Last few posts I was telling the story about my search for a better Levain bread. For the last part of this story I’ll describe my current process of a loaf from start to finish.
The bread I’m currently making is a 100% pure Levain Country Bread, with a slow and long proofing. Once you have yourself an active starter, you only need these 3 other ingredients for this recipe: flour, water and salt. Also I like to think of temperature and time as crucial ingredients in this process.
To read more about how to grow your own active starter, the techniques used in this process and the detailed recipes, get this book: Flour, water, yeast, salt by Ken Forkish
9 AM – Feeding the starter
10 AM – Feeding the starter again: about 24 hours after the last feed, feeding starter again, this time using a slightly warmer water temperature (32-35 C) . This way the starter will be at its peak activeness in time for mixing the dough.
5 PM – Autolyse: about 7 hours after the starter was fed, mixing the flours and water and letting it rest for 20-30 minutes in order to let the flour absorb the moister, before adding any salt. The mix of flours I’m using is 20% whole wheat, 70% white bread flour and 10% rye flour. I do mix it up a little bit. Water is measured as 78% hydration (very wet dough!).
5:30 PM – Mixing the final dough: adding salt and starter to the flours and water mix. Kneading the dough well, making sure the salt and starter had all integrated into the flours. Forming a tight ball and covering with a plastic bag. This is when the first proofing starts and continues for a slow 15 hours in room temperature.
6:30 PM, 7 PM, 7:30 PM, 10 PM – Folding the dough: the dough needs to be folded 3-4 times in order to strengthen the gluten, so that it will be able to support its own weight when rising in the baking process. To fold I’m stretching out a piece of dough from the rim of the dough and then bringing it back into the center, and repeating all around the dough until a tight ball is formed again.
9 AM – Shaping: About 15 hours after mixing the final dough, its ready to be shaped and placed into the proofing baskets for the second proofing. To do that, I flour the baskets and a working surface and gently transfer the risen dough to the surface. Cutting it in the middle to form two loaves. Each half is shaped in to a ball, and then placed crease down in the basket.
12:30 PM – Preheat: about an hour before proofing is done, I turn on the oven to 475F, with the Dutch ovens inside.
1:15 PM – Placing loaves in the oven: gently flipping and releasing the loaf to a floured work surface, scoring the loaves with a razor is not necessary because we flip it so that the crease is up again, but I do score the oval loaf usually. From there to the Dutch oven, covering with the lid and into the oven. Doing the same for the second loaf.
1:30 PM – Baking covered: for the first 30 minutes of the baking process, baking in the covered pots and avoiding opening the oven.
2 PM – Baking uncovered: Removing the lids and baking for another 15-30 minutes until dark brown (checking every 5 minutes after the first 15).
2:30 PM – Resting: releasing loaves from the Dutch oven and placing them on a metal griddle where air flow can reach the bottom of the bread. Letting the bread rest for 1 hour.
3:30 PM – About 54 hours after starting the process the fresh levain loaves are ready to be eaten. They can be sliced and eaten right then and there or kept at room temperature for another couple of days.
If I don’t use the bread that very same day, I slice it all, put it in a zip lock bag and freeze it. That way I can always release with a sharp knife how many slices I wish to warm up and toast them while still frozen. The result is great!
It’s not so simple to slice that tough crust with its soft inside loaf. I like to slice the bread to a chunky and wide half-slices. To do that I start by splitting the bread into two in the middle, then flipping every half on top of the leveled side and slice from there – it’s a lot easier to get a good grip of the cutting board.
I use the levain bread for anything, I rarely buy any other bread:
To sum up, it takes a lot of time and patience to make great tasting bread, but every step is quite simple and straightforward. It also takes multiple trails and errors to get the right recipe for your own oven, equipment and room temperature. I hope I made you feel like starting your own active starter if you’re already into bread making and if not, maybe just a crave for a decent slice of bread.
Inspired by International and Asian cuisine and her bringing up in Tel Aviv, Mashav Shelef leads the team of Le Couloir, tailoring private events, creating new and inspiring menus and making sure every event is one to remember. A graduate from Ferrandi - Paris and experienced in several Michelin starred restaurants. In 2013 created a Pop-up Secret Kitchen in Tel Aviv and now starting her way as a Personal Chef in San Francisco. She brings dedication, creativity and her undeniable passion for food together with a fresh approach to cooking derived from her scientific background.