apple cider levain bread #TwelveLoaves

I don't know about you, but I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time surfing food sites and blogs on the worldwide interwebs, downloading recipes to my trusty iPad and getting very, very hungry. I've currently got over 2000 recipes in my Paprika app (you need this app, you really do) and they just keep coming. While I could clearly be much more productive with my time, I look at it this way: I may not have ever seen American Idol or Real Housewives of Fargo or the Kardashians, but I can cook the recipes I download for people I like and make them very happy. So really, I'm quite the self-sacrificing humanitarian when you come right down to it. I'm my own little Top Chef.

I tend to get hooked on a single ingredient theme while I surf. So one apple recipe, for example, leads to another apple recipe and another and another and another, until I've got 137, count 'em, 137 apple recipes all downloaded with the promise that I'll make every one of them "someday." (I'd better live as long as Methuselah in order to have enough "somedays.") One of the recipes at the top of the "someday" list was this apple cider levain bread, so when TwelveLoaves chose apples for this month's theme, I jumped on it. It was a recipe that I'd downloaded ages ago, thought about it alot but never actually read closely before I set out to bake it. In retrospect, it's a good thing I DIDN'T read it beforehand since I probably would have deleted it if I had. Because…

…the recipe that originally appeared in the May 21, 2012 issue of Saveur? Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's kind of a stinker. At least the way it's WRITTEN is a stinker, although some people were none too pleased with the results either. The reviews were almost all negative (except for one smarty-pants who made it sound like no one else knew what they were doing so THEY were the problem, not the recipe. Except, not.) and most of the reviewers didn't even get past the starter stage–a 10-day extravaganza–before they gave up. There were other problems as well, from a starter that didn't start to a dough that was unworkably slack to a rise that was DOA. Let's just say that there was no love for Saveur's recipe vetting–or lack thereof. I was actually tempted to pass on it but being the Type A Risk Taker that I am (snort), I boldly went where others feared to tread. And a good thing too, because despite the giant cluster-whatsit (fill in bad word here) that is this recipe, the bread itself is awesomely awesome. But first, a few caveats…

To begin with, I bypassed the incredibly vague and confusing instructions for building a starter culture since I already have two. I used my 100% hydration starter, fed first thing in the morning so I could start the levain that night. The levain uses a measly 1/4 cup of starter. (I say measly because apparently, if you follow Saveur's instructions you end up with a ridiculous amount of starter since they never tell you to discard a portion of it.) In any event, by noon the following day, I had a robust, bubbly and fragrant levain. So far, so good. Quite a few people had bailed by this point. For the dough, I did follow the recipe for the amounts of flour, water and cider–swapping two tablespoons of plain cider for boiled cider for a little extra apple-y "zing"–and in addition to the cranberries, I threw in 2 ounces of dried apple. I ended up with a fairly slack dough, as did others, but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary to me. A number of folks had said that theirs was almost unworkable, but I think the fact that I didn't soak the dried apples (which were very dry) beforehand helped sponge up some of the excess moisture.

Now from the point you start mixing the dough, Saveur's instructions would have you hanging around waiting for about 7 and a half hours until you pop this sucker in the oven. Nuh uh. My first supposed 3-hour rise had the dough more than doubling in volume in less that half that time. Same with the second rise. (Others were not so fortunate. Some, in fact, may still be waiting for some dough action.) And then, Saveur says to use a 8" loaf pan. Not gonna happen, my friend. TWO 8" pans maybe, but definitely not one. I tried a 9", decided that was too small and ultimately ended up using a 10" pan. Finally, instructions say to heat the oven to 475° and bake for 50 minutes. The first time I baked this, I did heat the oven to 475° and had I left it for the recommended time, I would have had apple cider cinders to show for it. The second time, I baked at 450° and by the 15 minute mark had to tent the loaf to prevent the top from burning. By 30 minutes, it was done.

Despite the fact that this recipe was clearly written by dyslexic weasels on acid, somehow the resulting bread is totally worth the effort. And honestly, once you sort things out, it's really not that much effort at all. It's a fantastic bread with a moist, dense crumb and chewy crust, an apple cider flavor that's pronounced but not overpowering and some extra tang from the cranberries and apples. We mostly enjoyed it on its own, sometimes with a schmear of an apple-cranberry butter. I'm thinking, too,  this would be the perfect bread for some killer grilled cheese sandwiches. Apples? Cheddar? Yeah, baby.

The lesson here is that if you happen on a recipe that has the virtual thought bubble over your head saying "WTF?", give it a try anyway and trust your instincts when they tell you to zig and zag along the way. Because you never know when you'll end up with a winner.

Apple post #3 if you're counting.

apple cider levain bread



  • 1/4 cup starter (if you don't already have a starter, King Arthur Flour has instructions for a good one)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup bread flour
  • 1/4 cup apple cider


  • All of the levain above
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 3/4 cup cider (optional: replace 2 tablespoons of the cider with 2 tablespoons of boiled cider* for a more intense flavor)
  • 2 oz. dried cranberries
  • 2 oz. dried apples*
  •  2 tsp salt


  1. To make the levain, mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl, cover and let sit for 12-24 hours. The levain should be bubbly and fragrant.
  2. When ready to bake, add the dough ingredients to the levain, stirring until it all comes together. Cover and let rest for about 20-30 minutes to allow flour to hydrate.
  3. After the rest period, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough may be quite soft and you may need a bench knife to help scrape it up but you should end up with a smooth, elastic dough that's just a bit sticky.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover and set in a warm spot for about 1 hour. You should see a slight increase in bulk.
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl to a floured work surface, then stretch and fold the dough from each side to the middle. Place the dough seam side down back in the bowl and cover. Let sit until doubled in size (mine took about 1 1/2 hours.)
  6. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface, repeat the stretch-and-fold procedure, then form into a loaf and place seam side down into a greased 10" loaf pan.* Cover and let rest until the dough reaches the top of the loaf pan.
  7. About 45 minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 450°.* Place a heat-proof pan or skillet on the bottom of the oven, with a rack just above it. If you have a baking stone, place that on the rack.
  8. Once the dough has risen, slash the top four times, place the pan on the baking stone or rack and throw about 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the heat-proof pan or skillet to create steam.
  9. Bake until the top is browned, about 30 minutes.* Keep an eye on the bread and tent with foil if it browns to quickly. When ready, the bread will sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the loaf pan and cool on a wire rack.

Majorly adapted from Saveur


As I'm sure you can tell by my post and certainly by the comments left for the original Saveur post, this is very much a "your mileage may vary" recipe, so your experiences may not be the same as mine. I made this twice with same results each time so the instructions here reflect that, especially concerning rise and bake times. Since my rises were less that half of what the original recipe stated, just keep an eye on yours since it may take longer–or shorter. This bread may take some experimenting on your part, but I honestly thought it was worth it and that's coming from an instant-gratification whiner when things don't work out as planned.

If you have it, the boiled cider is a nice addition and gives the bread a more intense appley flavor.

The first time I made this, I used the standard kind of dried apples that you can find in the grocery store (they're generally pale yellow and very soft.) They were somewhat indistinct in the finished bread since they kind of melted into the dough. The second time, I used naturally dried apples (from Trader Joe's) that are brown and much drier and these held up very well. I also didn't soak either the cranberries or the apples beforehand like I usually do with dried fruit and I think that helped keep my dough from getting too wet.

I tried three loaf pan sizes until I settled on the 10". I just had way too much dough for the 8" pan recommended in the original.

The original also recommends baking at 475° for 50 minutes but after reading the comments, I lowered my oven temp to 450° and kept a eye on the bake. By 15 minutes, I had to tent the top and by 30 minutes it was done. Again, keep an eye on yours. When I make this again, I'll probably try lowering the temp to 425°.

check out what other #TwelveLoaves members have been baking this month

#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess and run with the help of Heather of girlichef, which runs smoothly with the help of our bakers. Our host this month is Heather from girlichef, and our theme is Apples. For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month's mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves Pear Breads! #TwelveLoaves: Apples If you’d like to add your bread to this month's #TwelveLoaves collection, here’s what you need to do:
  1. Post your Twelve Loaves bread on your blog, making sure to mention the Twelve Loaves challenge in your blog post (this helps us to get more members as well as share everyone's posts).
  2. Please link your post to the linky tool at the bottom of this blog. The bread MUST meet the Twelve Loaves theme (October = Apples). 
  3. Share your Twelve Loaves bread (must be baked and post this month) on your blog by October 31, 2014.

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