The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Modern baking with commercial cultivars of wheat, blended flours, thermostat controlled ovens, and particularly commercial yeast is predictable. Yes, it takes skill, and there is always something to learn that will make the product better, but it is predicable. 

I have been grinding my own flour for a few years now, and every time I try new kinds of grain or new blends of grain, I have increased respect for the bakers of 500 or a thousand years ago.

Our consistent grains and central heat, make sourdough maintenance and much easier and more predictable. If you were baking in a communal, wood fired oven, you needed  dough to be ready to bake at a certain time on a certain day.  Dealing with changes in sourdough growth rates as the seasons and weather changed, was a real challenge that most of us no long accept.

Even how long to fire the oven varied with the season and the weather, as the kind and moisture content of the wood varied through the year.  

The stimulus for this post is that a batch of grain that come in yesterday, has a higher moisture content than is normal for commercial grains, and thus it milled very differently from what I expected. 

On the other hand, if I had been milling with a hand powered quern, I would have noticed the high moisture content instantly and would not have been so surprised by the texture of the dough. (People that use a quern tend to have the musculature of elite athletes. Using muscle power to grind flour is HARD work.)

I am grateful at how easy it is  today to produce good bread.

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I am not a purist, but still, I have always thought that pain de campagne should be 100% whole wheat, but somehow, I could not make a highly palatable pain de campagne from 100% whole wheat. There were American whole wheat breads with lots of sugar and fat.  There were German and Polish whole wheat breads well suited for a spread of herring or smoked meats with mustard. And, there were whole wheat pitas suited to support humus.  However, I wanted a bread made of 100% whole wheat, water, and salt, that was pleasant to just eat by itself, or with a glass of wine, or cup of tea.

One easy approach is a 24-hour retard. It works for sourdoughs, yeast, and breads in between. 

The method is easy. I mix fresh milled whole wheat flour, water, and a very small amount of yeast or sourdough or both to make a ~75% hydration dough, and let it  bulk ferment on the counter for a couple of hours. (If it is a yeast bread, then it gets 1/4 tsp of instant yeast per 300 grams of flour. And/or sourdough in proportion.)  After the first room temp bulk ferment, I mix in the salt at 2% bakers percentage, and the dough  gets 24- hours at 45F. During this retard, it gets 4 folds. Then, the dough gets shaped and proofed at room temperature.

Some have complained that my loaves were pale. Now, I put more sprouted wheat in the mix, and I start the bake at 400F convection. The combination yields a nice brown crust. 

It is such a nice bread for just eating that I have given away my bins of white bread flour.


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I like "hard core" sourdough - I often make big loaves of 100% whole wheat entirely leavened by sourdough. 

However, there has been a big promotion of sourdough in the mainstream media because of a perceived shortage of baker's yeast.  This is silly. Sourdough should be baked for its virtues.  And, yeast breads should be baked for their virtues.

I buy yeast at "food service suppliers".  There, a 2 or even a 4 pound package of yeast costs less than an 8 ounce jar of yeast at my local grocery store. (I have a couple of suppliers that I use and they are both local. Find your local supplier(s).)  I put most of the package in a big glass jar in the freezer (dated) and keep an  8 oz jar of yeast in the frig, that I refill as needed.  After 6 or 8 months, the activity of the yeast decline,  but I have used enough yeast for a hundred or more  bakes for less than the price of an 8 oz jar, and at tiny, tiny fraction of the price of buying the yeast in envelopes. I discard old yeast.  The yeast currently in the freezer is from a 4# package bought on 10/18/2019, but it is still performing well. My food service  suppliers have had yeast on the shelf continuously for the last few months and they cheerfully sell to anyone. If you know where to look, yeast is available, it may just be in a different package. (Food service suppliers will also have big bags of flour for reasonable prices. It can be a very good value, but again flour loses quality after a few months.  Do not buy more white flour than you can use in 6 months or more whole wheat flour than you can keep cold and  use in 2 months . Date the packages! Due to the short shelf life of whole wheat flour, I buy wheat berries and mill my own whole wheat flour. Well packaged wheat berries will keep for years.) 

Many, many "sourdough bread" recipes call for yeast.  Use of yeast in sourdough bread seems to irritate sourdough purists to the point of apoplexy.  It should not. Use of yeast in sourdough breads (or use of sourdough in yeast breads) allows the production of breads that cannot be produced by either technology alone.  These breads can be wonderful.

In a time of plague, everyone should have the comfort of good, fresh bread at a reasonable price.


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In my search for real Pain de Campagne, I made various recipes for Poilane style bread a few times. They are good. (Fresh bread is good by its nature). However, my experience is that it is possible to make a better bread of that style than the recipes floating around the net produce:

This is a 2 kilo+ loaf, because big loaves tend to have better flavor. It has the flavor of good "artisanal bread" without having "baker's couches" (big holes that some are so proud of). It works well for sandwiches, and does not drip mustard or melted cheese. It is sourdough, without baker's yeast, however, it is the least sour of all the breads I have made from my home ground flours. And, there is no "white" flour in it.  Sieves made of horsehair could have produced this grist of flour 2,000 years ago. Except the high protein hard red wheat was not widely available prior to 1840.

It is darker than most of the loafs I produce because of the malted barley, long fermentation time, and it is a big loaf, so it gets toasted as it bakes. 


I make a mix of grain including ~66% hard red wheat, ~30% spelt, ~2% rye and ~2% sprouted and dried barley. I stone grind the mix finely, then sift through a #40 sieve. I call this “Pmix”.  This mix of grain allows faster fermentation that any other grain mix I have tried, and much faster fermentation than white flour I have used.   (It may be that the bran in whole wheat versions of this flour slow/ reduce the change in volume that I use as a proxy for rate of fermentation.)

My sourdough starter (Joe) lives on the above Pmix.  After baking, I mix enough Pmix into Joe to make about 50 grams of very stiff dough, then every day,  another 30 grams of flour and 30 g of water is mixed in with Joe kept at 38F. The day before the next bake, enough Pmix and water is added to bring Joe up to about 350 grams, and it is left on the counter to become levain. I do not discard, I might make waffles or crackers, but I do not discard.

I take ~300g of levain, let it get very active, then I add ~600 ml water and 1,000 grams of the Pmix, and mix into a slightly stiff dough. I let it ferment for a few hours, then add 26 gm salt and ~ 80 ml of water. I knead with wet hands to make a supple dough, and retard overnight.  In the morning, I gently shape, and let the loaf proof in a cloth lined basket at cool room temperature for several hours.

I bake on a stone in the middle of my oven preheated to 390F. I turn the oven’s broiler on at low power a few minutes before I put the loaf in the oven and turn the oven from broiler to convection at 390F about 5 minutes after putting the loaf in the oven. Over the approximate 1 hour of baking time, I turn off the convection and gradually reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

I do not mess with adding water to make steam. There is more than 700 ml of water in the dough. When the dough hits the hot stone, it makes lots of steam. More water would just cool the oven.

This is a sourdough that stays very nice for a few days.  It is easier to make one good batch of sourdough per week than to make 4 batches of baguettes will be stale in 12 hours. 

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A 1.75 kg loaf from high extraction (85%) stone ground flour,  mixed in a stand mixer.

ingredients: flour, water, salt, and egg white glaze

procedure :

Weigh a kilo of flour and 20 grams of salt 

Put 300 grams of very active, very liquid, starter in stand mixer 

Add 300 gm water, mix in enough flour by hand fulls to make a thick batter.

Let ferment at 68F, for a 3 hours.

Add 300 gm water, and mix in enough to make enough flour to make a thick batter.

Let ferment at 68F, for a 3 hours.

Add in ~200 gm water , all the salt and flour by handfuls while mixing - this should make a very stiff dough. 

Slowly dribble in enough water while mixing to make a dough the consistency of baguette dough.

Let ferment a couple of hours, round up, bench rest, shape loaf, and let rise in banneton. 

Bake on stone at 400F convection.


This was mixed in an old stand mixer. It does not mix as well or a fast as newer mixers. In this case, I think the longer, slower mixing which works very well with the high extraction flour. 

Total elapsed time from putting starter in kettle to out of the oven was ~12 hours.  Fermenting a very soft dough speeds the timeline.




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Two large (kilo) loaves baking

I milled and sifted a little over a kilo of high extraction flour (containing some sprouted and dried grain).

I put a ~200 gm of starter in the kettle of the stand mixer, and added a good splash of water and mixed until a smooth batter and let ferment a few hours. I added another splash of water, and some flour to make a thick batter and let it ferment a few hours. in the evening, I added the rest of my flour, 22 grams of salt, and some water. I mixed to make a shaggy dough. As the dough absorbed water, I added more water and mixed some more, until I had a smooth dough about the consistency of baguette dough. I let it ferment a couple of hours on the counter, and then put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I put it back on the counter for a few hours.I divided into loves and shaped the loaves. I let the loaves proof on the counter for 4 hours, then baked on stone at 400F convection.

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I have not exhausted the concept of Pain de Campagne. In fact, it is becoming clear that I have not even started to explore the topic. The more I bake big loaves, the better I like them. This is slightly acid, balanced with some sweetness with a nice caramel note and wheat undertones.

This is a 3.3 lb. loaf that is mostly whole wheat with some sprouted rye and sprouted spelt (~5%??)

It was mixed in the 5 qt.  stand mixer that I bought in 1980.

300 grams of sourdough active starter in the kettle, with a good splash of water, mixed into a batter, and left covered for 2 hours.  Another splash of water, more flour, mixing and fermenting. The rest of the 700 ml of water, the rest of the kilo of flour, 20 grams of salt, mixed to a shaggy dough, let sit a couple of hours, then mixed to a smooth dough, and allowed to ferment at 65F for 6 hours.  Round up, bench rest, shape, and into a cloth lined colander set in the frig. overnight. It sat on the counter while the bake stone heated.  The loaf was glazed with egg white and water. A piece of parchment made transfer from the peel to the 400F bake stone easy. The bread went in 10 minutes after oven temp was 400F, so the stone was not fully heated. The last 15 minutes of baking were at 375F convection.  The loaf was cut after about half an hour on the cooling rack. The bread board is 7.5” wide.

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I learned to cook by going out to the garden and picking vegetables, and then going down to the hen house and seeing who had stopped laying, was ready to be dinner.  That taught me an improvisational style of cooking - cooking as a form of jazz - the garden produces similar products over a period of weeks, and one cooks variations on a theme, because every day the basket from the garden varies, but there are themes that carry over from day to day and from week to week.  That calls for improv bread. Certainly there is always pita, but . . . . 

Many of the recipes for pain de compagnon take days to produce - more of requiem than jazz.  However, if you have a very good sourdough starter, you can make a very good pain de compagnon that  can be served for supper. (If you start first thing in the morning.)  That is, sourdough starter to baked loaf in 10 hours, and that is a loaf that can be served after only an hour of cooling.

My approach:

starting first thing in the morning ; I weigh 12 grams of salt, 400 grams of bread flour, and 200 grams of whole wheat or high extraction flour into a container. I measure out 400 ml of water into a (canning jar.)(Canning jars have volume marks that are close enough for this kind of bread.

I put 100 grams of starter in the kettle of my stand mixer, add 1/4 of the water in the canning  jar, and enough of the whole wheat flour on the top of the flour container to make a batter. I split a plastic bag to cover the kettle with the dough hook in place, and let the "first refreshment" rise till bubbly - a couple of hours.

I add a third of the water remaining in the jar to the kettle, and enough flour to again make a batter, cover and let ferment on the counter. At this time, I put a teaspoon of yeast and a teaspoon of flour in the jar, and let rise on the counter.

After lunch, I add the water/yeast in  the jar to the kettle, and stir in the flour/salt from the flour container into the kettle by hand-fulls to make a shaggy dough. I let the flour hydrate for half an hour, and use the dough hook to knead the dough, adjusting the water/flour to make a dough the consistency of baguette dough. 

I take the dough hook out and let rise at 85F (proof setting in my oven) for an hour. 

About 2 pm I turn the dough out on the bench, round up, bench rest, shape the loaf, and set to rise in a floured, fabric lined colander at 85F

About 3:30 pm I take the dough out of the oven, and preheat the baking stone to 375F.

About 4 pm I put a piece of parchment paper on the peel, turn the risen dough onto the parchment paper, lash the loaf, and slide it into bakestone in the 375F convection oven. It will need about 45 minutes to bake.

After an hour on a cooling rack, it will have set enough to be served at a 6 pm supper.

This approach uses a few hacks. First, the sourdough rises faster in a whole wheat batter.  The sourdough bacteria started at room temperature dominate the dough to provide a mild flavor, sourdough texture, and reasonable keeping qualities. The yeast have time to multiply, and form a poolish flavor. The yeast and bread flour combine to provide a moderate density crumb with good volume - this big bread.   I think big loaves have better texture and flavor. And the yeast/bread flour allows the loaf to set quickly as it cools. These loaves will make huge Reuben sandwiches that do not leak melted cheese or Russian dressing.  Many bakery loaves of this size - leak.

I stone grind my own whole wheat and high-extraction flour. The grain mix usually contains ~5% rye and often at bit of spelt or kamut or both.  My fresh ground flour seems to allow faster sourdough fermentation than any of the commercial flours I have tried.  On the other hand, the bread flour I use is optimized for yeast, and allows faster yeast fermentation than my normal stone ground flour.  If I wanted faster yeast fermentation in whole wheat, I would sprout, dry, and grind some of my grain berry mix. The commercial white bread flour gives much better volume than my stone ground whole grain flours.  When I am serving herring with cream sauce, the bread is 100% whole grain, and dense enough not to leak, with enough flavor to stand up to the herring. 

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Some people paint sunflowers, I bake bread- until get good at it.  I decided that in order to really understand Pain de Campagne, I had to bake them actual size. 

This loaf is built from a hundred grams of starter, 600 grams water, 1,000 g bread flour, and 20 g salt.

The starter was put in a big bowl, and a like volume of water mixed in, then enough flour to make a very soft dough. The refreshment was left covered to rise on the counter in a cool kitchen for a few hours.  More water was mixed in, and flour added to make a very soft dough, and left covered on the counter for a few hours.  The rest of the water was added, along with the salt, and flour added by handfuls. It was a lot of dough, so stretched and folded every hour for a few hours instead of straight kneading. 

The dough was rounded up, bench rest, shaped, and allowed to rise in a salad spinner lined with a cloth. When the dough had proofed, it was turned out onto a piece of parchment paper on a peel, and gently slid into the oven. 

It was baked on a stone in a preheated oven  at 400F convection for 25 minutes, then 15 minutes at 375F convection, and a final 5 minutes at 325F convection. It is "golden brown" but looks paler because of the flour on it.  There is 600 grams of water in the dough-  that makes a lot of steam. My glasses fogged up from the steam coming out of the oven when I moved the loaf as I turned the oven down to 325F. One reason for moving the loaves when I turn the oven down is to release steam out of the oven for a crisp crust. With a good electric oven, there is no need to fuss with putting water in the oven -that extra water just cools the oven.




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I bought white bread flour for the Thanksgiving party and it is time to use it up.

This is about a 2-pound sourdough loaf baked from Graincraft’s Morbread. It is a flour that I like for white bread.

I measured out 400 gr water, 600 grams of flour, and 12 gram of salt.

A couple of ounces of my starter was mixed with a similar volume of the water, and enough flour mixed in to make a very soft dough, which was left to sit (covered) on the counter for a few hours until it had more than doubled in volume and looked foamy.  

I added about 150 gr of water (leaving about 200 grams of water), and enough flour to make a very soft mix. The soft mix is easy to stir, so it can be easily stirred well. Then, it sat covered on the kitchen counter for a few hours.  Thus, most of the flour will be fully hydrated and have developed gluten, before the final dough mix.

I tossed in the salt, the rest of the water, and mixed. Then, I gradually mixed in the rest of the flour to form a dough about the consistency of baguette dough. This is an easy knead!  And, let it ferment for a couple of hours.  Later in the evening, I rounded it up, bench rest, shaped, and put it in a banneton and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning it finished rising on the counter, and after 1.5 hours, it went onto a bake stone an electric oven preheated to 400F. I put a piece of parchment paper on the peel and turned the proofed loaf onto the parchment paper. The parchment paper makes it easy to use a peel to lay the loaf in the baking stone. After 20 minutes the temp was dropped to 375F, the parchment paper retrieved,  and the loaf was baked to an internal temp of 208F. Total time from measuring the ingredients to finishing baking was ~ 18 hours, half on the counter in a cool room, half in the refrigerator, with 40 minutes in the oven. 

It has a nice crisp crust, a slightly chewy crumb that is barely dense enough not to leak sandwich fillings (when cut thick), and definite, but very mild, sourdough and bread flavors. It is well suited to a wide variety of menus. By any standard, it is an excellent bread.

Sorry guys, I like a golden-brown crust, (sometimes with the rustic flour coating that makes it look pale).  I like the ease of just using my peel to slip loaves in and out of the oven.  I like the ease of mixing flour into water. I think mixing water and flour into levain makes a better dough.

The really nice thing about the white flour is that its hydration is predictable, so one can use a precise baker’s percentage.


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