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We Need To Talk: 'Sourdough', 'Levain', 'Boule'--what's up and what's the difference?

July 27, 2018

"Are your breads sourdough?"

"What is a Levain?"

"Do you use a wild yeast starter?"

"I prefer the boule bread to sourdough"

"What does natural culture mean on your list of ingredients?"

 

Hello, we need to talk.

 

Since I started making and purveying breads it has become clear that there is a fair amount of confusion around the different terms used for breads made with natural 'wild yeast' culture.

 

Here is a summary:

"Levain" is a French term for a 'sourdough starter". Its the same thing. Flour + water + wild yeasts cohabitating to create a natural 'culture/starter/mother' that will raise your dough.

 

Levain =  Sourdough.  

  Both terms define a leavening agent that makes flour, water and salt into bread

 

Here's where it gets interesting:

 

Sourdough implies 'sour' flavor that can be mild, strong or very acidic, depending on many factors.

               Its an American thing.

 

Levain, in France (where I trained) and in most of Europe,  does not automatically signal  a 'sour' bread.  It simply implies that the bread was made with a natural culture starter (sourdough). But Europeans are not trying for a 'sour' bread and they actually think its weird. So Levain breads have a mild tang and a complex flavor that is imparted by the starter. It also affects the rexture and the crust.

 

Can you use yeast in a 'sourdough' bread?   Yes!  This is very common.

 

'Wild Yeast ' seems to be a hipster term for sourdough.  I had never heard of it until a few months ago. Breads made with wild yeast waters are -surprise!- made with a sourdough/levain---its all the same!

 

A 'boule'  is any round bread.   (in France)  'Boule' literally means 'ball'.

Guess what---boules are almost always made with levain, but they are not usually sour. But they can be sour if that's what you want. Bakers manipulate time and temperature to achieve any degree of sourness, or lack of sourness desired. A customer at market told me that she prefers boules because they are not sourdough.        what?

 

So what about my breads?  Do I make 'sourdoughs'?

Yes, technically I do. I bake a Country French Levain which is technically a sourdough, but isn't very sour. Its a mild, tangy loaf.

I have a Roasted Garlic Levain which is also technically a sourdough, but which is also not sour. The flavor is deep, with a subtle tang.

Wild Allie uses a levain, but noone would call it sour.

I have a few more 'Levain" loaves. None are in-your-face sour.But they are all 'sourdoughs'

 

I caved a week ago in the face of pressure and changed the name of Country French Levain  to Country French Sourdough.

 

I'm changing it back today.

Yes, they are the same, but Americans expect a very assertive sour flavor in their sourdoughs, and since we are here in the USA, I'll do as the American do.

Meanwhile, I'm working on an american-type Sourdough that will be called "The Sour One". Coming soon! A sour sourdough, imagine that....

 

 

 

 

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