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Levains

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hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Levains

I've been experimenting with some different levain breads recently, all made with more or less the same procedure: Between 15% and 20% prefermented flour, bulk fermentation around 2.5 hours with one or two folds, and retarding in fridge overnight (or at least 8 hours).


First up was a semolina levain, loosely based on Hamelman's semolina bread from the levain chapter in his book. I added a pinch whole-wheat and whole-rye flour to the formula, to give it a bit more body. There's toasted sesame seeds in the dough, and flavourful seeds on the crust, that provide a rich taste to each slice. A very nice bread to go with cured sausages or paninis!


Semolina bread


 


A bread that really blew me away was a levain made with roasted potatoes, roasted garlic and fresh herbs. Here's a link to my spreadsheet which details the formula. If you want to try it, keep an eye on the hydration of the dough as you mix it: You might have to add or reduce water depending on the moisture of the roasted potatoes. The garlic gets a mellow, rich buttery flavour after roasting it, and it blends perfectly with herbs and potatoes in this humble bread. I used parsley, but anything from thyme, basil, rosemary, dill to oregano would work equally well. You could also replace some of the water with olive oil if you prefer a softer crumb. Either way, I can heartily recommend it.


Roasted potato and garlic bread


 


Finally, my everyday pain au levain from "Bread", the pain au levain with whole-wheat flour:


Pain au levain with whole-wheat flour


 


PS: If you're a literature buff (like me), keep an eye out for Sofi Oksanen, a young Finnish writer who's making waves in literature circles here in Scandinavia. Two of her three novels are translated into my mother tongue, and her third novel "Purge", is soon published in English (Amazon.com link). Estonia, torn between Finland (West) and the Soviet union (East), is central to her work, and the tension between the two blocks has devastating effects on her characters. "Purge" is nominated for this year's Nordic Council's literature prize, arguably the most prestigious award for literature written in the Nordic languages, and I wouldn't be surprised if she wins.

Comments

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

I especially love the semolina levain.  They are all just beauties!  So how are you liking the flavor of the semolina?


Sylvia

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thank you!


It's delicious. I don't bake with semolina all that often, but I loved the crisp crust and mild flavour of the bread. Perhaps not something I would slice and eat plain, but a perfect accompaniment to any spread (firm cheese, lingonberry jam, spicy sausages, salami) or with an Italian dinner.

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

You've started visions of a bruschetta appetizer and wine!  I love the sesame seeds in the crumb.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Do you make an effort to control fermentation temperature to achieve a consistant 2 1/2 hour bulk fermentation?


David

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thanks so much!


There are a couple of things I watch for in order to have a (roughly) 2.5 hour bulk fermentation. First, I don't let the amount of prefermented flour exceed 20% of the total flour weight. If there's seeds (or roasted potatoes) weighing the dough down, I would go for 18% - 20% prefermented flour, while for a straight pain au levain, 15% - 16% is better. As for dough temperature, I usually aim for a DDT around 24dC, and let the dough ferment at room temperature (21dC - 24dC, typically). Finally, I also make sure that the dough is only moderately developed after the initial mixing, and can stand up to a long bulk ferment and two folds.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

You must have a very active starter if such a small inoculation fully ferments the dough in such a short time. 


David

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

I'm not sure if it's very active, but it is lively. It's the only white starter I've used so I can't really compare it to any other, but it ferments dough more or less according to the timelines of Hamelman's levains - his pain au levains are made with 15% - 16% prefermented flour, resulting in a 2.5 hr bulk fermentation.


Out of curiosity, what kind of fermentation times do you use for your levains, David?

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Where the formula specifies fermentation times, as Hamelman's do, I try to follow it. What remains a bit uncertain in my mind is that I am generally acustomed to thinking the dough should double for bulk fermentation to be "complete." But Hamelman dossn't talk about this.


If a levain calls for a 2 1/2 hour bulk fermentation with 2 folds at 50 and 100 minutes, for example, generally the dough is not doubled by 150 minutes. Yet, the breads turn out well.


What is your thought about dough doubling as a criterion for "full fermentation?"


David

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

That's a good question, David.


And I agree, the levain dough is certainly not doubled after 2 - 3 hours of bulk fermentation. I would say perhaps a 25% - 33% increase is what I'm looking at. But the nature of the dough has changed considerably over those hours, however. It's much stronger and has a "spongy" feel to it, and there are clear evidence of many small air pockets as I preshape it.


Sourdoughs produce a lot less gas than commercial yeast but they still develop quite a bit of acid, however. Based on my experience with my own starter, I guess if I would let a levain dough bulk ferment until almost doubled, the dough would get over-developed from repeated folds and the acid's strengthening effect on the gluten. As opposed to straight, yeasted doughs, I've never seen advice on letting levain doughs double during bulk fermentation.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder


I've never seen advice on letting levain doughs double during bulk fermentation.



I'm gonna hit the books. This is also a good question for the pros. Maybe start a new topic? May I quote you?


David

ryeaskrye's picture
ryeaskrye

David,


IIRC, hansjoakim's 25-33% rise advice is similar to the directions in the Local Breads french levain formula for the bulk ferment and I faintly remember Leader mentioning less gas and rise vis-a-vis commercial yeast.


I recently baked several versions (plain, 7grain/5seed, WW) and was consistently surprised by the oven spring and deep flavor with shorter fermentation times with no retard.


BTW, Beautiful loaves Hans!


John

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi David,


Although I haven't seem them, I'm positive there are books or sources out there that suggest fermenting pain au levain doughs until doubled in volume. But, in my mind, that's oversimplifying the baking process.


What I mean to say, is that the length of bulk fermentation should be determined by the entire baking process, not the volume expansion observed in that single (isolated) step of the process. E.g.: If you develop the dough for a long time in the mixing bowl, it can't stand up to a long bulk fermentation. If you underdevelop the dough during mixing, you'll have to aim at a longer period of bulk fermentation in order to build sufficient strength and desired elasticity/extensibility. Using Suas' mixing categories, a short mix requires roughly 3 - 4 hours fermentation and an improved mix 1.5 - 2 hours.


Along the same lines, the amount of prefermented flour you add to the dough will also affect the development of the mixed dough. More (less) prefermented flour requires shorter (longer) fermentation times.


I think it's more correct to gauge bulk fermentation time based on the entire baking process: From mixing and incorporating preferments, to shaping, proofing/retarding until you pull the loaf from your oven. Each step is connected to every other step in the process (as Suas describes so well in the first chapters of ABAP).

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I think one of the measures of great literature (since the topic has wandered into that realm) is that one gets new and deeper meanings from it with each re-reading. I think of the bible, Shakespeare, Don Quixote ... Suas (?)


I just re-read Suas on fermentation. What you say certainly shares his perspective. I think I understand each part, yet don't quite have the gut-level feeling for the whole towards which I'm working. I know it will come.


Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the journey. With such wonderful traveling companions, how could I not?


David

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

I know exactly what you mean, David, and I think you put it wonderfully! Classical works resonate with following generations of readers or listeners, often on different levels and for different reasons, but they're still moved, inspired and gripped by the spirit and humanity contained within the work. And the amazing depth of these works; the range of interpretation and "layers" to peel ensure that you're never quite finished with them.


We're lucky to have these great books by Hamelman, Suas and DiMuzio, because with the insight they offer, we can (over time!) develop that gut-level feeling you write about. It's a great, rewarding journey too: An end in itself!

CarlSF's picture
CarlSF

Hans,


Those loaves are beautiful!  The scoring on the ear is well done, and the crumb looks very good!  Do you always like your bread in a batard form?


Carl

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

As always, thanks so much for your kind words, Carl :)


I usually get a good ear on levains, but some of the multigrain/seeded ones are more unpredictable (sometimes the ear opens on the "wrong" side). I was lucky to get a nice ear also on the one with chunks of roasted potatoes (wonder how next time will go).


The shape depends, really. I usually go for batards whenever I bake pain au levains, or breads that taste best within the first 3-4 days. Then I shape them so each bread weighs approx. 850gr. For denser ryes, which stay fresh so much longer, I often make boules, each somewhere between 1kg and 1.5kg. I guess I'm a bit "conservative" too... you know, you're pain au levains are supposed to be batards, your heavy miches are boules...

CaptainBatard's picture
CaptainBatard

The potato garlic look very moist and tender! I had a look at your spread sheet...it looks very simple and straight forward..did you develop it or is it one you got from this site?


Judd


 

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thanks again :)


It is very moist tender! I think the roasted potatoes contribute to keeping the crumb moist for days. It's a "savoury" bread that goes really very well with different spreads. I just had some with herring, and that went down particularly well with this hobby baker.


I put the formula together myself. It's nothing groundbreaking, but more a hybrid of the roasted garlic levain and the roasted potato bread from "Bread".

frenchcreek baker's picture
frenchcreek baker

Hello Hans,


Quite the inspiring post! And you have a knack for photography.


After getting my starter up to speed, I am going to attempt your roasted potatoes and roasted garlic bread, substituting fresh rosemary for the parsley. 


Is there any more info on your roasted potatoes? Just curious as to how long you roasted them in the oven. Not sure if it matters much, but what size did you cut the individual pieces? I have only used mashed potatoes for bread.


And a big thanks for the book recommendations! I am going to track down "Purge" as soon as it is published in English. I visited Estonia a year ago and found the country was fascinating. Went on a "funky bike tour" that turned out to be a political tour of the now abandoned prison, an old  graveyard desecrated by the Russians, and other Talin sites. I would love to return and tour the entire country.  


I am avid reader and hope you continue to share your literature recommendations. It is nice to have your perspective. I am currently reading books with a Dutch connection. I am now reading "The Discovery of Heaven" by Harry Mulisch and just finished Susan Vreeland's "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" a novel about a Vermeer painting.

frenchcreek baker's picture
frenchcreek baker

Hello Hans,

Quite the inspiring post! And you have a knack for photography.

After getting my starter up to speed, I am going to attempt your roasted potatoes and roasted garlic bread, substituting fresh rosemary for the parsley. 

Is there any more info on your roasted potatoes? Just curious as to how long you roasted them in the oven. Not sure if it matters much, but what size did you cut the individual pieces? I have only used mashed potatoes for bread.

And a big thanks for the book recommendations! I am going to track down "Purge" as soon as it is published in English. I visited Estonia a year ago and found the country was fascinating. Went on a "funky bike tour" that turned out to be a political tour of the now abandoned prison, an old  graveyard desecrated by the Russians, and other Talin sites. I would love to return and tour the entire country.  

I am avid reader and hope you continue to share your literature recommendations. It is nice to have your perspective. I am currently reading books with a Dutch connection. I am now reading "The Discovery of Heaven" by Harry Mulisch and just finished Susan Vreeland's "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" a novel about a Vermeer painting.

cheers,

Anne

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi Anne,


Thanks so much for your reply!


Fresh rosemary sounds great. I hope you'll like it! As for the roasted potatoes, I diced them in roughly 1cm cubes, drizzled them with olive oil and roasted them at 190dC approx. 40 mins. Turn them around a bit half way, so they brown evenly.


I've never been to Estonia myself, but I am getting more and more interested in the Baltics - not least because of their fascinating, proud (and, at times, tragic) history. I think you'll enjoy the book even more after having visited the country first hand!


I've not read Mulisch or Vreeland myself, but I'm writing them down so I can have a look once I'm done with a current project! Thanks again!

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Hi Hans. Lovely looking loaves indeed, as always.


Will keep an eye out for Purge.


On the topic of Scandinavian writers, Knut Hamsun's Hunger was one of a few life-changing books that utterly inhabited me in my 20s (actually, 'possessed' might be a more apt verb). I'm not sure the influence was entirely healthy, but I survived relatively intact! That haunting novel remains one of my most treasured literary experiences.

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thanks Ross!


As you probably know, Hamsun divides opinion even today here in Norway. We've just finished celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth, and many are still unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between the immensely gifted writer and the controversial private person. Whenever someone proposes to name a street "Hamsun street", you're bound to see many downright silly public debates. Regardless of his person, I think it's safe to say that his books continue to inspire and influence young readers and writers worldwide today. I would say Hamsun is Norway's greatest writer, along with Henrik Ibsen.


You're probably not the only one utterly possessed by "Hunger", Ross! It's such a powerful, shocking book even today, 120 years after it was written. I recall reading that and "Crime and punishment" by Dostoevsky in high school - that combination set in motion some irreversible processes in a young mind.

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of others who have fallen under the spell of Hunger. I found myself 'being' that character for a while. I recall lying across the pavement in the city at peak hour on a Friday night while passersby stepped over me just because the idea occured to me. That was clearly stupid and irrational, but factor in too many beers after work and the spirit of Hunger - and  an aspiring young writer whose common sense was distorted by counter-cultural, musical and literary influences, and for whom the flame of romanticism still burned too brightly -  and it gets easier to understand. Alas, that flame died down as it must, and these days is only a tentative flicker...


I identify with your last sentence entirely, Hans. I didn't read Dostoyevsky until later, unfortunately, but books like Hunger, On The Road and the other beat stuff, Jerry Rubin's Yippie manifesto Do It, Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth and, believe it or not, Wuthering Heights, had an immense influence from which I've never really 'recovered.'


I later discovered Gogol, whose work I find stunningly original and revolutionary.  Not lauded enough IMO. He paved the way for Kafka and the like, undoubtedly.


BTW, I should add I find most of the beat stuff pretty cringeworthy now - apart from modern-day peer Tom Waits, who is carrying the torch musically with dignity (mostly), and Bukowski, who is genuinely both tougher and more tender, funnier, less posturing in his attitude, and devastatingly honest.


Cheers!
Ross

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

That's an interesting story, Ross! It sounds like you blended in with Hamsun's irrational characters; writers should portray "the whisper of blood and the pleading of bone marrow"! :)


Gogol is awesome - "Dead souls" is a masterpiece! It's weird how "obscure" a writer he appears to be, especially so since many of the canonised Russian writers say that they were enormously inspired by Gogol's writing. Lermontov, Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn are other particular favourites of mine.


I've only just scratched the surface of important beat literature myself, with Kerouac's "On the road" and some of Burroughs cut-up writings. I was fascinated by "On the road", but much of Burroughs' universe ended up too stark, depraved and... fragmented for me. I've promised myself to read "Naked lunch" again, but I really struggled with it first time around.
I'll definitely take you up on your Bukowski recommendation. His name comes up a lot, but I haven't read anything by him yet. Do you have any particular recommendations?


Ah, Waits! Are you a fan as well, Ross? I'm not that hot on his bar-room-piano-booze-lounge-jazz-70's stuff, but I'm all over anything starting with "swordfishtrombones". "Mule variations" and "Real gone" are a bit hit-and-miss in my book, but the rest is pretty much awesome all the way. I'd trade a lot of loaves in order to see him live once...

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

I meant to get back to you before now but got distracted.


I'm with you on Burroughs. Not a fan. I think Junky is worth a read for the insight it gives into the world of the heroin addict way back then...and into Burroughs himself. And at least it's intelligible. I've attempted Naked Lunch a couple of times and given up less than a third of the way through. I can't be bothered trying to decipher that sort of jumble. Incidentally, Bukowski makes some scathing comments about Burroughs' work in Notes Of A Dirty Old Man Then again, he also disses Faulkner and Shakespeare! (I happen to regard Shakespeare as somewhat overrated too, to be honest. Although there is no doubting his genius, I find his work patchy and at times - yes, brand me as boor and heretic - a little tedious...especially Romeo and Juliet, which I've always found a yawn, and the way over-long Midsommer's Night Dream...love Hamlet though, and the character of Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1 is my all-time favourite).


So, to Bukowski. His novel output isn't huge, and I don't know all his work, but I have not come across any of his prose I didn't find enthralling. My first encounter of him was Factotum. As good a place to start as any. It made him an instant lowlife literary hero in my eyes! Notes Of A Dirty Old Man is a bit more challenging, but I loved it. Am currently reading Pulp and so far so good...although to this point I like his more obviously autobiographical stuff.


Yes, I am a big fan of Tom Waits. I see him as one of the few genuine poets in rock (or whatever genre you'd place him in...not easy to categorise, is he?). Like you, I rate Swordfishtrombones at the top of the list. I do like his early jazzy-flavoured stuff too, though - Blue Valentine is my favourite, and the one I find most moving. I also love the oriental-flavoured Rain Dogs. Not quite as enthused about his more recent output, though - and I'm right with you on Mule Variations and Real Gone. Ditto seeing him live...the odds of another tour downunder are not high, I suspect, but hope springs eternal.


Enjoying this discussion!


Cheers!
Ross

inlovewbread's picture
inlovewbread

Seriously, have you considered writing and photographing for a bread text book? I find myself using your blog as one anyway. Especially recently. Thanks again for your comment on my ryes- I have been referring to your posts quite a bit for rye info and inspiration. Your Borodinsky/ Hamelman old bread soaker bread with coriander and honey just made it to the top of my to bake list. (I butchered the name but am referring to your "Catcher in the Rye" post) Speaking of literature, thanks for the tip towards Oksanan. I missed a lot of the liturature "biggies" in high school and am now playing catch up. It feels so cliche to say, but I'm actually reading War and Peace. Once I get through that, Oksanan's book should be out in English :-) 


Beautiful levains again Hansjoakim. 

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thank you ever so much for your kind compliments!


I'm blushing here, and I'm very happy to learn that you find the blog useful! :) If it can serve as an inspiration for others, then that's mission accomplished right there.


"War and Peace"! It's a bit like a marriage, isn't it? I mean, you've got your good days and your bad days - it takes a lot of commitment and patience, but it's also an endlessly rewarding book...

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi all,


Just wanted to mention that "Purge" (mentioned at the bottom of the blog post) is out now (Amazon.com link).


In addition to numerous awards received already, Oksanen won the Nordic Council's Literature Award a couple of days ago (the youngest winner so far).

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Thanks Hans for the heads up now the book is available in English.


I've sent off a purchase suggestion to the city library, I'm sure they'll buy it. When I asked them to buy Hamelman's 'Bread' they did and having worked from it, of course I wanted my own copy. 


Have you completed your studies? Your blog has been quiet this year......


Regards, Robyn


 

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Hans,


I came to this post a little late.


I've just been reading through your dialogue with David above, and I concur with all you write.


Doubling in size is too simplistc.   Relating the bulk period to the whole process is essential.   You're quite right, the degree of initial mixing, the temperature of the dough, and the room in which bulk is carried out, and the % of pre-fermented flour will all have an impact; so too the degree of acidity/activity in the levain when mixed with the dough.


Great to read what you 2 were discussing, thanks very much


Best wishes


Andy

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thanks for chipping in, Andy!

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Sounds great, Robyn - I hope you get the chance to read it.


And yeah, the studies were completed in November last year, so now it's all about figuring out grown-up things in the real world (and not that of dimly lit lecture halls at welcoming campuses...). Still baking every week - the last month I've mostly been trying to perfect some of my own formulas (a little less water here, some more sunflower seeds there, a little longer proofing there etc.). The last bake was some scrumptious raisin buns (we Norwegians are mad about raisin buns...). Although I haven't put anything up lately, I'm still reading TFL almost every day (and I'm chipping in whenever I feel I have something to add to the discussion), and I'll be sure to post some interesting bits in a while.


Thanks again, Robyn :)