Let's just start by saying - Sucess! - this weekend I made official (whatever that means) sourdough bread. A lot of things clicked this weekend, and we ended up with a lot of delicious bread. Here is the deal:
I decided it was time to follow recipes from "Flour, Salt, Water, Yeast" and yes, I said recipes. Because I had the time, and because many of the recipes call for the same levain (more on that in a second) we could do two recipes and see the difference between two techniques and schedules.
One of the biggest parts of sourdough making I've been avoiding is making something called a "levain." From what I understand, it is a starter, made out of your starter. Its basically is the freshest, newest, happiest yeast because of the way you make it. Basically you throw out all but 100g of your starter, than add new large quantities of flour and water to it and let it grow overnight. This ensures that you have a lot of new yeast buddies when you make you go to make your loaf. I've been super stubborn about doing this, because as I mentioned before, I hate throwing out my starter, but for the sake of science and this weekend's bread making I made one.
I made my levain Friday morning then that evening mixed the two doughs. The recipes are both from the above mentioned book. The Pain du Chamagne and the Overnight Country Blonde bread - both required an overnight rest, and the scheduling allowed me to make and shape the Champagne one first in the banneton and reuse the banneton for the Blonde in the morning.
My starter has never been happier by the way. We (aka Garrett) built be a shelf for the top of the stove, and thats where the it lives, it is much warmer and much happier (thanks for the tip Laura!) and that definitely helped. So the levain grew like it was nobodies business. The mixing of the dough went smoothly, EXCEPT there was so much leftover levain I felt the need to make 2 more loaves. And there was still some leftover - so naturally I baked it. Normally your leftover levain becomes your new starter, but I kept some of my original starter so I didn't need to.
A great tip before we start talking bread: some instagram friends mentioned that I should try rice flour or a blend of rice and AP flour to dust the banneton and dishcloths with, I did and it made a HUGE difference, 10/10 recommend that method
Lets talk about the difference between the two breads:
Pain du Champagne:
This loaf has both levain (starter) and yeast; something I originally turned my nose up at because I wanted to make a pure starter loaf. It gets mixed and folded* four times in the first hour or two, then rises for another few hours (about 5 total) then is shaped and put in the fridge overnight. Honestly, a super reasonable and easy timetable.
The flavor isn't super sour, which I personally prefer, and it had a pretty nice open crumb. There is only a tiny amount of yeast in it, I'm curious to make it without the yeast to see how it compares, but honestly its a great bread and will probably become my go to loaf unless my fridge is too full for the basket. I think it'll give you consistent results over different seasons too, because of how regular the temp of the fridge is vs the irregularity that is my apartment in summer vs winter.
Overnight Country Blonde:
This loaf uses only your levain (second starter) and flour, water and salt. From start to finish it takes over 24 hours, which if you time it right could be convenient for you. It starts in a similar fashion to the above loaf, mixed, folded a few times during the first couple hours, then it sits for a big bulk rise overnight unrefrigerated. In the morning it is shaped (so those big air bubbles I struggled with last week got knocked down a few sizes) then its put in a proofing basket to rise again for another 4-5 hours at room temp. I was tired of letting bread dictate my life at this point (I wanted to leave the house) so ours rose probably for 5-7 by the time we were done.
This bread was sour! Not in an unpalatable way, but as someone who isn't a sourdough superfan, lets just say its not something I'd eat a room temp slice of with no butter. I mean I would, because I'm me, but I could probably resist it. Hot from the oven, or toasted for that matter, this bread is super dreamy. My new favorite food is a nice slice slathered in olive oil, salted, toasted and then covered with fresh ricotta. I also think it will make good croutons. The book promised that the flavor would mellow over time, and it has to a degree, but its definitely still a sourdough bread! Its also aged remarkably well, I made 4 loaves this weekend (my refusal to waste my levain was real) and its still good and not stale almost 5 days later.
This one could be challenging in the summer given the 90+ temps our apartment occasionally reaches, but honestly might just require a shorter proof. We'll see, the ease of this one definitely makes me want to try again.
Bonus Bread: Just Levain
When all was said and done (aka 4 loaves later) I still had about 350+ grams of levain left, about 2+ cups. So I baked it! I didn't go to the trouble of shaping it and rising it too intensely, because I just wanted to clean my bowls at this point and get things out of the way, and I didn't cook in the dutch oven (cast iron, some steam) but it worked! it was bready, it was dense, it was the only fresh bread in the house until the two other loaves were done so we ate about half. To give you a sense of what it was - about 100g of starter, then 500g of flour and water, left to sit about 24 hours at that point, so surprisingly similar to my breads from last week. Would I bake it again? No, but I would try making crackers; an idea I wish I could take credit for but sadly cannot. I'm also going to try to do all of the math to end up with the perfect amount of starter, I'm pretty sure I can figure it out.
Where do we go from here?
While we might be briefly closing the door on true blue sourdough bread, there are many more bread thoughts and avenues to explore! I want to use the starter more, and try new techniques as well as continue to improve on these breads. So on the docket - foccacia, pizza dough, baguettes (fancy!) even english muffins and biscuits. Is there a particular loaf you want me to try? Leave me a comment below or just let me know!
PS - here is a side by side shot of the two types, the one on the left is the Champagne loaf and the right is the Blonde