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!
Whole Wheat Ciabatta
For the Biga Starter
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup water
- Pinch of yeast
For the Dough
- The starter
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3/4 cup lukewarm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- In a small bowl, whisk together all the starter ingredients until well-incorporated. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and stash in a dark, cool place (not the fridge) for 24 hours.
- To prepare the bread, combine all the remaining ingredients plus the starter into the pan of a bread machine set to the dough cycle or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. If using the stand mixer, mix on low until well-combined, then knead on low for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth (but it will still be sticky). Let rise until double in volume, about 90 minutes.
- Deflate dough, dump out onto a lightly floured surface, and using floured hands, divide into two pieces. Form each piece into a 10-12″ log and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, 5-6″ apart. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise an additional 90 minutes, or until the loaves are large and puffy. Toward the end of the rise time, preheat the oven to 425°.
- After rise time, spritz the tops of the loaves with water (to help add a crunchy crust) and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool then cut each loaf into 8 slices.
Serving size: 1 slice | Servings per recipe: 16
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