Posts Tagged ‘sourdough levain’

The process of baking using natural/wild leaven (or sourdough) has fascinated me for some time. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with commercially cultivated leaven per se; it was just intriguing to imagine that the right strains of bacteria and yeast could be domestically cultivated just using flour and water.

My previous (and only other) attempt to cultivate sourdough failed, due to unwanted mould growth. That time round, I used a BBC recipe involving yoghurt. I later wondered if it had something to do with the yoghurt as in my experience, yoghurt always seems to grow mould eventually if kept too long in the fridge.

Sometime around late April this year, I endeavoured to give my sourdough experiment another go. Having done a bit more reading on the subject by this time, I decided to avoid the addition of raisins, yoghurt or other items purported to host wild yeast and bacteria. This was done based on the hypothesis that the strains on these other food items might not be the types that thrive on cereal grains and as such, might not be optimal for leavening purposes. In the worst case scenario, I thought this might introduce unwanted organisms which would then compete with the desired microorganisms for resources.

So this time round, I used tap water and organic wholemeal flour. (I started off using khorasan as that was the only organic flour I had in the house, but gradually introduced wheat to the extent where the flour is now probably 99% white wheat). I also used a little rhubarb to start, discarding the rhubarb after I saw activity in 2 days. Here it is, bubbling away.

By the end of the 7 days, the starter was reliably doubling in volume during its growth cycle – a sign that I would be ready to bake.

It was all very exciting trying to decide how I would make my bread. I gave up looking at other people’s recipes and decided to design my own, based on all the reading I had done on sourness levels, hydration, etc. I decided to use with a high proportion of starter, as I was mindful that others in the house might not appreciate “sour” bread. And then I finally saw proof (pardon the pun) that I could successfully cultivate leaven at home:

(I have used my starter to make 1/2 white 1/2 wholemeal bread (pictured above) and 100% white, both with success.)

How did my bread compare to home-made bread otherwise made with commercial yeast? Well, for one the crumb is more moist, reminiscent of rye bread but with the lightness of wheat. There was a slight acidity to the bread accompanied by a complexity of flavour.

The taste reminded me of rustic bread (not necessarily rye bread or pain au levain) from continental Europe, primarily France and Germany. I am almost tempted to buy a proving basket and experiment with using part plain flour/higher hydration to emulate continental European bread.

I think I was successful in my attempt to temper the acidity. I had unexpected visitors the next day and the bread was eaten with no complaints by young children and adults alike. That having been said, I noted that the sourness was most obvious when consuming it au naturel (as you can do with good bread) – my visitors had it with margarine, jam etc.

I now look forward to a weekly sourdough bake!


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