This book just keeps impressing me more and more. Over the weekend, I made two loaves of the pain au levain, or naturally leavened sourdough bread. It's a bread that is made up of a tad of whole wheat flour with unbleached bread flour. The starter, which uses the mother starter, along with additional bread flour, wheat flour, and water, is straightforward.
Basically, this simply involves combining all the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer (or a bowl if you're doing it by hand), letting it work its mixing magic for about a minute and a half, then transferring it to a lightly floured surface and kneading for -- wow -- 30 seconds. I may use rye flour next time but here you can just see flecks of whole wheat.
I put the starter in a loosely covered, lightly oiled bowl and let it rise for eight hours. It should increase by one and a half times the original size and be nice and poofy. And, indeed, mine did and was. I then refrigerated it overnight before adding the rest of the water, flour, and salt. You can also add additional yeast, but I went for the "purist" version and let my mother starter do the work. Following Peter Reinhart's directions, you work it in the mixer briefly, then you take the now tacky soft dough out for intervals of periodic working and resting. I probably should have added a tad more flour at this point because it was still quite wet, but I stretched out the dough and folded it back on each side. Then it rested for 10 minutes. Then I did it all again. You do this three times. Then, back into the bowl to refrigerate overnight. The idea is that chilling the dough for this longer time will give it more flavor than baking on the same day. If I really wanted to intensify the flavors, I could let it sit for up to three days in the fridge.
Instead, I opted for overnight. So Sunday was baking day. I took the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for two hours. Then it was time to shape the loaves and, 45 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven. Here's when things got dicey. I had a fairly wet dough that I put into two oiled and floured oval bannetons. I let the loaves proof for another two hours.
I probably should have added more flour to the dough earlier, but it turned out not to have mattered much given the outcome. Yes, they looked pretty awful when I turned the loaves out onto the pizza peel covered with a sheet of parchment paper. They spread, they creased. They crept into each other and I kept pushing them apart. They just didn't look like they'd turn into anything worthwhile. But into the hot oven they went and 30 minutes later...
The crust is crispy, the interior chewy and light with great tangy flavor. So, one more delicious bread to add to my arsenal. I think next time I'll also play around with olives or cheese or sauteed onions and garlic. What do you think?