The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Shiao-Ping's blog

Shiao-Ping's picture


George Bernard Shaw once said “there is no love sincerer than the love of food;” I am re-writing that sentence: “there is no love more sincere than the love of bread.”


Sourdough is one of life’s simplest pleasures. How lucky I am to not have gluten intolerance.


It’s been nearly four years since I last posted. Is anyone familiar with an Australian aborigines’ rite called “walkabout”? I feel like I had gone on a long walkabout and have just found my way home. A lot had transpired in between, but at this very moment, I feel not much has changed between me and sourdough.


So, Hello friends, I see a few familiar faces but most I don’t recognize. I guess that won’t matter; bread is our common language.


I never thought I would lose it, but I did – a few times I tried to make bread during my time away but failed miserably and I never quite knew what went wrong. A year or 18 months ago, I bought my sister Orange Jim Layhey’s famous No Knead bread book; secretly I wanted to learn it too as a way out of the mud, or quick sand, I was in with my formal way of sourdough making.


Scroll forward, a week ago, I came across a no-knead sourdough formula on Eric’s BreadTopia, I thought it was amazing and decided to give it a try. The result was really pleasing, however I could never just follow a recipe; I needed to do my own thing. So after a few experiments, I did the following:


Turmeric, Cashews, and Carrot Sourdough (No-Knead version)


(adapted from BreadTopia’s no-knead cranberry & pecan sourdough, thank you, Eric!)


  • 430 g flour (consisting of 390 g bread flour, and 40 g wholemeal/spelt/rye flour mix)
  • 60 g very young 100% hydration starter, diluted in 50 g water
  • 300 g carrot juice (from 4 – 5 medium carrots)
  • 100 g cashew nuts (lightly roasted and cooled)
  • 70 g threaded carrot (from about one small carrot)
  • 2.5 teaspoonful of turmeric powder
  • 9 g salt


(Overall hydration about 81%)




(1)   Mix everything up in one go, and just leave it.

If you are so inclined, give it a fold or two, or none, not straightaway, but perhaps a couple of hours later, or whenever.  (Being a sourdough baker, you would just be so tempted to fold it. It is not possible to not fold it; you cannot not do it.) In the 9 hours of bulk fermentation at room temp averaging 22-24C (72-75F), I did just one letter fold.


(2)   Just before shaping, I did another letter fold, and I let the dough rest for 15 minutes, then shaped it (very minimalist handling); final proof a little over 2 hours.



(3)   30 minutes before baking, pre-heat with a Dutch oven inside to 225C (450F). Bake it covered for 30 minutes (no need for steaming), then open the lid, and bake a further 10 minutes.








A few notes (these are to refresh my own memory:


  1. Hydration – it is one thing to want to have large holes, and another to have too much hydration with the bread ending like a big pancake;
  2. Fermentation – I have found most no-knead bread recipes asking for too long fermentation, with the end result of a pancake again; long fermentation is safer with lower hydration;
  3. Temperature - an all important issue which bloggers or posters don’t seem to spend time to talk about; temperature is key in deciding the length of time needed for fermentation;
  4. Starter - a young starter is always my preference; unless I am making a German or Swiss style rye bread, in general, I do not like making sourdough with mature starter;
  5. Total time from initial mixing to just before baking – this time figure is what I pay attention to; but at the end of the day …
  6. When all is said and done, I am finding learning to “read” the dough is THE most important step of all steps, a step that can override all other steps!


Not sure how much I will be posting going forward, but glad to be back and say Hi.

Cheers to all!



Shiao-Ping's picture


Background:       Stormy Queensland rain, a cyclone passing through

                            Vivid greenery against thick dark clouds

                            Cozy tearoom


The world out there is wet and blowy:



Inside my tearoom the air is sweet.  A bird came to visit me and rest on the railing outside:



My baking has not stopped. Such a delight to be able to create:



This bread was my very first sourdough baked in Taiwan. My family and I spend a lovely Christmas and New Year holiday in Taipei. My oven is Bosch there. I used no steaming mechanism. Spray can did the trick for me on this bread. I did not aim to make a perfect bread, just a bread.



We thoroughly enjoyed this bread, but I had no hesitation to put my starter away. On holidays these days I prefer not to spend too much time in the kitchen. Maison Kayser and Frédèric Lalos Bakery are both in Taipei and their breads are very good.

During this last trip to Taiwan, I made an effort to go to A-Li-Shan Mountain to see the ancient red cypress trees there. The oldest alive in Taiwan is estimated to be 2,700 years old! Look at the picture and the stats below:


Age: approx. 2,700 years old

Height: 43 meters

Circumference: 20 meters

Altitude: 2,350 meters


There are about 20 of these ancient giant red cypresses in Taiwan, ages ranging from 1000 to 2700 years old.  The Japanese left them untouched at the turn of the last century because back then these trees were already hollow in the middle and were considered to have no economic values.  The Japanese ran a massive logging industry in Taiwan during their 50 years of occupation before the end of the Second World War.  The red cypresses were shipped back to Japan for use in their temples and their Emperor’s residences.  

It was not possible to take a good shot at the giant tree with my poor camera.  It was very early morning and the sky was still dark blue.  But as the morning progressed, I was able to take beautiful shots of the mountains and the sea of clouds:






The holiday is now over and everything is back in full swing.  My daughter is in San Francisco on an exchange program for the first half of the year, and my son is busy preparing for a medicine exam in March.  Christmas tree was folded away for another year; more time now to enjoy my tea:



Happy baking everyone!


Shiao-Ping's picture

It’s a stunning morning with gentle early winter breeze. I could see the tips of my tall bamboo shrubs waving in the yard out of the window in my tea room. Years ago when I was working, racing to the airport on Friday afternoons to see family, rows and rows of bougainvillea that lined the expressway to the airport would dance as my taxi flew by. I used to count the waving bougainvillea, as do I now with the bamboos against the bright blue sky.

What do I bake on this early winter morning? I feel like something that would add some heat, some aroma.

Six months had gone by since my last post. My son is in the middle of his freshman year in University and loving it. My daughter is in her third year and her path is more and more clear to her. Such beautiful kids they are.

I had been busy with a project in Taiwan but now that project has come to a fine completion I will expect to stay in Australia more – and bake more? I hope. I missed my sourdough.

How the aroma of roasted caraway seeds crept into my senses I don’t know. The winter? The crackling wood in the fire at night?

It was as it had promised: The aroma that was in my head when I was in Taipei was singing to me this morning in my hands.




My formula:


  • 204 g white liquid starter (at 92% hydration)
  • 48 g rye flour (8% bakers percentage)
  • 74 g spelt flour (12% bakers percentage)
  • 386 g bakers flour
  • 362 g water (75% overall hydration)
  • 15 g roasted caraways seeds (2.4% bakers percentage)
  • 13 g sea salt

I promised my sisters to make Taiwanese pineapple tarts for them the next time I come back again. The sun coming through my bay windows in the kitchen cast beautiful shadows of trees growing on the side of the house; but I am scared to have to open the pineapples – the Queensland pineapples are so sour….


I would like to share some pictures of a tea garden restaurant that I went to with my sisters in Taipei this last trip back there. The pictures below are in a reverse order:






Drinking tea is for me as much a mental as a physical affair. Tea and sourdough are an unlikely combination I know but both I love. I have a book called “Listen to the Materials” and a book about the purity in (building) materials. I find similar qualities in the beauty of both building materials and raw food ingredients when they are treated with respect. One day I would like to write about it.


Shiao-Ping's picture

Reflection is a bitter sweet thing.

Why do we have dessert at the end of a meal? Dessert gives us a feeling of happiness. Why do we love coffee? For me, to counter the sweetness that has accumulated in my palate.

On this last day of the year I reflect:  Bitterness gives meaning to sweetness.




My husband replaced our refrigerator while I was away. The old fridge had refused to give up the ghost and was still going. I do not know what prompted him to replace it. Early spring cleaning?!

My girlfriend came by to have coffee and a piece of chocolate panforte. I was looking through the junk in our new fridge that my husband has kept for me from the old fridge. I saw a jar of green tea powder and asked my girlfriend to have a look. She said, with a roaring laughter, “It expired in 2008!” Notwithstanding, I had a taste and it was very bitter. Then, I found a gift packet from Three Sisters’ Inn in Kyoto, Japan, where I had stayed numerous times. It contains sachets of green tea soup – savory with a hint of sourness.

In the back of the new fridge, I found more macha green tea powder. Can I build this into a sourdough with, say, chocolate – sweet and bitterness? Here it is, but don’t do what I do. It is a bit wacky for a sourdough.




I also built in orange preserves to give it contrast and colour.




Green Tea, Chocolate and Orange Sourdough


  • 230 g liquid starter (fed 90% plain flour and 10% rye flour)
  • 575 g flour (90% plain flour and 10% rye flour)
  • 4 g macha green tea powder (mixed into the flour)
  • 150 g chocolate chips (Don’t use expensive ones; cheap ones keep their shape better in baking)
  • 260 g orange preserves with its syrup (stew slices of oranges in sugar, cloves, and some lemon juice depending on how sweet your oranges are)
  • 300 g water (Here is the tricky part. I started with about 250 g water. I wanted a medium soft dough consistency, about 72% overall hydration. It depends on how much syrup in your orange preserves. I ended up using more water, maybe 50 g or so.)
  • 14 g sea salt






I forgot there was much sugar in the dough and  had baked it in too high a temperature, around 230 C.  Lower temperature would have been better to allow a longer bake for crispier crust.

With so many ingredients and flavours in the dough, David’s 21-hour retarding won’t be necessary. Lean dough benefits from a long period of retarding, but it will be an overkill for the kind of dough I have here.






The dominant flavour in this bread is chocolate, and therefore it is sweet. The orange gives it an added dimension. You hardly smell or taste the macha green tea and it is a shame.

I believe there will continue to be efforts in building in more bitterness in our baking and our cuisine in general. Bitterness adds depth in flavour, and more fullness in taste. I believe we are ready for more complexity.

I have always had a sweet tooth. I have just had too much sweetness in my life…





Have a wonderful 2012!



Shiao-Ping's picture

Boxing Day, a gorgeous day! 

All is quiet, on this early morning, except the gentle breeze.  The air is crisp and the sky is blue over the tree hills out of my tea room.




The Poinciana in my neighbourhood is firing in red, such colour of celebration.




Hope you all had a great Christmas day yesterday!  Since my last post in May, a few times I had wanted to write and say Hello.  The last time was after my son’s graduation in November when I read his Reflections - Robert Frost: The Road not Taken, his last writing in school.  It reminded me of the piece he did almost seven years ago when he started Grammar School.  How time had flown.

My daughter and son’s God mother had asked for Olive Sourdough and Pain au Levain for Christmas lunch.  As I have not baked very much for a long while, being in Taiwan most of this year, and as my husband had just put in a new oven, I was not sure how my breads would turn out. 








 Olive Sourdough

  • 95 g liquid starter (fed 90% plain flour and 10% organic wholemeal rye flour)
  • 427g flour (90% plain and 10% organic wholemeal rye) *
  • 247g water (72% hydration)
  • 150g kalamata pitted olives (30% baker’s percentage)
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 8 g sea salt

 Pain au Levain

  • 95g liquid starter (fed 90% plain and 10% organic wholemeal rye)
  • 427 g flour (90% plain and 10% orgain wholemeal rye) *
  • 247g water (72% hydration)
  • 10g sea salt

      *      My starter was a bit soupy, not very strong, so I fed it an unusually large amount of flour.

              Fermented flour to final dough flour was a low 10%.  

     **    Dough temperature was 24 C.


These days I have adopted a very minimalist approach to the whole procedure – from mixing the ingredients in the bowl, kneading via stretching and folding, to fermentation in the bowl.  I stop stretch-and-folds the minute when I feel any resistance in the dough. 

With these two breads, the fermentation was 5 and a half hours from time of mixing to just before the shaped dough went into the fridge.  

Thanks to David’s method of the magic 21-hour cold proof (see his San Joaquin Sourdough), the breads were exceptionally moist, the crumb translucent, the texture springy, and the flavour so creamy.






Baking has never been so easy with this new oven.  It does steaming by itself.  The crust came out shining and crisp.  It is like a professional oven at home.   

We are blessed with an unusually mild summer for our Christmas this year in Brisbane.  Everything has turned so lush with the recent rain. 

Hope we all bake more delicious breads next year.  Happy New Year, everyone! 





Shiao-Ping's picture

Recently I re-read the Flour Treatise.  On the third chapter entitled The Milling of Flour, there is a very interesting section about wheat extraction in relation to endosperm, aleurone and bran.  It says that wheat contains on average 85% of endosperm; however, 100 pounds of wheat yields 72 pounds of flour and 28 pounds of feed material.  The article also says that the reason why it is not possible to extract all of the endosperm as flour, “even with advanced milling methods” is because “the peripheral zones of the endosperm adhere so firmly to the aleurone and bran layers that complete separation is not practical….”

When I read this, my initial thought was: Hmmm, animals eat better than we do because, not just that the aleurone and bran layers contain a lot of nutrients, but also that the aleurone layer is known to have a lot of flavour compounds.

The second thought I had was that no wonder many people say Miche has better flavour than normal bread because a lot of Miches are made of high extraction flours.

I read David’s and Glenn’s posts about how they like Keith Giusto’s Type 85 malted flour.  I rang the company and found that the flour is 90% extraction.  I felt that the flour would be great for my Miche experiment, so I got hold of the flour.

The weather has turned quite cool lately with day time temperature 20 to 22C, dropping to 14 to 15C overnight.  I figured if I mixed a dough around dinner time, I could leave it to ferment overnight on my kitchen counter and bake it first thing in the morning.  But I was not going to leave it to chances so I used a low pre-fermented flour ratio of 11% and I didn’t go for a high hydration dough.  Below was a 1.6 kg dough at 76% overall hydration with a flour combination of 75% Type 85/25% white.


My Type 85 Miche Formula 

  • 200 g liquid white starter (has just domed, but not fully matured)                   
  • 675 g Central Milling’s organic type 85 malted flour
  • 125 g bread flour
  • 584 g lukewarm water (I mixed my dough to 24C)
  • 18 g salt







I loved it.  It has been a long while since I felt excited at my own bread.  The crumb was translucent and that tells me the flour was very well fermented.  The crumb smelled sweet to me.





I cut the Miche in half to give it to my neighbor.  My neighbor’s boyfriend is making me 4 beautiful baguette bread boards, one for me and the others for each of my three sisters.  We went to a local timber merchant last week to select the wood I like.  I selected a natural dark color, hard timber from an Australian native gum tree.  For my half of the Miche, I sliced it for freezer (because I have another bread coming):




It was a beautiful clear day; my kitchen was full of light, and I was able to catch these beautiful shots (see how the difference of a split second made in the shade of color) :




 I went to visit an organic mill, Kialla Foods, 150 km west from where I live.  I wrote up about it HERE.  I brought back a few small bags of their organic wholemeal flour mix and was dying to try it.  The following sourdough was 800 grams, half the weight of the previous Miche, and had 75% of the wholemeal flour mix and 25% white flour.  It also had an overall hydration of 76%.






Apart from the flours, all that I added were my sourdough starter, water and salt.  The flavour was quite good actually.






I have to admit that I am very happy with this baking test.  I previously had problems using Kialla’s stoneground organic wholemeal flour but this wholemeal flour mix is very easy to work with.  I know why.  Look at the ingredient list: organic white unbleached plain flour, organic wheat bran, gluten, organic sunflower oil, organic sugar, organic soy flour, lecithin powder, malt flour and non-coated ascorbic acid, allergen gluten and soy!!



Shiao-Ping's picture

It is a glorious day in Brisbane today, the air is crisp and the sky is clear.  Where I came from it would be plum blossom raining season now.  Have you ever wonder exactly what you miss about a place when you are missing it?  My pen is blunt but I have flour in my hand to paint:








Since my last post, I had made a dozen of these Miches, each time a two kilo loaf.  Yes, a dozen of these.  I have had a fixation on Miche-style breads and I need to wean myself off it.  Last year I made a day trip to Sydney to visit some of the bakeries down there and I found my dream Miche with that beautiful translucent crumb: Sonoma Bakery in Paddington, Sydney.  I wrote up a post about it.  

The combination of flours that I have been using for my recent Miche plays is: 

  • 65% bread flour
  • 15% organic stoneground whole wheat flour
  • 10% organic stoneground spelt
  • 5% organic stoneground rye
  • 5% organic buckwheat

My results have not been to my satisfaction.  It is not the holes that I am looking for: 










It is each and every cell that I am focusing on.  There is a certain translucent crumb quality that I am looking for, similar to the T110 Miche that I made more than a year ago (but that Miche was only 1.5 kilo).  There is a Chinese character,, describing a mellow wine beautifully fermented from the best grapes available.  I don't know the comparable English word for it (Ron, can you help?).  Fermentation is a complex process that cannot be hurried.  While it is not easy to achieve a delicate balance bringing all factors together beautifully in fermentation, more and more I find that if the flour is not right, there is no chance for to happen in bread.  Not all flours have equal fermentable qualities. 

I find it is quite important for me to have the flour malted at the miller level to achieve the crumb quality that I look for in a big Miche.  David and Glenn make beautiful Miches using Keith Giusto Bakery Supply's Organic Type 85 malted flour which is similar to the French T110 flour that I used, both being 90% extraction.  (I didn't enjoy the French T80 flour that I used for My T80 Miches.  In memory, I had some tough time working with the flour; I may be wrong but I think that particular T80 flour was not malted.) 

Any good ingredient is a two-edge sword; it can also harm your result.  James MacGuire wrote that fava-bean flour, a sauce of malt, is allowed as an ingredient for the bread to be called "Pain de tradition" under French consumer protection laws because it has long been used (whereas ascorbic acid is not permissible as the latter's use was only since the 1950s).  He cautions against oxidation of the dough with malt.  This is no so much a problem for us if we are careful not to over-ferment our dough.  These days we go for a slightly under-proved dough for better oven spring anyway.   

Next, I find dough size and shape do make a difference in outcome.  A big round Miche is about the hardest for a home baker to perfect as any other shape.  It wouldn't be as hard if the shape is a batard because the thickest part is smaller.  Given the same shape, i.e., the round shape, there is a big difference between a 1.5 kilo dough and a 2 kilo one.  It is a lot easier to achieve a great result with a 1.5 kg dough.  My baking stone measures 34 cm by 34 cm.  It can take a 2 kilo dough which will bake to 30 to 32 cm in diameter depending on how tall the volume.  Several times when I didn't load my doughs dead-set in the centre of the stone, they baked with bits hanging on the edge of the stone.  Scary to watch.

I normally love a challenge, but I am losing steam fast.  I need good whole grain flour for a good old Miche.  White flour just won't do.  I read that in the States and in Europe there are many good millers who would work with bakers to produce the best flours for the bakers to use.  I have yet to find one such miller in my area.  I am invited to visit an organic mill, 170 km from where I live, next week.   I hope to have good news to report. 



Shiao-Ping's picture

This post is about sourdough made of whole-milled grains which are grown locally. 

Just before I scaled back my bread blogging last July, a project that I was looking into was home milling my own flour.  I thought that was one way that I could take my sourdough to the next level - go to the freshest and purest ingredients possible.  I had even decided on a home mill brand.  But before I could execute that idea, I lost my drive.  Even the publication of Chad Robertson's book, which I so waited for, couldn't save me from my doldrums because, at that stage, I had basically worked out for myself what I wanted to find out.  I did bake a couple of Chad Robertson's Country Sourdough last October:



    baked in a covered cast iron camp pot, without steam, at the end of our last Australian winter 




                                        baked on a stone, with steam, at the start of our spring 



Summer came and went; it is now autumn.  Preparing our beautiful lawn for winter, my husband works in the yard to give his brain a rest, as he always does.  My daughter is now second year in Uni and my son, last year in high school.  Polly, our dog, is getting older, but still behaves like a child.  (Do you think dogs dream in sleep like humans?  I can tell you they do.)

Dropping my son in school one morning I went to my favorite coffee shop for some reading.  I read an article in Bread Lines (page 24, Volume 19, March 2011), quarterly magazine of The Bread Bakers Guild of America (BBGA), by Joe Ortiz, the author of The Village Baker.  The title is "Local Grain, Whole Grain Milling."  He talks about how a restaurateur (Bob Klein of Oliveto Restaurant), a baker (Craig Ponsford, Board Chairman of BBGA until end 2010) and a miller (Joseph Vanderliet of Certified Foods) got together in California on a community grains project.  Why?  To find more flavors in whole grain breads! 

Eco-consciousness is not normally my first and foremost concern when I bake and consume.  My efforts are geared toward achieving the most flavors for my bread using only the simplest ingredients.  But, what is with this community grains project and "local grain economy" whereby locally grown grains are whole-milled between tones (not re-constituted as in many modern industrial roller mills-produced flour)?  The answer: more vibrant flavors.

Aa an artisan baker, wouldn't you just love to use flour that is "more alive and brimming with its natural nutrients and structure!"? 

Imagine combining such flour with an artisan baker's hands: reduced mixing (gentle or no kneading), some type of preferments, long fermentation....

Let's get started.  But before we do, I have a confession to make.  FOUR times I tried making Mr. Ponsford's Integral Bread (formula in Bread Lines, Volume 19, BBGA), each time a 2kg loaf, without success.  I almost used up my 5 kg bag of organic WW flour.   After that, I went on my own, doing my own formulas, for another FOUR loaves of 1kg each (can you imagine anyone else more brave and no brain?).  The bread still came out quite dense.  I finally rang up the miller for some data, and you know what I was told, "Oh, we don't work with bread bakeries."  Sweet!  Was I shooting the moon with a wrong spear?  Was that pastry flour that I used for my sourdough?

I gave up.

The bread below uses only 50% of whole wheat flour.  That is the only way that I could make it work.  This wholemeal flour is produced by stone-milling the whole wheat grain and the wheat is grown in Darling Downs, Queensland, 170 km south-west to where I live.

FORMULA for my Pane Integrale with Garlic and Olive Oil

  • 200 g liquid starter (50/50 in white and whole wheat flour)
  • 300 g organic stoneground wholemeal plain flour (Kialla Pure Foods)
  • 300 g bread flour (Laucke's unbleached bakers flour)
  • 446 g water
  • 14 g salt
  • garlic olive oil mixture for brushing the crust: two cloves of garlic + about 1 - 2 tbsp. of olive oil + a pinch of salt.

Final dough weighs 1.25 kg at 78% overall hydration.





My Procedure

  • Adjust water temperature. (Aim for a final water/flour temperature of 25C/77F.)
  • Start by adding water a little bit at a time into the starter to dilute it.
  • Once the starter is diluted, measure flours and salt into it.
  • Mix the flours and water to just combined. (I used a blunt dinner knife and stirred for one minute.) Cover.


  • First fermentation (from time-off mixing to the time I placed my shaped dough into the refrigerator) was 5 + 1/2 hours. During this time, I did four stretch-and-folds in the bowl at 30 minutes intervals: 1st time - 12 strokes, 2nd time - 12 strokes, 3rd time - 6 strokes, and 4th time - 6 strokes. At about 3 + 1/2 hour mark, I shaped my dough. There was enough strength in the dough and I didn't need to pre-shape it. The shaped dough was left out on the kitchen bench for about another 2 hours. For the whole time of this leg of fermentation, my ambient temperature was 25C/77F and so I was able to keep the dough temperature constant. Your may not need this long. My dough rose about 60 - 70% before the next leg of fermentation.
  • Second fermentation was done in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
  • The night before sleep I set my oven on timer to bake the next morning. The oven was to pre-heat to its max. temperature with my cast iron pot inside.
  • On the morning, I scored and baked the dough cold straight out from the refrigerator at 230C/446F for 25 minutes; then with the pot cover open, it was baked for a further 15 minutes at 220C/430F.
  • While the bread was being baked, I made the garlic olive oil mixture. (I used a garlic press for this. If you don't have a garlic press, use a mortar and pestle; if you don't have a mortar and pestle, chop garlic finely, then use the back of your knife and press the garlic into a paste.) You will only need half of this mixture. With the rest, I made it into a garlic butter.


  • After 40 minutes of baking, take the bread out, and very quickly, brush the crust with the garlic olive oil mixture, and bake for a further 5 minutes. (After that, check if your bread is done, if not, leave the bread in with the oven turned-off for another 5 minutes. Be careful for the garlic on the crust may burn.)
  • I couldn't wait. I sliced my bread after 45 minutes rest and here it is:




With this post, I encourage you to seek out your local grains and whole-milled flour and see for yourself how much more you like your bread.   




If you are like me who doesn't like the taste of 100% wholemeal, try substitute up to 50% bread flour or other type of flours.   The garlic and olive oil mixture has done its trick and the bread is delicious.



                                with garlic butter                                                     eggs benedict the next morning


If ever you find yourself in Beijing, visit Green-T House.  It is a tea house, a restaurant, a spa, and on top of all that, a modern-day Chinese design icon.  The owner, chef, designer and musician, Jin-Jie Zhang (known as JinR) is the very first modern-day Chinese female chef.  I'd like to go and visit myself but I can't at this very moment.  So, dream on, I tell myself; buried in my books and closed my eyes, I "shern-yo" (神遊) ... soar in my imagination....





Shiao-Ping's picture

Trying a new ingredient or a new formula excites me.  If I find a new method or a new ingredient to make my daily bread the next morning, I go to sleep with a smile the night before.   I read about the Chia seed in one of Johnny's comments on Sourdough Companion a long while ago and had tried Chia seeds with other grains and seeds several times but never on its own.  I was happy with the results each time but never stopped to think why the results were good; I just moved on.  I looked upon the Chia seed the same as any other grains and seeds. 

It just so happened that last week I ran out of all the grains and seeds, except the Chia seeds.  It was 10 days before my family were due to travel again and I was trying to run the fridge down and not to bake any more bread before we leave - the freezer was already chuck full of sourdoughs to bring away with us.  But, I got excited over questions like: what would it be like to have Chia seeds, and Chia seeds alone, in my sourdough? and what would Chia seeds do to my daily bread? 

I chose a simple sourdough recipe and added 7% Chia, pre-soaked in four times its weight in boiling water - only 7% because this is not like walnut bread where you want to actually bite into walnuts.  I did not know at first how much water Chia seeds would absorb; nor did I want to trouble myself by soaking the seeds the night before.  I knew boiling water could do the job on the spot.  I first poured double its weight of boiling water over the seeds; the water was gobbled up in seconds, so I poured a bit more, and a bit more again a few minutes later, totaling four times the weight of the seeds.   So, this is my first ever Chia sourdough:



                                                         White Chia Sourdough



You cannot believe how moist the crumb was.  It was so incredible. 

I am so amazed at how good the bread was that I started to read up on the Chia seed.  There is an article here that talks about Chia as the ancient grain of the future but it looks at it from the angle of nutrition which is not my concern here.  I would recommend the article to anyone who is interested in the topics of omega-3, diet, antioxidants, vegan, or even gluten free solutions; but I am interested in what effects there are on bread, not nutrients.  Here is what I have found with my experiments together with the relevant points from the article:

(1) Moisture:  Chia has a very unusual property - a gelatinous, glue-like substance due to the soluble fiber that is able to absorb up to 12 times its weight in water.  The seed's hydrophilic saturated cells hold the water when it is mixed in with flour.  I picked up some pre-soaked Chia seeds and they did not wet my fingers one bit at all.  With the bread in this post, I have found that the hydrophilic colloids in Chia prolonged moisture in the bread in the most spectacular way.  The moisture which was initially contained in the cells of Chia slowly released itself, like a low GI food slowly releasing its sugar.  (The article says that the Chia gel can form a barrier between carbohydrates and enzymes that break them down, thus slowing down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.) 

This moisture is completely different from that in a super-high hydration loaf like Ciabatta which, in my experience, if not finished within a couple of days, turns as dry and tough, and as quickly, as anything I can think of.  But it is similar to Hamelman's Five-Grain Levain, because of flaxseed, one of the five grains used in that bread.  I have found that flaxseed, once soaked, has a similar gel-like property like Chia. 

(2) Texture:  The gelatinous, glue-like substance seems to have also altered the texture of the bread, resulting in softer crumb.  In this regard, I think it is important not to over-hydrate the dough, otherwise you may lose the springiness and chewiness, typical of sourdough bread.  I have also tried soaking the Chia seeds with six times their weight in water, while maintaining my other bakers percentages, and the result was very gummy crumb, most unpleasant to have. 

The article mentioned above says that 8 parts water to one part Chia can be added to bread dough, but I think this would work only if you add a couple of tablespoons, not more, as was suggested and beautifully done by Sharon, the glutenfreesourdoughbaker, here.

(3) Taste:  This may sound strange, but I have noticed my wholemeal sourdough now tastes sweeter than before.  For people who don't like 100% whole wheat, Chia gel is like a "tonic" that would modify the bitterness in 100% whole wheat bread.  We know most kids choose white bread over whole wheat bread because of the high fiber and bitter taste in whole wheat flour.  Well, I've got news.  I gave my kids and their friend a 100% wholemeal sourdough (with 7% Chia), they thought it tasted like a white sourdough and between the three of them they finished a 750g loaf!





                                                                                      Whole Wheat Chia Sourdough


Formula for my white Chia Sourdough

  • 125 g Wholemeal Starter @100% hydration
  • 500 g Flour (I used Australia's Laucke's unbleached bakers flour, protein 11.9%)
  • 343 g Lukewarm Water *
  • 11 g Salt
  • 40 g white Chia Seeds
  • 160 g Boiling Water
  • Sesame Seeds for dusting

*  I used lukewarm water to bring the final dough temperature to 26 C/ 78 F as my room temperature was cold, around 19 C/ 66 F  

**  Dough hydration was 72% (not taking into account the Chia and the boiling water to soak it).  You may want to adjust hydration to suit your flour.  Total dough weight was 1.1 kg.                               

Formula for my wholemeal Chia Sourdough 

  • 200 g Wholemeal Starter @100% hydration
  • 600 g Wholemeal Flour (I used Australia's Four Leaf's 85% Light Flour, protein 14%)
  • 460 g Lukewarm Water*
  • 14g Salt
  • 50 g white Chia Seeds
  • 200 g Boiling Water for soaking the Chia seeds
  • Sesame Seeds for dusting

***  Dough hydration was 80% (not taking into account the Chia and the boiling water to soak it).  My wholemeal flour is a high gluten flour which is very thirsty for water.  Adjust hydration if your WW flour is not as thirsty as mine.  Total dough weight was 1.57kg.





Following were my steps that produced the breads pictured in this post.  You can use your own dough process.   One thing of note is that my white Chia sourdough had a total of 6 1/2 hours fermentation before overnight proof-retarding, while my WW sourdough had 6 hours all-up and that was too much.  I overlooked the fact that there was more pre-fermented flour and the fact that wholemeal flour (especially the organic version I used) has more enzyme and ferments faster than plain white flour.  As a result, my whole wheat Chia sourdough had less oven spring and less volume.  

(1) Pour the boiling water over the Chia seeds.  Stir and set aside the Chia gel to cool.

(2) Dilute starter by adding the lukewarm water a little bit at a time until all is added.

(3) Add flour and salt into the diluted starter, stir to combine.  Cover.  Autolyse for 30 minutes.  (My dough temperature at time off mixing was 26 C.)  

(4) Knead the dough by way of stretching and folding it in the bowl, about 25 strokes (for the white one) or 20 strokes (for the WW sourdough).  Cover.  Rest for 30 minutes or longer until the dough is completely relaxed and extended.

(5) Pat the dough out inside the bowl and spread half of the Chia gel over the dough; flip the dough over, and spread the remaining half of the Chia gel over it.  Flip the dough over again and start stretching and folding it inside the bowl to incorporate the Chia, about 25 strokes (for the white one) or 20 strokes (for the WW sourdough) but not more as the dough is now loaded with the seeds and is fragile.  Be careful not to tear the skin of the dough on the bottom.  The Chia seeds won't be evenly dispersed yet.  They will get more evenly dispersed in the following S&F's.  (Alternatively, you can do this step on a work bench.) 

(6) Lightly oil your bowl and place the dough back, right side up.  More dough strength develops if the dough rests right side up.  Give it 30 - 45 minutes rest until it is relaxed and extended again.

(7) Turn the dough over and gently stretch it to as far as it can go between two hands without tearing it.  Fold 1/3 from one end to the centre and 1/3 from the other end to the centre, the same way as you would fold a letter; then, from the other direction, fold the dough again like a letter.  Place the dough back to the bowl, right side up.   Rest for another 45 minutes or for as long as it takes for the dough to relax.

(8) Another double letter-folds.  Rest.  Repeat the folds and the rest, if your dough needs it.

(9) Pre-shape and shape the dough.  By the time I finished shaping the dough into a batard, it was six hours from the time my dough was first mixed.  The temperature of my shaped dough had come down to 19 - 20 C.  If your dough &/or room temperatures is higher, shorten the fermentation time accordingly.

(10) I let the white dough sit for 1/2 hour then I removed it to the fridge for overnight retarding.  (For the wholemeal version, I removed it to the fridge straight away.)

(11) The next morning, my dough had nearly doubled in size in the fridge.

(12) I pre-heated my oven to as high as it could go for over an hour.

(13) I sprayed the top of the dough with water (if you don't have a spray bottle, you can use a damp towel), then sprinkled lots and lots of sesame on the top.

(14) I poured 1/4 cup boiling water onto the lava stones sitting in a roasting pan underneath my baking stone.  Then, I slashed my batard and peeled it onto the banking stone.  I poured a cupful of boiling water over the lava stones.

(15) Immediately I turned the oven down to 230 C and baked for 25 minutes, then I turned the oven down to 220 C for another 25 minutes baking.

(16) Rest the loaf for an hour before slicing.




On day 4 of my white Chia sourdough, I toasted a slice of it:




We know that toasting a slice of dry bread temporarily gelatinizes the starch and makes the crumb crunchy and edible.  But try toasting a moist bread, Wow!  The soft crispiness you get from Chia sourdough is amazing.

It has been a gloomy old day, drizzling and overcast.  It's been like that for the last few days.  Nothing to look out of the window for, but something warm in my kitchen:





Shiao-Ping's picture

Many years ago our family lived in Singapore and I had a personal trainer.  Singapore is a young, vibrant society where sports may not be a big thing but going to the gym is popular.  I still remember that on the first day I looked around my gym and felt daunted by what I saw.  At the end of my first session, I asked my trainer how often I would have to train to look like her.   I like my trainer dearly, she is great; she said, "Oh, just three times a week!" 

It was well after we left Singapore that I worked out myself, No way José!

Many of us at The Fresh Loaf are not just interested in making a loaf.  Many of us are good cooks at home and have a broad interest in cuisine in general.  Have you ever watched cooking shows and wondered why those great chefs emphasize on fresh ingredients when all that you are interested in at that particular point in time was "the technique"?   No amount of "techniques" can turn ingredients of less than the most premium quality into exceptional dishes. 

I can research all I like, practice all I like, but if I can't lay my hands on the best ingredients, I won't have exceptional breads.

At different level of our learning, our masters reveal different level of knowledge to us; their purpose is to not scare us away at the beginning, and to not confuse us at the beginning (because we just won't be able to absorb all the knowledge in one go).  That was the well-intention meaning of my trainer, and of many masters!

Do home bakers need other people's exceptional breads at home?  You would be the judge for yourself. 

If you have the freshest seafood, how would you cook it?  Chinese would steam it to allow the freshest sweet taste reveal itself.   If you have the best flour, how would you bake with it?  Do you try to ferment it the best you can, so the natural flavour of flour "shine" through? 

What if your flour is good, but less than the best to your taste, what would you do?  Inject flavours!  I decided I would embark on experiments on flavour enhancers on bread.   

With this post, I have done four experiments with the T80 flour I have from France.  


(1)  T80 miche with garlic and continental parsley







 My Formula

  • 220 grams starter (refreshed using one part starter culture, two parts water and three parts T80 flour)
  • 440 grams water
  • 660 grams T80 flour
  • 15 grams salt

Total dough weight was 1.3 kg and overall dough hydration was 67%.  (Note:  The water for the main dough was two times the starter, and the flour was three times the starter.  The idea for the starter:water:flour ratio for the main dough came from Flo Makanai's 1.2.3 method for sourdough bread, a very clever and easy to follow formula.)


(1) Slow roast the garlic in 160 ºC oven for 1 1/2 hours or until very soft like cream.  Chop the parsley finely (discard the stalks).  Use 1 - 2 tbsp of butter (softened in room temperature) to bind the garlic and the parsley together with a pinch of salt.

(2) After bulk fermentation, divide the dough into two pieces, 400 grams and 920 grams.  Roll out the small one like a pizza base.  Spread the garlic parsley butter over it.  Shape the bigger dough into a boule.

(3) Place the boule (right side down) on the pizza base as shown on the picture above.  Fold the edges of the pizza base over the centre of the boule and turn the whole thing over (so the right side of the boule is now up).  Either prove free form or, as in my case, prove in a flour dusted banneton. 

I scored deep.  In my Body and Mind post, the boule was scored very shallow so as not to cut into the main dough inside.  But in this miche, the main dough underneath was also slashed.

All of the T80 miches in this post were baked using the covered method with no steaming required.  I baked at 245 ºC for 35 - 40 minutes covered, and then another 15 minutes uncovered. 





                                                                                               Lovely toasted in garlic parsley butter under the griller 

(2)  T80 miche with porcini and chicken stock





My Formula

  • 232 grams 65% T80 starter
  • 227 grams water
  • 694 grams T80 flour
  • 16 grams salt

for the porcini mixture

  • 24 grams dried porcini mushroom, soaked in 250 grams boiling chicken stock (unsalted) for an hour
  • Squeeze the liquid out of porcini, reserve all the liquid for the main dough
  • Chop the porcini roughly, then mix it with 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar and a pinch of salt to try to bring some flavour back to the mushroom as most of its flavour will have lost to the liquid. Marinate for at least 1/2 hour.

Total dough weight was 1.4 kg and overall dough hydration was 68%.   This miche is very simple to make.   First, use the water to dilute the starter, then add the reserved chicken stock liquid and chopped porcini, then add flour and salt, mix thoroughly, then autolyse ... the rest is standard.





                                              Left                                                                                           right


This is one of the best flavoured miches I have dreamed of.   When I poured the almost darkened chicken stock into the starter, I was skeptical as to how well the little beasties in the starter would like being invaded by the foreign bodies from the porcini mushrooms.   But it turned out alright.  The crumb was very spongy with a strong mushroom savory aroma.   I used the bread to make giant chicken burger sandwiches - the works style with bacon and eggs, and lots of salad.   My kids loved them. 


(3)  T80 miche with dates and milk






My Formula

  • 262 grams 65% T80 starter
  • 530 grams of milk
  • 784 grams T80 flour
  • 18 grams salt
  • a big handful of good quality dates

Total dough weight was 1.6 kg (before the addition of dates) and overall dough hydration was 67%.  The dates were incorporated just before shaping.   Once the dough had done bulk fermenting, I flattened the dough completely on flour-dusted bench-top, and placed the dates one by one on the top of the dough as I de-stoned them.   I didn't keep count how many I had used, but as many as I could.   I then rolled up the dough and shaped it round. 




While I was taking the above photo, the sun was very strong.  But all of a sudden it went behind all the clouds (see photo below).  The true colour of the crumb was more like in between these two shots.




 (4)  T80 miche with bacon & pasta sauce



Cheap shot!






My Formula

  • 218 grams 65% T80 starter
  • 262 grams water
  • 654 grams T80 flour
  • 7 grams salt (1%)

for the bacon and pasta sauce

  • 170 grams bacon (the part that has no fat), diced and pan-fired in a tbsp of butter (once cooked, the bacon will reduce in weight to about 100 grams).
  • 270 grams of the pasta sauce, mixed into the cooked bacon. 

Total weight was 1.5 kg and approximate overall hydration was 67 - 68%.  (Depending on the consistency of your pasta or tomato sauce, you could increase your water.  In fact, my dough was slightly on the dry side.)

It was getting dark and cloudy.  I should have waited until the next morning to cut into this loaf.  But, NO, I had to see....






Sorry for the poor lighting.  I didn't want to use my camera flash light and I didn't want to turn on my kitchen halogen lights either. 

Well, this concludes my experiments.  It is too easy to inject flavours.  You can do anything you want.  One day I might roast a whole leg of lamb wrapped in sourdough bread and use a chainsaw to saw it.  My daughter said, "Don't be ridiculous." 

It is way harder to try to ferment the flour.


The cello is playing inside the house and outside the house the rain is falling.   I ask myself if this T80 flour is what I have been waiting for all this while.  It is interesting how I have been fixated on something and have lost sight of something else. 

Our family has been settled back in Oz for five years now.  This coming Easter we are going to Singapore for a small break, and to reacquaint ourselves where we left off five years ago.  The family is feeling an unexplained excitement. 

This Easter marks my one year anniversary since I began baking sourdough.  It has been a journey for me on many levels and I thank many people at The Fresh Loaf, as well as other on-line bread sites, for my development.  I started off doing something, but I ended up finding something else.  I am truly blessed. 

Thank you everyone here at TFL and wherever you may be.




Subscribe to RSS - Shiao-Ping's blog