Ciabatta is easily my first choice in bread. I find it to be perfect in every way.
Good crust...check, chewy center...check, full of flavor... check!
And it can be used for anything, sandwich bread, grilled bread, crustini bread, or just for slopping up the juice from a bowl of mussels.
Like anything else in life worth having, ciabatta is worth the wait when making. This is a recipe from "The Bread Bible" by Levy Beranbaun
So here we go!
Dough Starter (biga)
(make six hours to 3 days ahead)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 liquid cups room temp water
place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. It will be sticky to the touch.
Cover and set aside at room temp. until it triples and is full of bubbles.
This will take about six hours. I usually do this before I go to bed. So that when I wake up it will be ready to go. Or you can do it in the morning before you go to work so that it will be ready when you get home. If you are not going to use right away, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Just make sure to bring it to room temp. before you bake with it.
1cup unbleached all purpose flour (plus some for shaping)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 liquid cup of room temp water
the biga from above
In the mixer bowl, whisk in the flour and the yeast. Than mix in the salt. (This keeps the yeast from coming in contact with the salt) Add the water and the biga. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed just until the flour is moistened. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes. At first the dough will be very soft and soupy.
Gradually it will start to develop strands of gluten. Lower the speed to medium and continue to beat for another 2 minutes. It the dough hasn't pulled away from the bowl after the first 3 minutes, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium-high for another 3 minutes. If it still does not pull away, add a little flour, a teaspoon at a time until it does. The dough should cling to your fingers if touched.
Let the dough rise...
Using an oiled spatula or dough scarper, scrape the dough into a 1 quart container, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil, and cover. Let rise until at least double. About 1 to 1/2 hours.
Shape the dough and let rise...
Sift a generous amount of flour onto a counter. With an oiled spatula, gently scrape the dough onto the flour, and sift more flour on top.
Handle the dough gently at all times to maintain as much air in it as possible. Using the palm of your hands against the sides of the dough, push it together slightly. Using your fingertips, make large deep dimples in the dough about 1 inch apart. Using your palms again, push the sides together slightly. This causes wrinkles on the bottom which will become the top when inverted and creates the classic lines in the crust.
Carefully lift the dough and invert it onto the prepared baking sheet. It will be 10 to 11 inches long. Push in the sides again so that the dough is 4 1/2 inches wide. It will be between 1/2 to 1 inch high. Sift flour over the top and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm spot until 1 to 1 1/2 inches high, about an hour and half.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level. If you have a pizza stone use it if not do not worry. Place a small cast iron pan in to heat up.
Bake the bread...
Remove the plastic wrap and quickly but gently set the baking sheet in the oven (on the stone if you have one) Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes in the hot pan and immediately shut the oven door. Bake for 5 minutes and lower the oven to 450 degrees and continue to bake for 20 minutes until the bread is a light golden brown. Halfwa through baking, turn the pan around for even baking.
Cool the bread...
Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely. Brush off the extra flour from the surface.
Now just enjoy the fruit of your labor...