(A week ago I started a leaven, using the instructions in Dan Lepard’s book The Handmade Loaf.)
On Saturday night the leaven was doing practically nothing. Just a few bubbles on the surface and the scent of – well – water and flour. I went to bed despondent and before I went to sleep imagined what I thought it ought to be doing, hubbling and bubbling and singing Wagner to itself...
Imagine my surprise when I came down on Sunday morning!
I cleaned up the mess and, it being Sunday, had a leisurely breakfast and read the Sunday papers. Remembering some old advice to treat your leaven like a pet I gave the mixture a spoonful of flour for its breakfast too.
10.15 Time to get started
200g white leaven
325g cold water
500g strong white flour
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
In a large bowl, whisk the leaven with the water. Add the flour and salt and stir until you have a soft, sticky mass.
I followed the exact measurements but the mixture is very liquid. The next step will involve taking the dough out of the bowl and working with it on the work surface and there is no way I can do that, so I add more flour until I have a ‘soft sticky mass’, cover the bowl and leave it for 10 minutes.
(The rest of the leaven gets a drink and a decent meal and has been put into the fridge.)
Dan’s method is to work the dough little and often.
10 minutes later
Mixture still too sticky to work. Add more flour for a still very soft dough. Wash and dry bowl, oil it lightly, put dough back, cover and leave for 10 minutes.
10 minutes later
Dough looks smoother after its little rest. Knead for 15 seconds only and put back in covered bowl.
30 minutes later
As I take the cloth off the bowl the smell of proving bread hits me. I knead the dough on a very lightly floured surface for 15 seconds and put back in bowl.
1 hr later
During this 1 hour wait I had a look at Dan’s website – www.danlepard.com – which has a good FAQ section about all sorts of things including temperature. Mostly from hot places rather than cold, but it’s clear the ambient temperature is important for getting the leaven to start itself up properly. Pictures of loaves with lots of holes in them encourage me!
I knead the dough for 15 seconds, shape into a ball and put back in bowl.
1 hr later
Repeat above step
2 hrs later
Divide dough into two pieces. Shape each into a ball and leave on work surface for 15 minutes.
15 minutes later
Rub two clean tea towels with flour and use to line two bowls approx 20 cms across. Dust work surface with flour, reshape balls of dough and place seam side up in bowls. Leave at room temperature until almost doubled in height – approx 4 ½ hours.
(I have to say there is no way I would have left this for 4 hours if I were not following the recipe to the letter, and that may have been a fault previously!)
Approx 4 hrs later
Heat oven to 425ºC (I am using a bakestone and an oven thermometer)
½ hr later, oven up to temperature
Unmoulded the first loaf onto a non stick baking mat – it stuck really badly to the tea towel – let that be a lesson –more or less poured itself on to the mat, and I was so thrown that I forgot to spray it with water immediately it went into the oven, but, ah-ha – when I remembered five minutes later and opened the oven door it was actually coming along quite nicely. It took about 35 minutes to cook – Dan says 50-60, maybe it’s my mad oven. When it came out it looked good and felt incredibly light. I think that’s a good sign.
Loaf number 2 stuck badly to the tea towel too – will have to find a way round this – but this time I got several sprayings in in the first ten minutes.
Both loaves look good and feel light.
When they had cooled and I cut into one, I was really pleased. The crumb is creamy, the crust is thin and crackling, the holes are even and well developed, the sour taste is definitely there and very pleasant. And I did it all in my unreliable oven. This is the loaf I have been trying to make for years and I think M Poilâne would be impressed!