yourself and then watch this video, I doubt that the huge billowy pillow of dough that he folds and then divides is anything like your own personal experience. It certainly wasn’t and isn’t like mine.  If you can duplicate his dough’s characteristics I’d surely be curious as to how.

The 76% version makes a fine ciabatta with one glaring exception - it does not produce the large hole structure that we associate with this bread.  I'm personally not too enamored by large holes.  Beyond an open crumb, I really don’t care.  This 76% version otherwise maintains that true ciabatta look, smell, feel and taste.  That’s good enough for me.

 The 66% hydration version was next.  Amazingly, at divide time, the jiggly blob of dough that tumbled out of the container could just as easily be mistaken for a dough with hydrations of 10% and even 20% higher.  Once out of the mixer it was near impossible to tell this dough from the 76% or even an 85% ciabatta dough when it came time to fold, divide and bake.  On the downside I didn’t detect the same ciabatta smell and flavor from this 66% version.  Maybe it was just playing with my head (and nostrils).

My takeaway is that with little, if any, additional work the 76% was the superior version.  And I anticipate that my shaping of these, although already pretty fair, will continue to improve over time.

I like how he shapes the dough and then refrains from stretching it until moving from the well-floured couche to the baking peel, neither of which I had ever done before in this way.  With the jelly-like quality of both versions, shaping is a task but doable.  The dough just isn’t what you see in his video.

I agree with dabrownman when he says that the holes have no flavor and you can’t eat them.  If you are in the market for a ciabatta with those giant holes, this is not the bread for you.

For both versions, I differ from Mr. MeGee’s formula in that I used an overnight 40% prefermented flour biga instead of making this a direct dough.   Prior to the double-hydration bassinage of water and olive oil, I removed the dough from the mixer and gave it ~100 French Folds, with a 5 minute rest halfway through.  The 66% dough is much stiffer as it isn’t a full 66% until the bassinage has completed, and therefore I had to add some of the second hydration to make it workable on the bench.

Then back into the mixer.  Both the timing of the mix and the speed of the mixer were far far different from what is in the video.  Mr. MeGee’s stated mixing time is with his large commercial rotating bowl spiral mixer. I have an old Kitchen-Aid planetary stand mixer where the dough hook and action of my mixer leaves a lot to be desired.  I’ve never been satisfied with its performance the few times that I use the dough hook.  The speeds of my mixer varied from “2” for incorporation of the second hydration, up to “6” and finally to “8” to thoroughly finish the mix.

The mix with this dough hook is done when the dough provide that familiar slapping sound and goes though successive phases of being pulled up off the bowl and onto the hook and then dropping back down to the bowl again.  There is an awful lot of mixing friction that raises the dough temperature, hence the use of a cold biga and cold water.

The 76% hydration ciabatta





 The 66% hydration ciabatta




My version of his 76% hydration ciabatta using a biga formula.  2x ~500g loaves:

Ciabatta w/Biga @76% Hydration       
Scott MeGee, alfanso        
     Total Flour    
 Total Dough Weight (g) 1000 Prefermented40.00%   
 Total Formula   Biga  Final Dough 
 Ingredients%Grams %Grams IngredientsGrams
 Total Flour100.00%550.4 100.00%  Final Flour330.2
 Bread Flour100.00%550.4 100%220.1 Bread Flour330.2
 Water,cold76.00%418.3 66%145.3 Water218.4
 Olive Oil3.00%16.5    Olive Oil16.5
 Salt2.10%11.6    Salt11.6
 IDY0.60%3.3 0.14%0.31 IDY3.0
 Totals181.70%1000 166.14%365.75  1000




WatertownNewbie's picture

As always, your posts are interesting and informative.  One thing that pops out to me right away is the general shape of these breads.  They seem to resemble a baguette shape (without the scores) more than a slipper (i.e., ciabatta).  I will watch the video to see what McGee does, but is his shaping something along the lines of a letter fold?

alfanso's picture

he demonstrates the shaping technique very clearly.  Fold in the left and right ends, pull the top down as a curtain over the entire loaf and seal.  Then use the fingers as "straight edges" along with the bench to create sufficient surface tension while executing a cylindrical loaf.  Proof seam side up.  If it weren't for the pre-shaping, then the resulting loaf would have more of the classic look.

Thanks, alan

WatertownNewbie's picture

Having watched the video, I agree with your comments, especially regarding the consistency of the dough.  His mound of dough reminds me of what I work with when making a typical sourdough bread, not ciabatta.  I definitely need the bench scraper to help get under my ciabatta dough when trying to maneuver it, and there is no way that I could do his shaping method.  (He seems to favor one type of shaping, and his method reminded me of the batard shaping video from King Arthur.  With the exception of King Arthur's emphasis on bringing the corners in to the center, McGee is effectively achieving roughly the same general shape.) I will stick with the couple of ciabatta recipes that I already like: Cook's Illustrated and Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Thanks for posting.

alfanso's picture

A typical dictionary entry, this one by 

  1. a slightly flattened Italian yeast bread made with olive oil and having large air pockets within.

And the curious part is that the origin of the bread only goes back to ~1985.

I personally like the huskier shape rather than a flat shape and my go-to formula calls for no olive oil.  But I really do like the 76% version.  So I'll stay with that one for a while.

bottleny's picture

I looked over the comments youtube video, and found two references regarding hydration.

1. from Scott Megee:

  • Baker flour 100% (protein 11.6%)
  • water  68%
  • Dried Yeast 0.6 %
  • Salt 2 %
  • Active Malt 0.2%

As mentioned from the user Nikolas Kallianiotis under the 1st comment, if it is 68% hydration overall, why needs the 2nd hydration?

2. from The Artisan Crust (given at a later time)

  • 100 % bakers flour
  • 76% water
  • 2.1% salt
  • 3% olive oil
  • 0.6 % dried yeast

bulk proof  - 2 1/4  hr  3 folds
45 min final proof

I think the 2nd one should be the correct recipe for ciabatta & focaccia (using the same dough but add lots of olive oil during shaping).
I did my first ciabatta at hydration 75%. I found 75% can still get good-looking ciabatta.

3% oil is quite common in some recipes that have oil.

alfanso's picture

and agree that the 68% (oops, I did 66%!) is in error.  The only reason that one might want to do a bassinage with a hydration below 70% or so is if they really really want to develop a strong gluten for the bread, then they can still add water later.  I was just abiding by his walkthrough.

But as long as he had it in print, I figured what the heck, why not.  It's all experimentation and discovery, aside from tasty bread, that goes on around here.  The 2 ciabatte that are in the two leading pictures are both executed without olive oil, so I'm absolutely not sold on the need or desire to have it incorporated.

My wife commented this morning that if she had been served or bought the lower hydration version and it was advertised as ciabatta, she would have felt gypped and cheated.  I'm in complete agreement with her.  The taste is fine for a plain white bread and toast but doesn't exhibit any of the real ciabatta character.

not.a.crumb.left's picture

always Alan and whilst I like big holes in ciabatta, I also like the fluffy and lacy look of your ciabatta crumb.... I really liked Maurizio's Kamut ciabatta formula although it looked really high in hydration but the colour of the Kamut makes it look amazing...I am sure your 'slippers' were all gobbled up and enjoyed! Kat

alfanso's picture

but it seems to have a certain association with durum, which I love to bake with.  I think that I'll sub out some of the white flour for durum next time around.

thanks, alan

dabrownman's picture

by the owner of it.  They claim it to be an ancient grain which helps with selling the grain  to folks who want to bake with ancient grains.  But, with recent DNA testing, Kamut seems to be a natural cross of T Durum and another grass; T Polonicum, in the Khorasan region of Iran.  This means that Durum came before Kamut and that if one is ancient - it would have to be Durum.  I prefer Kamut to Durum but its price is way more expensive.  Both that that yellow color and sweetness.

not.a.crumb.left's picture

and let my Kamut sit in the cupboard not realizing that it is now past it's use by date. Well, it was not very long so I gave it a go but

the flour totally and utterly degraded...never seen anything like it apart from the Trevor soup when I did the pre-mix and the flour degraded.

It made me intrigued whether the flour looses the protein? Never mind, but cross with myself to let this happen to the most expensive flour in the cupboard!....Aghhhh....

dabrownman's picture

should last many years before going bad just like they do in grain silos all over the world.  I'm pretty sure that isn't the problem you experienced.  Wheat grains should last for 30 years in a plastic bucket with a good lid to keep the varmints, water and heat out.

Happy baking

not.a.crumb.left's picture

and I really don't know what went wrong...well I should no better and never blame the flour or the tools and I was probably sleep walking and did something silly..