Artisan breads have overtaken menus across the country due to their authenticity and versatility. They can be used as standalone products marketed for their taste, or they can offer the ideal bookends for gourmet sandwiches. This is the present and future for bakeries. No artisan bread represents this idea better than ciabatta.
Even while artisan breads continue to evolve as bakers look for new ways to stand out, ciabatta remains an attention-grabber for the simple reason that it’s just plain good.
Known as Italian “slipper” bread, this white bread was first created in 1982 by an Italian baker in response to the popularity of French baguettes. Many bakers in Italy at that time were concerned that the popularity of sandwiches made from baguettes imported from France would endanger their businesses, so this alternative was developed for better Italian sandwiches.
It quickly grew its own following, and soon spread to other regions of Europe and the rest of the world. At least one type of ciabatta can be found in nearly every region of Italy, and bakers globally have taken to developing their own unique takes on the “slipper.”
Not only does ciabatta excel in taste, but it has a wonderful open structure, lightness, and smell that appeals to the other senses. It isn’t the easiest bread to make, though. It is a delicate bread that requires handling with care, but it more than makes up for that effort with strong sales for bakeries.
The secret to making great ciabatta is in the mixing and fermentation. It is a bread that really benefits from working by hand, to get as much air into it as possible. It will start off soft and sticky, but the more it gets worked the more elastic and easily mastered it will become.
Renowned baker and expert Richard Bertinet offers some great advice on making ciabatta. He makes his with avocado oil rather than olive oil in order to make a beautiful, delicate bread with an avocado-green tinge. You can find his ciabatta recipe in his book Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread, and there are several iterations of it online.
You can certainly tell the real deal when it comes to ciabatta. According to expert bakers, there are cheap knockoffs in some bakeries that take shortcuts by baking baguette dough and cutting it into squares in order to fool consumers, but these poor imitations simply cannot compare.