The night before you want to bake the ciabatta, make the biga, which is a stiff pre-ferment. This will help to create both taste and structure in your finished loaf.
Combine the water, yeast, and flour in a small mixing bowl, and bring together with your hand.
The dough will be very dry.
Turn everything out onto your work surface, and lightly knead until all the dry patches of flour have been incorporated.
Return the dough to your mixing bowl, and cover with cling film. Leave overnight at room temperature.
The biga can happily develop for between 12-24 hours, so I typically make it in the afternoon or evening, and start making the bread when I get up in the morning.
Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Sprinkle the flour over the surface, and then finally add the salt and olive oil on top.
Using a paddle attachment, mix the dough together until you have a homogenous texture.
With the mixer running, tear off small bite-size pieces of the biga, and add them to the dough.
When the lumps of biga are all but gone, switch to the dough hook, and knead for 10 minutes.
The dough should be stretchy and elastic, but won’t be completely smooth.
Grease a large square or rectangular container with olive oil, then scrape the dough into it. Cover with a lid or cling film.
After 30 minutes, you will need to fold the dough:
First, wet your hands to stop the dough sticking to your fingers.
Pick up the top edge of the dough with both hands, and stretch it upwards, then fold it down over the rest of the dough. Rotate the container by 90 degrees, and repeat this process 3 more times. Cover the dough again, then set a timer for another 30 minutes.
Fold the dough for a second time, then set a timer for another 30 minutes.
Shaping and proving
After 90 minutes of bulk fermentation and two folds, the ciabatta is ready for shaping and proving. Preheat the oven to 220c / 200c fan.
Generously flour your work surface, and then invert the container onto it. Tilt the container from side to side, to encourage the dough to fall out in one piece. Flour the top of the dough, and then use well-floured hands to encourage it into a square, or rectangular shape.
Use a bench scraper or a large knife to cut the dough into four equal batons.
Gently pull the loaves apart, and shape them into rectangles, but try not to deflate the dough.
Line two baking sheets with parchment, and transfer two loaves onto each. This is your last opportunity to encourage the loaves into an attractive shape.
Cover the ciabatta with a clean tea towel, and then a sheet of plastic, like a clean bin liner.
Leave to prove for a final 30 minutes before baking.
Creating some steam in the oven will help develop a nice crust. Place a suitable tray into the bottom of the oven (I use an old brownie pan), and pour in some boiling water.
Uncover the loaves, and move them into the hot oven.
Bake the ciabatta for about 30 minutes, depending on your oven. Keep a close eye on them after 25 minutes, and check for a nice golden brown colour, and a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.
Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.