The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A long overdue try at Pain au Levain

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Franko's picture
Franko

A long overdue try at Pain au Levain

For a while now I've been wanting to try my hand at making a bread using only a levain for the rise. It's slightly embarassing to admit that for all the years I've been baking professionally and at home I've never made one. I've made breads that include a sour culture at home before , but always with the additon of commercial yeast. As far as the shops I've worked in they've always used commercial yeast for the breads and rolls. Last week I decided it was time to give it a go see what I could learn about this neglected aspect of my bread making experience.
Using Hamelman's formula for Pain au Levain I began by building the stiff levain culture over the course of 4-5 days . The levain worked out nicley, becoming very active and healthy by day 3. I managed to find some lower protein flour, about 12%, as Hamelman recommends. I say "managed" because finding this kind of flour in Canada or at least in my part of Canada can be difficult. The first dough I made up seemed like good one, very extensible and silky. I did the two stretch and folds at 50 minute intervals over two hours bulk ferment and put it into a floured 10 1/2in. banneton to rise. After about 2 hrs it really didn't look like it'd risen all that much and I assumed I'd done something wrong in the process. I decided to bake it off anyway , not bothering to score it as I didn't think it would rise enough to need it. Bad decision. It jumped like crazy after the first 10 minutes and then some in the next five , along with a wild split (of course) on one side. Unfortunatley I didn't bother taking any photos of it, but the best way I can describe it is looking very much like a Pacman swallowing a dot.  The crumb was a little more open in spots than I would have liked but the flavor was good, with a medium sour aftertaste.

Yesterday I made another mix of the dough, this time using SteveB's two stage flour addition method,  http://www.breadcetera.com/?p=157  but sticking with Hamelman's formula . The dough came out identical to the last mix , and I gave it the same number of fold and stretch as last time, however I gave it a 3hr final rise this time as well as slashing it. The loaf came out better looking , but still split along the top, so maybe I could have slashed a little deeper. Judging final proof on this bread is quite a bit different from what I'm used to with a commercial yeasted bread so it's going to take a few more tries before I get it right. Since the levain was a few days older  it gave a more pronounced sour flavor to the bread that I prefer over the last loaf and the crumb is much better on this one, I'm fairly sure due to SteveB's two stage method . Thank you Steve! 

A question I'd like to ask some of the other members who've made this or similar breads is if they get better results by retarding overnight or by baking the same day as the mix. Any tips or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks,
Franko 

wally's picture
wally

Congrats on taking the step off of commercial yeast to its country cousin.  My first impression is that your boule could have proofed longer, both from the perspective of your shot of the loaf and the crumb.


That said, it looks really nice and appetizing, and I'll bet it has the subtle flavor of a classic pain au levain.


With respect to your question, Jeffrey actually answers it in his sidebar to the formula: a traditional pain au levain is best baked the day it's mixed: you don't want a sour flavor that may develop from an overnight retardation, but a clean taste, with maybe just a hint of sour.


All 3 of his formulas for pains au levain are worth baking, just to see the subtle differences in flavor they develop.


Larry

Franko's picture
Franko

Hi Larry,


Your absolutely right about the proof needing longer, hence the split along the top which may be a combination of underproof and too shallow a slash. What in particular did you notice about the crumb in regards to the proof? Do you feel it should have been more open? I did read that sidebar to the formula but wondered what results other folks may have had by retarding it overnight.Thanks for your comments Larry, much appreciated.


Franko

PanDulce's picture
PanDulce

Franko: Congratulations in your first sourdough loaf! I'll try mine very soon, my starter is ready.


Wally: may I ask how did you know the loaf was underproofed by seeing the loaf and the crumb? What do you see? (I want to learn to "read" the bread)


Thank you!


 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Franko,


I agree with Larry that you were under proofed and maybe under fermented. The clue is that the expansion of the loaf is proportionally more than I would expect to see. Make sure you follow the temperature guides from Hamelman. The one thing about baking using only the natural yeast is that you must be consistent with the DDT (desired dough temp). The condition of the dough should be the factor that tells you when the fermenting is over and the shaping and proof should begin.


I find that every season change brings about a big change in starter activity. Unless you live in a  controlled temperature lab environment, the 10-20 degree change that your starter and fermenting loaves undergo in the kitchen makes it important to adjust your water temp as needed to arrive at the DDT. My kitchen is near 64F in the morning during the winter months. These days 74F is more likely. That 10 degrees is a big deal with regard to bacterial and yeast activity.


Eric

Franko's picture
Franko

Hi Eric,


Just to be clear, I was never under any illusion that it wasn't underproofed . What I did say in the post was that judging proof on a natural yeast dough is or seems quite a bit different from a commercial yeast made dough. Hamelman refers to this on pg 151 saying that "it can be difficult at first to determine the perfect degree of proofing in naturally leavened bread".  In regards to the DDT the dough came off the hook at 7 degrees higher than the 76F indicated in the formula at which point I put the dough in the fridge and got the temp down to 78 within roughly 20 min . This may have been too long at the higher temp but I'd think that would contribute to an overfermentation rather than an underferment.  After I'd done the first fold the temp was 76.3 where it remained for the rest of the ferment of 2hrs 20min, just a little less than the 2 1/2hrs recommended. It's definitely a work in progress but next time I'll be more careful with times and temps. Thanks for your input Eric, and by the way I'm still looking forward to making your experimental rye sometime soon, but I want to nail this one down first before I move on to it.


All the best,


Franko

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Although i have yet to bake an all white sourdough, i gree with Larry. However you are off to a good start! lovely boule Franko


Khalid


 

Franko's picture
Franko

Thanks Khalid,


I agree with you and Larry and Eric that the loaf was underproofed. The issue for me is not about recognizing when a loaf is underproofed after it's baked, but learning to judge the proof of a dough that's leavened with a natural yeast (as opposed to one that's leavened with a commercial yeast) before it's baked. The difference between the two types of dough is somewhat surprising . One of the reasons I joined this site was to challenge myself and learn some new things, so this is a good project for doing both.


Thanks again for your comments Khalid.


All the best,


Franko