The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain Au Levain

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Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Pain Au Levain

Hello Everyone,


In "between times" I've been slowly improving a version of Pain Au Levain ala Poilane.  Quite a journey considering where it began several years ago and is due in no small part to this site and the persistent bakers who populate it. Thanks to you all!


Below is a photo of the latest triumph.  Rough formulation consists of 3/8 firm starter, organic flour with diastatic malt, sea salt, and water. The mixed dough was refrigerated overnight to develop the flours innate flavor (retarded).  I changed the method by which the loaves were formed after refrigeration in that the dough was not "punched down" but gently formed into loaves instead (thanks to Mark at the Back Home Bakery on the forming method).  It made a significant difference in both dough and subsequent proofing volumes. Baking was performed on parchement on an oven stone and under cover (interior of cover spritzed with water) for the first 17 minutes at an entry temperature of 500 dF lowered to 450 dF after door close. At the end of the "steam period" both cover and parchment were removed and the bread allowed to bake for an additional 19 minutes (@ 450 dF convection mode on). The loaves were then removed to a cooling rack followed by an atemperation period overnight in the microwave.


Early on there were two area that I somehow misjudged the importance of:


1.) Understanding the look and feel of the dough (and all its implications) not to mention taste (and the way it changes over process)


2.) How important the forming process is to achieving good oven spring and loaf shape not to mention good looking "ears"...


 


+Wild-Yeast


 


LindyD's picture
LindyD

The color is fantastic, especially the contrast around the ears.  


Were the loaves completely cooled before you moved them to the microwave?  What effect does the atemperation period in the closed confines of the microwave have on the bread, as opposed to leaving it on the counter, perhaps covered with a light cloth?

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

No I'm not Susan not that that's bad mind you...


Yes, the loaves are very near to room temperature when placed into the microwave "bread box".  The microwave reduces the amount of moisture lost from the loaves and is a consistent source of levain perfume when opened.  Once atemperated the loaves are placed in plastic bags and stored in the freezer or the refrigerator.


Covering it with a light light cloth would work to reduce air circulation around the loaves reducing the amount of moisture lost to evaporation but is not as good as the bread box for longer term storage (i.e. bread box raison d'etre).


+Wild-Yeast

leucadian's picture
leucadian

I like the dark crust on the ears, and note that you got 'separation' on both sides of what I imagine is a 90 degree cut (straight up blade, not like a baguette).


Now all we need is a crumb shot.


When you say sea salt, what does that mean? Isn't all salt ultimately sea salt? I recall that even the brand 'Real Salt' claims to be sea salt because it's mined from a salt deposit in the Rockies. Or is sea salt just unrefined, to distinguish it from our table and kosher salt? What do you use?


I'm sure someone is going to ask you for the recipe and details, so you might want to get it ready.


Beautiful loaves no matter what.

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Actually getting the ears to do that took the longest time for me to learn.  In the end it proved to be so easy I'm somewhat embarrassed that it took so long (I use a #24 scalpel blade).


Good ears require first the normal 90 degree cut be followed by an angled cut on the side of the "groove" that you want the ear on.  Just making an angled cut works but is more difficult to achieve depending upon the nature of the dough.


The crumb shot is a work in progress (i.e. need to consume enough of a loaf for a beauty shot).


French bakers claim that Sel Gris (Gray Salt) or naturally harvested sea salt is superior for making Pain Au Levain.  I use Hawaiian Sea Salt instead and have found it equal to Sel de Gris. We use Hawaiian Sea Salt for all salt needs except when canning (it does make food taste better).


The recipe started from one of the usual books (forgot which ones) and has been modified as time progressed.  Some parts are unconventional such as using a whisk attachment to froth the starter mix and beginning batter.  Best would be a photo tutorial on the process from beginning to end.  A blog?...


+Wild-Yeast

leucadian's picture
leucadian

Like you say, obvious once you've done it but not till then.


Funny, I've been using a hand whisk to lighten up the starter with some of the water, and then to incorporate the first bit of flour, but I never thought of it as anything unconventional. But it works. (I mix almost everything by hand these days.) I also use the whisk to thoroughly mix the dry wheat and rye flours together before adding water.

wally's picture
wally

I too would like to see a crumb shot.  Also please tell us about taste and flavor as a result of the long retardation. 


Larry

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

 The bread made using this method is by far the best I have found thus far.  The bread has an almost cream after taste with a hint of pastry.  I could sing its praise loud and long though nothing can compare to tasting it yourself. One word of warning, one taste may bring you into the chorus!...


+Wild-Yeast

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Your handle is the name of the well known and much admired Wild-Yeast blog, maintained by TFL member Susan, thus the confusion.

SallyBR's picture
SallyBR

... but Susan uses her own photo, I think - as the avatar


 


 

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Yeah, But I have a logo...


+Wild-Yeast

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

This didn't take too long...


+Wild-Yeast


 


bakerjane's picture
bakerjane

Beautiful bread!  Please explain to this new bread baker, what type of cover was used to cover your bread during the initial phase of baking. Thank you.

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

I use a one-half size 6 inch deep stainless steel steam table pan turned upside down on the baking stone.  Available steam table pan sizes are available here:


http://www.vollrathco.com/catalog_product.jsp?id=4938&cid=198


I chose the 6 inch depth because it closely matches the loaf size that I bake on a regular basis.  The interior of the pan is spritzed with water before placing it over the loaf (protect the oven window by draping a towel over it first). Be careful when removing the pan after the steam period. Steam escaping from the pan will inflict a nasty steam burn on unprotected skin...


+Wild-Yeast

BerniePiel's picture
BerniePiel

What do you think had the biggest effect on the flavor of these beautiful loaves.....the methodology of baking, or the type of starter?  I'm presuming you've been using the same starter for several loaves, but the methodology is what's different and accounts for the beautiful appearance of the bread.  I've had this question ringing around in my head trying to figure just what is most important in flavor creation, hence my question.  Any and all are welcome to chime in on resolving this question.  I can just smell the aroma of these loaves, now I'm hungry.....{:-)


Bernie

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

"What do you think had the biggest effect on the flavor of these beautiful loaves.....the methodology of baking, or the type of starter?  I'm presuming you've been using the same starter for several loaves, but the methodology is what's different and accounts for the beautiful appearance of the bread.  I've had this question ringing around in my head trying to figure just what is most important in flavor creation, hence my question."


 


That's the "chicken and egg paradox" and potentially dangerous to answer around here due to controversies surrounding the notorious mystique of starter cultures but a good question nonetheless.


I think most of all it's been a continuous process of improvement that began with a very desirable and stable starter kept as a firm sponge under refrigeration and used as a pre-ferment in the production of the bread dough. The aged pre-ferment is, I believe, one key element. Flavor is further enhanced by retarding the dough at low temperature (38 dF) for twelve to twenty-four hours. It has a very desirable sweetening effect on taste leaving a cream like pastry aftertaste.  Gentle loaf forming technique preserves the crumb bulk and aids oven spring rise.  Baking under a cloche cover enbables a steam environment during the rapid oven spring phase aiding the elasticity of the expanding crustal dough. I believe it also gelatinzes the exteriour dough to a greater depth which works to produce a thicker and more elastic finished crust.  Last, but certainly not least, is the selection of flour.  I use only organic flour which has diastatic malt added.  Many recipes for artisan bread in Europe call for the use of Malt Syrup as do many in the U.S. now.  The bread does not develop the same taste nor the distinctive smell and brown to black leathered crust without it (though the bread made from flour lacking it looks like what passes for artisan bread in a supermarket it just doesn't carry the sine qua non individuality of artisan sourdough).


So, in short, it's really a lot of details that make up this long answer...


 


+Wild-Yeast

BerniePiel's picture
BerniePiel

I guess that's why there's so many bread cookbooks on the subject.  Thanks, Wild-Yeast.


Bernie