Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Whole-Wheat Levain (Mellow Bakers: March)

Monday was a beautiful spring day here, a perfect day for baking bread.  It was in the mid-70's, the birds were chirping and all kinds of blooms were bursting forth.  I gathered a couple pictures:

The Whole-Wheat Levain that was on the schedule for mellow bakers for March looked to be a very simple bread.  No cheese, no raisins, no nuts, nothing.  This looked like a good bread though, to try out lucky with.  The recipe for whole-wheat levain, found on page 168 of Hamelman's Bread, was for 2 large loaves, and I only wanted to make one, so I cut the recipe in half.

To start this bread, I weighed out 1 oz of lucky on Sunday evening, and mixed him with 2.4 oz of water, and 2.4 oz of whole-wheat flour.  This is called the levain build and is the process of building the culture necessary for the production of this particular bread.  Jeffrey said to start this process 12-14 hours before mixing the final dough, but also that ripeness is indicated by a mildly acidic aroma and a subtle sweetness, as well as by numerous small bubbles, kinda like soap bubbles, that partially cover the surface.  My levain culture did not smell nearly as acidic/sweet as during the day Sunday after I gave lucky a Sunday AM feeding.  Also, there weren't very many small bubbles on the surface of my levain after 14 hours, so I waited another hour and just decided to go ahead.  I was worried it would be bad to wait past a certain point.

I put 4.8 oz of liquid levain build (2 T went back into my original sourdough seed culture) + 5.6 oz of whole-wheat flour, 8 oz of bread flour, ~ 8 oz of water, and 1 1/2 tsp of salt into the bowl of my stand mixer.  I mixed on first speed ~ 3 minutes and then on second speed for ~ 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.  This dough seemed very heavy to me and didn't seem to have much extensibility (not sure if that's the right word).  I tranferred the dough to a bowl, covered, and let it ferment for 2 1/2 hours, folding twice, at 50-minute intervals.  I decided to shape mine into a boule, and then I let it ferment for another 2 1/2 hours at 76 degrees. 

After baking for 36 minutes at ~ 450 here's my boule:

I used what I'm calling a "sand-dollar" scoring pattern for this boule.  I was reading some articles regarding scoring and how it affects the baking of the loaf, at The Fresh Loaf, when I saw an example of this scoring pattern.  It immediately reminded me of sand dollars and so I went and grabbed one of my sand dollars off of my dresser and sure enough it was the same pattern.  When I was a teenager I used to love to dive down to the sandy bottom of the ocean along the Florida coast and search in the sand for these critters.  They are tricky to catch.

One problem I had with my boule was that it was not level/flat at all on the bottom because the bottom kind of split open :(  Has anyone else had this happen or anyone know what caused this?  Was it something I did wrong?

My husband is the slicer of bread in our house, because being an engineer and all, he's very precise and articulate and cuts very even slices:
I was disappointed at how the interior of the loaf looked, but at least my first sourdough loaf didn't burn and it tasted pretty good (although it did come very close to sliding off the back of my stone when I slid the parchment and boule into the oven). 

My husband said he could taste the tanginess from the sourdough element, but I'm not sure I could, but then my taste buds weren't working perfectly due to my cold. 

I think this first test of lucky wasn't too bad and I'm looking forward to learning more about sourdough and hopefully my culture will develop a more distinct taste and get a little more active as the weather warms up.

Thank you for visiting my blog this time around for mellow bakers!


  1. Hey Mel,

    This is an awesome first sourdough loaf. I think you should be right proud of what you produced!

    Keep at it!

    I'll post a longer possible reason for that side blowout over on the forum. Right here and now, this deserves to be a Two Huge Thumbs Up comment!

  2. So pleased to see that Spring has sprung for you Melanie! All the local cherry trees have bloomed in the last few days here as the temperatures have risen. I love hearing about your diving too, I've never seen a sand dollar before, though I've heard them referred to in novels and wondered what they were.

    Congratulations on setting out on that sourdough journey, it gets better with each loaf you bake, and that one looks like a great kick-off! Have a look at the miches that Mellow Bakers had a go at and that will show you how wholewheat levain loaves tend to be denser, even though the formula isn't the same you might be reassured by some of the pics there http://tinyurl.com/66tabka

  3. That is a very nice loaf! My first sourdough loafs (many years ago) were hard as a rock and totally uneatable! I think you can be quite proud of this one.

    Loved your pics of flowers, just noticed crocuses coming out the other day, but splatting snow rain here today. So nice to see your flowers and hear of warmth....

  4. I think you should be *very* proud of that first sourdough! My first was totally flat and dense. =)