Let’s start by pointing out that my oven is still very questionable. I had noted that when the oven hit it’s desired temperature – quite accurately, I’ll add – it decided that’s all it needed to do. It no longer kicked in to keep the oven temp at that level. So without knowing, the oven temperature would drop and drop and drop, all while the digital readout still said “450°F” as the inside plummeted to 350°F.
“I’ve baked a few things” said Punkin, pulling a Shepherd’s Pie from the oven a few days ago, “I think it’s OK again. I suspect it’s your steam that’s causing the problem.” OK, so maybe the steam is playing havoc with either the thermostat inside the oven or the actual chips inside the oven controls. So I figured, after a few weeks of not baking and staring to have serious withdrawals, I would give it another go.
Gathering all the required supplies I then set off to make this loaf, hoping the oven had got over its little fit. I would also steam the bread by putting it under pans to trap the water instead of steaming the oven cavity. That will rule out the “steam in the works” problem.
I had a long weekend, being just before Easter, so I decided to try some of the breads in the Mellow Bakers Hamelman Challenge that I had passed over while moving across the country over the last few months. Looking thought the list of bread we had scheduled, I saw that Ciabatta was one of the breads from December; this would then be this weekend’s bread. There were three varieties offered: Ciabatta with Stiff Biga, with Poolish or a with Olive Oil & Wheat Germ. Based on the descriptions in Hamelman’s book Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, I chose the Poolish version as it hinted it would be the most flavourful because of the longer pre-ferment of the Poolish.
Ciabatta is one of the more popular Artisanal breads in North America, after the standards like French and Italian. According to Jeffrey Hamelman, it got its popularity boost when it won first place in the prestigious bread competition in Paris, La Coupe du Pain (look this up) and has since been produced and enjoyed by bakers and bread fans alike in North America .
Its thin, crispy crust and soft, holey texture and milder, pleasant taste makes it a good accompaniment to many meals, allowing it to reach more tables than other exotic breads.
The fact it is a very wet dough may detract home bakers from attempting it but you should think of it as a small challenge and give it a go; it may be on the opposite end of bagels and their very stiff dough but the results working with this 80% hydration dough is well worthwhile. And really, it’s not all that much more challenging than most bread recipes you might do.
With respect to full disclosure, note that this bread is made with white bread flour, whole wheat flour and a little rye, so it’s not really and truly “whole wheat”, should some of you be reluctant to try a bread that’s too “grainy”. In fact, there’s not a whole lot of whole wheat in it but enough to give it a distinct taste.
And for those who are reluctant to eat sourdough bread because you think it’s “too sour”, breathe easy: this one isn’t sour at all.
If you’ve followed along, the earlier Pain au Levain and Pain au Levain with Mixed Starters followed basically the same process: start the starter(s) 12 – 16 hours before so this is the same case today. This time, it was a somewhat stiff starter at 60% hydration.
Same but different. Bread No. 51 for the MellowBakers.com Hamelman Challenge is a slight variation of the last bread I posted, the Pain au Levain. This time around, it includes both a liquid white sourdough starter and a stiff rye sourdough starter. Both were created from my normal 100% hydration white starter, PJ.
Is it worth keeping a liquid white sourdough starter and a whole wheat and a rye one, then maybe even stiff versions of each? Aside from the increased hassle of keeping the feeding schedule for a large number of different sourdough starters, there’s not really a great reason for the home weekend (or two) baker to go to all this trouble. I wrote to Jeffrey Hamelman about the issue of handling multiple starters recently and here’s what he said:
Thanks for writing and for asking your astute questions. Feel free to quote me on the answers.
I’ve maintained two starters for a number of years: a firm German-style rye culture (made the third week of August, 1980), and a liquid levain kept at 125% hydration (it’s about a dozen years old). We use the rye for all our rye breads, and the liquid is the base levain for all other breads. Continue reading “Pain au Levain with Mixed Sourdough Starters”