The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Baking naturally leavened bread requires a bit more planning on my part now since I've been storing my starter in the refrigerator. My cold starter likes to wake up by being fed at least twice over 24 hours before being used to build a levain. Sometimes I will feed it only once, then do a three stage levain build (using dabrownman's build ratios and schedule). Either way, I have to plan to refresh my starter, build the levain, and make the dough. Even though there is very little active hands-on time, it still takes a minimum of 36 hours from cold starter to hot bread.

So what's a gal to do when there's no more homemade bread in the freezer and she wants fresh bread fast? The answer is commercial bakers' yeast which, in my case, is instant dry yeast. I am not a fan of lean breads made with bakers' yeast. Even the long cold retarded ones lack the flavor, texture and character of those naturally leavened. But I do like enriched breads made with bakers' yeast. So I usually go with enriched when I want bread fast. [Since we're talking about homemade bread, fast is a relative term.]

I made the softest and fluffiest enriched bread a couple nights ago using Floyd's Hokkaido milk bread with tangzhong recipe found here. The only change I made was to decrease the sugar. I won't go into detail about the tangzhong method (aka water roux) since it's well documented on TFL, but I will say that it makes a difference in the bread's keeping quality. Today is day 3 and the bread is still soft and moist. I'm sure the butter, milk, sugar and eggs helped too, but I want to believe that tangzhong is magic.





One last thing...

This loaf is the opposite of what a German knight in the 1500s would have. Even if he did have something like this, it's so soft and fluffy that he would crush it with his iron hand.

:) Mary

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David's (dmsnyder's) San Joaquin sourdough is my new go-to bread. I've made it on four separate occasions over the past 2 weeks. I love the convenience of the method that David developed based on Anis Bouabsa's baguettes. My only change is to use more rye. I use about 15% whole rye in the final dough and in my levain. My hydration is usually around 76-77%.

I mix my levain in the morning (or the night before) and the dough in the evening. I stretch and fold the dough to develop the gluten over a 3 hour period and then bulk retard in the refrigerator for 18 to 24 hours. The next evening, I do a quick preshape of the cold dough and a 60 minute bench rest. The final proof is about 45 minutes. Hot and fresh sourdough for dinner!

The GOOD...

Glorious simplicity.



With a tiny bit of kalamata and castelvetrano olives.




The BAD...

Here's the same batch of olive dough but underproofed. I circled the blown out portion that is typical of an underproofed loaf.




And the UGLY...

Failed attempt at shaping a blunt baguette. Looks ugly, but the taste and texture were amazing. It made the best sandwich roll.



A big shout out to David for sharing his wonderful Central-Valley-meets-Paris sourdough. Thanks!!!!!


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I've been in a porridge bread mood lately. The thing to note with porridge breads is that the water in the porridge can lead to a very wet and slack dough that can be hard to handle. Two months ago I tried to make an oat porridge bread. The dough was so wet that I wasn't able to shape it. After struggling with it I finally just scooped the dough into the brotform. After cold proofing, the dough stuck and I had to scrape it out of the form. The resulting baked loaf was very flat and very sad.


Since the failure of my oat porridge bread, I've learned a lot and I've practiced a lot too. I've learned to not rush the dough and to make sure the gluten is developed and properly fermented. Regardless of the hydration level, if the gluten isn't developed properly, I won't be able to shape the dough. I've learned to handle high(er) hydration doughs without adding too much flour. But I've also learned that if the dough feels too wet, it might be just that. Too wet. And it's okay to add more flour. It's okay to do another set of stretches and folds. It's okay let the bulk fermentation go another 30, 60 or 90 minutes. With each loaf I bake and with each week that passes, I feel my bread baking confidence grow.

I baked a couple breads with corn polenta porridge recently. I started with a lower hydration dough (70%) and added a small amount of porridge (17%). I was able to handle that dough so for the next bake I increased the hydration to 77% and the amount of porridge to 25%. The hydration including the porridge was around 89%. That bake seemed to go pretty well too and I had no issues handling that dough.

So it was time for me to tackle the oat porridge bread again. I used the Tartine basic country bread as my base recipe. I used 20% whole wheat and added 50% (baker's pct) oat porridge.


The oat porridge consisted of a 1:4 ratio of rolled oats to water which I cooked over medium heat until it was porridge-like. I let it cool while I mixed the dough. After some gluten was developed, I mixed the oat porridge into the dough. Bulk fermentation was done at room temperature (about 74F) with stretches and folds.


If my math was correct, the hydration was 102% including the oat porridge. The dough was pretty slack when I was preshaping, but I managed to loosely shape it for the bench rest.


I shape retarded in the refrigerator for 15 hours. I went a little overboard with the oatmeal flakes because I wanted to make sure the dough came out of the brotform without sticking. It did stick a little bit, but I got them both out without too much damage.


I baked them in enameled cast iron pots. 450F for 20 minutes with the lids on and 25 minutes without lids. The batard was a bit pale compared to the boule since the high sides of the oval pot seems to shield the loaf from the heat. So I left the batard in for 5 more minutes with the oven turned off.



The crumb was very moist and it wasn't dense at all. But I think it was on the verge of gummy, but toasting the bread before eating removed all trace of that. You wouldn't know that there were oats in the loaf. They seemed to have disintegrated.



I never thought that I would be able to handle a 102% hydration dough. I think I've come a long way.


:) Mary

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I was pretty happy with my first attempt at a polenta sourdough ( The hydration in that first loaf was 70% without taking into account the water in the polenta porridge. But I wanted a loaf with higher hydration, a more open crumb and more polenta. I decided to go with the tried and true Tartine basic country bread.

"Tartine Bread" has a recipe for a polenta bread from which I took inspiration. But I left out the corn oil and herbs and used lightly toasted sunflower seeds instead of pepitas (pumpkin seeds). I cooked my polenta into porridge instead of doing a soaker.




So here's my polenta sourdough version 2.0 which is just the Tartine basic country with 25% cooked polenta and 12% sunflower seeds added into the dough.

 Baker's Pct

90% AP flour

10% Whole wheat flour

75% Water

2% Salt

20% Levain

25% Cooked polenta*

12% Sunflower seeds

[*I added 60 g Bob's Red Mill polenta (corn grits) to 240 g boiling water and cooked it over low heat until the water was just absorbed. I let the porridge cool overnight in the refrigerator. Then I scaled out what I needed (25% = 250 grams for 1000 grams flour). ]

Overall hydration is 77% including the levain. I didn't include the cooked polenta in the hydration level calculation since I'm treating it like an add-in. The oven spring I normally get with the Tartine basic country bread is pretty good. My 1 kg boule ends up about 4.5-inches tall. This polenta boule was about 3.75 inches tall.




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I've seen a few posts showcasing polenta sourdough breads lately, so here's my take on it.

I cooked more porridge than I needed for the dough because it's hard to cook less using my smallest pot. I added 30 g Bob's Red Mill polenta (corn grits) to 120 g boiling water and cooked it over low heat until the water was just absorbed. I let the porridge cool overnight in the refrigerator.


My polenta sourdough formula is loosely based on Hamelman's Vermont sourdough. Overall hydration was 70%. I included the levain in the calculation, but didn't include the cooked polenta.

Polenta Sourdough

Grams (Baker's Pct)

AP Flour 410g (88.17%)

Whole rye flour 55g (11.83%)

Water 305g (65.59%)

Salt 10g (2.15%)

Cooked polenta 80g (17.2%)

Levain 168g (36.13%)

Total 1018g

I made one batard and one boule. Final proof on the batard was 2.5 hrs at room temperature. Here's the batard's crumb:


The shaped boule was retarded in the refrigerator for 19 hours. Here's the boule's crumb:


The batard's crumb was definitely better than the boule's crumb. The boule was most likely overproofed, but it still tasted great. Live and learn!


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Every once in a while I buy a loaf of bread from Tartine for "research purposes". Here's their buckwheat porridge bread. It's a large loaf weighing 1130 grams.


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My husband and his friends were having a peach sour beer tasting party and he asked me to bake something that could pair well with those beers. I considered baking something peachy, but peach season is not quite in full swing yet, so the ones available at the farmers' markets are still a bit too pricey and not quite at their best.

I decided to bake him a chocolate sourdough bread. I used the formula found on the SFBI website, but I think there's a similar formula in "Advanced Bread and Pastry". It's a hybrid bread using both a levain and instant dry yeast which worked out well for me since my starter is acting lazy and won't raise bread sufficiently right now. (See this thread about it:

The recipe called for chocolate chips, but I used chopped chocolate instead. Chopped chocolate had the added benefit of staying soft even after the bread cooled off. It's easier to slice when a hard chocolate chip isn't tearing through the crumb. I added 27% dried sour cherries which along with the chocolate gave me an add-in percentage of 20%. The dough is low hydration (64%) so it's easy to handle.


Others (elsewhere on the 'net, not on TFL) that have made this bread mentioned that it was not sweet at all. So I was taken by surprise that it was sweeter than I expected. Maybe other people expected something like a chocolate cake? Well, in that case I can understand the bread was not sweet when compared to cake. I expected less sweet and felt it was more sweet. It's all about expections.

Perceived levels of sweetness aside, I would not call the bread overly sweet. The honey played very nicely with the Dutch-processed cocoa. I didn't detect any tang from the levain. Overall, the flavor of the bread was very well-rounded. The smokey bitterness of the cocoa and the bright tartness of the cherries paired perfectly with all those sour beers.



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I've been baking mostly boules at home since the cast iron combo cooker has been my method for generating steam. Sometimes I just feel like having a loaf pan-shaped bread, but I still want to have all those hearth bread qualities.

My favorite naturally leavened loaf pan breads in the city are from Outerlands and Josey Baker. Outerlands sells only one kind of bread since it's a restaurant not a bakery. You can see his levain bread in this Tartine video at around 2:30. The other bread is the "wonder bread" from Josey Baker which is the opposite of that supermarket  fluff bread of the same name. It's tangy, chewy and moist with a crispy, crackly crust. Perfect for PB&J (or, if you prefer something fancy, almond butter sprinkled with Maldon sea salt and drizzled with rooftop honey).

For this week's bake I decided to make a naturally leavened bread in a loaf pan just like the ones I mentioned. I used Ken Forkish's overnight country blonde formula. This was my first time using this fomula so I prepared myself by reading TFL posts from others who have already tried it. The "overnight" bulk fermentation at room temperature seemed to be where people had some problems. I mixed my dough late at night so that I would be awake in the morning to catch the dough before it would triple. It's fairly cool in my house (68F/20C) so my 11 hour bulk fermentation seemed to be in line with Forkish's 12-15 hour timeline. My dough didn't have as many bubbles along the sides of the container as I would have liked, but the dough was already 2.5 times the original size so I decided to proceed with shaping.


Dough proofed at room temp for 4 hours then I baked it at 425F on a stone covered with a stainless steel bowl for 20 minutes and uncovered for another 20 minutes. Then I removed the bread from the loaf pan and baked it directly on the stone for 5 minutes.


The crumb was moist and chewy. The crust was crispy for a few hours out of the oven, but softened by the next day. It was quite sour just the way I like it!

My results were very close to what I get at Outerlands and Josey Baker, so overall I was quite pleased.


I also baked some bourbon pecan pie chocolate brownies.



Happy Mother's Day to all!

:) Mary

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I'm having a good time baking my way through "Bread" by Jeffrey Hamelman. Here are three Hamelman formulas I tried recently.

This beer bread used two starters - a liquid levain and a rye sourdough. According to Hamelman, each starter contributes different flavor characteristics to create a nice, full-flavored bread. I baked the loaf on a baking stone. Instead of a cast iron combo cooker or "magic" SS bowl, I decided to try Sylvia's hot towel method for generating steam. The oven spring was not very impressive and I didn't get "ears", but I'm not sure if that was because I didn't create enough steam or if I didn't develop and/or shape the dough properly.



When eaten plain, I found the bitterness from the beer too strong, but other eaters quite liked the taste. Although, when eaten with some pastrami, I hardly detected any bitterness. The crumb was wonderful. It was moist and slighty chewy. And it had that nice sheen from the gelatinized starch.


Even though it's springtime, I was dying to make the harvest bread which is a walnut loaf with golden raisins and dried cranberries. As you can see my bread turned out very dense and slightly gummy. Slices tasted okay after toasting, so it wasn't a complete loss. I should have extended my fermentation since I did not add the optional instant dry yeast. I was a bit absent minded that day since I was suffering from a terrible migraine. I read somewhere that a baker's feelings are present in the product they bake. I don't know if that's true or not, but my head was definitely feeling dense and gummy that day.


My mom is a huge fan of pain de mie so I made her a pullman loaf. I prefermented 17% of the flour and also added about 10% discarded starter with the hope of extending the shelf life. I've had a 13x4x4-inch pullman pan for years now and I normally use it (without the lid) for baking tea cakes. This is the first time I've used the pan for bread. I've never noticed until now that my pan is not completely square! The pan is 3/8-inch wider at the top than the bottom which gave me a trapezoidal shaped loaf.


And now a non-Hamelman loaf. I'm still practicing my Tartine basic country bread. 



:) Mary

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The Chinese steamed bun is the bread of my childhood. The dough can be used for many different applications. The most well known would be char siu bao (steamed BBQ pork bun). The dough can also be filled with other savory things like chicken or vegetables. There are sweet bean paste and custard filled ones too. My mom likes to roll up a piece of Chinese sausage (lop cheong) to make a Chinese version of 'pig-in-a-blanket'. And they can be plain when meant to be served with Peking duck or pork belly.

Plain bao (before steaming):

Plain bao (after steaming):

Filled with braised pork belly and quick pickled cucumbers:

With a smear of hoisin and sriracha:



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