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Leavened Bread

Making the leaven

Here is a recipe, or perhaps more correctly, a set of ingredients and steps that will promote fermentation in a leaven of flour and water. Though fermentation will occur simply with flour and water, I have added a few other ingredients that I like and have grown accustomed to. Recently, I have tried making the leaven from the start solely with organic rye flour (using slightly less that the suggested white flour amounts) and water, but following the schedule given below. It worked a treat. But here is the one I've become fond of.

Day 1
50g water
2 tsp rye flour
2 tsp strong white flour
2 tsp currants or raisins
2 tsp live lowfat yoghurt

Mix all of the ingredients in a small kilner jar. Cover and leave at room temperature (20C) for 24 hours

Day 2
50g water
2 tsp rye flour
2 tsp strong white flour

By this stage there will be no perceptible change, though some yeasts will have already multiplied. The surface will look shiny as the solids separate from the water and sink down in the jar. Stir the above ingredients into the leaven, starting with the water, followed by the dry ingredients. Cover and leave again for 24 hours.

Day 3
100g water
4 tsp strong white flour
4 tsp rye flour

By this time the raisins (or currants) will have started to break down and you will notice a coffee coloured ring around them as they sit in the mixture. Also, there will be the odd pin hole of fermentation on the surface. Add the water, stir well to combine, then add the flour and stir again. The mixture will look frothy, but this is simply from the stirring. Nearly there.

Day 4
100g water   80%
125g strong white flour  100%

By this time there should be the froth of fermentation beginning, though only the vaguest hint of acidity in the aroma. Remove 3/4 of the mixture, and throw away. Add the water and stir well. Next, pour the mixture through a tea strainer to remove the raisins (or currants), then put the strained liquid back into the kilner jar. Add the flour and stir again. Cover and leave another 24 hours.

Day 5
100g water   80%
125g strong white flour 100%

The fermentation should be clearly evident, and the aroma starting to become acid. You can first notice this the moment you remove the lid from the jar, though it disappears quickly. Remove 3/4 and throw away. Add the water and stir well so that the mixture has thinned evenly. Stir in the flour so that you have a thick paste. I prefer to keep the refreshment slightly heavier on flour than water, as this slows the fermentation and stops the leaven rising and falling too quickly. Cover and leave another 24 hours.

Day 6 onwards
Take the lid off the jar, and you will see the mixture bubbling. Each day as you continue to remove leaven for baking, replacing it with an equivalent amount of flour and water, the aroma will become stronger and more sharply acidic.

To store the leaven for use: If used regularly, some bakers keep it at room (or bakery) temperature, others keep it chilled at 12c - 15C. Regular refreshment, for at least 2 days prior to baking, is needed to keep the leaven active and in prime condition.

To store for use another time: To store it without using for longer periods, which will force some of the yeast cells to remain dormant and some to die, leave the leaven covered and undisturbed at the back of the refrigerator (at 4C). As it sits unrefreshed, the leaven will separate into a dark coffee-coloured liquid, which sit on top, and a solid grey mixture that will lie in the bottom of the jar.

To revive the leaven: Carefully take 1 or 2 tsp of the grey putty-like leaven from the bottom of the stored jar, and stir this into a fresh quantity of 100g (100%) water and 100g (100%) flour. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours, then remove 3/4 and refresh in equal quantities. Leave another 24 hours, by which time the mixture should have fermented again. For the next refreshment add sufficient fresh flour and water to make enough leaven for your baking. Stir well, cover for 24 hours, and use in baking the following day.

Reproduced by kind permission of Dan Lepard from his book, “The Handmade Loaf”, published by Mitchell Beazley, ISBN: 1840009667

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