Update: If you are planning to make the Levain de campagne Bread from How to make bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou (the bread I am talking about below), please note that there is indeed a typo in the recipe and that the amount of water should be more or less 300 g and not 150 g. This was confirmed to me today by the author himself.
Spring break brought us a passel of kids and grandkids and made for an extremely lively ten days in our household. Anyone who has had the good fortune of living in close quarters with five-and-a half-year old twins and their even younger first cousins will probably agree that the experience isn’t exactly conducive to meditation, reading and gourmet cooking.
By popular (and youthful) request, macaroni and cheese have been seen in my kitchen this week with unprecedented frequency while greens were the object of much suspicion and arduous negotiation. Asparagus and broccoli prevailed. Spinach was voted down. Frozen peas passed muster. Usually beloved, avocado was categorically rejected. Fruit was regarded with a marked lack of enthusiasm in its original form except for bananas, apples and mangos (save for one kid who expressed total revulsion at the sight of sliced mango in his fruit salad) but was widely appreciated in disguise (notably in the shape of the blackberry frozen yogurt I made from the berries we picked last summer).
A large part of the family went back home today. A second installment (grown-ups only) is expected tomorrow. In-between I found myself in the mood for a baking Sunday.
Since I am still exploring Hadjiandreou’s book, I decided to make the miche Emmanuel Hadjiandreou calls his “Levain de campagne” Bread (shown on the cover) for which he won a Great Taste Award.
The recipe calls for 150 g of mature white starter (at 100% hydration) and 150 g of water (as indicated above, the water amount is incorrect as printed in the book. It should be 300 g) as well as for 250 g of all-purpose flour (he actually recommends strong/bread flour but then he bakes in the UK where flours are different from ours), 150 g of whole wheat flour and 50 g of dark rye flour. So far so good.
Cruising along after weighing everything, I was feeling quite happy (the fragrance of the levain will do that to you!) when I hit a snag. Hadjiandreou says to “mix until [the dough] comes together. The mixture will be a bit soft, but don’t despair and don’t be tempted to add more flour”. I certainly wasn’t! Far from being alarmingly soft, my dough was as stiff as could be. I wet my hands, I added a few spoonfuls of water, then a few more. It still didn’t look good. I set the dough to rest for ten minutes prior to the first stretch and fold, hoping that it would have relaxed, but no such luck. I tried adding more water but it made matters worse: the dough showed signs of breaking apart.
That’s when I remembered a trick Gérard Rubaud showed me last fall. He said it is never too late to add water to a dough and he proved his point by hydrating a dough that had just finished fermenting and successfully making a whole batch of baguettes with it.
This above video was done for demonstration purposes only: the dough was already fine as it was. But Gérard does use this trick to troubleshoot production situations: he says that each time he gets a new delivery of all-purpose flour, he has to recalculate the percentage of water and sometimes he’s off in his calculations for the first batch and doesn’t know it until after the autolyse is over. If he has used too much water, it is simple enough to add more flour but if he hasn’t used enough, it is much trickier. In his experience, it is way easier to add water (up to 2% of the flour weight) at the end of the first fermentation than at the end of the autolyse.
The dough that was slowly taking shape in my bowl had none of the silkiness and pillowiness (is there such a word?) of Gérard’s. It was still rather stiff and forbidding and didn’t look like it would take kindly to a bath “à la Gérard”. Still it could clearly use some water, so I gave it a shower instead (using a spray bottle) and that’s clearly what it was waiting for.
After each stretch and fold episode (and there were a total of six at ten minute-intervals), I sprayed it thoroughly with warm water and covered it again with an inverted bowl. It absorbed the water while resting and became progressively more flexible. It was still a very different dough from Gérard’s but then Gérard’s contained mostly white flour while this one contained close to 80% whole grains.
I am sure the crumb won’t sport big holes (Hadjiandreou’s doesn’t) but will it be dense or not? In other words, should I have sprayed more? Or less? That’s what I am hoping to learn from the experience… Don’t you love the everlasting challenges of breadbaking?
I wrote to Emmanuel Hadjiandreou to make sure the recipe is correct. The dough seemed way too dry, even accounting for the differences in flour, climate, etc., for the prescribed amounts of flour and water to yield the soft dough pictured (and described) in the book. I will let you know what I hear back, if anything.