ISSUE 80  |  Locally Grown

Sarah Owens’ Buckwheat Levain Recipe

July 01, 2012 3:00 PM

BY Jeanne Rostaing

Rustic Buckwheat Levain Recipe

This is one of my personal favorites and a loaf that gets surprisingly enthusiastic praise.  It has an earthy, almost musty flavor from the buckwheat that pairs well with strong cheese or can be made into a deliciously decadent bread pudding with the addition of fresh cherries and chocolate!  It has an even, modestly open crumb and is a dough that is relatively easy to handle at 60% hydration.  Since buckwheat does not contain gluten, it can be added in raw form to the dough to gain strength and oven spring but is not necessary to produce a tasty loaf.  Steam is used to caramelize the sugars in the crust although a pre-heated dutch oven can be used alternatively with care.

Photographs by Rebecca Baust.

Ingredients by weight

For Stiff Levain Build:

  • Organic Buckwheat Flour 20 g 
  • Boiling Water 80 g
  • Bread Flour 100 g
  • 100% Hydration Starter 25 g

(N.B.: If you don’t already have a starter of your own, King Arthur Flour has a great and simple recipe).

For Dough:

  • Levain (all of the above) 225 g 
  • Water 450 g
  • Buckwheat Flour 120 g
  • Bread Flour 630 g
  • Gluten (optional) 20 g
  • Salt 20 g 
Directions (Makes two 1.5 lb. loaves): 

Building your levain: Boil water and add to the buckwheat.  Let cool until the mixture feels warm but no longer hot when brought to the inner wrist (like testing a baby bottle).  Add starter and bread flour and mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Your levain will be stiff but not difficult to mix.  Let rest loosely covered for 8-12 hours at 70F.  If your kitchen is warmer, your proofing time will be less.

Building your final dough: When the levain is puffy and has at least doubled in size but not collapsed, it is ready for the final mix.  Break the levain into pieces and add to the water, dissolving as much as possible.  Sift the gluten (if using) into the bread flour to avoid streaks in your dough.  Add bread and buckwheat flour to the levain and water mixture until ingredients are well incorporated.  Let autolyze (rest and hydrate) covered for 20-60 minutes.  Add salt and mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Bulk proof for 2-3 hours depending on the room temperature, folding every 50 minutes to gain strength and aerate the dough.

Final Proof: When your dough has doubled in size, divide into two 1.5 lb pieces, pre-shape and let bench rest for 10-15 min. before the final shaping.  Shape tight either into a boule or batard and place seam side up into a well-floured proofing basket.  Retard overnight covered in the fridge (36-41F) for optimum flavor.  If baking the same day, you can let proof for another 1-2 hours before baking.  The dough will be ready when you poke it and the dough no longer immediately bounces back but retains the impression of your finger.  Adjust timing according to your kitchen’s ambient temperature.

Baking: One hour before baking, pre-heat your oven to 500F and prepare a steam bath using a roasting pan on the bottom rack and a baking stone on the middle rack.  Lightly cover your baker’s peel with cornmeal or semolina flour and turn the loaves onto the peel.  There is no need to bring them to room temp before baking if you have retarded them overnight.  Score your loaves using a lame or a sharp knife.  This allows the loaves to expand while baking in a controlled motion.  Add 1/2 cup water to your roasting pan to create steam and quickly load loaves onto the baking stone.  Turn oven temp down to 460 and bake for 30 min, rotating halfway through to gain even baking.  The loaf is done baking when the crust is a deep dark brown and it sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.

 Alternatively, you can bake one round loaf at a time using a preheated enameled (or cold cast iron) dutch oven. 

To read more about Sarah Owen’s kitchen, see the orginal story: