Pain au levain

I’m a competitive perfectionist who doesn’t like being outwitted, especially by a bunch of single-celled organisms, so it was with regret and frustration that I gave up on the rye bread. I will try again when my wounded pride has recovered.

I turned to the next chapter in Bread Matters to try my hand at pain au levain – the wheat flour yeast-culture equivalent of the rye sour, as far as I understand. Andrew Whitley’s book says the culture is more temperamental than a rye culture, although I haven’t found this to be the case so far.

I’ve made three loaves using this method, and each time the culture has bubbled up nicely over the course of a week, and the mini pots of leftover starter in the freezer have been successfully revived for the next bake.

The kneading stage as ever left me feeling flustered and infuriated. I gave it a good fifteen minutes of pulling and pummelling but the dough remained sticky – mainly to my fingers and the work top – and although it became smoother and more elastic, it never really achieved the silkiness that I knew I should be aiming for.

I was trying to follow the advice that wetter was better, and that a dry dough made a tough loaf, and fought my desire to add lots more flour. This desire was easier to resist once I realised I’d put the flour back in the cupboard and couldn’t get it out without getting very sticky dough everywhere. Nonetheless, I wanted to scream with frustration that the more I kneaded the more dough stuck to my hands. I seriously began to wonder whether I was obsessive-compulsive about having clean hands. I do wash them quite a lot. But only when I think they’re dirty… hmmm.

Anyway, after 15 minutes I decided that enough was enough and let the loaf prove. I turned the proved but slack dough onto a tray for baking, where it promptly spread out like an oval cushion. I need not have felt dispirited by this, as the finished product turned out beautifully. The crust was a little tough but the crumb had large, randomly spaced bubbles and the flavour was good. It was delicious toasted. It was quite a flat shaped loaf – the cushion rose but it was still a cushion – and, if I half close my eyes and look at it sideways, it could almost be something one might see in a bakery.

Success at last!

First attempt at pain de campagne

First attempt at pain de campagne

P.S. The third time I made the loaf, I gave into temptation and added more flour to make the dough mixture less wet. I also baked it in a loaf tin so I could have sensibly shaped sandwiches. The loaf crumb was much more dense. I wouldn’t say tough…exactly.

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~ by jobes on December 7, 2008.

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