The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain au Levain again and again

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varda's picture
varda

Pain au Levain again and again

It seems to me that if you are trying to gain proficiency in baking bread that it helps to pick a formula and make it over and over again until it starts to seem natural and easy.   I'm not there yet with Hamelman's pain au levain but it ain't for lack of trying.  My biggest difficulty with it so far has been something that should be simple - following the instructions.   When I first started making it I viewed the rise times as something like suggestions.   2 hours seemed like a ridiculously long time to do the final rise, and I would do 1 hour and then wonder why the bottom split.   Last week I did an experiment.   I split the dough into three 1 lb loaves and tried doing a final ferment of 1.5 hours, 2 hours, and 2.5 hours respectively.   The 2.5 hour rise won the looks test, but the 2 hour tasted the best.   And surprise, surprise, the 1.5 hour loaf was a mess.   Today, I followed all of Hamelman's times with 2 hours for the final ferment (the book says 2 to 2.5 hours.)   I still can't get as pretty a loaf as my model in all this (and the post that set me off on this particular quest)   http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/17236/agony-defeat-and-thrill-victory.   But that doesn't mean I can't keep trying.   And the great thing about practicing on a bread like this is you get to eat it. 




Comments

Trishinomaha's picture
Trishinomaha

I have a simple sourdough recipe from www.northwestsourdough.com that Sylvia posted on a few days ago. The first batch was a miserable failure but, like you, I didn't exactly follow the instructions. I will be trying it again today. As a long time cook and a shorter time baker I'm learning that cooking gives you a certain leaway when it comes to the recipe - in other words, you can tinker with it. Baking, not so much. Following exact recipe terms, at least in the beginning, is really really necessary. The bread looks good!

varda's picture
varda

Yes.   I find that winging it in bread baking seems very satisfying while you are doing it, but much less satisfying while you are eating it.  Maybe with enough time and experience....

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Nice looking loaves, Varda.  You might try baking them longer if you're after the color of Larry's loaves.  A bold crust adds great taste to the bread.


As to the final fermentation, the TFL mantra is that you should always read the dough, not the clock.  Unless you have a proofer that can maintain the proper humidity and 76F temp! 


I seem to always underproof my doughs - something I'm going to work on this winter.

varda's picture
varda

I guess that was my problem.   When I read the dough it told me to stop the final proof at 45 minutes, so I did that for awhile and it just didn't work.   Which I guess means I didn't know how to read the dough.   My house has been running at 76 deg lately, so I decided to do it by time, and I think based on the rise that was a lot better than my mis-reading of the dough.   And you are right that I should have baked these a few minutes longer.   I was baking in the wood oven and the temperature dropped faster than usual which probably accounts for the light color of the crust.   So many factors.   Thanks for your comments.

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Varda,


Lindy is right, of course, that you should read the dough, not the clock.   It is most unlikely that your kitchen conditions will be exactly the same as those Mr. Hamelman had when he was developing his recipes and formulae for the book.   There will always be som differences between your live work and that described in the text in front of you.


I'm sure you have learnt a lot from your experiment with proof times as described.   This should be a real confidence boost moving forward


Best wishes


Andy

varda's picture
varda

Andy, I know you are right, and I think I need some hands on training on how to read the dough.   It isn't that easy to understand how to do it solely by reading.   Thanks.   -Varda

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Varda,


I'd say you have a good strategy.   Making the same loaf over and over will give you the detailed understanding you need.


The other bits of advice I can give are: make bread as often as possible, so you just become accustomed and familiar with handling dough in all its different stages.   Secondly, find a way to work hands-on with an expert baker.


There is loads of support here on TFL,; so many posters give everything, generously.   However, it is next to impossible to give the detailed guidance needed in this paricular area, simply by developing written threads.


Bottom line: the more you do it the better you get, and the easier it gets to make informed judgements.


Happy Baking


Andy

varda's picture
varda

Thanks for your advice.   It makes sense to me.  -Varda

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I found this "conversation" with the shaped bread in the Sauerteigforum's website:


If you make a small indentation with your finger, and the dough



  • feels dense and elastic: "I just feel comfortable in my basket, please, leave me alone!"

  • feels a little spongy, but jumps back right away: "I have still enough pressure to rest for another half hour."

  • is nice and fluffy, but still jumps back to its old shape: "I'm just on the brink of being proofed, but you can put me in the oven if you really want your cuts to open wide." 

  • keeps the indentation for a while and then fills it slowly: "I'm ready for baking - now or never!"

  • gives a sigh, the indentation sags and doesn't recover: "Now, PLEASE!!!"

  • turns into dust - even at the slightest touch. "I've already been with Ramses and King Tut - let me rest in peace..."


Happy baking,


Karin

varda's picture
varda

Karin, Now that's just a whole new level of bread instruction.    Thanks for sharing. -Varda