After about 8 tries, I think I have found/tweaked, the ultimate ciabatta bread recipe. There are lots, and depending on what you are looking for, this may be the one you like. If you want some big holes, and very crusty then this is it. I got this recipe mostly from thefreshloaf.com and they got it from someone else, and I've tweaked it as well, but it turned out perfectly. I'll perhaps explain the process a little more thoroughly at my website for those of you who are not old hands at baking bread. But I anyone can do this. mybestcookbook.wordpress.com
1The night before make the biga. The amounts are somewhat arbitrary. What you are looking for is something that looks like pancake batter. It needs to be thick but not quite a dough yet. The amounts are fairly inconsequential. Add more water or flour until your get the consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight in a warm area. About 12 hours before you are going to mix up the rest.
2The next morning: But everything but the salt into a KitchenAid or similar heavy duty mixer. Add the biga as well. Stir with the kneading attachment just until mixed-it will look like pancake batter as well. Leave for 10 minutes.(Note: You cannot do this by hand, period and you must have a heavy duty mixer)
3Add the salt and crank up the mixer to high, and run for at least 10 minutes and up to 30. I found nothing much changed after 10 minutes. Please use the kneading hook. Otherwise this dough will climb up a paddle and into the machine itself. It really will! What you are looking for is this: The dough will pull away from the sides, and will climb the hook, and will pool at the bottom. Mine never comes off the bottom and I'm not sure if that is right or not, but it's just too wet.
4Now, get a big old bowl, the bigger the better. Oil it (about 2 tbsp) Tear off a nice hunk of saran wrap and oil that too. Oil a spatula. (Oil everything! lol)With the oiled spatula, push the dough into the bowl. It will look like a very glossy white glue. Very very sticky, if you touch it, it will adhere to you! Cover with the plastic wrap, and then a couple towels.Place in a warm place (I can put my next to our wood stove)
5Now, leave it alone! Until it has TRIPLED. Yes tripled. This can take 3 hours our 1 1/2 depending on how warm it is. It's probably close to 2 hours for most people. It will look all quivery.
6Take a large area of counter and cover it will flour. Plenty. Then with an oiled spatula, push the dough out carefully, close to the counter, so as to disturb the bubbles as little as possible. Take a sieve and shake flour over the top. Then oil a knife or scraper, and divide the dough into about 3rds. Push them sufficiently apart so they don't grow together again. Cover with towels.
7Heat a pizza or bread stone or upside down cookie sheet in the oven at 500 for an HOUR. Your bread is rising during this time again. At the 45 minute point, you are gonna handle the bread dough. Get two cookie sheets, or one peel.
8Cover the sheets with parchment and sprinkle on some cornmeal. You are going to put one loaf on one and two on the other. Now comes the hard part. Using a large spatula or your scrapper, lift up one loaf and carefully turn it over onto your hand, supporting it with the other hand and place it on cornmealed cookie sheet. (the idea is to flip the bread over which helps to distribute the air bubbles evenly) Pull the dough to help shape, but as long as it's fairly oblong, you are good to go. Do all three.
9Place the first cookie sheet with the two loaves in the oven on top of the stone or upturned cookiesheet. Bake for 20 minutes or to an internal temp of 205 degrees. Take out and put the other one in and do the same thing.
10Call the media and show off your bread skills!
Notes: the biga is unnecessary, but does add depth to the flavor. So use it or not as you wish.
The flour is weighed. That is more accurate than measuring. Flour weighs differently depending upon humidity. By weight you are looking for about 18 oz. which is around 4 cups.