P. Reinhart ABED Pain au Levain - I think I failed again
I'm at my second attempt making pain au levain following the recipe and instructions from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day. I went easily through building the seed starter and then the mother dough. Every thing went very well, although the activity in the seed starter happened faster than what PR indicated in his bood, sometimes rose and bubled in as little as 4 hours.
This didn't concern me at all since my kitchen is rather warm (24 C) and the seed starter had the fine aroma of the levain I remember from my grand-mother and aunts bread-making when I visited them during summer, a long time ago. I actually was very happy about that because it's the first time I get that typical aroma in a starter I make. I was thrilled actually, since this is at least the 6th attempt at building a starter and all my other attempts failed.
Also, the seed starter did have all the characteristics of an active one, it rose well, developped lots of tiny bubbles, ect. Then I made the mother dough. It was less firm, more shaggy than the one pictured on the book. But I didn't attempt to correct the consistency. I store it in the fridge, as instructed in the book, and used it the following morning.
I decided that morning (Saturday) to make the 2 versions proposed by M. Reinhart, the "purist" version without help of commercial yeast and the version with 7 g of commercial yeast added to the dough ingredients. I wanted to see what would be the outcome of each and then see which version my family and I enjoy most.
I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to take pictures of the breads. It was labor day long week-end and we had family over, some members of which are experiencing very sad events in their lives. I just couldn't bring myself to whip-up my camera to document my bread making while they were confiding and pouring their hearts in tears and sadness, sitted at my kitchen table. Everybody left yesterday, late evening (thankfully after we succeeded making them laugh during and after supper), and by the time they hit the road, both loaves or bread were entirely consumed, no left-overs to show you the results. But I'll do my best to describe the outcome.
Flat, heavy loaf of bread. The crumb was mostly dense, with few medium holes throughout. The crust was fine, although rather thick. It presented tiny blisters all over, but no ears or grignes where I slashed. Actually the oven spring was very, very minimal. Excellent taste, delicious actually, despite the undesirable heavy texture of the crumb. All the flavor complexity of levain bread, and a very welcomed subtle acidity.
During last proofing before baking, this loaf stayed cold to the touch and rose very slightly. I left it proof longer than the directions instructed in the book because it didn't seem to be very active despite the warm environment in my kitchen. I proofed in a make-shift banneton (a basket lined with a floured linen towel), seam-side up, and it was covered with floured linen.
Added commercial yeast version
That one was a success. Open crumb with different sizes of holes in it. Good crust, blistered and crackly. Excellent taste, maybe not as complex as the purist version loaf but maybe it's all in my head (kind of "placebo" effect if you see what I mean). Ears developped somewhat but I'm not the best "bread slasher" around I must say so my results are not a reference, far from it. Though I was pleased there was a slight ears formation.
For both versions
I induced steam in my oven pouring water in a cast-iron pan on the lower shelf and the bread cooked on the upper shelf, as I do for my other breads. My pizza baking stone broke a month ago when I throwed the last of my weekly 10 pita breads on it (sigh!). Since that infortunate incident, I had to bake on a regular cookie sheet (I'm saving to buy a good, thick baking stone). For my other breads it works, although not as well as with the pizza stone of course. Since this is my first levain bread experience, I don't know if that makes more difference for this particular bread than for my other breads (lean doughs leavened with commercial yeast).
After these two breads were eaten
Seeing that the added commercial yeast version was a success and the little improvements it needed was mostly technical (slashing) or gear related (lack of proper baking stone) I could postpone them to later. I decided yesterday morning to take a good risk and try again the "purist" version in order to give it my full, undivided attention to improve the results. I usually bake at least 3 loaves of bread at the begining of the week so there's enough for lunch boxes and supper before the middle of the week baking. I increased the risk deciding to make all 3 loaves using the purist version of Pain au Levain.
Yesterday, around 2PM, I mixed 3 separate "sourdough starters" (sic PR in his book for the recipe of Pain au Levain). I took care to put them in 3 separate 1-quart pyrex measuring cups to be able to easily see how much they'll rise. The recipe instructs to leave the sourdough starter for 6 to 8 hours or until it increases to 1.5 times its original size. I didn't have much choice but to leave them alone until my guests leaved around 11PM, that's a 9 hours rest. All 3 sourdough starters had doubled in size. Through the glass, I could see a good deal of little bubbles, a good spongy texture. All three seemed healthy looking and at their peak. None had fallen down and none was threatening to do so.
I made the 3 final doughs, separatly, right then, before going to bed. I went through the 3 stretch&fold at 10 minutes intervals. I put the 3 doughs in respective containers, covered them and went to bed. Since my first attempt of this bread proved to stay cold and flat after the refrigeration time, I decided not to refrigerate the final dough after the 2 hours rest at room temperature. But I went through the trouble of setting my alarm clock at 4AM to check on it, just in case. All 3 doughs only morphed from ball to flat in the containers. No sign whatsoever of leavening activity. I went back to bed. This morning I checked them again when I got up at 8AM. Flat again, no signs of leavening activity, cold to the touch, nice freshly mixed dough aroma. I decided to leave them alone a bit longer. Here what they look like at 10:30AM (almost 12 hours after I mixed the final dough):
This is Dough No 1, top view. Very slightly risen, rather flat surface, quite more humid than 12 hours ago.
Same dough, view from the side of plastic container. It developped bubbles throughout, despite the very little rise. I'm shaping this one as soon as I finish this post.
This is dough No2, top view. Medium bubbles/blisters on the surface.
Very little signs of activity when viewed from the sides of the plastic container.
This is dough No3. No signs of activity seen from the top. Not possible to see from the sides (this is my Kitchenaid Bowl). It flattened from ball shape during the night and it didn't rise, as far as I can judge.
When I began writting this post, there was no visible activity when viewing dough No1 from the sides of the container. When I took the pic some activity showed. So I'll shape that one right away and will come back to this post after that.
Meanwhile, please feel free to comment, critique, add your ideas and thoughts about my journey so far.