The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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I have made a video demonstrating how to use a flipping board.

Enjoy! David

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A question arose recently about the use of a couche for proofing bread. Here is a demonstration of how to use a linen couche.

Step 1: Mis en place

Equipment needed: Proofing board and a length of baker's line.

In the bakery, loaves that are not proofed in baskets are proofed on wooden boards covered with baker's linen. After the loaves are placed on the linen between folds, they are  covered with heavy plastic sheeting. The boards are then shelved in rolling racks which are usually themselves covered with plastic.

Baker's linen is an ideal material on which to proof loaves. It is relatively inexpensive. It is flexible. It is inherently non-stick. Even when proofing loaves made with high-hydration, somewhat sticky dough, flouring of the linen is generally not needed. The linen absorbs some moisture from the surface of the loaves which makes them easier to score cleanly.

Baker's linen can be purchased from King Arthur Flour or from TMB Baking (affiliated with the San Francisco Baking Institute). The latter's prices are lower. (I have no financial association with either.)

At home, we are usually only proofing 2 to 4 loaves at once, so a simpler procedure can be followed.

Step 2: Preparing the couche.

Cover the board with the linen. Fold back one end, and roll it up to form a supporting structure for the first loaf place on one end of the couche.

Step 3: Placing the loaves on the couche.

The loaves are placed on the couche. Note the roll of linen supporting the right hand side of the loaf on the right and the fold of linen between the two loaves.

Step 4: The left hand end of the couche is brought up and over to cover the proofing loaves.

Any excess linen can be folded back over to cover the loaves with another layer of linen.

Step 5: The covered loaves are left to proof until ready to bake.

I generally prefer proofing loaves seam side up. The exception is loaves topped with seeds. When transferring loaves proofed seam up with a transfer peel, the loaves must be flipped over on the couche before being transferred to the transfer peel, then to a peel for loading onto a baking stone.

Step 6: Uncover loaves. (Seen with transfer peel)

Step 7: Pull linen from left end to flatten out the folds

Step 8: If loaves were proofed seam side up, flip them over so the seam is down.

Step 9: Transfer loaves to a peel.

Step 8: Score the loaves.

Scored loaves, ready to load.

Loaded onto the baking stone.

Twelve minutes into the bake. Good oven spring. The cuts have opened nicely with good ears. The loaves have just started to color. Time to vent the steam.

 After another 13 minutes baking and 7 minutes resting in the turned off oven with the door ajar ...

San Joaquin Sourdough. My last bake of 2012.

Happy Baking to you all in 2013!


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I can't help it. I'm so proud of my son's first bread. A month ago, I visited them for Thanksgiving and left him with some of my sourdough starter. I baked once while there, with Joel watching. Yesterday, he made his first on his own San Joaquin Sourdough.

I aske Joel how it tasted. He said, "Kind of like yours. Great."

Not too shabby, eh?

It's not quite like having another grandchild, but sort of like. 


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A neighbor and I have a 15 year old tradition of exchanging baked goods at this time of year. His wife always bakes a delicious rum and nutmeg-flavored cake, and I give them a loaf of bread. This year, my gift was a 1.5 kg loaf of Hamelman's pain au levain. 

They say "fences make good neighbors," but I think exchange of fresh-baked goodies does too.

Crumb photo of the other loaf

Happy holidays to you all!


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The latest Baker's Catalogue from King Arthur Flour has a recipe for “Swedish Tea Ring.” I usually just scan these recipes and go on looking for new toys, but this one caught my eye. The sub-caption described it as a “decadent cinnamon roll in the shape of a ring,” but the formula seemed the least “decadent” of any pastry I could recall – 3 1/2 cups of flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, no shortening! Of course the filling had butter, but still … I thought maybe this was an editing error. I did a quick internet search for other Swedish Tea Ring recipes. They all had butter or oil or lard. I checked the KAF web site and found the recipe there to be just like in the Baker's Catalogue. The dough is a very simple enriched yeast dough, without any of the commonly added flavorings (citrus extract, vanilla, cardamom, etc.). That was another point in its favor, since my wife doesn't like cardamom much at all.

Well, the boys and girls at KAF generally know what they are doing, at least in the bakery. So, I figured I had to know if this was any good. If it was, I would have a (relatively) low-calorie sweet dough in my repertoire and less reluctance to bake breakfast sweet rolls, which both my wife and I do enjoy having.

The recipe for “Swedish Tea Ring” can be found here with versions for volume, English and metric ingredient measurements: Swedish Tea Ring

There were some luke warm reviews of the recipe on the KAF site, noting that the amount of filling was not sufficient and that the pastry was dry. Other reviews were more positive. I experienced a spousal veto of doubling the filling, but decided to watch the pastry carefully while it was baking and shorten the bake time, if the ring looked like it was done sooner than the recipe specified. In short, I followed the KAF recipe, except I omitted the optional glazing and ended up baking for just 22 rather than 25 minutes.


We tasted the tea ring for desert after dinner, and it is very good. The dough is sweet but not too sweet and is tender. We did not find it dry, but note that I did reduce the baking time. The filling did seem sparse when I spread it. I will increase it by 50% when I make this again. But the overall flavor balance of dough and filling was very nice. Susan had seconds.

As an added bonus, this dough is the closest I have found yet to the taste and texture of the cheese pockets from Karsh's Bakery I grew up loving and have always wanted to be able to duplicate.

I'm looking forward to making this tea ring again and to using the dough recipe for other pastries. I recommend it … even if you are already skinny.


Sumitted to YeastSpotting

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I had thought that, when I retired, I would tackle more complex breads and pastries. So far, my inclinations have been otherwise. I have been working on simpler recipes that can produce good breads with lesser time demands. Go figure.

This bread is an example. A baguette sur poolish is a classic bread. It can be produced in 5-6 hours (not counting the overnight fermentation of the poolish) and is at its peak of quality as soon as it has cooled. Yesterday I baked a sourdough adaptation of this classic bread, starting in the late morning to have fresh-baked baguettes with our dinner.

Liquid levain

Baker's %

Wt. (g)

Flour mix






Firm starter (50% hydration)







  • The “Flour mix” is 70% AP, 20% WW and 10% whole rye flour.

  • I used my stock starter to feed the levain. It is kept at 50% hydration. Adjusting for this, the actual levain hydration is 89%.

Mix the levain ingredients and ferment for 8-12 hours. (My levain quadrupled in 6 hours and was refrigerated overnight.)

Final Dough

Wt (g)

AP flour


Water (80-90º F, if cold levain)




Liquid levain




Note: The final dough hydration is 66%, accounting for the water and flour in the levain.


  1. Dissolve the liquid levain in the water.

  2. Add the flour, and mix to a shaggy mass.

  3. Autolyse for 20-60 minutes.

  4. Add the salt, and mix thoroughly. Transfer to a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly.

  5. Bulk ferment at 75º F for 3 hours with stretch and folds at 30, 60, 90 and 135 minutes.

  6. Divide into 3 equal pieces and pre-shape as logs.

  7. Rest for 15-30 minutes, covered.

  8. Shape as baguettes and proof on a couche for 75-90 minutes.

  9. Transfer baguettes to a peel and score.

  10. Bake at 450º F with steam for 22-25 minutes. (I baked for 12 minutes with steam at 450º F then for 10 minutes at 425º F convection bake.)

  11. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.


The crust was thin and crisp – as close to a classic baguette crust as I have produced with sourdough. The crumb was moderately open and chewy. The flavor was moderately sour – more sour than I expected. It was very nice with our dinner of soup (krupnick) and salad (lettuce with pecans, dried cranberries and Point Reyes blue cheese with a mustard vinaigrette).


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We are visiting our son in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, and I'm introducing him to sourdough baking. This has entailed three challenges. The first is the demands of baking with a houseful of family. This is wonderful, but the scheduling complexity is greater by several orders of magnitude. The second is that Joel does not have a mixer. This is a very minor issue, but it does require adapting some recipes I am accustomed to making with machine mixing. The third challenge is baking in a gas oven. This is a new experience for me and, from my reading of TFL topics over the years, a challenge to many.

Yesterday, Joel and I made a large loaf of my San Francisco-style Sourdough. I followed my usual formula (see My San Francisco Sourdough Quest, Take 4) with the following changes:

1. Mix the flours and water in a bowl with a spatula and autolyse for 30 minutes.

2. Add the salt and levain and mix well using stretch and fold in the bowl.

3. Stretch and fold in the bowl x 2 at 30 minute intervals.

4. Stretch and fold on the bench x 2 at 30 minute intervals.

5. Ferment without molestation for another hour.

6. Pre-shape and shape one 1 kg batard. 

7. Proof for 2 hours en couche.

8. Bake at 450 dF for 35 minutes steaming for the first 15 minutes using Sylvia's method (towels in loaf pans, saturated with boiling water.)

Here are some results (I couldn't get a photo before Joel had cut the loaf after cooling.):

Even using two towels in loaf pans, the crust was rather dull, suggesting sub-optimal oven steaming. However, oven spring was satisfactory. The crumb structure was more open than usual and a bit less chewy. I judge it better than acceptable. Note that I did not retard the loaves, so the flavor was minimally sour but very nice - more like a good French pain au levain than a San Francisco Sourdough.

The results were good enough to warrent baking more hand-mixed SFSD's after I get home to my own oven.

I hope everyone had as nice a Thanksgiving as I did.


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As those of you who have made San Joaquin Sourdough know, my procedure calls for a 21 hour cold retardation during bulk fermentation. The length of the cold retardation was taken from Anis Bouabsa via Jane Benoit (janedo on TFL). While I have often increased or decreased the 21 hours by 3 hours or so, I have been wary of a much longer time, because I feared proteolysis would result in unacceptable gluten degradation.

This week, I did (finally) retard my dough for about 36 hours, partly for scheduling convenience but also out of curiosity. To my surprise, the resulting bread was hardly different than those I had retarded for 15 hours less. There was no discernable difference in flavor, although I had expected a more pronounced sourdough tang. The crumb structure was actually better, in my opinion. The crust coloration was unchanged.

So, here are some photos of the breads made with a 36 hour cold retardation:

I would be interested in hearing about other bakers' experience with prolonged cold retardation of sourdough dough.

Our accompaniment to this bread was Chicken Paprikash.


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I have made baguettes following many different formulas. Some of the most interesting have been various versions of “pain à l'anciènne,” including those of Reinhart in The Bread Baker's Apprentice and of Leader in Local Breads. Sometime back in 2008, I found an e-mail that Peter Reinhart had sent to a bread bakers' Usenet mailing list in 2003 which described the formula for pain à l'anciènne as he got it directly from Philippe Gosselin. The version that ended up in BBA was simplified somewhat by Reinhart, adding all the ingredients before the mixing, omitting the double hydration and delayed addition of the salt.

When I first made baguettes from Gosselin's original method, they were the best-tasting ones I had ever made. I finally got to taste Gosselin's baguettes tradition (from the rue Caumartin shop) last year. To my taste, they had a bit of a tang suggesting they might have been made with levain, so I modified the formula to use a liquid levain and found I preferred the result to that leavened with commercial yeast. In fact, I preferred what I had baked to Gosselin's own.

This is the version I used for today's bake:



Baker's %

Organic AP Flour

400 g


Ice Water

275 g



8.75 g


Liquid Levain

200 g


Instant yeast (optional)

¼ tsp



883.75 g


Notes: Accounting for the flour and water in the levain, the total flour is 500 g and the total water is 375 g, making the actual dough hydration 75%. The actual salt percentage is 1.75%.

For today's bake, I made 3/4 of the dough amount in the table above.

I mixed the levain the night before starting on these and retarded it in the fridge overnight. 


  1. The night before baking, mix the flour and levain with 225 g of ice water and immediately refrigerate.

  2. The next morning, add the salt and 50 g of ice water to the dough and mix thoroughly. (I did this by hand by squishing the dough between my fingers until the water was fully incorporated.)

  3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl with a tight cover.

  4. Ferment at room temperature until the dough has about doubled in volume. (3 hours for me) Do stretch and folds in the bowl every 30 minutes for the first two hours.

  5. An hour before baking, pre-heat the oven to 500ºF, with baking stone and steaming apparatus in place.

  6. Divide the dough into 4 more or less equal pieces and stretch each into a 12-14 inch long “baguette.”

  7. Score and bake immediately at 460ºF, with steam for 10 minutes, and for about 20 minutes total.

  8. Cool on a rack before eating.

Notes: In Step 7., I specify shaping the loaves by simply stretching the dough pieces into a rough baguette shape. This is a very slack dough and a challenge to handle as one might a lower-hydration baguette dough. If you are very comfortable handling slack dough, have a firm grasp of the “iron hand in a velvet glove” principal and are feeling up to the challenge, you can shape the pieces as you would shape a baguette ordinarily. That is, in fact, what I did for this bake.

You will also note that I scored these baguettes with a single, longitudinal slash. I find the results more satisfactory than the traditional 5 or 7 cuts when scoring a very sticky dough like this. However, the difference is merely cosmetic.

These baguettes had a chewy crust, except for the ears, which were crunchy. I think they could have baked 5 minutes longer, or I could have left them in the turned off oven for another 5-7 minutes to dry the crust. The crumb was nice and open. The flavor was sweet, complex and moderately tangy. I attribute this to a combination of factors – retarding the levain overnight and fermenting the dough, after the final mixing, at 85 dF.

This baguette is still a favorite.


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Last Friday and Saturday, I hopped over to San Mateo for the San Francisco Pen Show to indulge another of my addictions hobbies. We needed a fast breakfast to get an early start. So Thursday I baked ...

Cinnamon-Raisin-Walnut Bread from BBA

Returning Sunday, I activated my sourdough starter and mixed enough levain/biga for ...

My Pugliese Capriccioso (Formula here: Pugliese Capriccioso)

Baked Monday, and ...

San Francisco-style Sourdough (Formula here: My San Francisco Sourdough Quest, Take 4)

Baked Tuesday. My formula for the SF SD levain and the Pugliese biga are essentially identical, so I just mixed a double batch of levain and used it for both breads.

Tuesday night, I mixed a levain for more San Francisco Sourdough and made a couple boules with toasted walnuts. I added Walnuts at 40% of the total flour weight (185 g for my 1 kg recipe).They were retarded baked Wednesday. 

Happy baking!



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