A Stir The Pots Post

Requiem for a tired levain or fruity for rye.

by | Nov 1, 2008 | Bread

I just got an order of rye from from Bob's Red Mill, but as usual I was depending on nearly starved stock  levain to make my dream loaves rise. It's not so easy, and my lazy-baker ways, as well as the deeply bad planning that go with them, made for some tired bread. When am I going to learn? As the sages of ancient kitchens might say… whatever. Thing is to get up and try again. Soooo… playing dutiful son following a failure, I gathered both my rye and my white levains and fed them best I could. Though famished, they could still bubble and burp. My goal was to remake a loaf of rye with raisins and cranberries.

The first attempt was with a dormant rye levain that I hadn't fed for a good two weeks.  With a short cycle of about eight hours between the feed and an impatient baker (moi!), I commenced making the dough, gave it an hour to proof and stuck it in the fridge. Returning home later in the evening, I removed the dough, and shaped it into a loaf pan. It looked sluggish and a bit more like clay, which could only be attributed to the rather tired levain not having sufficient nutrients or time to re-awaken. So I decided let it sit out till morning wake up in the dark hours of dawn and bake it, cross my fingers and hope for the best!

Even with good intentions, I found the dark rye dough to be a bit like hard tack with sweet fruit. So instead of using the dark, I substituted white rye. In the end, observing was my primary goal, whatever the color of this batch of rye. And so I made the dough late at night, decided not to retard it, and since my hometown (Queens, New York) was experiencing winter temperatures, I decided to just leave the dough on a long proof for approximately five hours, then wake up to shape and bake. To my surprise after letting it sit overnight, the dough didn't over-proof. It was really nicely rounded and had movement. And with just a bit of shaping  it only needed an hour to rise and… voila (or in Emeril's vocabulary… "bam!"), in and out of the oven and my blessed baby came out like a beautiful fruited rye! So what is the moral of the story? Feed your levain and observe all your steps. Don't be a lazy son of a gun baker like me!

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Raisin-Cranberry white rye

Makes a loaf of around 750g

first feed: 17g flour
(I used straight white, you could use dark rye I think or even whole wheat to give a different profile?)
17 g water
9g Starter

second feed:
43g flour
43g water
43g Starter

130 g Wheat flour
234 White rye
200g Water
8 g   Salt
42g Raisins

Feed your levain, I give mine two feeds, once in the morning and then in the evening before the bake. Or I feed a big batch of stock levain and then bake like mad!
You can proceed with this dough either by hand or machine, try the Dan Lepard method or even Jim Lahey if you decide to do a long overnight proof like I did? I soaked the fruits as well and strained them before adding them to the dough.

Happy baking!


  1. Susan/Wild Yeast

    Feed your levain… funny how that works! 😉 That retake is truly a noble loaf.

  2. Jeremy

    I am not worthy, just a lazy baker just too ambitious and so not scheduled, it’s the dreamy art genes in me!


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