I recently tried to make focaccia bread. It was delicious so I decided to try to make other sandwich breads too, like ciabatta. I looked at the recipe for ciabatta and saw that you needed something called a “biga” that you had to prepare a day in advanced. “Nope, not for me. Too advanced,” my brain said. Then Adventurous Holly (who made her appearance after sampling the skittles vodka) impulsively decided to start the biga. I’m now going to take this moment and thank Adventurous Holly. This ciabatta was delicious and not as difficult as I thought it would be. So, thanks, Adventurous Holly. The lesson I learned is one you can too: Making ciabatta is like making any other bread, but you start it much earlier than normal.
There are many breads that require starters like the biga for ciabatta. Sourdough is probably the most well known. In my searchings about biga, I found that a biga is used to make the bread chewier and add some flavor as well.
Making a biga is really simple. It only sounds intimidating because it’s a weird word and requires planning. It’s easy to plan though. If you have a day off, start the biga the night before. The biga takes 5 minutes to set up at the most so it isn’t a big deal. I promise it’s fine. The bread is so delicious, it’s worth the little bit of extra effort
This bread had the perfect light fluffy interior and a perfect crunchy outside. I had never had homemade ciabatta and it’s infinitely better than store bought. I think the main difference is the crust. This crust has a great texture and has that crunching sound you want to hear when you bite into ciabatta. Perfection in bread.
Start the biga about 12-15 hours before you want to begin making the bread. In a bread machine or an electric mixer combine the ingredients for the biga. Mix until fully combined (about 5 minutes). If using a bread machine, set to dough and then stop once combined. Allow to rest for 12-15 hours. It will rise a bit and then start to sink. This is when you want to use the biga. The biga will big liquidy and bubbly.
To start the dough, combine the biga and the other dough ingredients into the bread machine pan or the electric mixer bowl. If using a bread machine, set to dough cycle and start. If using an electric mixer, use a dough hook and a low setting to mix for 5-8 minutes and then let rise for 1 hour. The dough should be sticky and tacky. It should not be liquid, but it should be close. Add water or flour as necessary. Whenever you handle the dough, wet your hands with water or oil to prevent it from sticking to you. Half way through the rising time turn the dough over in the pan or bowl. This will be tricky because it's so sticky, but just do your best.
Cover a cutting board in plastic wrap and cover the plastic wrap with oil. Cover two cookie sheets with oil (I only had one and all my bread baked into each other. Bad call, use two). Remove the bread from the bread machine or mixing bowl after the rising cycle is complete or it has risen for 1 hour and place on the cutting board. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts for large sandwich rounds or 12 for smaller sandwich rounds. Place half on one cookie sheet and the other half on the other cookie sheet. Shape the dough by pushing and pulling the edges of the dough until it is shaped how you want. It won't be perfect, so don't try.
Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Uncover and (with wet fingers) poke holes gently into the dough. This will give it a more rustic look. Recover with freshly oiled plastic wrap and let rise for another hour. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet and turn off the oven. Place the bread back in the oven and crack the oven open while it cools. Allowing the bread to bake this way will create a crunchier crust (maybe take one out to munch on while the rest crisp up).
Remove from oven and enjoy. And don't forget to go for second helpings!