Whole-grain ciabatta: DO go there

Whole-grain ciabatta. Does this sound oxymoronic, or what? I mean, ciabatta is the queen of crusty white-flour breads; a baguette gone round-shouldered and soft-edged. It’s the epitome of light texture; the antithesis of the sometimes heavy, somewhat dense texture we associate with whole-grain breads. Whole-grain ciabatta—why go there?

Back in late September, when I posted a recipe for traditional all-purpose flour ciabatta, one reader made a request for a whole-grain version. “My favorite ciabatta is a multigrain one at our local Hy-Vee grocery. What would you do to make your recipe with whole grains or as high a proportion as possible?” wondered Mary Cay.

We in the test kitchen here at King Arthur Flour are always up for a challenge. The perfect chocolate chip cookie? Baking with Splenda? French toast batter sans clumped-up cinnamon? We’re there. Whole-grain ciabatta? Hmmm… interesting.

As it happens, the Italians DO make whole-grain ciabatta. Called ciabatta integrale (integrale = “with everything”), we have a recipe for it in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. But I wanted this new version to include some Harvest Grains Blend, our crunchy-chewy-nubbly combo of seeds and whole grains. And I wanted the bread to be a bit lighter, a bit milder. So to make the dough rise acceptably, I used a 2:1 ratio of all-purpose to whole wheat flour; then added the grains blend for a big, whole-grains mouth-feel.

The result? Let me know, Mary Cay. It’s not exactly what I’d consider ciabatta, but it’s a remarkably light-textured whole-grain loaf.

Determined to bake whole-grain bread? Give this Harvest Grains Ciabatta a try.

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First we’re going to make a starter from King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour (preferably organic), which happens to be my favorite whole wheat flour. What’s the difference between white whole wheat and traditional red whole wheat? Nothing, nutritionally; they’re identical in all respects except one: red wheat has a compound in its bran layer that gives it a darker color and stronger taste. Some perceive this stronger taste as unpleasant; some like it. I’m in the former camp, so I opt for white wheat flour when I’m using whole wheat.

Mix white wheat flour, cool water, and yeast to make a pasty dough. Cover, and let rise overnight at room temperature.

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Next day, you’ll see that the starter has risen and become bubbly, though not with the vigor of a white flour starter. It’s OK; the yeast is just as happy (happier, actually) growing in whole wheat as white flour. It’s just that the whole wheat doesn’t capture as much of the yeast’s CO2 as white flour does.

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This is a sticky dough, so you want to make it in a stand mixer or bread machine, as I’m doing here. Let me show you why I nearly always make dough in the bread machine (when I’m not making it in the stand mixer for blog photos).  If you don’t have a bread machine, at least take a quick look as you scroll down to the mixer pictures; hey, maybe I can sell you on a bread machine!

First, put the starter and the remaining dough ingredients (EXCEPT the Harvest Grains Blend) into the bread machine bucket.

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Press the Start button. Walk away. After 5 minutes, the dough will look like this.

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After 10 minutes, about like this.

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Here it is when the signal tells you to add the Harvest Grains Blend. BEEP. OK, grains about to be added.

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Five minutes later, the grains are nicely kneaded in.

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An hour later, the dough is risen, ready to shape. Was that easy, or what?!

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If you like, program the machine for its regular cycle (rather than the dough cycle), and let the bread bake right in the machine. Not bad, huh?

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OK, let’s go back to our stand mixer. Here’s why you wait till after the dough is kneaded to add the Harvest Grains Blend. There’s something in the flaxseed, I believe it is, that makes this dough INCREDIBLY sticky if you add the grains right at the outset.

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It was kind of laughable, really. I was going to take a picture, but my fingers got so stuck together I had to go roust Susan away from the cake she was making to take this picture. PHEW! Learned my lesson on that one.

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Here’s the dough, mixed and kneaded in a stand mixer.

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NOW add the Harvest Grains Blend.

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Much better.

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Put it in a covered container to rise at room temperature for 90 minutes or so.

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It’ll get nice and puffy.

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Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a 10” log. Place the logs on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between them. Cover and let rise for 60 to 90 minutes.

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They’ll puff up nicely.

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Spritz with water just before baking. This helps give the ciabatta a crisp crust.

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Bake, cool, slice, enjoy.

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Note the lovely open texture and the nubbly look of seeds and whole grains. This bread’s a looker, for sure—AND it tastes good.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Harvest Grains Ciabatta.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Planet Organics, Sonoma, California, Organic Multigrain Bread, 15-ounce loaf, $5.44

Bake at home: Harvest Grains Ciabatta, made with King Arthur Organic White Whole Wheat Flour, 15-ounce loaf, $1.29

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad this recipe appeals to you, Hanna! We don’t generally write our recipes for home bakers in baker’s percentages, but you can easily use the weights (in grams) listed on the recipe page itself to calculate them yourself. For guidance using baker’s percentages, you can refer to our blog article on the topic. Hope this helps! Mollie@KAF

  1. Zinnia Grey

    I don’t do bread machines. I like to play with my food. Next to eating it, the fun of baking bread is kneading it.
    I realize it’s very sticky. There’s gotta be a way to deal with that that doesn’t thicken the dough.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Zinnia, the real stickiness comes from adding the harvest grains before you’ve developed the dough, so be sure to add these in at the end of the kneading process. If you don’t have a stand mixer, there is a method of kneading very wet dough called the “slap and fold” method. I like to do this one-handed, with a bench knife or plastic dough scraper in my other hand to scoop up the dough from the table. It takes a little practice, but it works great! Barb@KAF

  2. swebeck

    Hi PJ, I’m referring to the link that Elizabeth posted for me in her answer, where it says “Here is a recipe . . .” and the word “recipe” is a link. I found the recipe anyway, by searching for “food processor” on your site. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sure swebeck. I have never used the Cusinart for bread making but I know it is done especially for doughs high in hydration. In fact, here is a recipe on our site that uses a food processor. Happy baking! Elisabeth@KAF

    2. swebeck

      The link for the recipe using a Cuisinart seems to be broken; it takes me to a login page for a website called salesforce. I would be interested in any tips or special instructions regarding making bread dough in a food processor, as I just acquired this one. Thanks!

    3. PJ Hamel, post author

      Hi, could you tell us exactly where that link is located? I can’t seem to find it… PJH

    4. ChrissyTX

      I know this is an old post, but I was wondering how it turned out using the food processor? I have a Kitchen Aid “professional” model food processor, and have never had luck kneading dough with it’s dough blade. The dough gets inside the center column of the blade and pushes it up off the motor stalk. The dough also gets down into the center of where the motor stalk comes out of the base, so it’s a royal mess to clean up.

      Please repost your link to the recipe that was designed for the food processor, it
      Is not currently working. Thanks!

    5. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Chrissy, we’ve fixed the link so you should be able to access the recipe on our website that calls for using a food processor. It’s easy to make the dough and the results are delicious! As for using your food processor successfully, you might want to try with a smaller batch of dough at first until you get the method down. Dealing with fewer ingredients should make it easier to handle. Also, try adding the ingredients to the mix slowly when the machine is running. This should help the dough develop slowly without creating too much of a mess. We hope that helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. NinjaDDS

    I’m so excited to make this for the holidays! Thank you!

    I have a food science-y question for you:
    Would using liquid milk drastically change the ratio of ingredients? In our house lactose is a no-no and I have yet to find a lactose-free dried milk.

    Thanks in advance! You guys rock!

    Reply
    1. bakersresource

      My suggestion is to add the whole milk to the starter. Replace 1 T. of water with the 1 T. of milk.

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