Pain au Levain (Sourdough Bread)


Pain au Levain

When it comes to pain au levain, I have to admit that I am a bit of a snob. Why else would I call it pain au levain rather than sourdough bread, as most people do? I’ve never much cared for the name “sourdough”. Once something carries that moniker, all sorts of lip-puckering, eye-watering attributes are expected. Instead, I believe that a good pain au levain should have a complex, subtley sweet and nutty flavor.  Yes, there are acidic notes present but, in my opinion, they should only serve in background to help enhance the natural flavor of the grain.

The pain au levain formula shown here is a slightly modified version of the Vermont Sourdough formula described in Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman.  The modifications are due to differences in starter culture hydration (mine is 100% hydration, Hamelman’s is 125%) and ambient temperature.

Final Dough

  • 680 g King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
  • 90 g Medium Rye Flour
  • 455 g Water
  • 15 g Salt
  • 300 g Levain (mature sourdough culture, 100% hydration)

Add all the final dough ingredients, except the salt, to a mixing bowl.  Mix with a dough whisk just until all the ingredients are incorporated.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for an autolysis period of 30 minutes.  Remove the contents of the bowl to a work surface and mix by hand (Musings on Mixing…) for a few minutes, just until the dough starts to come together.  Sprinkle the salt on the dough and continue hand mixing until the dough reaches medium development.  Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover and let ferment for two hours, folding the dough once, one hour into this first fermentation.

After the two hour first fermentation, the dough is divided into two, 1 1/2 lb. pieces and each piece is lightly rounded.  After resting under a plastic sheet for 15 minutes, the pieces are shaped into boulots, placed in rice flour-coated brotformen, covered with Saran Quick Covers and allowed a second fermentation of 2 1/2 hours.

After the second fermentation, the boulot is inverted onto a peel, scored, loaded into the oven and then baked at 425°F for 40 minutes with steam applied for the first 15 minutes (scoring and steaming video can be found here).

Pain au Levain Crumb

Tags: bread, levain, sourdough, starter

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