Lately I've become quite focused in on making Ciabatta bread. Why? Because everybody loves it, it's rather simple to make (even though it does take a bit of time and planning) and... well it's really good.
When I first started thinking about baking a few years back what I really wanted to make was bakery-quality crusty, airy bread. That seemed to me, like the most advanced, most interesting thing to make. And while I have gone through quite a few recipes, techniques and loaves since that point, there is something about Ciabatta that's so wonderfully appealing that I keep coming back to it. It's great for sandwiches and paninis, it's perfect to keep on hand in the freezer to take out whenever you need an appetizer to serve with some good quality olive oil and freshly ground pepper. It's just so good.
But then of course there are recipes, and then there are recipes. Some produce a fine result, and some produce that wow-this-is-wonderful-did-I-really-make-this? result. Well, this is one that obviously belongs in that second category.
When I bake bread though, I don't only value the end result, ideally I want it to fit into my life too. That's why even though some sourdoughs come out wonderful, it just isn't practical to keep kneeding the dough once every 1 1/2 hours in three stretches, especially if you're not home the entire day. So, for other times when I want to bake, but I don't want to be on top of it too much, and I might need to go out for a couple of hours, then this recipe is great. Because once you have kneaded the dough for 15 long minutes (yes, don't shorten that step! and yes, it is annoying to hear the machine going for that long), you pour the extremely wet dough into an oiled bowl, and then you let it rise - without touching! for 3 to 4 hours. In my world, that means a lot of flexibility. It's great that you can make crusty bread where you don't actually have to turn the dough once or a few times throughout the rising process.
Oh, and you do have to make a biga before making this bread, but I don't make too much of a fuss about that: make it the day before, two days before and keep in the fridge, or just a few hours before baking, either way it will come out great.
Also, this bread is really easy to make since you don't have to have a ripe sourdough going. Again, I love sourdough, probably more than anybody, but sometimes I'm just not on top of my little jar of bubbly dough, and then it's nice to know that you can rely on yeast and still get a really good result - a bread that isn't bland or boring.
Usually I bake these out in two loaves, and they are great that way - perfect to cut up in pieces, or make paninis with. However last time I made these, I actually made them into rolls. And wow, that was good. They turn into quite small rolls, but airy and crusty, and they are perfect to cut open and make little sandwiches with (brie and salami would be great).
I also like the rolls if it's just the two of us here and we want a little bit of crusty bread before dinner or on the side, that way I take out two or three from the freezer, heat them up, slice them, and we don't have to break open a whole loaf.
So, if you're looking for a manageable recipe that produces excellent results, then I would seriously try this one.
The recipe is listed at The Culinary Review, where I also write: Light & Crusty Ciabatta Loaves. There you also can see the breakdown of this recipe in terms of calories and cost.