The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Baker/author Ken Forkish, in Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, makes an impassioned and compelling argument for home- baking in Dutch ovens.

He writes of his struggle to achieve the same “texture, crust, color and oven spring…” in his home oven compared to: “[what]… we get in the bakery using the 15,000-pound Italian deck oven, with steam at the push of a button.” Shortly following he expresses his gratitude to authors Jim Lahey (My Bread) and Chad Robertson (Tartine Bread) for introducing him to using Dutch ovens for home bread-baking, their books recognizing “…previous techniques for home baked hearth bread, most often baked on a pizza stone with myriad methods for producing steam, were insufficient for recreating the oven steam we enjoy as professionals bakers”

I don’t bake bread at home in Dutch ovens. I made this choice five years ago. I’m and old man. I suffer from arthritic degradation in my spine. If I overdo it I hurt. I’m also a klutz. Throughout my lifetime I’ve frequently tripped over matchsticks. My choice was made for personal safety. I don’t feel comfortable wrestling a pre-heated Dutch oven bent over an open, heated home oven. There are also secondary reasons. One looms large in my reasoning: my favorite loaf shape is the batard. It appears Dutch ovens, with few exceptions, dictate “Only Boules”.

I own six Dutch ovens: three of them are made from raw cast iron (two of them have three short legs for campfire cooking/baking), three of them are enameled cast iron. The oldest two were purchased, by me, in the 1950’s; the youngest three years ago: an enameled Lodge—made in China. It’s my least favorite (its interior stains). Two (Le Creueset)  have some-kind-of-plastic handles that would be harmed at bread-baking temperatures. I could remove them, but that would make wrestling covers more difficult. I’d probably drop one on my toes. The two with legs don’t sit well in ovens. Also, only my oval Le Creuset would allow baking my favorite bread shape. Forget baguettes.

I love Dutch ovens.

But I won’t bake in them for the reasons stated above.

When I read author Forkish’s declaration my first thought was, “What am I missing out on?” I scanned through the rest of his book, and my copy of Tartine Bread, but found nothing quantifying the shortages in texture,  crust, color and oven spring my naked-in-the-oven-with-insufficient-steam breads achieve.

I didn’t doubt there are differences. I simply wanted to know, “What are the differences? How “big’” are they?”

I decided I’d do an experiment. I would simulate a Dutch oven by placing a six-inch deep, fourteen-inch diameter stainless-steel bowl over a 500 gram boule-shaped loaf resting on my preheated baking stone. I would insure the bowl was placed such that its entire rim rested on the seventeen inch wide inch baking stone: an easy challenge.

I would then compare it to an “identical” boule baked in my usual manner.

In this picture and the two following the bowl-covered loaf is on the left.

These loaves, each 500g, were from the same dough (70% hydration, natural levain only) but proofed seperately and baked serially. I was concerned that if the differences were slight how the exterior "wet" oven air might muddy the outcome. I need not have worried.

My visual assessment was the covered loaf had expanded more then the conventionally baked loaf, but after seeing the difference in shape, and loft I wasn't entirely convinced.

I placed each loaf in a thin plastic bag and extracted the trapped air from each bag. the plastic became a thin skin clinging to the loaves crust. I carefully immersed each loaf in a bowl filled to its rim with water. I collected and measured the overflow in milliliters. The cover-baked loaf displaced 10% more water than the conventional loaf, indicating its volume was the greater. Additionally, I weighed the two baked loaves. The differed in weight by only 2 grams (less than 0.4%)--the cover-baked loaf was the heavier..

The crust on the cover-baked loaf is noticeably thinner than the conventional loaf, but I made no effort to measure the difference. Interestingly, I perceive, in this picture the crumb of the conventional loaf exhibits less random bubble size, but overall appears to be slightly more open than the cover-baked loaf. However, the variance seems small, and slices elsewhere in the loaves compared randomly.

The volume difference vs. weight difference would suggest the cover-baked loaf's crumb is slightly more open.

Both my wife and I ate multiple samples of both loaves. Neither of us perceived any difference in flavor or chewiness of the crumb. The cover-baked loaf's crust is, not surprisingly, less chewy. My wife prefers it. I couldn't perceive any difference in crust flavor; my wife didn't have an opinion.

The 10% volume difference in oven spring caught my attention.

I've not been disappointed with the oven spring I've been routinely achieving. (I think the photographs justify my satisfaction.) But, if I can get more, without having to wrestle with eight pounds of piping-hot DO, I'll take it. But first, I wanted to be certain my one trial was typical.

I did it again: with a couple refinements, a week later.

1. I baked  the loaves simultaneously: one covered, one conventionally

2. I increased the dough weight per loaf by 100g. I reasoned this should make any volume difference more observable.

3. I shaped the loaves into batards.

My usual steam source is two small vessels containing a rolled up towel fragment, and filled with boiling water. I don't load loaves until I can see boiling restored.

The volume difference was immediately noticeable.

I didn't repeat my immersion measurement. These loaves' volumes clearly differ by at least 10%.

However, the conventional loaf agian exhibited greater loft.

The other observables: dissimilar crust color and surface texture, thinner crust are essentially the same. The crumbs' structure remains, to me, inconclusive as well as flavors.

Let me hasten to add these results may not be representative of results in true Dutch ovens.

I'm going to buy a second stainless steel bowl.

Happy baking,

David G

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...after two months test-baking rye breads, some of whose recipe addled my brain, to just bake my familiar weekly sourdough.

This is essentially Vermont sourdough from Hamelman's Bread with 11 percent less levain, and 15 hours retard at 55°F.

David G

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Scalded Rye Bread

It's been a worthwhile experience. I feel I've learned a lot of the basics for handling rye flours. Four of eighteen I'll add to my modest repertoire: Rye Sticks, Milwaukee Rye, Zeltan (Tyrolean Fruit Bread) and Rye Squares; I'll likely tweak them all to better match the flavors I want.

I'm still searching for a high percentage rye bread, dense, flavorful and sour. There are a few candidates among the ones we (Gang B) baked but I'm far from chosing yet.

Of the last two (shown above) Ginger-Prune Bread, and Scalded Rye Bread, one is is in the running, the other--for reasons other than flavor--isn't. Both have distinct, excellent flavors.

David G

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I'm a believer biscotti lends itself as well to savory versions as it does sweet versions. Unfortunately, there are few savory recipes to be found.  I've been making a romano and black-pepper biscotti for a couple of years.  It's my adaptation of a parmigiano and black-pepper recipe I found online. I've been thinking of other savory combinations since, but haven't acted on them: until today.

This is a bacon-chedder combination baked today. The recipe is mine.

Bacon-Chedder Biscotti

250g AP flour, unsifted

2 tsp Baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp fresh ground black-pepper

115g (one stick) Unsalted butter, cut into segments

60g bacon, friend crisp and crumbled and cooled

60g shredded or grated sharp chedder cheese

6 Tbls Buttermilk

1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, black-pepper and butter segments in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, two table knives or your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like course corn meal--a few pea-sized pieces of butter is fine.

2. Add the cheese and bacon crumble and toss with your fingers insuring the cheese and bacon are well distributed.

3. Make a crater in the center of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Gently combine the wet and dry until a ball begins to form. Pat the mix into a smooth ball, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

4.The dough will be tacky. Divide the dough into two masses and, on a lightly floured surface, form two logs approximately 2 inches wide and 12 to 13 inches long. Transfer the logs to a silicon-paper (or non-stick fiberglass pad) lined half-sheet pan. Gently flatten the logs to approximately 1 inch thick.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the logs for approximately 18 minutes. Test that the loaves are firm, but not crisp. (Light browning around the edges is a good indicator the loaves are ready for slicing) Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.  Allow the loaves to cool in the pan for 10 mins.

6. Transfer a cooled loaf to a cutting board. With a sharp serrated blade, cutting on a diagonal, cut the loaf into approximately 15, 1/2 to 3/4 wide wafers. Arrange the cut wafers cut side down on the paper-lined pan. Do the same with the second loaf.

7. Bake the wafers 20 minutes @ 300°F. Test for firmness. The wafers should be firm, but needn't be crisp at this point. Being careful not to burn your fingers on the edge of the pan turn each wafer over exposing the previously down side. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 18 minutes. Test. The wafers should be crisp to the touch without any spring. Remove the pan and transfer the wafer to a cooling rack. Cool until they are at least not a threat to burn your tongue.


David G 

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Zelten di Natale, or just Zelten; a popular fruit bread in South Tyrol, an alpine region in northern Italy. 

That's not surface topping, the loaves are loaded with fruit and spices fore and aft, and top to bottom. Yes, there's a little bit of rye dough too.

I'm saving these to serve at our annual holiday dinner, but I've nibbled a little. These are definitely not the dreaded annual Fruit Cake from aunt Jane!

David G


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Easy dough to work with, very good flavor, tender crumb and crust. I'm going to try Reuben sandwiches with it.

David G

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Never having baked, tasted or even seen these skinny loaves before now their shape is my best guess based on Stan's instructions.

I may not have got the shape right, but I'm sure I got the recipe right. They are loaded with flavors! We're planning a small get together with friends to eat these; each guest will bring a dip or spread they think appropriate for rye. I'm making a roasted beet, yogurt, bleu cheese and bacon dip.


David G

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I've posted other examples of my 72% hydrated Foccacia.

This time I incorporated 3/4 cup of diced sun-dried tomatoes. These tomatoes, imported from Italy, are sold by BJ's. They are preserved in olive oil, and infused with capers, peppers, wine vinegar and other spices.

I incorporate a third of the tomatoes in each of three S&F before bulk fermenting overnight at 54°F in my wine cooler.

Super tasty! Great eaten alone, or as sandwich bread with raw onion and fresh tomatoes, salmon patties, or grilled portobella mushrooms with red pepper aioli.

David G


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Tonight's dinner was a white sauce pizza. Mornay sauce made with Peccorino Romano, fresh Mozzerella, Baby Spinach sauteed in garlic-infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar, fresh asparagus tossed with garlic-infused olive oil and tarragon, and Feta cheese.

Our pizza dough is a simple 50/50 mix of semolina and AP flours, water, olive oil and salt. We make enough for three pies, divide and freeze two rounds, using the remaining round immediately for that evening's pie. This crust was the thawed third round of the last batch made a couple of weeks past.

Baked at 500°F for nine minutes.


David G


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Five years ago (April 25) I discovered The Fresh Loaf, and started this journey. Prior to then I’d frequently baked yeasted breads, and a modest spectrum of other baked goods. I’d bought a bread-maker—A Zo—and soon after quit, for the most part, buying supermarket bread. I continued to purchase loaves from local bakers, Deli Rye most frequently; and, while still working, loaded up with airport sourdough every time I passed through San Francisco.

I was content—well, almost content.

Over a couple of decades I’d tried half-a-dozen times to make sourdough bread at home. Every time mediocre, early successes were followed by dismal failures, and a neglected, smelly culture—sometimes rainbow colored with molds—long lurking in the depths of the refrigerator.

Mentored by TFL experts—you know who you are—to whom I will be forever grateful, during the first two years, I read a lot, experimented a lot, and had more successes than failures. And all the failures were edible.

In July of 2011 I could no longer deny a major failure was eminent.

My sourdough starter was slowly going belly-up. I tried to save it, but gave up after a time, and turned to TFL’er, Debra Wink, for help. With day-by-day guidance she led me back to having a robust, viable starter. She also suggested an alternate maintenance plan (for a refrigerated seed starter). I followed her advice, and now, nearly three years later, I am still enjoying the same culture’s robustness and dependability.

The experience got me thinking in broader chunks about my bread making. I’d started with a vague goal: I wanted to make “better bread”. I defined “better” with three parameters: good flavor, appropriate crumb, and pleasing eye-appeal. They are listed in priority order. Somewhere along the way a meta-parameter had unconsciously crept in: Consistency.

My conscious goal became make “better” bread consistently.

I can happily say I’ve reached a point in time when I can, with reasonable safety, say I’ve met my goal.  

Insanity is often defined as “doing the same thing over, and over again, and expecting a different outcome.  I assume the opposite is also true: “doing the same things consistently, and expecting the same outcome is sane.”

My TFL blog is, in the recent past three years, peppered with arguments for developing a personal, disciplined process(es) for baking breads. Discipline, in my opinion, begins with consistency: in ingredients, in procedures, in time and temperature, and also attitude.

This morning, while building a small amount of levain, not for baking but to merely replace my refrigerated seed starter—no baking this week, the freezer is full—I thought it worth a blog entry to focus on starter maintenance, and levain building (manipulation).

With the back-story complete, here’s what I do with my seed starter—consistently.

• 24 hours before dough making: Build 1; 40g seed starter @ 100% hydration, 20g each Flour (KA Bread Flour) and filtered well water. (2:1:1) Ferment at room temperature (72°F – 76°F)

• 16 hours before dough making: Build 2: All of Build 1, 40g flour and 40g H2O. Ferment at room temperature.

• 8 hours before dough making: Build 3: All of Build 2, 80g flour and 80g H20. Ferment at 82°F.

I make three sourdoughs routinely: a 10%:45%:45% (Rye: AP: Bread flours mix) @ 67% hydration, a Mostly White (only 5% Rye) at 67% to 72% hydration, and a 50% Whole Wheat:Bread flours version @ 68% hydration. All use 250g of ripe 100% hydrated levain. Which leaves 70g of ripe levain from the three Build process

10/45/45 Sourdough


Mostly White Sourdough


50%Whole Wheat Sourdough

I feed 50g of the remaining levain 1:1:1 with Bread flour and water, and completely replace the previous week’s seed starter. (Divided equally into two jars. I’ve always been a belt-and-suspenders, risk-avoiding guy.)  I refrigerate this mix immediately. Total replacement was Debra Wink’s suggestion. Previously, I’d been feeding a measured amount of the residual seed starter. This may have contributed to (caused?) the earlier failure.

This discipline, along with 15 hours of retardation at 54°F, yields consistent performance regardless of the flour mix, or hydration. I divide and warm the chilled, retarded dough for one hour at 82°F, shape the final loaves, and return them to the proofing box (82°F). Proofing invariably takes 2 hours and 15 to 20 minutes. I bake at 450°F, with steam for 15 minutes, and without steam until internal temperature reaches 208°F to 212°F—typically 8 to 10 more minutes for 1 lb. loaves and 12 to 15 more minutes for 1.5 lb loaves regardless of dough type or hydration percentage.

Variations on the theme:

• I’ve built a Rye Sour beginning with the same seed starter, but now replaced every week to ten days; otherwise same process: surplus Rye Sour for baking is fed at 1:1:1 with Whole Rye and stored in the refrigerator.

However, I build Rye levain at 60% hydration for the first 16 hours (Two progressive builds @ Room Temp.) and 100% Hydration at 82°F for Build 3.

• My wife is not a sour, sourdough fan. Consequently, I focus sourdough builds on yeast, not bacteria development. (82°F is the sweet spot for yeast development).

• When I want more tang, I let builds 1 and 2 go 12 to 16 hours fermentation. If I want even more I push build 3’s temperature to 90°F.

I thought this blog might stimulate other TFL’ers to share their personalized processes leading to their successes.  The emphasis is on how we achieve succeed.

Happy Baking,

David G








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