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Using Leaven

Using Leaven

In our last blog, we made leaven. Leaven is old dough that you save back and you use to inoculate a new batch of dough with yeast. We took our leaven and preserved it in salt. Today we’re going to wake this leaven back up and use it to make a new batch of bread.
First, we need to scrape off as much salt as possible. We put the salt on earlier because we wanted it to be dry to slow down the yeast activity. Now that we want to wake it back up you need to get as much salt off as possible. Once you have as much salt off of it as you can get, you need to chop it up into the smallest pieces possible. Just make it crumbs if you can. Then dissolve it in about a cup of warm water.

Using Leaven (Time 0_10_09;28)

Stir the leavened water to get as much dissolved as possible, then use a cloth to strain out any crusty material that would not dissolve. You should end up with about ¾ of a cup of liquid yeast.

Using Leaven (Time 0_10_50;20)

Now we need to make a sponge. Add your yeast to about 1 ½ cups of good quality bread flour. This is going to make a very soupy mixture but this is where the yeast is really going to come alive again. Cover and set aside. This could take as long as overnight so cover it with either a wet cloth or some plastic to keep it safe. When this is ready, you’re going to see large bubbles starting to form and it’ll have a very spongy texture.

Using Leaven (Time 0_11_28;18)

Once it’s ready we can start making our bread. Start off with about 3 cups of bread flour in a bowl. To that add about 2 teaspoons of salt. Now let’s put about a cup of the sponge into our flour. Once the sponge is incorporated, add a cup of nice warm water and mix this into our dough.

Using Leaven (Time 0_11_49;06)

If the dough looks a little wet you can sprinkle it with a little extra flour, then turn it out on a floured surface and knead it until it has a smooth soft texture. At this point it’s time to take another piece of dough off to save for our next batch of bread. You want a piece that’s about a half to a whole cup of dough and we’ll put this in salt just like we did before.

Now place the rest of your bread dough in a bowl and cover it with a cloth for an hour or two until it doubles in size. Once it has risen, punch it back down and reform it into a loaf, place it back into the bowl and allow it to rise one more time.

Now preheat your oven. You can use a conventional oven, an earthen oven, or even a Dutch oven. Once you have your oven warmed up, sprinkle some corn meal onto the surface where the bread will be cooked to keep the layer from sticking. The corn meal will brown up just a hair to let you know if the oven is the right temperature if you are using an earthen oven or Dutch oven. Slit the top of your bread so that it can grow a little, you will want a nice sharp knife for this. Now slide your bread gently into your oven and close it up.

Using Leaven (Time 0_16_45;26)

It should cook about 30 minutes until it’s a really nice golden brown. After 15 minutes you want to take a peak to make sure this thing isn’t overcooking, then you can adjust the heat accordingly. Sourdough bread is a much more dense bread so it can take a little bit more cooking than you might think. Don’t worry about possibly overcooking it a little bit, it’s going to need a little bit of that to get the heat all the way into the inside.

And there we have it, bread baked from leaven or old dough. You know, each time you repeat this process and save back dough you get a little bit more flavor, each time it’s going to keep developing and make a wonderful tasting bread.

Transcript of Video:

In our last episode, we made leaven. Leaven is old dough that you save back and you use it to inoculate a new batch of dough with yeast. We took our leaven and we preserved it in salt. Today we’re going to wake this leaven back up and use it to make a new batch of bread.

Last week we prepared a dough and then we saved off a little piece, the leaven, to use this week. This is the dough that was sitting in the salt. What we need to do now is to scrape off as much salt as possible. We put the salt on earlier because we wanted it to be dry. We wanted it to slow down the yeast activity. Now that we want to wake it back up we need to get as much salt off as possible.

I’m going to chop this leaven, this dried leaven, up into the smallest pieces possible. We’re going to dissolve this in some water so the smaller the particle size the better.

When we’re done with this, we can add about a cup of nice warm water so we can get this to dissolve.

Now I’m going to keep stirring this so I can get as much dissolved as possible. I need to strain out as much of this crusty material, it really doesn’t dissolve, so I’m going to strain it through this cloth.

We’re going to end up with about ¾ of a cup of liquid yeast.

Now I’m going to make a sponge. I’m going to add about a cup and a half of good quality bread flour and stir this in and it’s going to make a very soupy mixture. This is where the yeast is really going to come alive. We’re going to cover this up and set this aside. It may take as much as overnight for this to wake back up. You’ll want to cover it with either some wet cloth or some plastic.

Now we’ve prepared a sponge last night. Let’s have a look at this. When this is ready, you’re going to see large bubbles starting to form. It’ll have a very spongy texture. Let’s make our dough. I’m going to start off with about 3 cups of bread flour in a bowl. To that I’m going to add about 2 teaspoons of salt. Now let’s put about a cup of this sponge into our flour. Now that we’ve got this sponge in here,  I’m going to add a cup of nice warm water and then mix this into our dough.

This dough looks a little wet so I’m going to sprinkle it with a little extra flour before I turn it out and knead it.

I’m going to knead this until it’s nice and smooth and soft. At this point it’s time to take another piece of dough off of this to save it for our next batch of bread. I want a piece that’s about a half a cup or maybe a whole cup of dough and we’ll put this in salt just like we did before. Now back to our bread dough, let’s put it in a dough bowl and cover it with a cloth. We want this to double in size. It may take an hour, it may take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature and your yeast, just how active it is.

This dough has risen. I’m going to go ahead and lightly punch it down and reform it back into our loaf, put it back in the dough bowl and let it rise for the final time.

Now we could bake this bread in our earthen oven, but today we’re going to use our Dutch oven.

There seems to be a modern resurgence in baking in Dutch ovens, but this technique has really been used for hundreds of years. Dutch ovens were commonly used in 18th century kitchens. They were known by various names and they took on various forms, but they were known throughout Great Britain, France and the American colonies. Dutch ovens play an important role in the American colonies as well as the later on Western expansion. Louis and Clark took numerous Dutch ovens along on their western expedition. These vessels were favored by 18th, 19th, and even 20th century cooks and sojerners for their versatility. They could be used for soups and stews, for frying as well as for roasting and baking, even bread. We found one early 19th century source that used the term Dutch oven and bread oven interchangeably. When it came to baking for a single meal, these were much more efficient than a wood fired oven. Because of their versatility and efficiency, they were also highly valued. You could frequently find them in old 18th century last will and testiments and in household inventories. Jas. Townsend and Son offers three different sizes, a four quart, an eight quart and a twelve quart model.

While our loaves are rising, we started a small fire to preheat our Dutch oven and then we can use these embers when it’s done. This dough is ready to bake. Let’s prepare our Dutch oven.

We have this oven over the fire and it’s warmed up. Don’t skimp on preheating this. You want it to be nice and hot when you get started. I’m going to go ahead and sprinkle some corn meal into the bottom of that. This’ll keep the loaf from sticking, just a very thin layer here, looks good, and it should brown up just a hair, so you can see that the oven is getting the right temperature. Now we can slip this loaf in. You want to make sure that it’s loosly in your bowl so you can just nudge it in there. There we go, okay, there it goes, and we’re just going to get it into shape here. This turned over but that’s alright, and now we’re going to slit the top here so it can grow a little bit. You want a nice sharp knife for this and then you can slice it and slice it the other way too, there we are, nice and I think that looks really good. Now, we’re going to close this up, and I’ve already got our bottom coals going. I’ve got a nice ring, there’s an open center here, we don’t want it to get too hot, and we’re going to set that on, and put our lid on. Now we’re going to put more coals up on top of the oven.

I got a good layer of coals up on top now and we’re going to let this cook. It should cook about 30 minutes until it’s a really nice golden brown. For a nice even baking, you want to pick this up and rotate it a quarter of a turn every 5 or 10 minutes. After 15 minutes you want to take the lid off and take a peak to make sure this thing isn’t overcooking, then you can adjust the heat accordingly. We took a quick look at 15 minutes and it was progressing rather well. I’m sure, now that it’s about 30 minutes in that this is ready to take a look, and we’re going to take the lid off here and we can see that it really is looking quite nice and golden brown.

Sourdough bread is a much more dense bread so it can take a little bit more cooking than you might think. Don’t worry about possibly overcooking it a little bit, its going to need a little bit of that to get the heat all the way into the inside, so let’s get this out of here.

And there we have it, bread baked from leaven or old dough. We even baked it in a Dutch oven and we’ve saved off dough for the next time we’re going to bake bread. You know, each time you repeat this process and save back dough you get a little bit more flavor, each time it’s going to keep developing and make a wonderful tasting bread.

I hope you subscribed to our YouTube channel so you can get notification of all the new videos when they come out and be sure to check out our Facebook page for all the news at Jas. Townsend and Son. All the items you’ve seen here today, all the clothing, all the cooking utensils, all these things are available on our website or in our print catalog and I want to thank you for watching and I want to invite you to come along as we savor the aromas and flavors of the 18th century.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Hi Jennifer, I have two questions. Are you discarding the remaining sponge, or do we just presume it was used to make additional loaves of bread at the time? How long of a time can the dough be kept in the salt? Just a couple of weeks or will the yeast survive for months in that manner? Thank you – this was very informative. Catherine

    1. Hi Catherine. Wow, I’m not sure how I missed your questions! It can be safely assumed that the remaining sponge was used and not discarded. As for how long the yeast will last, It was an intended method to keep the yeast until the next baking, so we’re likely talking a week or two and not months. Yeast can also be mixed into a still dough with corn meal, cut into cakes, and allowed to dry. This method has been has been known to keep yeast for a month or two.

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