Dan Leader’s Quintessential French Sourdough

Since I don’t have enough bread books (ha) I get a lot from the library.  I am usually tempted but manage to resist buying them, but Dan Leader’s Local Breads was an exception (even though I haven’t fully baked my way through his other excellent book, Bread Alone, which got me into bread baking before I discovered Peter Reinhart).  How could I not buy a book that had a recipe for Czech breads?

Not that I’ve made any of those Czech breads (or much else).  Part of the issue is that various types of sourdough are called for in this book–not just wheat and rye, but firm sourdoughs, and even a semolina version.  (My fridge is just not big enough; luckily even the author notes that it might be a bit excessive to keep them all going and that if you have one good starter you can use it to jump start all the others). 

Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking Across America explains how to convert a wet sourdough starter into a firm sourdough (or as Dan Leader calls it, a “stiff dough levain”–my adaptation follows below).  I could have done the math myself I suppose, but this wasn’t going to happen, so I appreciated this bit of work on her part.  And now I could make Pain au Levain from Local Breads!

The most exciting part of making this bread was that I finally achieved windowpane!  This combined with my recent “discovery” of steaming the bread in the initial phases of baking had me very excited.  Because I was so excited to use my bannetons that I got for my birthday I didn’t make the traditional batard shape, but no matter.  (I should have lined my banneton with a cloth.  Be warned!  Washing out the flour just converts it into a paste that sticks in the ridges).

And I loved this bread!  I have a bit of an inability to commit to one bread or the other, but I could see this one being one I’d like to make over and over.  It has a great mildly sour taste (but not overwhelming); and though it’s a white bread it has a bit of wheat and rye which makes it all the more interesting.  I think I could achieve even better windowpane next time (I might have stopped a hair too early) so I’m looking forward to repeats.

A final note on this book–while I do love it there is quite a bit of errata–please check the Bread Alone website for the corrections

Conversion of a liquid starter to a firm starter:

  • 1T liquid starter
  • 1T lukewarm water
  • 1/3c bread flour

Mix the starter and water until frothy.  Add the bread flour and stir (you may need to knead briefly to incorporate).  It should double within 8-12 hours.

I refreshed per the instructions in Dan Leader’s book, which is  a slightly different proportion of flour, water, and starter because you are no longer converting.  In this case it is

  • 1/4c (50g) starter
  • 1/4 c (50g) water
  • 2/3c (95g) bread flour
  • 2T (5g) whole wheat flour

UPDATE:  A day after publishing this post, I was flipping through Bread Baker’s Apprentice and realized that in his basic Sourdough Bread recipe, Reinhart explains how to convert his liquid starter/barm into a levain.  Whoops–so you can find it there too it seems.  What can I say, it’s hard to keep all these different names straight for me!


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