If there is one thing that French and Italian bakers really excel at then it is the production of aromatic white wheat bread. This recipe for ciabatta rolls is simple. It contains only four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. No bread improver needed!
But wait, this is a German food blog. Why do I share a ciabatta rolls recipe with you? It’s because I was tweaking the ciabatta rolls recipe in the first draft of the book “Hand Made Small Breads“. I’ve never baked ciabatta before but Robert, the main author, asked me to take a look at his recipe. He was not satisfied with his version yet.
The recipe in the book is based on the original recipe from Arnaldo Cavallari, the inventor of ciabatta. Robert had the chance to bake with Cavallari in his bakery in Italy. That’s where he picked up the recipe and method for ciabatta rolls (“Zoccoletti”).
Let’s get to the recipe
Before we can fix and tweak anything, we need to take a look at the recipe and identify potential problems:
As far as I can see:
- Robert decided to add rye sourdough to his ciabatta rolls. This is an ingredient not in the original recipe so that we are going to leave it out. The biga is flavorful enough by itself.
- The hydration is too low (roughly 65-70 %). We are going to aim for 75-85 % hydration.
- The amount of yeast is too high. We are going to cut down on that and replace the yeast for the biga with a firm sourdough starter.
- The bran is an optional ingredient. So we will leave it out.
- Robert tried to imitate ciabatta flour by using a blend of different flours. I can easily source ciabatta flour in Germany so that we will just use that.
1st attempt at optimizing the ciabatta rolls recipe
Ok, I have to admit it took me two attempts to fix the recipe. My initial goal was to increase the hydration to 80 %. Then I got a bit overconfident with adding water to the dough during mixing. The end result was a dough with 92 % hydration (300 grams of water to 325 grams of flour). The dough consistency was “soupy” but I felt confident that I could handle it.
After a few stretches and folds during bulk fermentation, the dough had some stability but it was very soft. I managed to cut it into bread rolls and left them to proof for half an hour. I had never baked ciabatta rolls before so I was not 100 % certain how long to proof them. The dough was still stable and expanded a bit in the oven, but I instantly knew that I wanted the ciabatta rolls to have more height and show more oven spring.
The end results of the first batch were ciabatta rolls that tasted delicious but the crumb was not as airy as I wanted it to turn out. It was too dense around the larger air bubbles.
2nd attempt at optimizing the ciabatta rolls recipe
For the second attempt, I forced myself to stick with 80 % hydration. I resisted the temptation to add more water during mixing. At 80 % hydration, the dough was still soupy but it developed great structure and dough strength during bulk fermentation.
Cutting the dough into ciabatta rolls was easy to do and, this time, I decreased the proofing time to 15 minutes. The end result was astonishing. The crumb structure was much better than in the first batch.
As you can see, it’s the small details that have a big impact on the final result. So please, don’t follow my recipe blindly. Follow your hands and instincts. They will guide you to delicious ciabatta rolls.
My next task is now to incorporate wheat bran and maybe attempt the recipe with different flours. But that is a story for another time.
A quick note on the flour that I used
The ciabatta flour that I use in Germany is a mixture of German soft wheat flour and finely-milled Italian semolina. You can feel that the dough structure is a bit more coarse than usual because of the semolina (In Germany we call that “griffig”). The flour is from a local mill and of fine quality. The protein content is 11.5 grams per 100 grams of flour (11.5 %). And that is only thanks to the protein-rich semolina! I know that 11.5 % protein is not insanely high by American standards but it is very strong for a German flour. The standard white soft wheat flour (German Type 550) that I use has a protein content of 9.8 %.
I say this because I often see on the internet that American people get obsessed with the protein content in flour. But too much protein makes the bread chewier and less fluffy. You don’t need a protein content of 12 % or higher to bake ciabatta. In fact, I am very satisfied with my white wheat flour that contains 9.8 % protein. It produces soft and fluffy bread.
I never buy flour because it advertises a certain protein content. I buy flour from local millers where I know that the wheat is from Southern Germany, organic, and has a great taste. Bread is a wholesome food and so should the ingredients be. Don’t cheap out on flour and support small local millers!
How to blend your own ciabatta flour
Let’s assume that you can’t buy ciabatta flour with a protein content of 11.5 %. It’s very easy to calculate the ratio for blending semolina flour and white soft wheat flour. Let’s assume we have a German Type 550 flour with a protein content of 9.8 % and a finely-milled semolina flour from Italy with a protein content of 14 %. Using the variable x as the mass fraction, we get:
11.5 = 9.8 x + 14 (1-x)
11.5 = 9.8 x + 14 – 14 x
4.2 x = 2.5
x = 0.5995
So we have to blend 60 % white soft wheat flour (9.8 % protein) with 40 % finely-milled semolina flour (14 % protein) to end up with a flour that has a protein content of 11.5 %.
9.8 * 0.6 + 14 * 0.4 = 11.48
Please consider that the semolina needs to be finely milled semolina flour (“Hartweizen FEINGRIEß“/ “Semola rimacinata di grano duro“) not the coarsely milled semolina (“Hartweizengrieß”) that you use for pasta or semolina dumplings.