Ciabatta, or “slipper bread” can be found throughout Italy. One way to create the best texture is to use a biga, or starter made the day before, a long rising time, and also to use a loose, moist dough. I find using a baking stone in my oven helps to give my bread a good crust also. Preheat your oven for at least 30 minutes to heat the stone fully if you are using it. If you don’t have a stone, simply place your loaves on baking sheets sprinkled with coarse cornmeal to prevent sticking.
Makes 2 Loaves
by Deborah Mele
1 Recipe Biga Made The Day Before (See Recipe Below)
3 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (Plus More For Working & Shaping)
1 1/2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 Teaspoons Salt
1 1/2 Cups Warm Water
Combine the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and biga, and stir until the dough is mixed. It will be quite wet, and rough in texture. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter or breadboard, and using as little flour as possible, knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. Don’t worry that your dough still seems very loose and moist, as it will firm up as it rises. Place the dough into a large bowl three times the size of the dough that has been lightly oiled first. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm spot for 2 to 3 hours, or until the dough has doubled, punching down and turning the dough every 30 minutes or so.
If using baking sheets, sprinkle them lightly with cornmeal. Divide the dough in two pieces and fold each into a rectangle. Stretch the rectangle until it is about 12 to 14 inches long. Place each prepared loaf onto a baking sheet, and cover lightly with a towel. If you are using a baking stone, flour two kitchen towels, or bread making peels with flour, and place the shaped loaves on them to rise. Cover loosely with towels. Preheat the oven at this time to 450 degrees F.
After 45 minutes, place the baking sheets into the hot oven, or move the loaves onto the hot baking stone. Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the loaves once during this time, or until the dough is a dark golden brown all over. Remove and let cool on a wire rack.
Biga For Bread Making
1/4 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
1 Cup Warm Water (About 110 Degrees F.)
1 1/3 Cups Bread Flour
2/3 Cup Unbleached All-purpose Flour
Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a bowl large enough to fit all of the ingredients, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flours, and stir to combine. The dough may seem stiff, but will soften up as it sits. Cover the biga tightly with plastic wrap, and let it sit for 6 hours at room temperature. Stir it, and refrigerate it until the next day, or at least 12 hours.