The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

(Almost) Original Recipe Ciabatta

tpassin's picture

(Almost) Original Recipe Ciabatta

I was looking through the Community Bake on ciabatta, and I didn't see that anyone had tried using the original recipe of the inventor, Arnaldo Cavallari.  It's available on line as a photo of the recipe (in Italian) in his bakery, and there is a faithful translation available, too (I know because I transcribed the recipe from the photo by hand, and translated it with Google Translate). I'll post the links later.  The recipe is very different from what us home bakers typically do, and also from most ciabatta recipes I have seen.

Here's a brief summary: 10kg flour, 50g brewer's yeast, 5L water. Mix in spiral mixer 5 minutes. Ferment 16 - 22 hours at room temperature. Add 2L water, 100g sugar, 250g salt. Mix 5 minutes slow, 8 - 10 minutes medium, desired dough temperature 25 - 27 C (77 - 81 deg F). Bulk ferment 30 - 40 minutes. Scale into 300g pieces and shape onto floured boards.  Proof 1 hour uncovered. Turn loaves over onto baking sheets, bake with steam "at a high temperature" for 30 - 35 minutes, releasing steam halfway through.

Wow! 100% pre-fermented flour.  50% hydration biga. 70% final hydration (modern recipes are usually 80 - 85%). Proof uncovered. So different.

The hydration seems very low but we don't know much about his flour mix.  He said he worked it out with a selection of five local flours of different kinds, and came up with a milling method suitable for the bread - he owned his own production mill.  So we don't know anything about the ability of his flour mix to absorb water, nor what the effective extraction was.  I was not able to find a picture of an original loaf nor its crumb so we don't really know about that either.

We do know that he was trying to produce an Italian competitor to the baguette for sandwiches, and that the bread is said to have had a thin hard crust and soft open interior.

Well, I'm not about to make a batch with 10kg flour, and if I wanted to I couldn't handle nor bake it.  So it will have to be scaled down, in this case to 300g flour for experimenting.  We know that larger batches of dough can behave differently, often needing less yeast and maintaining a higher temperature better.  The oxygenation during fermentation will be different.  Also, I'm not going to try to mix a 100% hydration biga with my old KitchenAide mixer.  In fact, I planned to do the final mixing and kneading by hand too.

So this effort won't be 100% faithful to the original but I'll try to come as close as reasonably possible.  Here are my going-in decisions:

1. Sourdough instead of yeast, so I don't have to guess how much yeast will act the same.  Maybe yeast in a later bake. I used 7% of starter.  I thought this should give me a fairly long initial fermentation, maybe 12 hours.

2. Flour mix: 80% KA Bread flour, 10% sifted stone-ground whole wheat, 10% durum flour.  Maybe this will be something like the original, but who knows?  At least it should taste good.

3. After working in the last 20% (hydration) of water by hand, do several stretch-and-fold sessions to replace the machine mixing of the original.

4. Let the dough ferment long enough to double or nearly so, instead of using the one hour specified in the original.  There are just too many unknowns to justify setting a strict time limit.

Everything went pretty smoothly.  The first fermentation seemed to be done after 11 hours, a little quicker than I had in mind.  Mixing in all that extra water by hand was tedious, and I let the dough rest several times to help it absorb all the water. Then I kneaded it in the bowl until all the layers had merged together.  I did two sets of 20 coil folds 15 minutes apart. After that I thought the dough was in good shape and wouldn't need any more.  Overall the dough fermented for about 2 hours after the last S&F before it had doubled.

The dough was light and airy, and easier to handle compared with typical 80 - 85% doughs I've made in the past, but it felt rather wetter than I expected for a 70% hydration dough. The final proof took an hour.  The loaves baked with initial steam at 425 deg F for 27 minutes.

Overall I found the process fairly easy except for working in all the extra water.  Shaping and moving the loaves was easier than I expected.  The finished loaves look like respectable ciabatta bread.  The interior is soft but not as open as we have come to expect.  The crust was thin and on the hard side but not too hard to bite through in a sandwich.  The flavor is rich, with a little sourness as you would expect after the long ferment with sourdough.

As a sandwich loaf, I used it for a chicken salad sandwich for lunch today and I thought it was very nearly the perfect sandwich loaf. I was able to slice the loaf lengthwise and leave a bit of a hinge on one side.  The hinge had no tendency to break open.  This helps squishy fillings to stay in place. 

 What's next?  I want to try it again, using yeast for the biga.  I'll probably also repeat with sourdough, but less, maybe 4% instead of 7%.  I'd love to see what someone else comes up with, trying the original recipe.  This might be a very good place for a low-acid Levieto Madre starter, wouldn't you think?

Links :

The English translation:

The original recipe, in Italian -






albacore's picture

Well done Tom - a good experimental bake. It would be interesting to know what the text was at the end of the last line of biga preparation, where it hasn't photographed properly.

I can make out "iniziare" (start), but there is some more text after that. It suggests to me that the initial temperature of the biga was 23-25C, but then possibly dropping to the lower ambient temperature.

Bigas are usually fermented at 18-20C


tpassin's picture

Thanks, Lance. 

The page with the translated recipe says "Cover with plastic foil and leave to rise at room temperature (23 to 25°C/73 to 77°F) for 16 to 22 hours."  My counter was slightly cooler, by around 2 deg F/1C, than the lower end of that range.  Close enough, I'm thinking.  It's certainly not a standard biga, not with 100% of the flour.

BTW, I noticed that the dough temperature after the overnight ferment was about a degree F higher than the room temperature there.  Interesting.

Moe C's picture
Moe C

Looks good. Smaller holes seem more practical for a moist filling.

There's a minor typo you might want to change. After "Here's a brief summary", "Mix 5 minutes slow, 18 - 10 minutes medium..."

tpassin's picture

Fixed now, thank you.

Benito's picture

Those are very handsome wholesome ciabattas Tom.  Certainly it is a bit more of a challenge to get open crumb with your addition of wholegrain and durum.  This crumb is better for sandwiches anyhow.

Nice bake.


tpassin's picture

Thank you, Benny! It was very interesting to try the original recipe since it's so different from what one usually reads.  I haven't gotten back to try it again but that will be coming soon. I just wish I could find a photo of the original-style crumb!