Latest in my adventures in baking with sourdough is this crusty, healthy Whole-Wheat Ciabatta. It is, quite simply, as good as bread can get.
Ciabatta, as you know, is my favorite Italian bread. Its crackling crust, soft texture with those large, airy holes, and delicious, slow-developed flavor are to die for. But so far I’ve only made ciabatta with white all-purpose flour because that’s what everyone does, don’t they? And as much as I had dreamed of making a healthier, wholegrain version, it was hard to imagine that whole wheat, with its low-gluten burden, would make a good ciabatta — or even a passable one.
But baking with sourdough
has opened up a world of possibilities in my kitchen. Sourdough is just a longer-developed biga — the starter that begins every ciabatta loaf. But because sourdough has been sitting around for so long and has all of those alcoholic gases in it, it helps give breads a better rise. This feature is especially helpful in baking whole-wheat breads which can use all the rising help they can get to avoid turning into dense bricks (every health nut’s baked one of those, haven’t we?).
Sourdough, by the way, is perfect for health nuts because did you know that it actually lowers the glycemic index of breads? That’s right. So sourdough breads are perfect not just for the food lovers among us, but also for diabetics or for those watching their blood sugar or even for those watching their weight. That’s just about everyone in the world, I’d guess.
If you are among those folks who balk at using sourdough because you are worried about a very tangy bread, rest easy. Sourdough made at home doesn’t seem to produce that overtly tangy flavor, and because neither Desi nor I really like a sour flavor in our breads anyway, you can take my word for it. Also, you can control the amount of sourdough you add to your bread. I add just a cup or two at most to most two-loaf recipes which never results in a strong flavor. All that the sourdough does is add a wonderful complexity that you’ll love.
The method for making this ciabatta is very similar to the quick, all-purpose-flour one
I’ve posted earlier, except that I give it a longer rise.
I’m done talking for now, but I’ll be back with a wonderful guest post for you on the environmental impact of veganism. Stay tuned for it, and bye now!
Whole-wheat Sourdough Ciabatta
4 cups whole-wheat durum flour (this is the flour Indians use to make chapatis. It has a finer texture than regular whole-wheat flour, and is also a little lighter. If you can’t find this, use white whole-wheat flour)
2 cups sourdough
1 tsp active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten (if you don’t have this, substitute half the whole-wheat flour with all-purpose)
2 tsp sea salt
Mix the yeast and 2 1/2 cups of water in the bowl of a stand mixer and set aside for 10 minutes to get the yeast working. It should become frothy.
Add the sourdough, flour, vital wheat gluten, and salt. Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, mix until everything is combined. You should have a batter that’s just slightly thicker than a pancake batter. If it’s too dry, add the remaining cup of water a little at a time and keep mixing.
When the dough starts to rise on the paddle and makes a flapping sound, remove the paddle attachment and replace it with a dough hook.
Knead on medium speed for about five to seven minutes or until the dough comes cleanly off the sides of the bowl.
Pour the dough into a bowl or large bin coated with oil. It will be very loose, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. The container should be large enough to hold the dough once it has risen to about three times its size. Spray some oil on top of the dough to keep it from drying, then cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, put a rubber band around it to hold it in place, and leave overnight or for eight hours on the kitchen counter.
By morning the dough would have risen quite a bit. Sprinkle a large cookie sheet or two smaller ones with lots of flour. Turn the dough out into the sheet and cut into half with a bench scraper or a knife.
Flour your hands and shape the loaf into a rectangular shape using your fingers and the bench scraper. Tuck the ends underneath so you get as even a shape as possible, although your bread will still look very rustic. You don’t want to deflate the dough too much by overhandling it.
Dust some more flour on top of the loaves, then cover them loosely with kitchen towels. Put in a warm place to rise, about 90 minutes.
Half an hour before you bake the bread, put a pizza stone in the oven and preheat it to 500 degrees. If you don’t have a pizza stone, don’t worry– we can do without. Place an empty pan in the bottom rack of the oven.
After 90 minutes of rising, the loaves should be puffy and should have doubled in size. Now place them in the oven and immediately add a cup of hot water to the empty pan you placed earlier in the bottom rack.
Close the oven and let the bread bake undisturbed for about 28 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow then tapped.
Remove to a rack and allow the loaves to cool completely before eating.
Bakers at San Francisco’s popular Boudin Bakery turn out sourdough breads in every shape and size conceivable.
A quick update for sourdough nuts. The sourdough starter I’d been using was an all-purpose one, but I just started an all-whole-wheat sourdough. It looks great after three days of sitting on my kitchen platform, and has the same flavor, smell, and bubbly look. I’ll let you know how it works out as I bake with it this weekend.
(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.