The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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copyu's picture

Hi everyone,

It's been a long time since I've been able to contribute anything to the community here at TFL. Clinic and hospital visits (as a patient) most weekends, some overtime work at my main job and a lot of editing work up until the end of the fiscal year here in Japan have kept me too busy to post anything.

I remember cursing my inability, last year, to make a respectable pain au levain without blow-out on the sides and/or the bottom of the loaves. I was really inspired by the wonderful advice that the folks at TFL offered. I did thank them, but never showed them why I was so happy with their excellent guidance. This photo is of my most beautiful P-A-L, which also tasted great. 

Crumb shot follows:


copyu's picture

Hi all,

I haven't blogged for a while. (Lots of trouble uploading photos, which is a fairly big part of what blogging is about, I suppose; it could just be a problem at my end...Nevertheless, following all the directions on the site, implicitly, still does not work for me. I don't care why, any more...)

We've had weather that was too lousy for me to go out and about, so I did a fair bit of cooking and baking this weekend. Top of my list was a 45% durum semolina loaf made with a tiny 65 gram sourdough ‘biga’ that came out pretty well and helped me learn a lot about proper 'shaping' of a round loaf. (I’m still learning, as you can see!) I just had a hankering for good English crumpets (what other kind is there?)

The bread:

I know that my credibility is probably weak—NY yank and all, living in Japan—but I went to Australia at a 'formative' age. Back then, people in Oz used to say, "Our daughter's gone 'back home' for a year..." meaning she'd returned to some part of Great Britain where her ancestors (may have) lived...We also used to eat Cornish pasties; London buns; Bath buns; Banbury pasties; disgusting (but very delicious) sausage rolls; rock buns; roast lamb dinners [with mint sauce(!)] and, of course, fish & chips—in other words, I'm trying to say that we had the benefits (or otherwise) of the typical, full British diet as our daily cuisine. Supermarkets were still a 'thing of the future', back then...We paid nine-pence for a freshly-made meat pie or pasty in those days.

I found an ancient sourdough crumpet recipe on my HDD using volume measurements <GRRR!> and, because I only had rye starter, I ended up with:

They were tasty enough, with lashings of butter and jam…but there weren’t really enough holes to satisfy a crumpet ‘aficionado’. I rectified that today with this all-white crumpet recipe cobbled together from 4-5 web-sites and modified, by me, to accommodate a small amount of white sourdough starter. (I used some of the leftover white-flour ‘biga’ from the semolina loaf.) This is what I got:

Maybe not ‘up to snuff’ for a lover of true British crumpets, but would probably satisfy any expatriate British colonial who can’t find the usual 6-pack of 'supermarket fare'.


copyu's picture

Hi all,

I'm getting tired of repeating myself on "Pretzel-Related" threads where discussion of "Lye" is concerned and I always have to resist the temptation to turn the whole discussion into a Chemistry lecture. I decided a few days ago to do a little "Kitchen Science" and do an incomplete, but slightly more detailed explanation of what alkalis are all about

What I wanted to do was examine some of the claims I've read here, and on many other pretzel-making/baking/soap-making sites. I got tired of reading YahooAnswers, where someone says "If you can't get Sodium Carbonate (Na2CO3), use Sodium BI-Carbonate, because they are very similar chemicals..." This is a true, but totally vapid and rather stupid statement. Common Salt, Sodium Chloride, (NaCL) is also a 'similar chemical' to Sodium BI-Carbonate, (NaHCO3) and similar to Caustic Soda, (NaOH) because they all have only one sodium ion, per molecule, when in solution...It doesn't mean they will perform similar chemical reactions on your bread or noodle dough, however

Understanding pH in detail isn't that straightforward or easy, but as a guide-line, pH7.0 is completely 'neutral' (or in balance) and it's the measurement you should get from pure distilled water. Lower numbers are found with sour, acidic foods, such as lemon juice and vinegar, around pH3-4. Numbers above 7.0 indicate a 'basic' or 'alkaline' property. Any liquid you test will be either acidic, [low pH, well-under pH7.0]; neutral [pH7.0 or pretty close to it]; or alkaline [pH higher than 7.0]

The problems arise when people fail to realize that the pH scale is "logarithmic" [or negative logarithmic] in the same way that dB [deciBels] are in electronics. This is an "engineering solution" to dealing with ridiculously big numbers. What this means is that the difference between one point on the pH scale represents a difference of a power of ten: pH8.0 is about TEN TIMES more alkaline than pH 7.0; a solution of pH9.0 is 100 times more alkaline; pH10 is 1000 times more alkaline, and so on...A tap-water reading in many cities around the world could be as high as pH8.5, which is also the most-often quoted pH figure for Baking Soda. Caustic Soda, or 'Pretzel Lye', on the other hand (one of the strongest known alkalis), is at least 5pH points higher, meaning that it is at least 100,000 times stronger than baking soda. It is this which allows the alkali to attack the surface starch of your pretzel dough quickly and that gives the brown color and the perfect crust that many pretzel fanatics love!

What I did was make solutions using 'Aqua Purificata', the nearest thing you'll find to pure, ion-free, distilled water at a reasonable price. I measured 3g each, using my most accurate scale, of Baking Soda, Kansui Powder (the ingredients of Chinese Lye Water) and Caustic Soda (or 'Pretzel lye') and mixed the powders with 100g of purified water. I mixed each solution for two minutes in brand-new plastic containers, rinsed with the pure water and dried with heavy paper towels. I measured the pH using an $80 pH meter that is fairly well-calibrated. After 3 minutes in each solution, I took photos of the meter readings. I now think I should have delayed the photography until 5 minutes had passed, but the pics I have will give you an idea of the differences among the three main chemicals I tested

I hope this is clear enough and useful to somebody,





copyu's picture

Hi everyone,

This is my first 'blog' and I'm so nervous...I want to include a spread-sheet in my post, but I haven't got a clue how to do that! Here we go!


Copyu's Xmas Cake Estimator
Ingredients 15cm round   6" round 17cm round    15cm square 22cm round    19cm square 25cm round   23cm square 28cm round 30cm round       28cm square
Raisins 125g/4.5oz 160g 250g 375g 500g 625g
Sultana raisins 375g/13oz 560g 750g 1kg 1.125kg 1.75kg
Dried currants 60g/2oz 90g 125g 185g 250g 315g
Mixed peel 60g/2oz 90g  125g 185g 250g 315g
Glacé cherries 60g/2oz 90g  125g 185g 250g 315g
Marmalade 1 Tblsp 1½ Tblsp 2 Tblsp 3 Tblsp 4 Tblsp 5 Tblsp
Brandy (Rum OK, too) 50ml/1.7floz 65ml 100ml 150ml 200ml 250ml
Options: replace some of the raisins with chopped dates, apricots, dried cranberries or blueberries, fruits preserved in rum, etc. Angelica can replace some of the cherries, if you like the taste 
Butter 125g/4.5oz 160g 250g 375g 500g 625g
Brown sugar* 100g/3.5oz 130g 200g 300g 400g 500g
Plain flour (APF) 120g/4oz 180g 240g 360g 480g 600g
Mixed spice ½ teasp ¾ teasp 1 teasp 1½ teasp 2 teasp 2½ teasp
Orange/lemon zest 1 teasp 1½ teasp 2 teasp 2 teasp 1 Tblsp 1 Tblsp
Eggs 2 3 4 6 8 10
Bake time (hours) 02:30 2: 30 to 3:30 3 to 3:30 4 hours 5 to 5:30  6 to 6:30
*NB: there are many types of 'brown sugar', so feel free to vary up/down by 20-25% according to taste

Oh, my gosh! It worked!

Above is the basic formula that I've used for many years...TOO many years! If you're interested in 'rich fruit cakes', [aka "wedding cakes" and "Xmas cakes" in the British Commonwealth] then this is must-read for you. If you've never made one of these rich, boozy, dense cakes before, then have a go and relax...there's nothing here to intimidate anyone over the age of 10. Everything here is very flexible, unlike the 'persnicketiness' of a lot of bread-baking and pastry-making, where everything has to be 'just-so'. Don't have an ingredient? Then substitute, within reason. Can't buy that stuff where you live? Then make your own, right at home! Don't have time today? Then do the next bit tomorrow! It's October, now, so it's not too early to be planning one or more of these scrummy items. Xmas cakes are traditionally made a month or two before eating, anyway...Once baked and cooled, they were usually coated with a thick icing and stored in air-tight 'cake tins' for a month or two. [In the 21st century, that means wrapped in aluminium foil and kept in an air-tight plastic container.] The un-iced cakes can also be stored for many weeks. People often pierce the cakes with a skewer and drizzle a little brandy on them once or twice a week before re-wrapping them in their foil 'cocoons'

Last year, I made this 'recipe' at least 6 times, but no two batches were the same. They were all good, but I will go into the gory details of my odd failures, as well, with some comments on what NOT to do. For non-metric bakers, I've estimated the ounce equivalents from the metric weights, but only for the 15cm (six-inch) ROUND cake form. If you want to make this cake in an 8"-9" round form, then you just need to double the ingredients of the 6" recipe. For the others, eg, square forms, you might need a metric tape measure or a calculator, or just look at the beautiful 'ratios', say, of the flour or the sugar and do things 'by feel'. If the sugar is 3 or 4 times higher than the first column, then the other weighed ingredients will be 3 or 4 times higher as well. What could be easier? It's not really difficult at all, with the spread-sheet to help you. Additionally, the cake form sizes are just a 'guide-line', so be flexible and use what you have on hand


Before baking time, your cake pans should be lined with one or two layers of brown paper and then some baking parchment (/wax-paper/silicone paper) that comes about 5cm (2") above the edges of the pans. Your oven should be set to a fairly 'slow' seting...150°C/300°F (or 20°C/50°F lower for fan-forced ovens)

The night before baking, decide on your dried fruit contents and chop coarsely, where necessary. Place into a large glass bowl and add the marmalade and brandy (or rum). Mix thoroughly with a spoon and add another little splash of the booze, if you like; cover with cling-film and refrigerate until it's time to make the batter. An hour or three would be enough, but I like to steep the fruit for a long time—12 hours or more. It's completely up to you, however! I've left my fruits for 24 hours with no damage

At your chosen time, beat the butter, sugar and citrus 'zest' together (with an electric mixer, if you have one) until they're just barely combined; add eggs, one at a time, and mix until just barely combined; then add this butter mixture to the steeped fruits and mix by hand, with a spoon, for a couple of minutes. Add sifted flour and spice to the contents of the bowl and mix again, by hand. Your batter is done

Push spoonsful of the batter right into the bottom edges of the cake-forms and then spread the rest of the batter evenly into the pans. Tap the cake-forms several times on a chopping-board or the counter, to 'settle' the ingredients. (If you're fussy, you can flatten the top of the batter with a wet spatula.) Bake for the times recommended in the spreadsheet. To test for 'done-ness', push a paring/fruit knife right into the centre of the cake to the bottom and remove it, slowly. If the knife is clean, it's done. If it has uncooked batter on it, return it to the oven for 15 minutes longer and test again

To cool the cakes, snip the paper level with the tops of the cakes, invert them onto a cooling rack covered with foil and wrap the whole thing in the foil, leaving the forms in place for about 20-30 minutes before trying to extract the cakes from the forms. This technique is used when you want to ice, or otherwise decorate the cakes...the cooling in foil makes a nice, flat surface to work from. [The 'bottom' of the cake becomes the 'top' that is destined for the decoration.] Otherwise, you can just flip them back over and dust the tops with some decorative icing sugar and add some holly leaves, or whatever you fancy 

Notes on ingredients:

'Raisins' means red California raisins, but can be any type you have available. I found 'Jewellery' raisins today, which are a golden colour...'green' raisins are quite cheap here in Japan. 'Sultanas' are just raisins made from seedless grapes and are fairly cheap, flovoursome, lighter in colour and somewhat juicier than other types. You can play with the different amounts of each, as long as you stick 'roughly' to the weights. I would encourage you to replace some of the raisins with other dried fruits and berries

'Citrus Zest' is best prepared fresh, with a micro-plane or another type of cheese grater. For best taste, I make mine with the rind of half an orange and the rind of one whole lemon

'Mixed Peel' is a standard supermarket item in Australia, NZ and the UK. If you can't find it, mix your own from any dried, candied or other preserved citrus peel. It may need chopping, if you buy the whole, dried type

'Mixed Spice' is another British item that may not be popular in some's a combination of the 'sweet' ground spices that you can find in any grocery—allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, <also mace, cardamom, coriander seed>...a half-teaspoon of each of the first five, shaken together, would make a very nice 'mixed spice' for this recipe. You can google for traditional mixes (and there are dozens!) with very minor variations

"As nutty as a fruit-cake" is a good old English expression. You can add nuts to this recipe as an option, without substitution for other dry ingredients...almonds, whole, blanched or slivered; walnuts; pecans; and cashews would be the top choices. You can add them to the 'boozy fruits' or leave them until making the batter...30g/1oz wouldn't affect anything in this recipe. Chopping is optional, as well...

'Icing' usually means 'marzipan' or 'royal icing'. These make an almost impenetrable barrier to air, preventing the cakes from going moldy. There are various ways to make an icing for a Xmas cake, but these are almost 'canonical' and any recipe you find through google will work. Completely optional, however...

I need to get some 'shut-eye' post, I'll give some weird mixtures that I tried last year with commentary...I don't think there are any pics available. They will come after this year's bake.

Best to all,







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