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.

The Four Hour Baguette

This loaf did not last through the next ten minutes

This loaf did not last through the next ten minutes

In the time it takes you to suffer through the Hobbit movie, you could have made delicious, crusty, homemade French baguettes.  It is ridiculously easy – if you can stir together ingredients and knead them together, you can make these baguettes. No need for an overpriced $150 baguette making class with gentle classical music playing in the background, no special pans, just you and the dough.

After my ricotta making extravaganza, I was delighted to have an overabundance of leftover whey. I had read that whey, when replacing water in bread, adds a buttery and subtly sweet undertone to the baguette. This was not a lie, and I think this might have been the best baguette I’ve had in some time. Perfectly crusty and chewy, but soft and light.

Of course, if you have chosen to reject the call of the cheese maker, it is perfectly acceptable to use water in place of whey. I wouldn’t want anyone to be deterred from how easy this recipe is by requiring the step of cheese making. After all, this is such a great bread recipe whenever you think “Yes, tonight is the night when I will have a loaf of bread or two for dinner.”

This loaf is super low maintenance. You mix the dough, then proof it every 45 minutes or so before shaping it into loaves, using parchment paper to maintain their shapes. Once they’ve risen, you slide them delicately and bravely into the oven, following with ice cubes in a cast iron skillet to create steam that will lock in the moisture of the bread and create an amazing crust.

After you remove your loaves from the oven, remind yourself that bread does improve as it cools, which is why you allow two to cool while you throw caution to the wind and tear into the first loaf.

Two loaves, cooling


The Four Hour Baguette 

(Adapted from Dan Leader’s 4-hour baguette recipe at Food 52.)

My Notes: 

  • I heated the whey in the microwave at 10 second intervals, testing the temp as I went.
  • If you do not have a cast iron skillet, I would use an oven safe vessel that would not be prone to cracking when adding ice cubes to it in a hot oven. I would avoid using glass, opting instead for a metal cake pan  or rimmed cookie sheet.
  • I struggle with getting bread to rise in a timely fashion, however a bread baking class and trial and error have led me to the technique below, where you turn the oven onto low, turn it off, then let it cool off before placing the dough in the oven to rise.


  • 1 and 1/2 cups of whey, heated to 115 degrees (Water can be substituted)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 3 and 1/4 cups of bread flour (All purpose flour can be used, I prefer bread flour for bread making purposes – I’ve found it produces a fluffier loaf)
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • Canola or vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl
  • 1/2 cup of ice cubes


1) Whisk together the whey and yeast in a large bowl. Leave it for ten minutes as the yeast activates. If your mixture is not foamy, fear not, all is well.

2) Add the flour to the mixture, stirring until the flour is absorbed. Let the dough sit for 20 minutes. This will allow the flour to hydrate and the gluten to form a network. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 150 degrees. Once the oven hits 150 degrees, turn it off.

3) Add the salt. Now it is time to knead the dough. You can use the dough hook on your stand mixer or your hands, if you lack a stand mixer or enjoy the therapy of kneading. (If you have never kneaded bread before, you can find a nice kneading tutorial from King Arthur Flour here). Knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Lightly grease a large bowl and place the dough inside, swiping the ball of dough against the greased sides of the bowl before settling it inside. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap, followed by a clean kitchen towel.

4) Place the bowl in the oven, which should be slightly warm from the previous preheating but not hot. Leave the dough until it has doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

5) Scrape the dough to a floured work surface. The dough is fairly sticky, so flour your hands. Shape the dough into an approximate 8″ x 6″ rectangle. Fold the longer sides to the middle, then the shorter sides. Place the dough back in the bowl, with the seams down. Cover the dough as before and place it back in the oven. Let it rest another hour.

6) Remove the dough from the oven. Arrange the two oven racks – one in the bottom portion of the oven, and one in the upper middle portion. Place the cast iron skillet on the bottom rack, and a baking stone, rimless sheet pan, or upside down sheet pan on the upper rack. Heat the oven to 475° F.

7) Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Divide the dough into three equal portions and shape them into a 14-inch log. Using a rimless baking sheet or an upside down backing sheet, measure a sheet of parchment paper the size of the baking sheet and flour it. Place the dough logs on the parchment, spacing them evenly. To form the loaves as they rise, pinch the paper between each log to form a pleat. Support the end edges of the baguettes with rolled kitchen towels. Drape the plastic wrap over the loaves, let them sit until doubled in size; about 50 minutes.

Baguette forming contraptions

8) Remove the towels and plastic wrap, and pull on the paper to remove the pleats and space out the loaves. Now, we add the charming slashes in the baguette. You can use a knife or scissors to slash four, four-inch slashes in the baguette.

9) Be strong and brave. Measure half a cup of ice cubes and place it near the oven, at the ready. Pull out the upper oven rack with the baking sheet, and carefully slide the parchment paper containing the loaves off of the cool baking sheet and onto the hot one. Working quickly, dump the ice cubes into the skillet below and shut the oven door. Do not open the door! The steam produced by the ice cubes will help the loaves rise before forming that glorious crust.

10) Bake the baguettes until they are brown, with a crisp crust, 15-25 minutes. Remove and let two of the baguettes cool on a wire rack while you eat the third with butter.