The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Shiao-Ping's blog

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I went to my favourite neighbourhood coffee shop a few days ago to enjoy a cup of flat white.  The lady owner there has a bit of an alternative flair about her and I enjoy the free air that she exudes to her place.  She really knows her stuff because the sourdough she serves for snacks is one of the best in town.  She told me her supplier is "Leavain Bakery" in Brisbane.   I thought I might go and visit Leavain Bakery sometime so I Googled it when I got home.  Wow - I had no idea!  Leavain Bakery supplies to some of the best restaurants in Brisbane!  I though, Shiao-Ping, well done!  I am so privileged to have the same sourdough in this little café as those that would be enjoyed by patrons to some of the best restaurants in town.  One of the restaurants is Philip Johnson's E'cco Bistro.   The New Zealand chef in Brisbane, Philip Johnson, has some of the best dessert recipes I've ever seen, something to die for. 

As I was reading up on Leavain Bakery on the net, it was brought to my attention that John Downes, the man behind the Australian sourdough movement in the late 70's has a cook book out.  As I was buying the book on the Australian Sourdough Companion website, an user, Johnny's beautiful crumb shot caught my attention.  His Ciabatta Integrale (a wholemeal ciabatta with multi-grains) involves a procedure which is most unusual to me.  I would like to summarize it below, if I may:

  1. The night of Day 1:  refresh the starter (in 2 feedings over 24 hours)
  2. The night of Day 2:  combine all ingredients (except salt) and autolyse 20 minutes, then add salt, mix by hand for 1 or 2 minutes, then straight into the refrigerator overnight
  3. The morning of Day 3: take dough out and fold once, return to the refrigerator
  4. The night of Day 3:  take the dough out again and over the next 4 - 5 hours stretch & fold the dough once every hour; shape and place the dough in a banneton, proof for one hour, then into the refrigerator again overnight
  5. The morning of Day 4: Bake!

I find Johnny's procedure very "elegant"- the least effort that allows you to arrive at the best possible result.  The essence seems to be in his minimalist approach and its beauty is that it is great for a person who has a busy work life.  I have since found that SourDom, another experienced baker of Sourdough Companion, talked about this flexible schedule at length in his Sourdough Timetables article.  But (and this is a big BUT), I did not understand what made this timetable work for sourdough bread; I mean, what was happening behind the scene; ie, what was happening to the natural yeasts in the refrigerator?

I went to Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  Under page 191 of Pain a l'Ancienne, it says:

The unique delayed-fermentation method, which depends on ice-cold water, releases flavors trapped in flour....  The final product has ... character that is distinct from breads made with exactly the same ingredients but fermented by the standard method.... 

The cold mixing and fermentation cycles delay the activation of the yeast until after the amylase enzymes have begun their work of breaking out sugar from the starch.  When the dough is brought to room temperature and the yeast wakes up and begins feasting, it feeds on sugars that weren't there the day before.

Peter Reinhart adds,

... this delayed-fermentation method... evokes the fullness of flavor from the wheat beyond any other fermentation method I've encountered.  As a bonus, and despite all the intimidation science, this is actually one of the easiest doughs ... to make." 

How beautiful is that! 

Without further ado, let me go straight to my bread.  My Pain a l'Ancienne is an adaptation of Peter Reinhart's formula, as well as that of Johnny's Ciabatta Integrale.  Thank you Johnny, and thank you Peter.




My formula for Wholemeal Pain a l'Ancienne

  • 182 g starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye)
  • 475 g Wholemeal flour (13.1% protein)
  • 414 g ice water
  • 11 g salt

Total dough weight 1.08 kg; overall hydration 85% 






My formula for White Pain a l'Ancienne

  • 182 g starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye)
  • 455 g Unbleached bread flour (11.9% protein)
  • 358 g ice water
  • 11 g salt

Total dough weight 1.01 kg; overall hydration 78% 






I recommend anyone to read SourDom's Sourdough Timetables.   While SourDom's intention is to give home bakers flexibility in scheduling, the delayed fermentation achieved means that the home baker has everything to gain in terms of crumb flavor.  Try it and wish you happy baking!



                                  Grilled Pain a l'Ancienne with buffalo ricotta by Australia's Paesanella

                                Cheese Manufacturers, drizzled with honey and garnished with honeycomb



Note 1:  My Google translator tells me Pain a l'Ancienne means "old bread." According to jackal10 of eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters, "A l'Ancienne" is a technique where the dough is mixed cold, and then retarded. The long cold period allows a long period for enzymatic breakdown of the starch into fermentable sugars but because of the cold there is little yeast activity, so that when the dough is later warmed up the yeast has more food available than would otherwise be the case. With slack dough it can give a highly aerated open structure."  

Note 2:  Johnny did not use ice cold water; however, his retardation schedule would mean that he would have achieved the same benefits.  Peter Reinhart's formula calls for one night retardation only.  

Shiao-Ping's picture

Squeaky wheels get the oil? Or, whinny kids get the lollies, as Chinese put it?

I bought a tray of mangos for my daughter to take to her schoolie’s holiday week. She left half a dozen of mangos at home for her brother. I didn’t realize it at the time of purchase but these weren’t very good quality – they have nice smells but have already started having black skins, a sure sign of over-ripening. After the second one went into my son’s breakfast cereal, I had a feeling that the rest won’t get consumed. I cut them up, mashed the pieces with a fork, and added a couple of teaspoons each of hot curry powder and coriander powder.  I made them into dinner rolls.  These were enjoyed with King Snapper, grilled with lemon, last night.








A slice with morning coffee?  Why not?





Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there in America!





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My herbal garden has been neglected since I started baking sourdough.  Occasionally I asked my son or my daughter to give the plants a drink. I have seen the bush turkeys in my yard a few times and was wondering what they were up to.  Yesterday morning I finally went and had a good look at my herbs.  My parsleys and mint are surviving but my rocket and cherry tomatoes are non-existent.  The bush turkeys!   I found my red-color garden tray covered in cob webs.  I brought it up to the kitchen for a clean.  Perhaps it will stay in my kitchen for a while now.



     Mixed fruits, nuts & seeds, and caraways sourdough







What I have learnt from this levain bread are these:

(1) David (or Anis Bouabsa)'s 21-hour (or at least 18-hours) retarding is well worth it.  To do a retarding of 7 - 8 hour is just not the same in crumb flavor achieved.  And toward that end, (a) slightly under-proofing the dough before going into the refrigerator is a good idea; and (b) the starter must be in tip top condition.

(2) Also, it's a good idea not to be tempted to using instant yeast when long retarding is involved.  As long as the starter is healthy, there is no need to use instant yeast simply because the dough is fully loaded with fruits and nuts, and seeds.  Unless we are very careful with the instant yeast quantity used, in the long retardation, the dough tends to rise then collapse. 

(c) As our tastes are more developed, the complex flavors from herbs and seeds (coriander seeds, caraways, etc) will be acceptable to our palate when mixed into the traditional combinations of breads as seen in this levain bread.



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If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one

Drying in the color of the evening sun

Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away

But something in our minds will always stay


Perhaps this final act was meant

To clinch a lifetimes' argument

That nothing comes from violence

And nothing ever could

For all those born beneath an angry star

Lest we forget how fragile we are


On and on the rain will fall

Like tears from a star, like tears from a star

On and on the rain will say

How fragile we are, how fragile we are

                                                                                                               By Sting, 1987 (to listen, click here or here




I rarely listen to the lyrics of a song, too hard for a person whose mother tongue is not the language of the song.  The music is far more important to me than the lyrics.  I can pick up the faintest instrument playing in the background and the inter-plays of instruments often exhilarate me.  Sometimes when I am drunk in a piece of music, it feels like I am in the best medication ever afterwords. 

And so it was in one of those blissful moments when, all of a sudden, the words "That nothing comes from violence, And nothing ever could" entered into my consciousness as clear as crystals.  The music moved me and I wanted to turn this energy into something.  No bread that I could make could match the delicate sensibilities that I felt in this song.  But I have to get it out of my system.

This bread was my 6th attempt at this since my last post at TFL.






When I was deciding what style of bread that I wanted for Sting's Fragile, I remembered a picture that I saw nearly 6 months ago that caught my attention in Hamelman's Bread - picture 21: Assorted Rye Bread from Chapter 6 (behind page 224).  Hansjoakim, one of the perfectionists of the TFL bakers, did a beautiful job in this bread.  He proofed the shaped dough in a brotform with the seam-side down and baked it with the seam-side up to allow the seams to open up in the oven.   Something like that but not exactly like that was what I was looking for.  I wanted the seams to open up like a flower with deep fissures in even more dramatic ways.


 1st attempt: Pain au Levain with black sesame meal and buckwheat flour (overall hydration 68%)




I initially wanted some black color in my bread so I used ground black sesame seeds and buckwheat flour which was the most "blackish" looking flour in my pantry.  This was a failed attempt because other than proofing with seam side down and baking with seam side up, I did nothing different to what I normally do.  The seams did not open at all. 

The bread tasted nice.  While the texture looked open, the bread felt heavy because of the black sesame meal.  The effect of ground sesame seeds on bread is a bit like that of almond meal on a cake or quick breads.


 2nd attempt: Pain au Levain with buckwheat flour and teff flour (overall hydration 63%)




At this second attempt, I thought all that I needed to change was the dough hydration - it had not clicked on me that it is not the dough hydration but the way I shaped the final dough that matters in the final look.  By accident, I got a few shallow fissures on the bread to the left in the picture above.


3rd attempt: Pain au Levain with buckwheat flour (overall hydration 68%)




By this time, I knew that shaping was important for what I wanted to achieve.  As rice flour can help prevent sticking, I used a mixture of rice and buckwheat flours on the work bench (when I was shaping) as well as on the brotform.  This batch was divided into 3 pieces like the previous two batches.  The first piece of the proofed dough showed small lines of seams before loading but the seams closed up in the oven.  I knew that the other two pieces of dough would be the same; I was so mad that I slashed the other two doughs to bake. 


4th attempt: Pain au Levain.  The result was still the same.  I was too mad to take a photo of this bread.  I tried baking without steaming, but the seams still did not open up.  I did take a photo (below) of all the breads from the week's baking and I think of the "happy pigs" in San Francisco - the happy recipients of SFBI students' baking.  Christmas is coming and I haven't done any festive baking.  I have always loved the Italian panforte.  I might try making a bread panforte.



5th attempt: Pain au Levain. 



I was finally getting somewhere.  (1) I shaped loosely with a lot of rice & buckwheat flour mixture on the bench; and (2) I proofed for only 30 minutes in the brotform so the shaped dough with its loose seams did not stay in that position for too long. 


6th attempt:  a yeasted bread (600 g bread flour, 380 g water, 24 g olive oil, 20 g honey and 3 g instant yeast)



It was very late at night when something dawned on me - for the seams to tear open in the oven, I really shouldn't do a normal shaping.  Following is what I have found for this shape of baking:

(a) Shaping: merely gather the edges to the centre without using your hands to tighten the boule against the work bench.  In other words, the seams should not be sealed in any way.  As well, the seams should be clearly definable after proofing and at time of loading.

(b) Proofing: as short as possible, 30 - 45 minutes, no more than 1 hour.  It's best that the proofing basket be covered only loosely with a kitchen towel, not covered tightly in plastic bag.  The dough should be able to air. 

(b) Retarding:  If the dough is to be retarded, retarding in bulk is better than at proofing stage.  If the shaped dough goes through a long retardation, its seams may be closed up.

(c) Baking:  the oven should be very hot to start with (ie, 250C / 480F).  I do not know, however, whether or not steaming makes a difference. 

I did take a crumb shot but forgot to download it before my daughter took my camera with her to her schoolie's holiday yesterday.  I made her three batards for her schoolie's week to enjoy with her friends.  I drove her to Gold Coast yesterday and she said I was an awesome mum.  Well, what we do for our daughters!  On the way home, I stopped by my most favourite bread shop in Gold Coast, Flour Bakery.    I bought the two breads pictured in Jesse Downes' hands: Spelt Sourdough and Seeded Spelt Sourdough.  I had the best coffee in Queensland there and ate my way through the bakery's other goodies.  I was in heaven. 



Shiao-Ping's picture

Two girl friends came for tea this morning.  In the past I would have toiled for weeks (no kidding) to prepare the most exquisite desserts and pastries that I could think of for our tea.  Since I started making sourdough breads, my taste bud has changed.  Just as well, Chinese tea is not meant to be enjoyed with sweets.  We just drank and drank until we were hungry.  We then had the finger sandwiches that I made earlier for lunch with the two Pains au Levain that I baked yesterday - Snow Peas Pain au Levain and Carrot Pain au Levain.



                                                                     Celebration for summer colors



                           Snow peas butter, bacon and snow peas sprouts in Snow Peas Pain au Levain



                                     Smoked ocean trout, avocado and lemon in Carrot Pain au Levain



                                             Asparagus and crème fraiche in Snow Peas Pain au Levain


My Formula for Carrot Pain au Levain

  • 450 g starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye flour)
  • 450 g flour (5% rye flour and the balance white bread flour)
  • 282 g carrot juice (from 455 g peeled carrot, or 4 - 5 carrots)
  • 55 g orange juice (from 112 g orange, or 1/2 orange, skin included )
  • 14 g salt

Total dough weight 1.2kg (divided into two) and approx dough hydration 72 - 75%



My Formula for Snow Peas Pain au Levain

  • 500 g starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye flour)
  • 500 g flour (5% rye flour and the balance white bread flour)
  • 660 g peas puree (made up of 500 g frozen peas cooked in 30 g oil + 2 garlic + salt to taste, then blended with 130 g water added)
  • 12 g salt

Total dough weight 1.6kg (divided into two) and approx. dough hydration 67 - 70% (based on assumption that there is 30 to 35% liquid in peas.)



Procedure for both breads

  1. Mix only the flour and carrot/orange juice (or peas puree).  Autolyse for an hour.
  2. Combine with starter and salt; stretch & folds in bowl, 60 - 70 strokes (very messy, especially the peas dough)
  3. Bulk ferment for 2 to 2 1/2 hours (my room temperature was 25 - 26 C) with one set of S&F's.
  4. Divide into two doughs and pre-shape and shape into cylinder or any shape you like.
  5. Proof for 2 hours (my room temperature was 25 - 26 C)
  6. Retard in refrigerator for 10 hours.
  7. Bake with steam at 220C for 35 minutes (carrot bread) or 40 minutes (peas bread).



Leftover bread crumbs for a bread quiche for dinner tonight:  I soaked the above leftover bread crumbs (from making the finger sandwiches) in chicken stock, then added some vegetables (Swiss mushroom, butternut squash, capsicum, and cherry tomatoes), eggs, cream and cheese and made a bread quiche.  The idea came from making bread and butter pudding the other day using staled walnuts and raisins sourdough. 




                                                                         Enough bread to sink a ship


Shiao-Ping's picture

I am not a fan of bananas but every now and then for my kids I make banana muffins, banana bread (quick bread), banana pancakes and cakes, and banana milk shake and smoothie just to remind myself why people like bananas.  Whenever the bananas in my house have gone sesame (ie, growing freckles), the motherly cook's instincts in me start eyeing on them.  I never force my kids to eat any fruit or vegetables.  That's why the house ends up having so many unlikely combinations of chutney and jams.

Now, I have not come across bananas in a savory, or at least non-sweet, combination with flour.  What if I inject that lovely banana flavor (not to me!) into the crumb of a sourdough bread and use it for sandwiches or just toasts?  Would it work?  No harm trying.

Step one:  I started with four very large ripe bananas (475 grams).  My idea was to use bananas as hydration for final dough.  To puree bananas in my blender efficiently, I need to add some sort of liquid, and I chose to add 20% of banana weight in water (95 grams).  I got 570 grams of banana puree.  In addition to that, I had 100 g of diced banana to put in separately.

Step two:  To decide on a dough hydration percentage.  I picked 65%.  For this I needed to make an assumption as to the solids to liquid ratio in the bananas - my guesses were 35% to 65% (like pumpkin). 

Step three:  To calculate how much flour and starter that I would need for the given amount of banana puree.

Step four:  To work back to see if the figures match up before starting on the dough.  

Well, was I in a hurry?  I didn't go through Step Four properly. Immediately after I got the preliminary flour and starter figures, I poured my banana puree over the starter eagerly and began mixing!! 


The formula that I used is as follows:

Formula for Banana Pain au Levain 

  • 570 g mature starter at 75% hydration (5% rye flour)
  • 570 g flour (5% rye and the balance white flour)
  • 570 g banana puree (made up of 475 g banana and 95 g of water)
  • 100 g extra banana diced
  • 18 g salt

Total dough weight was 1.8 kg and approximate dough hydration was 80% (not 65% as I set out to do)**!! 

**Assuming bananas were 65% liquid, total dough hydration from the above formula was:

  • (475 + 100) x 65% = 374, being hydration from bananas
  • 374 + 95 = 469, being hydration from banana plus water added to make up the banana puree
  • 570 / 175% x 75% = 244, being water content in starter
  • 244 + 469 = 713, being total hydration
  • 570 / 175% x 100% = 326, being flour content in starter
  • 326 + 570 = 896, being total flour
  • 713 / 896 = 80%, being total dough hydration

No wonder the dough felt very wet and sticky and 3 sets of stretch & folds were needed during bulk fermentation for dough strength.  This dough was very difficult to shape.  An ample dusting of flour on the work bench and quick, swift movement and minimalist handling during shaping were necessary.


  1. Bulk fermentation 2 + 1/2 hours with 3 sets of stretch & folds of 30 - 40 strokes each, including autolyse of 20 minutes.
  2. Divide into two doughs of 900 g each.
  3. Proof for 2 hours.
  4. Retard in the refrigerator for 10 hours (I found with this recipe that the retarding process was essential because during the first few hours of the fermentation the dough appeared very sluggish.  It was almost as if my starter was finding it tough adjusting to bananas, but in any event, after many hours of retardation in the fridge, the dough rose nicely.)
  5. Bake with steam at 210C / 410F (lower temperature than usual due to sugar content in bananas) for 20 minutes then another 25 minutes at 190C / 375F (Note: I baked one dough at a time. Lower heat and longer baking appear to be the way to go. Under higher temperature, the crust would just burn.)








My daughter said this bread smells heavenly-banana.  I don't know if that is possible but I have to admit that, for a person who doesn't like to eat banana, I find this sourdough very delightful.  It is incredibly moist - a slice of this bread on your palm weighs heavily.   The effect of bananas on dough is probably not dissimilar to potatoes on dough.  It is also very chewy and sour (at least medium strength of sourness to me).  There was no trace of the sweetness from bananas left in the bread. 

My son had a great idea - he spread peanut paste on a slice of this bread and grilled it.  It tastes amazing:



Well, if you are interested to try this formula, I would suggest a lower hydration for easier shaping and handling of the dough.  Below I calculate for you an approx. 72% hydration dough formula for a dough weight of 864 grams:

Formula for Banana Pain au Levain @ approx. 72% dough hydration

  • 285 g starter @75% hydration
  • 285 g flour (5%, or 14 g, rye flour and the balance 271 g white flour)
  • 285 g banana puree (made up of 245 g banana and 40 g water)
  • 9 g salt

If it is done right, I believe the simplicity of this formula allows the natural flavor of fermented flour come through and it is in the spirit of what Pain au Levain is about.


Happy baking!


Shiao-Ping's picture

Many years ago I went to South India with a group of Taiwanese friends to attend Dalai Lama's annual congregation.  It turned out to be a bad idea for me as I never liked group activities.  I deflected half way through the event and years' later I still felt embarrassed by it. 

It may sound funny but one of the things I missed about the trip was the Tibetan butter tea that they served throughout the congregation.  Dalai Lama is a very personable leader; he made sure that everyone gets his share of butter tea.  I first read about this strange salty tea from Alexandra David-Neel's My Journey to Lhasa.  She was French and the first Western woman to ever step foot in Lhasa early last century.  When there is nothing else to eat, this butter tea can be a meal on its own.

The second thing I missed about the trip was the vegetarian lentil curry soup that they served for lunch with Nan breads.  It was so delicious that I asked to have a tour at their kitchen facility and see how they cooked this dish.  But it was many years ago now and I have never been able to replicate it.  In memory their soup was a lot more soupy and flavorsome than mine.

Anyway I made a big pot of lentil curry soup with chicken the other day and I was wondering what bread I would make to go with this soup until I saw my husband juicing an orange.  I had decided that I wanted to make some sort of yellow/orange colored bread and so the issue was how to get that color into the bread and what the dominant flavor it would be in the bread.  I have been making Pain au Levain variations and I knew this bread would be no exception.  I thought orange and a mild curry flavor using Turmeric powder would go well together - orange would soften the taste of turmeric and gives it an extra dimension.  Hence, Orange Turmeric Pain au Levain.




My Formula 

  • 465 g starter at 75% hydration (5% rye)
  • 465 g flour (5% rye flour and the balance white flour)
  • 155 g orange juice (about 2 medium oranges)
  • 120 g water
  • 6 g (2 tsp) turmeric powder
  • Very fine zest (from one orange)
  • 14 g salt

Total dough weight 1.2 kg and dough hydration 65%

Bulk fermentation 2 hours with 2 stretch and folds and proofing 2 hours (assuming dough and room temperature around 23 - 25C / 73 - 76F).  Retardation in the refrigerator 9 hours.  Pre-heat oven to 250C / 480F.  Bake with steam at 220C / 430F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 210C / 410F for another 25 minutes.  








I always love orange zest in baked goods; the aroma is very refreshing.   Turmeric, like ginger, is a root vegetable and is an important ingredient for curry.  Turmeric and coriander go very well together.  Dipping a slice of this Orange Turmeric Pain au Levain into a lentil soup which is garnished with fresh coriander herb, you pick up some beautiful coriander aroma as you bite into the bread.

We were watching the latest series of Great British Menu on TV while we were having our soup dinner.  In this series the chefs in Britain competed to honor the returning soldiers serving in Afghanistan with a homecoming banquet that captured the authentic tastes of Britain.  One of the dishes that were chosen was a curry dish.  What was interesting to me was that one of the judges said that curry is an authentic British taste.  Hmm... how interesting.



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The first day driving kids to school since I got back from Taiwan last weekend was the first day of listening to Emma Ayres on a fine classical radio show, ABC Classic FM, the familiarity of which filled me with delight which was quite uncharacteristic of me.  That day I counted the flowering trees that I had missed by the road side while I was away.  The flame trees were alight with their chilly red color flowers, the Chinese favorite color.  The vivid colors were like endorphins to me, sending me into fanciful thought of the depth of my memories.

Memories are like ghosts.  I think of Sting's The Hounds of Winter.  His new album, If on a Winter's Night ... has just been released, "an acoustic meditation on winter."   For me trips to Taiwan are trips down memory lane.  While I was there, my mother told me of her youth over many days and many morning Oolong teas.  When she was two months old, she migrated to a Taiwan that was occupied by the Japanese, 73 years ago.  She would have learned to speak Japanese if she were a better student.  Back then, the Japanese encouraged the Han people from China to develop Taiwan - the land was open for grabs to anyone who was strong and had an able body, not unlike that of the New World more than two hundred years ago.  My late grandfather was a strong man, who occupied a big piece of land towards the eastern seaboard of Taiwan. His younger brother was not so able and he occupied land up the mountain, ill-suited to crops.

How memories have faded and how Taiwan has changed.  73 years is a short time indeed.  In this period of time, Taiwan became a very affluent society.  People embraced new ideas, new trends and were afraid to fall behind.  The same thing happened across the Taiwan Straits in Mainland China - today, there are 50 million young kids learning to play western music instruments, 30 million of whom learn piano, which is why you get a Lang Lang, the modern day Mozart in China, as some believe.

We are all co-incarnates.  Don't get caught up in the word that has mystical, and for the most part, superstitious connotations.  It means we are the results of our forbearers, our cultures, and our surrounds as we in turn influence other people.  It has always been in Chinese blood, throughout our history, to learn from other people, to adapt, and then, to call it our own. 

Whenever I go back to Taiwan to visit folks and friends, I see a dazzling array of new stuff, half digested but always presented in a unique way.  Sourdough is one such example.

Inky bread is not most peoples' 'cup of tea.'  When my mother saw a sample of it, she uttered "pee-yew" instinctively (sorry that's an Australian sound, I forgot what she uttered.)  We walked into a humble looking bakery in a busy street in downtown Taipei; and a big tray of inky batards stared at me.  There was a cut-up sample on the side and as I looked closer, the description said "Squid Ink Chicken Bread."  Just when you need a camera, you don't have one.  That is annoying.  I had been carting a camera around the whole week and I had not found anything to shoot.

Savory breads like the "Squid Ink Chicken Bread" are quick lunches you can find easily in the streets of Taipei and most cities in Taiwan today.  I didn't buy one to try, but I think the chicken in the inky bread that I saw was done the Chinese way; that is, with a little soy sauce and ginger, or perhaps honey and ginger.  I wanted a little green color (unsuccessfully as you can see from the pictures below), so I made mine with spring onion and pesto. 

When I did my last inky bread in honor of Sting's song, A Thousand Years, I had no idea that it could be found in the market place.  I used squid ink to color the bread to make a statement - to express the grief and suffering from thousands of years of wars and killing, the subject of that song.  But this time, I am doing this inky bread because I think it is fun and unusual.   Here we go: 


My Formula for Inky Savory Pain au Levain 

Final Dough:

  • 1,223 g ripe starter @75% hydration (5% rye)  This was refreshed three times over 32 hours from a seed starter of 36g from the fridge.
  • 1,223 g flour (5% rye flour and the rest white bread flour, 11.9% protein)
  • 700 g water (divided into 600 g and 100 g, see squid ink below)
  • 4 + 1/2 tbsp or 65 ml. of olive oil (approx. 5% of total hydration)  Try not to use the scale for this. See note below*
  • 7 - 8 g of squid/cuttlefish ink (to be pre-mixed in 100 g of water as above)
  • 35 g salt
  • Sesame for dusting

Pesto and spring onion mixture:  mix the following

  • 100 g pesto sauce
  • 100 g chopped spring onions

Chicken: pan-fry the following in 2 tbsp of olive oil

  • 500 g diced skinless chicken thighs (do not use breast)
  • 4 - 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of corn starch (as meat tenderizer)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Total dough weight 3.2 kg and dough hydration 67%  (I was aiming for the standard baguette hydration)

The dough was divided into:

  1. 230 g x 3 (rolled in sesame seeds) and 800 g x 1, baked last night (pictured immediately below) for pre-dinner drinks and dinner (note: I left the large one plain without incorporating the pesto or chicken); and
  2. 900 g x 1, 500 g x 1 and 350 g x 1, baked this morning.

* One tablespoon of water is 15 g but one tbsp of olive oil is not 15 g.  It's 12 - 13 g for me if it is scaled on its own, but 11 - 12 g if scaled on top of water or something else. 











                                                                          The above were all baked last night.


  1. Mix squid ink in 100 g water.
  2. In a large bowl, mix starter with 600 g water first, then add flour, then salt, oil, and squid ink (in that order), mix until just combined. (Take down the time when this is done.  Bulk fermentation is approximately 2+1/2 hours if dough & room temperature is roughly 22 - 24C / 73 - 76F.  Note:  almost all bread books calculate bulk fermentation time from when kneading finishes, whether or not autolyse is incorporated.  Because I use my stretch and folds as my kneading, technically this means I should start counting my bulk fermentation time from the end of the first set of S & F's.  But as long as I am getting the results I want, I will continue to do what I have been doing. )
  3. Autolyse 20 minutes; in the mean time, pan-fry chicken and prepare the pesto spring onion mixture (the cooked chicken should be completely cooled down before use).
  4. First set of stretch and folds in the bowl, 60 - 70 strokes.
  5. After 45 minutes, another set of stretch and folds, 20 - 30 strokes.
  6. After an hour, divide the dough as you please.  Pre-shape the dough to a cylinder; rest 15 minutes.
  7. Incorporate the savory mixture and shape the dough into a batard (see pictures below).
  8. Proof the dough for approx. 2 hours if dough & room temperature is roughly 22 - 24C / 73 - 76F.  (Note: I moved my dough into the refrigerator immediately after it was shaped as it was a very hot day, 30C; ie, my dough received no floor time after it's shaped.)
  9. I baked 4 loaves (250 g x 3 and 800 g x 1) after 4 hours in the refrigerator last night at 230C / 445F for 15 minutes and another 20 minutes at 210C / 410F.  I baked the rest of the loaves this morning (16 hours retardation). 




  1. place some pesto spring onion mixture and chicken on the top one-third of the dough
  2. fold the top 1/3 over and turn the whole dough 180 degree
  3. place some more savory mixture on the top one-third of the dough, and fold it over again
  4. fold again and seal it tight





                                                               The above was baked this morning.


The bread was delicious.   This was one of the best breads that I have made.   When it came out of the oven, my husband said that the bread looked sensational; but when I said, it's squid ink bread, he said, Oh, I changed my mind.  He ended up having his lion's share and couldn't stop raving about it.   This bread was a hit with my family. 

As I was finishing my draft for this post, Lang Lang was playing Yellow River Piano Concerto on my hi-fi.  The instrument is western, but the sentiment expressed in the music is incredibly Chinese.  What a piece of pure Romanticism.  With that, I am going to indulge myself with something I have always wanted to do - to paint abstract with flour:



                 flour abstract painting on my black marble work bench 1



                                                                                                          flour abstract painting 2


Shiao-Ping's picture

It all started with this picture when I dropped my son at his mate's house for tennis and saw these colors:   


                                                             The pink bougainvillea next to their front door against

                                                                      a flowering jacaranda in the background

A few days later a girl friend invited me to have tea in the park just round the corner from her place, under the flowering jacarandas.   

           Symphony jacarandas:


           First movement


                                          Second movement


                                                                           Third movement, and


                                                                                                      Fourth movement 

And this was the bread that I made for our tea: 



                 Pain au Levain with Praline Rose 


My Formula

  • 350 g starter @ 75% hydration
  • 310 g bread flour
  • 40 g medium rye flour
  • 262 g water * see note below
  • 183 g Praline Rose (pink caramelized almonds), 1/3 of the weight of total flours
  • 11 g salt
  • Extra rice flour and medium rye flour for dusting

Total dough weight 1.15 kg and dough hydration 75% (*Note: I did 75% hydration but in truth the hydration of the final dough felt much higher because of the sugar dissolved from Praline Rose which I over-looked.   70% hydration, or 235 grams of water, would have been plenty.  Because of the wet dough, extra stretch of folds became necessary to build up dough strength.)




  1. In a large bowl mix all ingredients except salt and Praline Rose until just combined
  2. Autolyse 30 minutes
  3. Stretch and folds in the bowl 100 times (I tried to build up some dough strength before the nuts go in), then
  4. Fold in salt and Praline Rose by way of S & F's 100 times again
  5. Bulk fermentation 2 hours with 2 sets of S & F's of 80 - 100 times each at 45 minutes and 90 minutes (see Note above)
  6. Divide into two pieces and pre-shape to rounds (or leave as whole), rest for 15 minutes, then shape to boules and place in a flour dusted banneton
  7. Proof 1/2 hour then into fridge for overnight retarding (I did 18 hours)
  8. Next morning bake with steam at 240C / 460F for 10 minutes and another 30 minutes at 210C / 410F (It was a mistake to bake at such high heat.  I completely over-looked that there was a lot of sugar in Praline Rose.  I did see that it browned very quickly in the first 10 minutes of baking and turned down the heat to 210C but had not realized at that point that the dough would burn anyway because of the sugar level.  The oven temperature should not have been more than 200 C for the whole duration of baking.)





                                                I truly burned this bread but the crumb was lovely and open.


This was one of the best sourdoughs I have made, despite the charcoaled crust.  The crumb is very chewy and mildly sour.  I don't taste much sweetness from the sugar, very little in fact.  I am very confused as to why this bread does not taste sweet.  If my memory serves me right, the pre-crushed Praline Rose I've got has only 20% almonds, which means at 183 g of Praline Rose, there was 146 grams of sugar, about 1/4 of the flour weight!!   Then, why doesn't this levain bread taste sweet?!  In fact, I don't think I've ever had a sweet sourdough, not even the chocolate sourdough I made.   Is that why they say sourdoughs are NOT fattening?!  Hog heaven?!




Shiao-Ping's picture

Wine is abundant in our household; a day rarely goes by without some consumption of wine.  When I read Erzsebet Gilbert's post: A winemaker wants to be a wine-baker, I thought what a good idea.  There was a lot of discussion there whether or not alcohol kills off the yeasts.  I thought the only way to find out is to try.  Recently I have been making mainly Pain au Levain breads, so I took my formula and simply replaced 60% of hydration with wine.  This number was a matter of convenience and also because I felt any less than 50% the wine flavor might not come through.  As my starter is normally 75% hydration and my Pain au Levain is normally 68% hydration, when I substituted wine for the hydration for the final dough, the wine worked out to be roughly 60% of all hydration. 

I did four doughs in the following order (my starter was the same for all four doughs):

(1) dough one with red wine previously boiled and cooled down to room temperature of about 20C / 68F;

(2) dough two with white wine previously boiled and cooled down to room temperature of about 20C / 68F;

(3) dough three with red wine as is from a bottle at room temperature; and

(4) dough four with white wine as is from a bottle in the refrigerator but warmed up to 20C / 68F. 

The boiling was supposed to take off the alcohol in the wine (14.5% for my red, Australian Shiraz, and 14% for my white, Chardonnay).  

My formula for all four doughs are the same as follows: 

  • 300 g starter @ 75% hydration
  • 285 g bread flour
  • 15 g medium rye flour
  • 192 g wine (for dough one and two above, I measured at least 220 g of wine to allow for evaporation from boiling)
  • 9 g salt

Total dough weight (each) 800 grams and total dough hydration 68%

  1. In a large bowl, mix wine and flour only until just combined
  2. Autolyse 40 minutes
  3. Add salt and starter, and knead by hand for 3- 4 minutes (alternatively, stretch and fold in the bowl for 100 times to thoroughly mix all ingredients to a homogenous whole)
  4. Bulk fermentation 2 1/2 hours with two sets of stretch and folds, each set 20 - 30 times (dough temperature about 20 C/68 F, adjust fermentation time longer or shorter depending on room and dough temperatures)
  5. Pre-shape to a boule, rest 15 - 20 minutes, then shape to a tight boule
  6. Proof for 1/2 to 1 hour then place in the refrigerator for overnight retarding (I did 19 hours)
  7. Bake next morning with steam at 240C / 460F for 20 minutes and another 20 minutes at 210C / 410F


Below are the first and second Pains au Levain with wine (previously boiled to take off the alcohol): 





             red loaf on the left and white loaf on the right



             Pain au Levain with boiled red wine





                   crust of Pain au Levain with boiled white wine





Both loaves have very open cell structure as above; the white one tastes to me no difference to a normal Pain au Levain, but the red one seems to taste more flavourful (I don't know if I am imagining flavors because of the color).  Both crumbs are mildly chewy and not very sour, just like normal Pain au Levain.  As the alcohol was taken off, the breads do not taste to me to have any trace of wine, save for the color in the red loaf.  The breads are lovely just the same but I don't know if I can say for sure that the wine improves the bread in these two instances. 


Following are breads made with wine straight from the bottle (dough three and four descriptions above).  The doughs looked noticeably smaller after fermentation compared to the first two; however, it did not appear that the yeasts were completely killed off, there were some activity but far less compared to the first two loaves.  The crumbs are very dense but extremely flavourful.  When the breads were being sliced open, you could smell the strong alcoholic aroma from the wine.  The white loaf has a hint of bitterness about it, but the red one has none of it (I don't know why but I can only guess that other flavor compounds which have come through the red wine have masked the bitterness). 



               Pain au Levain with red wine (straight from bottle)


                                                         By the time I took this shot, the natural light was out so the color here is not exactly true. 



               Pain au Levain with white wine (straight from bottle)



As someone says, flour is for baking, and wine is for drinking, and so perhaps it's best to keep the two separate?!  Or, as Erzsebet says, they are delicious together too?!  

I guess, it's your choice.




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