Homemade ciabatta bread is delicious. Light textured, crunchy-crusted and gobbled up before it has chance to go stale.
But it's tricky to get right. There are a few potential stumbling blocks in the process.
Don't let that put you off, though. I'm here to help.
This ciabatta recipe gives you all the insight you need to make your own, homemade ciabatta and get it right, first time.
So, what is ciabatta?
Ciabatta (Italian for 'slipper') is a square, flattish bread, designed to be loaded with toppings. Usually made with white flour, it has an open texture, with large air-bubbles.
The dough is extra-fermented, for a slightly sour flavour and is often coated in cornmeal (although in this recipe I substitute semolina because it's easier to obtain) to make the crust extra crunchy.
It's tricky but I'll show you how.
It's tricky to make because of the extra fermentation needed to achieve the authentic ciabatta flavour. Also, it is awkward to work with the wet dough necessary to achieve the open texture. At the same time, you want the crust to be crunchy without letting the thin bread become too dry. A lot to think about, but perfectly easy to achieve, when you know how.
You will need:
250g plain flour
3g dried instant yeast
A large pinch salt
Approximately 180ml hand-hot water to mix
Semolina to coat (optional)
Mix your dough well in advance. I suggest doing this the night before you want to eat the bread.
1. Combine the flour and instant yeast in a large bowl.
2. Add the water, little by little, until you have made a slack dough.
3. Leave the dough to ferment overnight. The longer you ferment the dough, the sourer the bread will taste. If you prefer a milder flavour, shorten this stage to an hour.
4. When you return to the dough, mix in the salt. I usually do this by hand as it's easier to squeeze and knead the dough, rather than using a spoon.
5. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes, until your dough has a smooth, stretchy texture. It should still be quite wet, which makes it tricky to handle. It will stick to the work surface and to your hands. Try not to add too much extra flour as you need the wetness in order to achieve the characteristic open-crumb texture.
6. Divide your dough into four pieces. Stretch each piece to a long, thin strip and fold it into three. The folding helps to incorporate extra air into the dough, for that all-important texture. Try to not squash the air out of the dough at this stage. Repeat the stretch and fold process if necessary, to create an oblong bread about 3cm thick.
7. Gently coat the bread in semolina and place it on a greased baking tray.
8. Leave it to rise again for about half an hour before baking at 200oC for 20 minutes.
Now, to achieve that crunchy crust
There is one further stage to this process.
Use a (clean) plant mister to lightly spray the bread with water before you put it in the oven. Repeat this spraying process a couple of times in the first few minutes of baking.
Your bread is cooked when it can be lifted off the tray easily and sounds hollow when you knock on its bottom.
Serve immediately - ciabatta doesn't keep well, which is another good reason to bake it yourself.
There are more bread recipes on my site, including my guide to Fresh Bread In 20 Minutes which is the quickest way I know to bake homemade bread for lunch.