The question of stiff vs liquid starter has recently been bought up here on Yumarama and since it was discussed over on Mellow Bakers previously previously, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to carry that conversation across to the blog as well.
Someone recently asked what the point was between using stiff and liquid levain, specifically in Jeffery Hamelman’s book BREAD. I pondered and, in effect, could not come up with a solid answer for myself, primarily because I haven’t really dabbled with a stiff starter very much. But still, why DOES Jeffrey ask for a stiff starter here or a liquid (he prefers 125%) there? In other words, what are the benefits of each, in his view?
So I figured I’d go to the source and ask.
Someone recently brought up a question I was a little confused about and figured I’d go to the source to see about an explanation.
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.
April’s breads for MellowBakers.com include three variations on Pain au Levain from Jeffery Hamelman’s book Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. Today’s entry is for the first of the three, simple Pain au Levain. This translates to Sourdough Bread.
One thing that Hamelman makes a point of noting is that this bread is not given a long, slow retardation overnight. The subtle flavours for this loaf and it’s two companions, Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat Flour and Pain au Levain with Mixed Sourdough Starters, are all achieved with relatively short builds, even though the starters themselves do need to be made up the day before.
Once those levain builds are made up, it’s a pretty quick bread, for a sourdough.
If you’d like to give this bread a try, you can find the recipe in Jeffrey Hamelman’s book BREAD on page 158. You can also find an adapted recipe from Wally at TheFreshLoaf.
As always, I set out all the ingredients ahead of time…