1. To make the starter: Stir the water, 2 cups (241g) flour, and 1/4 teaspoon yeast together, cover, and let rest at room temperature for several hours, or overnight.

  2. To make the dough: Add the 1 1/2 cups (180g) flour, 1 teaspoon yeast, and salt to the starter, mixing vigorously until the dough begins to hold together. This is a very sticky dough; add more flour only if it's "soupy."

  3. Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl. Let it rise for 1 hour, then gently deflate it. Let it rise another hour, then turn it out onto a liberally floured work surface or silicone rolling mat, and sprinkle lots of flour on top.

  4. Flatten the dough to an 8" x 10" rectangle, about 3/4" thick, and cut it into two pieces, each about 4" x 10".

  5. Transfer the loaves onto a piece of parchment, leaving about 6" between them. Cover with heavily oiled plastic wrap or a freestanding plastic cover, and let rise until they're very puffy, about 2 hours.

  6. Preheat the oven to 500°F for 30 minutes. If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven when you start preheating, so it gets nice and hot.

  7. Spritz the dough with water; or add steam to your oven (see "tips," below). If you're baking on a stone, transfer the bread to the stone, parchment and all. If you're using a pan, transfer the loaves on their parchment to a baking sheet, and place them on a middle rack of the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 425°F.

  8. Bake the ciabatta until it's golden brown, approximately 22 to 25 minutes. Turn the oven off, place ciabatta on the oven's middle rack, crack the door open about 2", and allow ciabatta to cool completely in the turned-off oven. Fresh ciabatta is best enjoyed within a couple of days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.

Tips from our Bakers

  • For extra-crusty crust, add steam to your oven as follows: While the oven is preheating, place an empty cast iron frying pan on the oven rack below the stone. If possible, adjust stone and pan so that the pan isn't directly under the stone, making it easier for steam to reach the baking bread. Once you’ve placed the bread in the oven, pour about 1 cup of boiling water into the cast iron frying pan. Steam will billow from the pan upwards to envelop the baking bread; be sure to wear good oven mitts to shield your hands and arms. Quickly close the oven door to trap the steam.