- Extended levain fermentation. Just how far can we push it? And how do we achieve it?
- The question of raising bread. How much levain do we really need?
- High-extraction flour. What's accessible, and what does it mean for our breads?
- This week's grain grower: Bob's Red Mill hard red spring wheat and rye.
Can I just say this: never bake when you are tired. I baked six loaves yesterday with a full schedule of all kinds of other stuff. And man, I am exhausted! Alas, here I am with the next loaf of bread.
So, here's what happened. I was planning my bread day, right, with just three loaves, the wheat-rye 10% with two different levain types - one using a higher percentage of starter like I usually do, and one using a lesser amount, as Chad writes about (more on this in a sec) - and one other loaf just for kicks. So, just three loaves of bread. Doable. Certainly.
Well, I miscalculated the maturation time for my levain, so instead of, say, a 6 or 7-hour fermentation, I couldn't get to it for 11 hours. Mon Dieu! is right. My first reaction was to just pitch the levain and just start over again, but then I thought: wait a sec. This is a great experiment. Let's see just how yielding our levains are... but then, if it didn't work I would have no post for this week. So, I made another round of three levains, just in case, this time fermenting them in what I think is an 'ideal' timeframe, about 6 hours.
Six loaves. I ask you, dear reader. What was I thinking?
Alas, things came out smashingly! And I learned how to control the fermentation of my levain, a whole new level of skill to make baking conform to my schedule, and to keep my levains from fermenting too quickly when the weather starts to get warm.
You know, when I first started Tartine Bread Experiment, my starter was a sluggish thing. It took forever to get going. And when I finally started making bread, I was so new to the whole thing that, well, you know what kind of bread you turn out as a new baker with a new starter. Flat loaves and all that. I assumed that the way to rectify this was to increase the amount of starter and levain in my breads. Even though I knew the whole premise of Tartine Bread was a French-style loaf whose flavors were based on coaxing the sugars out of our grains rather than bread whose flavor came from a huge amount of sourdough (which I actually don't care for). My compromise was to increase the amount of starter without going too overboard.
Chad's formula uses about 15g of starter to make 400g of levain, 150g of which you use to make two loaves of bread, the rest becomes your starter for ensuing loaves. I will admit that my method was a happy accident. It worked swimmingly. Even though my breads have used 40-50g of starter to make a 240-250g levain, my bread is not unpleasantly sour at all. I think my modest hydrations have kept it in check, and I think because I increased the overall amount of flour/water to the seed starter amount, it somehow balanced out. The breads I have been making have indeed been really flavorful, totally balanced. But lately I have been thinking, now that I have this uber powerful starter, do I really need to keep up with this much larger levain? Which brings us to the next experiment today.
I decided to make a bread whose levain employs my usual ratios - 40g starter, 100g rye flour, 100g h2o, using the total levain amount, along with one whose levain employs 10g starter, 75g rye flour, 75g h2o. (Oddly, the result was 150g of levain, not 160g. Hm. Where did that 10g go?)
Both breads came out fabulously, and interestingly enough, not terribly different in terms of flavor. I milled my own grains for this, Bob's Red Mill hard red spring wheat and rye. The flavors of both loaves were clean, earthy and sweet, a little back note of honey. The crust was smoky, rich. Just enough acid, really balanced. The most obvious flavor difference was that the acid of the larger levain loaf lingered just a hair longer than the one using less. The lingering flavor of the lesser was more sweet. The loaf with the smaller levain got a bit better oven spring than the one that employed a larger levain. Both crumbs were exquisite - tender with glossy gas chambers.
While the loaf with the lesser levain was able to bulk ferment at room temp (ambient temp about 72 degrees), the one with the higher amount of levain was only able to do half of the bulk at room temp, then I had to put it in the refrigerator for the remaining two hours. The one with the lesser levain was able to be turned throughout the full 4-hour bulk fermentation, the refrigerated one was left unturned for the last two hours.
Both of the loaves above used a levain that fermented for 11 hours, as you can see, with pleasing results.
Of course, I did a boat load of research at 5:30 in the morning to try to manage this levain so that it would have a chance of being viable. I discovered a few really useful things for all of us. The first is that if you are managing a stiff levain, then it will need to/can ferment longer than one more liquid. Since I am milling my own grains for both my starter and my levains, they are very, very stiff (you will undoubtedly find this to be true as you get into milling your own gains), almost to the point where I was tempted to add more water to it. Even at 100% hydration, both my starter and levains seem to be more like 70% hydration. So, this stiff starter turned out to be work to my advantage when I found myself faced with this long-fermented levain situation. Thank goodness I didn't add more water to it at the start, though I was awfully tempted to.
Oh, side note, lots of you have emailed me about when your levain is ready to be used, and some of you mentioned that you were not having success with the float test. That's one way of testing the readiness of your levain, but another way to determine it is that with a more liquid levain, you know that it's ready for use when it's all bubbly and sweet/sour smelling (click here for a picture of a more liquid levain). With a stiffer levain, it puffs up into a little dome like this:
So, the finding for this experiment is that if you need to extend your levain, take it to a coolish spot, like the basement. And you are in good shape if you have a stiff levain to begin with because they take longer to ferment. I also read that you can add a pinch of salt, no more than .2% of what you would use in your final dough, to the levain to retard it. But that seemed like a drastic measure and another experiment for another day.
Onto the third loaf. Chad's wheat-rye 10%. Here I employed the same smaller levain as described above, and fermented it at an ambient temp of 70-72 degrees for 6 hours, the duration of time that I had originally thought would bring my levain to viability. I milled my own grains for this loaf too, Bob's Red Mill hard red spring wheat and rye. The resulting loaf was gorgeously developed. Fabulous oven spring. Beautiful tender crumb with floral(!) notes, good acid oddly a hair more than the two above, but only just, and a smoky crust.
All of the crusts were brittle and shattered when cut, by the way.
Today, our experiments with both reducing the seed amount of starter in our levain and extending the fermentation time of it was a major success. I will keep experimenting with reducing the amount of seed starter and levain in subsequent loaves to see just how low we can go. Our goal as bakers is to coax the flavors out of the grains, and to skillfully ferment and strengthen dough, not to use our starters as a crutch to raise our breads.
About the flour for these breads. As I mentioned, I milled my own Bob's Red Mill grains for the whole-grain wheat and rye, for the bread flour I used King Arthur, and for the high-extraction, I used Jovial which is this fantastic golden cast and smells really earthy and minerally. The texture is really interesting too. It's almost clay-like.This is my first venture with purchased high-extraction flour and I am really pleased with it. I will be trying another brand with our next loaf. There are such a scarce few, right, so I got them and will be trying them all.
What does high-extraction mean anyway? Well, if you're confused, you are not alone. One would think the more bran you extract, the higher the number. But that is not the case. Commercial millers are able to obtain 72%-75% of white flour from 100 pounds of wheat berries. Thus the extraction rate of white flour is expressed as this percentage, so, all-purpose flour or bread flour would be called 72% extraction, or 75% extraction. From here, the higher the percentage, the more bran particles are present in the flour. Whole wheat flour, for example, is represented as 100% extraction, and when you purchase high-extraction flours, they are usually an 80% - 90% extraction rate. So, not quite a while wheat flour, but not a white flour either. Rather somewhere in between. With high-extraction flours you get the best of both worlds, a flour with the raising powers of white flour and the nutrition and flavor of whole grain flour. It also opens up the crumb a bit in breads that use a high percentage of whole grain flour. Just a recap, white breads rise higher than whole grain breads and have a more open crumb because there are no sharp bran particles to cut at the gluten structure thus tightening the crumb.
Heartland Mills - I finally used my HM high-extraction flour (called 'Golden Buffalo') and I could not be more pleased. The flour is indeed golden and the high mineral content is evident. The extraction rate is 90% here. Love that.
Mendocino Grain Project - A gorgeous little organization that grows sustainable grains (and legumes), and supports Northern California grain growers by harvesting, cleaning and milling their crops. They are located in Ukiah, and their focus is on local distribution via 'Grain Share', a program set up so that a portion of their annual grains harvest can be purchased by harvest members. You must subscribe to partake in their program, and they give preference to people living in Mendocino County (their goal is to support local farmers, reduce carbon footprint, and support the local food economy). Each share offers about 110 pounds of grains, including hard red wheat, durum wheat, rye and several others. Members pick up their allotment at one to two month intervals or all at once at a determined location. They also offer half shares. I received some coveted Red Fife from them recently, which is unfortunately not offered this year, but which I have been dying to work with. So expect a post about it soon!
With all that said, here are the details of this weeks loaves!
MAKE YOUR LEVAIN
10g 100% hydration 100% dark rye starter (I use BRM home-milled dark rye to feed mine)
75 BRM home-milled dark rye flour
75 h2o, 71 degrees
Oh, just a note, I recently got a fabulous Thermoworks Thermopen so that I can keep track of my water temps. It's way more accurate than my dial-thermometer and reads temperatures within seconds. In the future I will be recording the temperature of my dough through its fermentation for you all.
Mix the levain ingredients together until you reach a paste. Ideally, you will plan to ferment your levain for 6 or 7 hours. If you must extend the fermentation, keep it in a cool place. Depending upon what type of rye flour you are using, and if you are able to keep it cool, you may be able to extend it up to 11 hours. This particular levain fermented for 6 hours.
50g BRM home-milled dark rye flour
50g BRM home-milled hard red spring wheat
200g Jovial Einkorn high-extraction flour
200g KA bread flour
402g h2o, divided into 377g and 25g quantities
35g Wheat germ
12g Diamond kosher salt
When your levain is properly fermented, mix together 150g of levain, all of the flours, the wheat germ and 377g of water until you reach a shaggy mass. Autolyse for one hour and ten minutes.
After the autolyse, squish the salt into the dough with the remaining 25g of water until you reach a smooth mass. Now it's time for the 4-hour bulk fermentation.
Every half hour, perform a series of turns throughout the entire bulk fermentation, taking care not to deflate the dough as you near the end of bulk.
When bulk fermentation is accomplished, turn the dough out onto a workspace dusted with brown rice flour, and shape into a loose round. Rest for 20 minutes. I cover mine with a damp paper towel to keep it from forming a skin.
After the bench, shape the dough into a taut boule and pop into a banneton or a bowl lined with linen that you have dusted with brown rice flour.
Pop in the fridge and ferment. Mine fermented for 17.5 hours, but I make a sort of demi-rye often, and have excellent results with 10, 12 and 15 hour ferments. Rye breads do not want to be pushed too far at final fermentation. The enzymatic activity in rye dough is really vigorous. Also know that the higher the amount of rye flour in the bread (i.e., if you are indeed using your 100% rye starter, and a 100% rye levain) the more enzymatic activity you will have, and the faster it will ferment. With this additional rye, you are pushing this loaf from 10% rye to just about 22.25% (Total flour for this loaf 578g, and of this the rye content is: 3.3g rye flour in the 100% starter, 75g rye flour in the levain, 50g rye flour in the final dough for a total of 128.3g of rye flour vs. 50g of rye called for in Chad's formula), so keep this in mind when you are doing your final fermentation. This loaf will also be a bit stickier than you may be accustomed to. This is the nature of rye (though with this particular loaf, the dough was not difficult to manage at all). If you want to cut down on the rye in this loaf and keep it closer to the 10% rye in the book, make your levain using a different flour. Some ideas are 100% whole wheat, 100% white flour, or a 50/50 blend of white/wheat.