Ciabatta bread is the kind of thing that impresses people. I even impress myself when I make it. It's really easy, but I can understand why they charge $4 for it at the store -- it's that good.
You can start making ciabatta the day before, two days before if you're an overachiever, or just a few hours before you want to eat it. It helps if you have a stand mixer, but it's not required. So, if you have some people you need to impress, or even just yourself, go for it.
- 1/3 c sourdough starter (optional)
- 1/2 c flour
- pinch yeast
- 1/4 c water
- 1 1/4 c flour (stick with me here)
- generous pinch yeast
- generous pinch salt
- 3/4 c water
- Combine the first 4 ingredient and let stand, covered, for a few hours at a warm temperature (like above 75 degrees), overnight at 60 degrees or lower, or in the fridge for up to 48 hours. (Or if you're in a big hurry, in a 100 degree oven for 30 mins or so.)
- Add the rest of the ingredients to what you just made (it's called the poolish, if you must know).
- Mix in a stand mixer on medium speed for about 5 minutes using the paddle attachment. You will see gluten strands start to form (you'll know it when you see it). You can also do this by hand, but flour or oil your hands well; it gets messy.
- Let rise, covered in the mixing bowl, for about 3 hours at room temperature.
- Turn out on a well floured piece of parchment and gently lift/fold the edges over to form a loose rectangle (don't be picky). Dimple the top with your fingers (fun part).
- Let the dough rest while you heat the oven to 475 degrees. If it hasn't risen by an inch or so, put it somewhere warm (like near the oven) and let it stand for another hour or so. (You could also just leave it in a 100 degree oven for about an hour.)
- Put it in the oven and spray (or just flick from your fingers) some water in before shutting the door. After 5 minutes, spray again and turn the oven down to 450 degrees. Bake 20 more minutes.