Ciabatta bread recipe

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A recipe for the classic Italian bread, ciabatta. Ciabatta literally meaning slipper, got its name because of its slipper like shape. The bread is made in two steps. In the first one, the 'sponge' is prepared and in the second one, the bread is made using the sponge. The sponge will need to rest for a day so to make ciabatta, you have to start a day ahead.
Preparation time: 60 minutes, Cooking time: 60 minutes, Serves: 4 



Ingredients

To make the sponge
2 Tbsp warm water
1/8 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1 cup bread flour

To make the ciabatta
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 Tbsp warm milk
2/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

Directions

Prepare the sponge
In a small bowl add the 1/8 teaspoon of yeast and the 2 tablespoons of warm water. Stir well and let stand for 5 minutes, or until the mixture becomes creamy.

Pour the mixture in a bigger bowl and add the 1/3 cup of the water, and 1 cup of the bread flour. Stir for 4-5 minutes, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature for at least 12 hours, or overnight.

Make the dough
In a small bowl add the 1/2 teaspoon of active dry yeast and 2 tablespoons of milk. Stir well and let stand for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is creamy.

In the bowl of an electric mixer equipped with a dough kneading hook, add the milk and yeast mixture, the sponge, the 2/3 cups of water, the olive oil, the flour and salt and mix for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth, elastic and bubbly. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature, until it doubles in volume (this should take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours).

Lay the dough on a well floured working surface and cut it in two pieces. Place each half of the dough onto baking paper and shape it into a boat shaped oval, about 9 inches long. Using your fingers, lightly press the dough to make small indentations. Dust the loaves with flour, cover them with a damp cloth and let them sit at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until they are nearly double in volume.

Bake the ciabatta
Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).

When the loaves have doubled in volume, carefully move them on the baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the loaves are pale golden in color.

Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

Notes and tips

Warm water or milk means a temperature of  110 F or 45 degrees C.

There is a difference between bread flour and all purpose flour. Although you can use all purpose flour instead of bread flour, the results will not be the same. Bread flour is high in protein, contains a bit of barley and vitamin C or potassium bromate. It helps the dough rise and results in bigger volume and better textured breads. Bread flour is specially formulated for making yeast based breads, such as ciabatta, whereas all purpose flour is mostly used in making cakes.
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