The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


Jacob Lockcuff's picture
Jacob Lockcuff

I'm very ashamed to say I more than likely ruined a piece of bread tonight...on purpose...Just gotta get this off my chest. It's stressing me out!!

So I've been making an 86% hydration sourdough artisan bread every few days as of recently. It has turned out great and my family loves it, and I really feel like my technique has come along SO much. Things have just kept getting better- until tonight.

This afrernoon I made two loaves. All was great until the preshape. After it rested on the counter for the bench rest I went to shape it. I first shaped a round loaf and it turned out great. Straight to the fridge. Then came the rectangular loaf. It just turned into a wet, sticky mess no matter what I did. I finally got so mad I went to the flour cabinet, pulled out all purpose, dumped a big pile on the dough and started beating it everywhere on the counter and then just threw it in the basket. Into the fridge...

Clean up is going to be fun tomorrow morning...



MakingBreadBabies's picture

Making bread, great bread, takes some planning ahead and some dough babysitting. It's work worth doing, but sometimes you need bread fast. That's why I'm seeking the "minimum effective dose" for success. I heard this term coined in The 4 Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss. It's not a groundbreaking concept, but he revolves much of his life around its pursuit, which is intriguing. He wants to find the balance of the best you can do with the least amount of work.

So, that's my question for the bread veterans out there. What is the minimum effective dose for great artisan/hearth bread? There will be times when I am able to plan 2 days ahead and get a great loaf full of complexity and flavor. But sometimes I realize around lunch that I'd like to have bread by dinner. So, let's say 5 hours from concept to a loaf emerging from the oven. On those days, I also don't want to wait around and fold the bread 4 times every 20 minutes. So, I need it to be pretty hands off.

Pictured is my first attempt. I used commercial yeast (of course) but also added unfed starter to the dough, not for the rising properties, but for flavor. I kept the hydration pretty high, since I wanted that hearth, open-crumb bread just not the long autolyse that goes with it. I also used AP flour because I wanted the yeast to be able to blow it up quickly. Those choices plus my desire not to clean a mixer, meant I didn't quite get the gluten development I was after by just hand kneading. Since I was going for speed, I proofed warm, which made it a bit hard to work with but not impossible with an assertive bench scraper.  I think I can tweak those variables. It had good texture and decent crumb, and while not flavorless, I feel I can do better.

I'm considering America's Test Kitchen alternatives to Jim Lahey's bread. They add 1 tbl of distilled vinegar (for acetic acid) and replace 6 tbl of water with lager (for complexity). They do the long autolyse with a small amount of yeast. But I'm thinking to myself, if I'm adding the flavor in those forms, why not just use commercial yeast and save time? Wondering if anybody has tried this or has other tips on getting a loaf out quick.

I know there are folks who have already tread this path with wisdom to share!

(Not sure how to include an additional shot of the interior without separately hosting the image.)

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Last Sunday I held my third annual Bread Tasting Open House. This year I focused on a couple of areas - 100% rye flour breads, and a series of sourdoughs using different flours. For the latter the formula / recipe / technique was the same for all six of the breads; the only variation was that 25% of the flour was different. The six were:

  1. Amaranth flour
  2. Corn flour (whole corn flour, not the UK version or North American corn starch)
  3. Durum flour (re-milled from semolina)
  4. Kamut flour (stone ground whole Kamut)
  5. Rye flour (whole, stone ground)
  6. Teff flour

The general formula was:

  • Bread flour - 75%
  • Other flour - 25%
  • Water - 72%
  • Starter (100 hydration) - 19%
  • Salt - 2%

With the starter, the overall hydration was 74%. Technique was to mix flours, water and starter and let sit for an hour, then mix in the salt (by hand and with very little mixing). All doughs fermented at room temperature for around 5 hours with 3 or 4 stretch and folds over the first couple of hours. The windowpanes on all of them were excellent - very strong and stretchy. Of all of them, the teff dough was the softest and the corn dough the silkiest. All doughs were then put in the fridge overnight and shaped / proofed in the morning.

The test batch I made first was proofed in floured oval bannetons, then transferred to peels and into the oven on the hot stones (pre-heated to 475F). The teff loaf was almost impossible - it was so soft and sticky that as soon as it was turned out onto the peel it spread into a puddle and stuck. Transferring it to the stones was very difficult and resulted in a bizarre shape!

All had good oven spring, but the corn flour loaf was the winner in this category - it nearly exploded in the oven! The rye loaf had much less spring than the others and the scores didn't open much (although when I made a second batch it had much better spring and burst).

Crumb on all of them was soft and moist, and quite open. The corn flour loaf had large holes and very moist crumb. The rye had a much closer crumb. The amaranth and teff had the most interesting aroma, with a sort of chocolatey sweetness from the teff and a lovely 'fresh hay' scent from the amaranth.

The results of the tasting were a bit surprising, actually. The corn flour loaf was the clear winner with the teff in second place and Kamut in third. The loaf made with 25% durum flour came in last! I asked people to vote for their favourite and their second favourite. Conversations indicated that people felt most strongly about both the amaranth and teff (they either really liked one or the other, or really didn't like it).

It was an interesting experiment! Here are some of the pictures:

25% Amaranth flour:

25% Corn Flour:

25% Durum flour:

25% Kamut flour:

Somehow I missed getting pictures of the Kamut loaf!

25% Rye flour:

25% Teff flour:

The Teff flour loaf was the mis-shapen one, so no picture of the whole loaf. :) When I made these breads for the actual bread tasting I baked the softest ones in the perforated Italian bread pans which made life a lot easier. These loaves not only looked lovely (crust and slashing was nice on all of them) but were easier to make more uniform slices. This photo shows (from top left to bottom right) two each of the Durum, Kamut, Rye and Teff loaves.

I just made a batch of the 25% Corn Sourdough for customers who ordered it after the bread tasting, and it turned out quite lovely!


MakingBreadBabies's picture

So, you've seen some sexy artisan bread pics...maybe on Instagram or Pinterest and you realize the loaves were all made by ordinary folks. You think, "Hey, that looks good. I want to make some bread, too." Here's my perspective on how you can get started with the least amount of pain. I'll tell you right now, it's not how I got started, which is why I know exactly what I'm talking about. I flew too close to the sun too fast, and it cost me quite a bit of angst, flour, and sanity. Here's the easier way for those interested in the hearth-style/artisan breads.

1. Make Jim Lahey's bread.  Method and recipe found here:

Start with this recipe because it requires very little knowledge, no buying of cookbooks, zero dough babysitting, and pretty much no specialty equipment (unless you don't have a Dutch oven). As simple as that is, it's still better than 99% of bread you can buy at a store.

Once you've made this bread, one of two things will happen. 1) Your bread-making soul will be fulfilled and you'll be happy to continue making this very easy and decent recipe for the rest of your days. Your friends will coo and bask in your baking glory, and you'll enjoy a life of lovely bread without the indentured servitude that comes with more involved methods. You will live happily ever after. Amen. 2) This will create an itch. You'll start to get curious about bread. Although this bread is tasty, you'll wonder how you can make it more complex, how you can add and alter things. You'll decide this is a hobby you want to dive into a little bit further and invest some time and research.

2. Read Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish. (You can get this from some libraries. I got mine at a discount used on Amazon.) I have consumed many bread books, but this is the one I recommend for taking the next step. That's because Forkish is writing for the home baker and he gives you a lot of fundamental information that will help you with your baking without going into too much detail.  (You probably aren't interested on reading a treatise about the 20 different styles of commercial dough mixers at this point.) There are many other fine books out there (I didn't start with this one though I wish I had). But this one has the right level of detail and his recipes are charted beautifully. If you don't yet have one, get a digital scale that weighs in grams. You still don't need any specialty bread equipment at this stage.

You might ask yourself, do I need a book at all? I have the vast knowledge of the internet. To that, I would answer a resounding yes. Blogs and community information is great and I use it all the time (I mean, look where I am writing this)! But in the beginning, the authority of a professional baker writing for the home baker is helpful and more efficient/effective than searching the internet for nuggets of information. Can it be done without books? Absolutely. But this book helped me sift through the information and develop a systematic understanding.

3. (optional). If you're getting into this thing, now's the time you may want to invest in some additional equipment, which is all very cost effective. This includes a lame and a banneton.  These items are really nice, particularly for beautifying your loaves. Just be sure your banneton size fits your cooking vessel. Neither the lame nor banneton is absolutely necessary. You can use a bowl instead of a banneton (which you've probably been doing up to now) and a sharp knife or razor in lieu of a lame. Or you can continue to go au natural as suggested by both Lahey and Forkish and just let the bread split however it wants.

4. Here is where things get interesting. If you've made it this far and you're interested in more knowledge, consider picking up Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. He will take you into even further detail about the bread baking process and offer lots of recipes for classic breads, like brioche. He also gives you some really great information on how to work with other flours like rye. If you're willing to read this one, you've graduated from hobbyist to enthusiast. Congratulations! Another book that you might consider because it goes more broadly than artisan breads and because it offers you some good information about transforming recipes and making them modular is Barenbaum's Bread Bible. I have that one, but I have to admit, I've yet to use it. I do enjoy that she helps you categorize the different types of bread, which my analytical nature really enjoys. However, I've yet to put information from that book into practice.

There are many other great texts that get mentioned on this site a lot. I'd be very interested to hear what other books folks have found useful. Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day gets frequent mention, but I haven't read it so cannot comment.

Please add your knowledge to this list.  Thanks!

P.S. I started with Tartine. This was very aggravating for me. It wasn't until I read FWSY that I was able to make a gorgeous Tartine loaf. The principles explained in that book helped me to troubleshoot and understand where I was going wrong. Tartine does also have some fundamental information, but it wasn't quite enough to get me over the hump. Tartine loaves are lovely, so not a knock on the book, just my ability to use it as a newbie.

Subjects: Best artisan bread books. Which bread books to buy. How to start making bread.

MakingBreadBabies's picture

After making multiple Tartine loaves, I decided to add some commercial yeast as insurance and to get a better crumb (wish I had taken a pic of the inside). This was definitely the best crumb bread I've made yet.

For a one-loaf recipe (500g flour), I dissolved 1/8 tsp commercial yeast into the 25g of water.  I added this yeast-water with the salt after autolyse. 3.5 hour bulk ferment and retarded final rise in fridge overnight.

Worked out amazing and still had the same flavor.

sadkitchenkid's picture

Ah third post in three days. Existential crisis? No. 

Dough ingredients: (not in grams because this isn't a very technical dough)

3 cups flour

3 tsp salt

1 tbs dry active yeast

5 tbsp flavorless oil

1 cup water

 set aside: 4 tbsp of molasses mixed with 4tbsp water, 1/4 cup sesame seeds


Combine dough ingredients together to form a firm non sticky dough, let rise in bowl for one hour. After rising, punch down and leave for another thirty minutes, then cut into 6 equal parts. roll into long thin logs, fold in half a twist braid together and seal the ends to form rings. Place the diluted molasses and sesame into two different shallow bowls and then dip each ring into the molasses, giving it a thin thorough coating, then dip into the sesame seeds on both sides so the entire surface is covered. Place on a baking sheet and leave some space between each ring. Let rise for an hour and bake in a 400F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden.






rushyama's picture

Hello, TFL'ers!

One of my new year's goals was to take a stab at sourdough baguettes and I finally had the chance to give it a try. I followed the recipe / method here with a few modifications:

  • Substituted 10% red fife flour
  • Used a mix of AP and bread flour for the white flour
  • Increased the water by about 10%
  • Autolysed the flour and water overnight in the fridge (per TXFarmer's 36-hour baguettes method)
  • Shaped the baguettes like the Hamelman demonstration here (starts around 2'30")
  • Put the shaped baguettes in the fridge for the last 30 minutes of the second proof (to make scoring a little easier)
  • Baked directly on a baking stone with steam

Overall, I'm quite happy with how they turned out. They're not top-level artisan baguettes but honestly they taste better than most of what I can find in the supermarket. The crumb was quite open considering the relatively low hydration (sorry, no crumb shot as they were gobbled up for family dinner; I'll have to be faster next time). I really liked how approachable this method was and I think I can use this recipe as a basis for more experimentation. Next time I'll probably increase the hydration a tad more and maybe add some seeds.






sadkitchenkid's picture

I had some thick chocolate ganache from my croissant batch, and I decided to improvise a chocolate babka recipe. I know authentic babka dough is very rich, almost like a brioche, and though this recipe does have eggs and butter, it is not at dense as traditional babka. This recipe makes a very very airy soft bread, and not to toot my own horn, this is the best babka I've ever tasted. What the dough lacks in richness, the chocolate filling makes up for 100%.


160g bread flour

160g all purpose flower

2/3 cup room temperature water

1 packet of rapid rise yeast (first time using rapid rise...wild stuff)

2 tbsp sugar

3 tsp salt

6 tbsp room temperature butter 

2 whole eggs


1 cup thick chocolate ganache (about 2 cups chocolate chips to 2/3 cup heavy cream)

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp corn starch

1 tsp orange zest (optional)

^these get mixed together

seperate: 1/4 cup chocolate chips


It's also important that you play Leonard Cohen's entire discography while you make this. Adds to the texture.


that cross section shot oh yeah                     after proofing!

Mix the water, flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and eggs together, then knead into a somewhat smooth kind of sticky ball (about three minutes of kneading) then incorporate the butter and knead in for about ten minutes until the dough stops sticking to your surface and forms a smooth ball. Sidenote: I realized that I write instructions under the assumption that everyone kneads their doughs by hand, if you have a mixer do those two steps in there. Place the dough in a bowl and let rise for two hours. I got away with one hour cause with the rapid rise yeast, the dough had doubled three times (punched down each time) within one hour. I'm telling you, it's nuts. Take the dough out onto your counter, press down the air bubbles and leave on the counter for about ten minutes to let the dough relax. Then roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/8inch thickness. I didn't measure the sides but it should be somewhere around 12x30''. Take the chocolate mixture and spread evenly across the surface of the dough covering all of it (all of it don't leave a gap for the seam). The corn starch mixed in there is to prevent the chocolate from melting out. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips and roll the dough towards you like you would a cinnamon roll. You should have a 30inch-ish long log, seam side down. Then cut the log in half length-wise using a sharp knife or a good pizza cutter, to expose the layers within. Twist braid the two logs together, it can be messy as heck but all that matters is the exposed layers are facing up. Then fold the twist in half and twist braid again together. Place in a greased loaf pan and let rise until doubled in size. You can brush on some egg wash here, but I didn't. Bake in a 360F oven for twenty minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center doesn't come out with dough on it. 

Take it out of the oven, and no matter how uneven your twists were, as long as the layers are facing up, it will look beautiful.


Super light, feathery texture. The chocolate filling is so decadent and compliments the not very sweet bread beautifully without being overpowering! I hope you guys try and enjoy this slightly healthier take on babka bread. Goodnight!

abbyn0rmal's picture

 Me and my friend both worked in leadership in a big box store- she began talking about opening a bakery and soon it became the topic of most of our discussions. Id never made much that didnt come out of a box and she was a hardcore scratchmade hobbyist. Fast forward a year later, her husband died unexpectedly leaving her with two young kids. It was a hard time for her, and she left the big box world to try and recover. She began texting me several months later, asking me if I would be interested in helping her start up a bakery. I said yes, and we opened in November of last year. Turns out Im pretty decent at baking. Many moons ago, Id been to a bakery in NY where they made all these delicious breads and I could try them all. It made an impression on me and once we got going with our 3k square feet - I realized that, more than brownies, cookies and pies...I wanted to figure out bread. My friend, the owner of the bakery, immediately said YES. So, dont laugh. I bought some books and began to experiment at home. My original arsenal was Peter Reinharts Artisan Breads Everyday. This blog is my journey. I have no seasoned bread baker to coach me - I just bake stuff and hope everyone is being honest with me. My hope is to post here and get constructive criticism - I made croissants the other day for the first time and they turned out decent. From now on there will be pics and suggestions are MORE than welcome!!

Here's a pic of my first french bread. 

stu currie's picture
stu currie

this was my attempt at fwsy white loaf with 80% biga. The taste and crumb are wonderful, I'm just so disappointed with the oven spring. The loaf on the left was proved in an ova, banneton and just flattened out horribly, the baguette in the middle was lovely so I ate most of that before I remembered to take pictures. The loaf on the right, I did in a round banneton. Apart from the rise on it I'm very happy. I will try again but because it's so wet, I may just continue with the white bread with poolish as my go to recipe.

like I said, no complaints about the bake apart from how slack the dough was so it didn't hold its shape, especially the monstrosity on the left.


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