There’s nothing quite like soft, freshly baked bread, and Anna’s ciabatta recipe is simply to die for.
Biga (12-18 hours ahead)
The bread is best enjoyed the day it is baked.
For the biga, stir the water, bread flour, whole wheat flour and yeast together in a bowl with a wooden spoon until evenly blended (the biga will be dense). Cover and set this aside on the counter for 12-18 hours – the longer it sits, the better the flavor of the bread.
For the dough, stir the biga and water in a large mixing bowl, so that the biga dissolves into it, for the most part. Add the flour, yeast and salt and mix this by hand with a wooden spoon. The batter will be very wet, not like a traditional bread dough that can be kneaded by hand on the counter – this will have to stay in the bowl. If you have a bowl scraper or even a silicone spatula, stretch and slap the dough against the side of the bowl for a few minutes to build up elasticity. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for 2 hours, until doubled in size. After the first hour, knock the dough down by patting it with a wooden spoon 4-5 times and then re-cover it.
Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and dust them with flour. On a well-floured work surface, turn the dough out (it will be VERY stretchy and still sticky). Using your hands and lots of flour, divide the dough in half and shape each of the pieces into a rough rectangle about 1 ½-inches (3.5 cm) tall. Transfer each piece to a baking tray and let the dough rest for 30 minutes, uncovered.
Preheat the oven to 425 ºF (220 ºC). Dust the tops of the loaves with flour and bake the bread for about 20 minutes, until an even golden brown, then turn off the oven and leave the bread in for 10 minutes (this sets the crust). Remove the loaves from the baking trays to a cooling rack to cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.