Ciabatta Integrale with Sourdough Pre-Ferment



By Cat, May 19, 2014 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Ciabatta is an Italian rustic bread, with soft spongy interior and crispy crust, and with a slight sourdough flavor that comes from an overnight ferment.

As I moved my original Ciabatta Integrale recipe from my old Cat’s Kitchen site, to this blog, it occurred to me how easy it would be to modify that recipe to use sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast in the pre-ferment. The first Ciabatta Integrale that I tested uses technique similar to a sourdough sponge recipe, including a pre-ferment followed by an autolyze to hydrate the flour and begin digestion of the proteins and carbs in the grain.

Unfortunately, right now I’m avoiding high carb foods (ketogenic eating plan), so I am not able to test this at this time.

Health benefits of sourdough

The yeast species in commercial yeast is S. cerevisiae, which doesn’t provide the health benefits of wild yeast in sourdough. Wild yeast is a different spices, S. exiges. In addition to adding a different flavor to the bread, it works best in a slightly acidic medium maintained by the lacto-bacteria in the sourdough. That acidic medium activates enzymes in the grain that partially digest the grain’s proteins and carbohydrates, and break down the grain’s phytates that would otherwise bind minerals. The sourdough also breaks down much of the toxic lectins in the grain, including the reactive part of the gluten complex, while retaining it’s ability to support a rise. (See Sourdough Introduction for more on its healthfulness).

Sourdough Ciabatta Integrale

This recipe begins with a sourdough pre-ferment, followed by an autolyze step. The dough is then worked using the shape-and-fold method, then allowed to rise before baking. I’ve based this on two of my recipes:

I’ve made whole-grain sourdough bread with autolyze before, but have not yet tried this particular version, nor have I tried the stretch-and-fold method. I’ve always just kneaded it as my Dad taught me.

Ingredients & Equipment

  • Pre-ferment (sponge)
  • ½ cup sourdough starter
  • ¼ cup room-temperature filtered water
  • ½ cup whole grain flour or more as needed for sponge
  • Autolyze:
  • All of the pre-ferment
  • ¼ cup cool filtered water, plus more if needed
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)
  • ½ cup whole grain flour or more as needed for sponge
  • ¾ cup unbleached white flour, or more as needed, added 1 Tbsp at a time
  • Dough:
  • ¾ tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • ⅓ cup room-temperature filtered water
  • 2 – 4 Tbsp additional unbleached white flour (e.g., white spelt), plus more for stretching & folding
  • Equipment:
  • 2 large bowls (large enough to hold dough)
  • wooden spoon
  • dampened cotton cloth to cover bowl, and a plate that can rest on top of covered bowl (or a plastic bag into which the covered bowl can fit)
  • medium bowl
  • board (as for kneading bread or using the stretch-and-fold method)
  • baking parchment (unbleached is best)
  • Baking Stone (for baking)
  • baking sheet or pizza peel (optional, to ease transfer of loaves to baking stone)
  • banneton (optional, for shaping loaf; see Bread-making Equipment for how to use one)


  1. Pre-ferment (sponge): Sift flour into large mixing bowl. Add starter without mixing. Then mix together while adding water gradually. Stir for 4 minutes, but don’t overmix to avoid developing the gluten too early (about 100 strokes). Mixture would be fairly soft.
  2. Cover with damp cloth, then place bowl with cloth into a plastic bag, or place a weight on top of bowl and cloth, to keep from drying out. Let rest on counter (a cool room temperature) 12 – 24 hours.
  3. Next Day: Autolyze: Pre-ferment should be active, spongy and bubbly.
  4. Add water to pre-ferment, then add all the whole grain flour, ¼ cup of the white flour, and olive oil. Mix with wooden spoon. Adjust with more water, or white flour as needed, ½ – 1 Tbsp at a time. Dough should be soft.
  5. Cover with dampened cloth and weight with a plate (or place covered bowl into a plastic bag) and let stand 45 – 60 minutes, to hydrate the flour.
  6. Dough (Stretch & Fold method): Sprinkle salt over dough.
  7. Fill a medium bowl with cold, filtered water (for moistening your fingers)
  8. Dip hands in cold water, then shake off excess (to avoid over-hydrating dough). Immerse fingers into dough, turning hand one direction while turning bowl in opposite direction. Repeat this mixing method, re-wetting fingers when dough starts to stick, for about 10 minutes, adding more water or flour as necessary. Dough should still be soft and sticky.
  9. Transfer dough to greased bowl, cover and let rest for several hours. Except every hour or so, remove dough to a well-floured board, and generously flour the dough. then give it a good stretch and fold (see Stretch-and-Fold Lesson (3)), brushing off as much flour as you can before folding. This means, “gently pat out the gas, stretch the dough to twice its length and then fold it in thirds like a letter. Give the dough a one-quarter turn, and then stretch-and-fold once more.” Then return to bowl (re-oiling if needed) until the next stretch and fold.
  10. After about 3 hours (and 2 – 3 stretch-and-fold sessions), remove dough from bowl.
  11. Divide dough into 2 for large loaves, or 3 for smaller loaves.
  12. Using stretch and fold method, form each into a long loaf, about 12″ x 4″, or into 3 smaller 4″ square loaves.  Place on a sheet of baking parchment about 2″ wider and longer than the loaf(s), on top of a baking sheet. If desired, dip fingers in flour and dimple the loaves. Cover with dampened cotton cloth and let rise 1 ½ to 2 hours, until almost doubled. May need more rise time if kitchen is cool.
  13. Preheat baking stone: About 1 hour before finished rising, place baking stone on lowest rack of oven. Set oven as hot as it will go,  500° – 550°F, to ensure the stone is really hot.
  14. Bake: A suggestion from The Fresh Loaf (4): adding steam to the oven helps the dough to rise at the beginning, by keeping the surface damp so that it can stretch; and helps develop that wonderful crust.
  15. Fill a cast iron skillet with about 1 cup boiling water and place skillet on floor of oven (below the baking stone). Careful: avoid vapor burns! Then reduce oven to 425° F before adding loaves.
  16. Transfer one loaf with its parchment to baking sheet; if you used a banneton, turn it over (with its parchment) onto baking sheet, remove banneton, transfer loaf on its parchment to heated baking stone. If you shaped small, square loaves, repeat transfer method for each, but no more than 3 small loaves in oven at the same time. Bake about 20 – 25 minutes, until pale-golden, then remove to rack.


not yet tested

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