I’ve been baking bread for ages and have a pretty good standard loaf – and I make a mean sourdough too (see website for recipe), but until last week I’d never ‘cracked’ ciabatta. Then newsletter reader Babette Bluett-duncan supplied the vital missing element . . .
Mix the ingredients together to make a very sloppy dough (well it’s actually more like a stiff batter). Like all leavened bread, it requires kneading, but because it is so wet and sticky, this is difficult by hand. It is much easier using the simplest setting on a bread machine (often called ‘pizza dough’) or by using a food processor. After 20 minutes or so of bashing, tip the mix into a well-oiled big lidded container and place in a warm spot to double or treble in size. After an hour or so, pour the mix onto a very well-floured baking tray. Liberally dust more flour over the top. Try to avoid handling the dough as much as possible (this knocks the air out of it), but you can use a large knife or dough blade to chop it in two and to crudely fashion it into more than one loaf. Meanwhile heat the oven to 220C. Bake for about 30 minutes – or until it is obviously done (it should sound hollow when tapped on the base).
The secret in all this, of course, is that the dough must be incredibly sloppy – that’s what creates the lovely chewy texture with the huge air bubbles.