The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


belle's picture

Hi friends..


Well - I purchased the starter from  I was very faithful feeding it daily for about 2 weeks.  Then it went to once a week..Then - hurricane Irene hit CT..I lost power for 4 days.  I now have power and the refridgerator is humming along ...Here are my questions:

1.  Is the starter still alive?

2.  What if there is about 1/4 inch of water on top?

3.  How often should I be feeding it?

Anything else I need to be aware of?

Thanks you brilliant people...I am always in awe of what you are creating..

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

We're packing for our holiday in Wales, and the prospect of having 10 days of Chorleywood bread from the local shop let my wife say:

Juergen, You'll bake the bread, won't you!


This will be my first holiday to take electronic scales, thermometer, dough knife, scoring knife, silicon baking sheets ...

Did I forget anything?



pmccool's picture

Saturday, August 20, was a busy day in the kitchen.  And a bit more daunting than normal.  Friends had invited us to dinner that evening and asked if I would bring some bread.  When I asked what they would like, the answer was “something that would go well with snoek paté.”  Did I mention that Marthinius had previously been executive chef and partner in an up-scale restaurant?  And did I also mention that I’ve never had my baking critiqued by a chef whose training is in classic French cuisine?  Hence the daunting.

Well.  A challenge.  Bread to go with snoek paté.  Whatever that might turn out to be. 

I wound up choosing two breads: Reinhardt’s pain a l’ancienne and a pain de compagne.  Both French in origin or influence.  Neither one required complex techniques but each offered layers of flavour from levains or long ferments; one somewhat more ethereal and one more hearty.  (Hedging, don’t you know.)  And each being something that was started the previous evening with the final dough preparation (the pain de compagne) or shaping and baking (the pain a l’ancienne) on Saturday.  Because each was at different stages of readiness Saturday morning, it also gave me better opportunity to manage oven timing without a train wreck between two different breads that had to be baked at the exact same time.

And, since we were also invited to a braai (barbecue) on Sunday afternoon, I followed those with Portugese Sweet Bread using Mark Sinclair’s formula.

The breads, happily, proceeded without a hitch.  Just as happily, temperatures were starting to moderate; enough that the house temperature was in the low to mid-60s instead of the 50s.  I still spiked the final pain de compagne dough with about a half-teaspoon of yeast as insurance and used a make-shift proofer for the bulk ferment.

Handling the pain a l’ancienne dough is, except for temperature, not unlike handling taffy or melted mozzarella cheese.  It is so wet that it has very little internal support and wants to stick to everything.  Nevertheless, I was able to get it divided and “shaped” as per instructions.  One or two were rather raggedy in appearance, so they didn’t make the trip to dinner that evening.  Which is not to say that they weren’t eaten.  In spite of knowing how difficult it is to slash such wet dough, I made the attempt.  The slashes were not a thing of beauty but they did serve a purpose.  You can see in the photo that the greatest expansion occurred at the slash locations.  Rather than repeatedly opening the oven for steaming by spritzing, I relied on pouring boiling water into a preheated pan in the oven to generate steam.  The oven in this house only heats up to 230C, which is a bit less than I needed, so I relied on the convection setting to boost the, um, “effective” temperature.  While I would have liked to have a prettier bread, this gave me a baguette-like bread with great flavour but without the technical demands of producing a classic baguette.  I’ve tried but my present setup just doesn’t permit me to hit that target even if my technique is bang on, which it frequently is not.

The pain de compagne is more familiar to me and went very smoothly.  The only glitch was my being a bit impatient about getting it into the oven.  I could have waited another 20-30 minutes at those temperatures and avoided a couple of small blowouts.  Other than that, some very tasty bread.

The Portugese Sweet Bread is lovely stuff.  The dough is easy to handle and absolutely silky compared to the whole-grain lean breads that I usually make.  I have no complaints with the process or the finished bread.

Eventually it was time for dinner, the moment of truth.  Marthinius made the snoek paté with snoek that he had smoked at home.  I don’t know entirely what was in it (mayonnaise? minced celery? other?) but my wife, who is ordinarily not a lover of things involving fish, thought it was absolutely wonderful.  I concurred.  After asking me to describe each of the breads and then sampling each, Marthinius decided that he liked both (whew!) but preferred the pain a l’ancienne with the paté.  I think the complex play of flavours appealed to him.

There were two main courses.  One was a deboned haunch of springbok, larded with garlic cloves, lightly smoked, then wrapped with bacon and finished in a slow oven.  The other was chicken breasts stuffed with feta cheese and spinach.  Both were excellent.  They were accompanied by baby corn, roasted sweet potatoes, and a pilaf.  Dessert was a vinegar pudding, as it is called by the Afrikaners.  Those from a British background would probably call it a nutmeg pudding.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal and evening.

The weather on Sunday was absolutely gorgeous.  There was plenty of warm sun and a cool breeze.  With chicken, steak and boerwors on the braai, delicious side dishes, and lots of conversation, it made for a marvellous afternoon. 

We are definitely happy about moving back to the States soon but we will miss times like these with friends like these. 

pmccool's picture

Although there would be no way for you to know it, I have been baking.  It’s the blogging bit that has suffered in recent weeks.  This will be the first step in addressing the shortfall.

We are on the downhill run toward moving from South Africa back to the United States.  My wife will return in mid-September and I will follow in mid-October.  Two years looked like a long time when we first arrived.  In retrospect, it seems to have passed by very quickly.  We have seen and sampled much of South Africa, with a few forays into neighbouring countries, but there is much that remains on our list of things to see or do. 

Coincidentally, getting ready to leave means saying goodbye—quite often, as it turns out.  We have received a number of invitations to dinner with friends recently, with more to come.  Those often include a request: “Could Paul bring some bread?”  (Lest this seem one-sided, let the record show that my wife is frequently asked to bring a dessert, or “pudding” in the local idiom.)

On the weekend of August 13-14, baking had two objectives.  The first was a vollkornbrot for local friends, one originally from the Netherlands.  The second was a sandwich loaf and honey whole wheat bread, an old favourite, was selected. 

While it is possible to locate rye breads in the local markets, they tend to be more in the light-to-medium rye vein.  Good sandwich breads, yes, but not the hearty, earthy base that works so well for pickles, cheeses or cured meats. 

In looking through various formulae, I was at first drawn to Leader’s version in his Local Breads book.  Upon closer perusal, I realized that the formula had discrepancies in the quantities that I did not want to have to sort out.  Still, the extended bake at lower temperatures was attractive.  Further looking led me to a formula in another book.  I believe it was in the KAF 200th Anniversary cook book but cannot verify that because our household effects, including cook books, are somewhere between Pretoria and Kansas City.  In the baking equivalent of a shotgun wedding, I used the formula from one source with the baking instructions from another, after first ascertaining that the finished dough quantities and characteristics were (probably) close enough that disaster wasn’t lurking.  And the results were good, if I do say so myself, which I do.  More to the point, so did the recipients, which is the important thing.

In the accompanying photos, you can see that the bread achieved the brick-like profile that is de rigeur for vollkornbrot.  And that the crumb is suitably dense without being completely solid.  The flavour was entirely rye: earthy with a light tang from the sour.  The one thing that I had hoped for was a deeper coloration of both crust and crumb from the low and slow baking profile.  Apparently it has to go lower and slower to allow the Maillard reactions to produce a truly dark bread.


The honey whole wheat is one that I have made for years.  My primary purpose for mentioning it here is because of the finished bread’s size and shape.  Although it is written as a straight dough, I used a 30-minute autolyse to help soften the bran in the coarsely-ground whole wheat flour that I had on hand.  This was baked, as suggested and as I have done previously, in a 9x5 loaf pan.  The bread barely rose to the rim of the pan.  I think that there are a couple of contributing factors.  One, as noted, this particular flour has a rather coarse grind.  Two, despite information from the recent interesting discussion about pan capacities, my experience with this and other formulae suggests that 3 cups of flour won’t produce a loaf that adequately fills a 9x5 pan.  There will be some variation in the final size of the finished breads, but very few can expand adequately to fill the pan without overproofing. 

Pretty or not, it makes a tasty sandwich and toast.

txfarmer's picture

Sending this to Yeastspotting.

Click here for my blog index.

Another great loaf from the book "A Handmade Loaf". 73% whole wheat, 27% rye (all in starter), and lots of oatmeal on the crust, it's a flavorful whole grain loaf.

The following is my adaption of the formula: cut the amount by half, baked in a 6inch cake tin, and increased hydration a tad. My kneading method is also different from the original.

water, 140g
rye starter (100%), 150g
instant yeast, 2g, about 1/2 tsp
ww flour, 200g
salt, 4g
oatmeal, 37g, coarsely grounded

1. mix water, starter, ww flour, autolyse for 30min, add yeast and salt, knead until gluten starts to form (about 5min at medium speed for my KA).
2. bulk rise for 70min, S&F at 25min and 50min.
3. oil the spingform round tin (I used one with removable bottom), spread half of the oatmeal on surface.
4. preshape, relax, then round the dough and put into the tin, flatten and push to the edge. score deeply (all the way to the bottom). spread the rest of oatmeal on top.
5. proof until spring back slowly and partialy, about 75% larger in volume, 45min for me (75F room temp).
6. bake at 410F for 20min, then 375F for 20min. remove from tin, cool on rack.



The crusty oatmeal shell contrasts nicely to the soft and moist crumb.


Noticably sour, but not overboard, I love the flavor combo of ww and rye.


Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

Lately, I've resumed my loosely disciplined approach to developing a formula for a pan wheat bread with around 33% whole wheat.  It bears some semblance to my psomi formula and may be similar to what I understand the English call a brown bread. I've used AP flour so the dough is just a little sticky and slack at the end of bulk fermentation.

In the first example, I used dry malt extract that I bought from a local homebrew shop.

The loaf that I baked yesterday had some molasses left over from my Anadama Bread work.

Despite the lack of fine detail in these pictures, the loaves both have a nice crumb.

While clearly not artistic, there's a lot to be said for a good sandwich and toast loaf. If there was any crime committed in the second loaf, the evidence will be consumed before purist police get here.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.


Mebake's picture

This is an illustration of Shaping a batard i thought i would share with TFL memebers.

I Hope this helps new TFL members with shaping skills.

Shutzie27's picture

One of the best wedding gifts my hubbilicious and I received was Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible. After reading the introduction and first chapter, I decided to follow in Hensperger's footsteps and do what she did, twice: teach myself more about the craft and art of bread baking by baking every recipe in a bread book, in order. And so it began, on August 14th......

When I first opened the oven door, my heart sank. Surely, these loaves were far too brown. A quick tap on the upper crust of the left loaf yielded a reassuringly hollow sound, but also the discovery that the crust was, as feared, rock hard. Which would be great, if I had attempted an artisan bread, but I hadn't. This was white bread. It was supposed to be pillowly soft and offer an airy, slightly-sweet cushion for peanut butter and jelly or crisp up in a toaster into a perfect bed for melting butter. The warm, unmistakable smell of baking bread that had gently settled in the house like a blanket seemed almost mocking. I sniffed once while taking the loaves out of the oven; it didn't smell like burnt bread. Placing the loaves on the rack, I stood over them and fretted. 

I laid them on their side, remember what I'd read about that way, the cooling would be even. My husband, meaning well, said, "Don't the crusts usuually soften up?" I was forced to reply with a grumpy, "Yes," not bothering to explain that most of the time, that wasn't a good thing. 

So, I turned off the oven, returned to the couch where we'd been watching TV, and waited. 

Or, at least I appeared to be waiting. What was really going on was a step-by-step analysis of what I had done. 

Thinking about it, the formula had seemed a little strange to me, as the liquid base of honey, melted butter, water, salt and one single cup of flour seemed to create a batter similar to pancake batter. Maybe that wasn't what it was supposed to be like at all. Maybe that's where it all went wrong. 











After adding the flour, using the maximum of the six cups stated in the recipe, I had turned to kneading. I remember thinking that although the dough was a bit sticky and difficult to shape, it did feel right by the end. 











Once I coated it (using olive oil), I of course put it in a bowl to rise and covered it with plastic wrap. Normally, I use a damp towel to raise my dough, but I deferred to Hensperger's expertise. I found the rising to be very successful. 











I really enjoyed shaping this dough, although I recalled that I had worked it quite a bit. Was the sponge going to be too dense and compact? The loaves hadn't felt heavy when I put them on the rack, but then again, I "dumped" them out rather quickly as the pans were, of course, hot. And what if the crust did soften? Didn't that mean the bread had gotten soggy? Wasn't that a bad thing....? 

Perhaps my "lightly floured surface" was too floured. But honestly, it had really felt ok. I'm not a master baker by any means, or even an amateur one, for that matter, but I did generally trust my instincts when it came to baking my bread. The dough had been firm, pliable, perhaps a touch sticky but not too bad....heavy, but not had that wonderful earthy smell of clean yeast.....

And finally, they were put in the pans. I did know I felt the dough was a bit lumpy, but assumed it would kind of smooth out. 










And then, of course, they had come out. 

Unable to stand it anymore, I finally decided to just cut into the bread. I was terribly nervous. Flour wasn't getting any cheaper and, in a rather literal sense, I couldn't really afford to make too many learning mistakes. The bread hadn't quite cooled, but had that last layer of warmth that begs one to eat it. 










To my relief, the crust had softened (this was not how I had felt when the same thing happened to my ciabatta last year; the irony did not escape me). The crumb looked much better than my worried mind might have otherwise made it. 


In fact, the entire loaf looked, smelled, and felt wonderful. My sprits cautiously began to rise like yeast in warm sugar water. My husband, a fan of the heel, took the first bites. Hardly an objective reviewer, but I knew him well enough that I could watch his face and see how the loaf had really turned out. 

He seemed to really, really enjoy it! I took a closer look at the crumb. 

.....I tried a piece, putting a doomed pat of butter upon it. Took a bite and.....VICTORY!!! It was everything warm, fresh-baked bread should be. Soft, chewy, not soggy, and glorious in its simplicity. As promised, we gave a loaf to our neighbor from Poland, who said it reminded him of bread he got at home. A few days later, he made a point to tell me he enjoyed it. But I didn't need his compliments, appreciated though they were. I knew, because I had enjoyed perfect toast for the past three days. 

ph_kosel's picture

I have a houseguest visiting from New Mexico.  His theory is that "healthy" bread is bread with lots of seeds in it.  We went over to the "Grateful Bread" store in Sacramento and he picked up a loaf of something they call "Woodstock" bread, a whole wheat loaf with lots of seeds in it.  My friend thinks it's named after the little yellow bird in the Peanuts comic strip who would no doubt consider birdseed a gourmet addition to bread. 

It was pretty good, so I had a hand at trying to duplicate it.

Initially I baked a 100% whole wheat loaf, 67% hydration, with a tablespoon each of sesame, poppy, and sunflower seeds and pine nuts.  The dough was a bit dry so I added a bit of extra water.  The resulting loaf didn't rise as much as I might have wanted, was a  bit dense, and didn't really have as many seeds as the loaf from the "Grateful Bread" store.  I'm not sure if the dryness and density of  this first effort was due to absorption of water by the seeds or a peculiarity of whole wheat flour (which I usually don't use).

I tried a second loaf, throwing in three times as many of the same seeds plus an equal portion of flax seed.  In that loaf I added the juice of an orange to the water on a whim and added 10% white bread flour, plus some brown sugar to give the yeast a bump.  The result had about the right seeed content but the orange juice made it too tart for my taste.

I baked a third loaf using straight water with no orange juice.  It came out pretty good, lots of seeds, nutty flavor, not too dense.  I'm pretty happy with the formulation, and it comes pretty close to the loaf we bought at "Grateful Bread". 



450g Whole Wheat Flour

50g Unbleached (white) Bread Flour

1 tablespoon instant yeast

1/2 Tablespoon salt

1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar

3 Tablespoons poppy seeds

3 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

3 Tablespoons sunflower seeds

3 Tablespoons flax seeds

3 Tablespoons pine nuts

400g water



Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a stand mixer.

Bake at 450F for 25 minutes.



A nice loaf with lots and lots of seeds.  The pine nuts seem to add a nutty sort of flavor.

^Loaf Photo

^Crumb Photo



dmsnyder's picture

Besides the Whole Wheat Breads, I also baked a SFBI Miche and Hamelman's "Pain au Levain with Mixed Sourdough Starters" this weekend. 

As I have for the last few bakes, I used 50% Central Milling "Organic Type 85" and 50% Central Milling "ABC" flours for the "bread flour" in the final dough. I haven't tasted it yet, but when I sliced it 24 hours after baking it has a lovely wheaty and sour aroma with toasted nut notes from the boldly baked crumb.

When I last made Hamelman's Pain au Levain with Mixed Sourdough Starters, Andy (ananda) suggested using a more firm wheat levain and a more liquid rye sour for this bread. For this bake, I did that. I just put the amount of water called for in the rye sour into the wheat levain and the amount of water called for in the wheat levain in the rye sour. (Both call for the same weight of flour.) I can't say this accounted for any difference in the final product, although this batch was denser than usual and had a more pronounced rye flavor. This is a delicious bread, in any case. I had it for breakfast, untoasted, with just a little butter and Santa Rosa plum jam (very tart) and for lunch with Toscano salami in a sandwich.

Happy baking!



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