Friday, September 9, 2011

Larry's Buckwheat Batons

A few years ago, as I was visiting my Mom in Paris in her retirement home not far from the Eiffel Tower, I decided to take advantage of the fact she had to leave for her physical therapy session to go and check out the nearest Eric Kayser bakery. I had read a lot about Kayser and his bread on the Internet but hadn't actually seen any of his bakeries. I knew he had one in the 15th arrondissement.
I set out at a brisk pace and 15 minutes later arrived 79 rue du Commerce. The store was sleek and elegant (for an idea of what it looks like, click on "Where are we?" on Maison Kayser's website, then on "Paris"). The salespersons were a bit harried since it was around lunch time and it didn't look like they would be available to chat, so I took a quick look at the breads (which were all gorgeous) and asked for a "baguette Paline" (which I knew to be a buckwheat bread).
(I don't know why Kayser named this bread Paline but, in case you are wondering, he certainly didn't do it after the former governor of Alaska. His buckwheat bread came into being way before Ms. Palin found her way into mainstream American - not to mention French - consciousness.)
I paid and two minutes later I was back on the sidewalk with, under my arm, a dark brown baguette sticking out of a paper bag. Being pretty hungry I broke off a piece and bit into it. Instant disappointment... The crust was not crunchy enough, the crumb greyish and too tight. I love buckwheat, having been raised on the buckwheat "galettes" (i.e. savory crêpes) with which my paternal grandmother - who was from the Southwest of France - always accompanied her divine rabbit or hare stews but the Paline triggered no Proustian memory. It tasted dull. I was crushed. So much for buckwheat bread if even a master baker couldn't produce a tastier loaf...
Now I had read good things about Kayser's Paline, so my disappointment may have stemmed from the combined facts that I had high expectations and that I tried it on a bad day. I will check it again next time I go to France (which sadly is less often now that my Mom passed away) and report back .
Anyway, fast forward to the first time I saw Tree-Top Baking's spread at the Bayview's Farmers' Market on Whidbey Island, Washington. There, among scores of baguettes, rye loaves, levain miches, challahs, etc. I caught sight of luscious batards sporting a burnished look. Getting closer, I read the labels: Buckwheat Batons!
I bought one and was charmed. The crust crackled. The crumb was on the dark side but open and the taste delicate: earthy but not overly so, showcasing the flavor of the buckwheat but also the complex aromas of the levain. I was hooked! That baton was everything I had hoped a Paline would be. Whidbey residents clearly share my enthusiasm. Larry bakes these loaves every week and they always sell out.
Of course I asked for the recipe and that's how I learned it was actually based on a Kayser formula as demonstrated to Larry by Boris Villatte, a hugely talented young French baker he had met at SFBI. Villatte had worked for Kayser for many years and helped open several Maison Kayser bakeries around the world.
Kayser has published several of his recipes, including in his book 100% pain: La saga du pain enveloppée de 60 recettes croustillantes (summarily translated, the title means: "100% bread. The saga of bread, wrapped in 60 crusty recipes".) I don't own it and have no access to it but the author of La Table de Mamou, a French blog, says she has successfully baked several recipes from 100% pain, including baguette Paline. I checked Kayser's recipe as posted on her blog and noticed that it differed considerably from Boris': among other things, it called for much more buckwheat. Interestingly while Mamou writes that she liked the taste, she also says that the crumb was too tight and that the next time she would use less buckwheat. In his book Local Breads, Daniel Leader gives another recipe for the Paline and he too uses less buckwheat (although he calls for buckwheat levain). The recipe below is the one which Boris has shared with Larry.
You will note that it flies in the face of everything we have been taught about gently mixing the dough and promoting good fermentation by maintaining it at warmish room temperature. Here the dough gets literally whipped around in the mixer at the highest possible speed until it comes together and then it is shocked into the fridge until ready to bring to room temperature, divide and shape.
The first time I made the batons, it was a total failure. I thought it was because I had used all-purpose flour while Larry uses bread flour (which contains more gluten). But that wasn't the reason: I have made it several times since with all-purpose flour and consistently gotten excellent results.
No, the sad truth is that this dough is a masochist. The first time I hadn't dared yield to my inner sadist and beat it enough. So it just sat there and did absolutely nothing. I had to throw it away. I went back to Whidbey and Larry showed me how to punish it into action (see first part of the video below). Now I get it right every time.
Once you get the whipping part, this dough is easy to make and very flexible. It adapts readily to your schedule (how often can you say that with bread?). You can autolyse all day or all night in the fridge and mix in early morning. Or you can have a 45 minute autolyse and go right on to mixing. You can mix the dough and refrigerate it for as little as a couple of hours and then bring it back to room temp before dividing, or you can leave it in the fridge all day or overnight. I have done all of this with equal success. As Larry says, you don't necessarily get exactly the same bread but it's always good.
Ingredients (for 4 batons)

  • 940 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 60 g buckwheat flour (I milled buckwheat groats for this but store-bought buckwheat flour works fine)
  • 800 g water
  • 25 g salt
  • 2 g instant yeast
  • 120 g mature levain (hydration: 100%)
Method (requires a stand mixer):
TIP: Didier Rosada says in Breadlines vol. 19 no.2 that if using a vertical mixer or a mixer without a bowl-reverse option, to avoid having flour stuck in the bottom of the bowl without being incorporated into the dough it is a good idea to add half of the water first, then all of the flour, then the rest of the water as needed to achieve the desired dough consistency. I tried it and it worked to perfection. No more scraping the sides of the bowl for me!
  1. Mix water and flours until combined (see tip above). Refrigerate 45 minutes to one hour (Larry says he has successfully autolysed the dough anywhere from 5 to 9 hours)
  2. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, add levain, salt and yeast , starting slowly but moving quickly to high speed (using first the paddle, then the hook) until the dough comes together away from the sides of the bowl (see above video). When ready, the dough must be tacky but not sticky. Desired dough temperature is 75-77°F/24-25°C
  3. Transfer the dough to an oiled container and put it back in the refrigerator for 9 to 12 hours
  4. Take it out and bring it to room temperature (Larry puts it in the proofbox for 2 to 3 hours)
  5. Divide at around 500 g, pre-shape as a cylinder, shape as a baguette taking care to leave a lip of dough along the loaf (see above video)
  6. Flatten this lip using the flat of your hand, then flap it over the bread
  7. Proof the loaves, flap down, on a heavily floured couche for 45 minutes to one hour
  8. While the bread is proofing, pre-heat the oven to 470°F/243°C after placing in it a baking stone (on middle shelf) and a metal oven dish (on the lowest shelf)
  9. Bake for 10 minutes at 470° F/243° C (with steam) , then lower the oven temperature to 450°F/232° C and bake another 20 minutes
  10. Cool on a rack.

Larry's Buckwheat Batons go to Susan from Wild Yeast for this week's issue of Yeastspotting.


  1. Your Batons look great! I realised that buckwheat yields a tight crumb when I replaced a part oft the whole wheat flour in a whole wheat bread recipe with buckwheat flour. The bread I get from this changed recipe had a much tighter crumb then normal.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Stefanie! Thanks for commenting. My guess is that buckwheat yields a tight crumb because it contains no gluten. If a more assertive buckwheat taste is desired, one solution might be to use a wheat flour with a higher protein content or to add some gluten flour.

  4. MC,

    I just baked a batch of them on Friday and they were gone in seconds. Thank you again with great post. By the way, I use buckwheat groats to mill the flour but my flour turned out to be less greyish(I think) maybe my buckwheat groats is hulled ones. They taste less buckwheat flavor in the bread (very mild ones - in my opinion compare to the store bought buckwheat flour) but my friends went crazy about them. I love them overall. Thank you again.


  5. so many breads to do after the tartine bread experiment! this is next on the list!

  6. Hello Francis-Olive, thank you for stopping by. I am glad you've decided to give this bread a try. It is very unassuming but it has an intriguing taste and it is a cinch to make...



Blog Designed by: Deanna @ Design Chicky