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!