Daniel Leader's book, Local Breads, is simultaneously one of the most intriguing and most frustrating bread books. His breads are rooted in the baking traditions of several European countries, but rendered in ingredients and techniques that are generally accessible to home bakers in the United States. Many are utterly delicious and lovely to behold. But ... one has to recognize going in that a number of the formulae are riddled with errors, often in the quantity or proportion of the dough ingredients.
Such is the case with his Classic Auvergne Dark Rye, which begins on page 158 of the book.
My descent from home baker to mad scientist began innocently enough. When asked "What kind of bread would you like?", my wife responded "How about something with oatmeal? Or rye?" Since I was at that moment looking at the Auvergne Dark Rye, it seemed auspicious. So much for superstition.
The levain is built with 45 grams of stiff levain (50% hydration), 50 grams of water, and 50 grams of fine or medium whole rye flour. So far, so good. This was my first week home from a 3-week trip to South Africa and I had refreshed my starter, which I keep at 50% hydration, early in the week. Having mixed the levain, and put it in a covered container, I retired for the night.
This morning, I mixed the first stage of the dough, which called for all of the levain, plus 350 grams of hot tap water, plus 500 grams of medium to fine whole rye flour. The rye flour I have on hand is a medium-to-coarse stone-ground flour, so no big change. (I had mis-read the formula the first time through and thought it called for medium to light rye, which is another thing entirely.) The resulting dough was a thick paste, nearly, but not quite, as stiff as modeling clay. In looking at the notes, I read that Leader describes the dough at this stage as a "thick, smooth batter."
I did a quick search of TFL, found a few questions about the bread, but no answers. I searched the Web; same result. I posted here with questions and received mostly condolences (which were appreciated).
Deciding that I was already past the point of no return, I decided to forge ahead. So I added water and stirred. And added more water and stirred. And added yet more water, until I had a thick, smooth batter. It only took an additional 325 grams of water. Keep in mind that my "thick, smooth batter" may have an entirely different consistency than Mr. Leader's "thick, smooth batter". Chasing a description is not unlike chasing the wind - even if you do catch it, how do you know for sure?
For those of you keeping tally, the dough currently stands at 45 grams of levain, 50+500 grams of flour, and 350+325 grams of water. That's really, really high hydration! And it isn't soupy, which is another adjective that Mr. Leader uses to describe the dough!
I let it rest for the prescribed time, then mixed in the salt (20 grams) and bread flour (200 grams). The dough formed a big ball on the KitchenAid's paddle attachment and allowed itself to be pushed around by the dough hook. I eventually did a few stretch and folds in the bowl and called it good, then set it aside for its second fermentation.
Mr. Leader recommends that, at the end of the second ferment, the dough be scraped out onto a "lightly floured" counter, where it can be gently shaped into a "loose boule, without overhandling it." I eye the dough, then flour the countertop heavily. Not surprisingly, the dough sticks to everything that contacts it; hands, scraper, counter top. After a few brief tussles, it is in an almost round shape which lasts until I try to move it onto the waiting parchment paper and peel. Eventually, the less-than-round dough is on the peel, where it is patted into a somewhat misshapen, um, miche. In the French sense of the word. I allow it to ferment at the prescribed temperature for the prescribed time. The surface doesn't appear to have the promised cracks, but then, is it realistic to expect that it could with that much water in it? Into the preheated 500 dF (!) oven it goes, with steam. Baking time is estimated at 35-45 minutes, so at 35 minutes the thermometer is inserted and easily reaches 205 dF. I declare it done.
The surface still isn't fissured, although there may be a network of smaller cracks lurking beneath the flour on the surface. The color is a deep mahogany. As it cools, the crust softens and the bread feels slightly spongy. It will be tomorrow evening, at the earliest, before I cut into this bread. The thermometer's stem had gummy bits clinging to it when I pulled it out of the loaf, so it will require some time for all that moisture to distribute itself evenly throughout the loaf. I really don't know what to expect. It could be so moist as to be almost cake-like. It could be a gummy mess. Time will tell.
Here's a picture of the exterior:
I would estimate that the loaf increased 50-75% in height, due to ovenspring, from its unbaked height. It didn't appear to spread any further while in the oven. It looks pretty (albeit rough) on the outside. I'll post again after cutting into it tomorrow.
Postscript - the crumb:
I have to say that I am very pleasantly surprised by this bread; especially considering the amount of improvising that went into it. It has a straight-up, hearty rye flavor; no seeds or spices are included. For me, that's a good thing. There's no particular sourness as of this first tasting. The crumb, while close-textured, is not heavy or stiff. Instead, it is very moist, with a pleasing yielding firmness. The crust is fairly soft and relatively thin; not so surprising when you consider how much water is in this dough, even given the high baking temperature. I'm looking forward to some great sandwiches this week.
For anyone who is thinking of giving this a first, or second, try, you may want to note that I took the bread out of the oven at shortly before noon and left it on a cooling rack, covered with a tea towel, until about 9:30 p.m. Then I wrapped it in plastic film (it's bigger than any of the plastic bags I have on hand) and left it until nearly 7:00 p.m. today before slicing it. The purists among you may prefer to leave the bread completely unwrapped. My concern was that the air conditioning might pull moisture out of the bread faster than I wanted. There was no gumminess, probably thanks to the long cooldown with plenty of time for some of the moisture to evaporate while the rest of the moisture redistributed itself.
The other tip that I would suggest is to do the shaping directly on the parchment paper. Why wrestle something this sticky into shape, only to have it be distorted during the transfer onto the paper?
Now that I've lived through the experience, I think I could make this again and have it turn out reasonably well. But probably not in the next few weeks. Someday. Maybe.