Mixed Olive Ciabatta

Ciabatta translates into slipper, for its oblong, slightly flattish shape. A tender bread with an airy crumb, it is terrific baked plain and eaten. It tastes like a bread of tradition, one of the Italian breads steeped in antiquity, redolent of authenticity. But...this is not the case. Well, not exactly. In Adria, a town near Venice, 1982, a small group of bread bakers gathered together to discuss the popularity of French baguettes and how Italian breads were being overwhelmed by their increasing prevalence, especially for sandwiches! What about the old standby of panini? Was Italian food on its way of being baguette-ed? Arnaldo Cavallari, a miller in his late forties, created a bread to rival the baguette. Like the baguette, it can be made into sandwiches, or spread with something tasty as a snack, or eaten with soup or a meal. He called it Ciabatta Polesano. He used a very wet high-gluten dough, and as all of his products are natural, he aimed for a very old-fashioned, traditional taste and sensation. First he was thrilled when he finally got the recipe to his satisfaction; then he looked at it and thought, 'What to call it?' As it was a similar shape to a slipper, he named it 'ciabatta'. Now Cavallari's firm, Molini Adriesi, licenses production of its ciabatta in 11 countries. Many regions of Italy now have their own variation of ciabatta: from the area around Lake Como, the ciabatta has a crisp crust and a very porous centre; in Tuscany, Umbria and Marche, the ciabatta has a firm crust and more open inner texture, and in Rome, a favourite seasoning is marjoram. New variations of the bread continue to be developed. Wholemeal ciabatta is known as ciabatta integrale; when the dough is enriched with milk, it becomes ciabatta al latte. In this version, black and green olives are added; so inviting when you slice into the bread and have each mouthful seasoned with a bite of lovely, salty olive. You don't need anything else, except perhaps butter or olive oil and tomatoes.


about 3 ciabatta breads

Preparation Time

two phases, over a period of two days


For the starter (Italian Biga):

1 tsp fast-acting dried yeast
100 g Italian type 00 white bread flour

For the dough:

400 g Italian type 00 white bread flour, plus extra to dust
1 1/4 tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 tsp fine salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100 g black olives, stoned and halved
100 g green olives, stoned and halved


Make the starter. Mix the yeast with 80 ml tepid water in the bowl of a free-standing mixer, or if you’re making it by hand, in a large bowl.  Leave for 5 minutes, or until it blooms and becomes frothy.

Stir in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover with a clean tea towel or clingfilm and leave to rest in a warm place for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight.

To make the dough, place the starter and the remaining flour in a bowl, along with the extra yeast, oil and 300 ml tepid water. Mix with the dough hook on a low speed for 5 minutes, or with your hands for about 10 minutes, to make a soft, wet dough.

Add 1 teaspoon of fine salt and the olives, mix for 5 minutes more, until smooth and elastic.

Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise again for 1hour, or until doubled in size.

When your risen dough is ready, wet your hands, then take one side of the dough in the bowl, stretch it up and fold it over on the top of itself. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat 7 more times. Re-cover and leave to rest and rise for 45 minutes, then repeat the 8 stretches and folds once more, followed by the 45 minutes rest and rise.

Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment or use a nonstick baking sheet.  Generously dust the parchment or the baking sheet with flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

Gently plop the dough on to the parchment. Dust the top of the dough with flour; divide the dough into 3 rough rectangles (using a dough scraper or knife, separating the dough portions as best you can—it will be sticky).  Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise again for 30min.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan). Fill a small baking tray with water and put on the bottom shelf of the oven to create steam.

Bake the ciabatta on the baking sheet for 30min, or until golden brown and sounding hollow when base is tapped. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.