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.