The Fresh Loaf

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When to add levain?

Grouchpotato's picture

When to add levain?

It is midday and my dough will soon finish autolyzing.  Later this afternoon I'll build a fire in the oven, just hot enough to give it a good heat-soak before baking in the morning.

My question is about timing -- at what point should I add the levain?  And once I add the levain, would it be best to keep the dough refrigerated until just before baking?


Maverick's picture

If I am reading this correctly, you are planning on baking in the morning but are preparing the dough today. You have the flour and water going through an autolyse which is about done. Once that is done, you add the levain and the salt. Mix/knead as desired and do the bulk ferment (with some stretch and folds in there if you are doing those). After the bulk ferment you divide the dough into however many loaves you are making and do a preshape. Let it rest 15 or 20 minutes and then shape. After shaping it either goes in a banneton or (other bowl) or it is lined up with a couche, etc. I personally then proof for an hour and a half before putting it in the refrigerator for the night. But that depends on how much levain you are using, the hydration of the dough, the temperature of the space, etc. In the morning I would just put them on the peal, score them and put them in the oven. I don't see a need to bring the dough to room temperature as long as they have proofed enough. I like the way a cold dough reacts to a hot oven.

I am jealous that you have a wood fire oven for all this. BTW, the above is how I would do it and a lot depends on what you the formula for the dough is.

Edit: I wanted to add that the levain should be ripe before adding it.

Grouchpotato's picture

Thank you, Maverick!  While waiting for a reply I'd gone ahead and added the levain -- I did some stretch-and-folds during the bulk ferment -- the air temperature was probably about 60F (I use an outdoor kitchen except in winter).  The bulk ferment was from 5 to 11 pm.  I didn't know about the preshape and rest, so just did the shaping and right into the bannetons and the fridge. 

I took the dough out of the fridge this morning about an hour before baking. I'm glad to learn that isn't necessary as it is certainly easier to go straight from fridge to oven.

The oven was about 500F. I used a cast iron Lodge combo cooker for one loaf and a homemade version of the combo cooker for the second loaf.  18 minutes covered and 18 minutes uncovered.

I'm quite pleased with the results but luck was on my side, not skill.  Your description of the proper workflow is very encouraging.

By the way, my recipe:

rye  335 g

kamut 335 g

spelt 330 g

water 728 g

salt 25g

levain 145 g (rye/pineapple juice 50-50)

I do love the cob oven, especially as the apartment sized propane stove in our cabin is just too small and cranky for consistent results.


Pioneer Foodie's picture
Pioneer Foodie

At the commercial bakery where I worked, we added everything all at once: water, flour, levain and salt. We mixed everything til it window-paned, and then did S&F once an hour, three times. Then, after forming loaves we retarded over night.

Today, I mixed my dough (levain, flour, water and salt) this morning, just until it came together. Then I retarded 8 hours. I've just divided the dough-- no S&F! I'm going to final shape the loaves as soon as they lose their chill, then raise and bake.

There's probably many ways to make it work.

Grouchpotato's picture

Pioneer, I like the idea of being able to mix everything at once.  I'd have a much better chance of getting the dough made and baked in one day -- so I'll give that a try.  I'd also like to know how your loaves came out today.  I'm finally starting to get the hang of this, thanks in part to baking less bread (two loaves) more frequently.