Homage to Poilâne

First loaf – my bready memoires…

Nothing, NOTHING compares to the feeling you have when you take out of the oven your own first loaf of bread. You participate in something very special then. This wonderful smell washes away the shadows of that long time you spent trying to follow your first bread recipe. The smell in incomparable to anything else you know. With my first bread I realised why bread is the symbol of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Because it is so good. And the good news is that you can repeat this phenomenon. Hand-made loaf, fresh from the oven, is always a feast.

And after all this is not so difficult. Just follow simple instructions written by experience itself. Look for the good advice of the people who ate the bread from many ovens…

Many loaves have been baked and eaten since I made my first loaf of bread. My revelation was The Bread Book by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake read three years ago. Ever since I keep discovering this very passionate and reasonable book. Certainly I can recommend it to everyone because everyone can make bread with this book if only he or she can read… All of you who has never made a simple cake, start believe.

I attempted three times to produce working sourdough. First two times were really discouraging but now… Keep thinking about the results to come, not about the failures. The whole matter is worth trying. It is not an easy matter but only for the first time ( O.K. – even for the third, so what?!). I wish to share my latest discovery which I concerned my best bread so far. It reminds me of the long way I passed since my first loaf, keeps me awake for the future results, and makes me hungry for more...

Poilâne... Douce France...

The more you know about the French gastronomy, the more you admit it is the world’s best cuisine. Is there anyone who hasn’t heard about the Poilâne bread? Bread icon yet, convincing and true, with the ‘taste that really registers wheat’. Saying that this is a sourdough bread, made of stoneground flour and baked in the wood-fired brick ovens will be just the specification. Real Poilâne bread is something much more. This is the authentic sophistication of the baking art, carefully chosen ingredients, baking metod improved over years and live human impact on every stage. This bread is created with care and love.

This is what you can achieve when you do something, when you do anything in fact, with passion, with strong belief, when you work hard and – when you have some talent. Lionel Poilâne certainly was an artist, gifted and hard-working. And –very knowledgeable and conscious of the matter for he was right that historia vitae magistra. Great bread is the result of the centuries’ experience, and the courage of looking forward as well. So don’t be surprised that his bread is so sincere.

Great bread embodies what is the staple of our life: good, work, care about others, sharing ourselves with others. That’s the Poilâne.

Let’s share this passion! A sourough bread is a kind of mistery, true, but the one to be solved. This is chemistry, true, but try to do it without using your heart, no way. Some say that sourdough is like an infant and you need to be very careful about it. Don’t panic. Your child will grow and will not need so much attention, and you also will learn how to react properly. If you know the nature of the wild yeast and get confident things become natural.

General notes on wild yeast

1. Take your time. Do not rush. That’s the pleasure, not a race.

2. Know the nature. Wild yeast are unicellar organisms classified in the kingdom of Fungi. Saccharomyces can be found in water and air, on plants, fruits and grains. They need humidity and warmth to grow. In the good dough they multiply together with lactic acid bacteria giving the bread the final texture, taste and smell. Sweet environment and slight acidity are stimulating for their growth, so some recipes suggest to add sugar or alcohol to the starter. Salt and fat slow down the process, so we add these at the stage of making the dough.

3. Multiplying yeasts feed on sugars naturally contained in the flour. This is the limited source so that is why you need to supply your yeasts. Avoid the situation when your starter dies of hunger. Use the common sense, sourdough kept in the fridge doesn’t work much so it doesn’t need feeding up to a month. However if you are refreshing your sourdough you need to add some fresh water and flour. It will grow quickly in warm conditions. When all is fermented you need to make a dough, otherwise the sourdough will eat itself and die.

4. Yeasts breathe and produce gases (carbon dioxide and ethanol) as well. This is why you cannot cover working sourdough tightly. Wet cloth is the best to cover it because natural yeasts from the air can penetrate into the sourdough. It also prevents drying out the surface of the sourdough which means cutting off the oxygen for the inner parts and death of the microorganisms. Sourdough kept in the fridge doesn’t need neither additional stimulation of the organisms from the air nor more of the oxygen. You may notice however that it is still breathing as produced ethanol have no way out and accumulate in the container – what can be easily felt on opening the container. Two much of alcohol will kill our yeasts. Again you need to refresh and use it from time to time.

5. Temperature is crucial. Why sometimes our sourdough develops slightly different types of organisms, let’s say moulds? Yeah, right. Two low temperature activates other organisms than wild yeast, two high will kill them. The best temperature for yeasts to grow is between 27 and 35 Celsius degrees. The best temperature to store it is around 6 to 10 Celsius degrees.

Now when you know it, all should go well.

First steps with your sourdough

Sourdough can be made of different kinds of flour, however rye flour seems to be the most suitable. Rye sourdough can be used not only for the rye breads but also for other ones. Read carefully and for the first time exactly follow the recipe. When you know the pattern and the nature you can be more adventurous.


50 g rye flour
50 g water

Mix and leave in warm place for about three days, covered with wet cloth.
Use 1-litre capacity container. Glass one let you watching yeasts better.
You can stir it with a spoon once a day.
Warm temperature means between 27 and 35 Celsius degrees, and no draughts.
Cloth has to be wet all the time.
Don’t worry about the colour, texture and smell.
Unless you notice mould.
If you discover bubbles, congratulation, that’s the sourdough conception.
If there is no bubbling, but also no signs of spoiling, go to the nex point. There is still hope. It may start working on the fourth day. If it was once looking good but on adding more flour and water is not, just wait. It will work.
For the loaf you need more or less three fifth of sourdough and two fifth of flour. Keep feeding the sourdough until you reach the required amount and watch your sourdough becoming stronger.


4th day – add 50 g rye flour and 50 g water, mix, ALL THE TIME KEEP IN WARM PLACE
5th day – repeat
6th day - repeat
7th day-repeat

Every step from this part doesn't need to take necessarily exact 24 hours. I keep looking at my sourdough, if it is nice bubbled within the whole surface (as shown at the photograph below), I add the next part of flour and water. If not, I wait a little bit longer until it reaches this level of fermentation. I learnt by trial and error that usually temperature is the problem. KEEP IT IN THE WARM PLACE IF YOU WANT IT WORK.

On the 8th day you should have nice, fermented sourdough. If not, leave it 1-2 days more. The sourdough is ready when the surface in bubbled, grey in colour, bubbles burst leaving holes in the sourdough, there is some loose water at the bottom and the whole structure is very delicate, unstable and can be easily destroyed with the touch.
This sourdough is ready to ferment the dough for our bread.

Put 50 grams of this sourdough to the plastic container with a lid and keep it for the next time you wish to bake. This can be stored in a fridge up to a month. I try to bake every week or two. With the first fresh sourdough bread may not be as spectacular as the later ones, when the sourdough gets stronger. You will notice the difference with every next use. Don’t neglect all the rules you already know about keeping your sourdough in good form.

Wheat rye bread on rye sourdough

Ingredients for one big loaf or two small:

450 g rye sourdough
100 g rye flour
515 g wheat flour
1 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
200 g warm water

1. Mix in all the ingredients in a bowl and take out on the flat surface.

2. Knead until the dough will be elastic and have no bumps. It will be quite soft and even a little bit running.

This is typical for the rye breads. They can’t form the gluten structure, they are humid and heavy. They cannot hold its structure so they have to rise in forms or baskets.

In mixed bread like this one, by kneading you develop the gluten structure in the dough what will give the loaf a lighter structure and a special flavour. This is also the most pleasurable activity in the whole bread making process. I love the touch of bread, this skin-like soft texture. This is what God must have felt when he was creating man.

3. Form the dough into a ball (or two if you make 2 small loaves), coat it with the wheat flour and place in forms for rising. Leave in a warm place (yes, 27-35 Celsius degrees) for about two hours until the loaf is doubled in size.

The bottom of the loaf should be faced upwards if you are placing the loaf in the form only for rising and you are not going to bake in it! For rising use a baking tin covered with oil or a basket covered with the clean dry cloth heavily dusted with the wheat flour.

Proofing time depends on the temperature and the power of the sourdough. With young sourdough the process will take more time. Do not hurry. Wait as long as it is necessary until the loaf doubles its size.

The loaf is generally ready to bake if your finger leaves a hole in the dough. If the hole disappears quickly, the fermentation still takes place. Wait. With a gentle touch you can also estimate if the loaf still is going to keep its shape. Put it in the oven if you feel that it reaches its maximum extent while it is able to maintain the shape.

4. Make a superficial cut around the top of the round loaf and immediately put to the oven.

Loaf proofing in a basket: turn out quickly and place on an oiled tray. You can make a fast, superficial cut. Immediately put to the oven.

The cloth must be well dusted, otherwise the dough will stick to it and the whole structure will be destroyed while removing it from the basket. You need to be fast and delicate at the same time. If the dough sticks somewhere, try to release it carefully.

This one was proofed in a big pot covered with dusted cloth and removed on an oiled surface to the tart form to support its sides.

5. Put to the hot oven at 210 C°. This will catch the shape of the bread. After ten minutes you can reduce to 200 C°. Bake for about 45 minutes (small loaves) to one hour (the big one).

6. Knock on the bottom of the bread. The baked one will greet you with the hollow sound. Leave on the rack to cool down. Breathe in the unique, unforgettable aroma. Cut when it gets cold. Enjoy up to a week.

Refreshing sourdough for the next bread

Refreshing sourdough will take about 12 hours in normal conditions, the process can be fasten in the appropriate temperature. I take out of the fridge the remaining 50 g of sourdough in the evening, mix it and leave overnight.

50 g rye sourdough
150 g rye flour
300 g warm water

These proportions come from the book Bread Matters. The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own by Andrew Whitley, which I highly esteem and recommend.

Mix all the ingredients and leave in a warm place, covered with the wet cloth. Use when it gets fermented, putting aside 50 g in the fridge for the next loaf. You can follow my wheat rye bread recipe with this sourdough or try something new. Possibilities are countless.

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