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My "Daily" Bread

Posted by BConk on Sunday, April 5, 2009

Some people have asked's the recipe I use to make my favorite bread.

This is a wild yeast Pain au Levain made following Reinhart's formula as it appears in "Crust & Crumb"

I love this bread - it's not anywhere near as sour in taste as a sourdough bread and it makes a wonderful loaf with a great crust - perfect for sandwiches or to serve with all sorts of food.

First you make a seed starter, then an intermediate starter, then you make your bread dough. Despite the number of steps, in my opinion the beauty of this recipe is its simplicity - yes it seems complicated at first, but unlike sourdough starters, which you have to feed regularly and then elaborate into an intermediate starter every time before making bread  - with this recipe you maintain a piece of dough taken from one batch of bread to serve as a "levain" or "chef" for the next. You "feed" it by making bread with it. Simple!

The seed starter takes at least 4 days to make but don't be discouraged - once it's done you'll have the basis for a very simple recipe that you can use every day for making an excellent bread.


Day One -
1 cup organic whole wheat flour
1/3 cup room temperature spring water

Comments - It's best to use organic whole wheat flour as the wheat used was not treated to kill insects or fungus (like the yeast that you want to encourage). The wheat berries have yeast growing on them in the field before they're harvested. When the wheat is milled into flour, that yeast is not lost - it is lying dormant needing only water to start growing and multiplying again. By using whole wheat, you're getting the most wild yeast because it is on the outside bran of the wheat berry that the yeast grows. With white flours, this outer coating is polished off - along with most of the yeast. You can use regular (non-organic) whole wheat flour if you must - but most markets have organic whole wheat flour these days so...why not? It's also best to use spring water - always - as the chlorine in most tap water can have a negative effect on the yeast you want to grow - but you can also use filtered bottled water or, if you have a well, tap water, as long as the water is not hard or chlorinated.

Directions - Mix the water and flour and knead them on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes until you have a smooth ball of dough. Press this dough down into a clear plastic or glass pint container and even off the top of the dough. Mark the outside of the container at the level of the top of the dough. Cover it with plastic wrap and let is sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2
1 cup unbleached bread flour
1/3 cup room temp spring water

Comments - You're converting the whole wheat dough to a bread flour dough - by the time you're ready to make bread, the whole wheat content is negligible and will decrease with each batch of bread. ..unless you switch it back to whole wheat of course.

Directions - Take the dough ball out and cut it into several pieces. Mix the pieces with the water and bread flour in a clean bowl and turn it out to knead it until it's a homogenous ball of dough. Cut this dough ball in half and press the half piece into the plastic container again - it should be right at the mark you left on the container the day before. Cover it again with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temps for at least another 24 hours. You can throw out the unused half of the doughball. 

Day 3 -
Directions - Do not remove the dough ball from the container until you can see by the mark that it has doubled in volume. This may take more or less than the 24 hours you gave it. When it has doubled, give it the same treatment you gave it on Day 2, pressing the doughball back to the original mark and let it rise another 24 hours or until it triples in volume - whichever comes first.

Comments - the above is what Reinhart says to do..I waited nearly 48 hours and my dough ball had risen substantially - but it had not doubled. I went on and fed it came out fine.

Day 4
Directions - Once the dough has tripled in volume - mix in another 1 cup of bread flour and 1/3 cup of water - knead to a dough but DO NOT throw out half of it - keep the dough ball intact, cover it again and allow it to ferment at room temps for 4 hours or so. This piece is now the finished seed starter.

Note - once again, my seed starter failed the mark. It did not fully triple in volume but it came close so I went on to the next stage and the results were excellent.

INTERMEDIATE STARTER - Don't worry - you only have to make this once!
1 cup seed starter described above
6 tbspns room temp spring water.
1 cup unbleached bread flour

Mix the ingredients and knead on a lightly floured surface just until it's well blended. Place this intermediate starter in a clean bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, let it ferment at room temps for 4 hours - then refrigerate overnight. Tightly wrap any seed starter you have left over in plastic wrap and stow it in the freezer as a back-up. It will keep for three months or so.


Makes 2 boules or one big batard

∙ Intermediate Starter described above
∙ 5 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour (I just weigh out 24 ounces)
∙ 2 cups room temp spring water

 -Remove the intermediate starter from the fridge an hour beforehand to let it warm up some. Mix all the intermediate starter (it should be about 12 ounces) with the ingredients listed above. Blend these ingredients by hand or in a stand mixer for about 3 minutes or so until they're homogenized into a dough
- then cut off a 12 ounce piece of this dough and put it in a plastic container big enough to allow it to double in size. This is the "chef" or "levain" for your next batch*. If you skip this and fail to remove the chef  you'll have to go back to your seed starter and make a intermediate starter so....

After you've taken the chef for the next batch, add to the dough left in your mixer:
∙ 2 1/2 tsps salt
∙ Optional - 1 tsp sugar, brown sugar, honey or preferred sweetener...(.I like to add 1 tsp diastatic malt powder instead but it's hard to find - so I made some myself.... but that's another recipe ;)

Knead for another 4 minutes or so with the dough hook or by hand for maybe 10 minutes - either way the dough should pass the "windowpane test" which means a small piece of the dough can be stretched by hand until you can hold it up to the light and see a translucent window. If the dough breaks before you can see the window knead it some more.

Put the kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl big enough to allow it to double. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it someplace warm with no drafts for 3 hours or so. I have a proofing drawer in the bottom of my oven but you can usually get a constant 80° from an oven with the light on inside...or the pilot light with the door ajar. Don't be worried if it doesn't rise too much - but it should have puffed up a little before you go on to the next step.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently divide it in two and form boules.  cover them loosely with plastic wrap and let them sit for 10 minutes then form the boules again.

Place the boules on cornmeal dusted parchment paper on the backs of baking sheets. Cover them - I use a big plastic bowl under which the boule can rise all it wants and never touch the bowl. I spray the inside of the bowl with water to raise the humidity. You can also use oiled plastic wrap - but it will tend to make the boule's flatten out. However you cover them - let them proof in a warm place for 3-4 hours until you can poke the top gently with a wet finger and the depression slowly starts to fill in - but does not fill in completely -  then you can either bake the loaves or better yet - move the whole affair to the refrigerator overnight.

If you hold them overnight - the next morning you will take the baking pan/boule/dome assemblies out and let them warm up at room temps for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450° or 400° if you have a convection oven like I do. Place an empty cast iron skillet or rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack. Once the oven comes to temp - quickly open the oven door, pour a cup of hot water into the skillet - then spritz the inside walls of the oven with water - be careful not to spray the light! Then close the door while you slash the top of the loaves with a sharp serrated knife or a razor lame - in a criss cross pattern about 1/2 deep put the loaves in the oven and spritz the walls again. close the door and bake them for 15 minutes before you switch the racks top and bottom and rotate the pans front to back.

Bake for 1/2 an hour - then turn the heat off but leave the loaves in for another 10 minutes -

Remove the loaves from the oven and let them cool off COMPLETELY before you cut into them. This is very important! The bread has to come to room temperature before it's truly "done". Cutting into it tempting as it seems, will cause moisture to escape from the crumb and the bread will suffer as a result.

NOTE - My preferred method for baking is to bake each boule individually using a pizza or baking stone and a flowerpot cloche. I proof the boule on parchment paper on the back of a small pizza pan with a dome over it. When it's time to bake I use the pan as a peel and slide the loaf carefully on to a baking stone or pizza stone which has been preheated with the oven. I made my "cloche" using a new, unglazed Italian terra cotta flower pot, an eyebolt and some washers. This cloche gets preheated along with the baking stone for a good 40 minutes before baking. I put the boule onto the pizza stone and immediately cover it with the preheated cloche.  The cloche holds all the steam that comes out of the dough and makes for a very nice rise in the oven and a thin and crispy crust.  After 15 minutes, I remove the cloche (make sure you already have a place to put it!) The boule then bakes for another 15 minutes without it. 

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*The "Chef"

Remember the piece of dough you took just before you mixed in the salt? That's the chef for your next batch. To make the next and every subsequent batch of bread from a chef - merely mix it with the 5 1/4 cups of bread flour and 2 cups of room temp spring water from the bread recipe before you cut off your next 12 ounce chef. Then you go ahead and add the salt and sugar to your bread dough. The salt will adversely effect the wild yeast so you always take out your "chef" before adding the salt to your bread. Put the chef in a tupperware container and let it rise 12 hours at room temps. If you're not going to use it immediately, you can refrigerate it for up to 5 days - or freeze it. I keep my chef in a dedicated container and each time I make it I write the date on the top with a Sharpie and cross off the last date. This way I can keep track of how old the chef is. Reinhart says it will keep 3 days - I've left it for up to 5 day and gotten excellent results be the judge.



7 comments on “My "Daily" Bread”

mainejohn Says:
Sunday, April 5, 2009 @12:26:19 PM

No way can I do that...just send me a loaf!

BConk Says:
Sunday, April 5, 2009 @12:28:44 PM

yeah yeah...what have you got that's better to do with your time ;)

frailin Says:
Sunday, April 5, 2009 @12:35:54 PM

Hey!  I'll take a loaf, too. I got tired just reading your blog.  Now I'm hungry too.  Dang.  And no bread for bread. 

PruchaLegend Says:
Sunday, April 5, 2009 @9:49:56 PM

Loved the instructions. But...I don't have to work that hard to make my sourdough bread. On the other hand, I'd sure like a loaf of yours. I'll look you up the next time I'm in Connecticut.

BConk Says:
Monday, April 6, 2009 @8:26:39 AM

Work? Making good bread is not hard work - it's a pleasure ;)  The only way I can imagine a sourdough recipe being less complicated than this is if you buy, or are given, an active starter. I don't see how making a sourdough starter from scratch and then feeding it on a regular basis is any less complicated than this recipe. 

French Says:
Friday, April 24, 2009 @1:49:48 PM

Don't listen to 'em Conk! This is a beautiful recipe, can't wait to try it myself. I'm currently working on my first long-term sourdough starter. Gonna try and let it mature for a month before I think about putting it in the fridge. In the meantime I'm going to keep feeding it and baking with it along the way and compare tastes. French

Voyageur Says:
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 @8:27:18 AM

Thanks for taking the time to explain your methods, conk! I look forward to trying this.


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