Pain au Levain/ Sourdough Bread

LONGEST POST EVER:

A couple of weeks ago, I ate dinner at a friend’s. At some point during the evening she removed a loaf of bread from the oven. It was the most lovely shade of amber. She told it was naturally leavened bread that she made using a homemade starter (culture of yeast and bacteria). Me, being the curious cook that I am, and lover of anything natural and healthy, decided to make my own starter and try my hand at sourdough bread.

I won’t go into details about the chemistry of the process, I’ll leave that to the experts and will instead put some links at the bottom of the page. I will try to walk you through my process for creating a starter or levain to bake your first fresh loaf.

Starter/Levain

What you need.

  • Patience and faith that it will work out.
  • 1/2 c or 50 grams flour: I used a mix of rye (yeast apparently loves this stuff), non bleached all-purpose and wheat flour
  • slightly less than 1/2 c or 1.2 deciliters of filtered, bottled, or *tap water

If your tap water is drinkable, use it. Many recommend bottled water, because it could contain small levels of chlorine, which inhibit yeast growth. To remove chlorine, leave a glass of water out overnight and it should evaporate.

How you cultivate it.

  1. Buy or wash out a jar with a lid, that has about 1 L or greater capacity
  2. In a bowl mix 1/2 c of flour (50 grams) and a little less than 1/2 cup of water (app. 1 deciliter). Many bloggers use a total hydration method that entails mixing equal amounts of flour and water. Using slightly less water worked better from me, it stopped the mixture from separating. This could depend on the environment you live in. It’s all about trial and error.
  3. Pour the mixture into your clean jar. Cover partly. Do not close the lid completely, as the culture of yeast will produce carbon dioxide gas as they metabolize sugars. This causes the dough to rise, which is what we want to see, however the gases also need room to escape the jar. You can partially tighten the lid or punch a few small holes in cling wrap and cover it with this instead.
  4. About 12 – 24 hours later, on days  2 – 7 (or longer), stir the mixture, get rid of half. If you use a scale and when you weigh your original ingredients, it will be easier to know precisely how much mixture to remove. Otherwise, you can eyeball the mixture or pour out 1/2 cup. Place the rest in a bowl and add in a little less than 1/2 c water stir, stir in 1/2 c flour, partially cover and let it sit overnight. Repeat every day. By days 4-7, your mixture should bubble and rise consistently, if not, continue feeding it, until it does consistently.
  5. Every other day, clean your jar out. This is important to determine, whether your starter is rising. I put a sticker on my jar at the level of the starter to confirm that it has risen.
  6. Do not use the starter until day 7 or later.

Trouble shooting:

  • If your starter is not doubling, place it on top of a warm appliance or in my case on a heated floor.
  • If you experience a layer of separation between the liquid and the starter or water on the surface, try reducing your amount of water.

Pain au levain/ Sourdough bread (1 loaf)

What you need.

For starter: a little less than 1/2 c water and 1/2 c flour

For sponge: a little less than 1 c  water and 2 c flour

For the dough: a little less than 1 c water mixed with 1 TBSP of honey, 2 c flour, 2 tsp salt

How you make it.

  1. Day 1. Starter/Levain. After your starter is established on day 7, maybe later, remove half and place it in a jar or a large bowl. Note: After your starter is established, you can use the 1/2 that you remove to make pancakes, as scraps in biscuits, pass it along to a friend, etc.
  2. Pour in water (slightly less than 1/2 c), mix, add in 1/2 c flour. Cover with cling wrap and let this mixture sit over night or 12 – 24 hours, until it has doubled in size.
  3. Day 2. Making the sponge: In a bowl, add a 1 cup of lukewarm water to your levain, mix until slushy, then add 2 c. (100 grams) flour. Cover with cling wrap and place in a warm place. Let this mixture sit 6 -8 hours or overnight.
  4. Day 3. Making the dough: In a separate  bowl, pour in 2 cups of flour. In a cup, mix water in a cup with honey (optional). Mix this in with your flour, until it forms a rough ball. Let the dough sit for about 15 minutes so the flour can absorb the water.
  5. Sprinkle 2 tsp of salt over the dough and combine this with your sour dough sponge until incorporated. Don’t be afraid to get a little messy. You could use your kitchenaid to do this, since I don’t have one I did it with a spoon and by hand. Do not knead. Shape as desired and place it in a lightly oiled baking dish and allow it to rise in an oiled bowl for 4-7 hours. If you do this in the morning, you’ll have bread for the evening.
  6. 30 minutes before baking your bread, preheat your oven to the about 440 F / 230 C. Boil about 3 cups of water and place in an ovenproof dish. Place this dish on the bottom shelf of your oven. This will help the crust turn a nice amber brown and provide a moist baking environment.
  7. Place the dough in the oven and bake for 50 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped. Half way through baking, reduce the temperature to about 400 F / 200 C. Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack. Try your best not to slice the bread until it’s cooled.

There are tons of creative ways to shape and form the dough. Since this was my first attempt, I wanted to start simple.

This bread tastes remarkable, slightly acidic, with a nice crunchy exterior and moist and airy inside. I would like to work on getting more air bubbles in my dough, practice makes perfect.

Please note: Store starter in glass, plastic containers or stainless steel. Clear containers make it easier to observe your starter.

I will warn you, you will become obsessed with your starter. It looks likes a creamy blob of water and flour, but somehow you will regard it as beautiful. Like me, you may come home and instead giving your husband a hug as soon as you walk in or feeding and cuddle your cat, dog, what have you not, you will run to your starter and observe it. Somehow, it will become part of your family– just be sure you don’t neglect your family members.

Another warning, making naturally, leavened bread is not a time-consuming or arduous task, the yeast and the bacteria do most of the work, you just have to mix here and there. However, it is a long process that requires a lot of patience. Especially, if you decide to make your own starter, you’ll have to wait 1 to 2 weeks until you taste the fruits of your labor. Let me tell you, it is SO worth it.

Have you made sourdough bread? Any tips/tricks, recipes you’d like to share?

Links:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/

http://eattheroses.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/sourdough-focaccia-and-what-sourdough-is-and-is-not/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough

http://sourdough.com/recipes/home-bread

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/keyword/gerard-rubaud

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Moroccan Country Bread

I really missed blogging about food. I’m happy to post again after a long hiatus. Rest assured, I’ve been eating well, I just haven’t had the time to snap pretty pictures and blog about it.

Speaking of pretty pictures, last year, I traveled to Morocco with my husband. This was truly one of my favorite vacations. The beautiful hues of blue painted on the doors of houses, the trance-like rhythm of Gnawa music, the aroma of spices and all the beautiful artwork of artisans. It really was a total sensory experience. One couldn’t help but feel inspired by the beauty of Morocco.

Moroccan food is also delightful and lovely. In the morning, we were spoiled with platters of crepes or pancakes, served with freshly squeezed orange juice and mint tea. Dinner typically involved tender stewed lamb tajines, vegetable soups,  desserts with hints of fig and dates. I especially enjoyed the variety of breads that accompanied our meals.

Not long ago, a good friend gave me a Moroccan cookbook, with lots of beautiful pictures and descriptions. Reminiscing on my amazing vacation, I decided to make Kesra or Moroccan Country Bread. This bread is SO GOOD, I could eat it all day! It has a crispy outside and moist, buttery  inside. I paired it with a curried pea soup (recipe to come in later post) and was very pleased with the results.

What you need.

2 loaves of country bread (kesra)

  • 1/2 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 2/3 c. cornmeal
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP melted butter (or ghee, if you’re lucky enough to have it)
  • 2 1/4 c. lukewarm water
  • 2 oiled baking sheets or flat pizza pans
  • sesame seeds, for sprinkling (optional) – I used flax seeds b/c I didn’t have sesame

How you make it.

  1. Put yeast, sugar + 1/4 c water in a small bowl
  2. Place flour, cornmeal and salt in a large bowl and stir well with a fork (about 1 min)
  3. Melt 2 TBSP of butter over low heat
  4. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and pour in yeast mixture and melted butter
  5. Gradually add the lukewarm water and use your hands or a wooden spoon to form the dough
  6. Place dough on a lightly floured and need until elastic and smooth
  7. Divide dough into 2 pieces and roll each piece into a ball then flatten to about 8 inches in diameter
  8. Place the flattened dough on the prepared baking sheets and cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place  for about 1 hour or until they’ve doubled in size
  9. Preheat the oven to 425 F
  10. Prick the dough with a fork about 4 -5 times and sprinkle with seeds
  11. Bake 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and back another 15 minutes
  12. Dough is done when it’s crisp, golden and sounds hollow when tapped

Bon Appétit!

(Recipe adapted from Ghillie Basan’s Flavors of Morocco)