The Fresh Loaf

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I make English Muffins from time to time. Here's my latest, and some discussion.

First: I made English Muffins with dough, not batter. Usually, I use sourdough. Second: I consider english muffins to be a cooking technique (cook on a hot, dry iron skillet dusted with cornmeal) and not really a recipe. You can use pretty much any dough you like, as near as I can tell.

This time I used a sourdough dough, the recipe was frankly improvised since I changed directions midstream. In broad strokes: whole wheat starter into a fairly liquid sponge made up from KAF organic bread flour. This ripens, then I made up dough, with the sponge making up about 1/3 to 1/2 of the final dough (my kitchen is somewhat chilly these days, so I am doing sourdoughs fairly conservatively). Dough made up with KAF organic bread flour, appropriate amounts of salt and water to hit a quite wet dough. Say around 70 percent (You can't really "hold" a big lump of it with one hand -- it will eventually flow out, albeit slowly).

All dough development done by hand-stirring in the bowl, Joe Ortiz style. NO KNEADING. At this point there's some dough development -- it's balling up and cleaning the sides of the bowl, but it's still "shaggy". 1 or 2 S&Fs and then into the fridge overnight (this because it was getting late, there wasn't a plan here). 2-3 more S&Fs as it warmed, then form up balls. At this point it's no longer "shaggy" but just barely past that stage, I think. So, this dough is moderately underdeveloped (by now this WAS part of the plan!). The balls slumped pretty well, but there was enough development to hold them together with the gluten skin -- definitely more like a bag of warm jelly than a "dough" standing up on its own, though. Final rise quite long. Now the dough is underdeveloped and over-proofed, which by this time was my goal. I think for English Muffins, these are both good things -- not wildly underdeveloped, and not wildly over-proofed, but "distinctly" perhaps would be the right word. My handling all along was gentle, I didn't really make any effort to degas thoroughly at any point.

Cook about 8-9 minutes a side in a dry iron skillet dusted with cornmeal, and here we are (the black bits are burned cornmeal from the previous batch):



amolitor's picture

As you probably know, there's a technique for improving bread which involves adding some quantity of "old dough" to the new dough. Some dough from the last batch, that's 6 or 12 or 4 hours old, or something. While this is great for commercial bakers, it's a little bit less great for the home baker. Here's what I've started doing:

Whenever I bake a yeasted more-or-less white bread, I save a 2 or 3 walnut sized balls of fully developed dough (just before shaping). I wrap these individually in a piece of plastic wrap suitable to cover my normal mixing bowl, and freeze them. Then, when I want to do some pate fermente action, I thaw a ball out the night before. I soak this dough in 1/4 cup or so of warm water to soften it up, and then mix in anough flour for a stiff dough (2/3 cup to 3/4 cup). Knead enough to mix the thawed old throughout. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap (which you can now use to cover the bowl for the entire batch of bread, see?) and let stand overnight.

If you want more "old dough" you can repeat the process, adding more water to your risen dough, and more flour, and let that rise.

You could do the same thing with yeast and so on, to make a new dough the night before, but I find this to be very convenient.


amolitor's picture


My wife likes oatmeal and things made with oatmeal, so she requested a bread made with oatmeal. This is the result:


  • 1/4 cup oatmeal (would have used more, but that's all we had)
  • 1/4 Bob's Red Mill 7 grain hot cereal
  • 1/4 cup barley flour
  • 1 cup boiling water

Mix, let stand overnight, covered.


  • 1/8 tsp rapid rise yeast (it's what we have -- I'd prefer 1/4 tsp regular dried yeast)
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1 cup warm water

Proof yeast in water, mix in flour thoroughly. Let stand overnight, covered.

In the morning:

Proof 1/8 tsp yeast (rapid rise, I'd use 1/4 tsp dried yeast if I had it) in about 2 T warm water.

Sprinkle 1 T salt on the bouillie (I will use 2 tsp next time, see notes below) and mix, then add poolish and yeast mixture above to bouillie and mix. Mix in flour until it looks like the right hydration (I was aiming for 66 percent or thereabouts -- but see notes below!). I was assuming this would come out to 1 1/2 cups or so, but it was somewhat less, perhaps 3/4 cup, before things started to look like the sort of moist dough I wanted. Autolyse thirty minutes, then knead for moderate dough development. During kneading, something began to give water back -- the dough rapidly turned into a very moist dough, and felt like 70 to 75 percent hydration. I kneaded it wet for a time, just to see what would happen (if something suddenly gace BACK a bunch of water, I didn't want to panic, add a bunch more flour, and then have whatever it was suck the water up again!). I wound up adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour in towards the end of kneading.

Bulk rise 2 hours with S&F every hour. Retard in fridge for a couple of hours, this was purely for scheduling reasons. Warm for an hour, S&F, warm another 30 minutes, form a boule. Proof until ready.

Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 425 for 25 minutes. The result:


The flavor is wonderful. The crumb is a sort of alarming grey, but that's just the oatmeal. You can't feel the 7-grain cereal (which is a hearty cracked grain thing) but you can see it in there. I was looking for a more open crumb, but I probably wound up overworking it in my struggles with apparent hydration. As you can see it was a trifle underproofed (frankly, it may still have been cool from the fridge inside) and my scoring.. sucks.

When I do it again:

  • less salt, 2 tsp not 1 T as indicated. The flavor is wonderful, and also salty!
  • more flour initially (in the mixing pre-autolyse)

It seems as if the whole grains absorbed more liquid than I expected, which is partly why I wound up oversalting. Also, I can't do arithmetic well. Anyways. ALSO I think that when I started to knead the oatmeal started to give up the water it had soaked up, so my apparent hydration shot up (i.e. it started feeling REALLY WET). The lesson here is to mix it to quite firm in the bowl, I'm going to try for more of a 55 percent hydration "feel" in the bowl, a firm American Bread kind of feel, then autolyze, and then knead. I am hoping that the oatmeal (or whatever it was) will give up water again, and bring me back to my nice moist dough for the bulk rise.

I think I will also proof my second yeast (the yeast that goes into the dough mixture in the morning) in 1/4 cup warm water, to allow for more bread flour to be mixed in to hit my target hydration. I wanted a somewhat larger loaf than I got, since the whole grains soaked up more water than I expected. I'd really like to get that 1 1/2 cups of bread flour into the dough, and I simply need more water than I had. So, the next version of this recipe I will be using uses the bouillie and poolish as above, and:

Proof 1/8 tsp rapid rise yeast (or 1/4 tsp regular dry yeast) in 1/4 cup warm water. Sprinkle 2 tsp salt onto the bouillie and mix, then mix in the poolish and the proofed yeast. Next, mix in flour to get a firm dough (approx 1 1/2 cups). Autolyse 30 minutes, knead to moderate development. Bulk rise 2-3 hours with S&F hourly. Retard a couple of hours in the fridge (or not, as you like, really). Warm to room temp with hourly S&F for a couple hours, shape, proof, bake as above!


amolitor's picture

This is my FIRST EVER purchase of equipment specifically for breadmaking. I am very excited:



25c each. They work great!


amolitor's picture

I'm working on this recipe.

My current state of the art is:

Evening of Day 0

  • 1/4 cup WW flour
  • 3 T water
  • 1 T WW starter

(this approximates 100% hydration starter mix). Let rise overnight.

Morning of Day 1

  • starter from last night
  • another 1/4 cup WW flour
  • another 3 T water

Let rise until about noon (6 hours). Should be Quite Active at this point.

Noonish of Day 1

Toast 1/4 cup + 1 T cracked wheat in dry skillet until Dark Golden Brown, mix with 1/4 cup + 1 T boiling water. Let rest/soak/cool.

  • starter
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup WW flour
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • toasted cracked wheat mixture
  • sufficient bread flour to hit a moderately high hydration dough

Knead dough until it starts to develop. The dough will be moist and sticky, if you form it into a blob and grab one end you can lift the blob up off the working surface. Holding it there, it will sag, eventually pouring slowly out of your hands over a minute or two. It's as thick as a Very Thick muffin batter, and somewhat springy due to gluten development. Mine was starting to windowpane, weakly -- I didn't want to overdevelop since the ferment goes on a while.

Bulk ferment for 5 hours, S&F every hour.

Into the fridge around 6pm.

6 am Day 2

Remove from fridge, place somewhere warm. S&F after an hour. Form up a loaf after 2 hours. Proof until done (2 hours in this case). Bake at 450 with steam for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 425 for another 25 minutes. Results:


I had good development going in to the fridge in the evening, but it seems to have started to vanish by morning. I feel like the dough was starting to fall apart. The next test will be to follow the same pattern, but aim for mixing dough about 3-4 hours later, so there's only 8-9 hours in the fridge instead of 12. This experiment went off rather better than the previous run (the dough was less sticky, and much more willing to stand up, but the surface gluten network wasn't quite what I want it to be). The flavor and texture are very very similar to the previous result, and the loaf is more staisfying to me, but I feel I have more work to do.

Previous experiment is here:

amolitor's picture

I gave this recipe a try over the last couple of days. Here is my report!

First of all, OF COURSE I had to tinker with it. I cut it in half, and converted to rough volumetric measurements.

  • 1/4 cup cracked wheat, well toasted in
  • 1/4 cup water just off the boil

soak soak soak

  • half a cup of 100%-ish WW starter, quite active
  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • cracked wheat mixture

Mix and then add:

  • 3/4 cup rye flour
  • 3/4 cup WW flour
  • sufficient bread flour to get the hydration about right (very sticky, semi-pourable)

Autolyse 30 minutes (well, ok, the baby needed some tending, so tend the baby for a while, and then:) knead to get a little development, bulk rise 5-6 hours S&F every hour or thereabouts.

I could tell at this point that it wasn't going QUITE as planned -- my hydration seems to have been a bit too high for the amount of bread flour I'd gotten into it, since I wasn't getting much gluten development. The hydration looked the same as in the given link, but the gluten development never got to that point. Oh well, forward..

Into the fridge overnight, warm to room temp the next day, shape and proof 2 hours, bake at 450 with steam 20 minutes, turn down to 425 for another 20 minutes I elected to skip the 'cool it for 2 hours, shape, back into the fridge in a banneton overnight for final proofing' step because I could tell this was just going to result in a loaf irrevocably stuck to my improvised banneton cloth. At least, so it seemed to me. So, I went for a simple 'bulk rise for 6 hours with S&Fs, then retard 12 hours in the fridge before shaping.'

The results. VERY moist and sticky dough, even in a 2 hour proof it stuck to the banneton a bit, and there was just never a gluten skin on the outside to hold it together, so it was pretty slumpy. The resulting loaf was raised just fine, and tastes absolutely fantastic -- quite sour, quite rye, quote toasted cracked wheat. The cracked wheat isn't noticeable as hard bits at all -- you can SEE them and I think they add texture, but they've softened up beautifully. I toasted the wheat in a dry cast iron skillet to dark golden brown, another few minutes and I would have been burning it. This bread is moist and crazily delicious, with a slightly tacky crumb.



Lessons learned (tentatively):

If it's not developing well in the initial knead, sacrifice some hydration to get some more wheat flour in to it!

amolitor's picture

I have posted this recipe, more or less, elsewhere, but I am recording it in my blog for posterity, with some updates to my process and my thinking:

Again, this isn't a recipe for the baker who prefers precise measurements!

This is a two levain naturally leavened bread, based on Joe Ortiz' recipe from The Village Baker but modified so that, well, to be blunt, it works which the original doesn't really. The only substantive change is at the beginning, rather than starting a chef from scratch and expecting to get a sufficiently active culture to raise a loaf, I start with a liquid-ish starter.

My "storage starter" is a all whole wheat starter, fed every 2 days and kept at the consistency of mayonnaise, more or less. I use a pinch of salt in it to slow it down a little more. I use it often enough to keep it out of the fridge, but not often enough to want it sitting around eating its head off all day! So, I keep it a little hungry, and a little slow.

Step 1

Feed my starter. If I'm planning to start the next day, I make sure to feed my starter the night before so that it's pretty active the next evening. I could probably improve this by feeding the morning of, and getting the first levain started in the evening. Anyways, making sure the starter is pretty active is important -- the levains will be lethargic and slow to work otherwise.

Step 2

First levain:

  • approximately 1 oz liquid starter (2 tablespoons)
  • approximately 1 oz water
  • 2-3 oz whole wheat flour

I vary this according to how active my liquid starter is. If it seems a little sleepy, I will make this levain a bit larger AND use a higher percentage of starter in it. You're looking for 4 to 5 ounces of stiff dough here. It should feel like a regular american bread dough (say 50% hydration or so). I cover the bowl with plastic wrap, which keeps a crust from forming. I think it you cover with cloth, you may get a crust, which you might want to discard -- if so, make the levain bigger to you have some extra to discard!

In any case, use amounts of flour and water as indicated, but in ratios such as to give this stiff dough. The hydration of your starter will affect things as well, of course. I think that, based on the level of activity of your starter:

  • use 2 oz flour, and 2 tablespoons starter if Very Active
  • use 3 oz flour, and 3 tablespoons starter if Kind of Sleepy
  • use something in between if your starter is somewhere in between

Then add water sufficient to make a stiff dough. I use 'the fountain' method which seems to give pretty good control here, but I have also just mixed all the stuff in a bowl as well. Knead a bit for some little development, but don't worry much about that at this point.

This rises overnight, 8 to 12 hours. Again, if the initial starter seemed sleepy, I might give it 12 hours. It will become soft and inflated, at least doubling. One test I have seen and used for ripeness is 'does it float' (or does a little piece snipped off and not degassed much float). When you deem this levain ripe:

Step 3

Second levain (the next morning):

  • all of the first levain
  • 2.5 to 3.5 ounces of water
  • 5 to 7 ounces, total, of flour -- equal parts whole wheat and white bread flour

At this point, again, the size of the second levain will be determined by how sleepy the first levain seems, and how big it was. If the first levain still seems a little slow, I'll mix the second levain smaller (to have a higher percentage of first levain in it -- I could make the first levain "richer" by adding more liquid starter, but at this point you're stuck with the first levain as-is, so the way to enrich is to actually mix smaller). The result will be 12 to 16 ounces of levain, again mixed quite stiff.

You'll cut the first levain up in to bits, and let them soak in the water (use maybe 2 ounces of water, 1/4 cup, for this), and then add flour as you think best to mix a smaller or larger levain (5 ounces flour if the first levain is Kind of Sleepy, 7 ounces if Very Active, and in between if in between) and then add water as necessary to get a stiff dough. Kneading this to get a little more dough development is probably worthwhile, as we'll be making up dough and baking today, most likely.

This rises for 4 to 6 hours, until doubled or so. You can use the float test here as well.

It should be about mid-day at this time.

Step 4

Final dough:

  • all of the second levain
  • 12 to 16 ounces of white bread flour
  • 8 to 11 ounces of water
  • 1 tablespoon salt or less

Break up the second levain into 1 cup (8 oz) of water and let soak, add in appropriate flour. As usual:

  • if the second levain seems sleepy, use less flour (12 ounces, you're going to bake a smaller loaf)
  • if it seems active and excited, use more flour (16 ounces, hooray, you get a bigger loaf)
  • if your second levain is somewhere in the middle, use somewhere in the middle!

Adjust salt. A tablespoon is good for the larger loaf, reduce it proportionately (probably never below 2 teaspoons).

Add water sufficient to make a wetter dough than the levains, but not a "wet" dough as such. 60% hydration, maybe. It will get wetter as it proofs, so err on the side of 'stiff'! If the levains have been slow and sleepy, mix this stiffer since you'll be proofing longer, and if you feel like you've got a vigorous and excited culture, you can go a little wetter. Knead thoroughly. It should windowpane, but perhaps not very well, as you'll be proofing for a while. I proof for a couple of hours, with a stretch and fold every hour or thereabouts.

Shape your loaf, and let proof until ready (poke test -- I use 'poke it gently, making a hole 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep; the hole should slowly refill, being mostly gone after several seconds').

Bake at 425 or thereabouts suitable to the loaf size and shape, with steam. I use 40 minutes for the "smaller" loaf shaped as a batard, and 50 minutes for a full-size boule (when I am able to mix the "full sized" loaf). You could probably bake it hotter and faster if you liked!

Pictures below are the batard, with levains mixed at, roughly: 5 ounces, 15 ounces, and final dough at around 35 ounces (probably baked down to 30 ounces or less):


amolitor's picture

This isn't a recipe, nor is it instructions to anyone other than me, it's just a statement of where I am right now in terms of baking bread. Some will be appalled, others might be inspired. Most probably won't care!

Right now, I'm keeping it simple. When we moved from San Francisco, CA, to Norfolk, VA, we found that there really wasn't the kind of bread here that we were used to. At that point, I sort of fell in to teaching myself to make european style breads, of the kind that we used to buy from Acme and Semifreddi. Since my wife and I have always cooked and cooked fairly well, we had a pretty well-equipped kitchen (including large, heavy mixing bowls, and some strong wooden spoons, a pizza stone+peel kit someone gave us once, and so on). I haven't bought any new equipment for bread baking, and that's the way I like it. I mix and knead by hand,  I score with a very sharp german-made paring knife, I bake on a pizza stone.

Since I've developed a little skill and some small understanding of how breads work, I've stopped measuring much of anything for breads I make frequently. I use measuring cups to scoop flour and carry water around so I know roughly where I am at, but mostly I follow my nose around familiar recipes. My goal is to understand the way the dough should feel, and to adjust it as I go. Sometimes I am trying to make it feel the same way it did last time, other times I'm playing a little 'what if it's a little wetter? I wonder what the result will be' game.

Consistency, as you will have guessed by now, is not something that matters to me. I have enough understanding to know that the result will probably be good, whatever it is. If it's a slightly different loaf from last time, well, perhaps I will learn something about how changes in handling change the loaf, and as a bonus, my family gets a new bread to enjoy!

Things I do worry about and take some care with:

  • dough temperature (I'm not completely fussy, but I do try to cool things down when the ambient temperature is too high, and heat things up when.. well, this is Virginia, it's not really too cold very much of the time).
  • salt, which I worry about to the extent of having a base idea of where it should be, and adjusting up or down a bit if I've got a bit more or less dough than the basic recipe.

Note that even here I'm not measuring, I'm following my nose, just to push things in the right direction. Nothing is too extreme here, so even these rough adjustments get the temperature within a couple degrees of right, and the salt within a gram or two of optimal. And, hey, every error yields a "new" kind of bread!

Anyways. This is really just a note to a future me, and maybe someone else will find something herein they can use!


amolitor's picture

This is my imitation of Acme Bakery's walnut levain. It's based on the Mixed Starter bread recipe in Baking With Julia. If you're not comfortable working with doughs by feel, if you really prefer to weigh ingredients, this recipe will not be helpful to you.

First starter:

  • 1 walnut sized piece of white-bread dough (this can be saved and frozen)
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2/3 cup bread flour

Thaw the old dough, if necessary, and cut/break it up into the water. Let soak 5 minutes or so, then mix in the flour. Knead to mix thoroughly (no need to develop gluten here). You're looking for quite a firm dough here. Let rise overnight.

At the same time:

  • 2 tablespoons liquid sourdough starter (whatever you have in a jar)
  • 1/4 cup rye flour
  • 1/4 cup WW flour
  • 1/2 cup bread flour
  • 1 cup warm water

Mix all together. Set out overnight (you will have two covered bowls sitting out overnight, the first starter, and this sourdough mixture).

Second starter:

  • first starter, cut up into
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup bread flour

As before, let the previous dough soak in the water for a while, then add the flour and mix/knead. Again, you're looking for a moderately stiff dough. (feels like 50% hydration, perhaps?). Let this rise 4 hours or so.

The sourdough mixture should be well-active by this time, approaching "mature" (not growing any more, starting to deflate a little), and the second starter should be well-risen (doubled, soft, ideally with some visible bubbles under the surface). When the second starter and the sourdough mixture are as described, which should be at least 4 hours, but could be more. place them both in the fridge for at least an hour, but longer is fine. The sourdough mixture is used for flavor, not really leavening, so you don't need to be very fussy about how mature it is.

Final Dough:

  • 1/2 tsp yeast proofed in:
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • all of the second starter, cut up into the previous water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • all of the sourdough mixture
  • approximately 2 cups bread flour

Let things warm as appropriate to manage your final dough temperature (you're shooting for around 75F, of course), and begin adding sourdough mixture and flour to the water/yeast/starter mixture. Add the salt fairly early. When you have acheived a shaggy mass, begin to knead. You're looking for around a 65% hydration dough here, moist but not particularly hard to manage. Knead thoroughly, 8-10 minutes by hand.

Now add 1 cup of coarsely chopped walnuts. Knead them in gently, enough to ensure they're evenly mixed in.

  • proof for 2-3 hours, with a stretch and fold or similar every hour, until you have good development
  • shape as desired (I use a boule)
  • final rise approximately 1 hour
  • bake at 425 or so, with steam, 45-50 minutes.

Baking will take longer than you might guess due to the walnuts. The crust should be more brown than golden.




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