Monday, June 22, 2020

Happy Levain

Most modern American artisan bakers use a Chad Robertson-like formula to arrive at their dough, with young levain at 12-15% of total dough weight and a cold retard of the dough either in bulk or proofing in baskets prior to baking. The results, when done well, like our Country Loaf, are tremendous. Yet upon reading this article in the New Yorker, I realized that for the sake of space and economy of production, French bakeries of old probably didn't use this method, as it requires holding a significant amount of levain for extended periods of time. Instead, they likely used ~0.5% levain or yesterday's dough by total dough weight, rose the dough slowly at room temp (8-10 hrs), and proofed the shaped forms at room temp. This method would also explain Poilaine's methods, as well as that of old school pizza, bagel, and bialy makers in the old world and new (bagels and bialys were likely shaped after an hour rest of the dough and then left to proof slow in a shaped form prior to boiling/baking). If you use too much levain or old dough using this method, the dough becomes too sour, but at a tiny amount as indicated above, the fresh and sour flavors of fermentation are both present without overwhelming the palate. The levain must be mixed completely in the water, else it will not distribute sufficiently throughout the dough for the rise. Today, I made a delicious 30% rye artisan dough using this method, including some bialys with onion.  The dough was slightly over-hydrated, but the results were great nonetheless.

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