Ciabatta bread is a very high hydration dough and this makes it particularly hard to work with, especially if you try to make it by hand versus stand mixer. I would recommend using your stand mixer if you own one. If you don’t though you can still make this bread you just have summon up some courage and a great deal of patience. It is going to take a lot of time to get this dough fully kneaded and I know that somewhere along the way you will be tempted to add more flour to combat the stickiness factor, but don’t! If you go and add more flour your dough will change and not give you the finished product you are looking for, which is a loaf that has a thin semi-crisp crust with large irregular holes running throughout the crumb.
Biga Pre-Ferment Ingredients:
- 1/3 cup (2.3 oz, 65 g) water
- ½ tsp. (.1 oz, 2 g) instant yeast
- 2/3 cup (3.5 oz, 100 g) unbleached bread flour
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix until all the water has been absorbed. The dough will be very stiff. Knead for 1 to 2 minutes to smooth out the dough a little bit. Return the dough to the bowl and cover. Leave at room temperature for 1 hour, then refrigerate it for at least 8 hours, but up to 16.
Bread Dough Ingredients:
- All of prepared Biga
- 1 3/4 cups (15 oz, 425 g) water
- 2 tsp. (.4 oz, 10 g) instant yeast
- 3 ¼ cups (17.6 oz, 500 g) unbleached bread flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. (.4 oz, 10 g) salt
- In a large mixing bowl combine the water and biga together. Stir until the biga begins to loosen up. Stir in the yeast and flour and mix until a rough dough forms. Allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes to allow the flour to fully hydrate.
- This dough is most easily kneaded by stand mixer, but with patience it can be done by hand. To knead by hand lightly oil your hands and knead by gently lifting the dough and folding it over and over again. Do this for a couple of minutes then allow the dough to rest for five minutes. Repeat this folding and resting at least four times or until the dough becomes extremely smooth and elastic. If kneading by stand mixer knead on medium-high speed for 13-15 minutes.
- Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Allow the dough to rise until it has tripled in volume. This can take up to 3 hours (4 in the winter).
- Cover a baker’s peel or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust it well with flour. Uncover the dough and carefully turn it out onto a heavily floured counter. Using a bench scraper or knife cut the dough into 2 equal pieces. Pick up 1 piece of dough, holding one end in each hand. In one fluid motion lift and stretch the dough and place it on one half of the parchment paper. Repeat with the second piece. Take your fingertips and, starting at the top; gently press into the surface of the dough, dimpling the surface as you go. Flour the tops of the loaves and gently drape with greased plastic wrap.
- Preheat the oven to 475 degrees with a baking stone in the middle of the oven and a cast-iron skillet on the lower rack.
- Let the loaves rise at room temperature for about 30-40 minutes.
- Slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto the baking stone. Pour a ½ cup of water into the skillet and quickly close the door. Allow the loaves to bake for 25-35 minutes or until the loaves are light and golden colored. Let the loaves cool on a cooling rack for about an hour or until they have cooled completely.