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Start this dough a day in advance, to allow the flavours time to develop, and you will appreciate a much more complex flavour than most bought ciabattas offer.


Makes 1 large loaf

For the starter
7g fresh yeast
175ml water (at room temperature)
125g strong white flour

For the dough
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to grease
1 tsp salt
125g strong white flour, plus extra to dust
1 tbsp fine polenta


  1. To make the starter dough, put the yeast into a large bowl, and stir in the water followed by the flour. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to stand in a cool place for at least 1–2 hours, but ideally overnight.
  2. The following day (or at least 2 hours later), stir the olive oil, salt and flour into the starter dough. Bring the dough together, turn it out onto the work surface and knead for 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky but try not to add too much flour while you knead; a pastry scraper is useful when kneading a sticky dough like this.
  3. When the dough is smooth and elastic, gather it back into a ball and place in a well oiled large loaf tin. Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise in a cool place until doubled in size, about 1–2 hours, and if you press the corner lightly with your finger, it leaves only a small indentation.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7, place a roasting tin on the bottom shelf of the oven and fill it with boiling water from the kettle. This will provide steam to give the loaf its characteristic crust.
  5. Scatter the polenta and plenty of flour over a baking sheet. Carefully turn the loaf tin upside down onto the prepared baking sheet and let the dough gently come away from the sides of the tin. With floured hands, gently coax it into an long oval shape, handling the dough carefully to avoid knocking out any air. Dust the surface of the loaf with flour.
  6. Bake in the top third of the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until light golden. When cooked, the loaf should feel very light for its size and sound hollow when tapped on the underside. Cool the loaf on a wire rack before serving.

You might like to knead in chopped olives, torn basil leaves or chopped thyme to add flavour to the basic dough, although a plain ciabatta is delicious. Unlike many loaves that use a starter dough, this recipe does not require more yeast in addition to the starter dough. You will need a 900g–1kg loaf tin for proving.

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