Classic ciabatta takes a lot of time. If you give the poolish 18 to 20 hours to mature, which I recommend, then the bread will take more than 24 hours total. Depending on how long you let the poolish sit and the warmth of your kitchen, you should plan for the whole process to take between 19 and 30 hours. Yeast is sensitive to temperature, so bread rising in a kitchen that’s 65 degrees Fahrenheit will take hours longer than it would in an 80-degree kitchen. While the poolish should ferment in a cool environment, the bread dough will do better with warmth. Yield: 1 large loaf, 2 long loaves, or 4 to 8 rolls.
- 1-1/4 cup (150 grams) unbleached white flour, preferably bread flour
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 grams) cool water
- 3 pinches (0.3 grams) active dry yeast
- 1 cup (250 grams) warm water
- 2-1/2 rounded cups (350 grams) unbleached white flour, preferably bread flour
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) salt
- 1 slightly rounded teaspoon (6 grams) active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) olive oil, optional
- Cooking oil
- Extra flour for dusting
Note: For accuracy, weigh ingredients with a digital scale. Ciabatta is defined by the high ratio of water to flour by weight in the dough, and because volume measurements are imprecise, the ingredients need to be weighed to produce a true ciabatta.
Make poolish. Mix the flour, water, and yeast in a medium mixing bowl. Cover, and set aside at room temperature for 12 to 20 hours, preferably a minimum of 18 hours. The longer you leave it, the richer the sensory qualities of the final bread will be. Smell and taste the poolish to judge how it’s developing. When it’s ready, the poolish will have spread out and become a mass of bubbles, and it will have started to develop sweet and complex aromas.
Make dough. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush a large mixing bowl or plastic proofing box with cooking oil, and set aside.
Add the warm water to the poolish. Use your hands to release the poolish from the bowl’s sides. Transfer the poolish to a large, unoiled mixing bowl, and then add the flour, salt, yeast, and optional olive oil. Mix by hand or with a dough hook. When the dough is mixed, transfer it to the lightly oiled mixing bowl or box. Cover, and let rise until it’s filled with bubbles and has doubled in bulk, about 2 hours in an 80 degree Fahrenheit proofing oven, or 4 hours or more in a cooler kitchen.
First stretch-and-fold. Bakers use this technique to develop gluten in sticky, wet doughs. For a visual demonstration, search “stretch and fold Peter Reinhart” on YouTube.
Lightly oil a work surface, and place a bowl of water nearby. Turn the mixing bowl or proof box upside down over the work surface and let the dough drop out; it will release and spread. Dip a dough scraper and your hands in the water as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Whatever shape the dough is at the time, you’ll need to imagine it as having four sides. With confident motions, use the dough scraper to get under the dough on one side, lift the edge, stretch it out, and then fold it over the remaining dough. Proceed to work around all four sides. The first stretch-and-fold is normally a bit of a mess, but keep going. When the fourth side is complete, grab the dough with both hands, and, in one quick motion, flip it over. I like to repeat this action again, but only during the first stretch-and-fold. Return the dough to the bowl, and cover. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Repeated stretch-and-folds. Repeat the stretch-and-fold step three more times, at 30-minute intervals. Each time, return the dough to the bowl or box, and cover. With each repetition, the dough will become increasingly firm. You can vary the spacing between the stretch-and-folds. Some bakers give less time between the steps, and others more time. I prefer 30-minute intervals because they give the dough time to rise and develop flavor. Make a note of how many times you’ve stretched and folded, and always end with the dough covered in its bowl or box.
Pre-shaping rise. After the final stretch-and-fold, cover the bowl of dough and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until nearly doubled in size. The time will depend on your room’s temperature.
Shape. Liberally flour your work surface, and, while the dough is still in the bowl, sprinkle it with a generous amount of flour. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface. Sprinkle flour on the top surface of the dough, and gently deflate any large air holes pushing through the top of the dough. Using a dough scraper or your hands, straighten up the dough to form a rectangle roughly the size of a standard piece of notebook paper (8-1/2 by 11 inches). With gentle motions, push and stretch the dough to get the shape you want.
Some common ciabatta shapes include:
- Large, amorphous loaf. This method requires the least amount of effort, and results in an irregular blob. This is the shape my favorite local bakery uses for its ciabatta.
- Long loaves. Using the dough scraper, cut the rectangle the long way, separating the two halves from each other. Because the dough is very sticky, you’ll need to make a cut and then immediately slide the cut piece at least 1 inch away, or it will reattach.
- Rolls. Cut long loaves, and then divide each loaf into equal-sized pieces of your choosing. Ciabatta rolls are often squarish.
When you’ve achieved the shape you want, use the dough scraper or your hands to slightly lift the outer side of the dough and add flour underneath, anywhere the dough is sticking, working your way around the entire mass.
Final rise. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking tray, or, if using a baking stone, place parchment paper on the counter and transfer it and the dough to the preheated stone when ready to bake. Once your dough is shaped, quickly and decisively lift the dough off the work surface and place it on the parchment paper. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes to begin rising again. Ciabatta dough is very forgiving; even if the bread doesn’t look like it’s risen much during this stage, it’ll continue to rise in the oven.
Bake. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, and then, on a metal tray or preheated baking stone, bake the ciabatta for 35 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 190 to 210 degrees is reached. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack, and let cool for at least an hour before slicing.