Five Grain Levain for Mellow Bakers

My Dreadful Memory

When I flung the book open to the right page I saw the evidence that I had made this one before. I have zero memory of doing it. But there are my pencilled in gram weights against the home column. When I first started baking from this book I weighed the home column out in ounces and then clicked over to the gram reading and wrote them down directly in the book. Later on I figured that one could far more easily divide the middle column by 10 and get pretty much the same numbers, so my inner Sherlock tells me that I must have made this bread before the blog.

Did I like it then? Again no notes. This is why it is good to write a blog. At least you can stare at the pictures a year or two later and try and trigger your memory.


There was nothing for it but to make it again. I mixed up the liquid levain, left it overnight. Mixed up a little bowl of crushed rye grain, (sourced at the Swedish Shop in London where it is sold under the name of Rågkross) rolled oats, golden linseed and sunflower seeds with boiling water and curiously a pinch of salt – and left that overnight to absorb the water.

In the morning I mixed up a dough with very strong (high gluten flour) and a bit of the old Swiss Dark. I held back on some of the water as it all looked very wet and indeed JH warns you that this is a water-full dough in the text and advises you to bake it well and long.

It’s all in the Timing

Various timing disasters happened along the way. The levain had risen and fallen in the night, leaving a tell tale tidemark in the bowl, but I used it anyway. Then the dough didn’t want to rise so I put it in a warm oven at about 30C (forgot to turn it down, wandered off and did something else for several hours) rescued it belatedly, it had tripled in size as you can see here…

So I threw it out onto a board with a large wet splat – then the phone rang – and I chatted away, while poking it with one hand to stop it sliding onto the floor. Eventually I shaped it into a large floppy boule that wouldn’t hold its shape. Then I changed my mind and tipped it out onto the bench (more flour everywhere) and finally wrangled it into six little rolls and a loaf instead. Messing around with the dough doesn’t do it any good, I know that, but that’s what happened.

The bread has good flavour and I like the combination of grains, but it is supposed to be light and airy according to Jeffrey Hamelman and you can see that the crumb is fairly close and dense. That is down to my handling. In my defence it was a very sticky, gooey sort of dough, but again that was my mistake for letting it get too warm in the ‘proving’ oven. Cooler doughs are a lot easier to handle than warm ones. You’d think maybe I would know all this?  Well I do know it, but every so often I just ignore what I know and do something fairly senseless. It’s lucky I don’t do this for a living, that’s what I say.

A Neat Trick

The good bit was making the rolls look very perky with just a single scissor snip to the top of the roll, a trick I saw Luc Martin, the supper club maestro,  do with some very interesting rye rolls he made recently which I have copied here.  [By the way if you are a pasta maker, have a look at the fantastic filled pasta tutorials on his blog.]

5 grain levain roll with scissor top Jeffrey Hamelman Bread

If you are despairing of your slashing, try using a pair of scissors instead, hold them at a shallow angle and cut little V’s into the dough and with any luck you will get a very nice hedgehog effect on your loaf.

24 thoughts on “Five Grain Levain for Mellow Bakers

  1. hotlyspiced

    That’s a very beautiful looking loaf. Love the end result. I can’t remember everything I’ve ever cooked either. You’re not alone!

    1. Joanna Post author

      The last pic is the little roll! The one which did what it was supposed to do. I am so pleased I am not alone Charlie :)

  2. heidi

    I love the perky little top on that last shot- hedgehog effect is what I’ve used when making a porcipine and beaver bread for my son’s science project(don’t ask- it was one of those crazy things only a mother would do!)
    The bread sounds delicious and toothsome- and it doesn’t look too dense- but then everyone has a heavy loaf once in a while! :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hee hee I am visualising that bread of yours Heidi – was it a combined animal bread? I’ve seen the hedgehog snippy thing used on some very fine crocodiles too. :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      snip snip, speed bread top decorating – you can make all manner of patterns with scissors !

  3. Melanie

    Nice shot w/ all the seeds on the board in front of the sliced bread and you can the little golden specks of seed in the bread. It looks sooo good!! There are so many breads in the JH book that are similar, its very easy to forget making one. I’m bad in that I usually never make any marks at all when I’ve made a bread. Cool trick w/ the rolls. I’ve tried using the scissors before on rolls and its fun, although sometimes my cuts close back up when I bake them:(

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Mel! The golden seeds are the golden linseed (flaxseed) we get it in both golden and brown here. It is one of my preferred inclusions. B is not keen on sunflower seeds at all, so I was on my own eating this one, so only made a half recipe.

      My cuts close up too, or don’t always work, flouring the top of the bread can help, I think the flour dries the edges a tiny bit for long enough so the little flap doesn’t stick down again.

  4. Kari @ bite-sized thoughts

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with a faulty memory! I definitely need blogging as a way to remind me of my recipes and what I did and didn’t like.

    These rolls look like they turned out very well and I love the little spiky hedgehog effect!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Trouble is I don’t remember what I have blogged either, which is why I must get on and do some index pages. On the other hand sometimes I look at my stats and think what is that post that is being hunted out this week and then I read it and think ‘oh that one!’ I have an old marmalade cake post that is very popular right now; I guess people are looking for ways to use up their old marmalade before making new. (It is Seville Orange season here).

      I like the single spike look, it makes the roll look taller and rounder :)

  5. Ray

    I think that’s what i like about baking my own bread – even when i get it “wrong” it still can taste wonderful! I remember a granary loaf that came out pancake like but the taste was divine…. :)

    I now have a couple of cane proving baskets that my wife got me for christmas – yet more fun in the kitchen!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Ray, Happy New Year to you! This is sort of like a granary but doesn’t have that distinctive malted grain taste that I associate with the English style and not so fluffy either. All the grains are soft as well, no tooth scaring crunchy bits :)

      Look forward to seeing your cane basket proved breads – what fun !

  6. C

    Love the look of the bread, it doesn’t look particularly heavy, but you’re the one eating it! I really love the idea of scissoring the tops of rolls, it’s created a lovely effect.

    Memory… I sometimes (ok, quite often) find that I come to write a blog post about something I’ve made a few days/weeks/months ago and cannot for the life of me remember enough detail…. There are a few half written posts in my archive that are destined never to be posted unless I repeat the recipe and find out what I actually did, how it went and what the result actually tasted like!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Morning C, I think that’s why I take lots of photos, the act of taking the photos makes me think about what I am doing and what might be interesting to share in the process. Then when I look through them writing up a bake, it gives me a visual prompt. I quite often write the post around the photos, not always, but I think you can show something with a photo quite easily that takes great chunks of text to explain.

      So when I made these, I thought instead of just moaning about how useless I am, I ought to try and find the positive in this and that was the little snippy thing :)

  7. cityhippyfarmgirl

    I’d be lost without my blog to jog my memory as to what I’ve cooked in the past, and like C, sooo many half done posts full of recipes I didn’t quite write down properly and will have to revisit.
    Your bread though looks lovely. Love that shot with the loaf and grains.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I suppose I use the blog more as a diary and way of having a conversation with you all, and less as a repository for recipes. If I look at it while I am trying to cook, I end up getting very distracted and want to correct typos. The perils of having a butterfly brain!

      I haven’t even thought about half written posts, though I do have folders of photos that were going to be blog posts whose moment passed and I lost interest in writing them. I had some lovely photos from the Somerset Levels last spring and I never quite wrote the post, maybe I’ll revisit them in the Spring :)

  8. Mal

    Wonderful description of the baker’s dilema. Every loaf is a journey for me too – normally to hell, and hopefully with some redemption at the end. I have a note book and a blog, but I still just chop and change and forget to record – just as you describe. The digital camera and blog combined are the best hope for me!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I’ve just been reading your blog Mal, you are a brave adventurer! I do hope you get a pullman tin for those ryes. Metfield Bakery on Twitter has just made some very successful long slow baked ryes which looked amazing.

      The baking writers are fond of referring to the 12 stages or processes that go into a loaf and stress how changes at each stage are revealed in the final product. My analysis skills aren’t that good (!) so keeping notes, or at least being honest with myself that I left a dough too long or something means I don’t get disappointed. Anyway there is always another loaf to make :)

  9. Sincerely, Emily

    beautiful, even with all that happened. I have made a no-knead bread with some grains in it. I really liked it and am no wondering why I don’t do that all that time. I know I used millet, sunflower seeds, amaranth and ground flax. I know I didn’t soak the grains over night. I figured they would “soak” in the dough overnight – seemed to work, but then none of my grains were really tooth-cracking hard either. Your bread and rolls are lovely. Love the little hedgehog effect

    1. Joanna Post author

      Personally I think flax ( or linseed as it is called here) is better soaked, but if the dough is sitting overnight as you did then it will probably have the same sort of effect.

      Millet is quite soft and takes up water really easily. I don’t think I have ever used amaranth though I have got some somewhere that I meant to try. If you are going to incorporate whole grains like wheat or barley or rye even then they are better being boiled up till they are soft before adding into a dough. If you boil them and then let them sit overnight in some fruit juice or alcohol, wine, beer or something like that they get extra sweet and yummy.

  10. Ruth

    This looks brilliant! Your rolls are fantastically boule shaped – I’ll have to try that scissor trick. And what are the chances – I bought some rågkross from the flour mill near my father-in-law’s house when we were in Sweden over Christmas. I haven’t used any yet.

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