The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


pmccool's picture

Super Bowl parties are a great excuse for trying new recipes.  They also require lots of snack foods.  So, when I was asked to bring some chips, I happily agreed.  I was a good guest and took exactly what the hostess requested and then, well, then I improvised a little.


My wife is out of town for a week (hence no pictures with the post, since she has the camera with her), which left me with some additional time to putter around.  It occurred to me that I hadn't made pretzels for years and that they would be just the ticket for the party.  After rummaging around through cookbooks and recipe files, I came up with one recipe for whole-wheat crisp pretzels (in a Sunset publication, I think) and another for soft pretzels from the King Arthur 200th Anniversary cook book.  The soft pretzel recipe included directions for boiling the pretzels in a baking soda and water solution prior to baking.  Remembering the threads here about boiling versus not boiling and lye vs. baking soda, it seemed like a good opportunity to try the technique.


The whole-wheat version was almost entirely whole-wheat flour and water, with minimal amounts of yeast, honey, shortening and salt.  The recipe measurements were volumetric, but the scales still got a workout when I portioned out the dough for the pretzels.  They were very simple to make; just mix everything together, let ferment, scale, shape, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with salt and bake.  At the same time, they were very tedious--the recipe yields 8 dozen small (about 2-2.5 inch) pretzels.  If nothing else, all that practice certainly improved my shaping technique.  The first couple of dozen that I made had a certain Impressionistic quality.  You could tell that they were pretzels, but they were anything but uniform.  I perservered, though, and slowly got better and, just as slowly, got finished.  They baked to a pleasing shade of brown.  The directions called for piling them onto a couple of clean baking sheets and putting them back into the (turned off) oven to dry for at least 2-3 hours, using the oven's residual heat to drive off the moisture.  That didn't work quite so well as promised.  The next morning they were not nearly crisp but way past soft and not at all enjoyable.  So, I used the oven's drying cycle for the first time ever.  After a couple of hours of 180F temperature with the convection fan running and the door propped open slightly, they were bone dry and crisp as could be.


The soft pretzels from the KA recipe were pretty much the same as other soft pretzels that I have made, except for the boiling-in-soda-and-water step.  Boiling affects both the texture and the flavor.  The finished pretzel is moister than those that have not been boiled and, I think, somewhat chewier.  I'm a bit stumped about how to describe the flavor change.  There is something else besides the "typical" pretzel flavor.  Not bitterness, exactly.  Astringent, perhaps?  It's a subtle difference, but noticeable.  I should probably have baked one or two dry, for comparison purposes.  One of the people at the party asked if they had been boiled, but we were interrupted and I didn't get to ask her what it was about them that triggered her question.


Both varieties were a hit with the adults and the kids.  And if the kids are eating something that is almost entirely whole-wheat and liking it, it must be good.

Floydm's picture

I've been absent from the site for the past week or so for a number of reasons. First we were out of town at a place with a not terribly good internet connection. Then we got back and the whole family got leveled by a nasty cold. We're finally recovering, but I still can't taste much of anything. Even the tablespoon of Sriracha I put in my coconut chicken soup last night was hard to taste.

To top it all off, I accepted a new job this week. Begining in March, I am going to work for Mercy Corps, a company that does good work all over the globe. Disaster relief, fighting poverty, microfinance, truly a noble company that works hard to help the least fortunate and forgotten. I'm honored to have a chance to use my technical skills to make a difference in the world.

What does that mean for The Fresh Loaf? That means that in February I'll try to spend a couple of days getting the upgrades that I've mentioned recently done and get the site to a better place. It probably means that in March, at least while I'm ramping up at the new job, I'll be less active here. I'm certainly not abandoning the site, but I may not be able to spend as much time during the week working on this site and responding to questions as I typically do. The community has been doing a great job keeping discussion going here and helping each other out (hats off in particular to JMonkey, who has been particularly helpful... mountaindog has made some great posts too). I hope we'll be able to keep that kind of momentum and community spirit going here even if I disappear for a few weeks.

Wayne's picture

Going through my bread book library last night and discovered that I had two Laurel's Kitchen books.  If anyone out there needs one,  you can have one of mine for the cost of charge for the book.  Seem's like someone was looking for a copy awhile back. If you are interested,  you can email me at

 Think the cost of shipping would be around 4 bucks.


beanfromex's picture

One of the grocery stores here in southern mexico has just brought in REAL hershey's chips in milk and semi sweet.

I thought this was an excellent time to try the Silpat (tm) cookie sheet liners I received from my sister for christmas. I had heard of Martha Stewart endorsing them along with several others,

My oven here is gas and very unstable when it comings to holding a temperature without fluctuating. The end result in cookies always seemed to be a slightly to moderately scorched bottom.

The result, no scorching but a stange consistency. Slightly dry, and almost crumbley as opposed to soft and chewy. I took the recipe right off the package, so the results should have been the same.

 I am hoping it was something to do with the flour, hope in this case NOT being the "thing of feathers" but the desire that my sister did not waste her money buying me something I do not like.

The bread news in Tabasco, is that it is almost non existant.  I only baked a couple of times in January. 

I tried a "beer bread" recipe...absolutely ghastly. I expected something not quite "bread like" as per my definition. but the end results were so far below my expectations that I considered the entire experiment a waste of time.  A dinner party guest had spoken about this procedure...different strokes for different bakers I guess....

One of the friends I introduce to the NYT methods ended up buying a fish poacher to make her bread in. I did not see her first results, but she was happy with it. She wanted a long loaf so the fish poacher was perfect. Though the price of a cheap enamel from the market is 20 US and she spent 90 US in the expensive anchor store here.  

That is all for now,

Hasta luego. 


Srishti's picture


This week I made some 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Nut & Seed Torpedoes with walnuts, hazelnuts, flax, sesame & pumpkin seeds:

and Some Sourdough Whole Wheat bagels

I don't think I'd ever like the taste of non-sourdough bagels anymore!!! :)

JMonkey's picture

Now, I'll grant you, whole wheat soybean bread garnished with sunflower seeds sounds like a parody of something you might find in The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. And, in fact, you won't find it there.

Well, not with the sunflower seeds, anyway. The original recipe calls for sesame oil and sesame seeds. My daughter's preschool doesn't allow peanuts, sesame or tree nuts (one of her friends there is deathly allergic), so I had to go with sunflower seeds. Yes, it sounds like 70's health-food hell, but truly -- I kid you not -- this sandwich bread is delicious. The flavor is very warm and it keeps for a long, long time.

I love The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. Her book taught me how to make light whole-wheat bread; without it, I'd still be churning out high-fiber doorstops. But that doesn't mean I don't think her recipes can't be improved. She's a bit light with the salt (in grams, at least -- the volumetric measurements are on the money), for instance, so I generally add a tad more to bring it up to the 1.8 to 2 percent range, and I almost always add a pre-ferement of some sort.

One other thing to remember -- if you're using cups, Laurel has a very heavy hand. Forget fluffing up the flour and spooning it in the cup. Dig deep and let it settle.

Here's how I made this bread:

The Night Before

Take 3/4 cup or 150 g raw soybeans (roughly 2 cups cooked) and cook them overnight in a slow cooker in plenty of water. If you're brave, let them simmer in a big pot with lots of water overnight -- I'm not that brave. In the morning, mash up the soybeans well.

Mix 2.5 cups or 375 g whole wheat flour with a pinch of instant yeast and 1.25 cups or 280 g water. Cover and let it ferment for 10-14 hours. By morning it should be full of bubbles.

The Next Day

  • 2.5 cups or 375 g whole wheat flour
  • 2.5 tsp or 17 g salt
  • 1.5 tsp instant yeast
  • 3 Tbs honey
  • 1.25 cups or 280 g water
  • 1/4 cup of sesame or other oil (I used canola)
  • 2 Tbs lightly toasted sesame seeds (I used raw sunflower seeds)

    Break up the pre-ferment into a dozen pieces and mix it with all the other ingredients except for the seeds and the soybeans. Knead the dough until you can stretch a piece of it into a thin translucent sheet without tearing. This should take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, or 300 to 600 strokes. Once the dough is nearly fully kneaded, flatten the dough and spread half of the soy pulp on top. Fold the dough up, flatten again, and spread out the other half. Knead until all the pulp is well incorporated. Then, form the dough into a ball, put it in a bowl, cover it and let it rise. When it's ready, you'll be able to poke it with a wet finger and the dough will either not spring back, or will do so very slowly. Divide the dough, form two loaves, roll the loaves in the sunflower seeds and place into greased pans. Cover and let them rise until they crest above the edge of the pans. Slash the loaves as you like, and then bake at 350 (with steam, if you like) for about 50 minutes. NOTE: Laurel directs readers to do two bulk rises and then shape. Since you've got a pre-ferment, I don't think another bulk rise will do much for the bread, but feel free to experiment.

    Soybean bread wasn't the only thing I made this weekend, however. I also attempted a sourdough pizza using the no-knead technique. The dough was 1/3 whole wheat, 1/3 white bread flour and 1/3 semolina, with salt and olive oil. It was pretty wet -- about 72 percent hydration -- and had about 15% of the flour (whole wheat) in the starter. I let it sit, unkneaded for about 12 hours, folded it, and then put it in the fridge for the afternoon.

    Here's the first pizza. Turned out less than OK. Crust was chewy, not crispy, and the flavor was far too sour. The second pizza? Let me just say I'll never forget to re-flour my peel when making two pizzas EVER AGAIN. I had to set the oven on "clean" the mess was so awful, and, in the process of incinerating the mass of cheese, dough and tomato sauce that remained cemented to the oven floor, it set off my smoke alarm at 3am.

    I also tried to get the no-knead thing right for whole wheat: All whole wheat flour, 85% hydration, 1.8% salt, 15% starter innoculation. 12 hour rest, fold, shape, place in a well-floured (but not well floured enough) banneton and proof for 3.5 hours at 82 degrees F. Bake in a cloche, hot.

    Behold! The super sour pancake!

    But I wasn't finished. I still had about 1 cup of starter left over, and didn't want to throw it away. So I decided to make Sourdough Blueberry Muffins. The only changes I made to the recipe behind the link were to use a whole wheat starter, use whole wheat pastry flour and add 1/4 cup milk to get the right consistency. Not bad at all! Very light and not super-sweet with a simlar sourdough undertone to the sourdough waffles I made the week before. So the weekend turned out ... about 50%. Which I'll take -- maybe next week i'll get the no-knead whole wheat sourdough right. Sigh.

    Here's the muffins.
  • Floydm's picture

    This was the best I could come up with:

    sourdough pan loaf

    A loaf of sourdough sandwich bread, slightly gummy and poorly shaped but edible.

    I am humbled. Baking on foreign soil is very difficult.

    Back to my home kitchen this weekend.

    Floydm's picture

    Hmmm... yes, well... baking on the road seemed like a good idea.

    My starter made it fine, but I guess I didn't really think about how many little things I take for granted in my home kitchen. Yes, I knew I was going to be without a baking stone or my lame, but those were the least of my problems. Not being able to find a warm enough spot in the house for the loaves to rise enough set me back a bit. Not being able to find semolina flour or regular corn meal (only course ground) didn't help either, and I was unwilling to damage someone else's iron skillet to make the necessary steam, so the crust was going to suffer. But it was the oven that set me back the most. Well, that and the smoke detector, which screamed like a banshee as soon as I opened the door to put the bread in the oven (I guess they don't turn their oven up to the max as often as I do). In the end, the bread got tossed out. The bread may have been salvageable, but after airing out the house for 20 minutes to get the smoke detector to stop I wasn't in the mood.

    I'm chastened. If I try to bake again this week I'll bake something simpler in a loaf pan.

    mountaindog's picture

    This weekend I made the Thom Leonard boule again (actually 2 smaller boules), but this time made a darker loaf where 30% of the total flour was whole wheat and a little rye. I imagine this combo of flour is more in line with what a Poilane loaf is like. My husband called me from Paris the other day to report on the Poilane loaf he tasted while there, saying it was not really a dark whole wheat bread, rather the crumb was a medium to light color, with even, small to medium holes, not huge holes. He of course diplomatically told me that he likes my bread better, and does not see what the Poilane fuss is about :-)

    This week's batch of 30% whole wheat Leonard boules came out very flavorful and the crumb was very light with a nice amount of more even-sized holes, the crust was nice and crispy and chewy. I used my white 100% hydration starter rather than the rye I usually use. The best experiment with this batch is that I used white rice flour to dust my bannetons with, as Merrybaker suggested a while back - what a difference! The proofed loaves slid right out using very little flour, so my crusts were nice and brown - thanks Merrybaker for the tip!

    I also made the Pane Siciliano from BBA but using my white 100% hydration sourdough starter rather than yeast, which demegrad inspired me to do. I was worried it would not rise well because I actually used very little starter to make the pate fermente, only about 30 g or so - that was all I had on hand after making the levain for the Leonard loaves. I was suprised to see the pate fermente rise very quickly, so I guess it liked all the extra food. For the final dough, I made it very wet and slack, and I used demegrad's shaping instructions which worked well. They came out very good - great crispy crust, nice semolina flavor, and not at all sour but you can taste something there from the starter. This one will definitley go on my rotation of favorite bread recipes.

    The flavors of these two breads are a nice contrast to each other. The two Leonard boules are on the left/back - note the lack of excess flour this time on the crust thanks to the rice flour. In front are two of the Pane Siciliano. My Siciliano crust, although nicely blistered and crisp, is not as shiny as others who made this. I think because my dough was so wet, I had flour on the counter to shape it, and some remained on the crust, dulling it a little despite spraying lightly with olive oil before proofing. No matter, it tastes great and still looks nice - makes a great gift.

    Here is a shot of the crumb for Pane Siciliano.


    Also, I had mentioned awhile back about my neat bluestone oven setup that I really like, here is a shot (yes, my oven really is that frightfully dirty, guess it's time to clean it). These stones cost me $6 each at my local stoneyard that sells native Catskill bluestone, and they live in the oven, since they work well in evening out the heat for anything I may be cooking in there. I notice my breads are all browning much more evenly all around than before I had these in place, but this may not be worth the effort or make much difference for other bakers, depending on what their ovens are like.

    All in all a good weekend of baking...practice makes each batch come out better.

    Floydm's picture

    We're housesitting for my parents up on Puget Sound for the next few days. Before leaving, I fed the pets, watered the plants, and, of course, fed the starter. While doing so it dawned on me that I could take a pinch along and try baking something up here; homemade sourdough would go great with the fresh seafood (like the clams we picked up on the way up). I figure if the pioneers could keep a starter culture alive for weeks on a wagon train, I could keep one alive for four hours on the interstate, eh?

    It'll be interesting to bake in another kitchen. No baking stone, no scale, an unfamiliar oven. I'll definitely blog the results.


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