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How To Make a Beautiful Ciabatta with a Bread Machine

Sneak Peek: This bread machine ciabatta recipe produces the traditional look and texture you love while using a bread machine to mix and knead the dough. Check out the tips for shaping the sticky dough while barely touching it.

Finding holes in my bread was never so satisfying. Whenever I take ciabatta out of the oven, I can’t wait to slice it open. Lots of holes with no really big ones spells bread-making success in my book.

The slack and flimsy dough of a ciabatta loaf gives new meaning to the word “sticky.” The home baker may find it challenging to impossible. Use a bread machine to save the day.

How to Make Ciabatta with a Bread Machine--sliced ciabatta on cutting board

If you are confident in your bread-baking skills, I wrote this post just for you. If you are a newbie, you might try this recipe for Crusty French Bread. It’s the most popular bread recipe on this website.

Recipe inspiration

Have you seen the British Baking Show on PBS or Netflix? After a friend at church told me about it, I was binge-watching within 24 hours.

In one of the first episodes, Paul Hollywood picked ciabatta as the “Baker’s Challenge.” When questioned about his choice, he told Mary Berry, “because it is so hard.”

Those are fightin’ words…

I took the challenge and pulled out my bread machine along with several recipe books.

A companion show to the British Baking competition is the Masterclass. The two judges show how to make the recipes they assign as challenges. Paul makes the ciabatta in Masterclass 2 of Season 1. (So sorry, it looks like this video is no longer free.) I watched it more times than I can count.

First on the list was perfecting the recipe. Then I had to figure out a way to shape the loaves without losing my mind over all the messy dough stuck to my fingers. Hope you find it helpful.

Why is making ciabatta in a bread machine a good idea?

Ciabatta begins and ends as a slack or very sticky dough. Kneading by hand would be quite a mess (impossible?). Call in your bread machine for the rescue!

The dough doesn’t “stick and pull away cleanly from the side of the pan” like the average bread dough. When it’s the correct consistency, it will stick and pull away, but not cleanly.

On the other hand, the dough should not level out like cake batter either.

The dough should stick to the sides but still maintain its shape as it kneads. It will become smooth and shiny as the gluten develops.

The secret to “almost-no-hands shaping:”

Paul Hollywood’s method of shaping the dough is genius. He proofs the dough in a well-greased rectangle-shaped plastic container.

After rising, dump the dough onto a well-floured silicone baking mat. Do it slowly and patiently. From there, you can do all the manipulation with a bench knife.

This is SO difficult to explain with words. See the pictures below or better yet, the video.

***The secret to success with this process is “well-floured” and “well-greased.”

slices of ciabatta showing lots of holes and tunnels under a golden crust

Is this bread really worth the trouble?

I think so. The yeasty flavors are well-developed and flavorful, not to mention the chewy texture and tender but crispy crust. Executing this bread successfully is high on my list of satisfying kitchen experiences.

Addendum as of 11/17/20: I’ve revised the recipe and added a foldover technique during the rising process to guarantee a holey texture every time. The video has also been revised.


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    Ingredients and substitutions

    • YEAST:  No need to dissolve instant or bread machine yeast (same thing). I use it in all my bread-machine recipes.

      Now you can substitute active dry yeast without dissolving it first. Be aware that it may be a little slower on the uptake, but it will get there. Allow more time for rising.
    • WATER: If you have spring water in the house, use that. Otherwise, tap water is fine.
    • FLOUR: The recipe calls for all-purpose flour. Bread flour is a good substitute. Sometimes, I use all-purpose flour for the biga and bread flour when mixing up the dough. I’m indecisive that way.
    • MILK: Whatever milk you have on hand will work.
    • SALT: Use table salt or sea salt.
    • SEMOLINA: This is not an ingredient per se. Sprinkle semolina on the silicone mat where you shape the loaf to prevent sticking. I use this combined with a minimal amount of flour. Use flour alone or along with finely-milled cornmeal as a substitute.

    equipment suggestions for making this recipe

    Equipment you will need:

    • BREAD MACHINE:
      I only use my bread machine to knead the dough, so it doesn’t have to be fancy. How it bakes doesn’t matter because we are only going to use it for what it does best–knead bread dough.

      You could use a stand mixer to knead Ciabatta dough, but I wouldn’t try to knead it by hand. It’s impossibly sticky.
    • DIGITAL SCALES:
      Measuring the flour precisely is important in any bread recipe. If you scoop it out with a measuring cup, you risk using too much. Your Ciabatta won’t turn out light and airy. See this post for the correct way to measure if you don’t have scales.
    • 3-QUART RECTANGULAR-SHAPED PLASTIC CONTAINER with LID:
      I got the one in the picture at the dollar store. It doesn’t need to be fancy. If you can get something that holds exactly 3 quarts, then you will know precisely when the dough has risen enough because it will almost fill the container.

      What if I can’t find one?

      You can make a square container work but you’ll have to get your well-greased hands into the sticky dough.

      Stretch and reshape each half of the dough after you divide it with a bench scraper. The loaves should be long and skinny. While there’s nothing wrong with square and fat, both loaves might not fit onto one cookie sheet.
    • SILICONE BAKING MAT:
      A nonstick silicone mat is essential for making loaves with my “almost-no-touch” technique.

      If you don’t have a mat, try using parchment paper. But it may wrinkle up underneath the bread.

      If you are shaping the loaves on a floured countertop or a large cutting board, move the loaves to a cookie sheet with a floured hand. That dough is sticky, man. You can find yourself in a mess before you know it
    • BENCH SCRAPER:
      This is a key part of my strategy to avoid touching the dough. Spray the scraper with olive oil. If it starts to stick to the dough, you can spray it with more oil or sprinkle it with a little flour.
    • WATER SPRAY BOTTLE:
      If you want a crispy crust, spray the crust before you put the loaves in the oven. Spray once or twice again in the next five minutes.

      Optional: Fill a pan with boiling water. Place it onto the bottom shelf of your oven before baking your ciabatta.
    • RIMLESS COOKIE SHEET:
      Slip a rimless cookie sheet under the silicone baking sheet with the shaped bread on top. If all your cookie sheets have rims, turn one over and use the back side.
    • COOLING RACK: If you don’t want your crust to be soft and soggy on the bottom, use a cooling rack.

    4 secrets to success with ciabatta:

    #1

    Use cool water and cool milk in this recipe, but never ice cold.

    Often, bread recipes will call for warm liquids. because they hasten the proofing or rising. Paul Hollywood mentioned more than once that you don’t want to do anything that will rush the process.

    #2

    Let the dough rise at room temperature.

    For the same reason as #1, don’t use that warm and humid spot where you usually proof bread dough. The longer it takes to rise, the better the flavor. If the dough rises too fast, it won’t be strong enough and will result in a flat loaf.

    ***Here’s a tip

    When uncooked ciabatta loaves flatten out in the last rise, it’s a sign they may have risen too long the first time.

    Fold them lengthwise to make them double in height. Use your fingertips to lightly dimple the dough again. Wait another 5-10 minutes and then bake as usual.

    #3

    Ciabatta must be started the day before you want to serve it.

    This recipe involves a biga, (aka pre-ferment). A biga is a water and flour mixture with a small amount of yeast added. Incubate from 12-24 hours before adding the remaining ingredients. With that in mind, you must start this recipe the day before you want to eat your Ciabatta.

    If plans change, refrigerate the biga after the first 12-24 hours. Use it sometime in the next 3 days.

    #4

    Use a thermometer to check the doneness of your bread.

    The temperature should be around 190˚-200˚F.

    Some people claim they can tell by thumping the loaf on the bottom. They might be the same people who can pick the best watermelon at the store by thumping it. Not me. I need something more precise.

    My favorite thermometer is a little pricey, but I love how fast and accurate it is. Here’s a popular and affordable thermometer.


    How to make ciabatta with a bread maker:

    There are LOTS of process pictures here. I want you to be successful with this tricky bread. Let me know if you have a question as you go through the steps.

    biga after it has developed overnight
    #1 Make the biga 12-24 hours ahead of time. It should look bubbly like this when ready. (If plans change, scoop the biga out of the pan into a small bowl. Refrigerate it for up to three days so you can continue the process later.)

    As the dough starts to mix in bread maker
    2. Add remaining ingredients and start the DOUGH cycle. As the dough begins to mix, it will be very sticky. Don’t add flour even though it’s tempting-this recipe is different.

    sticky ciabatta dough at the end of the dough cycle
    3. When the kneading cycle is almost complete, the dough should be shiny and pull away from the sides. It will still be sticky to touch.
    dumping the dough from the bread machine pan to a greased plastic bowl
    4. Lightly oil the inside of a rectangular-shaped 3-quart container (inside of the lid, too). Mine is a cheap plastic affair I picked up at the dollar store. When the machine finishes kneading, it will go quiet. Dump your dough into the greased container.
    Do not let it finish the dough cycle in the machine.

    turning dough to coat with oil
    5. Use a greased spatula to turn the dough in the container so that all sides are coated with a thin layer of oil.
    First rise to double
    6. Cover. Set aside to rise for 1 hour or until dough doubles the original volume.
    First foldover with greased spatula
    7. Use a greased spatula to lift up the dough from each corner and pull it to the middle.
    finished foldover--sits for 30 minutes
    8. Do this gently so you don’t smash out any bubbles. (See video) Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
    second foldover --sits another 30 minutes
    9. Repeat the folding process. Cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.

    How to shape ciabatta loaves with the “almost-no-touch” method:

    Use flour and semolina to flour a silicone baking mat
    1. Lightly flour a silicone baking mat. Sprinkle with flour and semolina or fine cornmeal. (Semolina is the best if you can find it.)
    spray a bench scraper with olive oil
    2. Spray or coat a bench scraper with oil.
    Turning bowl upside down to dump dough onto floured surface.
    3. Turn bowl holding the dough upside down onto the floured surface. Don’t use a spatula. Just let it fall out on its own.
    dividing the dough in two pieces with a bench scraper
    4. Use a greased or floured bench scraper to cut the rectangle in half length-wise to make two long loaves.
    shaping the loaves
    5. Catch the edges with a bench scraper and pull the long edges over the top and toward the outer edge, which leaves more room between each loaf. (See the video.)
    stretching and pulling the bread loaves
    6. Stretch and shape loaves to the desired shape with a bench scraper and your well-floured hands.
    using fingers to dimple loaves
    7. Use fingertips to shape and dimple the loaves. Cover.

    Preheat the oven to 450˚F.

    transferring loaves to a baking sheet

    8. Transfer the mat with the loaves on top to a rimless baking sheet. Allow the dough to rise for 30-40 minutes until the dough gets puffy. Spritz the loaves with water and place in a hot oven. Spray one or two more times in the first 5 minutes to ensure a crispy crust.

    baking to 210˚F
    9. Bread should register 210˚F on a quick-read thermometer when it is baked through. Wait at least 1 hour before slicing.
    Sliced ciabatta
    Ciabatta tastes best after it cools for a complete hour. I know. It’s hard to wait.

    More recipes for bread makers:

    Did you try this recipe and enjoy it? Consider helping other readers (and me) by returning to this post. Leave a rating on the recipe card itself underneath the picture. No comment required.

    If you have a question or tip to share, please leave it in the regular comments after the recipe so I can answer back. Or email me: paula at saladinajar.com.

    Thank you for visiting!
    Paula



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      Yield: 16 slices

      How To Make Ciabatta with a Bread Machine

      bread machine ciabatta--sliced

      Because ciabatta starts life as a very slack and sticky dough, the bread machine is a useful tool to mix and knead the dough. Make the biga by adding the first three ingredients listed below to your bread machine at least 12 hours ahead of time. This is a sort of "starter" that will contribute flavor and a hole-y texture to your bread.

      Prep Time 1 day
      Cook Time 20 minutes
      Total Time 1 day 20 minutes

      Ingredients

      BIGA

      • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
      • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) water (filtered or spring water if you have it)
      • 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour (120 grams)

      CIABATTA DOUGH

      • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) cool water
      • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) milk (lukewarm)
      • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
      • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (240 grams)
      • 1/2 teaspoon bread machine yeast (yes, that's all)
      • flour or semolina for flouring the board and your hands

      Instructions

      Mixing the Biga

      1. Combine yeast, water, and flour in the bread machine pan. (Use another container if you don't want to tie up your bread machine that long.) Select the dough cycle and turn on for about 5 minutes to mix the ingredients. Use a small spatula to scrape excess flour from the corners into the wet flour mixture. Turn off or unplug the machine and let sit for 12-24 hours.
      2. If not using the biga within 24 hours, place the foamy mixture into the refrigerator. The flavor will only get better--up to 3-4 days. Allow the biga to come to room temperature before proceeding to the next step.

      Mixing the Ciabatta Dough

      1. In the order listed, add the water, milk, salt, flour, and yeast to the biga in your bread machine.
      2. Select the DOUGH cycle and push start. After 15-20 minutes, open the lid and check the dough. The dough should start to look shiny but will still be sticky. The dough will wind around the paddle(s). (See video.) If the dough is not sticking to the sides at all, add water 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough looks more like a thick pancake batter, add extra flour 1 tablespoon at a time. If you have weighed your flour correctly, hopefully, no adjustments will be necessary.
      3. When kneading stops, remove the pan from the machine. Do not let the DOUGH cycle finish as you normally would.
      4. Lightly spray a 3-quart square or rectangular container. Use a brush or your hand to coat the inside of the container..
      5. Use a greased spatula to remove the sticky dough from the bread machine pan into a well-greased plastic container. Oil all surfaces of the dough by flipping the dough over with the spatula.
      6. Cover and allow the dough to rise at room temperature. Don't try to rush it. Let the dough rise until double. This make take an hour or longer if the room is cold.
      7. Using a greased spatula, slip it underneath the dough in the corners and lift each corner and each side up and to the middle. This is better seen on the video. Be careful not to squash any bubbles. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
      8. Repeat step 7. Again, let the dough rest for 30 minutes. This helps to ensure a holey texture

      Shaping the Ciabatta Dough

      1. Empty dough by turning the container upside down onto a very liberally-floured (semolina flour and bread flour work well together if you have it) surface. (I use a silicone baking sheet since it's easy to throw into the dishwasher). The dough should be in the same general square or rectangular shape of the container it proofed in. DO NOT PUNCH THE DOUGH DOWN like you would normal bread dough.
      2. Spray or coat a bench scraper (or large knife) with olive oil. Use it to divide the rectangle of dough in half longways.
      3. Catch the long inner edges of each loaf with the oiled bench scraper and pull it up over the top about halfway and toward the outer edge. This leaves more room between each loaf. (This is quite challenging in the beginning, so don't expect perfection the first few times.)
      4. Now catch the outer edge of each loaf (the one that looks like it's about to fall off the tray at this point) with the bench scraper. Again, pull it up over the loaf about halfway in the direction of the middle of the tray. (See the video.)
      5. Straighten and clean up the shape with a bench knife. Use your well-greased or floured fingers (as if you were playing the piano) to dimple the surface of the dough.

      Second-Rise and Baking

      1. If you are using a silicone mat, transfer or pull the mat with the shaped loaves onto a rimless baking sheet. (See video)
      2. If you are not using a silicone mat, use liberally-floured hands to carefully transfer the two cylinders of dough to a prepared cookie sheet. (To prepare the baking sheet, cover the sheet with parchment paper. Or grease and sprinkle with flour and/or semolina or cornmeal.)
      3. Cover the loaves so the dough won't dry out and form a crust. You can also spray a large piece of plastic wrap with oil and cover the loaves with it.
      4. Preheat oven to 450˚F.
      5. Let loaves rest for about 30-45 minutes or until they get puffy.
      6. Spritz loaves with water using a spray bottle. Bake at 450˚ F for 18-20 minutes. Spray loaves one or two more times during the first 5 minutes of baking. Do it quickly so your oven won't lose too much heat.
      7. Loaves are done when the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 210˚F.
      8. Allow loaves to cool on a cooling rack for at least an hour before slicing.

      Nutrition Information:

      Yield:

      16 slices

      Serving Size:

      1

      Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 213mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 6g

      Did you make this recipe?

      Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest


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        Andy Targett

        Thursday 29th of October 2020

        Hi, I'm sorry I cannot find a link to the video you refer to?

        Paula

        Thursday 29th of October 2020

        Hi Andy, I'm so glad you wrote. If you are talking about the video featuring Paul Hollywood, I checked and it looks like it is no longer available for free. I have noted that in the post.

        If you are talking about my video, it comes up automatically. I'm checking into a way to have it show on demand. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention.

        Jayne

        Monday 31st of August 2020

        I am in the process of trying this (at high altitude!) and notice the recipe states to use a 2 quart container but the pictures say to use a 3 quart container! Does it matter and which is better? Thank you

        Jayne

        Monday 31st of August 2020

        @Paula, Ah excellent, thank you. One other question (so far). I can't find the video mentioned. The pictures are wonderful and I am not sure I need it but the texture of the dough while kneading in the machine would be nice to see. Am I missing a link somehwere?

        Paula

        Monday 31st of August 2020

        Good catch, Jayne. The recipe should say 3-quart container. But it can be bigger. I like the 3-qt size because when the dough rises to the top, I know it's ready. You could use a larger container but then dough would have some distance to fall before it hits your cookie sheet. Could be traumatic to the dough. :-).

        Thanks for writing to ask.

        Jeanette

        Thursday 2nd of July 2020

        Hi Paula,

        Nice web-site.

        Just a tip about baking bread in the bread machine and having a good result.

        When bread machines first came out the programmes were longer and included 2 rise then kneed slots, and no sit for an hour or so and do nothing at the beginning.

        Then some dumbo, go figure, decided that it was all taking far too long and wouldn't 1 rise/kneed slot be better.

        After all you can mix and bake a cake all in one hit can't you!

        And as for sitting the ingredients together at the start so they "equalise", well any fool will tell you when you mix things together, they pretty soon are all the same temperature.

        So, after a good few year my faithful bread maker had to be replaced, and low and behold I was told that all bread makers now shared the same 'chip' which gave very different results to what I was used to.

        So, my routine for making bread changed, and I would emphasise that this is for making just your everyday go to loaf of bread. The various styles you describe on your web-site of course must involve removing dough from machine and styling as required. Quite brilliant!

        Anyway, I ramble! What I do every other day of the week is first mix the dough on the dough/pizza setting which on my current machine is 45mins. Then, (when I get back to it, can vary from on the 'beep' to a while later) I put it on one of the other settings, doesn't seem to matter, sandwich, French, Italian etc, 5 or 6 hours usually.

        And the result is a far nicer loaf, better size, better texture, better all round.

        So, that's my tip, for just an ordinary loaf.

        I'm off to try your Ciabatta bread, which of course I will have to put some effort into.

        cheers, Jeanette

        Paula

        Friday 3rd of July 2020

        Thanks for writing Jeanette. Always fun to hear about the different ways people use their bread machine. Hope your Ciabatta turned out good. It can be a challenge but the taste is worth it.

        Don

        Tuesday 31st of March 2020

        Hi

        The first time I tried this, I weighed the flour. But I used Metric cups for the liquid and it came out very sticky. Tasted okay, though. Good thing I did not use Australian cups.

        Next time I used Metric Cups for everything and it seems to be too dry.

        Normally I try to use recipes that measure things out more accurately - in ml and grams.

        BTW - took me a while to realise you were not middle eastern or asian or something. Thought you were Saladin Ajar.

        Paula

        Wednesday 1st of April 2020

        Hi Don,

        Oh my. Thank you so much for writing. I quickly corrected the link situation. Not sure how that slipped by me.

        Also, I will add measurements for the liquid. As you probably know, we don't deal with metrics in recipes much in these parts. I will have to look into that.

        When you make this recipe, always look at the dough in the machine after it has been kneading for awhile. You can add liquid until it looks like the video, which is pretty darn sticky. But it should be shiny and very elastic. It will pull away from the sides to some extent.

        You made me laugh about "Saladin Ajar. I wish I could change the name of this website, but I'm in way too far at this point.

        Samantha

        Wednesday 25th of March 2020

        Hi Paula, I was wondering if I added fresh garlic cloves to the dough, do you think I would need to make any changes in the process or the measurements? Thanks!

        Paula

        Wednesday 25th of March 2020

        I haven't tried it, Samantha. I would think you would just add it to the bread machine along with all the other ingredients. I would love to hear how it turns out if you try it.