Whole Wheat-ish Ciabatta Bread
Ciabatta — the light and airy “slipper bread” of Italy — used to be reserved as a special treat if we visited an Italian market.
My first taste of homemade was actually during a trip to see my husband, then boyfriend, as a new dating couple. He pulled out all the culinary stops for me, including homemade ciabatta, brioche, bagels and baguette, among many other delicious, memorable foods and meals. His willingness to try new ingredients and experiment in the kitchen are two of the things that sold me. I mean, a guy who bakes his own bread? Well done, Sir.
A few weekends ago I relived those times and gave ciabatta another whirl, baking two loaves plus a handful of rolls. (I think his were prettier…)
My new method is based off a traditional Italian recipe, but incorporates some whole wheat flours to impart a slight nuttiness and the nutritional benefits of whole grains. While it requires preparing a simple sticky sponge called a “biga” the day before, I promise you that the final product is well worth the little bit of effort!
What’s in it for me?
Finely milled whole wheat Atta flour offers roughly 4 grams each of protein and fiber per 1/4 cup (30 g). Both Atta and the regular whole wheat flour offer a small amount of healthy oils, are virtually free of cholesterol and sodium, and provide minerals selenium and manganese with antioxidant properties and roles in fertility and bone health.
The whole wheat flour provides additional fiber to help moderate changes in blood glucose, and promote both good digestion and satiety. It also imparts a small amount of iron, more antioxidant protection, and zinc — important for immune function and healthy skin. In general, diets rich in whole grains and whole grain flours as opposed to refined grains and flours may reduce risk of diabetes, and can improve cholesterol levels to help prevent heart disease.
The aroma wafting through the house, watching the dough proof and rise and then brown in the oven, and finally digging in to the first warm bites — few things are better than homemade bread. And with the incorporation of some wheat flours to a bread that traditionally uses all white, my recipe helps bridge the gap between satisfying and healthy.
Tell me… Rolls or loaves — which do you prefer?
- BIGA: 1/2 tsp yeast
- 1 3/4 cup warm water, between 110° and 115° F
- 125 g (about 1 cup) all-purpose flour
- 125 g (about 1 cup) bread flour
- 200 g (about 1 1/2 cup) Atta or whole wheat pastry flour
- DOUGH: 1 tsp yeast
- 4 Tbsp + 1 1/4 cup warm water, between 110° and 115° F, divided
- 175 g (about 1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 200 g (about 1 2/3 cup) bread flour
- 125 g (about 3/4 cup + 3 Tbsp) Atta or whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 500 g (about 2 cups) biga, rested for at least 12 hours
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Fine cornmeal or coarse semolina, for sprinkling
- DAY 1: To make the biga, mix yeast and warm water in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer; set aside 10 minutes to proof.
- On a piece of wax paper, use a fork to briefly combine the three flours. Stir the flour mixture into the proofed yeast, about 1 cup at a time -- either by hand with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes, or with a stand mixer using the paddle for 2 minutes at the lowest speed. This is now your biga. It should look sloppy and somewhat wet.
- Transfer the biga to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a cool room temperature spot for at least 12 hours, preferably 24, and up to 48 if you want a really sour loaf. The goal is for your biga to be triple its original volume, but still wet and sticky.
- DAY 2: At this point, the biga is now ready to use. (See HGN Notes for instructions on refrigeration or freezing to save it longer.)
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix yeast and the 4 Tbsp warm water; set aside 10 minutes to proof. On a piece of wax paper, use a fork to briefly combine the three flours and the salt; set aside.
- To the yeast mixture add the remaining 1 1/4 cups warm water, the rested biga, and olive oil. Mix on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the flour-salt mixture all at once, and run on low for 2 to 3 minutes. Switch to the dough hook attachment, and run for 2 minutes on low, then 2 more minutes on medium. Back on the lowest speed, use the mixer to 'knead' the dough in the bowl until it's still sticky yet becoming "velvety, supple, springy," about 1 minute more. ONLY add flour -- either the AP or Atta/WW pastry -- by the tablespoon if the dough is quite wet. (Alternatively, knead the dough with wet hands on a well-floured surface.) Use a wet dough scraper to transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 1/4 hour. The dough should be bubbly, sticky and elastic.
- Turn dough out onto a generously floured surface and use a wet dough scraper or wet knife to cut it into 4 equal portions. Using wet hands, roll 1 portion into a cylinder, and then use your fingers to stretch and pull it into a rectangle about 10 inches x 4 inches. Repeat with the remaining 3 portions of dough. (Alternatively, further cut each of the 4 original portions into 6 to 8 smaller portions. Roll each of these into a ball with wet hands.)
- Generously flour 4 large pieces of parchment paper placed on upside-down baking trays or peels. Using wet hands, transfer each loaf (or group of 6 to 8 rolls), seam side up, to a piece of parchment. Dimple the loaves (or rolls) with your wet fingertips to discourage excess rising. Cover the loaves loosely with damp paper towels, and let rise at room temperature until puffy but not doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Don't be alarmed that the dough still looks flat -- they will rise a bit more in the oven.
- About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425° F with a baking stone (or a very large cast iron skillet turned upside down) on the center rack.
- When the oven and stone are preheated and you're ready to bake, carefully dust the stone with fine cornmeal or coarse semolina. Quickly and carefully invert each loaf (or group of rolls) onto the dusted stone, gently working the paper free. (You can also leave the paper and remove it in 10 minutes, if needed -- as was the case with my rolls.) Close the oven door and bake for a total of 20 to 25 minutes (my loaves and rolls all took 25 minutes). If desired, use a spray bottle or your fingers to spritz the oven three times with water in the first 10 minutes of baking. Transfer the loaves (or rolls) to wire racks to cool completely before slicing or eating.
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