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News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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This bread was specially made for my kids' piano teacher, a German master pianist.  It was  also my first bread in many, many months.   I felt that a rye bread would be most appropriate for this occasion.  For photographs, please click here.    





Submitted to Susan's Yeastspotting!


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Under the ‘pressure’ from Akiko – “…tell me how it turns out, even if you are NOT SUCCESSFUL. Please tell me the truth…,” I handled this bake with intense focus as if I were sitting for an important academic examination. I even violated the baking curfew I had vowed to administer. But I can tell you now, I’ve had no regrets doing so, even though the after-effects of sleep deprivation made me walk around like a zombie the following two days.

Japanese style sandwich bread is nothing new to me. I had made numerous loaves of them when I started out baking bread two years ago. However, there was a new element in this bake – wild fruit leavens, which I’ve watched with great interests but have never taken the initiative to further experiment. Akiko’s informative post and beautiful bread have given me the push I needed. She has opened the door of opportunity for me to experience a new dimension of bread baking. Thank you, Akiko!


I followed Akiko’s formula and instruction closely with one exception: weight of the final dough was reduced for my smaller Pullman pan.


Here are some pictures of this 'new', wild yeasts leavened bread:


A similiar type of bread I  made before with commercial yeast:


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I first experienced the magic of wild fruit yeasts when developing my three sourdough starters two years ago. All three of them were built from wild yeasts in raisins. Today, my second jar of wild fruit yeasts are brought to life. Through the glass, I can feel the energy of these invisible microorganisms, see cycles of new lives, and almost picture my new breads! My heart is filled with joy. I’m looking forward to the many fun and exciting experiments to come!



Here are some pictures of my wild fruit yeasts:


My first loaf using wild fruit yeasts as an exclusive leaven - Japanese white sandwich bread: 



Submitted to Susan's Yeastspotting!


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This year, I was home for the Chinese New Year.  Therefore, I got the opportunity to serve the daikon cake (籮卜糕) for my kids in the morning and take pictures of it.  On that day, in addition to the many dishes I normally prepare for the New Year, I also explored a traditional Cantonese New Year vegetarian dish (齋), one of the nostalgic comfort foods which my hubby had been craving for in the previous few weeks. Though it was not perfect to my husband's taste, adding a new dish to my repertoire excited me.    I was very content to be able to start a New Year by doing things I enjoy and I certainly hope this was one of the signs of a great year ahead.


Here are the pictures:


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Happy New Year of the Rabbit!  I wish you all a year of good health and many delightful surprises in your baking adventures.  I kicked off my baking in the (calendar) New Year with Mr. Hamelman's poolish baguette formula.  This was also the formula that concluded my baking last year.   Both bakes were full of uncertainties.  As usual, I had to figure out a fermentation process that would fit my schedule for this type of commercial yeast/poolish leavened dough, which I had rarely dealt with in the past years.   I managed to get it to work, but a few more experiments will probably provide further assurance that everything's under control.  


In these two bakes, I tried a different hold of the lame when scoring the baguettes; and employed my favorite 'exit strategy' to shape this baguette dough into a boule when I was desperately out of time.  The new way of scoring was awkward and did not work as well on the baguettes as the old one.   On the other hand, the boule turned out okay.  I got a better idea of what my future cold fermentation schedule for yeasted dough should be. Good news did not just stop there.  The most exciting moment came when I finally produced pictures that didn't seem to come from the underworld.  For the first time, I got pictures of bread that were hubby-approved.   I love looking at them now!   From now on, no more eyesores, I promise.


And here they are:

The eyesores

and the NOT


Some of you have asked about my setup and procedure, which are quite simple, as you'll see below:







Will be submitted to Susan's Yeastspotting!

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My parents love baguettes, especially my dad.  There was no doubt that I wanted to impress them with nice, homemade baguettes. However, I hadn’t made baguettes for a long, long time. The lack of practice in addition to my shaky skills had turned this baguette bake into something rather disappointing.  As you will see, the baguettes were out of shape and the scoring was messed up.  The only thing I probably did right was the handling of the dough, since the alveoli were quite evenly distributed.  But I can’t remember the details now as everything was a blur when I tried to bang out a few loaves of bread simultaneously in the last minute.  Like many parents, my dad was very lenient. He complimented on the flavor and did not criticize the appearance of my baguettes. But I knew I ought to be able to do better than that.


I made these baguettes again today.  Without the stress of packing and catching a flight, I was able to think more clearly.  Every aspect of this bake, from shaping, scoring, to color, has improved except for one thing:  the alveoli were not as evenly distributed.  How I wish I had taken the time to record the details!  Oh, well, I can always try again.  Next time when I come home, Dad, I promise I’ll bring you some decent baguettes.


The following is a summary of my bake:




Here are some pictures:


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I haven't really been taking full advantage of Mr. Hamelman's book. The 90% rye made at the beginning of this year was the one and only formula from his book I've attempted.  For the most part of the year, I've been taking my time to upgrade my equipment, getting to know their properties, and playing with a simple formula.  Now it seems that I've gotten a hang of the very basic aspects of bread baking, I'm ready for more 'adventures'.

This time I picked the five-grain sourdough with rye starter.  This is a pretty straight-forward formula.  Despite the high % of whole grains in the dough, the high gluten flour used has made up for decent gluten development.  Due to the relatively high hydration, the dough was very loose in my mixer at the beginning. I briefly mixed all the ingredients and let them sit for a while and ran the mixer again. I considered this the 'S&F' by my mixer. By repeating this a few times, the gluten had developed to the extent I preferred and the dough had formed within the first hour.  The handling of dough was not a problem at all.

To prepare for this and other future bakes of Mr. Hamelman's formulae, I stocked up with 50 lbs of cracked rye. Considering how frequently I bake, it should probably last through next decade! Just kidding!  I've found other uses of cracked rye, thanks to the delay of my bake.  Each morning in the week following the original bake that was cancelled, I ate some of the refrigerated soaker with my oatmeal. At the end of that week, all the old soaker was consumed.  I prepared a new batch of soaker for this bake. 

I was hoping this bake would serve as a test for temperature and timing required for fermentation of dough leavened by an active, systematically refreshed starter.  Inevitably, the original bake was put off and I was, again, working with a weeks-old, unrefreshed starter. When I prepared this starter for the original bake, I did not follow the instruction in the book.  Instead, I used up most of my 100% rye starter on hand and built it into an 83% levain. 

When my dough is in final proof, I usually check on its progress before I go to work in the morning and adjust the thermostat accordingly, so that it would be ready for baking when I return.  There was an episode this time which almost gave me a heart attack.   Instead of seeing the 54F I had set for the overnight proof, the bright red, heart-stopping 64F on the digital display made my eyes pop!  I had forgotten to turn on the refrigerator!  I said to myself:  'I'm dead, it's over!' (今次死梗, 衰硬!)  Thank goodness, the dough was a little shy of ready; my sluggish starter had saved the day!  I froze the dough immediately for an hour and moved it to a 33F refrigerator.  When I got home that night, it had reached the perfect stage for baking.  Whew! ( 險過剃頭!)

The following is a summary of my interpretation of the formula:



This is one of the loaves I'm going to bring home to my parents during Thanksgiving.  In order to come up with a variety of breads, I have to complete a few more bakes within the next few days. Time is running out. Yikes!  The pressure is on!     

Here are some pictures:

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I’ve been having lots of fun with my new tools.  They have brought additional peace of mind to the bread making process and have put an end to my frustration about oven temperatures. More importantly, they’ve delivered good results. Loaves in this bake all turned out crackly with a color that was neither too dark nor too light, and was just right to my liking. They were light in feel and the superb oven spring made them puff like a cute blowfish. 


I learned of the impact of subtle temperature changes on a loaf by baking several sourdough pain de campagne in a roll and established my reference.  I usually don’t make too much bread at a time. This was my largest production ever.  Not only did we have abundant slices to put on the grill, but I also had surplus to gift away to my friends who came to our end-of-summer BBQ.    


Again, I used a simple formula very similar to that  I’ve been playing with since the beginning of this year.  It was of 68% hydration, 17% prefermented flour from an un-refreshed pate fermente, which was also at 68% hydration.  I felt a big relief when all the old dough that didn’t make it to a bake long time ago was finally put to use.  My next bake will be geared toward learning how to utilize my new tools on dough that is leavened by systematically built levains.


Fermentation schedule

Bulk ferment:                                           86F – 3hrs

Final prove:                                              59F - refer to pictures of each loaf for timing



Oven preheated to 485F

Baking temperatures and timing:                also varied, refer to individual pictures as well.



Here are some pictures:




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As an old Chinese saying goes, 'If a craftman wishes to do a fine job, he must first sharpen his tools' (工欲善其事,必先利其器),  proper gear and setup, in addition to the right techniques, are essential in making good breads.

I'd noticed a 'deficiency' of my otherwise well functioned oven when I was making the sourdough bagels.  The browning was somewhat uneven and by the time the bagels were browned, my kids' favorite onion toppings were already burned.  To correct this deficiency, I opted for better quality pizza stones.  After a long wait of almost three weeks, the stones had finally arrived.  I chose the thickest stones (1") that, as represented by the manufacturer of the stones, the BTU of a home oven would support.  I've retained the same setup as before, with one stone on top and the other on the bottom.  However, this time the stones were cut in a way that there is a one inch clearance around them.

In addition, I bought a wine thermostat and turned one of the refrigerators into my official retarder.  This setup was brought to my attention by DonD.  I must tell you; it is another lifesaver after SteveB's proofer.  A big 'thank you' to both gentlemen again.

With good stones, it's natural to think pizza.  I'm curious if the temperature of the bottom stone can really be jacked up to over 550F (without rigging the oven) to make restaurant quality pizza, as one proud home baker boasted.  So I got an infra-red thermometer, which I forgot to use since I was busy watching my bread.

The bread I made this time as an experiment was almost identical to this formula, except for the levains.  The starter used in this bake was actually the final dough made from the same formula but ended up sitting in the fridge. I used this old dough as-is and did not refresh it before baking. The weights of ingredients were adjusted so that the % of prefermented flours and final dough hydration remained the same.

The controlled retardation was the highlight of this experiment and it was very playful to me.  The fermentation schedule was as follows:

Bulk Ferment

  • 2 hours @ 76F

Final Prove:

  • 10 hrs - @54F

  • 8 hrs - @65F

  • 12 hrs - @58F

I was a bit hesitant when deciding the oven temperature with the new stones in place as I had no prior reference. Therefore, I used a more conservative 485F to preheat and immediately lowered to 465F after loading.  The crackly part of the crust did not turn out as dark as last time.  I have to avoid the darker crusts because they seem to irritate my kids' throat.  It probably will take me a few more experiments before I find out the optimum timing and temperatures of my retarder and oven.  With the assistance of my new tools, I'm looking forward to a more enjoyable baking experience.

Here are some pictures:









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Many years ago, I used to go with you and other friends on Sunday mornings to the Hot Bagels and Bialys on Main Street, often before it was open for business.  We were just there waiting, hoping to be the first to grab one of those freshly baked bagels, as if they were going to run out any time soon.  That's when my love for those crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside 'rings' started to grow.  My favorite was cinnamon raisin. Those were the moments of our young lives.  It's been a long time since then, yet it feels like it happened only yesterday, as those scenes still vividly come to my mind and leap up before my eyes.  Sadly, today I can only seek scenes of you in my memory only. 

The news of your passing came too suddenly. I'm still in disbelief that you're no longer with us. It probably would be easier for me to think you've only arrived at a subway transfer station, be it Grand Central or Forest Hills, and you've gotten off the train and made a transfer without us this time.

"Uncle Alan", as my kids would call you; you're a kind-hearted, intelligent individual, a great dancer, and a competitive tennis player. If our paths ever cross again, I promise I'll make you delicious sourdough bagels that we never had at the bagel shop and we'll hustle again at Dance New York.  Shalom and Kol Tuv, my dear friend. Thank you for leaving all the wonderful memories behind. My thoughts will always be with you.

This entry and this bake are dedicated to my long-time, beloved friend, who consummated his journey of life in May, 2010.

Bagels produced in this batch did not only possess the characteristic combination of crunchiness and chewiness you would normally expect from a decent, fresh bagel, but they also had these robust flavors that you can't find in a regular bagel, largely due to the multiple levains and mix of flours used in this formula.  My family enjoyed them very much.  If my friend were still around, I'm sure he'd love them, too.  

Bagels are one of the relatively labor-intensive bread projects that I've been trying to avoid.  The scaling, shaping and rests in between take up considerably more time than shaping a simple boule.  Much to my disgust, the prices of the Guisto high protein flours used have either doubled or tripled at retail since last year.  The cost of these bagels, in terms of labor (billable hours) and ingredients, is sky-rocketing and way beyond any economic justification.  However, cherishing the memories of an old friend and experiencing the gratification of successfully meeting a new bread challenge, like they say in the Visa/Master commercial, are 'priceless.'

A summary of the formula and procedures is as follows:


Here are some photos:


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