The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hamelman's 5 Grain Levain (psst - as baguettes)

alfanso's picture

Hamelman's 5 Grain Levain (psst - as baguettes)

Been keeping a low profile around here, minding my own business - mostly.

I finally got around to baking this bread after promising Lechem (Abe) that I would.  My grain selection was bulgur, steel cut oats and flax & sunflower seeds.  Indeed, all the crowing around TFL for this bread is well deserved and it is quite delicious.

Mixing by hand proved to be a bit of a bear, but French Fold mix it I did.  Left out the IDY.  Two letter folds at 40 & 80 and into retard.  The seam was a bit hard to ID as I was placing it onto the couche, and the two baguettes had a small amount of exposed seam which split on the side of each.  Grr, but it happens once in a while.  Twice in one bake is another thing.

Another bread where there is scant evidence of having been done in baguette form, so you know that it was destined to be mine to do so.

Being a heavy dough I wasn't disappointed in the amount of grigne on the breads, but I was hoping for a little more.  Next time I'll add some IDY and up the hydration a little.

Abe visits a friend of his in Miami Beach, maybe annually, and last year we got together for the day, driving around and exposing him to a mini-tour of some of the Latin culture there.  Argentine cafe for breakfast, Cuban sandwiches and cubano coffees for lunch and Peruvian seafood for dinner.  With a few stops elsewhere in between.

This year, in fear of what to do, I came up with a plan which met with Abe's satisfaction.  Lunch at the Granier Bakery in Sunny Isles Beach where, for no other reason to go there, it was where Abel Sierra put in time with his friend last summer.  Then the “scenic” back way drive from there to my apartment in Ft. Lauderdale where we did two bakes together.  

I had prepared both a Vermont SD, which was still retarded in bulk, and an already couched and ready for the oven semolina with raisins, pine nuts and fennel seeds.

Afterwards a short walk for a dinner of pizza and beer, and then we traveled back down to Miami.  The destination being the fairly new Miami wholesale only bakery of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NY.  If the bakery doesn’t sound familiar to you then perhaps the owner will.  Jim Lahey, he being the baker who popularized the no-knead bread.

It is a pretty large scale operation and I checked with the head baker there to ensure that our visit was welcomed.  We arrived close to 11 PM, in time to see both some shaping and some baking in their humongous ovens.  Plenty of time for conversational interaction, and they couldn’t have been more accommodating, ensuring that we each left with a bread of our choice.  All in all, an exceptional and fun outing.

How am I going to top that next year?  Hmm.


not.a.crumb.left's picture

I think your bake beats the skinny baguettes and I am saying this in a very respectful way! What a lovely bake Alan and just truly looking sooo delicious and full of goodness...

What do you do also to go to those amazing bakeries...First France now here....must be inspiring....and you take Abe on his visit...what a aware as there might be a stampede of visitors with that type of event organisation! How special and great that you caught up and shows just how amazing this forum is!!!

Dan was thinking of a community bake for the 

Hamelman's 5 Grain Levain and I will bookmark as a great idea!


alfanso's picture

According the the gent who literally wrote the book on modern bread baking, M. Calvel, what I bake is not actually a baguette, but rather a "long batard".  I call them baguettes most of the time because, well, because I can!  But I'm lying through my teeth!  I bake what fits up to the depth of my oven and these fit the bill.

I scaled these "baguettes" at 400g apiece because the dough is so "heavy" that I thought a smaller lighter and thinner baguette wouldn't stand much of a chance of opening ( I now think that it can).  Also I scaled these at 400g because, well, because I can!

Someone just recently posted a bread and asked along the lines of whether it was okay to bake such a bread in a loaf pan as he did, or if it "should" be baked on a stone.  And I replied, that with few exceptions, we make the rules up ourselves as we go along.  They will either work or they won't.  Isn't that what we can say falls into the concept of that elusive and somewhat undefinable term "artisan"? 

Well, here is the bakery visit thang.  

  • In Paris, it occurred to me that we could sneak away in the early morning hours while the in-laws were still inspecting the insides of their eyelids, and so, why not.  The worst that could happen is that M. Bouabsa wouldn't be there or snub us, and we'd still get to eat his creations, take a gander at the premises and have a field trip with the cousins.  
  • Earlier in the year, my go-to Italian market in Miami for durum flour started to carry the Sullivan Street products, the bakery being the new game in town.  So I called to check on whether it would be okay to show up.  
  • The better half and I met the office manager mid-afternoon and we took the escorted 50 pence tour while the place was otherwise inactive.  We exchanged emails and phone numbers and I then asked the head baker to give the thumb's up to a visit, and he suggested the time slot.  
  • Therefore the entire series of the day's activities with Abe then hinged on working backward from getting there at 2300 hours.

As far as the hordes breaking down the door, here is my lament about this craft that many others on Isle TFL can likely relate to.  It is by and large a solitary hobby, and rare rare rare that when the action is in progress there is company around that can either understand/bake bread or even have a passing interest in this beyond calling in from the other room to ask when dinner is served and then sinking their teeth into a loaf.

Even though as I get older I find my alone time to be quite appreciated, it is a bit of a drag that there isn't some real live communal thrust going on in these parts.  Not addressing the goodness that Dan is fostering with his cheerleading on the TFL communal bakes, rather the elbow to elbow type of activity.  It isn't in the cards around my place to pick up the phone, "Hey Charlie, want to come over this afternoon and feed a levain?",  and get some like folk together for a group bake.  Any human interaction, and yes - Abe certainly qualifies ;-) , is the rare delight.

Thanks, alan

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

...and you've done it great justice too. Glad to have been the one to recommend it and I'm sure this recipe will become part of your baking repertoire. 

I had such a wonderful time Alan. Thank you for such a well planned and interesting day. Got to see a baking maestro at work and even got to be a part of that, had lunch at "Abel's place", one of the tastiest pizzas I've had for dinner and a tour of a bakery. A really fun day. Thank you Alan. 

Meanwhile on this side of the pond I've been raving about your raisins, pine nuts and fennel seeds semolina loaf and have just shared your recipe (hope you don't mind) with my friend Alan (the British Alan). I literally had a taste and before I knew it polished off the loaf. 

Well today was the first morning waking up to a frost and of course my mind went straight back to Miami Beach. All I can say Alan is... Get ready for our next adventure.

alfanso's picture

If you are referring to me as a baking maestro you are sadly mistaken.  Along the lines of the famous Humphrey Bogart retort in Casablanca.  When asked why he came to Casablanca he said that he "came for the waters".  "But, we are in the desert".  And Bogart's Rick says "I was misinformed".

I can't let someone easily get away with granting accolades and titles undeserved.  I'm, for the most part, just another baking dude on TFL.  Better than some, not as good as others.

As far as sharing recipes and formulas, my breads have no secrets, and basically with few exceptions**, everything is a riff on someone else's creation.  As mine is on Amy's Breads in NY and which is similar to Susan's take on her Wild Yeast site, my two inspirations for that delight.  I'm happy that you like it enough to pass it on.

**Ciabatta, cronuts and Mr. Robertson's Tartine are three rare examples of something completely different, and which themselves start a new trend.

Now the pressure is on for the next time.  I can just not answer the phone, write back that I plan on having a contagious disease, be out of town for an extended period, attend to a sick camel or honey badger that needs more love than any free time will allow.  Maybe you can help me here...

See you next time unless I can conjure up a good excuse.  I'm thinking, I'm thinking...

DesigningWoman's picture

yours are nicer -- more richly colored and just more generous-looking. Don't change a thing!

And enjoy them.


alfanso's picture

when there are unknowns to be dealt with.  I'd never done a soaker before that wasn't raisins or figs, so that was new territory.  And if I can (and I will) take up TFL comment space here, this is a quote from our former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  If you don't get a headache from reading this, then you are ahead of the pack:

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know."

Thanks, alan

Elsie_iu's picture

When I'm attending lectures in university, professors always ask if we have any questions at some point. What I have in mind all the time is: "How can I think of any question to ask when I haven't even started to digest what you said?" This is perhaps what " We don't know what we don't know" is about. "Unknown unknowns" probably make up the largest part of knowledge in this universe.

Let's get back to your bread: it's rude to be stingy with praise to the baker behind these gorgeous loaves. Personally, I prefer baguettes with add-ins. The combo of raisins, pine nuts and fennel seeds sounds nice, not too heavy that it would mask the flavour of the bread. I hope we can see the crumb of them but the crust looks so attractive that I can settle for that.

It must be a great experience to visit these fine bakeries even if their bread isn't necessary as good as yours :)

alfanso's picture

Au contraire, mon amie.  I know that you are merely making a joke but in both cases, these are bakers of renown.  M. Bouabsa was recognized as having the best baguette in Paris in a city-wide competition a decade ago, and is considered a master baker for many years.  The head baker at Sullivan Street's Miami branch has a longstanding pedigree.  And then there's the home baking hack - me.  

Here is a link to the original post from a year ago, which also shows the crumb.  These surely aren't anything like the bakeries that I knew as a youth - although I never did see their workshop, only the retail part.  And when I was even younger, I wasn't even tall enough to see over the display case to make an order.

thanks, alan