The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What should my next quest be?

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

What should my next quest be?

I must be a glutton for punishment.  After six months of trying to improve my baguette making skills, I'm already raring to head off on a new "quest" after just one weekend of "free" baking.  However, I can't decide between two possible quests, and I'm looking for some advice.  Also, much like with Saturday Baguettes, I'll be posting my results regularly as a commitment mechanism, so if there are folks out there who would be more interested in reading about one or the other, that's important to me too.

Here's my options:

Quest #1: Ciabatta:

I've made a number of ciabattas over the years, with fair to middling success, but I've never really gotten it right.  By "right" I mean a very open crumb, nutty flavor, and thin, crisp crust.   This is a typical ciabatta of mine:

Crumb decently open but not as much as you'd expect in a ciabatta, crust a little thick and chewy, flavor pretty good, but not always great.  This is my typical ciabatta experience, although often the crumb is tighter than pictured here.  The results are pleasant, but short of what a ciabatta can be.

 The first step in this quest would be settling on a particular ciabatta formula to work with -- I've tried Peter Reinhart's formulas from both The Bread Baker's apprentice and from Artisan Breads Everyday, Hamelman's formulas for Ciabatta with Poolish and Ciabatta with Olive Oil and Wheat Germ, and the "quick" Cocodrillo ciabatta that's been floating around TFL.  None have reliably yielded good results.

The next big milestone will be working out the fine art of transfering ciabatta to the oven.  I can't tell you how many times I've had promising looking loaves foiled by my ham-handed flip-and-carry.


Quest #2: Sourdough dinner rolls

This would be a quest of a very different flavor than the previous one (literally and figuratively). I'm a big fan of crusty sourdough dinner rolls, but I've never had much luck making them.  Adapting a standard sourdough recipe doesn't work well--the chewy crust and crumb that frequently go with a sourdough boule make for hockey pucks in the dinner roll context.

I'm looking for a roll with a thin, crisp crust, moderately chewy crumb, and a nice sourdough tang.  This quest is more of a recipe development quest than a technique mastery quest.

I have a prototype recipe that I've made a couple times, with somewhat mixed results.  It's been hard to get both good flavor and thin crust in the same roll.  On the other hand, if the last batch I made is replicable, this could be a very short quest:


Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Which of these would you most like to read about sporadically over the next few months?

Happy baking, everyone,



yy's picture

my vote is for ciabatta! I keep reading that the "secret to ciabatta's open crumb is very high hydration," but in my experience, it's not as simple as that. I'd love to learn from your experiences.

GregS's picture

Techniques and recipes seem to vary a lot. I look forward to your thoughtful analysis and excellent photos. Thanks.

GSnyde's picture

Which do you want to eat week after week?


You could also combine the two choices, and work on Ciabatta rolls.


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I feel like I could eat either one repeatedly, at least to the same extent.  I'm indifferent enough that other people being interested in reading about one or the other is enough to tip the scales.

That said, sourdough ciabattini sounds like an excellent basis for a BLT.  Have to keep that in mind...



Syd's picture

You could always pursue both quests in tandem.  Unless of course you feel that the one would distract you from the other or that you don't have enough time for two bakes each weekend. 

Both are equally worthwhile pursuits but I am going to vote for ciabatta because alphabetically it comes before dinner rolls and that is as good a reason as any to start with it first. 

I have had excellent results with Steve B's Double Hydration Ciabatta.  If you liked the flavour of your baguettes with poolish then you will like the flavour of this ciabatta.

My suggestions:

  • Don't change his recipe at all.  Stick to the letter of it.  It is perfect as is.
  • Use the best quality extra virgin olive oil that your budget will allow.  It makes a huge impact on flavour.



Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I wouldn't want to do both.  I'd definitely get sick of one or both if I didn't have my other weekend bake free for another kind of bread.

I'll definitely give Steve B's formula a try--sounds interesting.

ww's picture

first of all, i take my hat off to you for the baguette experiment. I know i should stick to one bread at a time but get distracted. To be fair, i also bake for others and try my best to fulfil 'orders'.

I'm quite intrigued by Hamelman's wheat germ and olive oil ciabatta but havent tried it myself. COuld you describe the flavour and why it didnt cut it for you? i've liked almost all the recipes from his book.

delicious-looking sourdough dinner rolls. THey look like a nice combination of flavour and lightness, though how i would know given i can neither see nor taste the crumb :)

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Yeah, it took me quite awhile baking "distractedly" before admitting to myself there just wasn't any way I was going to get the really tricky breads (baguettes in particular) without focusing to some extent.

The wheat germ and olive oil ciabatta was tasty, though I can't recall any more how it differed from another ciabatta.  It wasn't a dramatic difference, anyway.  Flavor-wise I don't think I've ever gotten a bad result from Hamelman either--ciabatta's included (unless you count the one horrific time when I left the salt out of the Pain Rustique, then tried and failed to add it after the first stretch and fold).  It's just that the crumb was relatively tight, and the crust kinda chewy, same as I always get from my ciabatta.

They were pretty tasty--they could have been a little lighter inside and a little more sour, but that batch was surprisingly close to my ideal :)

jcking's picture

I've had better results, nice bigs holes, with Ponsford's Ciabatta, from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking, than either of P Reinhart's versions. Bake it boldly with good oven steam.


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I can give that one a try--is it posted online anywhere, or would I need to find a copy of the book?

jcking's picture

Don't know if it's anywhere on line, if you can't find it message me.