‘HOLEY’ Ciabatta!

After fiddling around with many a ciabatta recipe, and getting mediocre, or shall I say, less than impressive results, (the crumb was never good enough..too tight) I had finally resigned myself to the fact that I just lacked what it took to create that perfect, airy, chewy, Italian slipper bread riddled with holes. Although I’d somewhat waved the white flag, after reading through some books on bread baking at my local bookstore, I came across a recipe for ciabatta by Craig Ponsford.

In a moment of haste and a mission to conquer this glorious bread, I bought the book and got to work.

Hallelujah. I finally found ‘the one’. This is BY FAR the best recipe for ciabatta out there. Now, this is not only because it worked for me, but after perusing through several bread forums, the consensus seems to be the same. His ciabatta is the best.

How to Make a Perfect Ciabatta Loaf

As usual, I’ll run you through what got me to such a beautiful, perfectly crumbed ‘slipper bread’ (the finished loaf usually looks similar to a slipper) replete with my inability to take a decent picture with my awful digital camera!

Ciabatta starts with a biga (A more liquid version is called a poolish). What’s a biga? To make it simple and eliminate the need to type it out, I’m using Wikipedia’s definition.

Biga is a type of pre-fermentation used in Italian baking. Many popular Italian breads, including ciabatta, are made using a biga. Using a biga adds complexity to the bread’s flavor and is often used in breads that need a light, open texture with holes. Apart from adding to flavor and texture, a biga also helps to preserve bread by making it less perishable.

Ponsford’s Biga uses a combination of AP, Whole Wheat, Rye and Bread Flours. However, this is the kicker – it calls for 1/384 tsp of yeast.

How do you get 1/384 tsp of yeast?

Well, he makes it easy. You take 1/2 tsp yeast and dissolve it in 1 cup of water. You then use only 1/2 tsp of the yeasted water in the biga. I’m amazed at how much the biga rose, considering it was such a teensy, weensy amount of yeast to about 3 or so cups of mixed flours.


This biga needed to ferment for 18-24 hours. I started with a fist size lump of dough and I honestly didn’t think it would work with such a small amount of diluted yeast, but lo and behold..we’ve got bubbles and a doubling in size after 12 hours. Unfortunately, I never got to see the full rise, since I slept, but when I woke up, it was at the stage it was supposed to be..lumpy, slightly less bubbly, oatmeal ‘like’.

This is the biga after 12 hours. By the way..the yellow liquid is not alcohol. It’s the tiny bit of canola oil I used to grease the container. It somehow doubled itself during the first fermentation. Love how the biga steered clear of it, though.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Next on the agenda was mixing the dough. First the Biga goes into the mixer bowl. Notice the bubbles and elasticity? Good sign.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Next comes, in order, the flour and salt, yeast, then water.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Let this come together using a dough hook (hand kneading would be impossible at this point, since it’s such a wet dough, and the addition of flour to make it manageable would result in a ciabatta with a tight crumb, which defeats the purpose), and let it run for about 5 minutes, until you get what you see in the photo below. See how wet this dough is? Almost like a thick pancake batter. This is the starting point to a light, airy ciabatta with lots of holes. Hydration is SO SO SO key here.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Now it’s time to let it ferment for a while, so pour it into a lightly greased container to let it work its magic.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

You’d never think this dough will actually come together enough so that it’s more manageable to work with..but it does, with proper stretching, folding and turns, which you will see below. After an initial 20 minute ferment, the dough is poured onto a lightly floured bench, where it’s gently folded letter style, then put back into the container to ferment for another 20 minutes. This is done at 20, 40, 60 and 80 minutes. The photo below is ready for it’s fourth turn, and you can see how much it has changed. Although still extremely soft (which is how you want it to remain), it’s easier to work with now.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Last fold, bringing in all 4 sides, then put back into the container to rise for 70 to 100 minutes.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

I forgot to take a photo of the next rise. However, trust me when I say it doubled in size. Now we can finally prepare and shape the loaves for their final rise. I’ll show you one loaf here. Very gently scrape the dough onto the bench, then fold it again like a letter, but only two sides. As with sourdough, you don’t want to lose any of those bubbles, not to mention this dough is a lot more delicate than sourdough. When folded, lightly seal, pinching the seams closed, gently.

The shaped dough is placed on a floured linen towel or couche (a heavier canvas cloth used to hold the shape of the bread), seam side up. Cover lightly with the floured towel, and let rise for about 45 minutes. During this time, place or move your **baking stone to the middle rack and preheat the oven to 450 F. Ponsford prefers baking his ciabatta on the middle rack, as opposed to other artisan breads, which are usually baked on the bottom rack since that’s where it’s the hottest. Below is the risen loaf.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Now comes the tricky part. You need to flip the dough, seam side down, onto the peel. In the case of a dough this delicate, you need to use parchment paper on the peel since you don’t want to add anymore flour or cornmeal or semolina (whichever you use to keep the dough from sticking).. Not to mention (as I’ve already mentioned 20 times already), it’s such a soft, delicate dough..so it’s much easier to slide onto the stone with the parchment. The ‘flip’ has to be quick, so you don’t degas (dee-gas – let out the air) the dough too much.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Now, the next step kind contradicts everything I mentioned above about handling the dough as to not lose the bubbles and airy texture, but this actually helps the bread’s texture. You’re going to give it a bunch of quick. deep dimples with floured fingers, all over the loaf. It doesn’t deflate it too much, and oven spring will pop it right back up. The dimpling actually gives you more chewy, airy holes in your final loaf. Dimple to the bottom as much as you can, trying to keep the surrounding dough ‘poofy’.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

Into the oven, along with a few ice cubes or water tossed into a preheated pan I always keep on the bottom of my oven when bread baking. This adds steam, which you want, for a crispy, final crust. A few sprays on the walls of the oven with a water bottle, every few minutes for the first 10 minutes, is something you can do too, just to keep that steam going. The below is an awful photo, but if you’ve read my ‘About’ page, you know I’m on a mission to purchase a much better camera.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

After about 40 minutes, it’s ‘photo gallery’ time.

Homemade No-Knead Ciabatta Bread

** If you don’t own a baking stone, get one. If you don’t want to get one, pick up some tiles at your local hardware store and use those.  If you don’t want to either of the aforementioned; place the shaped bread seam side down on a lightly greased sheet pan, or one covered with parchment paper or a silpat. Cover and let rise, dimple, and bake as above on the sheet pan. No flipping onto the peel required, though it’s much better when baked on a stone or tiles. Update 2010 – I baked the below ciabatta for this challenge.  Much better photo this time!

How to Make a Perfect No-Knead Ciabatta Loaf

The recipe for Craig Ponsford’s ciabatta can be found in Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking Across America, but you can grab the full recipe here, at Lindsey’s Luscious blog.

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19 Responses to ‘HOLEY’ Ciabatta!

  1. Very nice post and step-by-step pictures. I really love homemade bread!

  2. Jess says:

    wow, i would never have the patience to bake breads like that..nor the ability! i’ll just enjoy the ones you send me (you will, right? hehe)

  3. josh says:

    Dear Lisa: Thank You so much for the recipe and photos of the process. I’m going to bake my first loaves tomorrow after the final dough is proofed and i run to Lowes for unglazed quarry tile! God Bless your efforts. Peace, Josh

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  5. ap269 says:

    AMAZING! I. NEED. THIS. RECIPE! I’ve tried Peter Reinhart’s Ciabatta recipes from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice (both the poolish and the biga versions), and both of them were lacking the characteristic holes. The flavor of the poolish version was VERY ciabatta-like, though. I’d like to try your recipe to see if I can make it work ;o).

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  7. Gwen Schmitt says:

    I would like to join the post t submit recipes.

    • Lisa says:

      I’m sorry, Gwen, this is a personal blog, I don’t take submissions. However, if you would like to submit a photo of a recipe of mine you’ve made, I’d be happy to post it :)

  8. Tina says:

    You are absolutely correct, this is the BEST ciabatta recipe out there. It’s easy, has a fantastic crumb and the flavor is wonderful.

    • Lisa says:

      It really is, Tina! The amount of chewy holes you get is ideal for dipping into sauces or holding pools of olive oil. Not to mention the great bruschetta and sandwiches it makes! I’m so glad you tried and liked it! Craig Ponsford really nailed it! :) This is the only recipe for it I’ll ever use!

  9. Mario Mammana says:

    Hi Gwen, were do i get the ammounts of the ingredients ?

  10. pilar says:

    hola,hay k tener un horno especial para pan ?y si no es asi k rekisitos hacen falta para hacer un buen pan,
    otra pregunta ,para el pan en general despues de la fermentacion de la masa unavez k se preparan las barras de pan listas para meter al horno ,hay k darles otro tiempo para k leven?gracias.

  11. Ivie Walker says:

    Thank you I have been looking all over for a how to ciabatta bread recipe!

  12. Maggie says:

    First, let me say that my loaves turned out amazing! However, I had a few unexpected tweaks.
    My biga ended up fermenting for two days. I didn’t necessarily do this on purpose– after 18 hours it still hadn’t changed from the hard dough stage, so I had planned on checking it again in 4 hours but just never got around to it. So I finally began the second part of the recipe after about 40 hours of fermentation.
    Also, is there a reason why the loaves can’t do the final rise on the peel rather than the towel? I generously floured a tea towel for them to rise on, but the dough still stuck to them, so I had to peel it off and do another rise on the peel before baking (maybe my dough was wetter than normal due to my extra fermented biga?) Anyways, the loaves still turned out crusty, chewy and delicious :)

    Thank you for posting and for the step by step pictures! They really helped.

    • Lisa says:

      Hi, Maggie – it just goes to show you how magical Craig’s recipe is. Your biga didn’t seem to do what it was supposed to do, yet the ciabatta turned out perfect! lol The thing is, the weather outside, humidity factor (or dry air), and so many other natural elements play into all facets of baking; espeially bread, so it’s hard to pinpoint why your biga didn’t triple and soften to an oatmeal like consistency. You could always contact Craig Ponsford about it – he’s he expert who created this awesome ciabatta!


      As for letting the loaf rise on the peel, I can’t think of a reason why that wouldn’t be ok, and would love to do it that way myself! I’m assuming maybe it has something to do with the shaping, as in less spreading, maybe? The scientific aspect for this bread is a bit puzzling, but I just followed directions. :)


      Finally, since your loaves turned out perfect, I would assume the biga did the brunt of its work once your loaves were formed. Then again, I’m just guessing! Finally, I’m so glad my step-by-step photos helped you! They’re pretty awful photos, (was using a point and shoot under yellow kitchen light), but at least you can see enough to get the gist lol.

  13. Maggie says:

    I’m going to try this again this week– we did have crazy rain due to Hurricane Patricia, so that’s probably what affected the biga. Thanks!

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