I love ciabatta and I love this recipe. If you are put off making bread because you don’t like all that dough kneading action then seriously, this is the one for you. It’s not like those other ‘no knead’ recipes that make you wait until the next day before tucking in. No, this one can be enjoyed within a few hours. What I love about this particular recipe, apart from the wonderful taste obviously, is that just after breakfast on a Saturday morning, I can get this dough together quickly and then forget about it for a while. Later on, after a very short shaping and resting time, it gets baked in a hot oven and viola - fresh ciabatta for lunch! The Chief is so impressed. I’m not going to spoil the illusion by letting on to him just how easy this recipe is.
Traditional Italian ciabatta does take a couple of days to make. The dough usually has a biga or in other words, a starter, then gets left overnight to ferment. However, with this version, you can bake it straight away or you can leave it in the fridge overnight if you want to but I’ve made this both ways now and I prefer the texture when it’s baked on the day.
Semolina flour gives it that unique texture which is a little chewy but still light and filled with air bubbles. The dough is pretty wet so it can’t be kneaded on a floured surface in the traditional way but that’s the beauty of it, just mix it up with a spoon, lifting it up high and over itself to incorporate plenty of air. Then cover and leave it for a couple of hours to let the yeast do its thing. After baking, the result is a beautiful crusty exterior with a moist, chewy texture and fantastic flavour. If you have any left over, it’s great toasted as well.
Recipe from Alexandra's Kitchen
2½ cups plain flour
1½ cups semolina flour
2 tspns sea salt
2 cups lukewarm water (1½ cups cold water and ½ cup boiling water)
2 tspns sugar
2 tspns dry yeast (or just use one packet which is 2¼ tspns)
If using instant yeast, whisk it together with the flours and salt. Dissolve the sugar in the water and pour this into the dry ingredients.
If using active yeast, dissolve the sugar in the water, sprinkle over the yeast, no need to stir, and let it stand for about 10 minutes to go frothy. Stir it up and add to the combined flours and salt.
Stir the dough with a wooden spoon, it will be quite wet and more like a very thick paste, too sticky to knead. It will take a bit of muscle, but keep stirring the dough and once it has been well combined and you’ve got plenty of air into it, cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 2 hours. After this time, it will have risen magnificently and the surface will be covered in tiny bubbles.
Heat the oven to 220c. Use two forks to scrape the dough down from the sides of the bowl and dragging it from the sides into the middle onto itself. Don’t be rough with it though, just bring it together as much as you can. Sprinkle your bench with semolina flour and turn the dough out onto it. Use a sharp knife or pastry scraper to cut the dough into pieces. You can make 12 individual ciabatta if you like but I chose to make 4 smallish long loaves instead. Gently form each piece into a ball, making sure that you don’t knead or punch the dough too vigorously as you want to keep as much air in there as possible. It will still seem quite soft but not so wet that you can’t form it into a ball.
At this stage you can place the pieces on a paper lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight. However, if you are baking them straight away, sprinkle some more semolina flour over them and leave the pieces to rest on the bench for 10 minutes. Now slightly stretch out each piece into a rectangle shape roughly 2-3cm high and place on a lined baking tray. Leave to rise for a further 20 minutes. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or if making larger loaves, about 20 minutes, until they are browned and sound hollow when tapped underneath. Leave to cool on a rack for 15 minutes before eating.