By [http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Mark_Hewitt]Mark Hewitt
Part 1: The Sponge
The sponge adds extra texture and body to the finished ciabatta, and it needs to be made the day before.
1/2 teaspoon of yeast
1/3 cup of warm water
1 cup of bread flour
If the yeast is the dry active kind, mix it with the warm water first and leave it for about 10 minutes or until a goodsized lump of gack floats to the surface - that shows the yeast has activated. Then mix in the flour. If it's instant, just put it all in a bowl and mix. Then cover it in clingfilm and let it stand for 12-24 hours. The yeast will grow, feed, turn the mixture to bubbly froth and then die. Don't feel sad for it, yeast dies every day and also is non-sentient and therefore unable to regret it's own mortality. Just enjoy its delicious bubbly leavings.
Part 2: The Dough
2 teaspoons of yeast
2 tablespoons of milk
2/3 cup of warm water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 1/2 cups of bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
The sponge from yesterday
As before, if you're using dry active yeast, activate it in the water first. Otherwise mix everything together and either knead or (if you're relatively lazy like me) pound it in the food processor until the magic smoke comes out. Then put the dough in a bowl and put in a warm place to rise - keep it a little damp somehow, either cover with a damp towel (I always find it sticks when the dough rises) or put a pan of water next to or under it (my approach).
Let the dough rise for 1 and a half hours, then gently turn it out onto a floured surface - just tip the bowl and gently help it out with your fingers, try to keep it in roughly the same lump. Now press it down lightly till it forms a round as in the picture, cut it in half, and shape each half just a little to be more like the standard ciabatta loaf.
Now cover the two ciabattas with a wet towel (you'll probably have to wet it again a couple of times to stop it sticking) and let them sit for another hour and a half to rise just a little more. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees, and heat the baking tray in there for a few minutes. Whip it out, and turn the two ciabattas over onto it so the floured side is now on top - the dough should be quite firm and easy to lift without misshaping them too much.
Now you just bake the ciabattas at 200 degrees until they are golden brown and sound hollow when you thump them. They will develop a thick crust in the process, but thanks to the sponge and long rising times they should be light and airy in the middle. Let them cool for a good hour (or the crumb inside will get mashed up when you cut them).
After that it's time to play a little game I like to call "how many ingredients can I get in a sandwich?" Today, in honour of the noble Italians who invented both this marvellous bread and Al Pacino, I'm going to be making a fairly classic Italian sandwich with sausage (a mixture of hot and sweet - my beloved local butchers Clarks have just added both to their repertoire), sauteed pepper and onions, garlic mayo and some of my home-made pesto. Woohoo!
The other one goes in the freezer - they freeze really well and defrost surprisingly quickly with no loss of crustiness. Good to have stocked away for emergencies, like when you really want a sandwich.
Mark Hewitt is an English foodie, cook, philosopher, geek, shaman and writer. At the start of 2007 he sold or gave away almost all his possessions and left on a backpacking journey round the world, the purpose being (at least in part) to figure out why he would want to do such a thing. You can follow his journey and find other articles at: http://www.scadindustries.com/sael/journal.html
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