“Ciabatta” is Italian for “slipper,” a reference to the bread’s broad, flattish shape. Ciabatta is likely the second most popular Italian loaf bread in this country after focaccia (that is, if you don’t count those generically named extra-wide baguette-like loaves called “Italian bread”). Though artisanal bakeries seem to get the taste and texture of ciabatta right—subtly tangy, pleasantly chewy, and just right with air pockets—most mass-produced loaves and recipes for the home baker fall very short of good.
For flavor, this recipe relies on a biga. Because the dough is extremely wet—which results in the bubbly, open crumb—kneading is best accomplished in a stand mixer. Bubble formation can become too dramatic if left unchecked, so the recipe calls for a small amount of milk, which contains a protein fragment that weakens the gluten just enough to prevent the formation of extra-large air pockets.
Well-wrapped in foil and sealed in a large zipper-lock bag, ciabatta freezes well for several months. To serve, thaw the bread at room temperature and reheat in a 450-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes.
Total Cooking Time: 750
Preparation Time: 10
Active Cooking Time: 45
Make Ahead: Best when freshly baked
Yield: 2 loaves