Sourdough Ciabatta with Biga

There is a story about this bread. Although it looks like it was there since ever, in fact, this specific bread was invented only 40 years ago. French bread was very popular then and still is, all around the world. Italian bread was also great but maybe not as popular. One baker, Arnaldo Cavallari, from a small town near Venice, invented in 1982 a type of bread that suited sandwiches as well as its French competition, the famous baguette.

The ciabatta (translated literally means slipper) had a full success and in few months it became very popular in Italy. Many Italian regions made adaptations to the recipe and many variations were created.

But its success didn't stop in Italy. Two years after, was introduced to UK, and 5 years later to US.

The original ciabatta (called Ciabatta polesana) has a high hydration dough based on a high-protein flour and an open-crumb with big alveoli.

I made ciabatta before following recipes from books (Pumpkin seeds ciabattaCiabattaCiabatta with sunflower seedsCiabatta with pumpkin seedsBuckwheat ciabatta) but I have to recognise that it was just recently that I've discovered its secrets. I am however not ashamed of them because they were part of my journey. Without them, I wouldn't have learned to look for more, to always search for perfection.

All ciabatta attempts I made were perfect as taste but there was something missing.... those big alveoli. I know that as a beginner I was not fully understanding the importance of strong bread flour. I changed my method, I added water, and yes, I can declare that 90% is the highest hydration I ever used with white flour. Baking sourdough bread for my family every single week during all these years improved my skills, and here I am, standing in front of my open crumb ciabatta.

This recipe is easy but it is not for a novice. Handling very wet dough is a nightmare for somebody just starting baking bread. But even if you do not have high skills you can do this recipe if you follow closely the instructions I gave in the video. I also give tips and tricks and I also try to explain why you should do things in a way or another.


Biga (234g):

Main dough:

  • 585g strong bread flour (14% protein)
  • 500g + 54g water
  • the above biga (234g)
  • 12g salt
  • 16g olive oil


  1. [Day 1, Friday, 19:00] Scaling and mixing biga. Start by measuring the ingredients for the biga. Then, mix them with a spoon/spatula and finish by hand as the biga is a stiff starter. Cover the bowl with a lid and let it rise overnight. As it is a stiff dough it will take more time to arrive at its peak. Of course, the time depends on the temperature where the biga is kept. Mine raised in 14 hours when kept at 21ºC. You do not have to stress, because it is a stiff starter, the biga will stay for a wide interval (can be 1-2 hours) at its peak, so you won't miss it easily. You can also use it earlier than its peak but the fermentation of the entire dough will take longer.
  2. [Day 2, Saturday, 9:00] (or whenever the biga rose almost to its peak). Scale all the ingredients of the recipe. You can scale them later also, but the risk of forgetting one or two is higher. Trust me, been there, done that.
  3. Immediately after,  Mix water + flour. Mix only the flour with water just until well combined. Do not knead at this stage, just ensure there is no unincorporated dry flour resting in the bowl and that's it. I use lukewarm water to speed up the fermentation later. After the mix, I keep the dough in my bread proofer at 27ºC.
    I let the dough rest for one hour and during this time, the autolyse process happens. 
  4. [Day 2, Saturday, 10:00] Biga. Add the biga over the dough and knead for 10 minutes with a standing mixer. If you do not have one, knead by hand. Then, leave the dough to relax for 1 hour.
  5. [Day 2, Saturday, 11:00] Salt + rest of water + oil. Incorporate the salt and start kneading. Add the water little by little. Then, in the same way, add olive oil. then continue kneading for 5 minutes with a standing mixer or by hand. Then, let the dough relax for 45 minutes.
  6. [Day 2, Saturday, 11:45] Stretch and Fold. Take the dough out of the mixing bowl, put it on the slightly wet table board and stretch and fold with your wet hands or with a wet bench knife. Few stretch and folds are enough for the dough to pile up and change its liquid look.
    I use an aliquot jar to measure/compare the volume increase. This means that I put 40g of dough in a straight small glass jar.  During the entire fermentation process, I'll keep the aliquot jar near the dough. Let the dough relax for 45 minutes.
  7. [Day 2, Saturday, 12:30] Lamination. Take the dough out of the bowl and do the lamination. The lamination process consists in stretching the dough in a large rectangle and folding it on itself like a blanket. Then, let the dough rest for 45 minutes. 
  8. [Day 2, Saturday, 13:15] Coil fold 1. Start now a set of 4 coil folds performed straight in the bowl. Do the first coil fold set and let the dough relax for 45 minutes.
  9. [Day 2, Saturday, 14:00] Coil fold 2.  Do a second set of coil folds and let the dough relax for 45 minutes.
  10. [Day 2, Saturday, 14:45] Coil fold 3. Do a third set of coil folds and let the dough relax for 45 minutes.
  11. [Day 2, Saturday, 15:30] Coil fold 4. Do the fourth set of coil folds and let the dough relax for 45 minutes.
    When the dough in the aliquot jar indicates a rise of 75%, cover the bowl and place it in the fridge overnight. If the dough did not reach 75% you may leave it longer and even perform one more coil fold set. It is important to not overpass the 75% otherwise the dough will over ferment.
  12. [Day 3, Sunday, 9:30] Divide. For ciabatta, there is no shape and no scoring. Some bakers consider dividing the dough as shaping, but in the end, it is just a simple cut in pieces with no dough handling. 
    So, take the dough out of the fridge, flour the board well and reverse gently the bowl. Then sprinkle flour on the other side also to avoid sticking to the beck knife. Cut the dough in 4 ( you may cut it in 3, 2 or at all if you wish) and carefully transfer the pieces of dough over small baking sheets. You may leave the pieces of dough to free stand but I prefer to keep them tall. For this, I am taking advantage of the other pieces of dough and on the sides, I used a very fancy baking tool: a square border made from the building blocks of my son.
    Afterwards, leave the dough rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
  13. [Day 3, Sunday, 10:30] Bake in the preheated oven at 270ºC on the hot stone for 15 minutes. For steaming, pour 200g of hot water on the hot lava rocks to create steam. Close the oven door as quickly as possible to capture the steam inside. Be careful at this step as the hot steam can cause burns. As a trick, I use a teapot to pour water far from the hand. No ventilator should be turned on in the oven in this first phase as you need to keep the steam inside the oven. After these 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 220ºC, turn on the ventilator of the oven to release the steam and continue to bake for 15 minutes. 
  14. [Day 3, Sunday, 11:00] Cool. The bread needs to cool for at least 2 hours until it reaches room temperature. The cooking process continues slowly even after taking the bread out of the oven, so this is why it is important to not skip this step and to resist cutting it too early. If you can, of course...
  15. [Day 2, Sunday, 13:00] Cut. Now is the big moment to see the crumb after cutting. Can you resist tasting it? 


Post a Comment