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Ciabatta

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
7 cups unbleached bread flour
I tablespoon salt
2 3/4 cups cool water
1/4 cup Biga (see below)
Olive oil for bowl
Medium-grind yellow cornmeal for baker's peel


Biga

1/4 tsp dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 11/2 cubs bread flour
1 3/4 cups water

Proof the yeast. Sir in all the ingredients; let ferment in
refrigerator for at least 24 hrs -- keeps for two weeks.

In a small bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Set it aside
until it is creamy, about 15 minutes. Measure the flour into a
large bowl. Using a sturdy wooden spoon, stir the salt into the
flour. Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the
yeast mixture, the cool water, and the biga to the well. Using the
spoon stir together all the ingredients until the dough is too
resistant to be stirred. They will come together fairly easily.

Now begin kneading the dough in the bowl, keeping one hand clean
in order to hold and turn the bowl and using the other hand to work
the dough. Vigorously fold the dough from the sides of the bowl
toward the center, rotating the bowl as you work. Pick up the
dough and slap it back into the bowl several times and keep kneading
vigorously. The dough will be slightly sticky, but continue working
it until it comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. This
should take about 5 minutes.

Now begin kneading the dough in the bowl, keeping one hand clean
in order to hold and turn the bowl and using the other hand to work
the dough. Vigorously fold the dough from the sides of the bowl
toward the center, rotating the bowl as you work. Pick up the
dough and slap it back into the bowl several times and keep kneading
vigorously. The dough will be slightly sticky, but continue working
it until it comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. This
should take about 5 minutes.

At this point turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.
Clean off any dough stuck to your hands and then knead the dough
until it is stretchy, smooth and fairly soft. This will take 15 to
20 minutes of kneading, including some 1- to 2-minute rest periods
along the way for the dough to relax slightly - and for you to
relax, too. Shape the dough into a ball. First rising: Rub a large
bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Turn the ball
so that the surface is coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a towel
and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1
1/2 hours. Second rising: Rub a baking dish, about 8 inches square,
(or a rectangular dish of roughly the same size) with a liberal
amount of olive oil. Turn the risen dough out into it. Press the
dough evenly into the dish, making certain that it fits the corners
snugly; it should reach no more than halfway up the sides. Cover
and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about I 1/2 hours.
Gently invert the risen dough out onto a well floured work surface.
Divide the dough into 2 rectangles. Working with 1 rectangle at a
time, gently press out most of the air. Then pull the long cut side
farthest from you toward you halfway over the dough so that it
rests on top in the middle of the rectangle. Gently transfer the
loaves to a well floured surface and cover. Let rise for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a baking stone in an oven and preheat to 425
degrees F. Sprinkle some flour onto the top of each loaf and gently
turn each loaf over. Do this quickly and confidently and you will
avoid leaving finger marks. Now the loaves are upright and each is
topped with a flour pattern that will bake into the loaf later.
Each loaf should be about 15 inches long, 31/2 inches wide, and
1/4 inch thick. Cover and let rise a final 15 minutes.

Mist the preheated oven with a spray bottle and quickly shut the
oven door. Dust a baker's peel with cornmeal. Gently transfer the
loaves to the peel and mist them. With a rhythmic snap of the
wrist, slide the loaves onto the baking stone. Mist the oven again
and bake the loaves until they are dark brown on the bottom, golden
brown on the top and sides, and have a hollow ring when tapped on
the bottom, about I hour. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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