I absolutely love bread. I love eating it, I love baking it. And for some reason I love punching down the risen dough. It’s an excellent stress-reliever. Ciabatta has been on my list of things to make for a long, long time. Then, a couple of months ago I pulled out my flour-covered copy of Bread Baker’s Apprentice and leafed through it. I landed on this ciabatta recipe and decided I was long overdue. This might be my favorite bread recipe I’ve made thus far. The center is fluffy and light, the crust golden and chewy. I have found that it gives the bread a slightly sourdough undertone if I let the poolish sit out at room temperature overnight rather than the suggested 3 hours.
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For the poolish- Day One
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
For the dough- Day Two
3 1/2 poolish
3 cups unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
6 Tablespoons to 3/4 cup water (or milk or buttermilk- I prefer milk)
cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
To make the poolish
Mix the flour, water, and yeast together in a medium bowl and stir until all of the flour is hydrated. The dough will be thick and sticky, much like thick pancake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours (or over night). The sponge will be bubbly. Refrigerate until 1 hour prior to baking.
To make the dough
Remove the poolish from the refrigerator 1 hour prior to baking.
In the bowl of an electric mixer stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add in the poolish and 6 Tablespoons of water. Beat on low speed until the dough forms a ball. Add additional water as needed to bring the ingredients together. Knead either by hand or in the mixer for 5-7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and soft yet sticky. It should clear the sides of the bowl yet will stick a bit to the bottom.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour, then turn the dough onto it and stretch gently to form a rectangle. Let rest for 2 minutes, then lightly stretch the dough into a long rectangle, doubling it’s original length. Fold the dough into itself in thirds (like a business letter) back into a small rectangle.
Mist the top of the dough lightly with oil and dust with flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
Stretch and fold the dough again, mist with oil and dust with flour, re-cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 1/2-2 hours, until the dough is swollen but not necessarily double in size.
Lightly dust a countertop with flour again. Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and turn out onto the flour. Divide into 2 freestanding loaves. Lightly spray with oil and dust with flour again, recover and let rise for another 45-60 minutes, or until noticeably swollen.
Preheat the oven to 500. Place a heavy duty (not glass) sheet pan on the bottom of the oven. Dust the back of a sheet pan or a peel with the cornmeal.
If the middle of the loaf has risen high lightly press it down with a finger. Place each of the loaves on the sheet pan (I prefer to do one at a time) and place in the oven. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the pan at the bottom of the oven and close the oven door. Wait 30 seconds and spray the sides of the oven with water. Repeat twice at 30 second intervals. After the final spray turn the oven temperature to 450. Bake for 10 minutes.
Rotate the loaves 180 degrees and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the bread is golden and is reading 205 degrees in the center of one of the loaves.
Transfer the loaves to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.
Source: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, pages 106, 136-139