Serves: 2 beautiful loaves
Time: 3 days. Clear your schedule.
Levain breads (the French word for sourdough) are not for the faint of heart. You cannot make this in an afternoon – for it is a flower that needs planning and love to blossom... Enough poetry. It’s time consuming, and may drive you slightly crazy, but I PROMISE -you will be so damn proud of yourself when you are done that you’ll want to do it again. Immediately.
This recipe assumes that you already have a sourdough starter. If you don’t, stay tuned because I will include levain building in my next post. This recipe and instruction is the Ken Forkish method from Flour Salt Water Yeast, a book that I highly recommend if you are serious about doing this. It becomes second nature after a few practices but you’ll find it a whole lot less intimidating if you read this book first. A small investment to save you stress later. This is not a paid endorsement, I just really like his book. This method has never failed me and his instructions are so detailed I felt in control the entire time. Corinne mentioned that he wastes a lot of flour building his levains, which may be unnecessary, but once you have the levain built the waste is minimal and still cheaper than buying a good loaf of bread. Keep in mind, people have written entire books about this and I am condensing it into 1 post. Read through the instructions several times before starting – and read each step again before completing. It’s not hard, but it is precise. It’s a 3 days process so make sure you have some time when you’re going to be around the house and plan ahead so you are not rushed.
The Steps Are:
- Wake Starter – Day 1 am
- Feed Levain – Day 2 am
- Autolyse (hydrate flour) – Day 2 afternoon
- Mix – Day 2 afternoon
- Fold – Day 2 early evening
- Rise – Day 2 evening
- Shape – Day 2 late evening
- Proof overnight in fridge – Day 2 overnight
- Bake – Day 3 am.
Before starting you’re going to need a few things. Not fancy, there is no need and unless you’re going to do this all the time probably not worth the investment.
- 2 wicker baskets – or not. I used plastic bowls lined with linen tea towels. Just make sure you use something medium size-ish that has a tight fitting lid. It will save you trying to wrap it with plastic wrap and losing your mind later. When I created this post I didn’t have baskets. Now that I do, I use them, but place them inside the same plastic bowls to place in the fridge to rise. It’s just easier. You could also use glass. I have not used stainless and have no idea if the bread would behave the same or different so if this is something you try, leave a comment and let readers know about your success!
- Whole Wheat Flour – all the bread I make has at least some portion of whole wheat. For one, it’s good for you, and because it’s good for you, it’s also good for your wild yeast! They will feed faster and work harder because of the whole wheat content in your loaf, meaning you will need less “help” from commercial yeast depending on what loaf you are making.
- White Flour – All of the bread I make has at least some portion of white flour. It is light and easily leavened making for more delicate bread.
- Kitchen scale. ESSENTIAL. If you measure a cup of flour and I measure a cup of flour I GUARANTEE you they will be different every time. I cannot stress this enough. In the world of bread accuracy is your best friend. You’ll want something that can weigh up to 2 Kg and as small as 1g. Digital is easy.
- Kitchen thermometer. Temp is important here. You need to know both the approximate temp of your room and the temp of the water you are adding to your mixes. It will help with repeat-ability and will help you troubleshoot if something goes wrong.
- A medium container with a lid to feed your levain.
- A 6 quart (or larger) container for final dough. It needs a lid. The first time I made this I used my crock pot insert with a lid. It worked like a charm. Be creative. Use a small clean rubbermaid tote if you have it. Shape doesn’t matter too much, just the lid. I have a friend that uses a small rubbermaid lunch cooler with success.
- A dutch oven with lid. Warning – I used an enamel one and it’s taken a beating over time. If you have a seasoned cast iron one use that. If you don’t have a dutch oven, it works perfectly fine on a stoneware pan or a pizza stone.
Wake Up Your Levain – 2 days before baking
I have just taken mine out of the fridge Friday morning at 9 am. I will weigh my levain bowl and add 200g of levain, throwing the rest away. Try to keep as little of the water out of it as possible and just scoop the levain.
Make sure you weigh your bowl before starting! My bowl weighs 130g. I chose one with a lid to make life easier.
Then I add 200g of levain.
Then I add 100g of whole wheat flour.
Then 400 of white flour.
In winter add 400g of 95f water.
NOTE: If it’s summer and warm in your house add 90F water instead.
Now mix until combined with your hand. You want to use your hands (clean ones please), you’re adding yeast to what is already present on the flour. This really will be your very own bread, and will taste like no other.
Cover and put in a warm place overnight. If your house is 65F or cooler try putting it in your oven with the light on. The light will keep the oven warm. Be sure to check that it isn’t too hot in there periodically. I have to leave the door ajar a bit.
Your levain should now look something like this. You will now do your last feeding before mixing the dough later this afternoon.
Feed levain 9 am Saturday
Add 100g whole wheat flour
400g white flour
400g water at 90F in winter, 85f in summer
Mix with your HAND
Cover and let rest 6 to 8 hours