Halved sourdough ciabatta rolls on a countertop.

Last month, while posting a photo of this brioche loaf on Instagram, I posed a question: If 2020 was the year of banana bread and focaccia, what will be THE bread of 2021?

Which bread, I asked, did everyone want to learn how to make most?

Of all the responses, which included everything from fougasse to hoagie rolls, a crusty baguette was the most frequently cited, ciabatta following closely behind. 

I’m excited to say today, after a few weeks of experiments, I have a wonderful sourdough ciabatta recipe to share. It has a thin, but crisp crust, a beautiful honeycomb crumb, and a lovely lightness and chew. It’s perfect for sandwiches. 

And best of all: it’s truly simple. Made with four ingredients, this recipe requires neither an autolyse nor preferment, neither a preheated Dutch oven nor baking stone. If you have a sheet pan, you’re good to go.

What’s more, there’s no shaping or scoring, no balling up dough or creating tension. Truly, after the bulk fermentation, which includes some fridge time, you turn the dough out onto a floured work surface, pat it into a rectangle, and divide it into 8 roughly equal pieces. You then transfer those pieces, irregularly shaped and all, to a sheet pan, and bake them one hour later.

But can I tell you the most exciting part? This dough makes a decent — a more than decent — baguette! It’s not super crusty, but it’s a nice baguette nonetheless, flour-dusted and unscored, with a crumb and flavor better than any other I’ve attempted previously.

Friends, I hope you love this recipe. It’s on par with this sourdough focaccia recipe in terms of simplicity and effort, but it’s a totally different animal. I can’t wait for you to give it a try. 

PS: If sourdough isn’t your thing, I have a yeast ciabatta recipe, the post for which I am in the process of updating. Stat tuned!

This post is organized as follows:

3 Tips for Sourdough Success

Before you get started with this recipe, here are my three tips for sourdough bread baking.

  1. It starts with your starter.
    • This will sound obvious, but: it starts with your starter. Before you mix a loaf of sourdough bread, you must ensure your starter is bubbly and active. I like to feed my starter at night before bed, let it rise and fall overnight; then feed it again in the morning. By midday, it’s ready.
  2. Use a digital scale. 
    • I say this all the time, but using a scale to measure the ingredients for a loaf of sourdough bread makes all the difference. So much of sourdough bread baking is simply a matter of using the precise amount of water given your environment and given the flour you are using. If you use cups to measure you are simply not being precise, and as a result, you will not be able to make meaningful adjustments should the recipe as written not work out perfectly.
  3. Use a straight-sided vessel for the bulk fermentation. 
    • With sourdough bread baking, one frequent problem bakers run into is over-fermentation. If you let the first rise go too long, the dough will over-ferment and become a sticky, unsalvageable mess. A straight-sided vessel allows you to see when your dough has truly increased in volume by 50%, 75%, 100% or whatever volume increase you are after.
    • The vessel I use in this recipe, similar to this one, is 8 cups. Most grocery stores carry storage vessels similarly sized.
Sourdough ciabatta dough in a Tupperware on a countertop.

What is Ciabatta?

  • Originating from the Lake Como region of northern Italy, ciabatta means “slipper” in Italian. Traditional ciabatta is characterized by this slipper shape as well as an extremely porous and chewy texture.
  • Traditionally, ciabatta dough is very wet, calls for very little yeast, and requires a long, slow rise.
  • Traditional recipes, too, often call for making a biga (a preferment), which helps produce that light, porous texture.

Sourdough Ciabatta, Step by Step:

Gather your ingredients: bread flour, water, salt, and a sourdough starter.

Ingredients to make sourdough ciabatta rolls.

For this recipe, you’ll need: 100 grams sourdough starter, 360 grams water, 450 grams flour, and 12 grams salt. It’s 80% hydration.

A bowl holding water and sourdough starter, unmixed.

Mix together the water, sourdough starter, and salt.

A bowl holding water and sourdough starter.

Add the flour and mix to form a sticky dough ball.

Just-mixed sourdough ciabatta dough.

Cover the bowl and let rest for 30 minutes. Then perform a set of stretches and folds. See the video above or in the recipe box for guidance. This is what the dough will look like after one set of stretches and folds.

Sourdough ciabatta dough after one set of stretches and folds.

This is what the dough will look like after 4 sets of stretches and folds.

Sourdough ciabatta dough after 3 sets of stretches and folds in a glass bowl.

Transfer dough to a straight-sided vessel (this one is 8 cups, but anything similarly sized will do) for the bulk fermentation (the first rise):

Sourdough ciabatta dough in a Tupperware on a countertop.

Mark the height of the dough on the vessel, cover the vessel, and let the dough rise until it increases in volume by roughly 75%.

Covered Tupperware holding sourdough ciabatta dough.
Nearly doubled sourdough ciabatta dough in a Tupperware.

When the dough has increased by 75% (roughly), place a lid on the vessel, and transfer it to the fridge for 12-24 hours.

Sourdough ciabatta dough in a Tupperware container.

When ready to bake, remove the vessel from the fridge.

Sourdough ciabatta dough after a night in the fridge.

Dust the top of the dough liberally with flour. Dust a work surface liberally with flour, too.

Floured sourdough ciabatta dough.

Turn the dough out onto the prepared work surface.

A blob of sourdough ciabatta dough on the countertop.

Pat the dough into a rectangle.

A shaped rectangle of sourdough ciabatta dough on a floured work surface.

Cut the rectangle into 8 roughly equal portions.

Portioned sourdough ciabatta rolls on a countertop.

Transfer the portions to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Let rest for 1 hour. Then transfer to a 475ºF oven for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 450ºF and bake for 10 minutes more.

Cut ciabatta rolls, unbaked, on a sheet pan.
Just-baked sourdough ciabatta rolls on a sheet pan.

Transfer the rolls immediately to a cooling rack, and let cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Just-baked sourdough ciabatta rolls on a cooling rack.
A halved ciabatta roll.

How pretty is that crumb?

Halved sourdough ciabatta rolls.
Halved sourdough ciabatta rolls on a countertop.

Ciabatta Sandwich

I have written about this favorite sandwich before, so forgive me if you know the story. It comes from Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter, a favorite book, and it’s something Gabrielle’s ex-husband, Michele, made for her during their courtship. If you have the book, the story is on page 163.

In short, the success of the sandwich relies on a delicate balance: “the perfection of three fats together — butter, olive oil, and the white fat from prosciutto or lardo.” To make it, spread good bread with “cool waxy butter,” top with prosciutto (more than you think), and arugula. Drizzle it all with good olive oil.

A halved prosciutto and arugula sandwich.

Sourdough Ciabatta “Baguettes” 🥖🥖🥖

To make baguettes, follow the same process, but instead of dividing the rectangle of dough into 8 portions, divide it into two. I find an extra-large sheet pan to be necessary to bake both baguettes at the same time. If you don’t have an extra-large sheet pan, I would bake one baguette at a time, and orient it at a diagonal angle from one corner to another.

Ciabatta baguettes shaped on a sheet pan.

Bake the baguettes at the same temperature and for the same amount of time as the rolls.

Not bad for the effort, right?

Halved sourdough ciabatta baguettes on a sheet pan.

These ciabatta “baguettes” would be great vessels for giant sandwiches. I’ve been craving Bahn mi since

Halved sourdough ciabatta baguettes.
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Halved sourdough ciabatta rolls on a countertop.

Simple Sourdough Ciabatta Bread


  • Author: Alexandra Stafford
  • Prep Time: 24 hours
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 24 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: 8 Rolls
  • Diet: Vegan
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Description

Notes:

  • You need an active sourdough starter. I have had success activating starters from:
  • As always, I highly recommend investing in a digital scale before beginning any bread baking adventure.

Flour: I have had success using all-purpose flour, but if you can get your hands on bread flour, that is ideal, especially if you live in Canada or abroad. Moreover, if you live in Canada or abroad, you may need to reduce the water amount. Consider holding back some of the water during the mixing process to ensure you don’t end up with a soupy mess. 

Straight-Sided Vessel:

  • The vessel I use in this recipe, similar to this one, is 8 cups. Most grocery stores carry storage vessels similarly sized.
  • Using a straight-sided vessel for the bulk fermentation will help prevent over-fermentation because it allows you to see when the dough has truly increased by 75% (or slightly more or less) in volume.

Ingredients

  • 360 grams (about 1.5 cups) water
  • 12 grams (about 2 teaspoons) salt 
  • 100 grams (about 1/2 cup) active sourdough starter, see notes above
  • 450 grams (about 3.5 cups) bread flour, see notes above

Instructions

  1. Mix the dough: Place the water in a large bowl. Add the salt and stir briefly. Add the starter and stir briefly to incorporate. Add the flour, and stir until you have a wet, sticky dough ball. Knead briefly with your hands if necessary to incorporate the flour. Cover with a tea towel or cloth bowl cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Stretches and folds: With wet hands, grab one side of the dough, and pull up and to the center. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat the grabbing and pulling. Do this until you’ve made a full circle. (Watch the video for more guidance. I do a few more pulls and turns in the video.) Cover the bowl. Repeat this process three more times at 30-minute intervals for a total of 4 sets of stretches and folds over the course of two hours. (In the video, I switch to coil folds for the last two sets of stretches and folds.)
  3. Bulk fermentation: Transfer the dough to a straight-sided vessel. Cover the vessel with a towel. Let rise at room temperature until the dough nearly doubles in volume (shoot for a 75% increase in volume). Times will vary depending on your environment and the strength of your starter. Recently, this has taken about 4 hours for me, but don’t worry if it takes longer for you. Cover vessel with a lid (ideally) or a towel (if you are using a towel, slick the top of the dough with oil to prevent it from drying out.) Transfer to fridge for 12-24 hours. 
  4. Shape: Remove vessel from fridge. Remove lid. Sprinkle top of dough liberally with flour. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Pat dough into a rectangle. Sprinkle top with flour. Use a bench scraper to cut the dough in half vertically. Then make three cuts equally spaced in each half to create 8 small rectangles. 
  5. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. With floured hands, transfer each rectangle to the prepared pan, gently pulling outward. Cover the pan with a towel. Let stand for one hour.
  6. Bake: Heat oven to 475ºF. Transfer pan to oven and bake for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 450ºF, rotate pan, and bake for 10 minutes more. Remove pan from oven. Transfer ciabatta rolls to a cooling rack. Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes before slicing. 
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American, Italian

Keywords: sourdough, ciabatta, starter, simple