Tomato Ciabatta with Olives and Onions – Food and Wine, September 2014


Oh look, how the magazine said it would look. Photo Credit – Andrea Wyner

Lest I have somehow fooled you into thinking I am foolishly wasting my cooking and photography talents by having a different career, I present this incredibly flat ciabatta bread.

tomato ciabatta with olives and oniones


I had a few hours between brunch and an impromptu party, and as I flipped through the latest Food and Wine, I conjured an image of wafting into said party bearing delicious loaves of ciabatta bread, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, flavored with tomatoes and onions. It didn’t quite go as planned.

I hate to blame the recipe, BUT I am going to blame the recipe unless any baking warriors out there can take a look at this and go “no, Allison, it’s definitely you.” I have made a lot of bread in my time, and my friends, this dough is wet. Incredibly wet and incredibly sticky. There is a very high water-flour ratio. The vegetables that get added into the dough are cooked in olive oil and not drained, which adds extra moisture to the dough. (I did think, wow, this is a lot of oil into already stick dough, did try to avoid getting most of the olive oil into the dough.) I quadruple checked the measurements to make sure I was correct.

Whenever I follow a baking recipe for the first time, I try to follow the recipe exactly.  The recipe said “IT WILL BE QUITE WET,” so despite contemplating adding more flour, I decided to trust the recipe.

That was a mistake. The loaves didn’t retain their shape in the oven but spreeeaaaaaad out, resulting in a flat, fococcia-like loaf that transported terribly. I tried to wrap the bread in parchment, then foil, but nothing worked. Finally, I gave up and Christopher cradled the bread in his arms like a baby while we drove to the party.

However, despite my declaration of “Ugh, this bread is terrible and squishy,” upon slicing it, the bread was delicious. The partygoers turned bread guinea pigs were pleased by the texture (“YOU HAD ME AT SQUISHY!” my friend Anna declared) and the flavor of the bread is great. The cooked onions, olives, cherry tomatoes, and tomato paste give the bread the flavors of your favorite pizza. If I were to make it again, I’d add a half cup of parmesan cheese to the dough.

I would absolutely love to make this again, but I’d like some advice from anyone with bread experience. What’s wrong with this recipe? Is it the amount of flour? The water? The amount of yeast?

Tomato Ciabatta with Olives and Onions  

(Recipe by Ylenia Sambati, Food and Wine)


  •  5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered
  • 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Three 1/4-oz packages active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
  • 3/4 cup fine semolina


  1. In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and cook over moderately high heat until lightly caramelized, 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and crushed red pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the olives and tomatoes. Season with salt and black pepper and let cool.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the yeast, sugar and water; let stand until foamy, 10 minutes. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir in the 2 1/2 cups of flour and the semolina until the dough comes together; it will be quite wet. Stir in the cooled olive mixture. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel. Let stand in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450°. Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Shape it into 2 rough 14-by-3 1/2-inch loaves and transfer to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, until the loaves are lightly browned and risen; transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

4 thoughts on “Tomato Ciabatta with Olives and Onions – Food and Wine, September 2014

  1. i am only a bread experiencer, not a bread expert, but a few thoughts:

    1. I would try adding more flour. You know when a dough is too sticky, and if it seems too sticky, it probably is. That seems like way too little flour to me — for my french bread I end up with close to a 1:2 ratio for my water/flour (and it may be closer to 1:3 of wet ingredients to dry)

    2. I also would try increasing the initial oven temp to 500, and then lowering it after 5-7 minutes. That should help “set” the shape of the dough and make your dough crusty-er. That’s what I do for my big crusty beer bread that has a very wet dough, but comes out crusty on the outside, soft on the inside.

    for what it’s worth, you still should quit your job and become a food maker. Obvs.

  2. So, I have a story to tell you because the exact same thing happened to me four days ago. I was making a challah recipe from my King Arthur Baker’s Companion and I had made it before using regular ole measuring cups and all was well and lovely and delicious.

    Then, I bought a scale, because this is what Those In The Know recommend to those of us not so much in the know. And I measured everything according to weight. Measured it with infinitesimal precision. And I looked at the dough and the dough looked at me and I was like, “Hmm. It looks slack. BUT I WEIGHED MY INGREDIENTS, and King Arthur flour is surely an authority on matters such as these, so I’m sure it will all be fine.”

    My floppy dough baked up all flat and funny looking, but tasted fine. Life carried on somehow.

    Anyway, yes, I’m inclined to think it’s a flour issue. And also, this sounds delicious, and I would have eaten it too, regardless of how it looked.

    • Oh DEAR. Yes, I recently started spooning flour into my measuring cups because Those in the Know said it was the ONLY way and I had contemplated getting a scale but it seems to have all gone SO WRONG. Why is precision fraught with disaster?

      I have a feeling 5-10% of bakers measure and then everyone else just whimsically adds flour and it is nearly impossible to tell what sort you’re dealing with when you start a recipe. You’d think King Arthur Flour, of all people, would not lead you astray!

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