This bread begins with an overnight sponge, which means the finished loaf has just the barest of sour tangs.
As the sponge ferments, it creates certain acids that not only give the bread flavor, but affect the gluten, making the bread chewier.
The use of a sponge will also increase the loaf’s shelf life.
Carol Field, in her wonderful book The Italian Baker, claims that this dough is one that simply can’t be kneaded by hand; it’s just too sticky.
Keep this in mind when you’re preparing the dough. During the winter you’ll need to use the greater amount of water in the range indicated below. In the dog days of August, when your flour’s been in a humid kitchen all summer, you’ll use the lesser amount.
Your goal is a dough that is very sticky, but holds its shape; when you scoop it out onto your work surface, it will settle into a flattened mound that is best approached with oiled hands and a bench knife or bowl scraper.
Makes 1 oval shaped loaf.
|For the Sponge
Let the sponge rest overnight, covered, or for up to 15 hours.
The dough will never completely clear the sides of the bowl, though it’ll begin to acquire some shape.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours; it will get very puffy.
Examine the dough about 10 minutes before the end of the second kneading cycle; it should be very tacky, but should be holding its shape somewhat.
Adjust the dough’s consistency with additional flour or water, as necessary.
Allow the machine to complete its cycle.
Lightly grease a large cookie sheet, and your hands. Using a bench knife or your fingers, divide the dough in half.
Handling the dough gently, stretch it into a log about 10-inches long, and place it on the baking sheet. Flatten the log with your fingers till it’s about 10-inches long and 4 to 5-inches wide.
Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Lightly cover the dough with heavily oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for 1 hour; it’ll become quite puffy.
Oil your fingers, and gently poke deep holes all over the dough.
Re-oil the plastic wrap, re-cover the dough, and allow it to rise for an additional hour.
Allow the ciabatta to bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it’s golden brown.
Turn off the oven, remove the ciabatta from the baking sheet, and return the loaf to the oven, propping the oven door open a couple of inches with a folded-over potholder.
Allow the ciabatta to cool completely in the oven; this will give it a very crisp crust.
Nutrition information per serving (1 slice, 1/4 of loaf, 98g): 187 cal, 3.5g fat, 5g protein, 33g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 1g dietary fiber, 406mg sodium, 78mg potassium, 5RE vitamin A, 2mg iron, 91mg calcium, 53mg phosphorus.