The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Levain Question

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

Levain Question

I made my first levain last night, for the roasted garlic bread on Wild Yeast Susan's site http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2008/10/16/roasted-garlic-bread/


I was surprised at how stiff and dry the levain was, and I'm curious about whether that's typical of levains or particular to certain recipes.  I expected (obviously I didn't look closely at the formula) that the levain would be similar to a sponge but it was not.


I've mixed in the rest of the ingredients and it's in it's first stage of rising (I think this would be the bulk fermentation stage, but I'm still figuring that stuff out) and now I'm surprised at how "soupy" the final dough is.  The recipe promises that it will come together better after folding, but it's going to be a challenge to fold!


Hubby will never let me live it down if this bread fails after all the prep steps, but if it comes out halfway as nice as the one on WY's site (a big challenge for this newbie) I'll be happy.

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Janknitz,


How'd the roasted garlic bread turn out?


The levain in Susan's recipe is a stiff one, at approximately 60% hydration. The hydration level of various levains can be all over the map. This sort of stiff levain was common, almost universal (at least in France according to Daniel Leader), until refrigeration came along. The higher hydration starters are a relatively recent phenomenon. The additional water speeds up the microbial action, and thus can be very helpful in professional bakeries for scheduling reasons. Higher hydration also seems to favor certain microbes over others, though there are other variables that come into play as well.


As a result of such differences, the flavor of the bread is probably different than it would be using a higher hydration levain. And since that's how the recipe developed, it makes sense to follow it if you want to get a similar result. On the other hand, using a less stiff levain for building the dough is something you can experiment with, of course, and any observations about the different results would be of interest on TFL!


David

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

The roasted garlic bread came out OK. 


It had an amazing crumb with lots of randomly spaced, large holes (the final dough was very wet, as it turned out).   The crumb was moist and tasty though it seemed to dry out quickly.   


 f


But the rise and oven-spring were disappointing, despite plenty of yeast activity, and the crust was tough and chewy.  There may have been some overproofing.  I followed theto the letter, and the bulk fermentation was 4 hours.  When I shaped the loaves and put them to rise in the bannetons, the dough was thinned out and with huge bubbles, one almost the size of the boule itself.  It then had another 4 hours of proofing. 



 Despite the scoring, the cheese blew out the back of this one.  On the other loaf, it made a small volcano on the top of the loaf. 


It wasn't bad and it was a great learning experience.  First time using a levain, first time using my homemade wild yeast culture to leaven the bread all on its own, first time using stretch and fold techniques on very wet dough, first time with such a long fermentation. 


I brought one of the loaves in to work and one of my office mates complimented the bread.  He is good friends with "Kathy" (owner?) of Della Fattoria and said that I set the bar pretty high for home baking using her recipe (I agree, their bread is AMAZING) and did pretty well.  I don't think my bread was that good, but it was definitely a fun experience. 


 

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Janknitz,


For a first sourdough bread, this is ambitious! And that is a good way to learn.


The crumb is indeed lovely, with nice irregular holes. You say the oven spring was disappointing, and maybe it was overproofed. I am not looking at Susan's recipe, and I would never question any of her techniques, as she is a fantastic baker, but 4 hours is a long proof! Bulk fermentation can easily take that long with sourdough, but proofing is usually considerably shorter. The idea is to "prove" that the yeast is working, i.e. to see the shaped loaf rise some, and then into the oven. Everybody's starter is different, but with mine I seldom proof more than an hour or an hour and a quarter. Otherwise the yeast are spent and the loaf doesn't rise in the oven.


Keep up the great work!


David

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

It was a great learning experience!


Perhaps I am using the wrong terms.  There was a levain that sat overnight (plus some because I slept a bit late ;o), then a 4 hour bulk fermentation with all of the dough ingredients (including stretches and folds at 30, 60 and 90 minutes), then  the additions and shaping and 4 hours in the bannetons. <--I called that last part "proofing"  is that incorrect?


 


 

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Once the shaped loaves go into the bannetons, they are indeed proofing. I'm just not used to proofing for 4 hours. If I did that with my loaves they wouldn't get any oven spring. The yeast would be exhausted and the loaves might even fall in the oven (yes, it's happened).


I'll check Susan't recipe again, to refresh my memory...


Yes indeed, the recipe calls for 4 hours of proofing. I haven't tried this recipe, obviously. I guess I'd have to watch the dough carefully to see why a 4-hour proof is appropriate. If Susan sees your post, maybe she'll explain the long proof time.


David

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

(On knitting boards, if you follow a knitting pattern without the slightest alteration, you are a 'blind follower'.)


I wanted to be a blind follower the first time out with this recipe, because many steps were new to me--the levain (though I have done other pre-ferments), the way water was added, stretch and folds, and the long, slow ferment using only my wild yeast culture (I make sourdough english muffins, but that recipe has added chemical leavening). 


I will try this again with a few modifications:  1) probably not add the full amount of water--I think my dough was wetter than it was supposed to be; and 2)  time the stages of fermentation based on what the dough is telling me, rather than the recipe.


The 4 hour bulk ferment was clearly needed but I think the final proofing could have been at least an hour shorter. 

Soundman's picture
Soundman

I follow a new recipe pretty blindly too. But you are right about letting the dough tell you where it is in its development.


You probably know the cardinal points on proofing, but just in case...


1) I don't have Jeffrey Hamelman's book Bread at hand to quote from at the moment, but his advice boils down to loading the dough into the oven when it's still got some rise left to go. So at around the 85% risen point, or thereabouts.


2) You can tell when the proofed dough is ready to load by a slight poke with your finger. If the dough fills in quickly, it's underproofed, if it doesn't come all the way back, it's overproofed; if it fills back in, but somewhat slowly, it's ready to load.


Good luck, and let us see some pix of your efforts?


David