The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Levain Angst

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Levain Angst

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?


On the other hand, this is my first bread from The Handmade Loaf and it felt way, way too sticky.  I should mention that I can usually get an open crumb, or at least, I have achieved this in the past until I started with my new oven.  And I did get a perfect open crumb even with a 66% whole wheat bread recently (Hamelman's Rustic Loaf as posted here).  And I have been improving with that.  However, this dough was so sticky I couldn't even really shape it.  And I have shaped many a loaf.  Perhaps my hydration was off in the levain, leading to an over-hydrated dough?


Which do you think is the culprit?  Or both?


Edited to Add:  Holy smokes.  Just tasted it.  It is amazing.  Open crumb, with holes up to 1 cm... the crust is rather over-crusty, probably because I kept it in the 70 minutes because it was such a moist loaf.  But the taste, the taste... it's like sourdough!  Like something else.  Like a really amazing bread I had somewhere once.  Gosh I hope I get replies here so I can make a properly shaped bread because that is just amazing.  My husband will go nuts.  But it is literally as flat as two pancakes.  (So the holes in the crumb take up like, 1/4th of the height of the crumb on average... heh.)

Sapphire baker's picture
Sapphire baker

Frequently, levain dough does not double like ordinary bread in the proofing or second fermentation stage.  After about one hour try testing by inserting a wet finger in the dough.  If the indent fills in, keep proofing.  If not, it is ready to load in the oven.


A second issue can be getting ovens with baking stones up to temperature.  Start them at the same time you start the second fermentation and see if the oven reaches temp using an oven thermometer.


An open crumb is the result of wet dough, so being somewhat sticky may not be the issue here.  Some stickiness can be eliminated by an autolyze (resting the dough, covered, for twenty minutes before adding the salt).  A mistake in mixing can yield a slack dough that has no chance to hold its shape.


I will be posting a levain on my site, sapphirebaking.com in the next couple of days and I had a levain mother up in April that should still be there.


 

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Thanks much.  I used a baking sheet, not a stone, for this, so I don't think that would be the issue.


I think this bread has like, five proofs.  So what I am hearing is that I can just keep on proofing?


I have been meaning to order my oven thermometer.  Which mistakes in mixing would normally cause the dough to remain slack?  This dough did seem rather slack.  Very slack, even.

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

Not sure exactly what you are counting, but that sounds way too many. Maybe there are two stretch-and-folds. Dan's recipes are often very sticky at first, and then come together beautifully after the stretches. Which recipe was it?


Over-proofing will give you a slack and sticky dough.


Jeremy

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Hi MmeZeeZee, 


Which recipe did  you use from The Handmade Loaf?

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Okay, the first few "proofs" were actually stretch-and-rest times. Then there was one 30-min ferment, two one-hour proofs, and one four-hour proof. This was the Mill Loaf. I timed each proof / rest exactly as it was my first time making this loaf.

Perhaps it was my use of 1150 white flour?

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

but looking at the recipe I'd describe it as 3 hours bulk ferment and then 4 hours proving the loaves. I'm due to bake tomorrow, and I'd try this, except that I ran out of rye flour.


That old saw about "watch the dough, not the clock" might apply, but just eyeballing the recipe it looks OK. The leaven is 80% and the final dough about 60%, so I really don't think it was very wet.And rthe recipe just says white flour, not strong white flour, so although I don't know what 1150 is, I doubt that was the problem.


What was the temperature in your kitchen?


Jeremy

Sapphire baker's picture
Sapphire baker

If anyone does a four hour proof at room temerature there is a good chance that the wild yeast in the sour will eat up all the starches and sugars in the flour and the loaves will not have any oven spring.


Chances are there is a misprint or some other factors and the four hour proof is an error.


At most a proof for sourdough should last about two hours.


I also question this many knock downs or deflations and resting periods.  I guess I should try and find the book in question and see for myself.  I have a wonderful levain mother in my refrigerator and have made some decent bread.

Sedlmaierin's picture
Sedlmaierin

Did you check out Dan Lepard's website? http://www.danlepard.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=2746&sid=a52081a60d1159ca58b38f4e4b201d5b


I only saw one post about this bread on the main page, but there might be others.


Good luck with your next bake of this bread!


C

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

To answer all the comments, thanks so much for all your help.

Re: Flour: Look up German flour. It comes in many types. 1150 doesn't have an English equivalent.

Re: Temp: I don't have a thermometer in my kitchen :ducks: but I'd say it was about 65 at that time. Though, in retrospect, it was getting late so perhaps it had cooled way down.

Re: time of rise: It really is a four-hour rise (he talks about this in the recipe) and there was an oven spring. Just very little pre-oven spring.

Re: Sourdough: It's not supposed to be a sourdough, per se. It's supposed to be a dough made with levain which I think is different to a sourdough starter, non?

Re: Link: My internet is crazy tonight (I can't believe I opened this page) but I will check it out. Thanks so much for the link!

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Well, perhaps the scale is off because I'm making this loaf again and the dough is TOTALLY different in consistency.  I am even wondering if I mixed the wheat and white flours.  It is so much less sticky, though the color is similar.  It's crazy.  We'll see how it turns out.  On the other hand the levain is much older and it's got lots more bounce.  Thanks again.

danlepard's picture
danlepard

Hi MmmZeeZee,


So you're using a German T1150? This might be a cause for the lack of ovenspring in a roundabout way. It's different to our strong white flour in that it absorbs less moisture and so produces a dough that is softer, stickier and, as a consequence, ferments faster.


If you make the recipe and exchange T1150 for the combination of strong white flour and strong wholemeal flour, the speed of the fermentation might cause the dough to be tired before baking.


Simply reducing the water in the recipe will help. And don't worry about the "four hour fermentation" at room temperature. Many recipes and bakers use this, here's one of mine from last Saturday. It had a five hour room temperature fermentation, plus another two after shaping:



Dan

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Wow, thank you, Dan.  I will make these loaves, which I proofed overnight in the fridge, and which feel to me like I have mixed up the whole wheat flour with the white, and which are now proofing at room temperature, and see how they turn out, and then try your suggestion with the next loaves.  I would like to keep using my T1150 not least because I have 20 kilos of it from a local mill bought wholesale, so the adaptation is much appreciated.


Edited to add: Apparently I used 100% whole wheat for these loaves.  The bread looks like the 100% rye bread.  The crumb is chewy but certainly not what I'd get with white flour.  On the other hand, I never get the floury crust like Dan has in his photos.  The flour disappears when I spray the loaves.

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Well... that didn't work.  I would photograph what I have in the oven but frankly, it's not worth it.  It will be edible and tasty but it is a flatbread.  Quite simply does.  Not.  Rise.  It only expands.  The last step, in which I must move the risen dough from the towels to the baking sheets, is not helping one little bit and I think I will try this recipe one more time rising on the sheets themselves, with even less water.  It is such a disappointment but it really must be the flour as I even bought a new scale.

danlepard's picture
danlepard

You've taken the recipe in the book and adding big changes - different flours and flour proportions, overnight proving - that are testing the "fabric" (protein) of your flour. The flour you're using sounds like it's beautifully delicate, so it will perform better with less water and, if you want to let it rise overnight in the refrigerator, with much less leaven (sourdough) in the recipe.


The T1150 flour you're using can be treated like wholemeal flour. The recipe in the book uses 600g white flour to 300g wholemeal flour: are using 900g T1150 in place of both? And for the leaven, the recipe recommends one made with strong white flour, is yours refreshed with white flour?


There are some very helpful step-by-step blogs about "The Mill Loaf" recipe here and other websites:


http://angiesrecipes.blogspot.com/2008/07/mill-loaf-with-natural-leaven-adapted.html


http://sourdough.com/blog/karniecoops/mill-loaf


http://www.anhsfoodblog.com/2007/04/novices-sourdough-bread.html


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2684/tigressbakes-bread


http://brunoja.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/sourdough-mill-bread-sat-06-02/


Rolling the risen puffy dough from the cloth to a tray is tricky. It took me years to get it right and I know of some full-time bakers who still struggle to move dough without it deflating.


regards


Dan

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Thanks so much!


I did not realize that 1150 would be so totally different to white flour as it has worked with me in other recipes- not a very wide variety, but certainly many, many cakes and yeast breads.  I am discovering the hard way the levain is more sensitive than yeast.


What I am using is T1150 for the white flour, and whole wheat flour (from the same mill) for the whole wheat.  They are substantially different in consistency and the T1150 doesn't feel like whole wheat or wholemeal.  It feels like silky white flour and it is really delicate.  So I'd have never guessed it couldn't really be substituted.


NB I did not use a refrigerator rise the two times it did not turn rise properly.  Fascinatingly, the one refrigerator rise appeared to have helped somewhat, and I have no idea why or how.


The leaven has probably 80% T1150 flour, if not more.  I did occasionally refresh with whole-wheat flour.  I do not have white flour proper because we buy from a mill.


So I will try again with a lot less levain, perhaps half, and that will make it less liquid as well because my levain seems to end up very liquid no matter how thick a paste I make the day before.  Also perhaps cut out the 30-min. rest and one hour off the final rise.  We shall see.  I love the proportions of lflour in this recipe and I'm not willing to give up although I may have to try something easier in the meantime so my husband doesn't break my new scale with one of my rock-loaves.

danlepard's picture
danlepard

The thing to remember is that you have two very lovely flours that don't have the same tolerance as our strong white flour. But with them you'll gain an extra crisp crust and a more vigorous and lively fermentation, as our strong white flour is often rather sluggish during fermentation and can withstand long rises better.


There are two other tips that almost always help with an unknown flour. After mixing and folding or kneading, it's safe to divide and shape the dough as soon as you can see clear signs of fermentation: either when the dough has risen by 50% or if, when you cut into the dough with a sharp knife, you see clear air bubbles forming in the dough.


Then, after shaping, it is safe to bake the dough once it has risen by half. This will produce a very good loaf, then afterwards you can fine tune the times to suit the bread you're after.


Hope this helps


Dan

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Okay.  So, we are slowly working our way up to an open crumb.  The last loaf was perfectly shaped, rose by half and then more in the oven, had a much more dense crumb than the Mill Ciabatta (if there were a breadwrecks site like cakewrecks, I'd totally submit a picture).  On the other but, it was nice and chewy, the flavor was good and the crust was crunchy (almost too thick, but that will improve with the proportions).  That was with 500 g water and 250 g leaven.  Now I'm up to 300 g leaven but it still feels too dry--it stopped sticking to my fingers after the first rest.  Perhaps my levain is thickening up over time as the original levain gets refreshed at 80:100 hydration each time (since we are still only 3 wks old with this levain, and the original was more hydrated), so that is affecting it?  I'm thinking that 400 g leaven will probably be what I need but it's too late for that at this point.  Thanks again for all the help.


Forgot to add that I took an hour off the final rise to prevent over-rising however that may have proved unnecessary.  This time will rise for 4 hrs.

danlepard's picture
danlepard

As your leaven ages it will perform better but, given the flour you're using, don't expect the crumb to be too open. Add more water gradually, as the flour you're using doesn't cope with a very high hydration that well.


If the crust is too thick, bake the loaf for less time at a slightly higher temperture. This way you'll keep the crust colour but slightly thin the crust.


The other thing I find with the flour type you're using is that it performs better slightly cooler. If you have a thermometer, try and keep the temperature around 21C - 23C.


Wish I had a bag of your flour here, would love to join in.


Dan

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

With 400 g leaven, four boules instead of two batards, 1150 white flour and 1150 rye, and otherwise following the instructions to the letter, I have achieved something I am happy with!  The crust and the taste and chewiness are perfect.  I think if I rise these in a basket (I might just have to invest) I can get a better rise upwards and thus more open crumb.  (I am presently rising them on their baking sheets because the extra risk of them falling is too much for me after this investment and besides I do not have a basket.)


If you are ever in the Rhineland, you should go to the mill Ulrich Lorenz.  It is about a 30-minute drive from Idar-Oberstein.  Truly delicious local flour and wheat milled to order at a real water mill.  You can order white flour 1150 and whole wheat and try it yourself.  Or you can just buy their wheat and mill yourself.  My own children loved to see the mill working, though.


Thanks so much for the tips.  We love the taste and the fact that it's a one-day bread is definitely a plus for me as sometimes I get behind in my baking.

MmeZeeZee's picture
MmeZeeZee

Great, I will do that with the temperature.  I think we are already there, at least until I start pre-heating my furnace, er, oven.


Actually, I have achieved a fairly respectable crumb with this flour.  I even managed an open crumb with this recipe--I would say up to 1/2 inch holes in places, with an average of about 1/4 inch.  Nothing amazing but similar enough to the picture in the book.  But the bread is always pretty flat, making sandwich time with a pre-schooler fun.  I will try the higher heat.


For some reason, when I use Hamelman's pre-ferments, I find it a LOT easier to get an open crumb and good rises.  It is probably just the unique qualities of this flour, though odd because your recipes seem better attuned to the home-baker's oven.  My oven doesn't even have a top coil (I know, I know! It was MADE that way!).


Yesterday I did the white loaf but substituted 1/2 whole-wheat flour on a whim.  It actually worked and would have been a lovely loaf, still a little flat but not ridiculously so, were it not for the fact that I was putting the kids to bed when it was done and I nearly burned it.  I put it in a cloth right away to soften the crust but it will still be too hard.


Thanks again.