I don’t think there is any smell quite as delicious than that of bread being freshly baked in the oven. For this reason, I bring you my Italian Biga and Ciabatta Recipe to satisfy your bread cravings.
That comforting doughy smell wafting through a kitchen is enough to draw every member of a household from the confines of their rooms and have them waiting in eager anticipation for that first perfect slice smothered in slowly melting butter.
In my family, bread is a work of art. It’s not so much the eating that we find the most satisfying part of bread making but the process of creating that perfect loaf – crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, with the slightest sour taste of fermented yeast.
Creating an Italian Biga
The only way to truly create that sourdough taste is by creating an Italian biga, a pre-fermented starter that adds a complexity to the flavour of the bread and helps to create that light open texture of ciabatta. You’ll need to make this biga about a day in advance to use in your ciabatta recipe, unless you’re not bothered about making it an all-day affair.
Italian Biga Recipe
- ¼ tsp dry yeast
- ¼ cup warm water
- ¾ cup and 4 tsps. room temperature water
- 2 1/3 cup flour
- Vegetable oil
Stir yeast into ¼ cup warm water and let stand until creamy (10 minutes).
Stir rest of the room temp. water into the yeast mixture, then stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time. Beat with a paddle attachment at lowest speed for 2 minutes.
Transfer dough to lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap, and let rise at room temperature for 6-24 hours until tripled in size but still wet and sticky.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Use within 5 days. Measure amount required and proceed.
Preparing for the Ciabatta
For the ciabatta, you can use either a free-standing mixer or food processor to make your dough. It does require some effort but I promise the taste of the bread is well worth the wait.
The recipe I adapted this from suggests one separates the dough into four loaves, however I separated it into two, partly because I wanted bigger loaves and partly because I wanted to be able to bake both loaves at once. Your choice, of course.
- 2 tsp dry yeast
- 5 tbsp. warm milk
- 1 cup and 3 tbsp. water, room temperature
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cups/500g biga
- 3 ¾ cups flour
- 1 tbsp. salt
Stir yeast into milk and let stand until creamy (about 10 minutes).
IF USING A STANDMIXER
Add the water, oil and Italian Biga and mix with a paddle attachment until blended. Mix the flour and salt together, then add to the mixer bowl, and mix for 2-3 minutes. Change to a dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at a low speed then for 2 minutes at a medium speed.
IF USING A FOOD PROCESSOR
Add 1 cup + 3 tbsp. cold water, oil, Italian Biga and mix in a bowl. Squeeze the biga as you drop it into the bowl to break it up. Place flour and salt in the food processor and pulse using the dough blade to sift them together. With the machine running, pour biga mixture in and process until dough comes together. Process 45 seconds longer to knead.
- The dough will be very sticky. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead further until smooth, supple, and moist.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled (+- 1 ¼ hours).
- Turn dough onto a generously floured surface and cut it into 2 portions. Roll each portion into cylinders then stretch into rectangles. Grease two baking trays and lightly flour. Place each loaf on a baking tray. Dimple the loaves so they don’t rise too much then cover loosely with damp dish towels and let rise until puffy but not doubled in size (1 ½-2 hours).
- 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 220°C. Flip two deep baking trays upside down to bake the bread (on their trays) on their bottoms. Sprinkle the pans with cornmeal lightly coating the loaves.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on the outside. Remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool. The loaves should sound hollow when you tap them.
Once cooled slice the loaves and enjoy with anything you like – condiments, meats, cheeses, or just good old butter.
Let’s Keep Cooking…
Looking for the perfect accompaniment to your new Ciabatta bread? Check our Emma’s ‘Quick and Easy Guacamole‘ or ‘Roasted Butternut Hummus‘ for a dip or tuck into this ‘Hearty Pumpkin and Ginger Soup‘ for these first days of Spring…or Fall, depending on where in the world you are!