Ciabatta bread is a bread that I have wanted to try making for a long time, but I was worried because I had read it is not an easy bread to make. To add to the said difficulty of creating the long, broad and short loaf there are many versions from different regions in Italy which just added to my confusion. I finally decided that I would go with what worked best for me and hope that the purists weren't offended.
What is Ciabatta? Ciabatta means slipper. I have yet to see a loaf that looks like a slipper but ...... to each their own. And does it really matter? No. All that matters is that this bread is wonderful. One thing that all the versions of this bread seem to agree on is that the dough should be slightly soured with a light airy crumb and and a crusty, chewy crust. It's shape is perfect for sandwiches and is often served with olive oils and other dips, since the crumb absorbs dips and liquids very well, for this purpose it may be toasted. To refresh a loaf who's crust may have gotten soggy, spray it with a little water and toast in a really hot oven right before serving. Should you find yourself with stale Ciabatta it makes nice big croutons.
This simple version of this bread takes some time but only because of the time required to ferment the dough. This dough is VERY wet (which worried me at first) but if you follow this recipe and have some faith you will be just fine.
No Knead Ciabatta
4 Cups bread flour (I used 3-1/2 cups bread flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
1/4 tsp dry active yeast (yes that is right, only 1/4 tsp)
2 Cups warm water
1-1/2 tsp. table salt
Combine the flour, yeast, salt and water in a large mixing bowl using a rubber spatula. Be sure you use a bowl about that will allow your dough to quadruple in size.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to ferment for 18 to 24 hours in a warm, not hot, draft free place. Dough should be bubbly and have grown significantly.
Punch down the dough using a rubber spatula and fold the dough using the spatula for a minute or so.
Flour a piece of parchment paper large enough for fill a baking pan (a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan works well) and pour the dough directly on to the flour parchment paper forming a long "loaf."
Lightly flour the top of the dough and gently stretch and shape the dough into a long flat loaf. Flour the top of the loaf and transfer to your baking sheet.
Cover the dough with a clean towel and allow to rise for 2 hours in a draft free place. Loaf will not rise in hight much but will widen quite a bit. About 20 minutes before the dough is done rising preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place a pan of water on the lowest shelf of the oven and place your dough in the center rack of the oven and bake (on the floured parchment) for 35 minutes until a rich brown color is achieved. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.