Hamelman's Whole Wheat Levain
Since I had Friday off last weekend, and since the weather on Friday and Saturday was rainy, it seemed like a golden opportunity for baking some bread. While perusing Hamelman's Bread, the Whole Wheat Levain was the one that I kept coming back to as I weighed the alternatives.
The first step was to build the levain. Since my kitchen temperature was several degrees cooler than Hamelman's reference temperature, I elected to increase the inoculation by about 20%. I also allowed the levain a longer time to develop, by perhaps 4 hours or so. What greeted me on Saturday morning was a fully domed levain that was showing just the earliest hints of an impending collapse.
The next step was to build the dough. The formula directions are based on machine mixing; I did all mixing and kneading by hand. It appears that the whole wheat flour that I used (Great River Milling) may have a higher protein content than Chef Hamelman's. Now that I say that, it seems somewhat improbable, given that his formula is probably based on King Arthur flours. Regardless, for the same hydration, my dough seemed a bit firmer than his description. While soft, it was never "loose" and no bench flour was required during kneading.
The dough was then set to bulk ferment at room temperature, with stretch and folds at the recommended intervals. After the bulk ferment, I shaped the loaves into boules and put them in floured bannetons for the final fermentation, with plastic wrap shielding the exposed surfaces, also at room temperature. When the loaves were perhaps 75% expanded, my wife suggested we run some errands, so I put the bannetons into the refrigerator to hold until we returned home. That turned out to be 3 or 4 hours later, so it is very good that I didn't leave the loaves at room temperature in anticipation of an earlier return!
Upon returning, I set the loaves out on the counter to finish their final ferment. When they appeared to be doubled, but before they felt wobbly, I preheated the oven and stone. When all was up to temperature, the oven was steamed, the loaves were tipped from the bannetons and scored, then into the oven they went. The dough was still cool enough that the steam immediately condensed on the loaves' surface, leaving them glistening for the first minute or two. A peek throught the window a few minutes later revealed a healthy oven spring in progress.
I checked for doneness at the end of the recommended bake time and pulled the loaves from the oven. This is how they looked:
Although not readily visible in this shot, there was a small amount of tearing at one slash on each loaf, suggesting that I could have allowed even further fermentation.
The crumb, while acceptable, seconds the notion that additional fermentation would have been optimal. The bulge at the one slash is more evident:
That, or I should have kneaded less, allowing a more open crumb. Or some of each.
The other thing that could have been done was to allow the loaves to stay in the oven a few minutes more. While fully baked, more baking would have deepened the color (and flavor!) and dried the crumb somewhat.
But these are small matters, the difference between a good bread and a really good bread. The crumb is moist, but not soggy; firm, but with a pleasing softness; and eminently suited for its primary role as sandwich material. No spilled mustard from those holes! The flavor is primarily wheat, with distant notes of hazelnut and caramel. There's only the smallest hint of a sourdough tang; quite suprising, considering the extended fermentation of both levain and dough. The fragrance tells you immediately that this is the real deal, not a tricked up wannabe.
By contrast, when my wife and I were at the supermarket (one of the errands), we happened to walk down the bread aisle and it smelled disgusting. That's never really struck me before, even though I've baked most of our bread for 30-mumble years. I'm not sure which thing(s) in that "bread" I was smelling but it almost turned my stomach. And no, it had nothing to do with a lack of cleanliness in the store; this was coming entirely from the product. Yuck!
So, color me happy with my bread and thanks to Chef Hamelman for this specific bread.