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 was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Joni M

    oh my, can I come play with you in the kitchen?? That bread looks absolutely wonderful…I absolutely must order some of the Harvest Grains blend as I’ve been eyeing it for awhile! Thank you so much for all your hard work–you make us look really good when we follow in your footsteps, and then take our creations out and about!!!

    Reply
  2. ivete

    OOOH, I *have* to try this! Looks absolutely yummy!

    I’ve been meaning to ask you if you would consider doing a post about how you store all your baking stuff? Every time I go to bake it seems like the pans and sheets come sliding out of my cabinet and it’s enough to make me not want to bake as often. Any organizational tips?

    Nothing special, Ivete. I just try to nest as many pans as possible; and hang tools on a pegboard. Anyone have any storage suggestions for Ivete? PJH

    Reply
  3. Poppy

    Always nesting to the extent possible, I store baking pans, cookie sheets, pizza pans, muffin tins,cake pans etc. vertically, i.e. on their sides, in metal or rubber coated sorting racks bought at dollar stores or Bed Bath–(like what you can use to separate the different sized lids for sauce pans)on pantry shelves or lower kitchen cabinet shelves. That way you can get out just the one you want without dislodging your entire collection.

    Reply
  4. Ann

    Thanks for the tip on the flax seed. Actually, it makes sense: artists soak them and strain out the seeds to use the gum in their paints. I forgot about that. Can’t wait to try this. Looks yummy!

    Ah-HA! I didn’t know that… so it all comes together – thanks, Ann PJH

    Reply
  5. Tom

    Wow. That looks great! I’ll have to try that as soon as we get back from vacation. I assume any seed blend would work? (I’m allergic to sunflower seeds.)

    I once was ciabatta-challenged. I finally followed the tutorial on the KA website, instruction by instruction (not my usual style) and turned out some fantastic ciabatta. I’m eager to try this one.

    Hmmm – has anybody taken the ‘makings’ along on vacation? Fresh bread, cheese, raw veggies and some “fruit juice” sound good while watching a Hawaiian sunset!

    -Tom

    Sure, Tom, rub it in! Enjoy those tropical sunsets… and yes, any blend will work. Seeds, cracked wheat, maybe some diced nuts… PJH

    Reply
  6. Susan D. Dickes

    Hi – Looks great. I really like the recipe on the bag of Harvest Grains Mix. They also make a great topping for any loaf of bread. I have added them to the Rustic Sourdough that was on your blog and that finally got me to order the fresh starter. I am old fashioned and like the taste of the traditional whole wheat – will this recipe work with that flour? Any changes in quantities of flour or water? Susan

    Hi Susan,
    You sure can use traditional WW flour. It behaves the same as the White WW. See PJ’s comment about the difference at the beginning of the post, under the first photo.

    Happy Baking!

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  7. Elisabeth

    That looks amazing. Also, I’m a college student in Pittsburgh, wondering about Pamela’s pancakes. If you’ve ever been to a Pamela’s, you’ll understand. The pancakes are spongy but thin as a crepe and have crunchy edges. Any clue what the recipe could be?

    Elisabeth, I found lots of comments online about these pancakes, but no recipe. Can anyone out there send me a photo, or any other descriptions that might prove useful in developing a recipe clone? They DO sound delicious… PJH

    Reply
  8. patty davis

    This looks great but I was puzzled as to why you are using regular flour vs. bread flour in the bread. Could I use bread flour? Would it change the amount of flour I use? I thought the structure would be better with a bread flour because of the heaviness of the whole wheat. Thanks for the blog and pictures. I think it makes it possible for anyone to bake bread!

    Patty, thanks for your kind words. Bread flour would be fine – I usually recommend AP just because more people have it in their cupboard. Just add a couple of more tablespoons of water (maybe up to 3 tablespoons?) to get the same soft, elastic dough texture. PJH

    Reply
  9. patty davis

    Oh, I forgot to ask. I buy powdering milk and buttermilk in bulk. No matter how I store it, it seems to solidify into a big hard lump. Any suggestions on how to store it so that it remains loose?

    It’s moisture, Patty. Maybe if you packaged it in smaller amounts, and kept it tightly wrapped with no air — say, by putting it in totally filled zip-lock bags? Or maybe in one of those cracker canisters with the moisture-remover thing on top? PJH

    Reply
  10. Elisabeth

    No pictures, but on the pancakes: they are golden, not the slightest bit “chewy” but rather, on the cakier side of a pancake, thin as a crepe, crispy edges, completely buttery, and just slightly sweet. Hopefully someone else can describe them as well..

    Reply
  11. Mary Cay Martin

    Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! I had been meaning to experiment with whole grain ciabatta,but it’s a good thing you did it first.I never would have thought to put in the multigrain cereal with flaxseed after kneading the rest. You saved me a big mess. I just made your recipe last night and it turned out wonderful.There were two slight changes:i always put a tablespoon of wheat germ in the bottom of every cup of white flour for the nutrition and I used multigrain cereal since I couldn’t bear to wait for an order of Havest Grains.Hy-Vee now comes in a very poor second!

    Ah, Mary Cay – you do my heart good. You put me to the test and I passed! I’m glad your slightly amended version was wonderful – it feels good to personalize your recipes, doesn’t it? Cheers- PJH

    Reply
  12. Gina

    Thanks for this recipe! I made it today, and the resulting slipper-shaped loaves were excellent. Instead of the water added to make the sponge, I used a half cup of my KA sourdough starter (which has been bubbling in my fridge for almost a decade now!) that I had refreshed the night before. And I used all bread flour, which did require an extra 1/4 cup or so of water. Next time I make this, I would use whole wheat flour in the sponge.

    Anyway, great recipe–THANKS again!

    Reply
  13. Bill C

    Is this dough so wet that a dough hook doesn’t apply?

    Hi Bill,
    I would stick with the paddle for this dough.

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  14. Sabrina

    Well, now you have done it – convinced a hand-baker to order a Zo!
    I love slack doughs, but not the goopy mess of working with them.

    Since the Zo has a sourdough starter setting, could I use that to make the starter for this bread?< That would work. I think you will find the Zo to be a big time saver. I know I do. Mary @ KingArthur Flour

    Reply
  15. gaga

    This has got to be one of the best looking breads ever. I love the grains and the crispy crust but soft inside. I’m actually making your stuffed baguettes right now, which is another one of my favorites. I’m definitely going to be making this in the future.

    Reply
  16. ChrisC

    I’ve made this recipe twice now and it comes out exactly as you see in the pictures and it tastes wonderful. I made this bread the first time to pair with a simple red lentil soup we love and the bread really made the meal even better. Thanks for posting this one!

    Reply
  17. cindy leigh

    Got this in the oven for a final rise.
    I used some whole wheat and white starters that I fed this morning vs the sponge.
    I used half AP and half white wheat flour, and some gluten. I added a little high maize for the added fiber- I’m on a “good carb, high fiber” plan.
    So far, it looks just like the pics!
    It’s a lovely slack dough, very airy, wonderful to work with (I used the Zo vs the KitchenAid)
    Can’t wait to try it.
    I was thinking of slicing it lengthwise for sandwiches vs into vertical slices. Got some nice smoked turkey and ham today.
    Then again, it could make a good panini!

    Oh, boy – where are you, Cindy, I’m coming for lunch tomorrow! PJH

    Reply
  18. cindy leigh

    ah, perfection on the first attempt!
    It looks just like your picture and tastes awesome. Light and holey on the inside. Nice crunchy crust. Delicious! Thanks, this is a keeper. The Zo did a beautiful job. And warmed up the kitchen nicely as the snow piles up here in CT.
    Now….. I’m working on perfecting a sourdough whole wheat (high fiber) english muffin. Got any good recipes? Mine taste good, but are not holey enough. I’m guessing my dough is not slack enough.

    Don’t have a recipe, Cindy, but you’re totally on the right track – wetter dough, plus how about stirring in baking soda at the end, just before cooking? Bet that would produce some big bubbles, with that acidic sourdough! – PJH

    Reply
  19. cindy leigh

    I sliced the loaves this morning and made 2 pan bagnas for lunch or dinner today. (Had to get that done befor family ate the bread!) I had fat free italian dressing, added a few shakes of parmesan, and used the rest of the smoked turkey, ham, and lite salami. Romaine on the top and bottom. Drizzled about a tsp of EVOO on both sides of the bread, too. They are pressing now. Reminds me of muffaletta without the olives.

    I’ve got another batch of english muffins in the Zo now. I’m adding a tsp of baking soda in the final knead, and making the dough more slack, more like a batter. We’ll see!

    Cindy, I think it’ best to stir in the baking soda right before you cook the muffins. It shoould be wet enough to do that… And your sandwiches sound WONDERFUL! – PJH

    Reply
  20. cindy leigh

    oh, yeah, the sandwiches are great!

    The english muffins were good (very good!) but still not holey enough.
    I will try again and make the dough even more slack. And try the baking soda right at the end. I might try it in the Kitchenaid vs the Zo and see if there’s a difference. I think the Kitchenaid might work better with dough that’s more of a batter than a slack dough.

    Experimentation is the mother of perfection, Cindy. Or something like that… :) PJH

    Reply
  21. cindy leigh

    Well, We slogged thru 9 inches of snow, icy highways, and spent 5 hours on the road to get our college boys from a train station and an airport last night. Took a bag of these “pressed sandwiches” with us. Our fast-food loving boys gave them a thumbs up. One, who worked at Panera in high school, said, “great bread on this sandwich, mom, did you make it?”
    This is the kid who would eat nothing but Canadian white bread.

    AWWRIGHT Mom! You rock! Glad everyone’s home safely… My college son was supposed to fly home today through a blizzard dumping 14″ of snow on us – I persuaded him to re-book for tomorrow, considering we’d have to make a 150-mile round trip to the airport to get him… – PJH

    Reply
  22. Lori4squaremom

    I am planning on starting this tonight and making it tomorrow and am making it in a Bosch Universal mixer, was wondering if using the kneading arms/hook will work with this…..I notice that you are using your KA mixing paddle rather than the bread hook.

    I think the Bosch’s kneading arm/hook will work just fine. Try it and see; if it just “slices” through the dough and lets it sit there, without moving it around, then switch to the beater. Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  23. SElizabeth

    I was wondering if wheat flour could be substituted for the all purpose? Would that work or would it change the bread too much?

    It would change the bread a lot, but give it a try and see what you think. I recommend white whole wheat. Bread will be denser, drier, heavier, and have a more pronounced ww taste. PJH

    Reply
  24. caroline

    just a quick question – what do you use to cover your dough while it rises? i tend to use oiled plastic wrap, but it limits my bread’s rising. they puff up, but sideways. your pictures look marvelously puffed in all dimensions!

    We’re glad your dough is indeed rising…..Lightly oil the plastic wrap and secure it on the top of the bowl. If the kitchen is especially drafty or cool, set a clean towel on top of the wrap. You can see from the blog pictures that the test kitchen uses a dough doubler or 8 C. measure to proof the dough. In this cylinder shape with measures/markings, you can easily see if the dough is doubled. Irene at KAF

    Caroline, I actually use a big, clear plastic cover – hard plastic. Looks like a big box with the bottom cut out. A good cover is the lightweight clear plastic top from a deli platter. Barring that, you can cover rising loaves with a big tinfoil lasagna or casserole pan; you can’t see through it to watch the dough, but it works. PJH

    Reply
  25. J. Barrett

    What size loaf does this make (1, 1.5 or 2lb)? I’m trying to figure out what setting to use for the dough cycle in my cuisinart bread machine.

    THanks!

    The 1 1/2-lb. setting should be fine – PJH

    Reply
  26. robinwilson

    Hey, so can I bake this recipe in my big round cloche baker? I thought I would like to try one big round loaf rather than the two smaller long loaves? If you can, how long, what temp, and do I need to start from a cold oven? Thanks!
    Actually, ciabatta is meant to be a flatter bread, not high and round and puffy. If you’d like to try a multi-grain loaf in the crock, check this one out.

    Reply
  27. NinjaDDS

    Hello! I am so very excited to make this bread. I have a food science-y question for you: Would it make a terrible difference if I used liquid milk instead of dried milk? In our house lactose is a no-no and I have not been able to find a lactose-free dried milk.
    Thanks in advance!

    Sure – substitute 1/4 cup liquid milk for 1/4 cup of the water in the recipe. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  28. 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.

  29. swebeck

    do you think a Cuisinart food processor with the dough blade thingy would work for this slack dough?

    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

  30. 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

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