The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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It has been such a long time since I've posted on Fresh Loaf.   As some of you may remember, I went very gradually from baking for fun to baking for fun and profit.    Over that time, the business has steadily grown, but was limited by the fact that it was based in my home kitchen.   Over a year ago, my business partner and I started looking for a place to rent.   It took longer than I could ever have imagined to find a place that we could afford in a reasonable location, but finally we found a place last summer.   Then it took longer than I could ever have imagined to fit up the place to make it suitable, safe, and sanitizable to make food for sale.   But now it has been done and we are approved for lift off. 

I would like to say that now I'm cranking out hundreds of beautiful loaves of bread daily but the reality is that I'm in test bake mode trying to figure out how to use the new oven.   I'm hoping that will be a lot shorter than the search for a place or the creation of a functional kitchen out of a former driving school, and before that ...a tile store.

We're looking for some baking help - part time at first, and then more as we grow.   Message me if you live near Waltham, MA, and are interested in finding out more.

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What happens when your must have bread fails repeatedly?   Other than tears and recriminations, a lot of head scratching and experimentation.  This generally leads to upping your game at all levels as you optimize each step of the process, but unfortunately the main problem can remain hidden.  

This happened with my Lexington Sourdough which started out as an almost white, medium hydration sourdough and became....  This little devil had the most annoying habit of coming out absolutely beautifully for long periods of time, only to start failing alarmingly and in many ways, particularly when I made large batches of it for sale.   So what to do?   People must have their sourdough.   

First off - I finally had to break down and put a steam pan in my Cadco oven, even though I'd been avoiding this like the plague, as it already has a handy dandy piped in vapor setting, and that SHOULD BE enough.   Wasn't.   Denial was getting me nowhere.   So I took my cheap cast iron skillet and poured water in at the beginning of every bake, as well as turning off the oven for long enough for the bread to open.   This helped.   It stopped the scores hardening over and the sides splitting, and the bread giving birth to a baby bread.   So all done?   No way!   Many more successes but still alarming failures especially when getting ready for a market where "I love sourdough, what do you mean you don't have any!" 

So what did these next set of failures look like?    The dough would be absolutely beautiful, shape beautifully, and then mysteriously collapse into a puddle during the proof.   How could this be?   So time to fiddle with the formula - raise the hydration, lower the hydration, raise percentage of whole grains, eliminate whole grains altogether.   Some of these efforts created beautiful breads.   But come time to scale up for a market?   Same puddle bread, same failures, same walking away customers who didn't get their sourdough.  

Next up - must be the dough development right?   Yes right.    Add stretch and folds, bulk retard, mix like hell.... Did it help?   Most of the time but never for those crucial moments when you need a lot of loaves.   

Then luck struck.   One day, when I was making a few loaves of one of the instantiations of the elusive Lexington Sourdough, I had a bit of extra dough.   I formed these into 3 pretty rolls, and sent them off to the chef at a restaurant that serves our bread.   I didn't expect him to buy them as I had given him many samples of this or that, and he never added to his order.    Surprise, surprise, he ordered 300 of these babies a week.   Now suddenly I had to start producing these never before made rolls in quantity.    And strangely this went fine.   This went on for a few weeks before it occurred to me what had happened.   Same dough, same oven, same everything except for size and shape.   What the heck?

Thinking this over, I realized these rolls not only had the same dough development process as the bread, they also got cut up and rolled and twisted into shape.  Hmmmm.  

On to the bread at hand.   If you take a breadsworth of dough, cut it in two and shape each half separately then your dough gets twice the workout, yes?   Yes.   The bread pictured at top is exactly that - an olive bread using (one of the) Lexington Sourdough base (medium hydration, 20% whole wheat, 20% prefermented white flour)   No puddles either of dough or tears.   Just behaved itself from start to finish.  And this was at least a medium sized batch.

And for those of you who are still awake ---- Have I tried a big batch of straight up Lexington Sourdough?   Haven't dared yet, but by Jove, I think I've got it.

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This week I've been honored by a visit from Pat Roth (aka proth5.)    I invited her here and happily enough she decided to come and share some of her baking wisdom with me.    One of the things I particularly wanted to master were those pesky brioches à tête.   How do you keep those heads up high?   How do you keep the neck from thickening until they look like body builders with no discernable distinction between body and head?   

These are urgent matters but first

--------------------------a shaggy dog story---------------------------------------

Years ago I worked in Boston.   On my way from the subway to the office I stopped in at the Pregnant Building at a little cafe in the lobby where I got my morning coffee and a spectacular brioche.   This being long before I started baking, I assumed that everyone could make such amazing brioche.   Little did I know.  

Then the tragedy of 9/11 struck.   All the big buildings in Boston started upgrading their security.    Since the pregnant building was the tallest in the area, their upgrades  were the most extreme.   Before I knew it I could no longer get into my little cafe as it was barricaded behind a security desk, and only those who had access to the building could get to it.   I searched half-heartedly for a new brioche source but nothing that I found was even close.   I tried to get an id for the building.   No dice.   I gave up.   

A couple of years later, remembering those brioche, I stopped by to see if the cafe was accessible and yes it was.  I was overjoyed but not for long.   Each time I stopped in there were no brioche on the shelves.   Finally I asked what had happened.   In the two years that I had been barred from the building, the baker had retired. 

Fast forward many years.   I have now made brioche many times, but the results have always lacked the artistry that I remember pre 9/11.   My brioche has to be better or the terrorists will have won.   Enter Pat Roth.

---------------------------End of shaggy dog story-----------------------------------------

A few important things about brioche:

Everything has to be very cold.   We weighed out and refrigerated all ingredients overnight.

Butter should be cold but plasticized by pounding (with a wine bottle in this case) before adding to the mixed dough.

The dough has to be mixed until it is very, very strong.

Here is Pat checking it out - is it strong enough?

With the cold weather all my doughs are drying out before I can even get them shaped.   But no need to worry.   Pat taught me to place the preshaped dough balls into a closed container so they stay moist before shaping.

She also taught me a new preshape method - stretch out, fold in half, turn so edge is on counter, fold in half and roll for a second.   Very fast, very tight.   Rest the dough and then shape into a ball.   The preshape gets you most of the way.

Then things start to get hard.   Make a pool of flour on the counter.   Flour the side of your hand, then start rolling a neck into the ball.    Not too much flour or it will just flatten out.  

Straighten up that bowling pin and place upright in a brioche tin.   

Now the really hard part and since I was working so hard no time for pictures.   With your left thumb press the head back while taking a floured right index finger and pressing it straight down from the base of the neck almost to the bottom of the tin.   Rotate all around until it looks like the picture at top.  

Proof well, egg wash and bake.

And now the really good part:

and even better...

Thank you Pat!

varda's picture

A year ago, I decided to close down my little bake to order business, and see what else I could cook up.   I got my wholesale license, and into a pretty decent market, and set out to make a lot of bread.   A lot of bread all depends where you are coming from.   I'm baking out of my kitchen with fairly small equipment and it sure seems like a lot to me.    I picked up several wholesale customers, and just when I think I have that under control, I bake for a big market, all semblance of control vanishes, and I just bake as much and as fast as I can.  

In the meantime, I added a business partner (aka life saver) and the two of us hunt for the mythological rental that will allow us to expand from micro to small, shop for the equipment we hope to be able to buy once we find the rental and so forth.  

But that's just business.   The main thing is the bread.

Flaxseed Rye, Multigrain Cranberry and Durum Levain

Multigrain Sunflower Seed

Borodinsky Rye


New York Rye

Cherry Boule


Challah Rolls and...

Cardamom Buns

Oh, and I forgot the baguettes - 

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!




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Several years ago, when I first started haunting TFL for clues on how to make Jewish Rye, I came across references to George Greenstein's Secrets of a Jewish Baker.   The breads I made from this book were god awful which had nothing to do with George Greenstein and everything to do with the (lack of) skill of the baker.   As time went on and I learned more about bread baking in general and Jewish Rye in particular, SOAJB got pushed to the back of the shelf and almost forgotten.  And yet people like David Snyder reminded me of it with his occasional Jewish Corn Rye bakes.    See for instance here.   Yum.  

The other day I came back to it   I decided to handle the volume measurements in Greenstein by pulling out the old measuring cups and then weighing what I did as I went along.   Then make adjustments from the weighed measurements going forward.   Since then this bread has become my new favorite.   I already make Tzitzel and Flaxseed Rye and Borodinsky and Schuster Loaf, so do I really need another rye on my plate?   Absolutely.   So good.   Must have more.


         Final        Sour        Total  Bakers %
KAAP181 18145%
Whole Rye1338621955%
Caraway9 92.3%
Salt7 71.7%
Rye Sour (80%)156 15622%
Cornstarch glaze   
Caraway to sprinkle 700 


Ripen 80% rye sour until pungent

Mix all ingredients

Bulk ferment until somewhat puffy (this took two hours today in 70degF kitchen)

Shape into a jelly roll and mold the ends shut

Proof until it starts to soften (this took 1 hour today)

Glaze with cornstarch mix (boil two cups water - dissolve 2 tbsp cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water.   Whisk into boiling water until thickens and clear.)

Sprinkle with caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 500.  Load bread with steam for 1 minute.   Turn off oven for 6 minutes.   Bake at 430 for 20 minutes. 

Note that I did not use yeast in addition to the rye sour as Greenstein does.  Nor did I keep the fermenting dough wet as Greenstein says - just the regular old bulk ferment in a covered bowl.  

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Lately I find myself making a lot of baguettes.   I definitely have an ideal for this simple, hard bread, which involves the pure taste of fermented refined wheat sheathed in crunchy goodness, but how often my efforts fall short.   Lately, maybe because of practice, practice and more practice I feel like the corner has been turned, and more often than not, what I get appears to deliver what I'm looking for.   I say appears, because usually I don't cut into, let alone taste the results of my labors.  Today I got a taste simply because knobbly ends are fragile and I broke a few before I could sell them. 

Speaking of knobbly ends --

recently a fellow fresh loafer (she can identify herself if she wants) taught me to make them.   I fell in love instantly.   All my baguettes must have knobbly ends.   The ones above are pretty restrained -- they can get a lot more knobbly than this.   But as I said, fragile.   As I was unloading this  morning (maybe my brain was fogged so early in the morning) one of my baguettes fell on its end, and bang - that was the end of the end.   Then a couple more tossed around too much, lost their knobs (is there a French word for this?)   Must treat more carefully - as if made of china. 

I switched to knobs from points a few weeks ago.   The store manager where I deliver many of these said her customers were asking why.   I said, just because they're cool, but then thought I should have had a more sophisticated and learned historical answer.   Any ideas? 

Method, Formula, Notes


Distribute yeast in water, then mix all until strong
S&F twice 20 minutes apart in mixer (10 seconds)
Bulk retard after 20 more minutes, 8-18 hours
Cut and preshape by scrolling into cigar shape
Rest around 20 minutes
Shape by gently pushing into long rope without folding or pressing seam - when long enough roll ends fiercely until knobbly
Proof in trays - seam down - around 20 minutes
Bake 500F 6 minutes with steam, 18 min 450F
Fresh yeast0.910.835.10.53%

A few notes:

-Credit Mark Sinclair for the S&F in mixer approach.

- I started using fresh yeast a few months ago, and I definitely can see a difference - as you can see amount is tiny.

- I upped the salt to 2% because it seems to help survive the long night in the cold.

- I dropped hydration from around 80% a year ago to 73% now.   Much happier with the results.

- The high initial temperature is due to using baguette trays - you put all that metal in the oven and temperature drops pretty quickly.    It is actually a lot colder than that during the steam period but that's what I have the oven set to.

- a 300g baguette rolls out nicely to around 18 inches.   I also make a 24 inch baguette using 450g of dough.




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One thing that happens when you bake for other people is they tell you what they want, and if you don't have it, sometimes they just walk away.   So it has gone for the past few months at farmer's markets, where a small but determined group must have their whole wheat bread, and won't even look at other offerings if it is not there.    I have been keeping a close eye on TFL for whole wheat baking.   True I have baked 100% whole wheat breads -- particularly Reinhardt's and also Pain de Mie following Janetcook's lead.   Neither of these satisfied me as a bread for sale - I was looking for an approach more in tune with my regular processes.  

Recently Last year Abel posted a bread (thanks to Bröterich for the link) made with rye sour and all whole wheat in the final dough.   (For some reason I can't find it - the post seems to have vanished.)   This inspired me, but my attempts to copy it resulted in a very bricklike substance.  So I played around a bit trying to find my own way.   Finally I stumbled on something that looked beautiful which used both my white and rye starters. The rush of the market being what it is, I sold a few loaves without having ever tasted it.   Last Saturday I brought even more to the market, and the loaves flew off the table, all the while with me wondering what in the heck I had just sold.   Fortunately though, I had a few repeat buyers, so I knew it couldn't be too bad.   This week with a bit of a slowdown since I'm not baking for the market this Saturday, I was finally able to taste my whole wheat bread.   I am really not much of a whole wheat fan - a little too healthy for my tastes, but this was really nice - particularly with the very dark crust whose sweetness contrasts nicely with the hearty crumb.   In fact I love this bread and it fits nicely into my routine, as it doesn't require any new preferments - just the ones I have on hand.

Some would call this 100% whole wheat, but of course it has some white flour and some rye flour from the starters, so I'll just call it whole wheat - seems ok.

Formula and Method:

Whole Wheat Boule   
Autolyze flour and water plus honey and oil 1:0010:30 AM
Mix all  0:1011:30 AM
Bulk Ferment  3:0011:40 AM
Shape in boule  0:302:40 PM
Proof  2:303:10 PM
Preheat 500, Load, Steam 1 min, off 6 min0:355:40 PM
Bake 25 minutes 425  6:15 PM
 FinalStartersTotalBakers %
Whole Wheat445 44584%
Whole Rye024245%
Oil74 7414%
Honey30 306%
Salt10.4 102.0%
Starter104 104 
Rye Sour44 44 
Total Flour532   
Starter is all white, 67% hydration  
Rye sour is all whole rye, 80% hydration - using Great 
River Whole Rye   
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The last few weeks have been a blur of baking, as I have started selling at a new market which has a BIG appetite for bread.   The Waltham market has been around for 24 years and has a very large and loyal set of customers.  

This Saturday was our third week.    I say "our" as my daughter has gotten the market bug and has come to sell with me every week in Cambridge and now Waltham.   


Here she's selling three deep and probably cursing me for standing behind taking pictures instead of helping out.

This week I tried to take some pictures before the crowds descended as by the time I got to it last week, half of the bread was gone already.

Cranberry and Sunflower Multigrain Levain

Cardamom buns, challah rolls, bagels and baguettes

Durum Levain and Hamelman's Country Loaves

Rye, Rye, and Rye

There are many great vendors, and I wish I had more (any) time to do a bit of shopping.   This week I traded a challah for some local strawberries from this stand.

In the middle of a frenzy of baking getting ready for the Saturday market and trying to squeeze more and more from my trusty Assistent, I got a visitation from an alien lifeform, who took pity on me and came to help  me mix dough.

These 6 loaves worth of cranberry dough are just a drop in the bucket for my new friend Molly.

Her bowl alone is as big as the Assistent altogether.  

And finally, a fresh loafer asked me about Tzitzel Rye of St. Louis fame, and reminded me that I hadn't made it in awhile.   So I made some for the second Waltham market, but didn't quite get to take any pictures in time.   I have been fiddling on this formula for a couple years now.   Here is the current version:

Final build 80% rye sour18:009:00 PM  
Mix all  0:103:00 PM  
BF 1.5 hour  1:153:10 PM  
Shape, coat with cornmeal 0:154:25 PM  
Proof  1:004:40 PM  
Preheat 500, steam 1 min, off 6 min0:455:40 PM  
Bake at 425 for 20 minutes 6:25 PM  
Hi Gluten275219770%   
Whole Rye0030%   
Caraway11873% (just reduced this to 2%)
Rye Sour211168530%   
Corn meal      
Total Dough6995591    
Total Flour392     


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Lately in the midst of making a lot of decent bread, I've had a string of mysterious failures.   Here are the symptoms:   at best poor opening of scores which leaves the resulting bread more compact than it should be and with gummier crumb.   At worst cakey crumb and collapses along the crust which leave a skin of paperlike crust with a cavern beneath.   The second gets thrown out; the first is fine to eat but nothing great.    Over the months I've wracked my brain trying to figure out what was going on.   What made it especially difficult is that I'd tweak this or that and get fine bread, but then a few times later, back to square one.   As these breads would tend to get tacky during the proof I tended to think that they were getting over-proofed very quickly.   So I'd try a shorter proof and that would seem fine, or lower the hydration, or, or, or

What made this particularly irritating is that these failures were concentrated among my simplest breads – flour water salt starter.    How could this be?  

In the last few days, my thinking changed.   Was I under rather than over fermenting?    The other night I had some excess starter, and I decided to try an experiment.   Right before bed,  I mixed up some dough and turned the heat in the house way down.   Since we have been experiencing the coolest spring ever, I thought that I could try a longer rather than shorter bulk ferment.    Because this made me nervous I also upped the salt and lowered the hydration a bit.   When I went to sleep the temperature in the house was 70F (20C).   Ten hours later it was 64F.   The dough was fine – nice and light and expanded, and not at all tacky.   I did a short proof and then baked and sure enough – the bread came out very nicely.  

Long overnight counter ferments may be fine during a cold spring – but summer is coming.   I couldn’t rely on that for very long.   So last night I decided to rework and do a cold ferment but not to underdo it.  

This is what I did:  upped salt to 2.3%  (my standard has been 1.8%)   Lowered hydration to 65%.   Mixed all medium developed.   Left on counter for 20 minutes, then did a vigorous stretch and fold.  Then bulk retarded for 13 hours.   Then removed, left on counter for 1 hour, then shaped.   Then proofed for 2.5 hours on counter, and last ½ hour in refrigerator.   Then baked.   The dough was well behaved the whole time without a trace of tackiness.    When I took the loaves out of the couche, I would have sworn it was over-proofed, as it was very expanded and flopped around a bit.   

And yet, it wasn’t.   The loaves expanded a lot in the oven, with the scores opening very nicely.   The resulting bread did not suffer from gummy compressed crumb.  To the contrary.

What I take away from this is that the thing I've been trying to figure out since I started baking - when is the bulk ferment done - is still eluding me.   There isn't a simple poke test.   You can't use time.    You can't even use time and temperature, as it is so starter dependent.  And if you go too short, you will get the strangest set of symptoms ever which will point in all directions.   I think I've been going too short for certain types of breads, and the solution is to ferment for longer (perhaps much longer.)   Do I need to keep the salt so high and hydration low?   Not really sure yet.


Bread Flour26579%
Whole Wheat8821%
67% Starter10815%

Methodology as above.  


varda's picture

Lately I have been spending a lot of time baking - a lot of time trying to execute well and less time thinking about new breads.   But last week as my daughter was helping me at the Cambridge farmer's market, she jolted me out of my complacency by saying that she didn't like my pain au levain and that it was boring and I should rethink it.   Aren't kids wonderful?  So that sent me off browsing and thinking in the few moments when I wasn't baking, and I landed on Maggie Glezer's Thom Leonard's Country French Bread.   I had no intention of making the huge loaves that she describes, and finding her formula presentation confusing, I took the general idea and put together my own formula. 

This bread calls for High Extraction flour, which in the past I've found daunting.  But this time around, I realized it was pretty simple.   Just sift out some of the bran from whole wheat flour.   In the past I tried this, but didn't realize there is a big difference between home milled whole wheat and massive machine milled whole wheat.   All it took to make some very passable high extraction flour was to run some GM Stone Ground Fine Whole Wheat through a drum sieve once.   It took less than five minutes.   The resulting flour with bran removed weighing 16% of total (so we'll call it 84% extraction) looked almost white with golden undertones.

and some bran left over:

The resulting bread was very pleasant with a rich warm flavor and really not boring.  

The Cambridge market has been keeping me very busy but added to that is a three day a week delivery to a local restaurant.   This is a brand new restaurant less than a mile from me, very high quality, and I must say the chef has good taste in bread :-)  He has been ordering Durum Levain and Flaxseed Rye for the dinner bread basket, and Multigrain Cranberry Sourdough for I wasn't sure what until last night.   My husband and I ate there and ordered Charcuterie as an appetizer.   It came with very thinly sliced toasted wedges of my Cranberry Levain.   Nice!  

So my day on Friday  started with the flaxseed rye scald at 7:30 am.    I finished the restaurant bake ten minutes before my 4 pm deadline and made the delivery, and then got started on finishing my bake for the market the next day, wrapping up around 11 pm.  

I love this Durum Levain - apparently the restaurant guests like it too, but I can't sell it at the Cambridge market.   Go figure.

Almost ready to go - just have to finish the Cranberries:

Finally they are all out - just a few minutes to cool before they get shipped down the hill.

The definite favorite for the Cambridge market is Multigrain Sunflower Levain.   I make twelve loaves and no place to put the dough until I got this nice Cambro box:

The finished product:

I also wanted to share my new favorite - Country French Sourdough:

Now thank goodness the Cambridge market is over and I have a few weeks before the next market (much bigger) starts.   

Since it was too inefficient, I shut down my little bake to order business, and now I am looking for retail outlets that will sell some of my bread.   Starting some samples tonight. 

A couple questions.   I find myself doing a lot of hand mixing - not because I love it but for convenience to avoid moving one dough to machine mix another.   What is the best way to incorporate water and flour together by hand?    I haven't been satisfied with my approach.   Second - if you were going to get a 20 qt mixer which could mix say 15K of dough which one would you get?   There are Chinese models out for under $1000.   Any good?



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