Apple Cider Levain Loaf
Tart and tangy with apple cider and dried cranberries, this flavorful, naturally leavened white bread can also be made without those ingredients; simply substitute the same amount of water for the apple cider and omit the cranberries. This recipe first appeared in our May 2012 issue along with William Alexander’s story American Bread.
- 6 1⁄2 cups plus ⅓ cup (3 lb. 6 ⅔ oz.) tap water, heated to 115°
- 1⁄4 tsp. active dry yeast
- 4 3⁄4 cups plus ⅔ cup and 2 tbsp. (1 lb. 9 ⅓ oz.) all-purpose flour
- 4 cups (1 lb. 4 oz.) bread flour
- 1 cup (8 oz.) apple cider, at room temperature
- 1⁄2 cup (2 oz.) dried cranberries
- 2 tsp. (½ oz.) kosher salt Canola oil, for greasing
- 1⁄2 cup ice cubes
- In a large bowl, stir together ⅔ cup water, ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour, and yeast until a smooth paste forms; cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 24 hours. Repeat this process for the next eight days, adding ⅓ cup each water and flour the second and third days and ¾ cup the remaining days, to make the starter (which you can keep alive, in the fridge, by adding the same amounts once weekly.)
- On the 10th day, place ¼ cup starter in a bowl and stir in ⅓ cup water, ¾ cup bread flour, and ¼ cup apple cider to create sourdough culture (Figure A); let sit for 12–24 hours, until ready to bake.
- Uncover culture and add remaining ⅔ cup water, 3 ¼ cups bread flour, ¾ cup cider, along with cranberries and salt (Figure B). Stir until dough forms (Figure C); let dough sit to let flour hydrate, about 20 minutes. Transfer dough to a floured surface, and knead, using a bench scraper to help remove dough from surface, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a greased bowl; cover with plastic wrap, and place in a cold oven. Let rest until slightly inflated, about 1 hour. Transfer dough to a floured surface and flatten slightly. Fold top and bottom edges toward middle. Return dough, seam side down, to bowl (Figure D); cover. Let sit until doubled in size, about 3 hours.
- Repeat folding procedure, and place dough, seam side down, into a greased 8″ x 5″ x 2 ½″ loaf pan, cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until dough reaches top of the loaf pan, about 3 hours. One hour before baking, place a cast–iron skillet on bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet; place a baking stone on top of it. Heat oven to 475°.
- Using a razor, slash top of loaf at a 30° angle in four spots. Place loaf on baking stone; place ice in skillet. Bake until brown, about 50 minutes; let cool before serving.