Recipe Review: French Country Boule from Local Breads

Looks pretty good, right?

Alas, this loaf made from Local Breads by Daniel Leader fell far short of our hopes and expectations. Read on for the whole saga...

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This country boule started the night before with a liquid levain, one type of preferment commonly used for sourdoughs. We used our own starter instead of making a new one following Leader's instructions. After examining his recipe and ours, they both seemed to result in the same liquid-to-flour ratio.

The trouble came the next morning when we started mixing the dough.

The recipe told us to mix just the water and the flours (a mix of whole wheat, rye, and all-purpose), and let this paste sit for 20 minutes before adding the other ingredients. This gives the water time to absorb into the flour and start activating the enzymes.

This seemed logical, but then blending the liquid levain into the now-solid mass of dough was near impossible. We tried to cut the levain into the dough, but ended up with soggy clumps instead of an even mixture. Next time, we think we'll mix the levain into the water first, mix in the flour, and then let the dough rest.

Finally we decided to just start kneading. Since we prefer to knead our bread by hand, this was a sticky prospect. We used a bench scraper and worked the dough as well as we could without adding too much flour.

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Even so, we ended up adding an extra cup of flour over the next fifteen minutes of kneading to keep it from sticking to the counter, our hands, and every other surface (see left).

Summer humidity could account for some of that extra flour, but not all of it. We felt like either there was something off in the recipe or our starter was actually more liquidy than Leader's, resulting in a higher ratio of liquid in our dough.

Proofing and shaping the dough wasn't a problem. As you can see, they baked off with ruddy red-brown crusts that crackled as the loaves came out of the oven. The interior had a tender crumb with holes of different sizes.

But the taste was bland and flat, most likely due to all the extra flour we needed to add. The sourdough did have a subtle but distinct presence and we felt that the combination of the three flours has the potential for a well-balanced flavor. This gives us hope that this could be a good bread if we can figure out the problem with the liquid-flour ratio.

A frustrating bread-baking experience. Has anyone else tried this recipe? Any thoughts on what we could do differently?

Related: Look! DIY Oat Flour from a Year in Bread

(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)

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