The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain au Levain with Spelt, Fig Bread, and Broa

varda's picture

Pain au Levain with Spelt, Fig Bread, and Broa

I love spelt but not too much of it.  My high percentage spelt loaves have turned out fine, but somehow don't get eaten up, even by me.  Today I made a Pain au Levain with added Spelt and kept the spelt to 21%.   To my taste at least, this is ideal.   The resulting loaf has that special nutty fresh taste that spelt in small enough quantities provides.  

Using Janet's Cadco techniques plus my  new steel plate, I got some good ovenspring.  Perhaps too good.

I also wanted to come back to the fig anise bread.   I baked the La Brea formula several times, and it was a big hit, but I felt vaguely uneasy, as it is very sweet and incredibly figgy.    I decided to take it down a notch by leaving out the fig puree, reducing the sugar, adding some whole grains, and upping the hydration.   The resulting loaf seems just as figgy even without the puree, still quite sweet, and somewhat more interesting with the added whole wheat.   I accidentally added more water than I had intended, by a lot.   Despite being somewhat perplexed by how wet and slippery the dough was, it still handled reasonably well, and behaved properly.   If anything I would reduce the figs and sugar even more, and perhaps up the whole wheat.   In any case, this version was more satisfying to me than the original.   It almost seems that when you get a lot of figs in there it hardly matters what the underlying bread is made of as the figs conquer all.   

Some time ago, my husband and I ate out at a Portuguese restaurant in East Cambridge.    The bread was amazingly good.   The dinner not so much.   As this hardly ever happens (usually a good dinner is accompanied by just so-so bread) I needed to find out more.   The owner told me that the bread was Broa - Portuguese cornbread.    More questions didn't lead to more answers, as it turns out they don't bake it themselves.

I searched around, and didn't find much on Broa.   Clayton had a quite unsatisfying version in his book.   Then a comment on TFL led me back to my own bookshelf.  Greenstein has a recipe in his Secrets of a Jewish Baker, not really the place I expected to find it.   Greenstein uses volume measurements and it has been so long since I've baked using them that I felt all at sea.   I weighed everything and took notes so I would be able to figure out what I had done.   The dough was incredibly dry - almost like putty, and very salty - perhaps I misunderstood.   To make matters worse I used Masa Harina, and that was just a mistake, as the bread ended up tasting like tortillas.   When I went back and calculated percentages, not surprisingly the hydration was around 50%, and the salt was 2.6%!   Furthermore, the method used was very fast - not even a bulk ferment - and so I thought the flavor was pretty dull excepting the lime treatment of the corn flour which was not a plus. 

I went back to it, and decided to do things a bit differently.   I used starter instead of a boatload of yeast, upped the hydration somewhat, used remilled cornmeal for the corn flour (Greenstein's suggestion) and started over.   This was definitely an improvement, but I don't think I've come close to the delicious bread I had in that restaurant.   Anyone know how to make this authentically?

Happy New Year everyone.

Pain au Levain with Spelt   
Spelt140 14021%
Salt12.2 12.21.8%
Starter210  19%
Total Flour670   
Total Dough1147   
Mix all and bulk ferment 3.5 hours in cold house
Cut and shape   
Proof 1 hour until soft  
Preheat oven to 500 - 45 minutes 
Steam 1 minute   
Slash, spray, and load   
Steam 1 minute   
Oven off 6 minutes   
Bake at 425 for 10 minutes  
400 for 10 minutes   


Fig Anise     
Less sugar, no fig puree, higher hydration 
WW85 8529%
Cornmeal12 124%
Hot water142 14249%
Figs115 11540%
Sugar25 259%
Salt5.3 5.31.8%
Anise seed0.9 0.90.3%
145% Starter153   
Total Flour289   
Total Dough727   
Pour boiling water over whole wheat flour 
Stir and cover   
Rest for 1/2 hour   
Mix all but figs until strong  
Cut dried figs in quarter and mix in 
Refrigerate for 24 hours  
Remove and shape   
Proof  for 1.5 hour until soft  
Preheat hot oven to 500  
Steam 1 minute   
Slash and load   
Steam 1 minute   
Oven off 8 minutes   
Bake at 410 for 20 minutes   
Cornstarch mixture  
Cold Water40  
Boiled Water126  
Final Dough   
Corn flour15021% 
 Cornstarch mix   
Total Flour700  
Total Water45064% 
Dissolve cornstarch in cold water 
Mix in to boiling water  
Bring back to boiling  
then remove from heat and cool 
Mix all    
Bulk Ferment 2 hours  
Shape into boule and sprinkle with flour
Proof for 1 hour  
until flour on top cracks  
Preheat 500   
Steam for 1 minute  
Load and steam for 1 minute 
Turn off for 5 minutes  
Bake at 440 around 30 minutes 




Janetcook's picture

Hi Varda,

Not sure if I have commented on the Fig loaf but if I have - sorry…Anyway- one I love to bake comes from PiPs.  Love the simplicity and you can just omit the anise.  

Can't help you with the corn loaf.  I have Bernard's book too and have converted all the formulas I use out of it to % and to use sd instead of IY.  I can't help but wonder if there are a bunch of errors in it that have never been addressed since it is an 'old' book.  I find his formulas to be really heavy on fats and sugar so I always modify.  I love the diversity and his passion for bread.  I also marvel that all those recipes came about  before the internet and instant communication. Many originated throughout different regions in the US.  Who ever says we don't have interesting breads in this country has never looked at his book!  He was a very busy baker.  I especially like his recipes from various convents.  Those nuns were very heavy handed on the fat and sugar too.

Did you notice any significant difference with the deflector plate throughout the bake?  Mine is supposed to arrive in about a week - I should have ordered like you did but I have never been one to do things the easy way *^)  Your loaves look really nice - both the crust and the crumb shots.

Thanks for the post and update on happenings in your kitchen.


varda's picture

Hey Janet,  

I haven't tried PiP's fig bread yet.   Should take a look.   Also Hamelman's.   Clayton has so many recipes in his book it seems impossible that he has made even half of them.   Or if he's made them maybe forgot them.   Sometimes it feels as if he just heard something and wrote it down.   But his book is a huge accomplishment and ahead of his time.   But this Broa is a classic Portuguese bread, and someone must know how to make it.  

I don't have my deflector plates yet.   Can't wait.   The steel sheet I mentioned is my "stone" except it's steel.    Cadco product that covers a whole shelf.    I think the deflector plates will simplify my process a lot.   Won't have to stand there turn on, turn off, turn on.  

Thanks for commenting Janet.  -Varda  

Janetcook's picture

Just did a google search and KAs site came up first with a recipe for your Broa.  Is THIS close to what you were pricing together?

HERE is another recipe.  Seems like the difference is in % of cornmeal used and enrichment….


varda's picture

Janet,   Thanks so much for searching.  These look quite different from the Clayton/Greenstein versions that I was working from.   I'll take another pass at it.   -Varda

dabrownman's picture

That Pain au Levain is perfect - boldly baked and the crumb is to die for.  You are figuring out your oven very quickly.  Great baking Varda.  Had a guest over St Louis for the holidays and we talked about Pratzel's and Tzitizel. 

Happy New Year!   

varda's picture

Hey DA, I really like this variation on PAL.   Flavor is fantastic, and just as good day 2 as 1.  What fun - old home St. Louis and Pratzels discussion.   The bakery that took over Pratzels version of Tzitzel just wasn't the thing at all, as I found out on a visit a couple years ago.   Too bad.   Thanks so much and Happy New Year to you.   -Varda

isand66's picture

Lovely looking loaves Varda...looks like you are getting the hang of your new oven.  Love the crust and crumb on those loaves.

I have heard of the Portuguese bread before but have never seen a good recipe either.

You may want to see if you can go on Emeril's site and send him a message or do a search.  He is of Portuguese descent and maybe able to help you with an authentic recipe.

Happy New Year to you and your family and I hope we can do another bread get together in 2014.  I remember one of the participants this year whose name I can't remember had volunteered using his house where he had a WFO so maybe we do some baking...just a thought. Maybe by then I will have figured this milling thing out :).


varda's picture

to have another get together.   The first one was so much fun.   Bill are you reading this?   Your house in the spring?  

I am getting more comfortable with my new oven.   It has been quite the learning curve.   I am waiting for delivery of my new air deflectors, which is what the culinary director of Cadco suggested when I asked him why I was having so much trouble.   In the meantime I bought a thick steel sheet that fills a whole shelf and acts like a stone, but maybe better, and use Janet's technique of turning off the oven for a short period while the loaves are expanding.   That works very well.  

Thanks for the suggestions re the Broa and for commenting.


isand66's picture

Here's a link from KAF for a Broa recipe.  Not sure if it is any good.

Here's another one that may be closer to what you are trying to achieve and sounds very interesting.  Never heard of the way he prepares the dough by swirling it around in a bowl after filling it with water and then pouring it out..



golgi70's picture

Looking bread Varda, 

With your figs up at 40% I can imagine its quite assertive (not that too much figs is really a bad thing).  Usually i decrease them due to the high cost.  I bet you could cut that down to 20% and still have enough figs yet maybe get that balance of figs and bread that you are after.  Looks really good though so tread lightly.

For comparison's sake my loaf has 2 % sugar ( i use vanilla sugar), 20% wheat, 5% rye, and 13% dried figs  Hydration was 74%.  The notes I left after my last bake were simply to increase figs by 50 % (so i guess 25% would be good) and make this bread as often as possible.  

All looks wonderful and the crumb on that spelt loaf pretty darn amazing.  Lovely scoring taboot.  

Happy End of the Year Varda



varda's picture

Hi Josh,  

Following La Brea book to the letter, the figs were up to 60%, a third of that from a puree.   Now lowering it to 40% by removing the puree and adding the whole wheat, it looks pretty much the same, and I'm not sure I could tell the difference because the taste of the figs is so strong.   I also cut the sugar around in half from the La Brea version but it is still 9%.   I'm tempted to simply drop it to 2% as in yours, as the figs are already quite sweet.   I pay around $5 a pound for figs - around the same as other dried fruits, but at 60% I agree, the cost is prohibitive.   I think I'll drop down to 25 or 30% and see how that goes.   The hydration on this last one was crazy and came from a stupid arithmetic error at the counter.   Wouldn't do that again.   I'm surprised the loaf came out at all.  

I really love this pain au levain.   Of all the variations I've done on a basic white pain au levain, I think I like this one the best.   That 20% spelt just does it,   Hope to make this many, many times.  

Thanks Josh, and happy new year.  -Varda

dabrownman's picture

a no knead version of broa in 'Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day for comparison. or here


varda's picture

I can see my searching techniques need to improve.   I thought I looked all over the place but obviously not thoroughly enough.   Thanks DA!  -Varda

dabrownman's picture

when I am lokimng for it either:-) I just put Broa into the Bing search engine and there were la ot of hits.

Wild-Yeast's picture

Hi Varda & Happy New Year,

I have a feeling that Figs and Broa may be a great matchup.

Seems there's more than just a couple of versions of Portuguese Broa depending on cournty. King Arthur has this recipe which looks authentic enough.  


varda's picture

That looks like a good bet.  I also bought a Portuguese cook book which has a Broa recipe in it, so I'm waiting for that.  -Varda

Mebake's picture

The pain au levain with spelt is so attractive. As to the fig bread, like you, i don't like the overpowering sweetness of figs in bread. I'd rather use them in moderation and only as puree. I agree with Janet that Phil's anise fig bread will somwhat comement the sharp sweetness of the figs. I suppose some lightly toasted walnuts goes well too with figs. I never come acorss a broa before, but from the recipe above i would say that it should be quite mild in flavor. I believe that corn flour meal should be in the soaker instead to develop flavor, but thats me. 

Lovely breads, Varda, all of them.

Happy new year!



varda's picture

Hi Khalid,   The spelt one has a really special flavor and I think it's a keeper.   Hamelman Fig bread is what I'll try next.   So many choices.   At first I loved the La Brea one, but then I started to think that I loved it the way I love candy, and is that really the bread that I want to be baking?   Hamelman''s version has hazel nuts in it, which should be interesting.   I bought a cookbook on Portuguese cooking which seems to be quite authentic and has several bread recipes including Broa, so I guess that's next as well.   As I remember it, it is a very hearty bread but as you say, mildly flavored.   Thanks so much Khalid, and Happy New Years to you too.  -Varda