The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Some things are worth repeating.  Horst Bandel's Black Pumpernickel from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread is solidly in that camp. 

We had arranged dinner with friends who will move away soon. During that conversation, I offered to make a bread for them as a going away gift.  Since they enjoy dark, hearty breads, I knew a rye bread was in order.  It took a while to peruse various recipes in several books but Bandel's pumpernickel kept drawing me back.  

This is a bread with a lot of moving parts.  Rye berries are soaked overnight and then boiled.  There’s an old bread soaker.  Rye meal forms the basis for a rye levain.  And if that isn't enough rye, there's also cracked rye in the final dough. 

Before making the bread, I dug back through the TFL archives.  One of the most important finds was Andy's (ananda's) advice that the final dough should be about 85% hydration.  Hamelman is uncharacteristically vague about the water content of this bread, so that was a helpful data point.  

The other iffy part of the instructions for this bread is the baking profile.  Hamelman baked this bread in the dying heat of a commercial oven in his bakery.  There really isn’t a way to replicate those conditions in a home oven.  More about that later. 

This past Friday evening, I began by milling the rye meal and the cracked rye with my Komo Fidibus grain mill.  My starter was already primed for action after two refreshments, so it was mixed with the rye meal and water and left to work overnight.  The altus was combined with warm water to form a soaker.  Finally, the rye berries were covered with water.

On Saturday morning, the rye berries were boiled for an hour, then drained and cooled.  I also wrung as much water as possible from the altus soaker.  After that, it was time to put everything together.  There was just one small concern: the retained water in the rye berries and the altus pushed the overall dough hydration to 97%. 

Since I was making two loaves (hey, I like it too!), I used my 7-quart KitchenAid mixer.  While it had enough power to handle the load, the extra water in the dough made it very sticky and caused it to cling to the sides of the bowl.  In effect, it received more of a massage than mixing.  I found it necessary to use a spatula repeatedly to shift the dough back toward the center of the bowl where the dough hook could grab it.  Even so, I found some dry flour in the bottom of the bowl at the end of mixing and had to work that in manually.  

After the short bulk fermentation, the loaves were shaped and placed in Pullman pans.  When the top of the loaves were nearing the top of the pans, lids were put in place and the pans deposited in the preheated oven.  Because the dough was wetter than recommended, I chose to not seal the pan lids with foil.  I wanted that extra water to bake off.  

The baking profile I adopted was an educated guess.  The first hour was spent at 375F, per Hamelman's recommendation.  The second hour was at 325F, the third hour at 275F, and the next five hours at 225F.  Then the oven was switched off at about 10:00 p.m., with the bread remaining in the oven for the rest of the night. 

The pans were still slightly warm when I took them from the oven at about 7:30 Sunday morning.  Upon opening the pans, I found that the loaves had pulled away from the pan walls, slightly.  There was quite a bit of condensation on the inside of the lids and the pan walls.  Since I wanted to drive off some of the water, that was a welcome sight.  The crust was quite firm but not rock hard as happened with one of my earlier bakes.  I placed the loaves in plastic bags immediately after removing them from the pans.  The risk was that too much moisture would be retained.  The reward was that the crusts would soften.  

It was Wednesday before I cut into one of the loaves.  It is very moist and gums up the knife blade but fully baked.  

The flavor and fragrance are marvelous.  That long slow bake converts some of the starches to sugars and then caramelizes those sugars.  In the process, the grayish dough turns a deep mahogany brown; not quite black but close enough.  The crumb is barely aerated and packed with chewy, plump rye berries.  This is seriously good bread. 

Our friends were delighted with their loaf.  And I am delighted with mine. 


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The lead photo is Auvergne Dark Rye from Leader's Local Breads.  While I won’t know until tomorrow how it looks inside, I really like the way the crust turned out.  I expect it will be worlds better than my disastrous first attempt with this bread a few years ago.  

The big difference is hydration.  Leader describes the dough as “soupy” but the water quantities (50g in the levain and 350g in the final dough) only work out to 53% hydration.  Something is obviously amiss.  My prior experience taught me that a soupy dough doesn’t work.  Some googling this morning brought recommendations for 475g to 550g of water in the final dough.  After considering it for a few minutes, I opted to use 500g of water.  The dough was definitely soft but nowhere near soupy.  

Leader doesn’t say anything about using bannetons for the final proof of this bread, which seems peculiar.  The dough is supposed to be very soft, so why not give it some support for the brief (20-30 minute) final proof?  Since I was already straying from his non-instructions, I figured I’d proof the boules seam-side down and let them fissure naturally, instead of scoring them.  Ah, yes, boules.  Plural.  Leader recommends a single large boule.  From my previous experience, I thought the smaller boules might bake out better than one great big boule, especially at the 500F oven temperature he recommends. Like I said, the appearance is encouraging.  Now to see if the crumb is as good as the crust.  

Since I was in the book, I also made Leader's Classic French Sourdough, including the seeded soaker.  For the soaker, I chose millet, steel cut oats, rolled barley, and cornmeal.  Given that combo, I also chose to use boiling water instead of room temperature water.  The thought of cracking a tooth on a millet seed or an oat fragment that hadn’t fully softened before baking even harder just didn’t appeal to me.  Other than adding a quarter teaspoon of ADY to the final dough, the rest of the process went as per instructions. 

The batards also turned out well, at least on the outside.  We might get into one of those with our dinner this evening.  

After some recent bakes that ranged from disappointing to frustrating, it feels really good to have two good ones in the same day.  


Auvergne Dark Rye crumb:

As good as hoped for.

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Mr. Forkish designed this formula as a hybrid, using a levain and baker's yeast for leavening.  I elected to use only the levain because it was one of two things that I wanted to test with this bake. 

Some context is probably in order. 

The recent community bake of Maurizio’s oat porridge bread had left me questioning my flour, my starter, and my own capabilities.  The first attempt, which was chronicled in the CB thread, was an unmitigated disaster and a lot of that was due to one key decision that I made.  The second attempt (and no, you did not see an account of that) stayed closer to Maurizio's guidelines.  The results, while not disastrous, weren’t satisfactory, either.  Let's just say that I have a good supply of altus on hand now.  

Coming out of that debacle, I wanted to know whether my starter and my flour are performing as they should.  My curiosity about the flour stems from recently starting to mill whole wheat flour from a 5-gallon bucket of nominally hard red wheat that was gifted to me a few months ago.  This bread would give each component, starter and flour, the chance to display their functions without being swamped by other influences. 

Since I wanted to observe the dough as it fermented, I made the levain on Friday evening before retiring.  On Saturday morning, it had expanded to at least twice its original volume and was full of bubbles.  The formula calls for 360g even though Forkish tells you to make 1000g. I made 400g and called it good.  

I stayed pretty close to Forkish' process for the autolyse and the dough, although I did employ some slap and folds to ensure that the ingredients were thoroughly combined in the final dough.  One change that I did make was to withhold 60g of water from the autolyse, reasoning that some would be added to help disperse the salt and more would be absorbed during the stretch and folds when woorking with wet hands and a wet counter.  It seemed to have been a good choice.  

Bulk ferment ran from about 9:15 am to 3:30 pm.  Kitchen temperatures were 68F to 70F.  After shaping, the final fermentation, also at room temperature, ran to about 7:30 pm. The bread was baked on a stone with steam at 475F for 50 minutes.  At this point, their internal temperature registered as 210F so they were removed from the oven and cooled on a rack.  

They looked like this

Based on the oven spring, I could have extended the final fermentation.  Still, I’m pretty happy with the results.  When I cut into the loaf, the crumb looks like this:

Could it be more open? Sure, but this will be used primarily for sandwiches so it fits that need very nicely. The crumb is moist and chewy.  The fragrance is tangy and the flavor is about as sour as I care to have.  That seems to be a characteristic of breads with a high proportion of whole wheat flour.  

The upshot of all of this, aside from having usable bread, is that the starter has proven that it can still leaven effectively. And the wheat does, indeed, appear to be a hard wheat instead of a softer variety that I had begun to suspect.  I can go on with my baking knowing that those two elements aren’t causing problems for me.  

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A whole wheat four strand braided Challah from today's class.  The flour is a 50/50 mix of white whole wheat and AP.


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One of my Christmas gifts this year was several pounds of barley and of oats to feed my home milling habit.  After noodling around here on TFL and the web, I cobbled together a formula to use some barley flour.  


400g whole wheat flour, freshly milled

400g whole barley flour, freshly milled

400g all purpose flour 

5g malted grain (I used malted barley)

900g water

60g honey

24g salt

10g active dry yeast


Autolyse the flours, malt, water, and honey for 30 minutes.  Mix the salt into the dough.  Mix the yeast into the dough. Do three sets of stretch and folds at 20-30 minute intervals.  When the dough has doubled from its original volume, divide into two pieces.  Shape the loaves and place them in prepared bread pans. (I used 8x4 pans but this amount of dough will be more at home in two 9x5 pans.)  Ferment the loaves until they have nearly doubled, then bake in a preheated oven at 375F for 50-60 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 195F.  


Overall, I’m pleased with this bread, considering it was very much a seat of the pants experiment with a flour that I don’t know well.  It rose well, is moist, and has a lovely flavor that is milder than a whole wheat bread.  The honey isn’t enough to make the bread sweet but it does play up the other flavors.  The texture is firm.  Although the bread is somewhat more prone to crumbling than an all-wheat bread, it holds together fairly well.  

The crumb is more open than I had expected, perhaps because of the stretch and folds instead of a more vigorous kneading.  The compression visible around the edges is due to excess dough for the pan size, rather than over proofing. Judging from the oven spring, it may actually have been mildly under proofed.  

I will play with this again.  I'm curious to see how molasses would combine with the other flavors, for instance.  At 33.3% barley flour, it probably isn’t worth pushing for higher percentages. It is a hefty bread as is and the crumb openness would suffer with an increased barley content.  I also wonder if I might nudge the diastatic malt content slightly higher.  That might improve the crust browning.  

If anyone has pointers, I’m open for suggestions.


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Our oven has been rather busy lately, especially with the Christmas cookies that my wife likes to make at this time of year.  In spite of all of that going on, I still managed to work in three different breads yesterday.  

First up was the Tyrolean Christmas Zelten from The Rye Baker:

These gems are essentially fruit and nut loaves lightly glued together with the smallest possible amount of dough.  Raisins, golden raisins, chopped figs, pine nuts, and any of hazelnuts/almond/walnuts spend the night in a rum soaker.  (I used almonds.)  Right alongside those, candied lemon and orange peel have their own beauty bath in white wine.  The next day, rye flour, all purpose flour, fennel, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, lemon zest, orange zest, sugar, salt, egg, and water after blended into a dough.  After the dough has risen, both soakers are combined with the dough.  The soakers contribute enough liquid that the dough becomes more of a batter but you soldier on and shape three loaves on parchment or a pan liner.  After baking and cooling, the loaves are wrapped or bagged and allowed to ripen for a couple weeks.  These should be ready when the kids come to town for New Year.  

The second bread was Bagguettes with Poolish from Hamelman's Bread, Vol. 2. 

The baguette choir was singing as these cooled.  Since my wife wanted these as the base for crostini, the less than stellar slashing isn’t particularly worrisome and the somewhat bready texture will actually accommodate the toppings better than a wide-open crumb.  “It's not a bug; it's a feature!”  Or something like that.  I used the metric quantities, divided by 10.  Per Hamelman, that should yield four 22-inch bagguettes.  Knowing that mine would be 15-16 inches in length, I opted to make six instead of four from the same batch.  

The third bread was a perennial favorite here on TFL, Cream Cheese Braids:

There was a batch of unused blueberry filling lurking in the refrigerator from a recent class, so that was the primary motive for baking these.  Were I making them specifically for a holiday gathering, I might have chosen the cranberry filling, instead.  Since no one has ever turned these down previously, I don’t expect to hear any grumbling about them this evening.  

Sometime in the next week or two, I need to make a rye bread, too.  If anyone has a suggestion for one that would be a good analog for the miniature cocktail rye breads that sometimes show up at the deli, I’m all ears...


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  • Two blueberry and two peach.  We'll make these in tomorrow's Festive Braids class. 


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One of the breads for tomorrow's Festive Braids class.  


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Ian asked that I post something from my bakes (it has been ages).  So, here's today’s bread, a simple pain de compagne.  It's yeasted, rather than sourdough and will form the base for some DIY grilled cheese sandwiches for tomorrow's class.  The other bread the students will make is pain a la ancienne.

This was all one batch of dough and the loaves went into the oven at the same time, so I’m not sure why there is such a difference in the amount of oven spring.  The most likely explanation, other than shaping differences, is that one pan was on the lower shelf to begin with. That put it closer to the steam pan.  Even though the pans were rotated halfway through the bake, the other loaves never expanded as much.     

Anyway, I do still bake, even though I don’t post nearly as much as I used to.


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 My running debate with myself over whether to buy a mill or do without came to an abrupt end the week before last when I saw a post about a KoMo Fidibus Classic for sale at an attractive price.  The new-to-me mill arrived early last week but I wasn’t able to play with it until I purchased some wheat this weekend.  

My first thought had been to make a 100% whole wheat bread.  After some further thinking, I realized that would be more of a test of my baking ability than a real experiment with home milled flour.  Happily, I noticed some buttermilk in the refrigerator and thus was born a buttermilk whole wheat bread.  And not just one bread but two: one using flour I milled and one using some Pillsbury whole wheat flour that was in the pantry.  To the best of my ability, they would be identical in all ways except for the flour.  Which means, in real life, that they are exactly similar.  

Knowing that 800 grams of dough would fit well in my 8 inch by 4 inch loaf pans, I worked backward to specific quantities using bakers percentages.  The initial formula looked like this:

  • Whole wheat flour 75%
  • Bread flour 25%
  • Buttermilk 80%
  • Active dry yeast 1%
  • Diastatic wheat malt 1%
  • Salt 2%

The mill worked flawlessly, turning the hard red winter wheat into a steady stream of fine flour that was only slightly more coarse than the Pillsbury flour.  Ambient temperature in my kitchen was about 78F and the temperature of the flour exiting the mill was about 117F. 

The initial mix of the flours, malt, and buttermilk felt quite dry and stiff, so I decided to add enough water to bring the hydration up to 90%.  Naturally, I overdosed the bread made with the home milled flour, making it very loose and only just barely manageable.  After a short initial mix, each dough was left to autolyse for an hour.  

When the autolyse was complete, the yeast was added along with approximately a tablespoon of water to make a slurry.  The yeast slurry was then mixed in, followed by the salt.  Then each dough received 10 minutes of slap and folds.  The slap and folds, along with salt, tightened the dough nicely but it was still very wet and sticky.  The Pillsbury loaf, having received the correct amount of water, was slightly less sticky.

Each dough was allowed to double during bulk fermentation, which took about an hour.   Then they were shaped into loaves and allowed to ferment until the dough crested about 3/4 inch above the rim of the pans.  

The breads were baked at 375F for 45 minutes.  When checked with a thermometer, their internal temperature registered 205F, so I deemed them to be done.  

There is an appreciable difference in crust color (Pillsbury loaf on the left, home milled loaf on the right):

I'm not sure what caused the difference in oven spring for each loaf, seeing how each had the same bake.  Maybe the extra water in the home milled loaf was a contributing factor.  

This next view shows that the particle size of the home milled flour is just slightly coarser than the Pillsbury flour:

Updated with crumb photos.  First up, homemilled loaf:  

And the Pillsbury loaf:

When sliced last evening, both breads were slightly gummy.  Oddly, the Pillsbury loaf with the lower hydration seemed gummier, contrary to my preconceptions. As of this morning, the bread is extremely moist but no longer gummy.  Apparently it just needed more time for the crumb to stabilize.  

The flavor differences were more subtle than I expected.  The Pillsbury loaf had a faintly bitter flavor note.  It could have been the tannins or perhaps it’s an early indication of impending rancidness. The home milled loaf is slightly sweeter and the grain flavor is more rounded.  It's possible that the germ in the home milled flour contributes some additional flavors that are missing from the Pillsbury flour.  All in all, I didn’t experience a profound change in flavor that some people report but it was an improvement.  

If I were to repeat this bread, I would dial back on the hydration; perhaps to 85%.  Although the dough seemed rather dry during the initial mix, 90% was rather wet for a panned loaf.  Or, keeping the hydration, bake as a hearth loaf instead. 

Looking forward, I plan to use the mill frequently.  It may help the bread texture if I drop the malt content to 0.5% of the home milled flour.  If I can locate a local farmer with grain for sale, that would be a plus.  There are a whole lot of new possibilities and new learnings to explore.  I think it will be fun. 



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