Ciabatta - Introductory discussion

Recently ciabatta has become a widely favored bread in the United States. The literal meaning of ciabatta in Italian is slipper, which identifies its shape. It is difficult to determine the region in Italy where ciabatta was first created.  "Profumo di Pane" by Erika Pignatti indicates that ciabatta probably originated in Trentino, even though the breads of the region are predominately rye and whole wheat varieties, She also states that it has become popular and is produced outside of Trentino today.  In "The Italian Baker",   Carol Field identifies ciabatta as a slipper shaped bread from Lake Como. The following insight is offered in the introduction to her text: "Unlike the French, who make numerous regional breads and sweets according to quantified recipes and codified traditions, Italian bakers are forever experimenting and dreaming up new interpretations. If forty bakers at Lake Como are making ciabatta, you can be sure there will be forty slightly different tastes".  This actuality has added to the confusion regarding the origins of ciabatta.  It is possible that a baker from Trentino moved to the Lake Como region and introduced the bread there. This issue is further complicated by the fact that a proclamation exists which declares that Padua (located in the Veneto region) is the birthplace of ciabatta.

Francesco Favaron of Pan Technology maintains that he personally invented this bread.  Pan Technology is a private school devoted to bread, pizza, and pastry, that is located in the Veneto region of Italy.  Mr. Favaron informed one of the owners of this site that he developed ciabatta in the 1960's by experimenting for two years when working in the city of Milan. The manual produced by Pan Technology includes 1028 formulae for Italian regional breads, one of which, it is claimed, is the "original" ciabatta formula. The manual also includes four additional variations.  And on it goes...

At least one type of ciabatta can be found in nearly every region of Italy. The classic ciabatta from the area encompassing Lake Como, has a crisp crust, a somewhat soft, porous texture, and is light to the touch.  The ciabatta that is found in Tuscany, Umbria, and The Marche varies from bread that has a firm crust and dense crumb, to bread that has a crisper crust and more open texture.  

Formulae exist that incorporate a Direct, or Indirect Method in their procedures.  Of those  which proceed according to an Indirect Method, some call for a biga, others for a poolish,  and still others for lievito naturale (natural leavening).   There are many variations of ciabatta. When made with whole wheat flour, and is  known as ciabatta integrale.   In Rome, it can be seasoned with olive oil, salt and marjoram.  When milk is added to the dough, it becomes ciabatta latte.

In an effort to emphasize the fact that ciabatta refers to a shape, rather than one specific type of bread found in Italy today, we have posted the following five recipes:


Direct Method

Ciabatta Indirect Method (Biga)
Ciabatta Indirect Method (Poolish #1)
Ciabatta Indirect Method (Poolish #2)
Ciabatta Pane da Tutto il Mondo

Also, in an effort to help clarify the distinctions between a classic biga, and a classic poolish (or sponge), we have posted a discussion entitled Direct and Indirect Methods.

As a reminder, the amount of water added to the dough influences how porous a texture is achieved in both the Direct and Indirect Method.  As a cautionary note, a classic biga is much stiffer or firmer than a classic poolish (sponge), therefore, it takes a bit of time and tenacity to dissolve it properly.  We will address the Indirect Method, lievito naturale, in a future posting. Also, in the future, we will post recipes translated and adapted from the Italian for ciabatta (incorporating a classic poolish), and ciabatta latte (incorporating a classic biga).

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Last updated on:  04/19/04 08:43:33 PM