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GSnyde's blog

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My first attempts at baking bread-like objects involved pizza.  About a year ago, Brother David made pizza.  It was good. I mean, it... was... GOOD!!!  I figured I could do that.  So I asked a few (too few, I now realize) questions, and he pointed me to the Pizza Primer on TFL, where I found the Reinhart Neo-Napolitano recipe.  I followed it (I thought) a few times, and the results were passable (I thought).  The crust was thin (I like that) but not crispy and it didn't really get a big holey crumb around the edge.  I sorta gave up on homemade pizza for several months.

Now as (both of) you who've been following my novice baker adventures know, I have recently come to realize that I had a defective baking stone.  It was advertised as a baking stone.  It looked and felt like a baking stone.  Only problem was it didn't seem to get really hot.  So, after many blond-bottomed breads with little or no oven spring, I've replaced it with one from NYBakers, and I'm making San Joaquin Sourdough this weekend for said Brother David to sample, critique, and hopefully enjoy.

But I couldn't wait for tomorrow to try the new stone in the old oven.  And I happen to have Mozzarella, Parmagiana, Sweet Italian Sausage, Pesto, fresh tomatoes and Mushrooms in the house.  So I set out on a preliminary test of the stone.  I went back to look at the Reinhart recipe, and started to mix it up.  It says "1 tsp instant yeast".  I slapped by forehead with the heel of my hand (a gesture so common among us d'Oh Boys that we usually have very flat foreheads).  Back before I started baking bread, how was I to know that the little yeast packet my wife had in the fridge was not instant yeast?  Now I know better.  I'd been making the dough with dry active yeast.  

So tonight, armed with real instant yeast and my New York baking stone, I made magnificent pizza!  Nice air pockets in the crust, big wholey crumb within the crispy rim.  So was it the yeast?  Was it the stone?  Was it my much improved dough handling?  I'm not sure I care.  It was GOOD! The dough had so much pop, I think it's still expanding <urp!>



Tasha really wants some.


Anyway, it's always a comfort to know I'm not as stupid as I was before (at least in one respect).


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I'm probably trying to learn too much too fast.  And my brain is not as absorbent as it once was.  But surrounded by the centuries--maybe millenia--of collective knowledge on TFL, I want to both catch up and enjoy the learning process.  I know I'm doing the latter.  

I want to perfect something and I want to try everything.  So I'm kind of alternating--make a second (and third and fourth) attempt at lean sourdough bread (what I want to perfect), then try something very different (Curry-Cheese Bread, Cinnamon Rolls).   I have a feeling that this unintentionally methodical approach to learning about bread is the right way to learn a lot fast, at least for me.

So today, not having much time, I decided to try a yeast-leavened whole wheat bread.  The goals were: (1) to get the feel for a different kind of dough, (2) to get better at shaping pan loaves, and (3) have something to make a smoked turkey and tomato sandwich (this was the most important goal since we bought a bag of delicious farmstand tomatoes and my wife promptly left town for a business trip).

I looked at a number of recipes and settled on Floyd's Honey Whole Wheat.  The formula seemed simple and fairly quick, and I learned a lot from the commentary from ehanner and JMonkey (  I soaked the whole wheat flour as prescribed, and (having no electronical mixer) found it a bit difficult to incorporate the other ingredients.  Adding honey to a sticky dough seemed, for the first 5 minutes of tiresome hand-mixing, to be the sort of cruel joke a website owner might inflict on his community.  But Floyd doesn't seem like the cruel type, and lord knows I need the exercise, so I carried on.  Once the thing seemed fairly mixed I let it rest for 15 minutes.

The dough glob was extremely sticky and hard to work, but I didn't add flour, except a sprinkling on the board and my hands, because I'd felt the transformation of dough before and I had faith in the gluten.  And, sure enough, after about ten minutes of alternating folding and kneading, the dough started to become silky and less sticky.  After a while, I plunked it in an oiled bowl, stretched and folded it at 20 minutes and 40 minutes, and watched it  Just an hour after it was mixed, it was doubled, even with the S&Fs.

I divided the dough into two and shaped it per JMonkey's great video tutorial (  Again the rise was quick, and they went into the oven with steam (from my brand new lava rocks!).  I forgot to turn the oven down for a few minutes, so the top got kinda dark.  But the overall result was pleasing.  A nice simple whole wheat loaf.  Great for a sandwich!



I did start to get the feel for whole wheat dough.  I still need to practice loaf-shaping.  And I might try a sandwich bread with a lower percentage of whole wheat flour to get something a bit lighter in weight.  I'm not sure if the heft of these loaves is just what you get from a mostly whole wheat blend of flours, or if I might have overproofed or not formed the loaves gently enough. Not that they're super dense, just a bit too.

Thanks, Floyd, ehanner and JMonkey for the education.



GSnyde's picture

Today was my best baking day yet, and not just because it was a gorgeous day on the Mendocino Coast. It was a sweet and sourdough day.  Last night the San Joaquin Sourdough dough was mixed, stretched, folded, grown to 150% size, and refrigerated.

This morning, I complied with a spousal edict: Make Cinnamon-Raisin-Walnut Bread! One is well advised to comply with such insistence from The Loved One. Using the BBA recipe, and hoping it came out somewhere near as good as Brother David’s, I found the recipe to be simple and satisfying. I admit, I hadn’t eaten anything but an apple all day when the C-R-W Bread was cut at 12:30, but it was about the best bread I ever had (ok...I was really hungry). Just a bit sweet, great moist texture. totally delicious. And kinda pretty.



The two loaves were baked in different types of pans. The bigger poofier one was in Pyrex, the other in a non-stick metal pan. The two loaves were exactly the same weight and formed the same way. Interesting difference. The first loaf is half gone. The second went into the freezer for next time.

By 2 p.m., it was time to pre-shape the SJ SD. After my last (repeated) batard-shaping mistakes, I used the technique in Floyd’s video (, and the batards came out more or less the right shape. Not so symmetrical as to make me feel like perfection was anywhere in reach, but generally ok.


The real question this weekend was whether my recurrent lack of oven spring and grigne and the blond bottoms my loaves usually had were due to a bad stone in our San Francisco house.   Our some-day-retirement house up the coast has a newer and better oven and a pizza stone that David ordered for us from NY Bakers. The answer is Yes! The SJ SD got nice spring and by far the best grigne I’ve achieved yet. And the bottoms are toasty brown. As you see, one was scored a lot better than the other.



I guess I’m going to have to retire the SF stone and get another from NY Bakers.

Crispy crust, moist chewy crumb with good hole structure. Totally delicious. You can see this dough would make great baguettes. Maybe next time.


The SJ SD was great for BLTs (another spousal edict…don’t you just hate that?!) . She calls BLTs the perfect food. And who can argue. You got the most delectable form of carbohydrates, Bacon (“The Candy of Meats”) and lots of Vitamin Red.


I might some day find a sourdough formula I like more than this, but I’m not in a hurry to start looking.

Happy Baking!


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Having carefully considered various names for this bread (, I have freely decided that it deserves to be called "San Joaquin Sourdough".  I used David's SJSD Version 10.23.09 with a 60% hydration all-AP starter (  Though there are many steps, including a lengthy cold bulk ferment, and two 3-or-so hour periods when one has to be continually close to the kitchen (one for mixing, autolysing, and stretching-folding, and the other for dividing, pre-shaping, shaping and baking), the process fit nicely into a weekend, starting with mixing the starter Friday night.  A person with a 9-to-5 job could do it in a Friday and Saturday or a Saturday and Sunday, by mixing the starter on the first morning, mixing dough and getting to the cold bulk ferment the first evening, and shaping and baking the second afternoon or evening.

The process gave me a good chance (as a novice baker) to observe by sight and feel how a lean sourdough behaves at various stages.  Here's the bulkly fermented dough at my "bread station", just adjacent to the all-important espresso station.


And here is the glorious dough ball just before it is cloven.


The pre-proofing after pre-shaping is the perfect time for an espresso.


Here are the ill-formed batards, once again looking like my typical batardettes, proofing.


After a 24 minute bake, the finished product looks pretty good, though not much grigne in my first attempt at scoring with my new lame.



I'm very happy with the crumb structure.



Except for my still-pitiful batard-shaping and the wimpy oven spring, this was a successful experiment.  And from the still-pitiful batard-shaping and wimpy oven spring, I learned some lessons that will improve my skills next time.  I should not shape the batard from such a stretched out starting point--a semi-flat football shaped oblong would be better.  And I need to score the loaves slightly more deeply and consistently.

The taste and texture are marvelous.  Slightly sour, very complex flavors.  Very moist, chewy but tender crumb and crispy crust.

The bread came out of the oven at 3, and some friends came over for an early dinner of all sorts of things that go with sourdough bread--smoky ham, Toscana salami, Jarlsberg cheese, egg salad, tomatos.  The SJSD and the re-heated Onion-Curry-Cheese Bread from Friday were both big hits.

This bread is a favorite.  

And making it is pretty fun!

Thanks, David, for the recipe and all the guidance.


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At the risk of sneers from the lean dough purists, one of my fondest bread memories is of the Onion-Curry-Cheese Bread from The Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley.  When I was a gradual student in the late '70s, walking through what has since become known as "The Gourmet Ghetto" (Cheese Board, Chez Panisse, Pig-by-the-Tail charcuterie, Lenny's Butcher and a great fishmonger whose name escapes me, all within two blocks), I would know from a hundred yards away that this delectable savory bread had just come out of the oven.  And I would make a bee-line.  The warm loaf in the grease-spotted bag made a satisfying lunch for a hungry carbotarian.  

So when I came into possession of a glob of David's sourdough starter, and decided to try bread-baking, it didn't take me long to decide I had to find the recipe. It didn't hurt that my Cheese-loving East-Bay-native wife encouraged the quest.

So I searched the web for the recipe, and found that The Cheese Board has published a cookbook, which--by pure coincidence--my wife gave me for my birthday.  And, yes, the Onion-Curry-Cheese Bread is right there.  They say it's the first bread they ever made.

It's a yeast leavened bread with a very low hydration dough (to account for the moisture in the one full pound of cheese that goes into three smallish loaves). The whole process only takes about 4 hours from start to finish.

Here's a picture of the dough (fresh yellow onions, curry powder, salt, black pepper, bread flour, water, yeast and a mix of cheeses).


And formed (sorta) into boules.


And the finished product.



Now, I admit, this is not a "nice looking" bread, but it's inspirational if you are a vulcanologist.  Its chaotic explosiveness makes the perfect contrast to Brot Backer immaculately formed and perfectly baked challah, posted this evening (  But the smell of the curry, onions and cheese as it bakes, and the moist spicy bread with gooey bits of melted cheese and crispy bits of carbonized cheese makes one close one's eyes in ecstasy anyway.  Warning: we do not recommend toasting this bread in a toaster.

This is the first non-sourdough I've tried, and it successfully captured the remembered flavor and texture of happy days past.  One of the three loaves is pretty well gone already.

All I can say is "Cheeses loves us!"


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The Quest for Great Buns

Friday morning I mixed the Biga for Italian Sourdough, per David’s recipe ( The goal: perfect buns.

Friday afternoon, once the Biga had doubled, I massaged it with a dough scraper and decided it was too stiff and gummy/sticky to mix into the dough by hand.   I have no stand mixer, but I staved off panic.  I talked my little KA hand mixer into giving it a go.  Following David’s instructions, I cut the Biga into the dry ingredients.  This  took several comical minutes with a kitchen shears and spatula (think Lucille Ball trying to divide a one pound wad of bubble gum).  It might have worked better with a mini-chain saw (except for the Biga splotches on the ceiling).  Once the Biga was cut up, the hand mixer worked pretty well, and after about 10 minutes with the mixer and 20 or so S&Fs, I had something fairly uniform.

After the primary fermentation with periodic S&Fs, the dough doubled on schedule, and I had a nice silky mound of bread-to-be, the nicest dough I’ve worked in all my (10) days of baking.


Making a split batch of rolls and a batard gave me a chance to try (and maybe even improve) my shaping skills.  Of the 5 rolls, 3 are pretty much the shape I was going for.  I should have re-shaped the other two, but I was tired and didn’t want to break every last bubble.


The loaves proofed faster than expected and they had to go into the oven before the stone had preheated enough.  So I didn’t get great oven spring (see  Though they were fully baked, the bottoms are blond.  I also forgot to rotate the loaves and my oven heat is apparently pretty uneven.  That said, they looked pretty good on top, and the crumb is nice.




The texture of both crust and crumb is pretty close to what I remember (and like) from David’s previous bakes of this bread, though not quite as airy.  I am happy with the outcome, and happy to have learned the lessons—start pre-heating the oven before you think you need to, and don’t forget to rotate the loaves.

Because the Italian Sourdough got done start-to-finish on Friday, we were able to get to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market Saturday morning.  Made quite a haul of stone fruit, strawberries, corn and very photogenic vegetables.


For dinner Saturday, the buns were excellent brushed with garlic-rosemary-infused EVOO and grilled for sandwiches of Teriyaki-marinated local King Salmon, heirloom tomatoes and lemon mayonnaise.  I guess, with the Teriyaki and the Italian bread, we should call these “Orientalian Salmon Sandwiches”.


And the Batard made great toast Sunday morning, accompanying “Spanish” omelet.


The main Sunday event, of course, was the lamburgers that started my quest for great buns (hold the snickers).  (See  Using an ancient Greek lamburger recipe I made up—ground lamb leg mixed a day ahead with minced onion, flat leaf parsley and garlic, and oregano, salt and pepper—I charcoal grilled the burgers and the buns (brushed with the same rosemary and garlic-infused EVOO) and layered with feta, heirloom tomatos and lettuce, with a dab of the lemon mayonnaise.   They were even more delicious than they look.



The quest was worthwhile and the buns were excellent, but I think these are a bit dense for burger buns.  Good thing lots of bun recipes came to light.

Other Weekend Bakes

In addition to the Italian Sourdough, on Saturday I mixed the dough for, and Sunday I baked, Susan’s Ultimate Sourdough for the third time…and with the best results yet.  Even with less proofing and a very well pre-heated oven, I still didn’t get great oven spring. 



The Bread Professor (DMS) thinks maybe my oven vents too much, or I don’t have enough thermal mass to keep the steam going.   He suggests lava rocks, but didn’t say what I should do with them [smileyface].

But I’m happy with the progress.  The texture and flavor are delightful.  My chief bread enthusiast loves the chewiness and the flavor.

And Saturday night I mixed up the liquid levain for Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough; and I mixed the dough Sunday morning and baked two batards Sunday night.  I made sure they were proofed right, and in addition to the usual cast iron skillet for steam, I spritzed them with water after about 10 minutes. 

My shaping skills have improved some (I keep watching Floyd’s great batard-shaping video).  And I got better, if not really good, oven spring.


Still, not a real open crumb.  But mighty tasty.


To top the weekend, this morning we had the famous Salmon Hash with a toast medley.


Since the learning experience for a novice baker is enjoyable in itself, the (mostly) good bread is just a bonus.  I had the chance in one weekend to try three different sourdoughs, one with a Biga and one with a liquid levain, and different formulas, and different flavors.   I got better at shaping batards, and at reading the dough’s signals.  I do need to figure out how to get better oven spring; I’d love to get a more open crumb.

Some time this week, I’ll have to make Sourdough Pizza dough, for a Greek Pizza with the leftover lamburger and Feta.

Thanks to TFL (especially David) for all the great tips, and the fun.



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The Second Bake

As with the first batch of Sourdough I baked Saturday (with reasonable success), I tried to manipulate the fermentation time of the second batch to meet my schedule.  The starter was ready Saturday afternoon, and I mixed the flour and let it sit on the kitchen counter for several hours, before deciding that it was getting late and the dough wouldn’t get shaped, proofed and baked until Sunday.  So I put it in the Igloo cooler with Blue Ice overnight.  I misunderestimated the fermentation rate.  Sunday morning it was a good deal more than doubled (big d’Oh!).  


David (surprisingly still patient with my questions) said it might be overfermented and wouldn’t proof well or achieve good oven spring.  Not surprisingly, he was right.

I found the dough very sticky, but didn’t want to over-flour the board this time and repeat my seam-sealing problems of the first batch.  So I wrassled with it and got a lot of it stuck to my hands (I used the d'Oh scraper).  Knowing that a frequent mistake is to over-react to an earlier mistake, I used a moderate amount of flour on board and hands in the folding and shaping.  I tried to be attentive to not overflouring the dough’s surface, and I got it about right.   Having reviewed Floyd’s batard-shaping video again, I did a better (not great) job of shaping batard-shaped batards.  The seams were well-sealed.


They rose little in proofing, and got little oven spring.  The shape and crust look pretty good.  On these loaves, I again suffered from the lack of a proper scoring tool.  I tried various implementss--sharp paring knife, grapefruit knife, very sharp bread knife, gas-powered weed-whacker [j/k about that last one].  Did I mention I need a lame? I ordered one today.


As you can see, compared to the loaves from the day before, there was very little oven spring.


And the crumb was dense and heavy, underbaked.  To put a positive spin on it, I’m calling it very chewy.


I suppose I could find a use for these.  I might take up carving duck decoys (but my charming spouse thinks they won't float).

On the bright side, I got very good broiler spring on our omelet yesterday morning.


And the toast made from Saturday’s bake was crispy and delicious.



Lessons Learned

From 10 hours perusing TFL, many conversations with Brother David, and a weekend of fumbling and bumbling, I got two pretty good loaves and two roughly-batard-shaped paper weights.  So what lessons have I learned from all the d'Oh! moments?  There are too many to count.  But the main ones are:

(1) You can manipulate rising time to fit your schedule, but sometimes you waste good dough doing so (it's not a waste of time if you learn from it). 

(2) Read lots of experienced people’s writings on a technique (or, better yet, watch videos) before you try it.  You’ll still mess up, but not as bad, and you’ll have a better idea what you did wrong.

(3) Some of the axioms bakers talk so much about are really important (use the proper tools, follow the recipe, shape the loaf just so), but the most important one is to stay in touch with the dough and read its signals.

(4) However much I learn, there’s still way more to learn than I know.

Sorry for the long post, but I needed to experiment with blog posting, too.

I plan to get better at both.



GSnyde's picture

Hello.  I’m Glenn Snyder.  I’ve been a member at TFL for some time, following the baking adventures of my brother, David, and enjoying this web community.  But I never baked bread before yesterday.  And never posted a blog entry before now.

I have enjoyed bread my whole life.  From Karsh’s Bakery (RIP) in Fresno where we grew up, then from various bakeries in the San Francisco Bay Area where I’ve spent most of my life.  My favorite breads are sourdoughs made by Semifreddi and Acme in the Bay Area, by Beaujolais Bakery and Fort Bragg Bakery on California’s North Coast and, of course and especially, those made by David [I may occasionally in this forum butter my brother up, but I also may try to get a rise out of him—btw, I don’t like puns as much as he does].

As has been recorded in these pages (, I fell upon some sourdough starter that David left in our refrigerator at a family gathering several weeks ago.  It was intended for our visiting sister, but she had left town without it.  So I took it in, as a stray kitten.  I fed it.  It seemed to like me.  I decided I should try baking with it.

Now, I am already an avid and moderately skilled cook.  And I do love to eat good bread.  But I had never pursued home baking, except the occasional dessert.  I suppose it was partly because it seems so complicated and time-consuming.  And I already have enough time-consuming hobbies to fill my free time.  But the mewing kitten, and encouragement from my brother and my bread-loving spouse, got me to try it out.

Before I describe my first baking experience, let me explain the reference to “D’Oh! Boy”.   I work in a law firm called Pillsbury.  Our amateur ballteams have often been called “The Dough Boys”.  And I personally love Pillsbury’s biscuits.  The “D’Oh” reference, besides being a good pun and showing my general enjoyment of all things Homer Simpson, reflects my Guiding Philosophy in trying new things.  We learn from our mistakes.  Ergo, the more mistakes we make, the more available lessons from which to learn.  So I treasure those “d’Oh!” moments, and thankfully I have many.   As this post will illustrate.

Before starting my experiments, I read quite a bit on TFL, and got some very useful advice from David about tools and techniques.  I also adopted low expectations so as to increase the likelihood that the results would be pleasing (I am quite skilled at manipulating my own emotions).

First Batch

David suggested I start with a simple San Francisco Sourdough.  He suggested Susan’s recipe (  In order to maximize my experimental data, I made two double batches of dough this weekend to make four batards.  The starter was acting nicely.  It had been fed 1:3:4 with David’s recommended flour combo (70% APF/20% WW/10% Rye).  The first batch of starter was fed Friday morning and was ready late Friday afternoon, and I mixed the first batch of dough Friday early evening using a dough scraper and bare hands.  A very satisfying sensation.  I soon realized that the need to follow the dough’s schedule was going to interfere with sleep (not an option for me) unless I manipulated the fermentation time.  So, contrary to the recipe I was (not) following, the first batch went into an Igloo cooler with some Blue Ice to ferment slowly for the night.  I was hoping it would have doubled by morning but it had only enlarged about 50% (small d’Oh!), so I put it on our kitchen counter and it had doubled by early afternoon.

I stretched and folded per the recipe and had a nice springy ball to work with.



 I clove the ball into two halves and tried to shape them into batards.  I didn’t do very well shaping (‘nother d’Oh!).  I had looked at written instructions on various TFL blog posts, but had not viewed Floyd’s very useful video on batard shaping ( until after making my mistake.  They looked like a cross between a batard and a baguette.  A baguard, I guess.


But they proofed nicely (I used the poke test…appropriate for a D’Oh! Boy).


And they looked pretty decent after baking on a pizza stone (with steam), except scoring with a paring knife didn’t work well.  I need to order a lame.

IMG_1424 IMG_1430

Unfortunately, in my first try at shaping loves I had not sealed the seams well and the bottoms cracked badly.  I think this was due to using too much flour on the kneading board, so the dough was not moist enough to cohere at the seams (dry d’Oh!).  I also must not have pre-heated my oven enough as the oven spring was only so-so and the bottoms are quite light in color (tepid d’oh!).


The crumb looks pretty good for a first try.  David says it’s either natural talent, a good instructor or beginner’s luck.  I say it’s all three.


The taste and texture were passable, far exceeding my low expectations, and probably good enough to motivate further trials.  The crust was crunchy and not at all tough.  The crumb was a bit too moist when first sliced, but is much more satisfactory today—pleasantly chewy, and excellent toasted. 

The flavor is complex and enjoyable—sour, yeasty, whole wheaty.  I’m not wowed, but I’m not gonna throw the experiment in the trash either.  Good bread, not great.

More about my second attempt and the lessons I learned in a later post.

This could get to be habit forming.





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