The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

JMonkey's blog

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This week, one of my colleagues volunteered our team at work to host the monthly Happy Hour. Thanks, bud. Anyway, it was a Thanksgiving theme and since I'm "The Bread Guy," they wanted me to bake something. I thought it would be a good excuse to convert the Bread Baker's Apprentice's Cranberry Walnut Celebration Loaf into whole wheat. So I did. Here's how it turned out:

I think I've pretty much got this whole wheat thing down. Converting from a white bread recipe usually involves:

1) Increasing the recipe by about 20-30 percent in order to get the same volume.

2) Increasing the hydration by 10-15 percentage points to get the same consistency.

3) Either let the dough soak overnight (with a bit of salt to control enzymes) or knead for 20 minutes. If you soak everything and use a biga (highly recommended, as it really helps eliminate the bitter, dry taste that so many people find unappealing), you'll only need to knead until the soaker and biga / starter are well combined.

4) Use buttermilk. Man, buttermilk works wonders with flavor and loft.

The taste was definitely "Holiday" and it's an impressive presentation, though you can tell I was a bit sloppy with the egg wash. My wife's reaction upon tasting it was, "Wow! This is like fruitcake, except good!" And that's pretty much true. Reinhart recommends using either orange or lemon extract -- I went with orange, though I imagine lemon would not elicit the "fruitcake" comparison.

In any case, I'll be making this again come Christmas, for sure.

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I had ambitious goals for the weekend. I'd try a sourdough version of the whole-wheat ciabatta, try the "stretch-n'-fold, no-knead' technique with my weekly sourdough, and make a pizza, using regular yeast.

The ciabatta turned out OK. There wasn't much of a sour flavor, surprisingly, and I'm not sure why that was. Perhaps the powdered milk interfered with the bacteria's growth? I also didn't get big holes, but rather got rather uniform small holes. Still, it was a nice bread and made killer sandwiches, but I was disappointed that I didn't have the same success with sourdough as I did with the yeasted version.

The whole-wheat bread I made didn't turn out so hot. Flavor was fine, but I didn't get nearly as much rise as I usually do and the crust was abnormally pale. I think I know the culprit, though -- I let the sourdough starter over-ferment. My daughter didn't want to take her nap, which delayed me for about two hours making the bread. I'll have to try the new technique again some other time (essentially, I kneaded it for about 3-5 minutes until everything was evenly distributed, and then did a fold once every 30 to 45 minutes until I'd done six. The dough was definitely gaining strength, until near the end when it suddenly got soft. As I said, I think the starter went too long, got too acidified and weakened the gluten network).

Pizza? Fantastic! I used the whole wheat recipe from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grains Baking book, which, surprisingly enough, is almost identitcal to how I've been making my pizza for the past year -- roughly 4 ounces whole wheat bread flour, 4.25 ounces semolina flour and 4.25 ounces white bread flour, 10 oz. water with 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbs olive oil and 1 tsp yeast. Knead it gently, let it rise 45 mins to an hour, fold it and then stick it in the fridge for 8-18 hours. Make the pizza, put it in a piping hot oven on a stone, cook for about 12 minutes. Delicious.

I've tried Peter Reinhart's pizza formula, and I've decided that I like this one much better. For one, this recipe uses about 12 oz dough for a 12-inch pizza, whereas the BBA uses half that much. I like a thicker crust and also find the dough is much easier to shape. The BBA's crust gets so thin, that I'm constantly struggling not to tear it. Plus, the whole wheat and semolina flours in the KAF formula give it a wonderful buttery, rustic flavor. As for the toppings, though, I go with BBA all the way. Three cheeses (2 parts melter, one part hard cheese, one part optional -- which is always a goat cheese), mix herbs with the cheese, and a less is more approach to toppings. Just delicious.

Sorry, no photos. I was kind of demoralized by the non-holey ciabatta and the ugly (but fine tasting, so we'll eat it) whole wheat sourdough, so I didn't have the heart to take photos of that. As for the pizza, my family was hungry -- had I made them wait for a photo to eat it up, I'd have faced serious recriminations. It would not have been pretty.

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For my birthday, my mother bought me the brand-new King Arthur Flour Whole Grains Baking book. It's well timed. Their first book turned me on to bread baking, but after a few months, I moved toward whole grain breads almost exclusively, and the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion is about 95% white flour recipes. I learned a lot from it, but I wasn't baking much from it. So, suffice to day, I was itching to knead something up out of this book as soon as possible.

 I've made a few of the quickbreads. The Sailor Jack muffins, in particular -- an incredible cake-like concoction with raisins steeped in spices, molasses and brown sugar, along with whole wheat flour and oats, topped with a lemon sugar glaze -- are very, very tasty indeed. But I'd not tried a yeast bread until this weekend.  The first recipe to catch my eye was Ciabatta Integrale, a ciabatta made with half whole wheat flour, olive oil and a bit of powdered milk. I love ciabatta -- nothing is better for a sandwich or simply a bit of oil and balsamic vinegar. But whole grains just don't do ciabatta. Those holes? Forget it. Or so I thought. This recipe isn't 100% whole grains, but it's half, and I'll take it, given the results.  Here's one loaf all sliced up for sandwiches.
   And here's the other loaf, which served as dinner bread with some stuffed acorn squash (stuffed with quinoa, maple syrup, raisins, almonds and cinnamon), fresh corn and a green salad composed of our morning trip to the farmers' market. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are in the gravy boat, natch. 
  I was really impressed with the results, especially since the recipe said it's impossible to mix completely without a stand mixer. I don't own a stand mixer, so here's how I did it, thanks to a little help from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice.  Ingredients  Pre-ferment  1 cup or 4 oz. whole wheat flour 1/2 cup or 4 oz cool water Pinch of instant yeast  Dough  All of the pre-ferment 1 1/4 cups or 5 oz. whole wheat flour 2 1/4 cups or 9.5 oz white bread flour 1 1/4 cups or 10 oz. cool water 1/4 cup or 1.75 oz olive oil 1/4 cup or 1 oz. nonfat dry milk 1.5 tsp salt 1/4 tsp instant yeast  Yes, you read that right. This recipe makes two loaves of ciabatta with less than 3/8 tsp yeast.  The night before mix together the pre-ferment. The next morning dump all the ingredients (including the pre-ferment, which should be spongy and full of bubbles) EXCEPT for the salt and additional yeast into a bowl, and mix it together with a large spoon or a dough whisk until it seems mostly hydrated. Cover and let it stand for 45 minutes to an hour.      

After the autolyse (that's what you're doing when you soak), add the salt and yeast.


                  Get a small bowl of cool water, and dip your hands in it. Shake off most of the water (important, otherwise you'll end up overhydrating the dough and you'll have soup) and then, using your hand like a dough hook, impale the dough with all five fingers. Turn your wrist clockwise while you turn the bowl with your other hand counter clockwise. Continue to do this, occassionally changing direction and wetting your hands if the dough starts to stick, for about 10 minutes. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl, but it will stick to the bottom. Adjust the flour or water as necessary. Put the dough in a pre-greased bowl and cover it.  Every hour or so, copiously flour your work surface, remove the dough, copiously flour the dough and give it a good stretch and fold, brushing off as much of the flour as you can before folding. By stretch-and-fold, I mean gently pat out the gas, stretch the dough to twice its length and then fold it in thirds like a letter. Give the dough a one-quarter turn, and then stretch-and-fold once more. Place it back in the bowl and re-cover it. Here's a good lesson on the technique.  After about 3 hours and 2 or 3 folds (depending on how much strength the dough needs), remove the dough, and divide it into two. Gently stretch and pat each loaf into a 12 x 4 inch rectangle, and place them in a baker's couche (essentially, well-floured linen that you bunch up around the loaves so that they rise up instead of spreading out) or on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Cover with greased plastic.  It took mine about 4 hours for the final proof, but then my house is a chilly 62-64 degrees F. If your house is around 70-75 degrees, you may only have to wait two hours or so. In any case, preheat the oven to 500 degrees and put the loaves in the oven either on a preheated baking stone or a cold baking sheet when they're good and puffy. Steam the oven (I keep a cast iron skilet in the bottom of mine and usually toss about 1 cup of boiling water in it) and turn the oven down to 425. The loaves should take 20-25 minutes to cook and should register 205 degrees when done. With all that oil, the crust is not as crisp as I usually like ciabatta, but I find I do like the flavor it adds.  Enjoy!
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A comment from Joe Fisher in this lesson I put together got me thinking about trying a really wet starter to see how it turned out. I usually make my sourdough with a 50% hydration starter (1 part water to 2 parts flour) which makes a really stiff starter. What if I reversed it? What if I had a starter at 200% (2 parts water to 1 part flour)?

Well, I tried it. On Wednesday, I converted part of my stiff starter to a 200% hydration starter and fed it about three times before making bread.

The result?

It was still sour, but a different kind of sour. Less tart, more smooth. I liked it. Now, it's possible that my starter hadn't fully adjusted to the super wet environment and I had some stiff starter microbes hanging out, I dunno. But I'm beginning to think that time and temperature may be much more important to the sourness of one's bread than the starter itself.

Anyway, I'm still keeping my starter stiff. Less chance of a spill in my cramped fridge, and it's easier to give away as a solid dough that a liquid. Fun experiment though!

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In addition to baking bread, I have another obsession: The ancient Asian game of Go. As the game is well over 3000 years old, a whole host of proverbs has grown up around it. One of my favorites is the following:

"Just one game," they said. That was yesterday.

Friday night, I may as well have said to myself,

"Just one loaf ...."

(Photos in the full post)

I really didn't intend to bake all night. Really, I didn't. But I'd gotten home a bit early, and I knew it would be a busy weekend. Besides, the day before I'd worked from home surreptitiously so that I could cook a special meal for my wife's birthday and our fourth anniversary (we didn't intend to get married on her birthday, but she's got a family full of academics, and it was the only Saturday in June when none of them had a conference). Of course, the meal included bread. Ciabatta to be exact.

Nevertheless, aside from a quarter loaf of ciabatta, we needed more bread to last the week. But it was going to be a busy weekend. "Hey!" I said to myself. "Here's a brilliant idea! Let the dough rise after you get home from work, shape it, pop it in the fridge and bake it in the morning! Work is done!"

I'd soaked some wheat berries, flax seeds and rolled oats that morning, so as soon as I got home from work, I set the whole-wheat flour to autolyse and started dinner. I was ambitious: two loaves of my weekly whole-wheat sourdough sandwich bread and then another two loaves of seed and oat whole wheat sourdough hearth bread.

My wife had come home early, so she had taken a ball of frozen pizza dough out from the fridge to thaw (from the BBA, though I'm finding I prefer the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion "Now or Later Pizza" recipe better. It uses 1/2 semolina flour.)and cranked up the oven to the max. No pics of the pizza, alas, but it was tasty.

After dinner, I kneaded it up and set it to rise. I figured it starts rising at 8, two and a half hours for the first rise, a little over an hour for the second -- I'll be in bed by 11:30. Woo hoo!

I was clearly snorting something.

After all, it was 68 degrees in the house and I didn't let the water warm up after it filtered down into the Brita pitcher from the faucet. We're talking cold, cold dough.

Around 11pm, the dough was 3/4 of the way to doubled. I had some explaining to do.

"Er, honey, I believe I'll be up until about midnight and ... um ... I'll have to set the alarm to get up around 2am to shape the dough after the second rise and ...."

Her reply: "Couch."

Of course, I was dead tired after a long week at work, so did I hear my alarm? Nope. I woke up at 4:15 AM to two buckets of dough that had more than tripled. Ah well. I degassed and shaped them anyway, and threw them in the fridge. I then crept into bed with my wife and slept like a stone.

They turned out OK. In fact, I got some of the best oven spring I've ever gotten from 100% whole wheat loaves.

Sandwich loaves in front. Hearth seed boules in back.

A close-up of the boules.

As it turned out, though, it wasn't a busy weekend at all. My 2-year-old came down with a nasty cold, so I made bagels (her favorite) for Sunday morning using Peter Reinhart's formula. Six poppy seed and six garlic:

Cream cheese is off-screen.

Bread in the morning works great for bagels. But I won't try this trick with sourdough again on a Friday night unless I get home at 5pm or earlier.

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I didn't really intend to become a sourdough fanatic, but it seems that's what I make 80% of the time these days. The pound of SAF instant yeast I bought in February is only halfway gone, despite my having baked just about every weekend since then.

Maybe it's because I've had a devil of a time getting my starter to get a decent "sour" and I've been obsessed with getting it right. It wasn't until last month that I finally I cracked it:

1) Stiff (50% hydration) starter,
2) A long, cool bulk rise at about 64-68 degrees (which means, in my cellar), and
3) An overnight retarding in the bottom of my fridge.

I make at least two loaves of the following bread every weekend. One loaf gets wrapped in aluminum foil for the freezer, and the other goes right in the bread box. It's a well-rounded bread with enough flavor to eat on its own, but also a good accompaniment to any sandwich, from peanut butter and banana (a favorite of my Southern roots, though, unlike Elvis, I refrain from frying it in butter), to mustard, turkey pastrami and a sharp cheese.

I also use it as a base for experimentation, adding spices, or fruits, grains or seeds.

It's 100% whole wheat, but to my mind, doesn't taste "whole wheat," at least, not in the usual sense of the word. There's no strong, bitter grassy flavor, though it's a very different flavor than a white flour bread.

Anyway, here's the recipe for my

100% Whole-Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread.


• 19.5 oz whole-wheat flour
• 14.5 oz water (at room temperature)
• 2 Tbs honey
• 2 Tbs Olive Oil
• 2 1/8 tsp salt
• 16.5 oz stiff, whole-wheat sourdough starter (I use a starter at 50 percent hydration)

All the rest Mix everything EXCEPT the salt and the starter together until you get a rough dough. Let it sit for 30-60 minutes so that the whole-wheat flour can absorb the water. This cuts down on the kneading time substantially. Without the "autolyse," you'll have to knead by hand for 30 minutes or more to get it to the right place.

Tear the starter into about 10 pieces. Add the starter and the salt to the rest of the ingredients DON'T FORGET TO ADD THE SALT (like I almost always come close to doing). Tastes awful if you forget it.

Knead the dough until you can stretch a tiny bit of it into a translucent membrane. You'll see plenty of bran blocking the light, but that's ok so long as the surrounding dough is translucent. Oil a bowl or container, put the dough in it and cover.

When it has doubled -- and this may take 3-4 hours depending on the temperature -- fold it and let it rise again. This second rise improves flavor and helps the final loaf rise higher. It should take about half the amount of time the previous rise took.

Once it has risen a second time, remove the dough and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a loaf, and place inside two oiled 8.5 inch by 4.5 inch loaf pans. To shape the loaves, I pat and stretch each portion of the dough into a rough 8"x4" rectangle. I then take one of the 4" ends, and roll it up, pausing every full turn to press down hard on the seam with the edge of my hand. Once the loaf is rolled and sealed, II then stretch it gently so that it's longer than the pan, and fold the edges underneath, again, pressing down hard to seal the seams. I then rock it back and forth quickly while bringing my hands from the middle of the loaf to the edges to stretch it out once again to fit the pan.

Here, you have a choice. You can either cover the pans with food grade plastic and stick it in the fridge overnight, or you can just let it rise and bake immediately. Retarding overnight will accentuate the flavor, and the sourness, of the bread. Depending on how sour your starter is, retarding might overdo the sourness.

Let the loaves rise until they crest about an inch or two in the center of the loaf above the rim of the pan. Try to catch it so that, when you poke the loaf with a damp finger, the indention starts to fill back in slowly. If you've retarded the bread, and it's already at this stage, you can either leave it out (covered) for about an hour to warm up or bake it immediately. I've had more luck getting oven spring if I warm it up.

Otherwise, let it rise until it's nearly fully risen. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slash the loaves artfully. These days, I like a few baguette-style slashes on a slight diagonal along the length of the loaf. But, really, it's up to you. As you can see from the photos, I've taken other approaches in the past.

Put the loaves in to bake and, If you wish, steam the oven by pouring 1-2 cups of boiling water into a pre-heated pan or skillet in the bottom of the oven. If find this results in a darker crust, and slighly larger loaves.

Cook for about 40 minutes in a preheated oven at 350 degrees, until the center of each loaf registers 190 to 200 degrees. Remove from pans and cool for 1 hour before slicing.

A couple of variations:

Cinnamon-raisin sourdough: Substitute 2 TBS butter for the olive oil and raise the honey to 4 TBS. Add 2 tsp cinnamon. Near the end of the kneading, add 9 oz raisins and, if you like, 4 oz pecans or walnuts. The extra cinnamon and honey will increase the rising time by about 40%, and you'll need 9"x5" pans. Add 15-20 minutes to the bake.

Multi-grain sourdough Soak 6 oz of your favorite seeds and grains (sunflower seeds, flax seeds, rye chops, wheat berries, oat groats, whatever mix suits your fancy) in 6 oz of water overnight. Reduce the water in the dough to 11.5 oz. Use a 9"x5" pan and add 15-20 minutes to the bake.

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My parents were up from Atlanta this weekend, so with five folks in the house, I baked up a storm. We had pizza Friday night, poolish baguettes Saturday night, and on Sunday I baked five loaves:

* Two panned loaves of whole-wheat sourdough.
* Two loaves of potato, rosemary and roasted garlic sourdough (in the "fendu" shape)
* One panned loaf of whole-grain and seed whole-wheat sourdough.

Pictures below:

The two loaves of whole-wheat with the multi-grain loaf in the center. I'd bought a bag of King Arthur Flour's Harvest Grains Blend a couple of months ago, and every time I opened the freezer, it stared back at me, saying, "Bake me." So I did. I soaked about 6 oz of the stuff in boiling water overnight and then added it to my regular weekly bread. It made the dough pretty wet, but not so wet that I added any additional flour. Also added enough bulk so that I had to bake it in a 9x5 pan.

It added about 15-20 minutes to the bake, but the flavor was great. The flax seeds and rye flakes added a strong, earthy flavor to the bread, while the oat groats and sunflower seeds gave a nutty undertone and a nice chewy texture. I'll be making this again. A nice contrast with some peanut butter on it!

Here's the rosemary, potato and roasted garlic sourdough loaves. I pretty much converted Jeffrey Hammelman's recipe from a biga to fit my stiff starter, and the results were nice. When I do it again this weekend, I think I'll reduce the rosemary by half and double the roasted garlic. I used 1% fresh rosemary and 3% roasted garlic (about 1 head), and the garlic was a little too understanded for my preference. Still a delicious loaf, but I'd have prefered less rosemary and more garlic.

I'll be baking quite a bit this coming weekend. Our daughter's day care held a fundraising auction, and I auctioned off four loaves of bread. Can't wait to see what they want.

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A big baking weekend, now that my oven is fixed:

  • Nice and sour 100% whole wheat sandwich bread
  • Pain au levain (actually, Jeffrey Hammelman's Vermont Sourdough, but I live in Watertown, MA, so technically, I suppose it should be "Watertown Sourdough")
  • Baguettes (using the BBA's French bread formula which employs a pate fermente)
  • Whole wheat sourdough with raisins, pecans and a cinnamon sugar swirl.

  • Click more for photos.

    The two in front are pain au levain with 10% whole rye. I usually use a firm starter, because to get a decent "sour" out of my local microflora, I have to work them hard: firm starter, long bulk fermentation (6 hours), overnight retarding in the fridge. This formula required a starter at 125% hydration, so I converted some of my starter and followed his instructions to the T. The result: a mildly sour, flavorful bread similar to French bread that just exploded in the oven. I've NEVER gotten oven spring like this before.

    I haven't cut into the sourdough raisin pecan with a cinnamon swirl (in the back). It's in the freezer -- I expect it will either be delicious or awful.

    By the way, whenever I retard a pan loaf of sourdough, the top of the loaf that's directly exposed to the cold always bakes up much more pale than the rest of the loaf. I cover it with plastic. Anyone have any idea what I could do to prevent it from being so pale? I don't mind too much, since the flavor isn't affected, but it would be nice if the entire loaf was a nice golden brown.

    A nice open crumb. I was very pleased. :-)

    Here's the baguettes. I clearly need some help with slashing and shaping, but there were neverthleless mighty tasty. Nutty, somewhat sweet with a long tangy finish. I made three baguettes, but one already made its way to our happy bellies before I could find the camera.

    Baguette crumb. Not as open as I'd like, but I'll take it. Next week, I'm going to make poolish baguettes. I imagine that will produce more holey bread.

    Next week: Hammelman's Potato bread with the addition of fresh rosemary (from my friends garden) and roasted garlic. Mmmmmmmmmm.

    JMonkey's picture

    It's been raining for two weeks, and we're about to get yet another week of rain. Luckily, I'm not in any danger of getting flooded out, but I may end up working from home at the rate they're closing roads. Very wet. And at the rate that sewage and water treatment plants are going offline, I may end up boiling all our water soon.

    My oven will be repaired on Friday, but it still works well enough for me to keep a fairly constant 350 degrees -- good enough for the BBA's raisin-walnut (I prefer pecan, being a former Southern boy, myself) bread. Had to have French toast for Mother's Day, and there's no better French toast than cinnamon raisin pecan French toast.

    I picked up three 9x5 pans at a garage sale for $1 a couple of weeks ago, so instead of dividing the dough into two loaves for a 8.5 x 4.5 pan (they always seem to come out too small for my taste) I just put the whole shebang into the 9 x 5.

    Perfect! We had a big honkin'loaf, most of which went to French toast (we've got a freezer full - yum), and the rest to peanut-butter and bannana sandwiches.

    On Thursday night, I'm going to start preparing for a BBA pizaa on Friday night. Living without a high-heat oven has been a sad existance.

    JMonkey's picture

    I had a good bake Saturday morning, but I ruined my oven in the process.

    I was making two 1.5 pound loaves of hearth whole-wheat sourdough, and two more of the same, but sandwich bread. I was just ready to put the boules in, so I stuffed two oven mitts wrapped in aluminum foil into the vents to trap the steam. I put the boules onto the stone, poured two cups of boiling water into the steam pan and shut the door.

    The steam, alas, found a way out -- right up through the digital readout and computer controls for my gas oven. The display started to blink in and out. I removed the foil and opened the door to let the steam out, but it was too late. It still works, but the dial and the readout don't match. When I've set it for 400, for example, the readout shows 280. And when it finally heats up, I get an F2 error, whatever that is.

    So no pizza Saturday night. A fellow from Sears is coming by on Tuesday to fix it. I hope.


    Bread tasted good though. Oh well.


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