Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Whole Wheat Sourdough Miche (Pain au Levain Complet)

As I was thinking about how to start off this post, a song came to mind. "Don't Go No Further" by Muddy Waters. So I thought that I would start off my post with a couple of verses from this song that I particularly enjoy. 

"You need grits, go to the grocery
You need fish, go to the sea
You need love, baby
Don't look no further
Just come on home with me

You need money, go to the bank dear
You need honey, look for the bees
You need love, baby
Don't go no further
Just come on home with me" 
-Muddy Waters

This is a very traditional loaf. In fact, this is a bread that was eaten by the lower class throughout Europe. It is made completely from whole wheat flour, although it is important to note that whole wheat flour in France, is quite a bit different from the whole wheat flour that we are accustomed to in the United States. The whole wheat flour in France is a bit more refined than it is in America.

The flour that is used in France is sometimes called 85 flour, because 15% of the coarsest bran is removed. It is possible to do this by blending American whole wheat flour with a bit of bread flour. Although Leader, does not give an exact ratio to use, my good man Jeffrey Hamelman does in his book, Bread. Hamelman recommends using a blend of 85-90 percent 100% whole wheat flour and about 10-15% bread flour. If you are able to find High-Extraction Whole Wheat Flour, you can use this. Although, Hamelman's formula does not use bread flour only, this high extraction wheat flour in Leader's formula is a bit different. All of the formulas in Local Bread, by Leader are adaptations. They are Leader's representations of what he tried while he was traveling through Europe. This might not be the most authentic Miche, but the dough was very similar to the one that I made last year using Hamelman's formula. So I have no problems with Leader's methods.

This bread starts off with a whole wheat sourdough build. This involves taking a stiff levain made from bread flour, and feeding it with whole wheat flour and water. This is important because it develops a very significant acidic taste, and is much stronger than builds that are fed with only bread flour. The color is much darker and it is a bit more difficult to combine the ingredients. For this reason, it is important to really knead it inside the bowl that you are using. This will ensure that all of the flour is incorporated. Leader suggests tipping the bowl with one hand while kneading with the other.  Personally, I suggest simply kneading it. I do not think it matters exactly how you decide to go about it.  Just make sure that all of the ingredients are well incorporated. 

The bread is mixed the next day and involves a few extra steps. First, you create an autolyse (see glossary) This means that the flour and water are mixed until a shaggy mass is formed. (DO NOT add the salt or levain yet)  This shaggy mass is covered and allowed to sit for approximately twenty minutes. This allows for some gluten development and helps with extensibility. When the time is up, the levain and salt are added to the mass and is then incorporated loosely with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. The dough is then placed in an electric mixer. I mixed this loaf at first speed for several minutes, then I mixed on second speed for about five minutes. Just watch your dough in the bowl. Once it starts to slap against the sides of the mixing bowl, give the dough a gluten check.  If it is ready, start to ferment it.  If it is not ready, let it go another sixty seconds. Considering how much whole wheat flour is in this bread you will be surprised at how smooth and light it is. The gluten development will be profound and you will be surprised

I would like to mention some of the changes that Leader has incorporated into this formula. He uses 20% bread flour (100 of the 500g of flour weight) and the rest comes from whole wheat flour. This is a bit more bread flour than I traditionally would have used. I would have used probably close to 50-75 grams. I think that this added to the lightness of the dough. I have yet to taste the bread, and I will not be able to taste it until later because I am bringing it to a Fondue Potluck. I thought it would make a great bread for fondue. It's strong and its flavor will hold up even with the addition of fondue. (Our little secret: I am aslo bringing a Couronne which I will post about within the next few days.)

This bread is unique in that it is shaped into a loose round and pinched tight. Then it is proofed upside down. This upside-down proofing helps to ensure that the bread maintains a low profile. You are looking for a low and dense loaf (there will still be plenty of air holes). If you do not have a couche, Leader suggests that you take a large strainer and place a towel inside of it. Make sure that it has been dusted with plenty of whole wheat flour.

I used this method, but I think that the colander was a bit too deep because the dough got taller than I expected. I am not upset with the appearance because it has a wonderful brown color, and it got lovely oven spring.

The last time that I made this bread, I used Hamelman's formula. I proofed it on a wooden cutting board and then did my best to flip it onto the stone and score it as fast as I could.  Considering the difficulty of doing this, I was not displeased with the results. I liked the use of the colander because it made the flip so much easier. With the colander you gently rest one hand on the top of the loaf and with the other hand gently turn the colander upside down. Do your best to gently place the dough on a floured peel. I didn't realized how much flour I placed on the towel prior to proofing the loaf until I noticed the amount of flour that was all over my arms and stomach. 

I did learn an important scoring lesson. It is customary for the miche to be scored using a box pattern. Leader notes in his book that when making this pattern it is very important that none of the slashes overlap or else the loaf will rupture during the bake. In the pictures you will see that one of my slashes slightly overlapped and it caused the score to tear slightly. Luckily it did not ruin the look of the finished product. This was a great lesson to have learned. I was having trouble with this scoring pattern, so a good solid tip really helped me. So I thought that I would share it will all of you. 

Here are the photos of the finished product:

You can see the small rupture I mentioned above

And the lovely square pattern

I would have preferred and open crumb but this bread was absolutley marvelous with the Guinness and swiss and gruyere fondue that I prepared at Caryn's Potluck this past Saturday. I would strongly suggest the combination!

I have been trying to figure out why the commenting has not been working so well. I found out that "Chrome" does not support it well. I am sorry about this. Whereas I am a "Chrome" user, this is particularly frustrating to me because my blog is on "Blogger" and both Chrome and Blogger are google programs. Weird! Anyways keep trying!

Bake on


  1. Dave! I LOVE the Muddy Waters quote, I'm going to look up that song immediately. Also, the scoring (yes? is that the right term?) on this loaf is just gorgeous. I'm still curious though, why is the scored part darker? Wouldn't it have all cooked the same?

  2. It is called a "grigne". But, score is fine. Secondly, it is usually the chemical reaction from the steam.