Ciabatta is probably the most widely known Italian bread - and it's actually a lot easier to make than you might think. Best served fresh, you can also use slightly stale ciabatta to make panzanella, croutons or breadcrumbs.
- 150g strong bread flour
- 7 tbsp. warm water (45C)
- 1/8 tsp. dried active baking yeast
- 275g strong bread flour
- 150ml warm water
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. warm milk (45C)
- 1/2 tsp. dried active baking yeast
In a bowl, stir together 1/8 tsp. baking yeast and 2 tbsp. warm water. Leave the mixture to sit for 5 minutes until creamy. Add 5 tbsp. water and 150g bread flour, stir together for 4-5 minutes then cover with cling film. Leave to stand at room temperature for 2-3 days. This mixture is the "starter".
Stir together the warm milk and baking yeast in a bowl. Leave to stand for 5 minutes or until creamy. Using an electric mixer with dough hooks, combine the milk and yeast mixture, starter, water, salt and flour. Once everything is combined, add the olive oil and mix until you have a smooth and elastic dough, around 8 minutes.
Turn the dough out into an oiled bowl and cover with cling. Let it rise until doubled in size, around 1 and a half hours. Turn the dough out onto a floured work-surface and cut into two. On a piece of baking parchment, form each half into a long, oval loaf of about 25cm long. Gently dimple the top of the loaves with your fingers and sprinkle the tops of them with flour. Leave for another 1 and a half hours so that the loaves double in size.
Heat a baking tray in the oven at 220C for about ten minutes before you start cooking the ciabattas. Transfer the loaves onto the pre-heated baking tray (you could also use a baking stone) and bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Cool on a wire rack before serving.