Hamelman's book contains three recipes for ciabattas, Ciabatta with Stiff Biga, Ciabatta with Poolish, and Ciabatta with Olive Oil and Wheat Germ. The Hamelman Challenge lumped all three together giving participants the option of making one or more as desired. Since I love ciabatta, I made all three.
All three loaves are quite similar, particularly the first two loaves. These are good, rustic loaves with lots of character and flavor. The crusts were blistery. And while certainly not thick, I wouldn't call the crusts particularly thin as does Hamelman. Nor did I notice that great a difference in the aroma of the second recipe. For me at least, the first two recipes were pretty much interchangable though I lean ever so slightly to the second recipe.
The Ciabatta with Olive Oil and Wheat Germ was an interesting variation. While I would describe myself as a bit of a purist when it comes to ciabatta, the added wheat germ was not overwhelming and was nice for a change. The addition of olive oil was nothing unusual, but quite good if you use a good oil.
With ciabatta, I typically use it as is or as a sandwich bread. As such, three loaves is more than need at any one time. Moreover, these loaves were a bit short to cut vertically for sandwiches and two tall to cut horizontally. So I was curious how when the dough would handle other shapes thinking more shapes, more uses. One variation that I made was what Hamelman calls ciabattini. These are 2 to 3 ounce rolls. I made both round and oblong ciabattini, both of which worked very nicely. These also freeze very well. (And I have a better chance at finding space for several small loaves than one big one.)
As another variation, I took dough for a couple of loaves and baked the focaccia style in 9 inch cake pans. I put a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the bottom of each pan and then the dough. I coaxed the dough out to fill the pans a couple of times as it went through it final rise. On one loaf I sprinkled grated fontina cheese (shown above). Both of these worked very nicely.
As a final variation, I took the dough for one loaf and baked it in a loaf pan. I didn't get quite the rise or open crumb that I would have preferred, but this gave an excellent sandwich loaf.
Overall, these were three great recipes. In the future, I would probably go for the poolish recipe and leave out the wheat germ, but all are great. I found ciabattini the most useful shape, but the dough worked well however I shaped it. Just be gentle with it.