The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


Franko's picture

Savoury Polenta Levain


This summer our garden provided us with a bumper crop of little cherry tomatoes , so many in fact that we, or rather my wife Marie, ended up putting a large portion of them in the dehydrator so we could make use of them through the winter time. The tomatoes were cured briefly in a mix of salt, olive oil and fresh oregano before going into the dehydrator. When they were finally ready to eat we were amazed at how well the pure tomato flavour had been retained. I've eaten a lot of the sun dried type that you can find at the grocer or deli over the years, but I've never had any with quite as intense a flavour as these little gems. At last count we had just over a half pound of dried cherry tomatoes , which made me think that we could spare a few to make a bread with. The idea of using them in a loaf with polenta came from remembering an excellent grilled polenta with a sun dried tomato, garlic, parmigiano and olive oil dressing that I'd had years before at a pot luck BBQ with some friends.

Searches on TFL and the web in general didn't turn up much that I was interested in as most them called for eggs and milk or other ingredients I wasn't keen on, so I thought a little experimentation was in order to make the bread I had in mind. It had to be made with natural yeast, polenta -(more accurately, a hot cornmeal soaker), and the dried tomatoes, other than that I was pretty open to using whatever I felt would help compliment the flavour of the tomatoes. Thinking about the grilled polenta dish that I'd had, I decided to just go with some roasted garlic and parmigiano as the flavour additions and see how that worked. Well it worked just fine! The tomato flavour came through as the main player, the garlic and cheese offering subtle support, and the polenta adding a soft texture to the overall loaf. The sour sort of plays around in the background, which is what I was hoping for since I wasn't going for a tangy or sharp flavoured bread. The polenta gives it a soft crumb, and the wheat provides a good chewy crust, making for a pleasant contrast while you're eating it. This bread is great for panini sandwiches and toasts up quite nicely as well, but to me this is what I call a 'cocktail bread' , or something that you might make to take to a friends for dinner, or to have with some olives and cheese and a glass of wine as your waiting for the main course to finish cooking. There are a number of other things you could add to it such as toasted pine nuts, various herbs, or a different type of cheese but if you're looking for the taste of the tomato to shine through I'd recommend using a light hand. The recipe is included below as well as some photos. If any TFL'rs are interested in giving this one a whirl, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.


All the best,



                      SAVOURY POLENTA LEVAIN













Mature liquid Culture




Bread Flour
















Water-144 F




Yellow Cornmeal




Butter/olive oil *








Final Dough




Bread Flour



















Parmigiano Cheese
















Dried Tomatoes











*drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes to soften before starting the mix.

sundried tomatoes packed in oil and drained can be used as well -all or in part

* either butter or olive oil work well, use butter if a richer flavour is desired


  • Mix the levain 16-18 hrs before making the final dough and keep at room temp.


  • Make the polenta at the same time as the levain. Pour boiling water over the cornmeal and butter/oil and stir well then heat in microwave on high for 1 minute, stir until it begins to thicken, then heat for another minute or less and stir again till the polenta is very thick. Pour into a shallow container and let cool overnight. The polenta should be soft and slightly granular, not gelatinized or rubbery.


  • Break the polenta up in the mixer using the paddle attachment on 3rd speed for 1 minute, then add and mix all the ingredients except the salt and tomatoes on 1st speed until combined in a rough mass. Add the salt and mix on 1st speed for 3-4 minutes then on 2nd speed for 7-8 minutes. Adjust the water if needed to attain a medium soft dough. The dough should be soft enough to incorporate the dried tomatoes easily.


  • Mix in the dried tomatoes on 1st speed until thoroughly combined. Knead the dough by hand on the counter for 4-5 minutes using minimal dusting flour and a scraper until it's developed and the dough is smooth and elastic.


  • 1st stretch and fold after 1 hr, then again after the 2nd hr.

  • Retard at 45F or less for 18 hrs. Allow the dough to come to room temp of 70-75F for 1-1/12 hr before shaping.

  • Lightly round the dough, cover and rest for 15-20 minutes, then shape as desired and roll the loaf in semolina. Try to tuck any tomatoes poking through the suface back inside or underneath the loaf to keep them from scorching. Let rise for 2-1/2 to 3 hrs, then slash and slide on to a stone in a preheated 500F oven with normal steam and lower the oven temp to 460F. Bake for 15 minutes then rotate the loaf for even baking if using a non convection oven and bake an additional 20-25 minutes, rotating the loaf once more.

  • Cool the loaf on wire racks for 8hrs wrapped in baker's linen

lizzycooks's picture


Thank you for the beautiful inspiration to try this bread today!  I developed a wild-yeast sourdough starter recently, and decided to use it to try this recipe, despite my skepticism about the 8 g of starter.

Well - I'm pretty happy with it!  The crumb is open - not as much as txfarmer's - and the crust rates with the best I've made.  Inside, the texture is very moist and chewy.  My skepticism about the amount of starter was proved wrong – the dough rose at the rates suggested.

One thing I did not understand in the directions was the process between proofing and baking. Here’s what I did:

Step 5 – shape, let rise in greased/floured bowls (2.75 hours, warm kitchen).  I don’t have proofing baskets.

Heat oven to 500, ready cloths in hot pan for steaming

*tried* to transfer loaves to flat pans for baking, but it was too sticky and would not let me make a nice tall round for baking!  I am used to rounding and boule-ing my loaves before baking, but that would have been impossible unless I used a lot more flour.

Sliced shallow cuts in each loaf with razor

b/c it was sooo very sticky, it ended up starting its bake by spreading; it was probably only 1.5 inches high when I peeked in at 5 min.

steamed it throughout, cooked for about 45-50 min at 500F.

Ended with loaves at about 3.5” each, with splits on the sides (instead of on the top).

I probably used about 820 grams water, instead of 800.  But still, I have never worked with a dough that was so sticky after the proof.  What have I missed, and did it lead to the low-rise of the bread?

Thank you all,



Mebake's picture

Liquid Levain Timing Dilemma

September 21, 2010 - 11:29pm -- Mebake

Hi, fellow TFLers

Lately, I 've been having some tough time figuring out liquid levain maturity timing. I know that temperature, flour mix, ..etc all contribute, but thought to ask all of you:

How on planet earth do you manage to Bake sourdough with a liquid levain, save for getting up at midnight to check up on it is maturity, or worse, take it to office with you and endure the sneers of your colleauges (I heardthat  some do brave it!)??

jkandell's picture

There's been a lot of discussion here about Hamelman's seeded levains (5 Grain Sourdough and Seeded Levain).  Here is an alternative recipe which I find more to my taste-buds and I encourage fans of seeded bread to give it a try.

Although Della Fattoria uses a stiff 49% levain rather than Hamelman's 125%, I think the flavor differences lies more in the mix of ingredients than the method. The flour is half whole wheat (about four times more than Hamelman), with  the remaining flour  "reduced bran" (98% of the germ and 20% of the bran). In other words, this is mostly a wholemeal bread, rather than a white bread augmented with a touch of whole grain.

The following recipe is adapted from Rose Levi Beranbaum's "Sourdough Wheat Bread with Seeds" from her Bread Bible, which she got from Eve Weber of Della Fattoria.  Although you can purchase reduced bran flour from Guisto's, I followed Beranbaum in "recreating" it by adding 2.8% germ and 1.4% bran to 95.8% all purpose flour.  Be careful your whole wheat flour is fresh--not bitter to the taste, and smells fruity when mixed with water. And freeze your germ and bran so they don't go rancid.  With this much whole grain any bitterness will ruin the loaf.

The levain is 49% hydration; the final dough excluding the levain is 79% hydration, with overall hydration of about 76%.  The final dough is tacky.


One Loaf:


bread flour       40  
whole wheat       10
stiff chef
whole wheat

bread flour
germ (half T)


bran (2.5 t)

water       284  
salt       11
honey       14
seeds       73  
stiff levain       100  
SEEDS            grams  
sunflower seeds (toasted)       13  
pumpkin seeds (toasted)       13  
sesame seeds (toasted)       14  
flax seeds
polenta or cornmeal
TOTAL       73  



Starting with about 25g of storage chef, create a mature stiff levain of 100g. (About 12 hours.)

Toast the sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and cool.  Mix with the flax and cornmeal to add later.

Day of baking:

Add all ingredients except salt to bread machine bowl.  Run on dough cycle enough to mix.  Autolease 20 minutes.  Add salt, and run on dough cycle about 7 minutes.  (Because of the bran and seeds, you want to mix a tad less than usual, and do some extra folds to develop the gluten to compensate.)

Bulk Ferment: 3-4 hours @75-80F.  4 stretch and folds half way through, at about 1 1/2 hours.

Loosely Shape. Relax for 20m.  Shape into batard.

Proof 1- 2 1/2 hours.  It is a moist dough and will spread a bit.

Three diagonal slashes.  Bake at 450F for 10 minutes (with steam at 0 and 5 minutes), then reduce heat to 400F for 20 minutes, then finish at 350F for another 10 or 15 minutes until crust is dark orange.  Or bake it Hamelman style hotter and shorter.

pmccool's picture

On Friday morning, I did a rather large refresh of my starter, thinking that it would be the makings of a levain for something to bake this weekend.  There was no specific plan, mind you, just the notion that I needed to bake something and that sourdough would be preferred.  In taking stock of my pantry after a late dinner Friday evening, it became evident that whatever I made wouldn't contain rye--I needed to restock.  That may be good news to Nico and the rest of the crew at Eureka Mills but it did steer my considerations out of one path and down another.

What to bake, then?  After riffling through some books, the bread that looked most appealing to me was the Pain de Campagne from Leader's Local Breads.  Yes, it wants 30g of rye flour, too, but I substituted WW and was happily on my way.  My starter was at, or just passing, its zenith.  Since I keep a firm starter, I needed to add water to achieve the hydration of Leader's liquid levain.  Before doing that, I made sure to set some starter aside to refeed and put back into storage.  It's no fun to find out you've baked up all of your starter and need to start anew.  Even worse, there are no T-shirts after you've been there and done that.

In reading the formula, I found that I had just about the same quantity of levain (after adding the requisite water) that would be required for a double batch.  Good!  One mess and four loaves instead of one mess and two loaves.  That would yield two for us and a couple of loaves to give to friends.  Leader recommends mixing the water and flour for a 20-minute autolyze, then add in the levain and salt.  I varied by mixing the flour, water and levain for the autolyse and left it for 25 minutes, on the presumption that the coarser bran particles of the WW flour would benefit from additional time soaking.

Upon returning to the now-autolyzed dough, I found it to be wonderfully elastic even before adding the salt.  I worked in about half of the salt using a stretch and fold in the bowl process, then patted the dough out on the countertop and worked in the rest of the salt.  Leader directs the baker to knead the dough for 10-12 minutes.  For once, I followed directions.  The dough was a joy to handle.  It verged on being sticky at the beginning of the knead.  Per Leader's directions, I did not add any bench flour.  Instead, I would dust my hands with flour occasionally.  As the kneading progressed, the stickiness reduced to a light tackiness (and I mean that in a good way).  The dough left very little of itself on the countertop even though it was quite capable of latching on if left to sit for more than a few seconds.  It was able to produce a window pane at the end of the kneading, something that I don't usually check for, especially in a dough freckled with flakes of bran.  In spite of the addition of some WW flour (and rye, if you have it), this is essentially a white bread.  And I suspect that the dough felt so responsive to me because my previous bake was a 100% rye.  Two different worlds!

By this time, it was already close to 9:00 in the evening, so I had to consider my next step.  Should I stay up late through two fermentation cycles and baking, or should I retard it in the refrigerator?  Since I was dealing with a sourdough, I opted to leave it on the counter for about an hour more before placing it in the refrigerator.  My experience with sourdoughs is that they are rather slow to develop and I did not want to sacrifice that much sleep.  Imagine my surprise at about 7:00 this morning when I opened the refrigerator door to find the dough well above the rim of the bowl, straining against the plastic wrap!  It had at least tripled, perhaps quadrupled, in roughly 9 hours in the refrigerator.  I've never seen a sourdough bread do that before.  It must be that this starter, even though only a couple of months old, has a potent strain of yeast!

So, I divided the dough into four pieces and shaped each piece into a boule.  I only have two bannetons that size, and only two loaves would fit on my stone at one time, so I opted for using two half-sheet pans with two loaves on parchment on each.  While I can fit those into my oven, it does not leave any room for a steam pan.  When the loaves had doubled (visually) and the poke test indicated that they were fully risen, I scored them and brushed their surfaces with water before putting them in the preheated oven.  Leader recommends baking at 450ºF for 15 minutes, then dropping the temperature to 400ºF for an additional 20-25 minutes.  I opted to use the convection setting, with temperatures that were 40º-50º lower, supposing that I would get a more even bake.  I also planned to rotate and switch the pans at the 15-minute mark.  When I opened the oven, I found that the lower loaves were pressing against the rack above them.  Instead of the planned switch-and-rotate maneuver, I took all four loaves off the pans and placed them on the top rack, with the paler pair at the rear, to finish the lower-temperature last segment of the bake.

Here's how they look:

pain de campagne

As you can see from the crackling in the crust of the left-hand loaf, they sang as they cooled.  Two of the loaves suffered small blow-outs along their bases, indicating that they weren't as fully proofed as they seemed to be (or that I really did need more steam in the oven).  I'm very happy with how they expanded upward more than they did outward, since I was careful to get a tight gluten cloak while shaping.  I'm less happy with the scoring; it's a skill I need to develop further.  I anticipate some good eating from these.  We'll see how the crumb looks when I've cut into one.  That much kneading could lead to a fairly even and close crumb, even though this is a moist dough.

Stay tuned!


lief's picture

When I came across breadnik's Russian Coriander-Rye recipe, I knew I had to make it! However, I don't do much baking with commercial yeast these days, so I converted the recipe to one that uses a levain. Given my lack of experience with breads that use a large percentage of rye flour and the fact that that I didn't even attempt to make the recipe as stated first seemed a little risky, but I can be fairly adventurous when it comes to baking and cooking :-)

                                                                    The finished product, yum!


I made a few minor modifications to use the ingredients that I had on hand, but the overall amounts of flour and water are very similar to breadnik's recipe.  I should also note that the mother starter I used is a white bread flour starter, since I do not currently maintain a rye starter.

Starter build 1: (fermented for ~11.5 hours)
mother starter (bread flour based @55% hydration) 14g
dark rye flour 22g
water 12g

Starter build 2: (fermented for ~5 hours)
starter 1 (from first build) 48g
dark rye flour 50g
water 28g

Final dough: (fermented ~10.5 hours)
starter 2 (from second build) 126g
dark rye flour 194g
white bread flour 80g
spelt flour 80g
vital wheat gluten 80g
sea salt 12g
ground coriander seeds 4g
honey 60g
molasses 60g
canola oil 30g
water 234g

1) Bring the starter to maturity in 2 builds. Due to the lack of gluten in the rye flour, the starter doesn't really expand like I'm used to so it is difficult for me to gauge the starter maturity. The fermentation times I used were fairly similar to what I might use for a non-rye flour dough.

2) For the final dough, mix all the dry ingredients together with a whisk to ensure a good distribution. I was feeling too lazy to grind up coriander seeds, so I just used pre-ground coriander from the spice rack. Add the levain then the wet ingredients, with the water last, as specified in breadnik's original recipe.

3) Mix the dough until ingredients are combined and all flour is hydrated. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Strictly speaking, I'm not sure this step can be called an autolyse, because the levain and salt are both in the dough. However, it still helps to develop the gluten.

4) Knead the dough for 20 minutes. It will NOT pass the window pane test. Perhaps this is a useless test for high percentage rye breads? The dough should be a little tacky. It is also quite stiff and difficult to knead.

5) Let the dough ferment! I let the dough ferment for almost 10 hours after kneading. This seems on the long side to me, but as I mentioned earlier, it is difficult for me to tell when this dough has reached maturity. Any comments on good maturity indicators for high percentage rye breads?

6) Shape the dough into two small batards and immediately refrigerate. I refrigerated for almost 8 hours.

7) Remove the batards from the refrigerator to let them warm and proof. In this case, I let it go for five hours! Again this seemed long to me, but I was able to apply the "poke test" to this dough and it didn't seem unreasonable from that perspective.

8) Spritz the batards with water and sprinkle them with slightly crushed coriander seeds. Then put them in the oven, preheated to 410-415F (my oven is not that accurate). I used a baking stone and steam, but the steam may not be necessary since the batards were spritzed with water. After 10 minutes, remove the steaming device and turn the oven down to 380F. Rotate the batards after another 10 minutes.

9) After 37 minutes of total bake time, remove the batards from the oven and allow them to cool (somewhat) before devouring ;-) This bake time may have been a little high as some parts of the bread seemed a bit darker and crustier than it should be.

Despite all of the uncertainty I had around the timing of this bread, it turned out great. The taste is complex, somewhat sweet, and all delicious. Not much oven spring. The crumb is fairly dense (sorry, no photo), but not as dense as most rye breads I have had. This is the second time I've made this bread and I'm fairly certain it will be popping out of my oven very now and then for a long time to come.


The original recipe that breadnik posted can be found here:

MmeZeeZee's picture

Lepard's Rye-I have a bad feeling about this...

June 23, 2010 - 1:26pm -- MmeZeeZee

Well, I don't know what is up with my flour or technique, but once again I followed the instructions and it is just... way. too.  moist.  I have loaves rising and they do seem to be rising, but I'm afraid they are not going to keep their shape at all.  However, in this case, I feel confident that the dough was right before kneading as he suggests pouring the sticky paste out of the bowl onto the kneading surface.  Which I did have to do.

MmeZeeZee's picture

Levain Angst

May 1, 2010 - 12:52pm -- MmeZeeZee

I don't know if this is the right place, but I just baked my first loaf with a new levain.  I made it according to Dan Lepard's instructions in "The Handmade Loaf".  It looks exactly like the pictures in his book, and did rise.  However, my bread did not.  Well, it rose a little bit over four hours (not doubled in height, that's for sure, but I put it in because I needed to go to bed!) and it rose and spread out a bit more in the oven.  Certainly those babies are active.  But perhaps not active enough?

Doc Tracy's picture

Converting Recipes to Starter

April 7, 2010 - 7:01pm -- Doc Tracy

I need some advice. I'm planning to bake two recipes which I've baked several times but this time convert both to starter only. The first is the whole wheat sandwich bread from Peter Rinehart's Whole grains book. He says to use 14oz of starter instead of the biga when converting.

The second is Hamelman's Multigrain with Rye starter. I'm simply wanting to leave out the commercial yeast in this bread.


Subscribe to RSS - levain