If you’re anything like me, fresh, warm bread straight from the oven is one of those things in life that’s hard to beat. It’s also one of those things that’s impossible to resist. And the hard to resist part is probably the main reason why I don’t bake bread more often. But, there’s a time and a place for everything, right?
So this whole grain ciabatta bread took center stage a couple weekends ago when I had big plans for Sunday dinner.
I figured that making whole grain ciabatta bread would offset the guilt of eating way too much perfectly warm bread slathered in butter straight from the oven, dipped in hot marinara sauce with hunks of sharp provolone mid-afternoon, and soaked with more marinara and mozzarella-covered meatballs later with dinner.
I was right. Well, it mostly offset the guilt.
This Italian bread has been on my to-make list for years and I may have underestimated how outstanding a whole grain ciabatta bread version could be. This one was slightly chewy, perfectly soft, and was really, really simple to make.
It does require a little planning because you’ll need to start the recipe the day before you want to bake it.
How to Make Ciabatta Bread
The dough starts with a quick yeast starter, called a pre-ferment, that you’ll mix up and leave to ferment overnight. The next morning, you’ll stir that mixture into the dough ingredients and then proceed like any other bread dough recipe.
You’ll knead the dough and give it a long proof to allow the gases to release and make those tell-tale ciabatta holes.
Then you’ll shape the dough into a long loaf and allow it to rise again. Lastly, bake it off
Why Use a Dough Starter?
This ciabatta bread recipe uses a dough starter. The starter helps to give the bread a little extra lift by adding some gas from an overnight fermentation. This results in the familiar holes you find in any good ciabatta bread that ache to be filled with soft salted butter.
I’m a big fan of ciabatta and when I can make a whole grain version that’s a little less guilt-ridden and just as tasty as what my favorite bakery makes, I’m all in.
And since I’ve got an extra loaf in the freezer, maybe it’s time for another batch of smoky black bean soup. Wanna join me?
For the pre-ferment starter:
- 1 cup (4 oz) white whole wheat flour
- ½ cup (4 oz) cool water
- Pinch of instant yeast
For the dough:
- All of the pre-ferment mixture
- 1 ¼ cups (5 oz) white whole wheat flour
- 2 ¼ cups (9½ oz.) unbleached bread flour
- 1 ¼ cups (10 oz) cool water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup (1 oz) nonfat dry milk
- 1 ½ tsp table salt
- ¼ tsp instant yeast
- To make the pre-ferment starter: Stir the flour, water, and yeast together in a small bowl until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight at room temperature.
- To make the dough: Add the pre-ferment, flours, water, oil, dry milk, salt, and yeast to the bowl of stand mixer. Mix on low with the paddle attachment just until the mixture is combined. Let the mixture rest for 45 minutes (no need to cover).
- Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed for 10 minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky so don't be tempted to over-knead it - it will not come together in a ball like other recipes do. Using a plastic dough scraper or silicone spatula, scrape the dough into a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 3 hours. After each hour, gently deflate the dough and recover (3 times total).
- After the last deflation, let the dough rest for 10 minutes while you line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Split the dough in half and gently stretch one half of the dough out in your hands to about 10 inches long. Place it on one of the baking sheets and pat it into a 12-inch long by 3- or 4-inch wide shape. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing that piece on the second baking sheet.
- Generously grease two long pieces of plastic wrap and lay a piece loosely over each loaf. Allow the dough to rise for 2 hours at room temperature until very puffy. Towards the end of the rise time, position a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 425° F.
- Remove the plastic wrap and transfer the loaves on the parchment to the preheated baking stone. (If you don't have a stone, bake the loaves directly on the baking sheets.) Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating after 10 minutes, until the loaves are browned and the internal temperature reads at least 205° F on an instant read thermometer. Transfer the loaves to the oven rack, prop the door open, and allow the loaves to cool slightly (or completely) before slicing and serving.
Storage: The ciabatta is best served the first day it's made but since this recipe yields two large loaves, I recommend baking both and freezing what you don't eat within one day, rather than trying to halve the recipe. No one ever cried about having extra homemade bread in the freezer!