My newest creation, naturally-leavened ciabatta, has me thinking about variables. How much time to ferment? Should I leave the dough someplace cool or someplace warm? Is the high-gluten/bread flour blend making the dough too chewy? Should I stretch and fold before baking?
I don’t think a baker ever figures all these things out, you just keep experimenting until you hit on something that works, then you stick with it. Until your mind starts working and you start changing things again. That’s the thing with bread—it’s alive and you can always try to make it better. So this weekend I mixed up a new batch of dough and let it sit. Until you’ve smelled naturally-leavened fermented dough, you haven’t really grasped the liveliness that is bread.
I decided to make two separate loaves. One I made exactly as before, and one I folded, letter-style, and let proof for 40 minutes before baking. The folded parcel of dough held together much better and seemed to have even more strength than the one I just poured out onto the parchment and baked.
But before I baked it I forgot one important step: I didn’t dimple it down with my fingers to break up the bigger air bubbles. I’ve always been wary of manipulating proofed dough for fear of destroying the structure, but this dough is so wet and full of bubbles that it needs to be more uniform before it gets baked, otherwise the large bubbles join together in the oven and form one super-bubble under the crust. This one did the same thing, but still had enough structure to be, I’d say, seven on a scale of ten. The flavor is excellent and I think the stretch-and-fold before baking really helped the structure hold together well. It didn’t require nearly as much flour as I used, despite being tremendously sticky and runny. Verdict? Sourdough ciabatta is better than yeasted ciabatta in every way. It lasts longer, doesn’t need to ferment as long, has much better and more complex flavor, and is just as easy to mix and bake. But that doesn’t mean I’m done tweaking it.