It is week two in my month-long quest to bake the “perfect” loaf of bread, inspired by William Alexander’s new book 52 Loaves. (Ok, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. . . yet. I’ll be totally happy if I make a decent loaf of bread, and don’t break anything in my kitchen.)
My apples from last week fermented and bubbled, achieving the proper “cider” odor that William Alexander called for in his recipe, so it was time to move forward to the next step in making my own natural yeast, called levain.
Now, William Alexander is very, very strongly in support of using a digital kitchen scale, and relying entirely on the metric system while baking. (To quote him directly, from p. 82 of his book “Memo to the United States of America: CAN WE PLEASE EVERYONE, JUST GO TO THE METRIC SYSTEM AND BE DONE WITH IT? Weren’t we supposed to do this, like, forty years ago?”)
At first I was skeptical, but then I saw a reference to “tenths of an ounce” and understood completely. Grams it is. So, late last night, I made a quick trip to the grocery store in search of a kitchen scale. The only one I could find was humorously packaged as a “Diet Scale” intended, one would assume, to measure portions precisely to the gram. The irony of using it to bake loaf after deliciously carbohydrate-laden loaf of bread was not lost on me.
I strained 150 grams of apple water into the cup of my scale, and combined it with 150 grams of flour (from the 350 grams of all-purpose and whole wheat flour I had already combined earlier) and stirred it with a whisk. Mine wasn’t very whippable, though, to be honest . . . Also, it needs to be whipped (or glopped, as the case may be) every few hours to incorporate air. (It is very important to keep the starter aerated during these first few days.)
The rest of my week will be devoted to adding equal amounts of (dechlorinated) tap water and flour mixture daily, until in about a week’s time I will have a levain that is ready to use. (Chlorine in tap water can actually kill the yeast while you are making bread. If you have chlorinated tap water, no need to buy a bottle of Evian. Just leave it out to sit overnight and the chlorine will dissipate on its own.)
From what I have learned from reading 52 LOAVES, I am pretty sure that the completion of my levain will only be the beginning of my baking journey.
Want to learn more about William Alexander’s fascinating book 52 LOAVES? Listen to his interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition this week. He talks about making his own bread starter, his year of baking, and his family’s unending patience with his weekly ritual. Click here.