The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Automatic Ciabatta

louiscohen's picture

Automatic Ciabatta

When I try to make a 75% whole wheat bread at 85% hydration, no matter whether I want a boule or batard, it comes out ciabatta.  So far I just have not been able to develop the strength in the dough to bake freeform, even after proofing in a banneton.  

So unless I get some great inspiration, I'm stopping at 66% ww at 75% hydration, which makes an OK batard.  No ears, though.  

SeasideJess's picture

I'm hopeful to hear what the experienced whole grain bakers might tell you. I'm in a similar boat, but with 100% WW and 71.5% hydration. They come out nice in a pan, though...

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

First things first... Brand and type of flour being used?

DanAyo's picture

I think Abe is on the money. Use a strong (high protein) white flour. A make sure your whole wheat is also, high in protein. The dough should be very workable at 85% hydration using such a large percentage of whole wheat.

What type of whole wheat grain are you using? Spelt, for example, will act radically different from Hard Red wheat.


louiscohen's picture

KAF whole wheat (not the white whole wheat).  The bag says 14% protein.

KAF high gluten (or in the last one a mix of high gluten and KAF bread flour because I ran out of HG).

At 85% hydration the dough is very soft.  It will form a nice boule or batard, which spread when they come out of the banneton.

For focaccia or pizza dough, panning (or shaping for pizza on top of parchment paper) the dough for baking is like working and smoothing a very thick batter.

louiscohen's picture

King Arthur whole wheat (not the white whole wheat).

I usually use KAF high-gluten flour for the white flour portion, but I ran short the last time and used a mix of KAF high gluten and KAF bread flour.  

So I don't think it's a protein issue.  

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Do I have that right? I don't think that's the issue.

And a 100% whole wheat dough should be able to take 75-80% hydration easily.

Your recipe is 75% whole wheat and 25% bread flour. Why don't you hydrate enough the whole wheat is 75% hydrated and the bread flour is 65% hydrated? For example...

  • 375g whole wheat
  • 125g bread flour

Total = 500g

  • 75% of 375g = 281.25g water
  • 65% of 125g = 81.25g water

Total water for the recipe will be 362.5g (don't have to be this exact but for the purpose of maths - round down for now).

That would give you a nice hydration for your 75% whole-wheat + 25% bread flour mix.

Final hydration will be 72.5%

Very manageable.

Then you can include an autolyse to help the gluten formation. without the levain (however much you preferment from the flour and water) for about an hour. Then add the levain and salt and give it a good 10 minutes knead.

See how things go from there.

louiscohen's picture

Abe, that's a very interesting suggestion - 75% hydration for the WW flour and 65% for the white flour.  But will that result in a less open crumb than 75-85% hydration for everything?

BTW, I have been putting 1/3 of the total flour into an overnight poolish with WW only.  The next day, I mix in the rest of the water and flours and autolyse 30 min.  Then I finish the mix with yeast and salt.  

For gluten development I have tried all of these:

  • Rubaud method in the bowl - 10 min, then 10 min rest and 10 min more mixing
  • 4 min at 1st speed and 5 min at 2nd speed in the KitchenAid
  • 30 folds in the bowl, 4 times, 10 minutes apart

The results are all pretty much the same.  The dough is nice and smooth, it even windowpanes, more or less.  But it's awfully soft, even after an overnight retarded fermentation in the fridge.  

The 85% hydration just collapses on the peel and springs back just a little when baked in the Dutch oven (automatic ciabatta).  75% hydration is little better; I get some oven spring but never enough for an ear.  

louiscohen's picture

What's the crumb like with 100% ww and 71.5% hydration?  Do you score the loaf before baking?

I was looking again at the Dave Miller 100% WW @ 102% (yes 1-oh-2) hydration which is supposed to have a pretty open crumb.  It pours like batter into a loaf pan, apparently.  

I may give it a try in a loaf pan.  Or use a Dutch oven and expect the dough to ooze out to the sides.


Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I'm wondering, with 1/3 of the flour pre-fermented, and an overnight bulk (even in the fridge) if it's too long a fermentation for that high a percentage of whole wheat. Whole grains tend to ferment more quickly than white flour. With that high a percentage of pre-ferment perhaps you could try a shorter bulk ferment at room temperature, then shape the dough into a basket / banneton and do the final proof in the fridge. Another thing to try is to make the pre-ferment a lower-hydration one (i.e. put more of the flour and less of the water for the total formula into the pre-ferment, keeping the overall totals the same). A firmer pre-ferment can make for a stronger dough, even if the overall hydration is the same.

louiscohen's picture

I have done both -

  • poolish and 1 hr room temp bulk fermentation
  • poolish and 1 hr room temp bulk fermentation followed by overnight retarded bulk fermentation in the fridge

The result is the same - the dough is soft but shapeable, it goes into the banneton for 1-2 hrs.  Then, stone or dutch oven, the 85% hydration dough spreads like ciabatta.


DanAyo's picture

Louis, something is not right. Please post images. They may give us the needed clues. Also, your formula may also help. Something is simply not adding up. Sounds like your flours are not an issue. Whole wheat coupled with high protein should easily tolerate your hydration.

I’m sure the solution to your problem is a simple one.

Is it possible you got a bad bag of KA WW? 


barryvabeach's picture

Louis,  I agree with Dan,   My normal loaf is 100% whole wheat at 80% hydration free form out of a round banneton.  While it often looks more like a saucer than bread with a great ear,  I do on somewhat infrequent occasions get really nice oven spring and ears, proving that the ingredients and proportions are fine.   The main problem with WW flour, IMO, is that you need to get the timing exactly right to get a really open crumb.  If you are too early, you will get some spring, but not too much, if you are too late, it will spread and flatten out.  I suggest you try baking it earlier and see what you get.  If you are under proofing, it will still keep its shape, it just won't be very open, so I don't think that is the problem. 

louiscohen's picture

Photos of the 85% hydration, 75% whole wheat, made with 33% poolish.

75% WW 85% Hydration

I don't see the tiny holes near the bottom that would suggest under or overproofing.

I have been through a couple of bags of KA WW; same result - 75% hydration spreads just a little on the stone or in the dutch oven; 85% hydration becomes a low ciabatta.  Both get a little oven, not much, never enough for an ear.

Elsie_iu's picture

Whole grain dough is weaker than white dough so it tends to collapse easily. From my experience, the dough spreads out slightly at an early stage of over-proofing. When severely over-proofed,  the dough collapses completely into flatbread (not the ciabatta shaped loaf you're showing) and the crumb tightens up. 

Here is one bread at the early stage of under-proofing. It's not wheat but spelt but the theory is just the same. My guess is that your loaf was slightly over-proofed. It thus spread out instead of springing upward. Hydration and dough development might not be the issue. I used to bake with 100% whole wheat bread flour from Bob's Red Mill at 100% hydration with no problem. Dough development was minimum as I literally left the dough alone to do its thing. I was very inexperienced (and I'm still now) yet the bread still had some oven spring and came out with an ear half of the time.