The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

agres's blog

agres's picture

.We attend an annual Thanksgiving reunion, and I usually bring the bread -- adapted to whatever the menu is.  Often the menu is comprised of the foods people grew up with in Northern Europe just after WWII, and the breads were the country breads of the time. This year, it is a more refined menu, calling for a more refined bread. 


Each year, I put some effort into selecting the right bread, and refining my technique.

This year it is a yeasted bread, 33% freshly milled whole wheat and 66% bread flour, with small amounts of olive oil and dry milk added

I add 500 ml warm water to 200 gr freshly ground whole wheat flour, add 2 tsp dry active yeast, stir, cover, and let sit overnight (in a 2 liter container) in a cool kitchen. In the morning there is “head” of bran over slightly sour liquid.  That mix goes into the bowl of a stand mixer, I add 30 gr non-fat dry milk and 30 gr olive oil, the mix in 400 gr bread flour by handfuls, add 12 gr salt, and finish kneading by hand adjusting hydration to give a very workable dough.

I proof at 85F for an hour, pre-shape, bench rest, and form loaves, place in banneton, cover and let rise for an hour at 85F.  Then, I bake on a pre-heated stone at 375F convection for 15 minutes, 15 minutes at 350F no convection, then 15F minutes at 325 convection.  (It makes a nice bread, but it takes too much oven time for a professional baker.)

It is tender, with a mild, but definite wheat-flavor with mild overtones of the yeast, and only a hint of sourness. After cooling, it has a tender crust. It has a tender crumb that is dense enough to not to drip fillings.  Everyone can take home some bread, and the next day it makes great turkey sandwiches.



agres's picture

A better approach that seems less effort is a 4-hour long Autolyse  of fresh ground wheat berries at 90% hydration, then add ~10%  sourdough starter, a  4 hour bulk ferment including several stretch and folds with 2% salt added at the next to last stretch and fold,  a 12-hour retard, then form the loaves, and a final rise in baskets of about 3 or 4 hours.  Bake at 450F convection on a pizza stone. 

Working here in California at mostly room temperature, the whole thing took about 20 hours, noting that autolyse began while the flour was still warm from grinding - e.g., 115F, but the starter came straight our of the fridge.

The wheat was Red Winter Wheat, that had not been tempered, so the dough not as wet as it sounds, and was easy to work.  In fact, I added another 15 ml of water as I folded in the salt.

This is the best 100% whole wheat bread I have ever baked, so this is a procedure that I intend to repeat over and over, and someday perfect.

agres's picture

I learned the Ideal Gas Law ( ) circa 1962, and it has been on the tip of my tongue ever since.

Simply, it says that when you put bread dough in the oven, the gas bubbles in the dough expand as the gas warms. In a hot oven, with plenty of heat, this happens much too fast for yeast to do anything. The myth of yeast suddenly putting out a lot more CO2 as a result of the extra heat is an old wife’s tale.

Bread dough contains a lot of water. In the heat of the oven, water at the surface of the dough heats to over 212F, converting to steam. As water converts to steam, it expands by a factor of ~1600. Thus, the water in the crust can fill the loaf with steam, very quickly. That steam carries a lot of heat which kills yeast and bacteria, heats the gases in bubbles in the dough, and converts the hydrolyzed starches and proteins in the dough into the stable structure that we call bread.

Steam from the crust can not only carry heat into the bread, it can carry huge amounts of heat away from the baking loaf. By trapping that high energy steam around the loaf, Cloches & Dutch Ovens can be very worthwhile, particularly with gas ovens.

However, modern, energy efficient electric ovens tend to do a very good job of holding steam in the oven.

I have a Wolf electric oven. It is fabulous for a pound or 2 of yeast based breads made with white flour. I can set the oven to 375F convection mode, give it 15 minutes to heat, and bake a tray of 3 x 250 gram baguettes,  resulting in beautiful loaves, with minimal effort – no fussing with baking stones or generating steam. There is ~300 grams of water in the dough that must be heated, so throwing any additional water in the oven simply diminishes the heat available for baking the bread. (E.g., the water in the dough and the additional water must be heated.)

However, for a 750 gram whole wheat loaf, I use a higher hydration level so there is 330 grams of water in the loaf, and the oven does not really have enough thermal inertia to quickly heat that extra amount of water with a set temperature of 375F, so I set the oven to 395F.

Heat is temperature times thermal inertia. Available heat can be increased by raising the temperature or increasing thermal inertia. Available heat is what counts in baking. The higher temperature supplies extra heat to make steam of the water in the crust and bake the bread. And I still do not have to mess with steam generation or baking stones or a cloche.

If I want to bake larger loaves, I need to add a baking stone or Cloche or Dutch Oven or otherwise increase the thermal inertia of the oven.  The first step is to use a cast iron griddle (with oven set to 375F with convection) on the bottom rack. The second step is a baking stone on the bottom rack and the cast iron griddle above the baking rack. Then, both the stone and the iron griddle add thermal inertia and when hot can supply heat to vaporize water in the crust. Also, a very small loaf does not produce enough steam to fill my oven with steam, so small loaves must be baked in Cloche or Dutch Oven or my favorite turkey roaster. Or, last night I baked a very small loaf and an apple pie at the same time (convection @ 375F) and both came out perfectly. (The pie supplied extra steam for the bread.)

I like a golden-brown crust. If I want a darker crust, I can glaze it to produce a darker crust. If someone tells me to preheat my oven to more than 450F, then I presume that they have a gas oven with low thermal inertia, and which does not trap steam; and, they think readers have similar ovens. I notice that bread recipes that call for baking at temperatures over 450F also call for long bake times (resulting in darker crusts by the time the crumb is baked.) I try to have enough thermal inertia in my oven that I can bake at a lower temperature and have a much shorter bake time. Yes, I generally use convection baking, which substantially reduces baking time, but still, my baking times seem very short in the context of many bread recipes.   I expect this is true for anyone with a good electric oven.

Commercial bake ovens use steam injection because steam injection is a way to quickly increase the heat in the oven without scorching or burning the products being baked. Also, in some places steam is a very inexpensive source of heat. Adding water to (a home) oven in addition to the water in the dough cools the oven. Under some conditions it may help transfer heat from the thermal inertia of the oven to the product, but it is more likely to cool the oven and lengthen the bake time resulting in a thicker crust.  I can get a crisper crust by using a decreasing oven temperature so the last 5 minutes of the bake is at 325F.

agres's picture

I have 4 bins of "wheat" in the pantry. They are all fresh from the vendor, at a moisture content of ~11%. If I take samples of each, mill them, and mix each sample to the same hydration, the result will range from a "brick" (Kamut) to "soup" (spelt).

If you are grinding your own flour, you need to account for the kind of wheat as you choose a hydration level.  Hard spring wheat and hard winter wheat have different hydration requirements.  If your bread making process uses  a particular hydration level,  then you need to stick with that kind, or blend of wheat so that you have a consistent flour that works at that level of hydration. Certainly, there are flours that are more or less interchangeable to a certain extent.

Selecting, blending, and processing different kinds of wheat into a consistent product is what millers do. Consistency is why flour is more valuable than raw wheat berries, and why bakers buy flour from millers rather than wheat from farmers.

If a recipe calls for a certain level of hydration, then is is assuming a certain kind or blend of wheat processed in a certain way into meal/flour. It is assuming consistency. If you not have that kind of flour/meal, then you need to adjust your recipe.

If you are grinding your own meal/flour, then you need to recognize that wheat varies from cultivar to cultivar, by location grown, and from season to season. Then, you need to make adjustments to your milling or baking accordingly.

Often this is as simple as adding a bit more flour or water to the dough. However, you need to recognize what dough of the right consistency looks like.  As much I disparage commercial flour, it is consistent. You can use it to learn what dough of the proper consistency looks and feels like. Mostly standard commercial flours work with standard recipes, and standard recipes work with the recommended commercial flours found at any supermarket. 

However, millers that supply real bakers, offer many different kinds of flour - and each different kind of flour has its use. And bakers use different kinds of flour for different kinds of products.

The home miller can produce an infinite variety of flours, and the art is in putting each kind of flour to its best use.


agres's picture

We keep real milk in the house during the winter, but during the summer, we switch to soy milk. (In the summer we like fruit smoothies, and soy milk makes a better smoothie.)

With soy milk and a little extra (peanut) oil, one can make a decent "American" whole wheat bread.  In the old days, I would have used a can of evaporated milk.  

It is not as good as real American whole wheat bread made with real milk, but it is good enough that not everyone will notice the difference, and if they are not accustomed to your good fresh breads, they will be grateful for having nice fresh home baked bread.  (Remind them that rich flavor and dense texture are virtues of the design and production - not defects.)



agres's picture

When we are making a stollen from white flour, we make the dough, develop the gluten and then, only at the end do we mix in all the extra stuff – fruits, nuts, and whatever. If we included all that extra stuff in the initial mix, the gluten would not develop properly.

Whole wheat flour has a lot of extra stuff in it – stuff that can inhibit the proper development of gluten.

If the texture of ordinary 100% whole wheat is simply not acceptable to you or your loved ones, there is an arduous path to a fluffier loaf.

Sift out all the stuff, make the dough, develop the gluten, and then fold all the stuff back into the dough. You will need to carefully, fully hydrate all the stuff. It needs to be hydrated, without holding so much water that the extra water spoils your dough. And the stuff needs some extra oil or fat. These days, I add ~2% oil (baker’s percentage) to my “bran soak”.

This is more work, but it does make 100% whole wheat bread that is somewhat more like some conspicuous consumption Artesian product. On the other hand, I like good old American whole wheat bread. I like breads made from “high extraction flours” where the bran is simply sifted out of the flour, and I like bran muffins and extra bran in my morning porridge. There are many paths to good bread.

I really have not decided if I like the slightly more open crumb structure (it does not hold jam, mustard and other juices as well.)  

agres's picture

I was never, and am not now, a big fan of commercial whole wheat flour. Over the last couple of years, have become a huge fan of the whole wheat flours that I mill fresh.

I admit that there has been a long, and sometimes steep learning curve to producing whole grain breads that I really like. Much of that I attribute to the assumptions of the authors of most books on baking. In part that is because the authors think whatever professional bakers do, must be the best way to bake. However, bakers bake for their profit – not their customer’s health and well being. 

Americans and their bakers are infatuated with breads made from white flour.  I admit that the French with their baguettes also have the disease (and may have been the source of the American infection).  It is America where supermarkets have shelves and shelves of cottony white bread, just as advertised on Saturday morning TV along with Coco Pops and Captain Crunch breakfast cereal.  White bread and sugary cereal are staples in the bottom lines of America’s food industry.  Artisan breads made from white flour at your local bakery are more expensive, but do not have much more nutrition.  

Assuredly, Artisan Bakers producing breads for conspicuous consumption are likely to add a bit of rye and a smidgen of spelt to their wares, but their bread is still mostly white flour for the convenience and profit of the baker.  The customer gets bland bread with little nutrition.  The customers accept bland bread because they have been told (by bakers) that “bland bread” is sophisticated, elegant, and high status.

Overall, we have seen the flavors of our food decline toward industrially produced insipid sweet, oily and salty.  Even where we have fresh herbs from the supermarket, they tend to be from plants that have been irrigated and fertilized until they lack the flavor of herbs gathered from dry hillsides.  

The herbs I grow, pick, and dry are full of flavor. The olives I cure are full of flavor. We go to the bother of keeping fruit trees because we like ripe fruit from cultivars selected for the flavor of their fruit rather than the fruit’s transport and keeping qualities. We like tomatoes picked full ripe so they are full of flavor, even if the fruit is too fragile transport to market.

I like breads with rich flavors and textures. The path to such delights is whole grain. It is not an easy path, but the paths to many worthwhile things are not easy.  Some paths, we follow because they lead to worth while results, and some paths we follow because they are hard. I follow the path to full flavored bread because I like the results. I wandered in a nutritional wasteland of white flour for a long time.  I produced breads that were much admired. Now, I produce better breads.

I assert that while there are many recipes for good whole wheat bread, they all assume you have good fresh flour.  Whole wheat flour can get bitter quickly. And, many commercial whole wheat flours do not have all the nutrients or more importantly all the enzymes in the original wheat.  This very much affects how fast yeast or sourdough will ferment and raise the dough.  Also, flour loses “strength” with extended storage.  That said, I see four different effective techniques for good whole wheat breads.

  1. American – This is a classic, raised with yeast; where the liquid is about 2/3 scalded whole milk and 1/3 water with honey at a baker’s percentage of 2%. The milk provides additional fat, and the honey provides acids that help keep the bran from interfering with gluten development yielding a more open crumb.  All in all, this is the right bread for a peanut butter and jam sandwich with a crumb that will keep the jam from leaking. The form factor will be different from Wonder Bread, but it will be much more satisfying – in part because it will leak less jam.
  2. Kosher – Like the American, except using olive oil /water instead of milk (olive oil Baker’s Percentage = 3%). The extra proteins in the milk make the American style, a richer and more satisfying bread.
  3. Sourdough – Flour, water, and salt. Good fresh whole wheat flour allows the sourdough process to go much faster than it can with white flour, and faster than it can with most commercial whole wheat flours. Baking book authors may grind their own flour, but they do not assume you will have similar flour – so their times for dough fermentation will not work for someone that grinds their own flour. In a 70F kitchen, and fermenting/rising on the counter, I make the dough for supper breads in the morning. Where some Parisian baker would use mostly white bread flour and some spelt, with a 24 -hour retard, I can use my fresh whole wheat instead of spelt because my whole wheat is less bitter.  And, because my flour has more nutrients and enzymes, the whole fermentation process goes much faster. Using fresh whole wheat, you need to watch the dough, not the clock. Hydration is very important. For full flavor, I bring the wheat berries up to ~15% moisture content a few days before milling. Then, I use a 66% bakers percentage hydration - the dough needs to autolyze before adjusting hydration - Initially the dough will seem very dry. These are the breads to eat with rich, full flavored foods, served with rich, full flavored beverages.  This is bread for meals that you savor.  This is the basis for the best steak sandwich you ever ate. (You can also roll the dough thin, and use a cast iron skillet to make pita bread on the grill to fill with grilled stuff .  Or, you can make a pizza. : )
  4. Sourdough with rye – Like a full-flavored cake.

A detail – hard red winter and hard red spring wheat both have plenty of protein for good bread, but they have different proteins that respond differently to mixing and kneading.  The hard red winter wheat has better “extensibility” which many artisan bakers like, while the hard red spring wheat tends to spring back and tolerate more mechanical mixing.  Milling your own fresh flour may be as difficult a path as any path in the world of baking.

I was trained to plan the menu based on what was available in the garden and market. Today, I simply add the wheat berries that I have on hand to that menu planning.  I treat the vegetables from the garden, the meats from the butcher, and the grain from the pantry with respect. I tend to buy grain in bulk via mail order because folks like Montana Flour & Grain (  or Pleasant Hill Grain tend to provide better quality than my local suppliers.   (If one has a stock of grain in the pantry, it is important to keep all bugs out of the pantry.)

agres's picture

As bakers, we spend a lot of time on the "How" and very little time on the "Why". When we do bring up why, it tends to be why we do things in a particular way (e.g., which temperature to proof a particular dough) rather than why we choose to make a particular style of bread. 

I do not see thoughtful discussions of why people decide to learn to make baguettes.   Home bakers seem bake them because commercial bakers bake them, and people are in the habit of eating them, and so people like baguettes. Then, home bakers, bake what people like.

For the baker, baguettes have virtues. They are easy to make, and use inexpensive ingredients that are easy to store and handle.  And, baguettes are cheap, go with a wide variety of modern French foods, so people are in the habit of eating baguettes all the time, and there is a large demand for baguettes. Together, these points make baguette and similar attractive to  commercial bakers.  However, the home baker can consider the costs of medical conditions associated with eating white bread such as baguettes, and suddenly baguettes are not cheap.

I understand the large demand for baguettes. People often ask me to make baguettes.  Those people are coming down with diet related diseases.  For them, the “Pain de Campaign” that is only ~20% whole grain flour is not an answer. It is still 80% “ultra-processed-stuff". And that ultra-processed-stuff will still do a job on their bodies. The virtues of baguettes for bakers do not help the eaters.  Why do home bakers continue to bake and feed such stuff to their friends and family? (HABIT)

We are not greedy commercial bakers - we do not need to sell air to make a living. We can “sell” cake! We can use the whole grains to make breads with the kind of crumb that whole grain makes, and it will be just as good as baguettes or the stuff sold as Pain de Campaign.  It will be different, but it will be just as good. Yes, we need to present our bread with a flourish (e.g., sell) that tells people that it is better than the junk bakers make from ultra-processed-stuff and sell as bread.

Whole grain excels at fine, moist, tender, "crumb" - that is pretty much the definition of cake.  Let them eat "cake"!   It is healthy. The classic American whole wheat bread recipe calls for milk and honey.  Together, whole wheat flour, milk and honey tend to produce a texture that is more like what we think of as "cake" than the baguette texture that we think of as bread.  Or, whole wheat flour with a bit of rye, handled as sourdough produces a fine moist, tender product that does not look like many of the things that modern bakers call "bread", but which is very pleasant to eat. These are the breads that I routinely bake. Some of my favorite whole grain flour mixes contain 10 different ingredients including soy beans or garbanzo beans. And, there are a whole range of sourdough breads that are mostly rye with just a bit of wheat in them - that are moist, tender, and cake like. Perhaps the extreme is Borodinsky bread.  

I have been asked to bring the “bread” to a reunion gathering in a few weeks. There will of course be baguettes, and other nutritional nothings made from mostly white flour. However, there will also be Borodinsky bread, and a variety of whole grain breads that contain no white flour.  We are old friends, and these are the breads that we will eat together.  


agres's picture

 My wife and I like porridge for breakfast.  The porridge always includes oats, nuts, and fruit but otherwise it is not really constrained, and I am always looking for ideas. Recently I picked-up  Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain Breakfast cereal, but it was not really a winner – we did not really like the texture, so I ground it into flour for my Pain de Campania series.

It made a surprisingly good addition to my Pain de Campania.  It was worth thinking deeply about.

The “10-grain flour” got some added Kamut, Spelt, and hard winter wheat flour (sifted through a 40# sieve) , and there was a series of loaves of various proportions.

So, a friend was coming back from Europe, and we invited her over for an April Fool “Holy Bread” Luncheon. We served Holey bagels (strong bread flour), Kosher Challah (weak bread flour), and Pain de Campania decorated with a cross.

This has really become our favorite bread. My grain mix is about 1 part “10-grain flour” 1 part Kamut flour, 1 part Spelt flour, 1 part Rye flour, 1 part Sprouted Wheat flour, and 2 parts sifted Winter Wheat flour. Altogether, that mix is my PdC flour.  Those grains all came into the house last fall, and we had a warm, wet winter, so I expect they have absorbed some moisture, which will affect hydration. I am also using commercial strong bread flour, from a new sack, so it will be very dry.

My sourdough starter is fed about every other day, and the morning the day before baking, about 100 grams of starter gets fed with 150 grams PdC grain mix and 150 grams water and is left on the counter (65F). By early evening it is 400 grams of a nice bubbly leaven.  A month or so ago, I accidently dumped all my starter into a batch of bread. It took a few days to build a new starter.  This is that new starter, and not some heritage starter I got from – some mythical grandmother.  However, in the last couple of weeks, it seems to have picked up additional strains of yeast that does produce a lighter crumb – I do not think that sourdough starters are ever finished, they evolve with what they are fed and the environment.

In the early evening before the day of the bake, I put 400 grams of water in a big bowl, add the 400 gm of leaven, and mix with a whisk. I add 200 grams of the PdC flour, cover and let sit on the counter for 3 or 4 hours. About 9 pm I add 50 grams of olive oil, 30 grams of molasses, 12 grams of salt, and stir in 400 grams of strong bread flour, and stir/knead into a coarse dough. I put a lid on it, and let it sit on the counter over-night.

First thing in the morning, the dough gets stretched, and rolled up into a ball, several times in a couple of hours, with 20 or 30 minutes of rest in the covered bowl between stretches. I do not turn the dough out, I simply pick up the dough, and stretch it. After all the stretching, it will be a smooth, elastic dough.  After a rest, the loaf is formed (on a counter), it is put into a cloth lined plastic colander, and the flaps of the cloth liner are folded over the loaf. If I am using baskets with liners, then I cover the loaf with an elastic/plastic baker’s cover. 

When the loaf is risen, it gets turned into an enameled iron pot that was preheated to 395F, the loaf is slashed, the preheated lid goes on and the pot/loaf goes into the 395F oven with convection for 15 minutes. Then, the lid comes off, and the oven is turned down to 375F with convection. After another 15 minutes, the oven is turned down to 350F without convection. Thus, there is a total of 40 minutes in a “reducing” oven.

Total elapsed time from setting the sourdough on the counter until the bread comes out of the oven is  about 29 hours. (Or 24 hours if I want a denser crumb.) Total elapsed work time over that period is less than 20 minutes – I spend a lot more time washing my hands than I spend actually working on the bread. Total cleanup time is about 5 minutes. Net weight of such a loaf is just over a kilo.

It is a real sourdough – it wants a little rest before cutting. And it keeps well – it reaches a peak a few hours after it comes out of the oven. Because it is really a no-knead dough, I am not limited by the size of my stand mixer, and I am no longer tempted to lay down a big bag of money for a fancy dough mixer.  I can use bigger pots (or a turkey roaster) to bake bigger loaves.


agres's picture

I had an aunt that was exceptionally partial to bran muffins. When she visited us, I indulged her with fresh muffins every morning. Her recipe (which I scrupulously followed) was based on All-Bran breakfast cereal.  My wife and I prefer Scotch oatmeal, so we do not normally keep All-Bran in the house, so we have not been in the habit of making bran muffins for years.

However, milling flour (and sifting) generates a surplus of bran. I have taken to cheating, I sold out -- bran muffins are back on the menu (in rotation). Making bran muffins is less work than making 100% whole wheat bread (from 100% extraction flour) that my wife likes.  (Some of us do like dark, dense bread a lot! But then, we also eat herring.  :  )

  My muffins are made with soy milk and lemon juice, so I do not need to keep buttermilk. I use fresh-ground, soft-wheat as my flour, so the only evil elements are the small amounts of  brown sugar and oil. They are more healthy than the muffins I made for my aunt.

There is no law that says US PdC must be full of bran. My wife prefers breads made from 90% extraction flour,  and sometimes I add some white bread flour when the menu calls for a less assertive bread. However, today lunch was borscht, which called for a flavorful, dark bread. It was a small loaf, because dinner will be Asian Fusion served with rice, not bread.


Subscribe to RSS - agres's blog