There is something so magical about bread.  Whether its the fact that it is made up of four main ingredients only flour, water, yeast and salt, that it represents a symbol of fellowship and community, that the smell of fresh bread is intoxicating or that it is one of the only foods that is a staple in every culture all around the world.

Artisanal bread making has taught me many life lessons and as silly as it may sound, once you decide to give it a go you’ll quickly understand what I’m talking about. Its not just about learning though – bread making is a beautiful craft that is extremely rewarding and that can be a lot of fun with the right attitude.

One of the things that can be challenging with hand made bread making is temperature control and yeast activity. In this recipe (and many more to come) we will be working with a sourdough starter. A starter is a wild yeast culture that is a living breathing thing! (It’s like having your own pet!) You can make your own, (there are lots of online resources and guides) or you can buy an aged dried starter (link to where I bought mine in the paragraph above). I recommend buying a dry aged starter from the website above as it will take some time to develop your own culture and will not have the depth of flavour, or resiliency a culture of ten or more years will have, again this is just my personal opinion. This website will also give you step-by-step instructions on feeding as well.

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In regards to temperature control – bakers will use rely on two charts to calculate the DDT (Desired Dough Temperature) and the FF (Friction Factor). I am not going to go into to much detail at the risk of miscommunication and misinformation. These are however EXTREMELY important in the formation of artisan doughs as the temperature will have a direct impact on the final product. A instant read digital thermometer is also a highly recommended purchase to ensure accuracy and precision. Please read King Arthur’s guide to dough temperatures for more information on this topic.

Now that we’ve covered the basics lets get started!

PAIN AU LEVAIN (SOURDOUGH BREAD)  – A Jeffrey Hamelman Recipe

Yield = 2 Large Loaves

PREPARING THE LEVAIN: (12 hours in advance)

What you’ll need:

  • A bakers scale (preferably one that measures in oz and g)
  • A small plastic container
  • Your hands

Once you get to a stage where your sourdough culture is active/bubbly (about 5-6 good feeds give or take) we will take a portion to create whats known as a pre-ferment or our leavening agent (levain in artisan baking terms).

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Today’s recipe we will be using a stiff levain which means that the initial culture is more flour than it is water. Bakers use a terminology known as hydration, which allows us to determine what percentage of the dough is water – this is based on a formula where flour is measured at 100% and every ingredient is based on a portion of that percentage.

LEVAIN BUILD:

  • Bread flour – 4.6 oz
  • Medium rye flour – .3 oz
  • Water – 3 oz
  • Mature (Active) culture. Stiff build – 1 oz

In a small plastic food-safe container weigh out all ingredients and mix by hand until levain has been incorporated to a stiff dough like consistency – ensuring no lumps of flour are present. Remember to clean the inside of the container using a damp cloth or rubber scraper to ensure a clean environment for your culture! Leave out in an area approximately 70ºF to ferment at for 12 hours.

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(NOTE: Sometimes the culture will become more active than initially expected – in this case the culture can be thrown in the fridge to slow down the rate of fermentation. This is whats known as retarding the dough.)

MIXING & AUTOLYSE:

This is the stage we will be mixing the ingredients together to form the bulk dough otherwise known as the final dough.

What you’ll need:

  • Plastic wrap
  • Rubberbands
  • Large mixing or stainless steel bowl

FINAL DOUGH FORMULA

  • Bread flour – 1lb, 9.8 oz
  • Medium Rye flour – 1.3 oz
  • Water – 1lb, 1.8 oz
  • Salt (Kosher or sea salt) – .6 oz
  • Stiff levain build – 8.9 oz

Before we continue now would be the ideal time to calculate your water temperature and friction factor in order to achieve our DDT of 76ºF.

MIXING:

  1. Add both flours to the mixing bowl and give bowl a stir with your hand to evenly incorporate flours.
  2. Next attach the dough hook and mix on low speed, add the water and mix until the dough resembles a shaggy mass.
  3. Turn off the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and leave the dough to rest for 20 to 60 minutes. This is what is known as the autolyse phase – this stage allows the flour to evenly absorb the water content and allows the dough to relax.
  4. After the end of the autolyse add your stiff levain in large chunks to the mixing bowl and evenly sprinkle the dough with the salt.
  5. Finishing mixing the dough on second speed for 1.5 to 2 minutes.

BULK FERMENTATION: 2.5 hours

At this stage we have formed the “bulk” of the dough which means we need to let the levain do its job and ferment the rest of the dough to give it flavour and activity. You can leave the dough in the mixing bowl but I recommend transferring it to a clear plastic tote for ease of access, as we will be working with the dough during this step.

FOLDING: 2 folds @ 50 minute intervals

During bulk fermentation we perform whats called stretch and fold. This is a technique allows us to build strength in the dough (working the strands of the gluten network).

Blue Corn Sourdough - 8 (1 of 1)

We perform stretch and folds based on the shape of the dough or container. In this case a rectangular tote with 4 sides. Grab a bowl (large enough to fit both hands in) and fill it with water. Dip your hands in the water to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands. Reach underneath the dough and grab 1/3 of the dough stretching and folding the dough onto itself. Repeat this process on the opposite side, (dipping yours hands in water as necessary) turn the dough and repeat the process. Once you have completed a full cycle cover and leave to rest until the next scheduled interval.

DIVING & SHAPING:

What you’ll need:

  • A dough scraper (plastic metal or even a 8″ stainless steel plaster knife)
  • Dusting flour
  • Bannetons or brotforms (These are what help to hold the shape of the dough)
  • Plastic wrap

After bulk fermentation and stretch and folds, we need to portion the dough. Have your scale and dough scraper ready! I recommend watching Chad Robertson’s method on the process to give you a much more accurate description and visual tutorial.

  1. Lay your dough flat onto your work surface and cut the dough in two 1.5lb sections, adding any excess dough chunks from scaling to the top of the dough. (This allows for more a more even dough and gluten structure during pre-shaping and shaping)
  2. The next step is the pre-shape. Using your scraper push the dough away from you whilst the dough sticks to the work surface and repeat to form a rough ball and gain some initial tension. Leave the dough balls to rest covered in plastic wrap for 10 – 15 minutes.

FINAL SHAPING: Batard

  1. After the dough has rested decide what you want your final shape to be. (Boule = Round, Batard = Oval)
  2. Pick a side and gently stretch the edge folding over on itself, repeating on the opposite side.
  3. Grab the corners facing away from you one at a time bringing them into the centre.
  4. Next pinch one side of the dough in small sections (roughly .5 to 1 inch) and fold them into the center repeating on the opposite side meeting in the middle.
  5. Lastly grab the farthest end of the dough underneath with both hands. Using your thumbs as a guide, roll the dough over on itself keeping as much tension as possible until the dough is completely rolled up with the seam at the bottom.
  6. Lightly dust the worksurface with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking post shape.
  7. Place the dough into lightly rice floured banneton or into floured linen pinching the edge of the seam to tighten up the dough and give it more structure. Place the dough seam side up. Cover with plastic wrap or place in container to rest.

FINAL FERMENTATION: 2 to 2.5 hours

This is the final stage of fermentation. The goal of this stage is to get as much gas production and activity in the dough as possible, while still retaining the maximum amount of tension. The gas development will allow us to get a beautifully open crumb structure as well as a beautiful ear and crust on the bread. Leave the dough to rest for 2 to 2.5 hours at 76ºF.

SCORING & BAKING: 440ºF – 40 to 45 minutes

What you’ll need:

  • Cast Iron Griddle/Baking Steel/Baking Stone
  • Pizza Peel
  • Parchment Paper
  • Lame
  • Spray bottle

While your dough is resting it is a good idea to get your oven prepped and preheated.

  1. Place your baking surface into the oven and pre-heat to 500ºF for at least an hour. It is important to have your surface extremely hot in order to instantly set the bottom crust and force the gas to expand upward, i.e where you have scored giving your dough the greatest potential for surface tearing and ear development.
  2. 10 minutes before you are ready to bake, grab a large roasting tray or pan and place at the bottom of your oven. Fill with a small amount of water to moisten oven. (Another option is to buy lava rocks and place in the pan to gain heat – this will help in the final steaming/baking process but is completely optional)
  3. Once your oven is ready tear your parchment paper and place it over your pizza peel. Lightly flour the surface.
  4. Next turn your banneton upside down or dough seam side down onto the parchment paper.
  5. Ready your lame, razor blade, knife or sharp edge (and your nerves) and hold the edge at a 30º to 45º angle to score the dough doing your best to make a clean precise cut in a single motion. (Drag is the enemy!) One tip I’ve read that has helped me is to think of the surface of the dough as a skin and by scoring you are trying to cut through the first layer without cutting into the flesh. (Don’t worry if you mess up your first time. I have probably baked over 200 loaves and I still probably mess up 5 out of 10)
  6. Immediately open the oven door placing the dough and parchment paper directly onto the hot surface.
  7. Dump a cup of water into the pre-heated pan/tray to steam the oven and give a couple of spritz of water into the oven and onto the surface of the dough for good measure.
  8. Turn the oven down to 440ºF and bake for 40 to 45 minutes removing the water pan from the oven at the 20 minute mark in order to firm up the crust and finish baking properly.
  9. Once done carefully remove using oven mitts and the pizza peel and placing on a wire rack or dry surface to cool.
  10. The hardest part! Wait at least 1 hour to cool before cutting into the loaf!
  11. Lather with butter or eat plain and enjoy!

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