My Sourdough Bread with a “Young” Levain

My wife keeps telling me: “every time you bake you keep saying ‘Wow this is the best bread I have ever made’ the saying is getting kind of old now… Hmmm, this is really good bread though, I think it is your best so far.”

I’ve had a number of recent bakes that have just been a step or two above my usual and I just can’t stop eating slice after slice with anything I can even moderately justify placing on top (I even scraped up some onions & currants from a recent meal we had and used it in a sandwich oh. my. God. was that good… See the end of this post.). It’s dangerous when your bread just comes out right; you become a somewhat selfish person and hoard all the loaves for yourself. At this point, however, my freezer is literally full of bread and I’ll have to start giving them away to friends and family again. I know they won’t be complaining.

Continuing my streak of experiments with high hydration bread, this entry has me taking another stab at my sourdough bread using a “young” levain (as I mentioned in the last entry). Chad, in Tartine Bread, makes it a point to mention he always uses a young levain and prefers this to a more ripe one. Using a younger levain lowers the sourness found in your final bread as your starter has not totally consumed the flour you’ve fed it, producing lots and lots of sour byproducts that get mixed in later.

As an aside, I keep the acid load in my starter to a minimum by either feeding it once a day with a hefty amount of flour (~100g) or multiple feedings per day. Doing either of these will discard most of the acidity produced by your starter, which in the end will push the resulting loaf away from a sour one. This more subtle sour flavor is my preference. So, how can you tell if your starter is fermenting too fast by the time you feed it again? Just give it a smell right before you do your normal feeding. Does it smell sourish and vinegary? Is it very soupy and runny? It probably needs to be fed with more flour or more feedings per day. See my previous post on starter management for more information on these topics.

How young can this young levain be and still rise your bread properly? This entry has me using my levain at the earliest ever, just 3 hours after mixing in the early morning. I was very, very skeptical it was going to have enough strength to leaven my dough, but I did a quick float test (that which I hardly perform these days) and sure enough it was floating happily at the top of my glass. I decided to go ahead and proceed knowing if it didn’t work out at least I’d have a good story to writeup here.

The float test

As you well know I’ve been making only whole wheat bread for a little while now and have become accustom to wrangling that dough into a loaf that has some loft to it. Well, the bulk step on this dough sure was a breeze. As it was progressing I could see the strength develop quite quickly, but in the beginning the dough was very slack, I think the hydration was being pushed too far. Next attempt with this flour will be done with slightly lower hydration, say 3-5%.

Prepare the young levain – 6:45am

The following levain build was kept at around 77ºF ambient temperature and started in the morning on the day I mixed the dough, rather than the night before.

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 100g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 100g Sangre de Cristo white flour (King Arthur bread flour would work well here)
  4. 200g H2O @ 85ºF

After mixing the above in a thick-walled glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area, around 77ºF, for about 3 hours. The warm water helped move the fermentation along to get this levain ready in short order. Normally I do a build that lasts around 10-12 hours overnight starting with room temperature water. As I mentioned above, it readily passed the float test and so I proceeded.

Starter

I should also mention here that at this point my starter is a rather vigorous animal. I started it using my own instructions a while ago, keep it fed twice per day, and it has gone without refrigeration for some time. When your starter is fed this often it becomes a savage and hungry thing, ready to consume your flour and water to produce ample gasses useful for leavening. Keep an eye on your own levain and employ the float test from time to time if you are unsure, each starter is different and thus you must adjust your timetable to suit!

Let’s start the autolyse.

Autolyse & Mix – 9:45am

Gather the following ingredients:

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
900g Sangre de Cristo white flour (a locally milled flour, this is high protein, close to bread flour) 90%
100g King Arthur whole wheat flour 10%
20g Salt 2%
900g H2O @ 85ºF 90%
225g Ripe levain 22.5%

Method:

One Hour Autolyse:

  1. In a thick bowl add in your 225g levain
  2. Add 850g water at 85º F to your mixing bowl and mix with your hand until the levain is completely dissolved
  3. Add in your white and whole wheat flours
  4. Mix by hand until all the dry flour is incorporated
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and keep covered in a warmish place in your kitchen at around 77ºF for 1 hour

While your dough is doing its autolyse thing, head outside for a bit while it’s still cool. I took my German shepherd “beast” for a quick hike through the mesa near our house. I really enjoy hiking around as she runs around me investigating every single bush, lizard, mysterious hole, and occasional rabbit. Signs of Spring are emerging and the foliage in my area is flush with flours and the trees are all turning green. This is one of my favorite times of the year as it signals the time for me to emerge, get some more sun, and do some exercise outside.

My German Shepherd Arya

Ok, back from your activities outside? Let’s get on with this, time to mix things up. After a full one hour autolyse:

Add to your autolysed dough:

  1. 20g sea salt
  2. Remaining 50g warm H2O

Cut the salt into the dough by mixing with your hands. Keep mixing relatively gently until the salt is mixed through and the dough turns a bit sticky.

Final dough temperature: 78ºF
Ambient temperature: 77ºF

Young Levain

Bulk Fermentation – 10:45am

You’ll notice after the autolyse and mix the dough actually has some pretty good strength to it, yet it is extensible enough to stretch out without snapping back.

  1. 11:30am – Turn Set 1
  2. 12:00am – Turn Set 2
  3. 12:30pm – Turn Set 3
  4. 1:00pm – Turn Set 4
  5. 1:30pm – Turn Set 5
  6. 2:00pm – Turn Set 6
  7. 2:30pm – Turn Set 7 (Easy set of turns)
  8. 3:00pm – 4:00pm – Rest on counter untouched
Pay attention to how the dough is developing during bulk fermentation and adjust the time appropriately: you want a 20-30% increase in volume.

Note that a “Turn Set” here is 4 stretch and folds. I reach under my dough, pull up, and fold over the other side that’s done 4 times.

I had to up the number of turn sets during this bulk fermentation as the dough was pretty slack. The extended autolyse relaxes the gluten a little more than my usual 40 minutes, and the very high hydration also promotes a very extensible dough. After doing my folds at step #4, I could see I had to keep with the turns as the dough didn’t hold it’s shape well enough. A good visual indicator here is by the time you’re done doing your 4 folds for that set, take notice of how the dough is resting in your bowl. If it isn’t holding its shape very well, meaning it kind of spreads out quickly after that last turn, you should probably do another set in 30 minutes.

After bulk fermentation

Pre-shape – 4:00pm

Take the dough out of the container onto your work surface and sprinkle some flour on top before dividing. Divide the mass into two halves and lightly spin each half with your dough knife in one hand and your other hand. Let this pre-shape rest, covered with a damp towel or inverted bowls, for 20 minutes.

Lightly dust your proofing bowls/baskets with white or brown rice flour in preparation for the next step.

Shape + Proof – 4:20pm

I’m going to warn you here, this 90% hydration dough is very tricky to shape. Only keep your hands in contact with the dough when necessary and always keep them lightly floured. Even doing all this you might have trouble lifting the dough off your surface and you’ll surely have dough sticking to your bench knife and hands. It’s ok though, that’s part of the fun and things will improve with practice.

Given the fact that my dough was so extensible, I decided to shape both of them as batards. I was able to get quite a tight skin on the outside of these loaves, but they really needed some support in their proofing baskets.

Preshape and Shape

When hydration gets very high like this I’ve started providing a little extra support to my proofing dough with linen in my bannetons. I place a flour sack towel on the bottom of the basket tied around at the rim with a rubber band. This holds the towel a bit off the bottom of the basket to keep the dough from expanding out too far filling the entire bottom.

Score + Bake – 7:15am

The morning I was to bake these two loaves was a very busy one. We are selling our home and moving to a new place across town and had a realtor showing in the early afternoon. Knowing I’d have to clean things up after the bake and that they would also see a loaf of freshly baked bread on the counter, I decided to go ahead and bake away (I mean really, wouldn’t the house smell so amazing anyone viewing the house would just want to buy it immediately?). I guess my real fear was that these visitors would walk off with my hard work and enjoy my bread in the car on their ride to the next house… Remember my comments above about selfishness? It’s bad when you just know the bread is going to come out splendid! But back to the point, since I had so much going on I accidentally forgot to turn the temperature down from 500ºF to 450ºF during the second phase of baking– oops. I have to say though, this actually was a welcome surprise, the bread still turned out amazing. Read on…

Young Levain

In the morning, place your baking stone in your oven at the bottom 1/3 position and turn it on to 500ºF for a 1 hour pre-heat.

After one hour, take one of your loaves out of the fridge and cut a piece of parchment paper to place on top of the basket containing the dough. Take your peel and then put it on top of those two and quickly invert it so the dough is now resting on the parchment paper and the peel. Score the top of your batard with a crescent slash from top of loaf to bottom at about 30º from loaf to blade.

Take out the shallow side of your dutch oven and drag in your batard-to-be that’s on top of the parchment paper. Quickly place the loaf back in the oven and bake for a full 30 minutes at 500ºF. After 30 minutes, open the oven and take off the lid of the combo cooker (set it next to the other half inside the oven), then cook for an additional 30 minutes or so, until the bread is to your desired doneness.

Young Levain Crust

This 10 minutes of extra covered cook time at 500ºF really didn’t do anything bad to my bread, in fact, I’d say it came out with some of the best caramelization I’ve ever achieved. Now, this is probably due to other factors as well, but I think I will continue baking this way a few more times to see if there is any significant findings.

Conclusion

As my wife confirmed, this is the best set of white country sourdough loaves I’ve made. No doubt about it. I brought one loaf to our family Easter lunch and it was gone in record time. Everyone commented on how soft and tender the crumb was, and how the sour flavor was so subtle it only shows its head barely at the end. The young levain really does impart a remarkable, complex taste without overpowering things.

Young Levain

Crust:

The crust was SO brittle and SO shattery, it was almost thin like a tortilla chip. Incredible. Even after the loaf sat out for a half of a week it was soft and easy to cut through and that’s saying a lot here in New Mexico where things dry out to cracker-like consistency in a matter of hours. Look at the range of colors in that crust!

Young Levain Crust

Crumb:

The crumb on these loaves was superbly soft and tender. 90% hydration makes the inside of these loaves almost resemble a custard, it’s that moist in there. Pulling pieces apart with your hands has the crumb springing after it snaps irregularly, a most satisfying sight, one that reminds me of my Italian family breaking large pieces of bread at the dinner table.

Young Levain Sourdough Crumb

Taste:

Toast this bread and tell me you can only eat a single piece. Go ahead, write back and let me know if thats possible. I usually only eat a single big slice at a time, but with these loaves I was cutting two. If I can bake bread like this consistently I’m going to be a very, very happy man. As will my friends and family.

I mentioned earlier that I used a few slices of this bread to make an insanely good sandwich, this is a sandwich I would serve at a restaurant and I know it’d be a hit. We cooked a recipe recently using caramelized onions, currants, and a paste made from harissa and water. Harissa is a Tunisian chili pepper paste that has a slight kick to it, but wonderful when paired with sweet onions and currants. I spread this concoction on one side of the bread, topped it with grilled chicken, tomato, lettuce, and some creamy cheese. Gone in an instant!

Young Levain

Buon appetito!

Recipe and method submitted to YeastSpotting.
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  • TR

    Great post. I too have been experimenting with high hydration doughs, but 80% is the max of my comfort zone. Maybe I’ll try a young levain and 85% hydration and see what happens. I do know this – my crumb doesn’t look as nice as yours. I think I’m beating the heck out of it and degassing it too much with my stretch and folds. My bulk ferment also more than doubles before I shape the loaves and I think I’m letting it go too long. The oven spring is good (not great), but the crumb is still too tight.

    Out of curiosity, does the batard shape fit ok in your round dutch oven? I always figured the length would be too much for a round container after that sucker expands in the oven. But you seem to make it work.

    Thanks for the ever-interesting and helpful posts.

    • it really takes practice to move up the hydration. It was only a few posts ago where 78% was crazy high for me! 90% is really challenging though, I won’t be moving higher than this (I’m not sure the flour I’m using could handle it anyways).

      Yes, you definitely need to be gentle on the pre-shape and the shape. For the pre-shape only shape it until you get it into a general boule shape, that’s it. It does sound like your bulk fermentation is going too far. Shoot for about 30% of an increase. It might be that your starter is consuming most of the food by the end of the bulk stage and then you push out those gasses at shape time.

      The batard barely fits in my round dutch oven. I had a little trouble with these loaves because the dough was so slack that it ended up spreading out more than usual in my banneton. I cut it really close this time. I think a batard really should be baked right on the cooking surface, not in a dutch oven.

      You’re welcome! Let me know how things are going — happy baking!

  • veronica

    Wow!!!congratulations!!!!! it is a beautiful loaf!!! I shal try it, thanks for your instructions, you do such an amazing work with it. All your breads are amazing!!!!!

    • Thanks so much, I really appreciate those comments! Let me know how it goes — good luck!

  • ml

    Wow, Wow, & Wow! Another fabulous bake & blog. You must be so pleased & excited with your sucess. I hope the new home has a cooks kitchen. Are you going to sell bread @ the Farmer’s Market this summer 🙂

    • Thank you! I am very happy with this bread, it was a real treat eating it throughout the week. I have actually thought of bringing some loaves to the local farmer’s market… I might end up doing that. The new house is definitely centered around the kitchen, and the best part: double oven! Now I can make two loaves simultaneously, or 4 if I bake right on a baking stone. Can’t wait to step up production 🙂

  • TR

    Maurizio,

    Am planning to try this loaf today after adjusting the hydration a bit. I need to lower it before jumping to such a high %…baby steps. But I realized I don’t quite follow your baker’s percentages. By my math, your dough is 100% hydration.
    Flour = 1,013 g (levain 112.5 + added flour 900)
    Water = 1,013 g (levain 112.5 + added water 900)

    I have always used the total water to total flour ratio (water/flour) as my equation. If I understand your approach, your numerator is 900g of water and your denominator is total ingredient weight (2,045g). You don’t seem to count water in the levain as part of your water total.

    Can you shed some light on this for me? I want to get the total hydration down to approx. 80-85% but the math is making this difficult.

    Thanks.

    • TR,

      You’re right, my hydration is probably higher than I’m reporting. I don’t usually count any of the levain ingredients in my hydration calculation (some bakers do, some don’t).

      I actually have a mistake in my writeup, I used 900g of white flour for this loaf not the 800g I originally had listed (I’ve fixed this now) — thanks for picking that up! This means my flour total is 1000g, or ~1113g if you count the levain.

      Water = 1,013g (levain 112.5 + 900 H2O)
      Flour = 1,113g (levain 112.5 + 1000 flour)
      ——————————————————–
      About 91% hydration

      Taking baby steps is the way to go. Increase things gradually each time you bake and you’ll get the hang of these higher hydration doughs in no time. I’d recommend going with 775g or 800g H2O in your bread recipe (not counting levain water), that will get you between 79% and 82% H2O.

      Sorry about the typo! Let me know how it goes, good luck today.

  • I’m sold on the young levain now. Was doing over night. There’s not a great deal in it for me but I’ve always favoured less acid in my doughs and this helps me to control it even more. If I do overnight though its a 7.5% inoculation and its really not far off doing a same day levain like this.

    Wow great toppings at the end there……I really want to eat that now!

    • You’re right, if you use a really small inoculation you can achieve the same results — low acidity. I find mixing in the morning when I get up so much easier and the results are just great.

      Thanks, yeah I really think that sandwich is begging to be made and sold at restaurants. So tasty!

  • I love your photos and the bubbly crust! I’m always declaring my last loaf as the “best ever” too!

    • Thanks so much! I think that’s the addictive thing with baking bread, you always want that next loaf to be better and often it is!

  • Superb looking crust as well! I’m getting better and better blistered crusts as I’ve been pushing the bulk rise temp a little higher recently and mixing the dough with 40c water (cold here) and giving it a touch longer.

    http://i62.tinypic.com/n2zx3d.jpg

    http://i59.tinypic.com/ohk85g.jpg

    Our bread looks crazy similar 😀

    • Thanks! Wow your bread looks fantastic! The crust looks nice and blistered and crispy, just how I like it. How long would you say you do your bulk with water that warm?

      I’ve been experimenting with keeping my bulk at a warmer ambient temperature and using much less levain in the mix, around 175g instead of 200g or 225g. I’ll be writing on my findings hopefully soon but I see some potential for an even more open crumb.

  • If its hotter here I use 200g of levain (vary rare here)….as its always quite cool in the UK I use 300g of levain per 1kg of flour. Including autolyse and turns its around 4-5 hours depending on kitchen temp. Basically pretty much what you’re doing. That loaf was around 85% hydration and keeping it a touch lower allows me to push a little further.

    my bulk fermentation is a touch further along then what you’re doing, there’s more visible bubbles on the surface both in the bowl and once pre-shaped, the dough starts to feel a little borderline LOL. This is the point at which I believe the more blistered crust is being achieved for me. The crumb is also pushed even lighter and open.

    When I add 40c water the dough temp comes out exactly 30c at the moment or there abouts, the other day was even cooler and I used 42c to get 30c dough temp after mixing/……no lower then 28c for me (I find any lower and no amount of time actually helps get the rise I want). Its a little higher then most books target temp but its the one that works amazing for me and gives me the lightness & openness that I seek. The crumb is very open and lacey! If I get a higher dough temp after mixing (+32c) the dough starts to feel a touch lazy and strength is harder to build.

    Love your blog it inspires me to tweak more and more. ^-^

    • I’ve found, with my flour choice at least, 85% hydration really is the “sweet” spot. I can push it to 90% but the increased difficulty in shaping hasn’t shown results that have made it worth it.

      I have long speculated that my bulk step doesn’t go far enough in developing gases to open up that crumb even more. My next bake I’m going to try to push things a bit farther and see just how far I can take it…

      That’s great you’ve found a temp that works for you and your climate. That’s all that matters! It’s interesting your temps are so high compared to mine, perhaps this is something else I should try. I’d love to see a shot of your crumb if you have a chance next time.

      Thanks! There are endless variables and experiments to attempt — this is why baking is so much fun 🙂

  • Will get a crumb shot posted soon!. I can mix with lower temp water and get great bread but if I want insane blisters and stupidly light crumb then I need that high temp. Give it a shot and see how it goes for you. Like I said with a target dough temp of 30c after the first mix. Yes! 85% is my go to for production as well.

    Your bread is stunning, for me looking at your dough before shaping if it was mine I’d be thinking around 45 mins further, so definitely give it a try pushing it further and see how you like it.. .jiggling the bowl is a great way to learn the point of fermentation. In fact its been the best way for me to understand the point at which I like. I found just going on sight and size was always a touch hit and miss for me. But once I get the perfect jiggle I know I’m there.

    • I’m going to try to let my bulk go a bit longer the next bath and see what I find. I have felt it could use a little bit more time to really open things up.

      Yes! Jiggling has been the best indicator for me, especially since my bulk container does not have transparent sides. Once I notice a good amount of jiggle on top, and a few bubbles, it’s usually time.

      Thanks for the tips, can’t wait to see your crumb!

  • Sorry not a crumb shot yet as these are all for customers and I’m on a pure rye kick at the moment. But here’s a shot of the pre-shape and shaped dough. Note the pre-shape is very loose and sloppy. This has made a big difference in retaining bigger amounts of gas in the loaves for me. ^-^

    http://i59.tinypic.com/2q3zrtd.jpg

    http://i62.tinypic.com/jgml2p.jpg

    • Thanks for sharing those! Wow your dough looks super aerated and very alive — excellent! Yes, I also do a very, very light pre shape, just a couple spins with my hand & dough knife. After you do this pre shape, do you flip the dough over to begin shaping? I’ve always speculated this might be a place where I lose some gases as well.

    • Ok good call on letting my bulk go further, check out this crumb:

      http://cl.ly/VaYF

      Incredible taste. Going to experiment more with this and do a writeup soon. Thanks for the input!

  • Yes I do. I scrap…..turn it on to my hand then lower to the table like a putting a baby to bed LOL

    • I’m going to try to be more gentle next time… 🙂

  • Laurel

    Hi there. Yum yum yum and hope your sale/move is going well. Question about how you preheat your oven and Dutch oven.
    1) I noticed you use a baking stone. Do you also preheat your Dutch oven combo ?
    2) if so, where do you place it? On top of the stone or on a rack above the stone?
    3) why do you return the top of the Dutch oven to the oven instead of leaving it out? Is it to increase the radiating mass inside the oven? (Is that the same Same reason for using the stone in addition to the Dutch oven?
    4). I have trouble with the bottom of my loaf getting too well done. How do you avoid it while using a stone?
    Thank you for your posts. They are very informative and inspiring. I’ve improved my starter based on your advise.

    • Thanks so much! The move is almost over… I cannot wait to get a double oven to up my bread production 🙂

      1. Yes, I preheat the dutch oven and the baking stone in the oven for a full hour before baking.

      2. I place the dutch oven on top of the stone during the preheat. I place the shallow part on the left facing up, and the deep part on the right facing down. This way I can easily take out the shallow part, slide in the dough, and then quickly cover it with the deep part. The deep part is much heavier and I don’t want to have to turn it over when loading the dough.

      3. Correct. I leave the top, deep part of the dutch oven inside after uncovering dough to keep mass inside the oven. This helps to retain (even if just a small amount) of heat in my small home oven when I have to inevitably open the door. Yup, same reason for using the stone and dutch oven: they both keep radiating mass inside the oven to help regulate oven temperature. One step further would be to get oven baking stones that are even thicker…

      4. I don’t find the bottom of my bread gets burned in any way. Are you baking straight from the fridge? This does help prevent that to some degree. Another thing you can do is when you uncover your dough after the first part of baking, place the shallow part of the pan containing the dough *on top and inside* of the inverted deep part of the pan (so the shallow pan is sitting inside the deep pan).

      You’re very welcome, I’m really glad my entries have been helping!

  • ml

    Hi Maurizio,
    Are you using a young levain all of the time, now? Have you tried it with formulas other than T3?

    • ML,
      Yes all of my recent bakes have been with the young levain method I’ve been posting. It makes the levain build process a bit easier as I don’t have to do anything the night before and since I typically get up really early it works out. I have not really experimented much with other build formulas but do plan on doing so in the future!

      Right now I’m still focusing on improving my crumb structure — although it seems like a never ending pursuit!

  • ML

    Oooo, Can’t wait for THAT post!

  • ml

    Wait, so what is your build schedule the day before bread day?

    • Lately I’ve been doing two feedings the day before baking. However, each feeding is with 100g of my rye/apw mix. This let’s the starter consume flour for longer without me having to do a feeding right in the middle of the day (I’ve been away from home the day before on bake days). It’s been working well so far!

  • ml

    More questions! What is the bulk fermentation time you are now using for the Young Levain? In your post it was 4.5 hrs. 2 hrs less than the Oat P. Are you looking for more gas, or what is your indicator? You bake straight from fridge, have you tried the extra hour in the am, while the oven is heating?

    • Bring them on! My bulk fermentation time always changes with the varying temperatures in my kitchen, the season, water temperature, etc. Deciding when to stop bulk fermentation and divide the dough is a difficult thing, you have to use visual indicators to help you decide when the right time has arrived (even then a little luck helps:)). I look for increased bubbles on the sides of the dough (if using a clear bulk container), some bubbles on top, the dough should be a bit stronger and will pull easily from the sides of the container. When you gently shake the container it should be “jiggly” on top, and you should see a little dome where the dough is higher in the middle and slopes down towards the sides.

      I have tried an extra hour in the AM and this helps sometimes if you think your dough needs more proof time. The downfall of this is that it will be a tad harder to slash your dough when scoring and if you dough is super hydrated (like the oat porridge in my other recipe) the dough will spread out very quickly after slashing.

  • ml

    Alexis is a fan of higher Temps, as is CR. Have you changed anything with your mixing,fermenting,baking times? I also like baking straight from fridge. Have you adjusted your fridge temps?

    • I have not adjusted my fridge temperature, I can’t really do that without risk of spoiling everyday food in there! What I’ve been trying lately is to leave the dough out for an hour or so before putting it into the fridge for the overnight proof. I don’t think it’s exactly what I want in the long run, but it helps get the dough off to a “head start” before a colder proof.

      I’m almost thinking of getting a small fridge for the garage that I can turn down to just the right temperature…

  • Lassie Kilkenny

    I am making your bread today. Just curious – when you let the loaf wait overnight before baking, what temp is the room or proofing area? My cats help me bake too.

  • Lassie Kilkenny

    Oh – I see you put it in the fridge.

    • Yes, into the fridge overnight. My fridge is a little on the cool side, but it should be around 35ºF to 40ºF for its overnight proof. As long as the cats don’t eat all the results!

  • cheng

    hi Maurizio
    thank you so much about your posts,especially in my 5th try tartine bread recipe and failure.
    i think my starter is a problem,I never feed it twice a day,so i need to try your way,thank you again!i have some confuse here.

    1.the book says “young leaven” should be used into dough,but i dont really understand that,my leaven dose smell like my stater ,but not stater that strong,of couse it pass the “flow test”,how can i konw my leaven still young but not ripe?

    2.i used basical recipe just 75% Hydration, in my bulk rise,my dough rise 30%-40% indeed,it looks aerated,i took it out and shape it,but it totally SLACK,hard to build a surface tension when i rotated it,after proofing my dough like totally dispersed,i have to shape it before i bake.
    i think maybe too much flour i used when i pre-shape and some flour on the surface,so that some flour on the bottom of dough,that is why it is hard to build the tension when i shape it,do you think so or sth i did wrong?

    3.do you think i need to build just a bit tension in pre-shape but a lot of tension in final shape,why?and how i can know my shaping or tension just alright

    4. i am in a longtime traveling,i dont have dutch oven to bake bread yet,do you think that is the reason why my score on the top of bread never explode,or i need a good shaping to get a good oven spring

    thx!

    • You’re very welcome!
      The Tartine recipe is challenging, that’s for sure. It takes practice but we will get you there.
      1. You want to try to catch your leaven at the right state, right when it has the power to lift your dough as that’s when it is the strongest. This comes with experience but my clues I’ve left on this post should help you. Try to check in on your leaven around 6-7 hours, if your water temperature you used for the mix is around 80ºF or so.
      2. It sounds like your dough did not have enough strength and it was too slack, as you mention. This is a hard thing to judge sometimes, but I would recommend backing off the hydration some, try around 70% to start and then slowly increase. Also make sure you are doing the full amount of stretch and folds I outline on my recipes here, you want the dough to look smooth and hold its shape by the end of the bulk fermentation!
      3. You want a tight skin on the outside after your final shape as this helps to create that oven spring when baked.
      4. I would definitely recommend using a dutch oven to bake your bread. If you do not have one you’ll have to inject steam into your oven at the beginning of your bake. The dutch oven traps the steam inside and creates a steamed environment for your bread to sufficiently rise during your bake.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have any more questions!

      • cheng

        i notice that the way you shaping and chad’s shaping way showed in that video is different to the book 《tartine bread 1》 which i have read,which way is better?and what is the difference?

        • We do shaping pretty similarly, depending on the overall desired type of loaf. His book Tartine shows only shaping “boule” type loaves, which are round. He has some videos online that show his “batard” shaping which is the more oblong, oval shape. I alternate between the two depending on the type of bread and which way the wind blows that day 🙂

          • cheng

            jajajjaja cheers!

  • Hi
    i love your blog a lot.
    I think i made a rookie mistake at the basket stage. Now my dough is stuck to the linen cloth! Lol. What do you put on the cloth before putting in the dough? Flour or corn meal?

    • Thank you! I add white or brown rice flour to the linen before placing the dough inside to proof. You need just a light dusting, enough to cover the entire basket and anywhere dough will touch. Rice flour can sustain higher temperatures in the oven and won’t burn as easy when baking your loaf.

      Happy baking!

  • Thanks for the amazing tips and pix. I’m just now into day 5 of my starter and it looks great! Doubled in bulk after 4 hrs.!
    My question is on the autolyse. I notice you and Chad autolyse with the levain and in other books the method to autolyse is with water and flour only, and yeasts to be added later with the salt. What is the difference in outcome between the two processes?

    • You’re very welcome! Doubling after 4 hours is a really great sign: you have a strong starter on your hands! If I do an autolyse that is 1 hour or less, I’ll add in the levain. If it’s longer than 1 hour, say 3 hours, then I will *not* add the levain in. If you add the levain in when doing a very long autolyse it will most likely ferment way past what it should as your starter will start feeding on the flour & water and continue during that whole time.

      Salt inhibits yeast activity, so that does slow things down, but salt is never added during autolyse, only after.

      I hope that helps!

      • Hi Maurizio
        My starter (50:150:150) is currently doubling in 4hrs after 14 days. I used sorghum flour in place of Rye. Problem now is that it depletes the gluten quicker than i can get through your recipe of the “young levain”… i tried today and it turned into a soupy mess by the last turn set, i didn’t pay attention… I will try again tomorrow. I will follow its cues during turning, when it feels right I’ll get to pre shaping.

        Any tips for a novice?

        • Sounds like a nice and strong starter, that’s great! I’m not familiar with sorghum but as long as you watch how your dough is developing you’ll find the right time to stop its bulk fermentation.

          If the temperatures are high where you are (higher than 80ºF), keep in mind fermentation will speed up quite a bit. One thing you could try here is reduce the temperature of the water you’re using during your mix, this will lower the overall temperature of your dough mass and let you work the dough longer before it goes too far.

          Overall I’d recommend changing only a single thing at a time while you hone your process. If you have too many variables changing at the same time it can be hard to figure out what is working and what isn’t.

          Let me know if you have any other questions and good luck!

  • Your blog is very helpful; thank you for your detailed descriptions! I’m curious what your thoughts are on refrigerating towards the end bulk fermentation, after the stretching and folding and prior to shaping and proofing. Have you experimented with that much?

    • Thanks! Retarding at the end of bulk works very well, however, I’m not very experienced in doing so. I know some really talented bakers that do this out of necessity (so they are able to slow things down and make large quantities of bread) and have excellent results. I’ve been meaning to try this as I’ve read it helps with pre-shaping and shaping as well.

      Once I knock of a few other experiments I have on my list I’ll get to this 🙂 Thanks for the comment and happy baking!

  • Liz Tree

    I am just loving your blog!! You are the niehbor i don’t have to geek out on bread! I am just now”autolyse-Ing” some dough with a very young SD, about 2 and one half hours since I fed it!!! so excited! But as I said before i use alot more sd than you 400 grams sd to about 1120 g flour and 725g water which is about 79% hydration… anyways here wego!!!

    • That’s exactly why I started the site: we can all use that neighbor next door to bounce bread ideas off of! Good luck with the extremely young levain, I know some bakers that do this method and have shown excellent results. Can’t wait to hear how it turns out!

  • David O

    Why make 450g of levain only to use 225g of it? Does the rest remain as a starter?

    • David,
      Yes I used to make much more so I’d have a little bit left over for my starter to continue on. That said, you really don’t have to make this much. You can calculate it out so you have just enough for the recipe you’ll be baking in the morning/later in the day.

      Additionally, if you leave a little room for excess your levain will have a bit more food in case you aren’t able to bake with it right away.

  • Scott Schmidt

    Hi Maurizio-

    Well, you’ve gotten me hooked on artisanal sourdough, and I’ve made your high hydration recipes a few times. I’ve also made the basic Tartine loaf (and bought the book). I’ve been using either a LeCreuset dutch oven or a clay cloche, and I’ve got the making of the loaf pretty well down pat. My only concern now is that my loaves are not high enough, and I’m not getting the spring I want. Everything else is fine. What do you think are the main factors in getting good oven spring and open crumb? So far, I’ve just not reach the level of perfection I desire.

    Thanks-

    Scott
    London UK

    • Scott — well this is a great thing to hear! The benefits of baking your own naturally leavened bread at home cannot be denied. There are many factors that contribute to oven spring but there are a few I’d look at first:

      How long is your proof? If you proof too long, at too high a temperature, it’s possible your final rise will be sluggish. This isn’t typically a problem with home bakers (in my experience) as our fridges at home are generally colder than the 40ºF recommended for a 12 hour overnight proof (meaning fermentation will slow).

      How is your scoring game? Have you tried different scoring techniques, for example, perhaps just a single crescent slash down the middle as I typically show? Remember to try to keep your blade fairly horizontal to the dough for this one. If the score is too deep, or there are too many and your dough does not have a taut skin, there will be no resistance for your bread as it is rising. Conversely, if you don’t score it enough the skin on your dough will inhibit spring. A balance is needed here…

      Finally, what is your hydration for your bakes? Know that increased hydration means a sacrifice of oven spring.

      I hope that gives you a few things to try, but remember, do one at a time and see if it improves things. Let me know how it goes. Oh and by the way, do we ever reach the level of perfection we desire? I find it to be a constant battle in life 🙂 Cheers!

      • Scott Schmidt

        Maurizio-

        Thanks for your help. I ended up changing flours to a Canadian flour as opposed to a UK flour, and presto – my dough and spring were greatly improved. As it turns out, UK flours are wetter than US/Canadian flours due to the different climates, so US recipes come out too wet and sticky when using UK flours.

        I’m finally approaching the level of perfection that I desire!! Keep up the great website – it’s very informative.

        Rgds-

        Scott.
        London

        • That’s awesome to hear, Scott! Adjusting to your flour choice can be tricky sometimes, even the same flour can vary sometimes significantly from bag to bag! I’m always find myself adjusting in small amounts once I get things dialed in for a specific flour type.

          That’s good to know about UK flours, hopefully that will help others reading this (I saw your other comment, thanks for sharing).

          The website will continue to grow, for sure. Thanks for the feedback and I hope you check in again soon!

          Cheers,
          Maurizio

  • Christie Finnigan

    Hey Maurizio- just found your website, fabulous reads! Question- have you ever made your leaven the night before and put it in the fridge, and then let it sit out for 2-3 hours early in the morning? Would it still have the young leaven taste?

    Big fan of Tartine, I’ve been practicing the Country Loaf. In Florida, the humidity and higher room temperatures are rushing every stage of development. I found that the final rise in the fridge from earlier trials has the best results (higher spring in oven)… now seeing if an additional fridge overnight of the leaven helps anything else besides taste and a slower development.

    • Thank ya, I appreciate that! I’ve never refrigerated the levain. Even in my desert environment things are pretty manageable, and if it gets too hot I try to mix with the coolest water possible to keep the levain’s temperature down. Have you tried that?

      Your environment is very, very different from mine (actually the complete opposite!) so I’m not sure how humidity would play a role. I would guess you could use less water in your mix as your flour is probably a heck of a lot more “moist” than mine here. There are a few things you can do to slow things down. Like I said above, try to use cooler water. Some people have also kept small batches of flour in their fridge to reduce those temperatures as well. You could also try using less levain in your mix, drop it by 2.5-5% each time. This will definitely slow things down to a manageable amount.

      Refrigerating the levain is an interesting idea but I would be scared it would slow things down too much (depending on how cold your fridge is). It’s worth a try, though! It sounds like you have an understanding of how temperature plays a huge role so just keep the rest of your inputs in mind when you cool off your levain.

      Let me know how it goes, I’m interested to hear!

  • Antalie24

    Hey Maurizio, I’ve just discovered your blog having been following you on IG for a few months (antalie24). Absolutely loving the photography and openness of your discussion and self-observations around your baking! I’ve noticed in your method below there is no slap & fold or stand mixing in the initial mixing stages to get gluten going early on. Do you normally utilise slap&fold or are you not in favour of this method? Just curious of your views on it! Cheers.

    • Great to hear from you! I think sharing is the best way to get more people interested in baking sourdough, that’s my goal! When I first started baking it was really hard to find information online, so that’s why I started this site.

      I actually do like the slap/fold method and use it when I find it’s necessary. For this recipe, and some of my other high hydration recipes (I have a new post coming very soon with kind of an update to this one), I find I can develop the dough just as well through stretch and folds during bulk and my levain takes it to where it needs to go. If the dough is incredibly slack by the end of bulk, sometimes I’ll note that and do a quick 2-3 minute slap/fold next time to help get things started.

      There’s a balance to be found when building strength in your dough, as I’m sure you’re aware. You want it just strong enough to hold its shape when put in the oven, but slack enough to allow it to expand and fill with gasses as it bakes. It’s not easy to find that point sometimes!

      Thanks again for the comments & happy baking 🙂

      • Antalie24

        Thanks for your thoughts. I agree and like basically every element of bread making, it’s an individual thing but also it’s not a ‘one size fits all approach’ but rather an ‘each loaf on its merits’ type approach!

        Now that you’re milling fresh flour with your Grainmaker (super jealous) are you using freshly milled flour in all your loaves or a combination of home-milled and commercial flour?

        Do you feed your starter/s with freshly milled flours? I haven’t research this element yet on the impact on starter activity of feeding with freshly milled flour over commercial flour but I am on the cusp of getting my first grain mill so I am thinking ahead as to what to do!

        Love the blog mate! Been discovering another post each day and you’ve now convinced me it’s time to try out the infamous porridge bread.

        Cheers.

        • I use fresh milled flour only in some loaves, I wish I could use it in every loaf but I’d be milling quite a bit 🙂 Plus, there are some advantages to using aged flour, and there’s some really great flour out there. But the taste of fresh milled… It’s exceptional.

          I don’t normally feed my starter with fresh flour, unless I have some leftover from baking and I don’t want it sitting around. When I’m baking with fresh flour I build my levain typically with at least 50% fresh flour. I’ve read that some bakers who have access to fresh milled flour sometimes don’t feed their starter with it because they prefer the “consistency” of aged flour. Sometimes fermentation with fresh flour can be extremely vigorous, and other times just slightly vigorous 🙂 I plan to experiment more with this in the future.

          Thanks for the kind words, glad you’re enjoying my site! I have some really great bakes and experiments planned for next year! Try that porridge bread, you’ll love it! Speaking of which, I really need to revisit that oat bread, it’s damn good!

          Ciao!

          P.S. When you get your mill I’d love to hear your thoughts/experiences!