1. To Make Sponge: In a small bowl stir together 1/8 teaspoon of the yeast and the warm water and let stand 5 minutes, or until creamy. In a bowl stir together yeast mixture, 1/3 cup of the water, and 1cup of the bread flour. Stir 4 minutes, then over bowl with plastic wrap. Let sponge stand at cool room temperature for at least 12 hours and up to 1 day.
2. To Make Bread: In a small bowl stir together yeast and milk and let stand 5 minutes, or until creamy. In bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with dough hook blend together milk mixture, sponge, water, oil, and flour at low speed until flour is just moistened; add salt and mix until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Scrape dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
3. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. (Dough will be sticky and full of air bubbles.) Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface and cut in half. Transfer each half to a parchment sheet and form into an irregular oval about 9 inches long. Dimple loaves with floured fingers and dust tops with flour. Cover loaves with a dampened kitchen towel. Let loaves rise at room temperature until almost doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
4. At least 45 minutes before baking ciabatta, put a baking stone on oven rack in lowest position in oven and preheat oven to 425*F. (220*C).
5. Transfer 1 loaf on its parchment to a rimless baking sheet with a long side of loaf parallel to far edge of baking sheet. Line up far edge of baking sheet with far edge of stone or tiles, and tilt baking sheet to slide loaf with parchment onto back half of stone or tiles. Transfer remaining loaf to front half of stone in a similar manner. Bake ciabatta loaves 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool loaves on a wire rack.
My Note: * The second time I made the sponge I left it right next to a warm stove top and it rose very quickly and made these HUGE air pockets in my finished product. I only left this for 4 hours but the taste and texture were FANTASTIC and the sponge almost spilled over the rim of the bowl! It was a bit difficult to get out of the bowl because of its stickiness but that was to be expected. For those that thought the sponge needed water, it doesn't. It will look just like a clump of dough in the beginning but if you leave it you'll be pleasantly surprised with a bubbling, frothy, sticky sponge. Secondly, I made this recipe cautiously because I expected it to be very difficult to handle, but it was not.
I prepared the sponge two days in advance and kept it in the fridge. I had no problems with it being too sticky. I cooked it on a pizza stone and basted with water every 5 minutes for a brown, crunchy crust. The parchment did burn a little around the edges while baking, but it was reminiscent of an old Italian bakery.
The easiest 'real sourdough' recipe; those without 'aging' of dough lack the genuine ciabatta taste, even though they may get the consistancy right. This one gets even better with more than one days aging of the 'sponge'.
I have fallen in love with making bread these past few months, and this is the best recipe I have have did, by far. I have made at least 12 loaves with this, and every time I make it, my friends devour it instantly. I have modified it a little, though. I found the original recipe to be too dry for my tastes when it came out of the over, so I tripled the olive oil, and it came out moist and delicious. Add more oil to the recipe and you're in great shape. I love this bread! It was a little involved as far as prep time but it was easy, GOOD, and tasted just like what we had eaten in Florence! I will make it again. For 15 people I made 6 loaves with enough left over for dinner the next night.