I enjoyed the flavors of the the ciabatta bread so much, I’ve decided that it is time to make more use of starters (called sponge or biga). I got burned out on keeping and maintaining my sourdough starter last winter (although I enjoyed eating my creations), so now I’m just taking the basic overnight starter from James Beard’s Beard on Bread.
You’ll be rewarded for your patience with great flavored bread.
Basic Sponge Started Bread
¼ cup lukewarm water
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup bread flour
3/4 cup water
¼ cup lukewarm water
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Proof the yeast in the lukewarm water for about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and the rest of the water to make a fairly loose dough. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 4 hours, then put in the refrigerator overnight.
Pull the starter sponge out of the fridge and let rest on the counter for a couple hours. Put in the bread machine with the remaining water and flour, oil and salt. Select dough or manual cycle. Leave the top of the machine up, and watch as the dough forms. Add more flour or more water a tablespoon at a time, if needed for the dough to come together. Put the top down and let the machine continue to mix, knead and complete one rise.
Punch the dough down and shape into a rectangle. Roll from the long side and pinch the seam together with your fingers. Leave the loaf on the work surface and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees with a baking stone on the lower rack. Stretch the loaf gently and place it on a peel or baking sheet for transferring into the oven Sprinkle the loaf lightly with flour. Cover again and let rise 30 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut three diagonal slashes about 3/4-inch deep across the top of the loaf.
Spritz water into the oven with a mister, and place the bread in the oven. Reduce the heat to 425°F and bake about 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool 15 minutes before cutting.
Store bread, loosely wrapped in paper, for a couple of days at room temperature; wrap it in plastic and freeze for longer storage.