The classic sourdough bread boule from La Farm Bakery, perfected over decades by baker Lionel Vatinet
August 22nd, 2018
La Farm Bakery's five-pound sourdough boule is Lionel Vatinet's signature bread. He developed it during his years studying with bread bakers across Europe when he was in the centuries-old bread bakers guild, Les Compagnons du Devoir. It was created as a throw back to the breads families baked in community ovens in villages across the French countryside, to feed their families all week long. Lionel was kind enough to share his signature recipe with the Chef Iso community.
If you have never made bread before, this recipe may appear quite involved. Like any quality bread recipe, the process will take your full day—and that assumes you have a sourdough starter already. Fortunately, most of the time is spent waiting for the yeast to do its work, so this recipe lends itself well to a home baker's weekend activity.
Note that this recipe requires a pre-ferment, so if you do not have a sourdough levain starter ready to use, you will have to ferment one from scratch several days in advance.
Makes 1 large 5-pound boule
Using sourdough cultures will produce a more consistent result closer to the bread of the region used (French sourdough, San Francisco sourdough, etc.). However you can opt for using wild yeast, which often works well.
This step must be done five days in advance of baking the bread. If you already have a mature levain starter to work with, you can skip this section. If using cultured sourdough yeast, add it on the first day according to the instructions on the package. Otherwise, add no yeast to allow wild yeast to take hold in the mixture.
Day One: Mix and Wait
On the first day, mix the initial ingredients: 250 grams whole wheat flour, 250 grams warm water (8.8 ounces each).
Leave the mixture uncovered for two hours, then cover the mixture, and leave in a warm place (80°F / 26°C) overnight.
Day Two: Feed and Strengthen
On the second and following days, removing some of the mixture and feeding your starter encourages the yeasts to grow.
This may seem like a waste, but it's a necessary step to allow the cultures to grow to their full potential.
Mix in another 250 grams of the flour, and 250 grams of the water (8.8 ounces each) again. Cover the mixture and let sit overnight.
Days Three, Four, and Five: Repeat
You should be left with a fairly liquid starter that produces bubbles. Transfer to a jar. It is now ready to use.
Note that you can continue to feed your starter periodically to keep the yeasts active for many future baking days.
When making this recipe, Lionel recommends keeping a Dough Log to track the progress of your dough. Think of it as a baking diary. Not only will it be helpful in remembering when you need to perform the next step, it will also help you track your progress so you can improve your baking for future breads.
When your levain is ready to use, scale all ingredients and set aside before doing any mixing. Measure the temperature of the water and make sure it is the right temperature to encourage the yeast: 82°F to 84°F (27°C - 28°C) for hand mixing, 65°F to 70°F (18°C - 21°C) for using a stand mixer. Note the temperature in your Dough Log.
Mix by hand 5 to 15 minutes, or with a heavy-duty stand mixer using a dough hook for 5 minutes on low-speed and 2 minutes on medium-low speed. Measure the dough temperature. It should be between 72°F to 80°F (22°C - 26°C). Record it in the Dough Log.
Set the dough aside for 3 hours to allow the yeast to do its work. The dough should rise significantly in one hour. Fold the dough over once each hour.
After three hours, dust a work surface with flour and unmold the dough.
This begins to work direction into your bread so it will "spring" upwards in the oven. Be careful not to work upwards so much that the top breaks; the dough should still be fairly "relaxed" and not too tight.
Now leave the dough and allow it to proof for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It should be quite large now, close to the size of the final product.
Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C) and place your Baking Stone in the middle rack. Leave it until it is hot, at least 15 minutes. The Baking Stone accelerates heating the bottom of the boule, causing it to "spring" much faster. For such a large boule, you must use a Baking Stone or the weight will result in a flattened boule.
Throw a light dusting of flour over the top of the loaf and score the top using a lame (pronounced "luh-may"). This scoring is essential to create weak points for the dough to expand through. Failing to score or scoring too shallow will make the inner dough burst through the side, giving a messy appearance. If you do not have a lame, you can use a razor blaze or very sharp knife.
Transfer the boule from the baking surface to the Baking Stone by quickly sliding it off. Bake at 450°F (232°C) on a Baking Stone for approximately 40 minutes, until the bread is a deep, golden brown.
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