Tuesday, August 26, 2014

recipe: ciabatta

I'll be honest, joining in with the technical challenges from GBBO has not, so far, been as inspiring as I had hoped. Whilst the first week went well, last week and this week have been less enjoyable. It's a shame really as I was looking forward to bread week. I've never made bread except in a breadmaker (apart from one Christmas where I rustled up some not altogether successful bread rolls on a whim). 

Firstly, I didn't use the semolina the recipe recommends. It is only for dusting, so I don't think it is too fundamental, but having scoured the supermarket to no avail, I decided that there were more enjoyable ways to spend a bank holiday weekend than wandering the North West searching for a bag of semolina. The man in the supermarket had helpfully brought me the tinned variety when I was looking for it, but I thought it was better not to try and improvise with that.

Secondly, these recipes are making me realise how much television trickery goes into the programme. Much like the chopping of the nuts from last week, there is a lot of prep in this recipe that I can only assume was pre-done for the bakers. However, in this case, it's actually the making of half of the dough, as it needs over six hours proving, which seems a bit of a cheat really.

Having never made bread, I had grand ideas that I would discover the wonders of home baking, and duly stocked up on yeast so that I was fully prepared for the many loaves I would be rustling up in the weeks to come. As it was, me and ciabatta dough didn't get along. This stuff is sticky, and clingy, and it felt like I left half of the mix behind, or all over my hands, every time I transferred it from bowl, to worktop, to bowl, to container, to worktop, to baking tray (it is another very convoluted recipe). You make a dough, then it needs to rest for over six hours, and the result is a gluey, stringy mixture which is so difficult to transfer that it seems like you end up knocking out all of the air  bubbles you have been patiently waiting for.

After that you then add more of the same ingredients and wait another one to two hours for it to rise (and I am assuming this is where the bakers in the programme started from). Then you tip it out and shape it, and again all the air bubbles seem to be lost in the process. After another half an hour proving, which didn't seem to make much noticeable difference, you finally bake it for half an hour. It felt like a long day for not much reward. As The Husband helpfully pointed out, we could have flown to Italy, eaten a ciabatta and flown home again in the time.

I really wanted to love baking bread, and my guess is that this was just a bad choice of starter recipe. I'm not patient enough for all of the different elements this method requires. The finished product was good, it had a crunchy crust, a soft dough, and I seemed to have got some of the uneven air bubbles in there, even though it felt like I had knocked them all out. I was just a bit disappointed with how long it all took, particularly as the programme looked like they had rustled them up from scratch in a couple of hours. The recipe is below, if anyone has a day to spare to try it, and in the meantime, I'd be ever so grateful if you can suggest some more beginner-friendly recipes that might give me the bread baking bug (Laura I'm looking at you after your #52loaves project). Particularly as I have a whole load of yeast to use up!


Recipe: Ciabatta

(Recipe reproduced from BBC Food)

Makes 2 Ciabatta Loaves


400g strong white flour (plus extra for dusting)
7g instant yeast
300ml water
30ml olive oil (plus extra for oiling)
7g salt
semolina for dusting


  • Combine half of the flour, half of the water and 4g of yeast to make a thick batter.
  • Stir batter well, then knead on an oiled surface for 5 minutes.
  • Return to bowl and cover with a damp teatowel and leave to rise for at least 6 hours at room temperature.
  • Add remaining flour and yeast, half of the remaining water (75ml) and the olive oil to the dough mixture. Use a food processor with dough hook to combine the ingredients.
  • Dissolve the salt in the remaining water, and gradually add this to the mixture, combining with a dough hook throughout. Continue to mix for 5-10 minutes until stringy.

  • Transfer dough into well-oiled one litre square container, cover with lid, and leave until dough has risen to three-quarters of the height of the container (approximately one hour).
  • Flour a surface with a mixture of flour and semolina. Transfer the dough to the surface, divide into two pieces and shape.
  • Transfer shaped dough to baking tray which is coated with flour and semolina. Preheat oven to 220°C. Leave dough to prove for a further 30 minutes whilst oven is heating.
  • Bake in oven for thirty minutes. Slice and serve.


  1. I love the way you write about cooking, and you are right about sticky dough being a nightmare to work with. Again I think the 'experts' are over-complicating what is a simple process. I love baking bread and do it at least once a week but I don't think I could be bothered with this recipe.

    1. thank you - what a lovely comment - must admit I never have tried bread again since!

  2. I have never baked ciabatta but I love baking normal whole wheat bread (especially the kneading is very enjoyable), which is quite straightforward. Despite all the effort you had to put into it, I must say the result looks very appetising!

    I use Nigella Lawson's bread recipes in her Domestic Goddess book. They work really well for me. Hope that helps xxx

    1. that's another one to add to the Christmas List (and maybe a new bookshelf too!) x

  3. Looks delicious despite your struggles X

    1. thank you - it was a proud moment to make bread that actually looked like bread! x