The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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About a week ago, I decided to make some bread, and for whatever reason, I chose to use croissant dough as the base for my project that day. I was going to mix in some nori in one loaf, and then dried shredded pork into the other one in an incorporated, russian braid shaped pan loaf (complicated I know).

But what I found that day was that the texture and toothsome quality of the bread (made from croissant dough) was surprisingly similar to a lot of Chinese-style pan breads. More recently, I threw together a straight croissant mix with no incorporations just to get myself back into the swing of things. And this was the result.

Strangely enough, the hydration for this recipe utilizes both milk and water, one wonders why you wouldn't just use one or the other. But I suppose using all milk would dry out the dough (since theres more water, gram for gram, in water, then milk), and just water wouldn't give the particular flavor elements in milk that dairy adds to baked goods. So what we come to is a mix.

Its a direct, straight mix, so theres no pre-ferments or two stage mixing, you just throw it all in the bowl together and mix it until its done. Of course since the kitchenaid mixer is a planetary mixer, the liquids should go in first.


This dough is so stiff it doesn't need any folds, just round it up and let it ferment for about 90 minutes.

Now my pan loaves are 600g pieces, which is probably around 21 oz. But since I'm not baking them in pullman pans, I like to keep them reasonably squared off by dividing each loaf into four pieces putting the pieces all together in each loaf pan. For that reason I shape the individual pieces into batards.


Just another 60-90 minutes (and eggwash) and they're ready to go into a 350F oven for about 20 minutes!


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Gluten is the name for one of the two main structural components in any wheat dough or batter; the other being starch, something much more important in rye doughs.

It is a protein based material made from the bonding of two structural proteins in the wheat kernel, that I'll call G1 and G2.

In the presence of water G1 and G2 link up in a chemical bond that is both strong and stable, limited only by the amount of water available to G1 and G2.

In addition to water, the more a dough is agitated (mixed), the more links form between chains of G1-G2 (gluten), ultimately leading to a network, think power lines or traffic intersections


Knowing that gluten formation depends on water, leads us to a few conclusions

1.) Gluten formation can be prevented by greasing gluten with fats and oils

2.) Gluten formation can be maximized by giving gluten strands access to as much water as possible


Since fats and oils prevent gluten formation, you could conceivably make an extremely weak dough by preventing gluten formation. But, I have no idea why you'd want to do that.

Alternatively, recipes with lots of fat and oil in them like brioche (butter heavy to be sure), can produce strong gluten networks, all you have to do is develop the gluten first, then mix the butter in at the end.


On the flip side, removing all water-stealing ingredients from the mix (temporarily at least) can maximize the formation of gluten. This is the basis for the “autolyse” technique.

During an autolyse, flour and water are mixed and the flour is allowed to absorb the water fully (anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes). Despite limited agitation a strong network is formed due to the absorption of the water.


Similar to the autolyse and brioche methods of bread mixing is the concept of holding back sugar. Sugar, like salt, is a strongly water-stealing ingredient, and when added to a dough in large quantities will pull away water that might otherwise be used to help form gluten.

In any breads with these large quantities of sugar, some have taken to adding the sugar at the end of the mix, in the same manner as how butter is added at the end of the mix in a brioche dough.




Now my preferred mixing method is to hand mix to the short stage, where the dough just comes together, and is still very rough in texture. Then over the course of 3 or 4 hours of slow bulk fermentation, give the dough the requisite folds it needs to become strong.

Folding a dough involves first stretching it (agitation) then folding it in on itself, usually as one might fold a letter (in thirds). Over time, the necessary strength will be a result of the stretching as well as in some small part to the acidity in the dough from the fermentation that is happening simultaneous to the folds.


That's gluten. It is not a protein, exactly. But it is definitely protein-like, and can be manipulated as such. There exist ways of convincing the gluten to behave in the way you want, depending on whether you want a dough with great elasticity, extensibility, or tolerance.  

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It's true I have neglected the blog. Certain friends (Taiwanese software engineer that you are) have commented on it, and so I have decided to re-launch with a two-part tutorial. This part will be an over-all review of bread making as I understand it.


Anyone that has tried to learn baking, either from a text or from a teacher has heard of the “steps”, the twelve steps of baking. I think of these steps in four movements; mixing, fermentation, shaping, and baking.



mise en place






bench rest

final shapes



bulk fermentation




final proof









Simply, be organized. That means to be pre-emptive and ready with your ingredients, tools, and equipment. Measure your ingredients in advance, preheat your ovens, and have your tools close at hand.


Then, mix your dough! And there are lots of ways to do that, just follow your recipes.




Bulk fermentation, primary proof, first rise; this step has many names. You allow your yeast to ferment your dough for the purpose of flavor development. Like anything else, theres plenty of ways to do this, but what it comes down to is understanding that you're trying to develop flavor and little else, so you should do whatever it will take to maximize that.


Additionally though, it is this step where folds are made on the fermenting dough. More on that later.




All bread has shape, in some sense or another. And there are steps to get there.


Divide your dough into an appropriate size (I weigh each piece).

Pre-shape it roughly into whatever shape you want it to become. Oblong shapes are shaped into round balls of dough. Longer shapes are formed into cylinders.

Bench rest the pre-shape once it is made. Dough is elastic (as well as extensible) so you need it to let it rest so it doesn't resist the final shape.

Final shapes are easier to make once the dough is shaped into a pre-shape that more closely resembles the final shape.

Shaping can have a lot of subtleties and there are lots of books and websites that have that information, but it just takes practice.




Before actually loading the oven, its important to let the yeast recover from the rough handling of shaping.

Final proof is the step that allows the yeast to ferment and swell up your final shapes (all the way through!) before they go into the oven.

The mechanics of actually baking the bread will differ from bread to bread and oven to oven, refer to your recipes and experience to fine tune it.

Also, once your bread is baked, it should be properly cooled before serving.

(That's more of a artisanal/love of bread thing, hot bread tastes good, but cooled bread has layers of flavor for those that look for it.)


I've always felt that understanding how something works is the key to excelling at it. So hopefully this enables someone.

Next time I'll write about some less understood concepts.

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Last month was SFBI's Artisan 2 class, and I was there! I have no idea if there were any other TFL people in attendance, but there was one group who decided to name themselves, "the loafers" so I did wonder. Then again, nobody mentioned anything about an internet forum, so who knows.

At any rate, I came out of the class and made this,


 72% hydration, 25% pre-fermented flour, and 0.08% yeast, with a retarded final proof.

I was motivated to make it partly because I wanted to put my starter back to good use after spending so many days away from it as well as to try some different feeding schedules and feeding percentages for said starter. I'd always stuck to a 10% seed for feedings with a once daily feeding schedule, but armed with a few new perspectives I played around a little. 


100% Flour

100% Water

40% Seed


100% Flour

72% Water

2% Salt

50% Starter 

The starter was ready, at 8 hours compared to my previous feedings, so it got a 6 hour retardation until I was ready for it; as far as I can tell, that worked out fine. I must say though, it smelled amazing during the mixing and folds, it had plenty of aroma. Even at 72% hydration, the dough was a bit dry, this is perceptible in the crumb as well.


While nice, the crumb is just ever so slightly dry and crumbly, though that might be due in part to a lack of strength in the mix 

 While not a particularly dramatically beautiful bread, the crust, flavor, and aroma are all pleasant and appealing. Yet the texture of the crumb is somewhat lacking, and that is one of the things to love about bread.

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 Since school there was one nugget of sourdough wisdom that had always been drilled into me, “firm starters produce acetic acid and liquid starters produce lactic acid”, the lesson continues that breads made from the appropriate starter will also produce breads of following acidity, with lactic acid being the weaker of the two. Yet, recent discussions of the topic point to the opposite, which does make some sense, with less water to move around in, bacteria would be less able to access appropriate nutrients, therefore, energy, with which to grow and reproduce. So the by-product of their existence, acid, would be lower in quantity, regardless of the relative strength of their specific acid. 

 Two of Hamelman's sourdough formulas, the “Vermont Sourdough” and his, “Pain au Levain” are virtually identical but for two procedural discrepancies, the Vermont Sourdough uses a 125% hydration starter and is retarded for the final proof, whereas the latter utilizes a 60% hydration starter and has absolutely no retarded fermentation whatsoever. This being the perfect experimental set up for proving the truth of this question to myself, I decided to mix these two formulas, and conclusions come what may.

The main question here could be summarized as, “What differing flavor profiles are a result of extending the bacterial fermentation compared to relatively limiting their growth?” A secondary question was, “What is the optimal final proof time of a sourdough loaf?”

Vermont Sourdough

90% Bread Flour

10% Rye Flour

67% Water

1.9% Salt

15% Pre-fermented Flour

Pain au Levain

95% Bread Flour

5% Rye Flour

67% Water

1.8% Salt

15.5% Pre-fermented Flour

Both doughs were mixed to an improved window and medium soft consistency. They were also both bulk fermented for approximately 3 hours with a single fold at 90 minutes. After shaping, the procedure diverges when the Vermont Sourdough is retarded overnight and the Pain au Levain is not. The loadings of both doughs were staggered, with the first half of the batch being loaded when I felt it was appropriate, the second set, after that.




Interestingly enough, neither dough was particularly acidic. The Vermont Sourdough had some acidity on the back end with particular emphasis on the after taste, but not unpleasantly so. Comparatively the Pain au Levain had no discernible acidity. Despite the rumor that naturally leavened breads are sour, this was an exception to the rule. In both cases the oven spring was greater then desired. This was true in both the first and second loadings of both doughs. Even at a three hour final proof, there was excessive oven spring. There may have been complications with the shaping of the loaves exacerbating any underproofing here; but the second loadings had less spring then the first sets.




Dough fermented with a liquid starter and retarded overnight produced a more acidic flavor then a dough fermented with a firm starter and no retarded fermentation. This much is clear, which of these two variables contributed more to the acidity is still uncertain. This with a longer final proof will have to be explored next time!

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I've made quite a few batches of pineapple buns by now. So much so that I've got my own nicely formatted excel spreadsheet with all the relevant information about the latest particular incarnation of the pineapple bun (including the topping, though that is on a different spreadsheet). I will attempt here to explain it in as much detail as possible. And God willing, it will actually come out, seeing as how I've only just mixed it to rest, and have yet to finish mixing it, let alone doing all the other bready type things it still requires before I can eat it. Let us begin!

One nice thing about my method is there is no need to measure any water temperatures! With the addition of pre-gelatinized flour, I cook it before I start mixing and generally my final dough comes out around 80F, which, while a tad bit warm, is quite workable. That being said, there are three stages in my method for pineapple buns; mixing the pineapple topping, cooking the pre-gelatinized flour, and finally the actual mixing and preparation of the bun dough.
So we start with the topping,

Butter 81 g

Sugar 111 g

Egg Yolk 40 g

Sweetened condensed milk 60 g

Evaporated milk 60 g

Bread flour 252 g

Milk powder 14 g

Baking powder 20 g


Mix up by the creaming method. So basically, cream the sugar and the butter, then fold in the eggs, followed by the liquids and then by the dries. Then wrap it up and chill it while you finish up the second and third parts.

Onto the pre-gelatinized flour (PGF); I've been following convention and doing 6% PGF, so that amounts to this formula,

Bread flour 58 g

Milk 290 g


This is pretty simple, just heat up the flour in a pan with about equal parts of flour and milk, then as it heats and as the flour dissolves, add successively more milk until all the milk is in. You will be cooking the flour until it forms a thick paste, in other words when it has obviously gelled.

Now for the bread part of the equation, you can scale all the ingredients, except for salt, directly into your mixing bowl, I have a planetary mixer, so I throw all the ingredients into there, being careful that ingredients that shouldn't touch don't (like eggs and sugar, hot flour paste and yeast).

Bread flour 907 g

Sugar 183 g

Butter 77 g

Salt 10 g

Yeast 15 g

Milk powder 24 g

Eggs 145 g

PGF 350 g


And because of the personality quirks of the planetary mixer I have my liquids in the bottom of the bowl, as much as possible at the very least. The mix starts off with the paddle for incorporation, then I switch to the dough hook for three minutes, the point at which all the ingredients seem equally distributed. Now I've thrown the salt in, and allowed it to rest for 15 minutes.

Another 3 minutes on first speed is for mixing in the salt, then it needs to be developed on second speed, however long it takes is however long it takes. Here it is after 7 minutes.

And again after 18 minutes on second speed. Needless to say it takes a long time to mix. When you combine the butter, sugar, and milk, it is quite the hydrated dough, but with time it will be properly developed.

At 80F it will be about 45 minutes to bulk ferment, give it a fold out of the mixer. Once this is completed, the dough was divided at 75 grams, rounded and placed eight to a papered sheet pan. Once proofed the rounds were topped with the pineapple bun topping, a flattened round about two inches across and baked at 375F for about 12 minutes.

I think I've narrowed down the bake to 375F fom 10 to 12 minutes. The mixing as well was spot on, with a 15 minute pre-development rest done without the salt and an 18 minute development phase on second speed. What still confounds me is the placing of the cookie dough on top of the dough prior to the bake. Sometimes the oven spring grows the round so that the cookie dough grows on the side of the round rather then right on top. That may mean that I need to use a thinner piece of cookie dough, but not so thin that it tears as the round grows. Quite the conundrum.


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Having flipped through Hamelman's “Bread” many, many times since it came into my hands I've always wanted to do the roasted potato bread. But rather I busied myself with other breads. Most notably, the 40% rye. This was mostly because I'd both mixed and eaten the 40% rye before and knew that it was within my abilities and within my tastes as well. Then my focus shifted from the lean doughs to the enriched pain de mie and I spent many a bread excursion dedicated to teasing out the secrets and the nuances that were required to make that bread that I had grown up with from the Chinese bakery. But having seemingly discovered the keys to both the mixing and the shaping of the pain de mie I've discovered it is entirely possible to explore further and so I began the journey down the road of the potato bread.

Firstly, I didn't have any whole wheat flour, so I replaced it with whole rye flour, which I had on hand anyway. Secondly, I added a 30 minute rest period between the incorporation and development phases of the mixing. Other then that, I followed the recipe to the letter.

Next, the results; not bad, I got a pretty decent opening, but found that that was entirely dependent on my scoring. It is essential that I score deep enough, or else there isn't enough allowance for the oven spring. On the other hand, my loaves were a bit flat, its possible that can be remedied with a squatter shape.

For next time, I'll have to tighten up my shaping and score deeper. Also, the potatoes need to be properly incorporated at the end of the mixing.


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Hamburger buns, finally; again

My last journey into the recesses of my memories of pride and egotism brought out many a story of my declarations with respect to hamburger buns. “White bread is easy,” I declared to the world, but my heart having been shattered into a million pieces I return here to accomplish now what I could not then! That subsequent attempt resulting in a consecutive shattering of my heart, I return again undaunted in my quest for a good hamburger bun!

What I will say about my last attempt at hamburger buns via pain de mie was that the buns were both improperly proofed and slightly overbaked. The final product was both dense and tough. It is also possible that skinning over of the dough during the oven pre-heat cycle also hindered oven spring, contributing even more to the problem. That in mind, I've made a few changes to both my formula and my approach.

Here is my hypothesis: enriched white bread doesn't rely on fermentation for flavor, therefore focusing on flavor in the production of aforementioned enriched white bread is wasteful. Rather, these breads rely on the ingredients they contain, namely sugar, dairy, and other additions, so these ingredients should play first fiddle in the formula and the method of preparation. I have doubled the yeast in this particular incarnation of pain de mie to this end, no doubt I will need to refine this change over time.

In my previous attempt I was cold proofing the final shapes. I was hoping the sealed space of my oven was enough to facilitate the proofing of the buns. I believe I was wrong! So I'll throw in a boiling pot of water and see how that helps things along. Additionally, I baked the hamburger buns for 18 minutes at 400 F. This might have been excessive, considering the dough has much higher surface area compared to before, the dough will bake much faster. Perhaps, 400 F for 12 minutes, or 350 F for 20 minutes. Then again, I would imagine, a lower temperature would dry out the dough, so a fast, hot bake seems like the better option. I'll try 400 F for 10 minutes and see where that takes me. A secondary note to add to that is that a full bake doesn't mean the dough should be fully colored, as you could see in the last batch of hamburger buns. Ultimately what I am saying is, more yeast, warmer proof, and a shorter bake should give me better results compared to last time!

After an hour of bulk fermentation, division, rounding, and a rest, the shapes are flattened, maintaining the round shape.

This is about 30 minutes of final proofing in my oven with a steaming pot of water to provide heat. In the end, the dough was proofed about 45 minutes before they went into the oven.

A little less then 10 minutes in a 375 F oven, baked with steam, and double panned to prevent overbrowning on the bottoms.

And the final product, once out of the oven, brushed with heavy whipping cream and allowed to cool. Much better then last time, the first picture posted.

I admit, 3% yeast might have been overkill, and it was. But the results were quite attractive. Somewhere between 2% and 3% will get me where I want to be. Additionally the proof temperature definitely helped a lot, as did avoiding the skin from forming on the dough while it was exposed to the dry air outside the oven. This time, it took a mere 10 minutes to bake at a temperature of 375 F. I had to double pan the buns in order to prevent excessive browning on the bottoms, but it was well worth it. I declare this a success! I'll have to make burgers tomorrow.


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More then a few times now I've stroked my ego and declared, “grilled burgers with handmade hamburger buns!” Each time I might add, it has been in front of the eyes and stomachs of my friends. Whatever they happened to think of my attempts and the results that they ate, I knew the truth. They were horrible! Not surprising, considering my experience up until this point has not been in straight doughs, has not been in hamburger buns, and I really didn't know what I was talking about. Give me some dough to laminate, some brioche to mix. I can make several different types of hearth bread shapes, but more “American” type breads I am ashamed to say I am somewhat ignorant.

That last statement would be true up until about two months ago when I started working at an establishment that focused on making hamburger buns and dinner rolls. Sure there are some other types of breads, brioche pullman loaves for example (brioche toast for breakfast?), but more then anything else, we make thousands and thousands of rolls and burgers. And it really blew my mind, one of those steps. It makes sense though, if you want a wide, squat, cylindrical bread, your bread shape has to be wide, squat and cylindrical. You take a nice well rounded roll, let it proof up, then you smash it flat. I must admit, it hurt to flatten my little burger babies.


Sure at the other bakery I worked at we did the same thing. But we didn't do it anywhere near to the same extent. We didn't let them proof up, but more like like them rest. We didn't flatten them completely either, seeing as how they weren't particularly relaxed after being rounded. Just a gentle love tap all across the top. They were slightly flattened, and it was visible in the final product, a somewhat squat, yet quite tall, “hamburger bun”. But what they have me doing now, its totally different. Everything gets smashed flat. All the burgers that is. Kaiser rolls too, and the result is just like at the grocery store! Which is not necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing for that matter. It is different. A different shape for a different job I imagine. So tonight, having gotten out of work early armed with the knowledge working at an American bakery has equipped me with, I will be having hamburgers tonight.

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The last time I made a lean dough, the results were dissatisfying. A small opening, poor flavor, and a lusterless crust having none of the virtues of oven venting. Truly, it was my own fault. I neglected the mantras of pre-ferments and long fermentation cycles. And it is very likely I under-proofed it as well. Taking the time I've been given, I've decided to try and rectify those oversights. I went about making my preferment, calculating the proper water temperature. But it was all for nothing! I overlooked the need for cold pre-ferment and cold water, and as a result, lost control of the fermentation process. But in the end I achieved one of my goals of getting a more open crumb.

If it isn't too vain of me, I really want to make attractive bread. Then again no matter how beautiful your bread, that first bite solidifies that love that sets in when you see a particularly pretty loaf, so you need both. But if structure is function, a beautiful baguette is a well made baguette. Part of the reason I mixed this formula was to get a little experience making bread with a more open crumb. As a home baker, that goal has been elusive; but I also want to make tasty bread!

The pre-ferment had to go through the night without over-proofing so I mixed it dry at 60% hydration with one third of the formula's yeast, bringing the pre-ferment to 0.5% yeast. It was mixed just enough, then allowed to bulk ferment overnight. The mix itself was a straight mix, and was developed to just shy of an improved window, three periods of 45 minute bulk fermentation followed, each period was punctuated with double letter folds. Ultimately two, one-kilogram rounds sprang from the dough and were shaped into batards. Baked at 450 F until done, they were vented around eight minutes.

My, my that was boring. But it got the job done. I made a number of mistakes this time, on top of the mistakes that I made the last time. But luckily, those mistakes I didn't make again, except for the possibility of over-proofing, rather then under-proofing. But these things happen. I probably should have put the pre-ferment away after it got some momentum, better results would have come from letting it go long and slow in the cold. I also should have put my water pitcher in the refrigerator so I'd have the option of cold water for mixing. Since I did neither of those two, I couldn't control my dough temperature. With all my temperatures in the low 80s, 15 F is the water I needed. The best I could do was 78 F water. Ultimately the dough came out at 82 F, a bit higher then the 75 F sweet spot. All manner of other troubles befell my bread, I'll list them for you; lack of tension in my finished shape, perpendicular scores of varying lengths, and skinned over shapes.

The flavor was definitely less robust then I'd like, I'm certain this is a result of the fast fermentation the dough went through. 0.6% yeast and it was probably doubled in size within 60 minutes. The water was too hot, something I could have avoided. And that is the easiest error to fix. If I had but remembered to put away the pre-ferment or put away my water pitcher. No bigger problems lie in the smaller mistakes. I must shape tighter, score more consistently, and wrap my mind around some type of proofer. I cannot have my shapes skinning over! And I don't have a couche, and even if I did, the air is so dry here in Colorado. I'll have to figure something out to fix that. It is by far, the largest of my problems. I will put it beside my mind until my next day off; farewell!



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