Some days I feel like putting all recipes aside and create something by myself. That applies to both food dishes and bread. Last Saturday was such a day. A voice told me it was time to unleash my creativity. I had to create something unique. Something that have never been done before.
I made my own levain bread.
The result was perhaps not so unique. Many of you reading this will probably think that you have seen this before. But it gave me a confirmation that I understand how a dough should feel and behave for the result to be good, without having to look at a recipe.
Because I have to say that the result was good. I baked some really tasty bread. And that’s what counts, isn’t it?
I started by mixing a levain with a rather firm consistency. It was left to ferment overnight. I used wheat flour and a sourdough starter made with wheat flour and whole rye flour. Any mature starter will do, so use what you have.
The next morning it had doubled in size. A good sign, because then you know there is plenty of “power” in the levain.
Next, I added wheat flour, water, and some whole rye flour to the levain and mixed everything. You don’t have to overdo it. Just make sure all flour is hydrated.
I didn’t think too much about the amounts of flour or water. Instead, I concentrated on the consistency.
I want the dough to be a bit sticky, but not too loose. Wet your hands if the dough is very sticky. Don’t add more flour. If you think the dough feels dry and stiff, I recommend you to add more water. Adding water is seldom a problem for the final result, while too much flour can make the bread too compact.
After I had mixed everything (except the salt), it was time for the dough to rest for an hour. If you like fancy words, you can call it autolyse.
This resting time is important so don’t skip it. Next time you touch the dough, you can feel that something has happened. It’s not so sticky anymore. Instead, it feels elastic and much easier to handle. It’s because the flour has had time to absorb water.
Now it’s time to add the salt and start folding and stretching. I repeated three times white one-hour resting time after each cycle.
If you have a dough mixer, you can benefit from using it. Then you can skip the autolyse, and run everything until the dough is elastic. Then just let the dough ferment for 2-3 hours.
After all the folding and stretching the dough felt very good. It was holding together well with a slightly “springy” consistency.
I divided the dough in two and formed each part to a loaf
You can use a lined kitchen bowl if you don’t have bannetons for the final rise. Kitchen towels work just fine for the lining. Just make sure to use rice flour instead of wheat flour for the lining. Rice flour absorbs more water and reduces the risk of the loaves sticking to the lining.
I won’t describe the forming process here. I have written a more detailed description in an earlier post. You can read about it here.
It also describes the stretching and folding technique.
I placed the loaves in my basement for the final rise. The temperature is about 57ºF / 14ºC, and it took about 6 hours for the loaves to double in size. That’s my rule of thumb. Let the loaves double in size. If you follow that, it doesn’t matter what temperature you have.
I baked the bread for 40 minutes. Maybe they could have stayed in the oven a little bit longer. I’m quite fond of dark colored bread with a lot of crisp in the crust. Apart from that, the taste was great. A good crumb with a taste that was slightly sour. It was a bread that makes you happy.
One final word before I end this post. Always make notes about everything when experiment like this. Make notes about the amount of flour, water, fermentation times. how the dough behaved, EVERYTHING. Imagine that you’ve baked the perfect bread, but you will never be able to bake it again. Just because you don’t remember how you did it.
That sucks, believe me. I’ve been there.