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Bread bulletin: It's ALIVE!

Monday, January 24, 2011

It takes five days to make Dan Lepard's leaven from his book The Handmade Loaf, but I took eight because I neglected to refresh it on three of those days.

Anyway, in the first few days, there was nothing happening in the jar I used. The mixture looked like the paste I use to plug up holes in my walls after drilling them in the wrong place. Even when Mr Lepard said there would start to be activity, I didn't see a single bubble. Had I killed my leaven even before I had started any breadmaking? On the night of the eighth day, I left the jar on the kitchen counter and told myself I would start over the next morning.

And then, something happened. I walked into the kitchen to find a white liquid on the kitchen counter around the jar. It was the leaven. I thought the jar was cracked, but no, it was still intact. And then I realised that the leaven had somehow got out of the tightly lidded Kilner jar like some sort of contortionist. When I opened the lid, I whooped for joy. The reason is in the picture at the top of the post. Yes, this baby was alive and kicking!

The recipe for Mr Lepard's leaven follows. My notes are in red.


Day 1
50g water at 20ºC (I used filtered tap water. The temperature doesn't read on my thermometer; I know it's below 30ºC but this is Malaysia, so I'm sure it's slightly higher than 20ºC)
2 rounded tsp rye flour
2 rounded tsp strong white flour
2 rounded tsp currants or raisins (I used golden raisins)
2 rounded tsp live low-fat yoghurt (my yoghurt was full-fat)
  • Mix all together in a 500ml Kilner jar. Cover and leave at room temperature (approx. 20ºC; in Malaysia, room temperature is around 26ºC/79ºF) for 24 hours.
Day 2
50g water at 20ºC
2 rounded tsp rye flour
2 rounded tsp strong white flour
  • There will be no perceptible change, but the surface will look shiny as the solids separate from the water and sink down in the jar (check). Stir the above into the leaven, starting with the water, followed by the dry ingredients (I didn't read this part carefully and simply added everything at once). Cover and leave again at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day 3
100g water at 20ºC
4 rounded tsp rye flour
4 rounded tsp strong white flour
  • Do the same as Day 2. (This time I added the water first, as asked for in the recipe.)
Day 4
100g water at 20ºC
125g strong white flour
  • Remove and discard ¾ of the mixture (I didn't measure exactly; simply eye-balled it. Also I didn't discard the mixture and instead added it to some bread dough I was already making. I can't say if it helped that loaf, but it certainly didn't hinder). Add the water and stir well. Pour the mixture through a tea strainer to remove raisins. Pour mixture back into jar, add flour and stir well. Cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day 5
100g water at 20ºC
125g strong white flour
  • The surface of the mixture should be bubbling. Remove and discard ¾ of the mixture. Add the water to the remaining mixture and stir well. Pour back into jar. Add flour so that you have a thick paste. Cover and leave again at room temperature for 24 hours. (I left it overnight and the spillover as mentioned at the top of this post is what happened the next morning.)
Each day, as you continue to remove leaven for baking, replace it with an equivalent amount of flour and water.

Note: This is a white leaven. To make a rye leaven, Dan Lepard says to substitute rye flour at each step. Or take some of the white starter and refresh that using solely rye flour and water for a few days. Rye flour needs more liquid to reach the same consistency as a batter made with white flour.
    Using the leaven for the first time
    On the ninth day, I put the jar in the fridge and a few days later I made a loaf using the leaven for the first time (pictured above). The sourdough flavour was still underdeveloped, but it was certainly there. This was inspiring and I aimed to use the leaven once a week, and if I didn't, I promised myself not to forget to feed it. I have killed enough starters by neglecting them. I am happy to report that it has been three weeks, and I have kept to my word. The leaven (no, I am not going to name it!) is smelling fresh and happily awakens after every feed.

    The Handmade Loaf has loads of bread recipes that use the leaven, but I find a lot of them quite daunting. And because the recipes make rather large loaves, I am hoping to get it right the first time to avoid wastage. My first loaf is a relatively simple Sunflower Bread. It didn't come out looking exactly like the picture in Mr Lepard's book, but it doesn't taste bad and there's that lovely crunch of the toasted seeds.

    This is going to YeastSpotting.

    Super seedy
    From The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard

    200g strong white flour
    50g millet flour (I used spelt)
    200g sunflower seeds, lightly toasted
    ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
    50g runny honey
    100g white leaven (recipe above)
    ¾ teaspoon fresh yeast, crumbled (I used just a little more than ¼ teaspoon dried yeast)
    100g water at 20°C
    Beaten egg or milk, for glazing the loaf prior to baking
    • In a large bowl, combine strong white and millet flours with the toasted sunflower seeds and salt. In another bowl or jug, whisk the leaven with the honey, yeast and water. Pour the liquid with the dry ingredients and stir well until you have an evenly combined, soft and sticky dough. Scrape any dough from your fingers, then cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes.
    • Rub 1 teaspoon of corn or olive oil on the work surface and knead the dough on the oiled surface for 10 seconds*, ending with the dough in a smooth, round ball. Clean and dry the bowl, then rub lightly with a teaspoon of oil. Return the dough to the bowl and leave for a further 10 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead once more on the oiled surface, returning the shape to a smooth, round ball. Place it back in the bowl, cover and leave for 1 hour in a warm (21-25°C) place.
    • Lightly flour the work surface and shape the dough into a ball. Rub a tea towel with a handful of flour and place the dough inside, seam side up. Wrap the dough up in the cloth, then place this inside a 2-litre deep, round bowl. The will help force the dough to rise upwards rather than spread outwards and give height to the dough. Leave it to rise for 1½ hours, or until almost doubled in height.
    • Preheat the oven to 210°C. Upturn the loaf on to a floured-dusted tray, then brush the loaf with the beaten egg/milk. Cut a deep cross in the centre of the loaf. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 190°C and bake for a further 15-20 minutes, until the loaf is a good brown colour, feels light in weight, and sounds hollow if tapped on the base. Cool on a wire rack.
    * Only 10 seconds? Could it be a misprint and should it be 10 minutes instead? Anyway, I kneaded until smooth.


    1. 10 seconds... not a typo! It really works!

    2. Hi emnomnom. Thanks for clearing up the confusion. I shouldn't have second-guessed Mr Dan Lepard!

    3. Superb! Lovely post - that sunflower seed bread photo is a stunner. What camera do you use?

      Happy Baking from another Dan Lepard fan!

    4. Thanks Joanna! That loaf was wolfed down pretty quickly!

      I use a Leica D-Lux 3. This compact - plus natural lighting - does all the work for an amateur like me.

    5. Wow! I love the last photo of your bread, looks so good! I have one question...if you didn't use it for a couple of weeks, do you still need to feed it? Or do you just leave it in the fridge and feed it only when you used it? Thanks in advance:)

    6. Hi Jeannie, I have read that you can leave the leaven for a couple of weeks in the fridge and it will come alive again when you feed it before use. But I have also killed my leaven before when I left it for about two months without feeding! With this new leaven, I have been feeding it only once a week but I make bread every weekend so I get to use it. I don't know if this answers your question but I hope it helps. Anyway, your loaves always look so good! :-)

    7. Oooooh, I love this bread and I haven't made it in forever...your loaf looks awesome! :)

    8. Thanks Sara. Just checked out your post on the bread and like you, I love all those seeds! I think it will become one of my favourite loaves too.

    9. The bread looks delicious. I am yet to try making a starter that is fed over days...somehow find it daunting since I am rather forgetful.

    10. Thanks Bergamot. I am such a Forgetful Fanny myself, but somehow I've been very good with feeding this starter. I'm hoping to keep it up since it provides me with such lovely bread.


    Your views are welcome and appreciated. Have a nice day!