The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

varda's blog

varda's picture

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.




varda's picture

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   
varda's picture

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     


varda's picture

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?


varda's picture

Lately I've been a lurker on TFL and not even a very good one.   But the urge to post is too strong.   I must post.   After a disappointing several weeks at the Winchester Market - some good weeks and some bad weeks, but not really a nice place, or a very well run market, I finally participated in a really great market in Cambridge Massachusetts.   A few days before the market, I called a baker who had been there before me, and asked how much he sold.   He told me close to a hundred loaves.   I gulped as that's around 4 times as much as I've ever baked for one day.    So I got to work and cranked out 35 loaves, plus bagels, baguettes and challah rolls.  On the day of the market, my daughter met me there to help me set up, as I had injured my knee (something to do with a dog and a squirrel.)   And then the shoppers started coming in.   At one point, I decided I should sit down for a bit to rest my knee.   An hour later, I realized that I hadn't had a chance.   The market wasn't that large, or that crowded, but it seems that everyone there had come to shop, shop, shop.

They showed up with their canvas bags, and shop they did.  

A pretty classy place - even the flautist was good.

Even the little kids got in the act.   This guy is either reading my price list, or trying to snag a bagel while I'm busy with his dad.   One father got down to eye level with his three year old, and let the kid pick the bread - a flaxseed rye.    I bit my tongue - no need to say, huh? what? do you think he'll like that?

After a couple hectic hours - in which not a single person told me they were "gluten free" or joked for the 35th time that they too had a bread obsession and then scurried away without buying - I had two bagels left on my table, and an hour and a half left of the market.   Must bake more.   Eek!

This week I started baking yesterday.   Hope to make it to over 50 loaves before Saturday plus my trusty bagels, baguettes and rolls.  



varda's picture

It has been awhile since I've been on Fresh Loaf.   I have been bread busy and so too bread exhausted for posting lately. For the last few weeks I've been selling on Saturday mornings at a winter market, held in the greenhouse of a large nursery.  

The weather has not cooperated, and traffic has been sluggish, with sales following along.    This week, not wanting to be left with a load of bread (as happened when we got hit two weeks ago with a surprise snow storm) I followed the forecast carefully, and somehow got the reassurance to make a good load of bread.   I was not disappointed.   The temperature went up, the sun came out, and the shoppers reappeared at the market.   I sold almost all my bread, with quite a few return shoppers from past weeks.   Phew!

Fig Anise loaves

Tzitzel Deli Rye, Baguettes, and Bagels

Delicious marshmallow treats from the next table.

Guacamole made up fresh on the other side.

In other bread news, I finally got my wholesale license.   This was neither cheap, nor easy, nor pleasant, but the deed is done.   I have been visiting restaurants in my spare time with rolls and brochures trying to scare up some business. It turns out that there are some big bakeries who have managed to corner the market with low costs and high volume. Not so easy for a tiny little operator to get in there.   Will have to figure out how to do this.   

On the bright side, I recently rediscovered a treat from my youth that I'd entirely forgotten about - salt bagels.

Unbelievably good with a bit of cream cheese. 

varda's picture

I love spelt but not too much of it.  My high percentage spelt loaves have turned out fine, but somehow don't get eaten up, even by me.  Today I made a Pain au Levain with added Spelt and kept the spelt to 21%.   To my taste at least, this is ideal.   The resulting loaf has that special nutty fresh taste that spelt in small enough quantities provides.  

Using Janet's Cadco techniques plus my  new steel plate, I got some good ovenspring.  Perhaps too good.

I also wanted to come back to the fig anise bread.   I baked the La Brea formula several times, and it was a big hit, but I felt vaguely uneasy, as it is very sweet and incredibly figgy.    I decided to take it down a notch by leaving out the fig puree, reducing the sugar, adding some whole grains, and upping the hydration.   The resulting loaf seems just as figgy even without the puree, still quite sweet, and somewhat more interesting with the added whole wheat.   I accidentally added more water than I had intended, by a lot.   Despite being somewhat perplexed by how wet and slippery the dough was, it still handled reasonably well, and behaved properly.   If anything I would reduce the figs and sugar even more, and perhaps up the whole wheat.   In any case, this version was more satisfying to me than the original.   It almost seems that when you get a lot of figs in there it hardly matters what the underlying bread is made of as the figs conquer all.   

Some time ago, my husband and I ate out at a Portuguese restaurant in East Cambridge.    The bread was amazingly good.   The dinner not so much.   As this hardly ever happens (usually a good dinner is accompanied by just so-so bread) I needed to find out more.   The owner told me that the bread was Broa - Portuguese cornbread.    More questions didn't lead to more answers, as it turns out they don't bake it themselves.

I searched around, and didn't find much on Broa.   Clayton had a quite unsatisfying version in his book.   Then a comment on TFL led me back to my own bookshelf.  Greenstein has a recipe in his Secrets of a Jewish Baker, not really the place I expected to find it.   Greenstein uses volume measurements and it has been so long since I've baked using them that I felt all at sea.   I weighed everything and took notes so I would be able to figure out what I had done.   The dough was incredibly dry - almost like putty, and very salty - perhaps I misunderstood.   To make matters worse I used Masa Harina, and that was just a mistake, as the bread ended up tasting like tortillas.   When I went back and calculated percentages, not surprisingly the hydration was around 50%, and the salt was 2.6%!   Furthermore, the method used was very fast - not even a bulk ferment - and so I thought the flavor was pretty dull excepting the lime treatment of the corn flour which was not a plus. 

I went back to it, and decided to do things a bit differently.   I used starter instead of a boatload of yeast, upped the hydration somewhat, used remilled cornmeal for the corn flour (Greenstein's suggestion) and started over.   This was definitely an improvement, but I don't think I've come close to the delicious bread I had in that restaurant.   Anyone know how to make this authentically?

Happy New Year everyone.

Pain au Levain with Spelt   
Spelt140 14021%
Salt12.2 12.21.8%
Starter210  19%
Total Flour670   
Total Dough1147   
Mix all and bulk ferment 3.5 hours in cold house
Cut and shape   
Proof 1 hour until soft  
Preheat oven to 500 - 45 minutes 
Steam 1 minute   
Slash, spray, and load   
Steam 1 minute   
Oven off 6 minutes   
Bake at 425 for 10 minutes  
400 for 10 minutes   


Fig Anise     
Less sugar, no fig puree, higher hydration 
WW85 8529%
Cornmeal12 124%
Hot water142 14249%
Figs115 11540%
Sugar25 259%
Salt5.3 5.31.8%
Anise seed0.9 0.90.3%
145% Starter153   
Total Flour289   
Total Dough727   
Pour boiling water over whole wheat flour 
Stir and cover   
Rest for 1/2 hour   
Mix all but figs until strong  
Cut dried figs in quarter and mix in 
Refrigerate for 24 hours  
Remove and shape   
Proof  for 1.5 hour until soft  
Preheat hot oven to 500  
Steam 1 minute   
Slash and load   
Steam 1 minute   
Oven off 8 minutes   
Bake at 410 for 20 minutes   
Cornstarch mixture  
Cold Water40  
Boiled Water126  
Final Dough   
Corn flour15021% 
 Cornstarch mix   
Total Flour700  
Total Water45064% 
Dissolve cornstarch in cold water 
Mix in to boiling water  
Bring back to boiling  
then remove from heat and cool 
Mix all    
Bulk Ferment 2 hours  
Shape into boule and sprinkle with flour
Proof for 1 hour  
until flour on top cracks  
Preheat 500   
Steam for 1 minute  
Load and steam for 1 minute 
Turn off for 5 minutes  
Bake at 440 around 30 minutes 



varda's picture

I've been baking a lot lately, as I try to master my Cadco oven.   Some breads come out better than in my conventional gas home oven, others not so  much.   The other day I made challah, and it came out better than ever.   Unfortunately I didn't take good notes, so I'm not quite sure how I baked it.   I did one six strand loaf and the other seven.   The seven was strangely flat and boring.   I guess I need a fancier braiding regime. 

Awhile ago, I tried another La Brea bread - currant buns with a liquid rye sour and a fairly low hydration.   While they were tasty, I wasn't quite happy with them.   So I tried it my way with my drier rye sour and a higher hydration.

I made both loaves and buns.   Using Janet's regime (turn off the oven for a few minutes after preheat and a couple minutes of steaming then on again)   my loaves open consistently but I've only got a really good ear once and of course didn't take a picture. 

I made the buns by rolling into a thick log and then curling them up.   The spiral is largely lost in the bake but you can see it a bit.

These are really tasty, but need a few more currants to push them over the top:


I got a steel sheet that fits on a full shelf in the oven.   This can be baked on directly like a stone, but today I baked on a baking sheet on top of it.  


Currant Rye   
Hi Gluten627 62780%
Rye 15315320%
Currants85 8511%
Salt14 141.8%
Rye sour (80%)275   
Mix all    
Very wet but strong   
Put in refrig at 5 pm until 10:30 next morning
Shape into loaves and buns  
Proof 40 minutes   
Preheat oven to 500 for 40 minutes 
Steam without opening for 2 minutes 
Slash, spray and load bread  
Steam at 500 for 1 minute (actually around 450 as
heat lost when door opened)  
Turn off oven for 7 minutes.  
Turn on again at 425.   
Remove rolls after 12 minutes  
Reduce heat to 350 and bake loaves 10 more minutes
varda's picture

I have been meaning to make pulla for awhile, ever since various intriguing posts on the subject.   I followed a combination of jarkkolaine (formula) and Julie J.  I only had cardamon pods, so sort of stripped them and crushed them in my coffee grinder.   Not so easy.   The cardamon makes this incredibly tasty.    I am guessing that adding either a poolish or making these sourdough would make these even better, but that could be gilding the lily.     

I tried this with infusion and sourdough today.   They look pretty similar to the above, but definitely prefer the sourdough version.   These were alarmingly delicious.   This is a simple change to Jarkko's formula and uses Julie's finishing instructions.

Cardamon buns     
Milk125 12550% 
Water 333313% 
Butter45 4518% 
Sugar38 3815% 
Eggs13 135% 
Crushed Cardamon2 20.8% 
Salt2.5 2.51.0% 
67% White Starter83    
Butter dabs     
Egg wash     
Powdered Sugar     
Heat milk (microwave 1 minute)   
Add crushed cardamon and let sit around 20 minutes
Mix all ingredients but butter until strong  
then add chopped room temperature butter  
bit by bit until incorporated    
(I used Bosch compact for all mixing)   
Bulk Ferment around 2 hours with 1 S&F  
Shape into 6 balls     
and proof on tray with parchment around 30 minutes
Press thumb down in middle of each bun  
Put a dab of butter in the indentation   
Eggwash and then sprinkle with white sugar  
Bake for 14 minutes oven preheated to 360  
then reduced to 325    
with convection on     



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