Photo: Dan Jones
To make the ‘sponge’ put the flour and dried yeast into a large mixing bowl. Add 110ml tepid water and mix together with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are just combined; it will be a very thick paste. Cover with clingfilm and leave overnight at room temperature if the room is cool. Otherwise, put the bowl in the fridge.
The next day, remove the ‘sponge’ from the fridge and let it come to room temperature.
Add the dough ingredients, plus 225ml tepid water, to the 'sponge' in the bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. It will be wet and sticky. Now use your hand to 'whisk' air into it. To do this, hold the bowl tightly in one hand and with the other hand, with fingers outstretched, lift the dough swiftly up and let it fall back. This will stretch out and develop gluten in the dough and trap lots of air bubbles. Keep doing this in the bowl, pulling and stretching it for around 7 minutes. It will be tiring but persevere until you can see the occasional bubble appearing on the surface of the dough, almost like it is breathing.
Now pour a tablespoon of oil onto the surface of the dough and gently spread it with your fingers so it doesn’t develop a crust. Cover the bowl with clingfilm. Leave the dough to rise until doubled in size; this will take about 1-2 hours at room temperature.
Pour another tablespoon of oil onto the work surface and wipe it over an area around 40cm square.
Tip the ciabatta mixture onto the worksurface. Cut it into two and make each piece into a rough rectangle using your fingers. The less you fiddle with the loaves the better at this stage as you want to keep the air bubbles inside. Now, starting at one of the short ends, fold each one up gently like a fat swiss roll and pull out each end to lengthen it to around 15cm. Expect them to be very sticky but resist the temptation to add flour – oiling your fingers will help. Leave the loaves to rise for 20 minutes, making sure the surface is covered with a film of oil to stop it forming a crust.
Now generously flour another area of work surface and fold the dough once more like a Swiss roll on this floured surface. Scatter more flour over the top and pull into a ciabatta shape. Leave for a further 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 240°C, fan 220°C, gas 9.
Pick up the ciabatta one at a time from either end with your hands and transfer each to a floured shallow baking tray, pulling them out again to lengthen them a little. Gently press your fingers along the top of each loaf to even out any bubbles.
Bake the loaves for 15-18 minutes or until golden and the bases sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool on wire racks.
Kitchen secret: ciabatta can be part-baked for just 10 minutes and then cooled and frozen. Bake from frozen for 15-20 minutes in an oven preheated to 240°C / fan 220°C / gas 9