The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

varda's blog

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When I first joined TFL over a year ago, I was completely blown away by a post by Shiao Ping.   Perhaps you remember it - a Gérard Rubaud miche stenciled with his initials and photographed with Japanese maple leaves floating around in the frame: I read the post over several times and just shook my head.   Maybe in another life...  That other life may be closer but it isn't here yet.    A few weeks ago I suddenly remembered this post and looked it up and tried it.   I tried to follow Shiao Ping's instructions to the letter.   I added tiny amounts of spelt and rye to the starter - in fact so tiny that they are not really measurable in my kitchen.   I mixed up the dough, and religiously did the 5 in the bowl stretch and folds every half hour.   I retarded overnight because she did even though she said that GR doesn't do it that way.   And what did I find the next morning?   Soup.   I poured it out onto my peel and it flowed over the edge.   I flipped up the overflow and slid it as best as I could onto the stone and it flowed over the edges of the stone.   Not a happy thing.   But I baked it, and pulled it out and cooled it down and cut off the overflow lips, and tasted, and oh man.   Ugly but delicious.   Here is the ugly.  

I can't show you the delicious.  I tried to figure out what I could do differently.   I decided to do away with some of the tiny measurements by only adding rye to one elaboration and spelt to another (it's a three stage starter) and I decided not to retard overnight, and to do two stretch and folds on the counter every 50 minutes a la Hamelman.   I also cut the total from around 4 pounds to 2.5 (is it still a miche?) And finally I moved around the times of the starter stages.   Instead of having the first tiny amount ferment overnight which I thought would just dry out since it was so small, I had the first stage go for 3 hours, and the second overnight.   So again.   This time the dough seemed a bit more manageable, but even when it would come together on a stretch and fold, it would seem to liquify immediately thereafter.   This is an 80% hydration loaf, and that's high, but I've made other formulas at 80% and something else seemed to be going on than high hydration.    Here is outcome number 2.   Not much better.  

but still really delicious and motivating me to figure out how to make this thing properly.    On my third attempt, I decided the main issue is that the starter was the culprit that was causing severe liquification of the dough.    This is a crazy starter.   You start out with a tiny amount and build up the flour by a factor of 40 over three stages.   It has a high percentage of whole grains which I thought might be the problem.   You also add such tiny amounts of rye and spelt in the first two elaborations that you end up asking yourself, why am I doing this?   So I decided that in the hands of an artist like Shiao Ping this might be doable but for a peasant like me, no way.   I decided to take my regular starter and build it up as I normally do in two stages, building up the flour by a factor of around 5 rather than 40 with white flour only leaving out the whole grains.   I compensated for this by adding the whole grains to the final dough and kept all the percentages the same as the original formula.   I felt that only by working with a starter that I understood could I have any chance of getting this bread made properly.   Here is the starter build and formula that I ended up using:

        First take half         Second    
  70%    10:15pm plus 9.5 hours plus 5 hours
Ripe Starter 132          
Rye 10   5      
White 68 100 84 100    
Water 54 67 61 46 56%  
Expansion         4.9  
Total / % used in final dough     296 52%  
  Final Starter        
WW 127 0     18%  
Spelt 64 0     9%  
Rye 19 3     3%  
White 405 95     70%  
Water 515 55     80%  
Salt 13       1.9%  
Starter   153     14%  
Total grams/Estimated pounds 1296 2.57        


This seemed a lot better behaved in the bowl coming together on the stretch and folds and not liquifying immediately thereafter.   Imagine my surprise when I tried to remove it from the bowl it was proofing in when it again flowed over the edges of the peel.   Again I quickly flipped up the overflow so the whole thing looked like a bialy and slid it into the oven without slashing (as if you can slash liquid.)   In the oven it expanded nicely and the sunken center filled out.   Again not a thing of beauty.   The crumb this time seemed more or less proper without the big caves of the first two at the top of the loaf.   But now I'm feeling tapped out.   I don't know where to go from here.   I don't understand the tendency of this dough to liquify at a moments notice.   Any ideas?   In other words - help!

The third try:

varda's picture

Yesterday I very assertively backed my car into a snowdrift and my long-suffering neighbor came out and helped dig me out, yet again.   (My husband came out in the middle of all this and dug too but that's his job so no more about that.)   Anyhow, a situation like this calls for bread, and I didn't want to make some pointy-headed thing that only a bread enthusiast would enjoy so I searched through Hamelman and (drum roll please) found his Golden Raisin Bread.  

Now who said good bread needs an open crumb?  (Ok.   No one.   I read the whole discussion.   Absolutely no one said that.)

(Oh.  My neighbor got the round one.)


varda's picture

First I should say that this bread is around as Russian as I am, which is maybe some.  Months ago, I bookmarked Lief's interpretaton of Breadnik's interpretation of Russian Coriander Rye.   This is my interpretation.   Original posts are here and here    I followed Lief in going with a purely levain version, and used the same ingredients (mostly) albeit in different proportions.   And also modified the times by a lot.   It's cooling on the counter now, so I don't know how it will taste, but the smell (as always with rye) is heavenly.   It's also a treat to cook with coriander, which fills the kitchen with a marvelous aroma when it's crushed.  This dough is very high hydration (95%) and fairly high proportion of rye (60%) but actually quite easy to work with.   Here is my formula and method:

Russian Coriander Rye baked on Jan 28, 2011      
Starter 67% starter     first feeding  second feeding           total  
starter seed 30        plus 10 hrs   plus 6 hrs  
KABF 18     18 15%
Dark Rye   30 70 100 85%
water 12 30 70 112  
total grams       230  
  Final dough                Starter            Percents
High gluten 150   15.0   23.5%
Dark Rye 350   83.5   61.6%
Spelt 105       14.9%
water 400   93.5   95%
total starter / flour in starter 192       14%
salt 15       2.1%
coriander 7        
honey 82        
molasses 51        
vegetable oil 40        
hydration of starter         95%
Estimated pounds of bread 1584   3.15    
Mix all ingredients but starter and salt     plus 20 min    
Add salt and starter     plus 1 hour    
S&F     plus 1 hour    
S&F and shape into boule, preheat DO to 500, place upside down in brotform     plus 45 min    
Spritz, slash and sprinkle with cracked coriander seeds.  Reduce heat to 450 and lower loaf into DO and put in oven with top     plus 15 min    
Reduce heat to 400     plus 15 min    
remove top     plus 35 min    

A few notes about this:   I don't really understand what dark rye is.   Is it  just another way to say whole rye, or actually a different grain?  I've never baked with this before.    I used Sir Lancelot for the high gluten flour.   I wonder if this is what made the dough so easy to work with, even with the high hydration and the high rye content.   I fermented the first build of the starter overnight, and then the second for 6 hours.   Four hours after the second elaboration it looked like this:  

This looked plenty fermented but it still had what I would term a fresh grassy smell.   Two hours later, the fresh smell was gone, but it hadn't really switched to a ripe sour one either.   So I probably could have let this go a little longer, but it did seem to have plenty of rising power.    I baked in a Dutch Oven which I don't usually do, not because the dough was so slack (it wasn't) but just because I was baking a boule, and it's a little easier to skip all the steaming and so forth.   Now I'm just waiting for breakfast.

And the crumb:

This is a very highly flavored bread.   The coriander alone makes you sit up and notice. I thought with 7 grams it would be hardly perceptible.  Crust is crunchy and overall bread texture is substantial but not heavy.    This is quite delicious and certainly a change from the ryes I've been making.    Next time I might decrease the sweeteners.   

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Today was another snowday, so I again canceled a variety of plans to stay home with my son.   Amazing how nicely baking bread fits into that routine.   I had already planned to bake, but had no idea how I was going to fit it in, since I always manage to be out of the house at the exact moment that some essential step has to happen.   No such worries today.   I made Hamelman's 5 grain sourdough for the first time, as well as yet another iteration on my own elusive sourdough.  Actually I made Hamelman's 5 minus 1 plus replacements sourdough.  Since I don't like sunflower seeds, I upped the flax seeds and oats.  I don't have cracked rye (or know what it is) and had just bought a tiny bag of wheat berries, having no idea what to do with them, so I threw them into a coffee grinder and gave them a whirl, and voila - cracked something.   The resulting bread is just awesomely tasty.   Only after I tasted it did I run to this site and search, and see how them as come before me have raved about it.   Absolutely delicious, and compared to what I've been trying to make lately, like a walk in the park.   What other jewels is Hamelman hiding up his sleeve?   Not that he has any duds as far as I can tell.  But some are better than others, and this is just amazing.  

and rye and white sourdoughs side by side:

varda's picture


I'm a simple person and I'm driven by simple hopes and desires.   So while I may drool over the pictures of impossibly gorgeous pastries that get posted with alarming regularity on this site, I have no inclination to emulate those bakers.   All I want is to master bread with essentially three ingredients:   flour, water, and salt.   And that's not so simple.  For the last several weeks I've been cranking out alarming quantities of the stuff and slowly tweaking the few parameters available when the ingredient list is so short: dough hydration, starter hydration, and percentage of flour in the starter.    (Oh and also mix of flour and proofing strategies.)    I finally put together a decent spreadsheet to help me with this tinkering.    And now I can just put in the hydrations, and percentage starter (and flour mix of course) and I'm off to the races.    While I started down this road with Hamelman's formulae, I find I'm unwilling to go back to that right now, as I find I prefer higher hydrations and starter percentages.  

The first loaf baked after 1.5 hours final proof.   The second which retarded overnight, had a bit more spring. 

Basic Sourdough bread baked on Jan 17, 18, 2011      
Starter 67% starter first feeding second feeding total  
starter seed 245   plus 3.5 hrs plus 12 hrs  
Heckers 138 50 45 233 94%
Hodgson's Mill Rye 2   5 7 3%
spelt 7     7 3%
water 98 35 32 165  
hydration       67%  
total grams       412  
  Final dough   Starter   percents
Bob's Red Mill White 500         Heckers 124    
Hodgson's Mill Rye 30                HM 3.7    
KA White whole wheat 70              spelt 3.7    
water 439   88   72%
total starter / flour in starter 219   132    
salt 13       1.8%
hydration of starter         67%
baker's % of starter         18%
Estimated pounds of bread     2.53    
Mix flour and water plus 30 minutes      
Mix salt and starter plus 50 minutes      
Stretch and fold plus 35 minutes      
Stretch and fold plus 65 minutes      
Cut and preshape plus 30 minutes      
Shape and place seam side up in brotforms.  Cover with plastic   Heat cup of water for 2 minutes in microwave.   Place one in microwave, other in back of refrigerator wrapped in a towel plus 45 minutes      
Turn oven to 500 w. stone plus 15 minutes      
Remove basket from microwave and place next to stove - put loaf pans plus towels in oven plus 30 minutes      
Turn heat down to 450 slash and place loaf in oven plus 15 minutes      
Remove steam pans plus 15 minutes      
Place loaf on rack          
After 19 hours remove second loaf from refrigerator, and preheat oven, stone, towels and bake as above.          

Second loaf: 

Slices from first loaf:


varda's picture

In trying to digest all the helpful advice I received from this list on managing fermenting, shaping, scoring, proper sourdough culture and so forth, I found myself in areas of Hamelman where I had never wandered before.   I looked with some amazement at the instructions for Three stage 90% Sourdough Rye.  This uses the Detmolder method of rye bread production.   What struck me as altogether improbable, is that you start with a teaspoon - yes that is .1 oz, or less than 3 grams - of ripe starter and build it up to a pound and a half (672g) over the course of around 24 hours, in three stages with each stage oriented to developing a different characteristic of the starter.   I admit, I wondered if this would work for a mortal baker such as myself, but I happened to have the necessary ingredients around (more or less) so I set off to see if an actual bread could be produced.   The instructions in Hamelman (page 201 in my version of Bread) are quite clear.   I followed his three stages carefully - and starting with a teaspoon of starter, produced a very pitted and expanded rye starter by the time it was ready to bake.   The final dough calls for medium rye, which I didn't have so I used 60% white rye, and 40% whole rye.   The instructions call for a bulk ferment time of 20 minutes, and final proof of around an hour.   I had to call off the latter after 40 minutes because it had almost tripled in size  was getting too big for my stone.   The instructions called for scoring with a dough docker, which I don't have, so instead I stippled with a skewer.   The dough also seemed to stipple itself, so it was very holey by the time it was ready to go into the oven.   Finally the house filled with an almost overwhelming scent of toasted rye.   And an improbable loaf is now resting on my counter soon to be wrapped up in linen and cut and tasted tomorrow. 

The stippling:

and profile:

and finally the crumb:

It's hard to assess this, since I've never actually eaten this type of bread before, and I don't know either what it's supposed to look like or what it should taste like.   But just as a lay opinion on the matter, and after only a couple of bites, I would say yum!  

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Over the last year I have been trying to make a Rye bread called Tzitzel, which I remember from a bakery in my home town - University City, Missouri.  The bakery is still there and still makes Tzitzel, but as I don't have much (any) reason to go back to U. City, I figured I'd better learn how to make it myself.  After many attempts, I finally felt that I managed to make a respectable Jewish Rye with a nice crust and flavor but it still didn't taste anything like the Tzitzel I remembered.   Recently I took advantage of the brief free shipping period at King Arthur, and ordered White Rye and Sir Lancelot flour, neither of which I'd baked with before.   I tried making Jewish Rye with these two flours instead of Hodgson's Mill Stone Ground Rye and King Arthur Bread Flour.   I started to feel I was onto something despite the fact that the white rye flavor was much too mild, and the loaves puffed up like a white flour wheat loaf, which is very un-Tzitzel-like.   Today I tried again with a rye sour made with 2/3 white rye and 1/3 Arrowhead Mills organic rye, which is a whole rye flour, but much less gritty than Hodgson's Mills.   This time, the shape (broad and squat) flavor and texture were much more on target.   So now I have one more thing to add to my long list of baking lessons that I've learned this year - the flour matters.   If I want to get any closer to the original Pratzel's tzitzel, I am going to have to find out what kind of flour they use, and that's that.


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Over the past few weeks I have been trying to "take it up a level."   I had hit the wall on getting properly shaped and slashed naturally leavened loaves.    LindyD's recent post on generating steam set off a lightbulb in my head.  The symptoms I have been trying to cure are cuts that open a little and then seal over, and a split side.   I had been convinced that this was caused by underproofing even though I was doing my best with the poke test, rise times and so on.   When I read her post I started to wonder if I was having trouble with steam.   I had been preheating a dry jelly roll pan on the base of the oven and pouring in cold water at the same time as loading the loaves.  This sets off a cloud of steam and then the water continues to boil for around 15 minutes before it evaporates completely so I thought I was all set.   But I do have a brand new gas oven and after reading Lindy's post, I began to suspect that it was efficiently venting out steam as fast as I could generate it.   After surfing around a bit, I found the following excellent comment in a post on side splitting   So I surfed around some more for steaming methods that didn't involve going out and buying rocks and I found the following: and I tried it and dramatic improvement.    But it involved a little too much mucking around with steaming hot towels so I experimented some more and came up with a similar, but what seemed to me like a simpler and safer method.   I placed some soaked towels into bread pans half filled with unheated tap water on each side of my stone half an hour before loading the loaves, and let them preheat with everything else.   By the time I loaded the loaves, I got hit in the face with a cloud of steam.   Then fifteen minutes later, I removed the bread pans (with a long tongs) and once again got hit in the face with a cloud of steam, so I figured that the oven had been steamy enough in the interim.    The bottom line is the cuts opened, and the sides did not.   In fact they opened too much.   I have overdone it.   Too much steam?   Something else?   By the way, this site is just fantastic.   I would still be baking out of Clayton using speed em up 70s methods if it hadn't been for all of you.

varda's picture

Awhile ago, I tried making Tunisian Flatbread from a sketchy set of instructions, and while the result was delicious it was also a total mess.  I got some extremely helpful comments in the forum, and decided to try again.   This is a lot prettier than last time.   And certainly a quick and easy bread to make if you haven't gotten around to planning the day before.   The loaves are a bit less than 8 inches in diameter and over an inch tall.   I'll serve with lamb this evening for dinner.


250g semolina flour

250g bread flour (I used King Arthur All Purpose)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp instant yeast

250 ml warm water

125 ml olive oil

egg yolk for glazing

sesame seeds

Mix flour, water, salt, olive oil, yeast until dough adheres and cleans the bowl - two to four minutes in a stand up mixer at high speed with a dough hook.   Let rise for around an hour until double.   Preheat oven to 400 deg F.  (Around 200 deg C)  Divide and shape into two disks on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.   Brush with egg yolk.   Sprinkle with sesame seeds.    Bake for 40 minutes.   (I turned down oven to 300 after 25 minutes.)    Other version of this type of bread used all white flour, milk instead of water, and an egg thrown in, but I wanted to try to preserve as much of the taste of my last try before moving on to other variations. 

varda's picture

The other day I stopped into a Whole Foods store in the hope that I could find some white rye.   I couldn't, in fact the person I spoke to had no idea what white rye was.  But there on the shelf were bags of King Arthur Italian Flour.   Wow!   No shipping.   But what to make?   I decided on Ciabatta.   Specifically Hamelman's Ciabatta with Poolish (p. 107 of Bread).   Only after I had mixed everything up did I remember that the Italian Flour bag had a note recommending less water for this flour than others - and I had even accidentally put in around an extra ounce of water.   So it was wet.   I just decided to go with it instead of adding more flour.   It was too wet to take out of the bowl to stretch and fold, so I used the in the bowl method.   Then I decided it was too wet to move it around too much so after the first rise, I poured it (yes poured) into a dutch oven and let it do the second rise there.   Then  baked with the top on for 30 minutes, and the top off for 25.   What did I get?    Well it looks a bit like a three pound muffin.  

with an extremely blistery top:

and the lightest feathery texture I've ever managed to produce.



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