I made a Ciabatta bread back in January, but it was a more traditional flat dimpled bread that was made using a sourdough starter. It was a great bread but it took some time and effort to make, enough so that I haven't made it again. I came across this recipe in the local newspaper, it's adapted from Jim Lahey, now famous for his no knead breads. It is incredibly simple and produces a light airy bread with a perfect chewy crust. Like Jim's other breads, it takes time but minimal effort. Plan ahead and give yourself 18-24 hours before you want the completed bread.
adapted from Jim Lahey's "My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method"
3 c. bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 c. plus 1 tbsp. cool water
Additional flour for dusting
Boiling water, about 1 cup
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and mix thoroughly until you have a wet, sticky dough, about a minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough has more than doubled in size. This will take at least 12 hours and up to 18.
When the dough has risen, generously dust a work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and, with floured hands, pat and nudge the dough into a 12- to 14-inch square. Brush off any excess flour. Fold the dough in half, then crosswise in half again, into a square 6 to 7 inches on each side.
Place the dough on a floured surface (a countertop or a baking sheet) and place in a warm, draft-free spot. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise a second time for 1 hour. The dough is ready when it has almost doubled. It should hold the impression when gently poked with a finger. If the dough springs back, let it rise another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it on a rack in the upper third of the oven. Place a cake pan or oven-safe skillet on the bottom rack.
When the dough has risen, place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bring a cup of water to a boil.
Using a bench knife or sharp serrated knife, cut the dough in half. With floured hands, pick up the dough and quickly but gently stretch it to about 12 inches and place on the parchment. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Slide the parchment paper with the dough onto the pizza stone (or if not using a stone, place the baking sheet on the rack). Close the oven door. Pour the boiling water into a measuring cup then, working quickly, open the oven door and pour the water into the hot cake pan or skillet. Immediately close the oven door and set the timer for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, remove the pan of water and continue baking for another 5 minutes. The bread is done when it's a light golden color. Cool on a wire rack.