What’s not to like about naturally leavened bread? It uses naturally-occurring yeast in the air and flour, lasts much longer than commercially-yeasted bread, gives a better and more complex flavor, and reduces the number of ingredients. With just water, flour, and salt, you can make incredible bread. You just need your hands, an oven and a vessel for mixing. The cultures in sourdough are good for your system too—some say it’s much better for diabetics to eat naturally-leavened bread. Which is all a preamble to my newest creation:
Mu-hahaha! It’s alive! I give you the naturally-leavened no-knead ciabatta! My idea was to start with my no-knead ciabatta recipe, swap out the yeast for some of my sourdough starter, then see how it works. I started out mixing a healthy dollop of starter with the correct amount of room-temperature water. How much is a dollop? Don’t bother me, imma do me some science! I mixed it up with a fork until the starter was fully liquefied, then added the flour and salt and mixed it up. I thought it looked a tiny bit dry so I added water, which ultimately ended up making the dough too wet, but we’ll get to my mistakes later. I made this batter around 9 at night and set it on top of our oven to get warm and bubbly. It stayed there until about 7 the next night. At that point I gave it just enough gentle folding to get the batter nice and strong, then poured it out onto some parchment. You can see the puddle effect from a too-wet dough.
How did it bake up? Pretty well considering the super-long warm ferment. I let it sit an extra ten minutes in the oven with the door open to cool down and get nice and crispy. It didn’t have quite as much oven spring as the yeasted ciabatta but that may be because of the high hydration. However the crumb was nice and open with pearlescent color.
Now the real test: my wife tastes a sample and proclaims it delicious. My verdict: too tangy. Such a long ferment allowed for a huge acid buildup, leaving me with a slight tang as aftertaste, quite different from the toasted and nutty taste of the yeasted ciabatta. The crust was thicker and more chewy than usual. For a first-time experiment, not bad at all. The best thing about this ciabatta is the staying power—compared with yeasted ciabatta which last two days at best before succumbing to mold, this one could go a week. Given my wife’s fondness for this creation, it probably won’t last that long.
So what to do next time? I’d like to try making this first thing in the morning and baking at night. Given twelve hours of ferment in a nice warm area I think the natural yeast would have plenty of time to reproduce, party, and reproduce again.* A little less water would do this bread well, allowing for a slightly taller bread with just as much open structure. And I’m going to stick with my one-dollop-of-starter measure for now. It just seems right.
*Heck, college kids don’t even need that much time.