The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

levain

smasty's picture

Newbie question on levain...refrigeration

August 18, 2009 - 9:33am -- smasty

I've just finished reading "Bread" from cover to cover, and am ready to begin my very first Levain culture.  The question I have is is it ever refrigerated?  From what I understand from the book, it's just fed every day and left out on the counter?  Even when it matures?  Page 358 gives great instructions for building a culture, I guess it sounds funny to me that it is never put in the fridge.  Thanks!

Sue

pmccool's picture
pmccool

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."  

Uh oh.

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:

Auvergne Dark Rye

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.

Paul

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.

Paul

 

pmccool's picture

Question about Leader's Auvergne Dark Rye

July 18, 2009 - 7:00am -- pmccool

I've started Leader's Auvergne Dark Rye and run into some confusion.  Leader describes the first stage of the dough as a "thick, smooth batter".  That's using the starter, 350 grams of water and 500 grams of medium or light rye flour.  Right off the bat, a dough at 70% hydration is not going to be a batter.  In my case, the matter is compounded by the fact that I'm using a stone-ground whole rye flour, which is even more absorptive.  Batter?  No.  Play-Doh?  Yes.

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I think one of the biggest differences between commercial artisan bakeries, that bake every day, and the amateur that bakes once or even twice a week is how each handles levain day-to-day. From my reading I've gleaned the commercial baker keeps his or her levain (starter) at room temperature, and feeds it on a periodic schedule every 8 or 12 hours. (I'm an amateur, so, experts, please correct me if I'm terribly wrong). on the other hand, most amateurs keep thier starters at refrigerator temperature (~40°F), and feed them once weekly, or less often.

I am less certain how commercial bakers maintain their starters' hydration, I assume, however, that perhaps as little as one day earlier they prepare a chosen amount of their maintained starter by feeding it an amount of flour and water that adjusts its hydration to the target for a days baking. Amateurs keep their maintained starters at a fixed hydration, and, although some amateurs maintain their starters very dry (50%-60%), or very wet (~200%), the usual maintenance hydration is ~100% to ~125%.

The challenge for us amteurs is, "How do I convert an alive, but nearly dormant, relatively cold starter to a formula ready starter, i.e., the correct formula specified starter weight and hydration?"; one might also add, in a reasonably short time.

Some recipes intruct a single feeding, without changing the starter's hydration, followed by a fermentation period--usually 12 hours--and adjusts the dough's flour and water weights to achieve the desired dough hydration. Some amateur bakers convert their maintained starter in one feeding to the target starter weight and hydration, and then feed it an additional one to nine times over a period of one or more days. Both these approaches work, and each have subtle secondary consequences, usually effecting the final bread's flavor. It's not my intent judge the merit of those consequences, merely note they occur.

What I want to do is describe the process I use, explain why I use it, and show some results.

First of all, I have two primary goals for creating formula-ready starters the way I do. One is related to the final dough. I want to achieve a very active starter, strong enough to produce two strong proofs, in moderately short time, i.e., 2-3 hours each; and with sufficient reserve to provide strong oven spring. And, I want to build this formula-ready starter in no more than 24 hours.

The second goal: I want to maintain only a barely necessary amount of starter, e.g., around 200g, 100% hyddration, and fed every two or three weeks.

I've succeeded in reaching both goals using a 3-build approach that triples the amount of starter with each build, and adjusts the hydration by one-third of the difference between the maintained starter's hydration and the formula specified starter hydration.

A couple of definitions, and a little math:

seed starter: the weight of maintained starter that when tripled 3 times yields the formula-specified starter weight.

Intermediate starter: the building starter, i.e. the starter at any time between the beginning of Build 1 and the end of Build 3.

formula-ready starter weight = seed starter weight x (3x3x3) = seed starter weight x 27; therefore:

seed starter weight = formula-ready starter weight/27. But, I always lose some--it sticks to the stirrer, and the its container's walls, so I add a little more, e.g. 20g.

intermediate starter hydration = seed starter hydration +(formula-ready starter hydration - seed starter ready hydration)/3 x # of last build.

An example:

Formula specified starter: 480g, 60% Hydration

Seed starter hydration: 100%

Added to make up loss: 20g

Hence:

Seed starter weight = (480 + 20)/27 = 19g (rounded to nearest whole number)

Intermediate starter's hydration = 100 +(60 - 100)/3 x 1 or 2 or 3 = 100 + (-40)/3 therefore:

during Build 1 the Intermediate starters hydration = 86.7; during build 2 73.3%, and during build 3 60%.

Intermediate starter weights are: Build 1, 55g, Build 2, 167g, and Build 3, 500. (all are rounded to nearest whole gram.)

Now, I'm not going to do the Baker's math to calculate the flour and water weights added each build. I built a spreadsheet to do that for me, but it is possible by hand using Baker's math, and the intermediate starter weights and hydrations.

The results: Below are a series of five photographs that visually document the example above.

Why do it this way?

I reasoned that adding more than twice the weight of the seed starter (or the intermediate starter weights)  would dilute the density of the yeast critters beyond a "strong" density, i.e. each build should peak within eight hours or less, Yeast have little or no motility, so after a time, they are surrounded by their waste products: carbon dioxide and alcohol, not food, so production slows down or stops. Stirring , kneading dough, etc. all redistribute yeast, by-products, and food, but I don't want to be burdened with stirring. Furthermore, my goals focus on yeast production, not bacterial growth. (There are other things one can do to develop flavor contributing starters.)

1. Seed Starter: 19g of my refrigerator maintained starter.

 

2. Build 2. at its peak 16 hours after starting. I didn't photograph build 1, even at its peak it didn't cover the bottom of the container.

 

3. Build 3 at zero hour, I'd just added its flour and water additions and spread it out in its container.

 

4. Build three after only 3 hours (19 hours from the beginning); I consider its growth a good subjective indicator of its strength.

 

5. Build 3 after 7 hours (23 hours from beginning). You can see evidence it's peaked by the slight deflation around the edges. Immediately after taking this photo I made the dough...

 

...for this bread. This is D. DiMuzio's San Francisco Sourdough au Levain (firm starter) formula, but I used it for a Thyme-Feta Cheese-Toasted Chestnut vehicle, so it probably doesn't exhibit all the oven spring it might have in an uncluttered dough. Nonetheless, I think it stands a good example of my goal.

Crumb

DonD's picture
DonD

This past weekend, I made a batch of Baguettes au Levain based on the recipe that Janedo had adapted from the Anis Bouabsa formula. This is my third try at this recipe and each time I tweaked it a little bit to correct some aspects that did not turned out to my liking. This time the loaves turned out pretty good with nice oven spring and airy crumb. The crust had nice golden color with small blisters, thin and crackly and deep caramel flavor. The taste was not sour but is rich and sweet with a slight tang.

The formula I used consists of:

- 125 g of stiff white flour levain at 67% hydration

- 300 g KAF AP Flour

- 150 g KAF Bread Flour

- 50 g Arrowhead Mills Organic Stoneground WW Flour

- 350 g water

- 1/4 tsp Instant Yeast

- 10 g Atlantic Sea Salt

I autolyse the flour mixture with the water without the yeast or salt for 30 mins prior to mixing in the levain, then added the yeast and the salt during the stretch and fold. I followed the 20 movements 3 times at 20 mins interval using the stretch and fold from Richard Bertinet (I like slapping the dough!). I let the dough ferment for 1 hr then refrigerate for 24 hours before dividing, shaping and baking.

I reduced the hydration to 70% to make the shaping and scoring of the baguettes easier. I also found that that little extra yeast really helps with the oven spring.

I proofed the shaped baguettes and scored them on a perforated pan lined with parchment paper which helps keep the shape, especially when working with a high hydration dough. To help me comtrol the scoring, I made a full size cardboard template as a guide while scoring.

I tranferred the loaves by sliding the parchment onto a jerry-rigged wooden peel made from a top cover of a Bordeaux wine case and from there onto the baking stone.

I baked 10 mins at 460 degrees F with steam from a cast iron pan filled with lava stones (thanks David!), reduce to 430 degrees and baked without steam for 13 mins, turned off oven and kept them in the oven with door ajar for another 5 mins ( thanks again David!) before removing them to cool on a rack.

 

I hope these little tidbits will be of help. Happy baking!

Don

SallyBR's picture

Hamelman's Pain au Levain

May 24, 2009 - 2:26pm -- SallyBR

Today I made Hamelman's Pain au Levain - recipe on page 158 of his book BREAD 

 

For months now I've been baking his Vermont Sourdough series every weekend, allowing the shaped boule to retard overnight.

This recipe is slightly different - a little rye flour is used in the starter, and also in the dough. He does not recommend retarding the bread, instead it should be baked after 2 - 2.5 hs final rise at room temperature.

IN a way, it is a pretty "quick" method for a sourdough, and I did not know how it would turn out.

SallyBR's picture

Question on Hamelman's Olive Levain

May 1, 2009 - 6:53am -- SallyBR

I am making this bread tonight to bake tomorrow - in his recipe, he says the bread profits from retarding the shaped loaves, which I will do

 

but it does not say if they can be baked straight from the fridge, or if they should stay at room temp for a few hours.

 

has anoone made this bread? I think I will remove it from the fridge and leave it for 3 hours over the counter, since I've been doing this for his Vermont sourdough and works fine, but if anyone has specific instructions, I am all ears!

 

Thanks!

xaipete's picture

Liquid levain vs. stiff levain

April 22, 2009 - 11:41am -- xaipete

Is there a standard hydration level for a liquid levain vs. a stiff levain? I was reading Leader's Local Breads this morning and noticed that his liquid levain has about 130 % hydrated vs. his stiff which has about 50% hydration. I've also been readin Michael Suas's Advanced Bread and Pastry and notice that some of his SD formulas call for a liquid levain while others require a stiff starter.

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