A while ago, I bragged somewhat about knowing how to make a chef–levain. The first (and only) time I made it turned out a delicious loaf, if I recall. That was years ago and my memory may have softened the reality. I decided to try again.
A chef-levain is a mix of flour and water—at least in this particular one—that sits for a long time so it can ferment. Levain means yeast or leavening, according to my French/English dictionary and chef translates to “main” so I surmise the chef refers to it being the primary leavening. It’s simply a starter for making bread without commercial yeast. The levain or starter attracts the wild yeast in the air.
These photos show the process to some degree and the results. I fed the levain 11 days and made the bread on the 12th.
Well worth the labor, but there is a lot of waste. The levain has to be added to daily for several days, and as more flour and water are added to “feed” it, a good part of the original is thrown out. During a yeast and flour shortage, it was probably not the most conscientious thing I’ve done, but I tweaked what I could to reduce the waste.
In spite of that, it was fun to do.
The bread turned out surprisingly tender. It made great sandwiches, and the best toast ever!