This roasted garlic and fennel olive oil ciabatta is easy to make and jam packed with roasted garlic and fennel flavor. Use it for Papermoon cheese steak sandwiches, dipping in olive oil, and so much more!
UPDATED 9/2/21 — I've given this recipe a massive makeover with all new photos, more detailed ingredient notes, new gifs, and a new FAQ section. I also streamlined the recipe, making it easier to follow!
There's just something about eating a sandwich made with ciabatta bread that feels special to me. Don't get me wrong, I love a good brioche roll or slab of crusty sourdough, but there's something about Ciabatta that just screams homemade with love.
Ciabatta bread is light, but solid, with medium-sized air pockets perfect for trapping any sauces, dressings, or oils, which is a plus if you're like me and hate messy sandwiches (see also: my pita pocket hack).
The crust is slightly textured with floury cracks, swirls, and creases, and its imperfect edges are a reminder of the work that went into making it.
Slice a ciabatta roll in half to make a sandwich and it'll be fluffy and soft on the inside, no-nonsense and sturdy on the outside.
Cut across into thin slices and ciabatta begins to dry out, making it a crisp, crunchy canvas for bruschetta or for dipping in olive oil. Cut it into cubes and toast them in the oven to make croutons or dip it in cheese for fondue.
Why this recipe works
The first time I made ciabatta was at King Arthur's baking school in Vermont, and the recipe I've included here is adapted (just barely, tbh) from the olive oil ciabatta we used in the class.
Because ciabatta on its own brings such a strong presence to the table, it can handle a lot of flavor being added in the baking process. So I added a whole bulb of roasted garlic and fennel seeds to it.
(Yes, just like my roasted garlic and fennel bagel recipe).
Ciabatta's floury exterior coats your tongue when you bite in, and the one-two punch of the roasted garlic and the aromatic fennel makes it just a little more interesting.
This is a great ciabatta recipe for beginners because it doesn't involve an overnight pre-ferment (like a poolish or a biga). Of course, since this recipe includes that roasted garlic — you'll want to make the roasted garlic in advance or even a day ahead of time.
It's also the perfect recipe to familiarize yourself with a pretty standard technique for developing gluten called folding.
You don't need anything fancy to make this roasted garlic and fennel olive oil ciabatta. Here's what you'll need:
- All-purpose flour - Bread flour will also work.
- Garlic bulb - Roasted. Wrap the fennel seeds in the foil with it so they get nicely toasted at the same time.
- Olive oil - Pick one with a strong flavor. I like California Olive Ranch's Global Blend or their Garlic Infused Olive Oil.
- Fennel seeds - Whole or lightly crushed. If you're not roasting them with the garlic bulb, toasting is optional but brings out a really nice flavor.
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you're using another brand of kosher salt, use half as much.
- Instant yeast - You can mix this right into your dry ingredients! Just don't put it right on top of/under/next to the salt, as salt can kill the yeast.
- Water - Lukewarm to slightly warm water, not hot.
Folding ciabatta bread dough
There are a few ways to add strength and flavor to your bread dough — some doughs require vigorous kneading, some require the slow and steady progression of time, and others, like this ciabatta dough, require folding.
After mixing all your ingredients together, you'll let the dough ferment for three hours. In that time, the yeast will start eating all the delicious sugars and starches in the dough and converting them into gas (aka air bubbles).
Those air bubbles are what makes your dough rise. But rising alone won't strengthen the gluten of your dough or develop the flavor. For that, you need to fold the dough every 30 minutes over the course of 3 hours (6 sets of folds total).
The nice thing about this recipe is that you can do all your folds right in your mixing bowl, no need to move the dough from the bowl to your counter and back again.
What to expect: At first, your dough will be loose, messy, and pretty stretchy. As the gluten develops with each set of folds, the dough will become stronger and harder to stretch. It will also grow slightly in size as air bubbles are trapped inside.
Below you can move the slider to see what the dough looks like before and after 6 sets of folds.
Loaves or rolls, slices or sandwiches
Before you put your dough in the oven, you'll get to decide what kind of loaf (or loaves) you want.
First, you'll gently stretch the dough to a roughly 8"x10" rectangle. Then, it's entirely up to you how you want to cut it:
- Two long loaves
- Four medium-sized rectangular loaves
- Eight square-ish rolls
They all bake for the same amount of time.
Mix it up if you want to — one long loaf and four square-ish rolls; one long loaf, one medium-sized rectangle loaf, and two square-ish rolls; or heck, make eight triangles if you want. The end pieces almost always end up vaguely triangular, anyway.
This is one of the things I love most about ciabatta dough, by the way. There is absolutely NO SHAPING the way bread usually requires. It's so easy it almost feels like cheating, tbh.
You simply turn your dough out onto the floured countertop, loosely stretch it into a rectangle, and then cut it. That's it! Your ciabatta has its shape. In fact, if you do anything more than that you risk ruining the shape and the flour swirls, so once you cut it — leave it alone until it's time to bake.
Ciabatta's distinctive ciabatta floury swirls
One of ciabatta's distinguishing features is a domed top with a unique pattern of swirls and creases of flour.
To create this floury pattern, you'll flip the proofed ciabatta loaves over right before you transfer them into the oven.
How does it work? When you stretch the dough into the 8"x10" rectangle and cut it into loaves, you do so on a generously floured surface.
Most bread recipes say lightly floured, but not ciabatta. Generously floured. More than a light dusting but less than a complete snowfall. Like, you should still be able to tell the grass is green, but it's definitely more white than green. (In this metaphor, the grass is your counter.)
When you let the shaped loaves rise, they'll expand slightly against the countertop with the flour getting trapped in between the creases where the dough is sticky. Right before you transfer them into the oven, you flip the loaves over, revealing the swirly pattern — kind of like when you fall asleep on a creased pillow and wake up with wrinkles all over your face.
When the loaves bake, they'll continue expanding and all those fine lines and wrinkles on the surface of the dough will spread out, further emphasizing the swirls.
Baking on a baking stone or steel
Whether you're using a baking stone or an upside-down baking sheet, the process for transferring your loaves onto it for baking is the same. If you're fancy, you can use a pizza peel, but an upside-down baking sheet will do the job just as well.
Before I had the baking steel, I used a round baking stone, so to get all my ciabatta loaves to fit, I put each one on its own piece of parchment paper. That way I could transfer them to the oven one at a time, and use tongs to move them around until they fit (like a game of baker's Tetris).
To slide the parchment paper and dough off your pizza peel or upside-down sheet tray, tilt it forward very slightly and rest the lip on the baking stone where you want it to land.
Tilt the other end (the end in your hand) up, keeping the lip on the stone, and pull backwards in one quick movement. The parchment paper and dough should slide off and on to the tray. Use kitchen tongs to grab the edge of the parchment paper to adjust the placement as needed.
How to keep track of what set of folds you're on
I always have trouble with this too. Here's a few different methods that have worked well for me:
- Set two timers, one for 3 hours and one for 30 minutes, and just keep resetting the 30 minute timer until the 3 hour timer goes off
- Sticking a post-it on the counter, setting a timer for 30 minutes, and making a tally mark every time you complete a set of folds
- Set a timer every 30 minutes and put 6 M&Ms on the counter next to your dough. Eat one every time you complete a set of folds. When you're out of M&Ms, you're done with your folds.
Roasted garlic and fennel olive oil ciabatta FAQ
Yes! I often switch things up and do coil folds or a modified slap-and-fold in the bowl.
There are a lot of different folding techniques out there, so as long as you're folding in one direction, and you have one smooth side and one seam-side, you should be fine.
Yup! It's extremely good plain too.
I haven't tested this, but I've heard people recommend preheating an inverted baking sheet. If you try this, let me know how it goes for you!
Yep! No changes needed. If you're not sure if your yeast is good, you may want to put a small pinch in a bit of water first to make sure it activates (it'll get foamy after a few minutes). But otherwise you can use active dry yeast interchangeably here.
roasted garlic and fennel olive oil ciabatta
- 1 garlic bulb (whole, roasted with fennel seeds)
- 30 g olive oil (2 TBSP)
- 540 g flour (4½ cups)
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 355 g warm water (1½ cups)
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Roast a bulb of garlic. Slice the top off a bulb of garlic. Place in the center of a sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil (and fennel seeds, optional). Gather the foil loosely around the bulb in a teardrop shape. Roast for 40-45 minutes.Turn the oven off.
- Mix the dough. Combine flour, salt, yeast, and fennel seeds (if not roasted with the garlic) in a large, sturdy mixing bowl. Add the water, olive oil, and roasted garlic cloves and mix well with a bowl scraper or spatula, smashing the garlic cloves as you go. Keep mixing until a shaggy, wet dough forms. If dough still seems dry, drizzle a little more olive oil in and keep mixing until no dry spots are left.
- Bulk fermentation & folding. Cover the dough and let it bulk ferment for the next 3 hours, with folds in the bowl every 30 minutes (a total of 6 sets of folds).
- Preheat the baking steel. When the final set of folds is complete, let the dough rest for a final 30 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven to 500°F degrees with a baking steel on the center rack.
- Shape ciabatta. Generously flour your countertop and gently release the dough from the bowl onto the counter. Loosely stretch it into an 8″x10″ rectangle approximately 2″ high. Dust the top generously with flour too.
- Cut the loaves. Use a knife or a sharp-edged bench scraper to cut the dough into 2 long loaves, 4 medium loaves, or 8 rolls. Cover the rolls with a clean dish towel and let rest while the oven preheats, at least 30 minutes (up to an an hour is fine).
- Flip the loaves. Trim parchment paper to size. Flip the loaves over to reveal the beautiful flour patterns and gently place onto parchment paper.
- Launch onto the steel. Use a pizza peel or the back of a sheet tray to slide the rolls one or two at a time onto the baking stone until all of them fit. They’ll expand in the oven so you want to try to keep an inch of space between them.
- Reduce temperature. After 5 minutes, reduce the temp to 450°F degrees, and continue baking for another 20-22 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown on top, firm on the sides, and feel light for their size. They should sound hollow when you tap the bottoms.
- Cool. Let cool on a wire rack before eating. The loaves will soften as they cool.
- Prep time includes roasting the garlic.
- If you don’t have a baking stone or baking steel, use an inverted cookie sheet.
- Ciabatta tends to dry out or harden quickly. These are best consumed within a few days of baking. To revive them on day 4 or 5, you can cut them in half, run the halves quickly under water, then place in a 250°F degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the water evaporates. I know, it sounds weird. But it totally works.
This post was originally published on 9/6/2019.