By Cassie Johnston
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I’ve mentioned it here before, but I’m really not a very confident bread baker. Baking is such a science, and I’m much more of a dash-of-this, dash-of-that kinda girl. That doesn’t work so well when you’re trying to recreate precise chemical reactions.
The irony of this is that we actually do a lot of bread baking in this house. We stopped buying bread years ago and make almost everything “in-house”. Craig is the master of sandwich bread (someday I’ll get him to post that recipe), and I tackle our other loaves. And while I still don’t feel 100% confident in my yeast-wielding skills, I do feel pretty comfortable with a few of my go-tos—namely pizza crust, focaccia, and this whole grain ciabatta.
I know, it sounds silly. I mean, really, ciabatta bread isn’t supposed to be whole grain. Ciabatta is meant to be crusty and fluffy and the whitest of white breads. And while I’m not afraid to dig into a great loaf of crusty white bread on occasion, I prefer to add whole grains wherever I can. And the great thing about this whole grain loaf is that it stays crusty and fluffy, just like its white flour cousin.
I love tearing off a hunk of this bread to eat with soup. It also makes an awesome sandwich bread if you slice it lengthwise. A grilled cheese made with this bread, extra sharp cheddar and lots of butter? Yum. And this bread really holds up well to sauces making it a great option for pizza bread or bruschetta.
This dough is a little bit fussy to work with (as are many ciabatta doughs). It’s very sticky and very wet, making it nearly impossible to mix and knead by hand. I used the dough cycle of my bread machine, but you could easily mix and knead it in a stand mixer fit with a dough hook, too. The recipe also requires a biga starter—which sounds fancy, but is really just mixing some water, flour and yeast together and letting it ferment for a day to add a bunch of great flavor and help add the airy, open texture that ciabatta is famous for. Between making the starter, the two rises and baking time, it takes over a day to make this bread (mostly inactive). But since this recipe makes two decent-sized loaves that freeze well, and they are incredibly delicious, I promise it’s worth your time.
And if you come back later in the week, I have a way for you to use up that second loaf (if you can keep from eating it between now and then). Enjoy!
Adapted from: King Arthur Flour
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I love me some yeast bread! I blame my momma for getting me good at it… I’ve been baking bread and such for years! I make an amazing rustic Italian bread that is SUPER similar to this, just totally whitey-white. I’m making this ASAP! I love whole grains and see no reason not to be using them in traditional bread. And tell Craig we are really looking forward to that recipe :) Much love! M.
Begging Craig for the sandwich bread recipe! So excited to try this one. I love ciabatta but really try to focus on whole grains. My best yeast dough is my pizza dough but it is definitely not whole grain. Love your blog, Cassie!
Yummmm that looks delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe!
I’ve never made homemade bread that involves yeast! This looks delicious though. My family loves a good sturdy bread for dippin’, sandwich makin’, or just eating with a good schmear of [nut] butter!
I make all of my own bread, too! I found an amazing recipe for super fluffy buns which I just doctored slightly to include wheat flour. It took a few experiments to find the right balance to keep it fluffy. :) I do kind of cheat, though, in that I make 95% of my breads by using the dough setting on my bread machine. It turns out perfect every time, though, so I don’t feel guilty! :)
I love, love, love the dough setting on the bread machine! There is something nice about doing it by hand every now and again, but when you’re just trying to get some bread done for dinner and you have a million other things to do? The bread machine is where it’s at.
This looks great! I love ciabatta (who doesn’t??), and I’d totally love to try your whole wheat version.
Thank you for sharing this recipe! I like to use “white whole wheat”. Have you used it? The recipe I bake most often is the “wonder bread” from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Birenbaum, often using half white flour and half whole wheat. It’s also very delicious all whole wheat! Easy,tasty bread–good, as is, or for sandwiches. I mix it in the evening, put it in the refrigerator overnight, then proceed the next day. It can stay in the fridge until you have the time, very adaptable. Please post more of your baking recipes and please ask Craig to share his recipes, as well.
I have used white whole wheat, and it’s really nice (although unfortunately, also pretty expensive around here). I’ve never tried the overnight rise in the fridge, but it sounds so simple!
That looks great! Here we call a biga ‘a sponge’, I think biga sounds nicer! Quite happy to play with yeast, have been experimenting with sourdough over the last couple of months and I feel like a magician! Making bread from nothing but flour, water and time! It’s very similar to this recipe and you do have to care for your starter, but it’s fun…
My friend makes whole grain ciabatta all the time and it’s so good! This looks lovely. I’d smear goat cheese and veggies on top, if it were mine :)
Cassie, the overnight in the fridge is recommended by Rose Levy Berambaum not only because of the convenience of continuing with the bread making when your schedule permits the next day, but especially because the long rise in the fridge adds fantastic flavor.
do you ever save starter and go the sourdough route? I’m a huge fan of sourdough, but unfortunately have several whole-wheat-sourdough-fails under my belt. Just curious if you’ve tried/have any luck with that!
i love your recipe for whole wheat ciabatta and i tried it several times, but i can’t get these big holes like you did, and would be very glad if you could give me some advice how to get them :) Just to mention that i am kneading them by hand.
Thanks for this recipe! It was incredibly easy to make with a stand mixer and came out perfectly. Do you know if it matters what kind of milk is used? As in, whole milk, 2% etc…
I usually have whole milk around here, but I don’t think it matters.
HI Cassie, thanks for sharing this recipe. I followed your instructions to make the biga starter and then used my bread machine to make the dough. But at the end of the dough-making cycle, the “dough” was still VERY wet…It was like a puddle of wet flour, not really dough-like. Is that normal? Or did I miss anything ? Thanks for your help.
I am having the same problem as Anita and i already added some extra flour :(
Is the starter supposed to be dry and and ball dough. Mine for some reason is so darn dry.
I am a little confused. .Maybe I am reading something wrong. In your directions it says NOT to put the biga in the fridge but in a cool dark place but some of the comments says they put it in the fridge. I followed the directions as written and will see how it turns out. :) I will update tomorrow.
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