A friend of 52 Loaves and All Things Bread, Barry Yatt of Arlington, Virginia, was recently awarded "Grand Champion" at the Arlington County Fair for, as he describes it, "a loaf that is basically your Pain Levain with flax and poppy." Readers of 52 Loaves may (or probably not) remember that my own pain au levain won only 2nd prize at the New York State Fair, so perhaps the lesson here is that is I should let others do the baking for me. So that you can bake this at home, Barry has kindly supplied the recipe. As he once mailed me a loaf (please note, readers, that I don't exactly encourage this, having made as many enemies as friends in my reckless pursuit of perfect bread), I can vouch that this is terrific bread. (Well, my taster can, at least).
Congrats, Barry! Here's his recipe, which makes 4 loaves. Barry notes, without irony, that "Since it's mostly I who eat it, I freeze them until I finish the prior loaf, and then toast it or pop the whole loaf back in the oven for ten minutes."Grand Champion Pain au Levain with Flax and Poppy
Makes 4 loaves
750 grams levain (see my levain recipe)
750 grams all-purpose flour
112 grams whole wheat flour
38 grams rye flour
50 grams flax seed
517 grams water
25 grams salt
Poppy seeds for coating the loaves
- At least 2 hours before beginning (you can do this the night before), feed levain as follows: Remove levain from refrigerator and add equal parts flour and room-temperature water. Stir/whip well, incorporating oxygen, and leave on the countertop, with the cover slightly ajar. Starter should be bubbling and lively when you begin your bread.
- Place a large bowl on your scale and zero out the scale. Add all ingredients except the poppy seeds.
- Mix thoroughly with a wet hand until the dough is
homogeneous. Mist a piece of plastic wrap with vegetable oil spray,
press it directly onto the dough, and leave the dough to autolyse (rest) for
Kneading and fermentation
- Knead by hand 7-9 minutes or use a stand mixer with a dough hook for 2-3 minutes. Knead until dough is elastic and smooth.
- Clean out and dry the mixing bowl (no soap), mist with
vegetable oil spray, and replace the dough. Place the oiled plastic wrap
back onto the dough. Ferment at room temperature (68 -72 degrees is
ideal) for 4 to 5 hours.
Form and proof the loaves
- Using your hand or a flexible pastry scraper, remove the dough to a floured countertop. Create 4 oblong loaves (2 to 2-1/2 times as long as wide) by sliding a rectangular stainless steel dough scraper along the cutting board toward the center of the loaf from either side – maybe 3 to 6 quick jabs on each side, making it both narrower and taller and tightening the top skin. It also lets me work in a little flour between board and dough to reduce sticking before starting the proofing rise.
- Then coat loaves with poppy seeds (I just very gently press them onto the surface)
- Cover with the same piece of plastic wrap and set aside to proof, support by the folds of a couche or folded parchment paper, 1½ to 2 hours.
- While dough is proofing, place a baking stone in
lower third of oven, and an old cast iron skillet or pan on the bottom
shelf. Preheat oven to its highest setting.
Score and bake
- After 1½ to 2 hours, when the dough is proofed (another term for the second rise), it should have increased in volume by about half, and feel slightly springy. Transfer each loaf to a peel that is liberally sprinkled with rice flour or corn meal (or covered with a piece of parchment paper, but note that the paper will burn if you preheat the oven to 550°F).
- After transferring to the peel, just before placing in the oven, slash with a lame or single-edged razor at a slight angle across the loaf, giving it 4 or 5 dramatic bars that contrast poppy crust against plain crust.
- Immediately slide loaf (including paper, if using parchment) onto stone and, wearing an oven mitt, add 1 cup water to skillet. Try to minimize the time the oven door is open.
- Set oven temperature to 480°F.
- After 20-25 minutes, or when loaves have turned dark brown, reduce oven temperature to 425°F.
- Bake until loaves register 210°F in center, about 35 to 45 minutes with an instant-read thermometer, or until a rap on the bottom of the loaf produces a hollow, drum-like sound.
- Remove bread to a rack and cool for at least 2 hours before serving.
Prepare the dough