Sponge (must be made a day ahead)
2 1/2 c. (12 1/2 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 c. water, at room temperature
4 c. (20 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface, hands, and dough
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. water, at room temperature
1. For the sponge: Place the flour, yeast, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix at the lowest speed until the ingredients form a uniform, sticky mass, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and turn the mixer to the second-lowest speed. Mix until the sponge becomes a glutinous mass, about 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and allow it to sit at cool room temperature (60-70 degrees) overnight.
2. For the dough: Add all of the ingredients to the bowl with the sponge. Place the bowl in a standing mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix at the lowest speed until a roughly combined, shaggy dough forms, about 1 minute; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Continue mixing at low speed until the dough becomes shiny and uniform (unlike most bread dough, this dough will never clear the sides of the bowl), about 5 minutes. Turn the dough into a large lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and keep at room temperature.
3. After 1 hour, uncover the dough, liberally dust the top with flour, and slide a rubber spatula between the bowl and the dough, about 3 inches straight down the side of th bowl, and gently lift and fold the edge of the dough toward the middle. Repeat the process around the dough's circumference until all of it has been turned. Tightly re-cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Repeat the process in 1 hour.
4. Within 2 1/2 to 3 hours, the dough should have roughly tripled in volume. Heavily dust a work surface with flour and, using a rubber spatula, gently turn the dough out onto the work surface. Liberally dust the top of the dough with flour. Using a bench scraper dipped in water, cut the dough into 2 roughly equal pieces. With one fluid motion, grasp the end of one piece of dough with the bench scraper and the other end with your free hand (well dusted with flour) and lift the dough over a large sheet of parchment paper. Allow the mdidle of the dough to drop onto the parchment paper and fold the ends of the dough over like a business letter. With well-floured hands, gently stretch the dough to approximately 10 by 5 inches. Repeat with the remaining dough and a second sheet of parchment. Cover each loaf loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest until roughly doubled in bulk and the dough feels relatively firm to the touch, about 1 hour.
5. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and place a large baking stone on the rack (I do not have a baking stone - I just used a large, rimless baking sheet, and made sure to preheat). Adjust the other rack to the lowest position, and place a small empty baking pan on it. Heat the oven to 500. (My first loaf that was baked at 500 degrees came out a bit too dark, slightly burnt on the outside. I baked my 2nd loaf at 450 degrees, and it came out much better).
6. Gently transfer one shaped loaf (still on the parchment) to a peel or the baking of a baking sheet. (I just took the preheated baking sheet out of the oven and slid the parchment with dough directly onto it - no real need for the peel here). Remove the plastic wrap and slide the dough into the center of the baking stone. Pour 2 cups of hot tap water into the heated pan on the bottom, being careful of the steam. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then remove the bread from the oven and remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the loaf. Return the bread to the oven, bottom-side up. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 10-15 more minutes. Remove the bread from the oven, set it right-side up on a wire rack, and cool for at least 1 hour. Repeat the process with the remaining loaf and 2 more cups of hot tap water. Before serving, brush any excess flour off the loaf with a pastry brush.
The sponge for ciabatta must be made a day ahead, so plan accordingly. As you make this bread, keep in mind that the dough is unique; it is wet and very, very sticky. The key to manipulating it is working quickly and gently; rough handling will result in flat, tough bread. Use a large rubber spatula and a dough scraper rather than your hands to move the dough.
Baked Goods, Baked goods, Bread
Estimated preparation time:
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