The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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wally's picture

My last rye experiment involved a variation on Hamelman's 66% rye sourdough found in Bread.  The variation was the inclusion of a boiling rye soaker (brühstück) and toasted sunflower seeds.  I was pleased with the result, especially the sweetness imparted by the soaker.

Since then I have ventured farther away from his recipe with two further experiments.

The first involved repeating my earlier variation, but with the addition of a portion of old rye bread (altus).  I soaked the bread in hot water for 4 hours, and then attempted to wring as much water from it as I was able.  But it almost immediately dawned on me that the addition of this (I added 15% of total dough weight in altus) was going to complicate my attempts at arriving at the proper hydration level since I neglected to weight the stale bread before soaking it.  Nevertheless, I decided to press ahead and assume as a matter of fact that the overall hydration would be in excess of 75% which is called for in the formula.

Once I began mixing the dough it became evident that the hydration was way in excess of 75% - the mix resembled a thick pancake batter, and it never came together even somewhat during the 10 minute mix on speed 1.  I poured it into a bowl and gave it a 45 minute fermentation. 


Following that I attempted briefly to handle it with wet hands and see if I could shape it.  Failure - the dough/batter was simply too wet to allow for shaping.  So I scraped it into a bread pan, allowed it to proof for another 45 minutes, until it had just cleared the sides of the pan, and then placed it in a pre-steamed oven (to the extent you can presteam a gas oven), and baked it for 75 minutes. 

The initial temperature was 475° F for 15 minutes, followed by a reduction to 425° for 30 minutes and then a final 30 minute bake at 400°. 

As you can see, the loaf slightly deflated - it came out of the pan level with the rim, whereas it was slightly above when I placed it in the oven.  I feared for the worst - insertion of a toothpick seemed to indicate that the interior had collapsed.  However, I dutifully allowed it to cool, wrapped it in a linen towel, and waited 24 hours before cutting into it.


My surprise was that it had not collapsed, and though I think the openness of the crumb may be an indication that I pushed it almost to the point of overproofing, it has been (and remains) very good.  It is quite moist, but not gummy.  And between the altus and hot soaker it has a wonderful flavor, full of sweetness and dark caramel tones.

Should I attempt this again (and given the flavor I probably will), I will weight the althus before soaking it, so that I can retain some control over how hydrated the final dough is.

As I now realized that even a hydrated dough that resembled a batter could yield good results, I spent the last couple weeks thinking about a further variation on Hamelman's rye - one that still incorporated the hot soaker, but went for considerably higher hydration levels.  As luck would have it, inspiration came in the form of SylivaH's wonderful seeded bread and hansjoakim's very timely seeded sourdough rye that features a quite wet dough.

So, I decided to draw from these and construct a rye that would be an all-sourdough bread with no commercial yeast, use a boiling soaker, and feature the addition of other seeds.  The general numbers I had in mind were a levain that comprised 40% of total weight and a soaker of equal weight.  Thus, I was looking for fully 80% of the dough to be either preferment or soaker.  Here is the formula in full:

I should mention that the 'high gluten' flour I use is KA's Bread flour, which, with a protein content of 12.7%, is at the low end of what can be called high gluten flour.

The levain and soakers were created 12 hours in advance of the final dough mix.  I first mixed them together with the small addition of water to fully disperse the levain, and then added the remaining flour, seeds and salt.  The first thing I noticed was that while the hydration here was 100%, the dough was still more dough-like than batter-like, and I attribute that to the amount of water absorbed by the flaxseeds. 

I had planned on a primary fermentation of 45 minutes, but as the pictures below show, in just 30 minutes the dough had doubled in volume and was threatening to climb out of the bowl it was in. 


I'm assuming that the fact that the levain accounts for 40% of the dough weight is responsible for this - my other rye experiments generally involve a levain that constitutes about 25% of total weight.

The dough was divided and deflated and then shaped and placed into the bread pans. 


I had the forethought to immediately begin preheating the oven which was fortunate, because in just a little over 30 minutes the loaves had risen just above the rim of the pans and I knew that they needed to be placed into the oven at once or else risk overproofing and collapse.


The total bake time was 75 minutes, beginning at 475° and then decreasing the temperature by 25° in 15 minute increments, so that the final 15 minute bake was done at 375°.  I cooled the loaves, shown below, and then wrapped them in linen for 48 hours.

This afternoon I finally cut into one loaf and found a very agreeable crumb that while moist, is nowhere near as moist as the previous loaf made with altus.


The addition of sesame and flaxseeds to the toasted sunflower seeds is quite noticeable and the sesame seeds add a nice complexity of flavor and balance out, along with the sunflower seeds, the sweetness from the hot rye soaker.

I must admit that I have become smitten with ryes.  The flavor(s) and texture are just exquisite.  I grew up hating rye bread, because the only rye I was ever exposed to was the caraway seed laden version sold in most groceries.  I hated caraway seeds as a kid, and I've never outgrown that.  So it was not until quite late in life that I've finally discovered the wonders of rye.

Better late than never - and even better with a little goat's cheese!



proth5's picture


for North/Central America

Winner - TEAM USA!!!!!! They ROCK!

proth5's picture

 8:30 AM - a full hall to listen to Ciril Hitz talk about laminated pastries and brioche.

Even the professional's heads were reeling with the amount of information Mr. Hitz can pack into a lecture.  We were given a CD with links to Youtube instead of the traditional paper sheets.  There was just that much material...

There were, however, some points that were both useful to home bakers and quite memorable.  Mr. Hitz spent some time talking about mixers for making bread dough in general and sweet doughs in particular.  He is a big proponent of the professional needing both a spiral and a planetary mixer.  He described the action of the spiral mixer as a trip to the massage parlor (it's Las Vegas...) - your back is rubbed with long strokes and eventually feels just right - the muscles have been worked.  A planetary mixer, he opined, was more like a bar brawl.  One person throws the other against a wall and eventually the muscles are worked, but in a much more violent way.  I've never quite heard it put that way before.  It will take some time for me to get that image out of my head.

Continuing on he said that the most important thing to evaluate when choosing a planetary mixer is the tolerance between the dough hook and the bowl.  If it is tight, the dough will pick up well and mix cleanly.  If it is loose, the dough will ball on the hook and make trouble.  This is certainly something I have seen with my faithful KitchenAid (which will soon be supplemented with a spiral) where the hook clears the bowl by several inches.  But the spiral really is a "one trick pony" - it exists to mix dough.  It does not cream or whip, so for someone working pastries, the planetary mixer will still be required.  For home baking, Mr. Hitz likes the Viking (now, don't everyone rush out to buy it - although independently I have heard good reviews on this mixer) he feels that with it he can develop dough 25% faster than with a KitchenAid.

He also weighed in on the great fresh vs. instant yeast debate  For all of his baking, especially at Johnson and Wales, he has transitioned all of his formulas to instant yeast.  He claims that he can find no degradation in the finished product.  He uses a conversion factor of .4 for fresh to instant rather than the more traditional .33 (and I am still too sensitive on the subject to report what he said about yeast and salt during mixing.)  Please, let's not open that debate, I just thought it would be interesting to report this, because he is a picky man with strong opinions.

He also describes osmotolerant yeast as "the way to go" for any sweet doughs.  He feels it lasts up to six months in the refrigerator (hardly "forever") once the package is opened. 

As he was showing us pictures of over fermented pre ferments, someone asked about making use of those.  The distinguished bakers who gave us the lectures on pre ferments had indicated that they could be used - with some product degradation - at a lesser percentage of the total flour.  Mr Hitz expressed agreement, (especially about the product degradation) but told us that when his students allow the pre ferment to get over ripe, he makes them use all of it because next time they will pay better attention to what they are doing.

I write 'em like I hear 'em.

A class with Mr. Hitz is not really a logical linear progression.  It is a kind of Mr. Toad's Wld Ride - high energy with bits of learning on the way.  So we are now reduced to some great quips and quotes.

On proper gluten development: "There is nothing that beats time and controlling dough temperature in a proper development."

On butter: "I cannot emphasize enough that the butter used in lamination must be at least 83% fat content."  Any other butter must have a drying agent (flour) added to avoid it cracking apart in the lamination process.

And my favorite: "My theory is, if you don't have a sheeter - don't laminate." (Ok, no throwing of hard objects - he was talking to a group of primarily professional bakers - and for professional bakers he has a point. Did I mention he is opinionated?)

He also passed on a tip he had gotten from Peter Yuen (if you don't know who he is, type the name into your favorite search engine) which was to drill a 1/8inch or so hole in the bottom of brioche tins so that the steam could dissipate and the bottoms bake evenly and flat.

And so much more.

Mr. Hitz is currently in the thrall of blast chillers (for some good reasons) and the question and answer period had spun itself out to a discussion of the best way to use these marvels.  So I had a more important destination - the competition area for the LeSaffre Cup.

I neglected to mention the teams that competed yesterday.  Once again, very beautiful breads.  Peru had a fabulous decorative piece of a working pendulum held aloft on framework of bread.  Very nice.

The ceremony to declare the teams who would compete at La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie had a familiar air.  Folks went on and on in three languages (too bad for Brazil, eh?) thanking everyone who was even remotely connected with the competition.  There was of course the City of Las Vegas, the Bread Baker's Guild of America, many individuals, the artisan baking community in general...Oh, you want the results?

Teams would be chosen for South America and for North/Central America.  There would be a challenger team and the team that would actually compete in Paris.

For South America:

Challenger Team - Brazil (thought they might regret that bland decorative piece)

Winner - Peru  (and the crowd goes nuts!)

For North/Central America

Challenger Team - Costa Rica

txfarmer's picture


This is Ruby. Whenever people ask me what kind of dog he is (yes, he's a boy, with a girl's name, what? he is man enough to be OK with it! :P), my answer is "a yellow running dog". While we have no idea what breeds are mixed in his blood (probably a lot),  it doesn't take long for anyone to notice that Ruby loves to run. He is always ready to take off running, any time, any place, any weather. I am a marathon runner, and he is my running partner - 45 to 55 miles a week, but that's merely a trotting warm-up for him, he really lives for the trips to the dog park, where he can be unleashed and just SPRINT forever. So far he's can run faster and longer than any other dogs we know, and even some slower cars. :P


There's one thing he loves ALMOST as much as running - eating. Ever since we adopted him 5 years ago, he has always INHALED his kibbles in minutes. Sometimes I don't even think the kibbles actually hit the bowl, I think he intercepts them midair and just swallow. He also eats anything that resemble, or don't resemble food - the most memorable one was half of a Gatorade bottle lid, which then scratched his inside and caused bloody diarrhea, even that didn't affect his appetite. Whenver my friends tell me about their dogs that don't eat, I simply don't undersand, what a foreign concept - until 10 days ago.

We had just picked him up from doggie daycare (I know I know, we are the worst kind of spoiling doggie parents, but he loves to run and it's a all day play kinda place...), stopped on the way to pick up a new bag of dog food (Iams minichunk in green bag, the same kind he has eaten for all 8 years of his life). Got home in time for dinner, opened the bag, poured kibbles to his bowl, he sniffed and WALKED AWAY! We were stunned, was he having a heat stroke? Sometime wrong with his teeth? Did he eat something bad in the daycare? For the next 3 days, he simply refused to eat his food during the day, before bed, he would slowly chew a few kibbles and walk away again. He would take some treats we gave him, but we don't usually give him people food, just some plain bread slices. With so little food, he was not as energetic as usual, still wanted to run in the morning, but slower and slower. During the day, he would just lay there and look weak. We were seriously concerned.

Finall got in a vet appoinment, the exam and blood test showed no problems - until we mentioned about the food. My vet said Iams had switched production facility and ingredient formula 3 months ago, ever since then there have been a lot of problems. Many of the foods are being recalled, the ones are not recalled (including the one Ruby was eating) also have some bad feedbacks. A lot of dogs would not eat the food, even though they have been eating the same brand/formula for their entire life. Some would get seriously sick after eating, a few older/smaller/weaker ones even have to be put down. We returned the Iams food immediately and got Hills Science dog food instead, Ruby immediately started eating - really immediately because we opened the bag right outside of the store and he started inhaling the kibbles on the sidewalk! Even since then, we have been feeding him part homecooked food (bland rice + chicken), part new dog food, by yesterday, he is eating all dog food, and doing very well. We ran 10 miles this morning, let's just say he's not the one that slowed us down. :P


I am beyond livid about Iams, how can they change ingredients without warning the customers? And what poisonous ingredients are they putting in the food that makes Ruby refuse to even get close?! What about those dogs that got seriously ill or even died? Who's going to take responsibility for them? So here's the PSA: if your dogs/cats are eating Iams, be very careful about feeding them food that's bought after July, if they eat less or get sick, it's very likely the food! In the mean time, check out this link: , especially the comments.


Anyway, now that the scary episide is behind us, I made these sourdough biscuits this past weekend for the poor little guy to make up for what he had to go through. They are full of human grade nutritious ingredients, as well as added benefit of sourdough. I adapted the formula from Nancy Silverton's "Breads from LA BREA Bakery", but Wild yeast has a similar adaption here. I did add one extra egg in the dough since Ruby runs a lot and needs the extra protein. The dough is very easy to handle, and the process is straightforward. It's a great way to use up extra starter!

I made sure to bake them long enough so they remain crispy for a long time. The recipe does yield a whole of cookies, so I froze a lot of them.

Ruby LOVES these, look, he's practically cross-eye-ed.


Vogel's picture

Tales of doing every mistake you can do

A few days ago I've finished reading "Bread Science" by Emily Buehler. This book is really enlightening. It offers a very visual idea of what is happening in the dough during the different stages of making bread. Instead of wondering why the dough is starting to get wet and loose during kneading you are thinking: "Okay, now I have broken all the remaining disulfid bonds and therefore overkneaded it".
Having strenghtened the faith in my own abilities by reading the book, I thought "Okay, great! Now I have all the knowledge to do gorgeous breads without ever needing recipes again!" Needless to say, subsequently I would have been punished by being overly confident :).

So what kind of bread did I try to do? After having focused on doing basic white breads for several weeks I starved for eating some more local-style enrichened rye breads with a lot of seeds and other ingredients. Okay, so without caring about finding a recipe, I prepared my rye sourdough by feeding it in three stages and created a soaker with oat flakes, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. When I was going to mix the dough the next day, I realized: "Oops, I already used more than half the water for the soaker, there won't be enough left to properly hydrate the dough for the autolyse!" Thus I ended up having a hydration of about 110% percent instead of the aimed 80%. It was quite a mess. When I added the soaker in the end phase of kneading, it was quite difficult to mix the two loose masses together. Consequently, I ended up kneading for a much longer time than I planned to. You might guess it: I checked for the gluten development by doing a windowpane test and and it wasn't only smooth and translucent but actually really glassy, without any space for further development. The dough already began to release water. "Oops, overkneaded". Although already totally discouraged, I put the paste-like mass into a bowl for the bulk rise. I was aware of the gluten being more than fully developed and thus additional folding having a destructive impact on dough stability, but decided to to a stretch & fold anyway. Indeed, it helped to get the mass to a little more dough-like structure. However, soon I had to pay the price for it when I wanted to shape the boule. There wasn't any elastic gluten structure left. The moment I tried to create some surface tension, it tore apart, giving a moon-crater-like look. I put it into the provisionally made banneton (a plastic bowl with a floured towel in it) anyway and let it rise, followed by a retardation in the fridge. Turning it on pizza peel the next day, it unexpectedly still had a little bit of strength left. Of course I destroyed the remaining bones and muscles buy trying to score it, which I definitely shouldn't have done, resulting in the dough flooding all over the peel. Again: "Oops!"

Well, I've learnt a lot of things. Firstly, When being in baking euphoria, don't forget to actually plan ahead carefully what you exactly want to do. Secondly, reading "Bread Science" gave me the ability (or at least moved me further into the direction of gaining this ability) to realize what I'm doing wrong the moment I ... am doing it wrong. The book even encourages to do mistakes on purpos, to, say, intentionally overproof a loaf and then touch the dough just to learn how it feels like and how it has to feel the moment before it is overproofed, the perfect one for loading into the oven.

I have baked the bread anyway, so here are some pictures. As you can see, the completely destroyed dough surface made the bread flatten out pretty much, resulting in a bread with only a height of about 6,5 cm (2,56 inch), but to be honest I have already seen comparably flat rye breads in local bakeries. I will cut it in a few hours and present cumb pictures later the day, as I've learnt that breads with higher rye content need some time for the flavour to fully develop and for the acids to set.
I will definitely try to do this bread again, provided it tastes good which I don't know yet.



a little bit of post-baking crackling crust action

crackling crust

loaf height

loaf height


Edit: Since I wanted to have bread for dinner and I wasn't sure if my baked loaf was okay inside or if I would have to buy a loaf I quickly checked the crumb. It was better than I expected! I am actually quite pleased with it (I know your eyes aren't focussing on the bread right now!).





I don't have time right now, but I may add a provisional recipe later if I am satisfied with the taste.

MadAboutB8's picture

 After the first failed attempt at croissant making, it caused me a long hesitation before attempting it second time around. It also made me thinking that croissant was probably just too hard to make and I should leave them to the professional. However, some recent TFL posts kind of encourage me into believing that I can also do it.

So, here goes my second attempt. 

My second attempt went reasonably okay. I applied what I learnt from my first attempt. The dough needs to be strong and extensible enough to withstand the rolling, folding and stretching during the lamination process. I learned this first hand as  I didn't work my dough enough first time and it got torn and butter was leaking out. It was a disaster and totally put me off making it for a long while.

So, with my strong dough, my laminating process went smoothly, had no problem. The croissants were shaped nicely and I thought .... Umm, this wasn't so hard after all and I might be up to something nice:-)

Then, here comes the proofing process. I forgot and probably having a blonde moment, that croissant is a buttered-dough. It can't be proofed in the same environment as bread is. I proofed my croissant on a tray and I place the tray in the off-oven. I also put a bowl of hot water underneath the proofing tray. As, you might have guessed it. The butter melted and here comes the minor disaster!!!


I continued with my bake anyway. The croissants turned out all right. They're not perfect but they tasted okay.


Something I learnt from this bake and/or something I'd like to try for my next bake....

  • Never proof the dough at warm and humid temperature as the recipe suggested.

  • Will only proof the croissant at room temperature

  • Will try baking croissants at higher temperature. I baked them at 170c (convection) this time but I will try baking them at 200c (convection) next time. Baking at 170c didn't give me the brownish tone and crisps that I would like.

Also, some by-products from the croissant dough, pain-au-raisins, or snails as Aussie calls it.....

GSnyde's picture

I'm probably trying to learn too much too fast.  And my brain is not as absorbent as it once was.  But surrounded by the centuries--maybe millenia--of collective knowledge on TFL, I want to both catch up and enjoy the learning process.  I know I'm doing the latter.  

I want to perfect something and I want to try everything.  So I'm kind of alternating--make a second (and third and fourth) attempt at lean sourdough bread (what I want to perfect), then try something very different (Curry-Cheese Bread, Cinnamon Rolls).   I have a feeling that this unintentionally methodical approach to learning about bread is the right way to learn a lot fast, at least for me.

So today, not having much time, I decided to try a yeast-leavened whole wheat bread.  The goals were: (1) to get the feel for a different kind of dough, (2) to get better at shaping pan loaves, and (3) have something to make a smoked turkey and tomato sandwich (this was the most important goal since we bought a bag of delicious farmstand tomatoes and my wife promptly left town for a business trip).

I looked at a number of recipes and settled on Floyd's Honey Whole Wheat.  The formula seemed simple and fairly quick, and I learned a lot from the commentary from ehanner and JMonkey (  I soaked the whole wheat flour as prescribed, and (having no electronical mixer) found it a bit difficult to incorporate the other ingredients.  Adding honey to a sticky dough seemed, for the first 5 minutes of tiresome hand-mixing, to be the sort of cruel joke a website owner might inflict on his community.  But Floyd doesn't seem like the cruel type, and lord knows I need the exercise, so I carried on.  Once the thing seemed fairly mixed I let it rest for 15 minutes.

The dough glob was extremely sticky and hard to work, but I didn't add flour, except a sprinkling on the board and my hands, because I'd felt the transformation of dough before and I had faith in the gluten.  And, sure enough, after about ten minutes of alternating folding and kneading, the dough started to become silky and less sticky.  After a while, I plunked it in an oiled bowl, stretched and folded it at 20 minutes and 40 minutes, and watched it  Just an hour after it was mixed, it was doubled, even with the S&Fs.

I divided the dough into two and shaped it per JMonkey's great video tutorial (  Again the rise was quick, and they went into the oven with steam (from my brand new lava rocks!).  I forgot to turn the oven down for a few minutes, so the top got kinda dark.  But the overall result was pleasing.  A nice simple whole wheat loaf.  Great for a sandwich!



I did start to get the feel for whole wheat dough.  I still need to practice loaf-shaping.  And I might try a sandwich bread with a lower percentage of whole wheat flour to get something a bit lighter in weight.  I'm not sure if the heft of these loaves is just what you get from a mostly whole wheat blend of flours, or if I might have overproofed or not formed the loaves gently enough. Not that they're super dense, just a bit too.

Thanks, Floyd, ehanner and JMonkey for the education.



dmsnyder's picture


Questions regarding how to convert one kind of starter into another are frequently asked on The Fresh Loaf. The easy answer is to just take "a little bit" of seed starter and add enough flour and water to make a mixture of the desired thickness. This is fine and it generally works very well. However, sometimes a recipe calls for a precise hydration level levain and changing this, even a few percentage points, will make the dough consistency quite different from that intended by the formula's author. For those times, one needs to be more precise in making up the levain. 

To convert a starter of one hydration to a starter of another hydration - For example, if you have a 50% hydration starter and want to build a 100% hydration starter from it. 


Here's a general method for a precise conversion:

First, you need to know four things:

1. What is the hydration of your seed starter?

2. What is the hydration of your final starter?

3. How much of the total flour in your final starter comes from your seed starter?

4. How much (weight) final starter will you be making?

Second, you need to calculate the total amount of flour and the total amount of water in your final starter.

Third, you need to calculate the amount of flour and the amount of water in the seed starter.

Fourth, you can now calculate the ingredients of your final starter. They will be:

1. Seed starter

2. Flour (from seed starter plus additional)

3. Water (from seed starter plus additional)


So, let's see how this method works with some specific assumptions. 

The four things you need to know:

Assume you have a 50% hydration seed starter that you want to use. Assume you want to make 100 g of a 100% hydration starter. And assume you want the seed starter to provide 25% of the total flour in the final starter.

Note: Using "Baker's Math," Flour is always 100%, and all other ingredients are proportionate to the flour. So, in a 50% hydration mix, the water is 50% (of the flour, by weight). If hydration is 125%, the water is 125% (or 1.25 times) the flour.

To calculate the total amount of flour and water in your final starter:

Flour (100 parts) + Water (100 parts) = 100 g

So, the 100 g of starter is made up of 200 "parts." The weight of each part is calculated by dividing the total weight by the number of parts. So, 100 g /200 parts = 0.50 g.  This number is sometimes called "the conversion factor."

Then, since there are 100 parts of flour, its weight is 100 parts x 0.5 g = 50 g.

The total water in the final dough is 100 parts x 0.5 g = 50 g.

To calculate how much flour will come from the seed starter and how much will be added to make the final starter:

We now know that the total flour in the final starter will be 50 g. But we decided that 25% of this flour is going to come from the seed starter. This means that the seed starter must contain 50 g x 0.25 = 12.5 g of flour, and the flour added to this to make the final starter will be 50 g - 12.5 g = 37.5 g.

To calculate the total weight of the seed starter and the weight of water in the seed starter:

We now need to calculate how much seed starter it takes to provide 12.5 g of flour, and how much water is in this amount of seed starter.

If the seed starter is 50% hydration, it contains 100 parts of flour and 50 parts of water. We know then that the amount of water is 50 parts water/100 parts flour = 0.5  parts of the flour.  Since we already know that the flour has to weigh 12.5 g, then the water must weigh 12.5 x 0.5 = 6.25 g and the total weight of the seed starter is the sum of the water and flour or 12.5 g of flour + 6.25 g of water = 18.75 g.

To calculate the weight of water that must be added to the seed starter to make the final starter:

Now we can calculate how much water must be added to the seed starter to make the final starter. It is the total water in the final starter minus the water in the seed starter or 50 g - 6.25 g = 43.75 g.


Now we know "everything!" To make 100 g of 100% hydration starter, beginning with a 50% hydration seed starter, we would mix:

1. 18.75 g Seed Starter.

2. 37.5 g Flour

3. 43. 75 g water


This method can be used to build any amount of starter of any hydration using a seed starter of any (known) hydration. 





proth5's picture

 After a martoonie or two and an early night, Tuesday  8:30AM found a very large crowd of bakers and imposters ready to listen to Craig Ponsford and Jeffrey Yankellow talk about the science and application of sourdough based pre ferments.  Both seemed somewhat subdued and I was reminded of a quote about folks in another party town who made an early morning appointment.  When they rolled into the restaurant for breakfast they remarked to the waitress that their counterparts were late and they could have used that extra few minutes to gently recover from the previous evening's festivities.  The waitress said (to paraphrase) "You're in Las Vegas, boys, those people you are meetin' are expectin' a mess."

No, no, it was nowhere near that bad. In fact speaking about sourdough is always a little less precise than speaking about commercial yeast and I think most of us who work with sourdough know this.

What surprised me was the number of professional bakers at the lecture who had never worked with sourdough.  Here on TFL it seems that "everyone" is a sourdough baker, but maybe not so much in the commercial baking world.

Again, there was a lot to the lecture, but there were some high points worth discussing.

Mr. Yankellow made a distinction between a "culture" - which he defined as a newly formed mixture of flour, water, and organisms and a "starter" ("chef" or "mother") that is a mature culture strong enough to use for baking.  The transition, to his thinking usually takes 3 or 4 weeks (not many years) and, he emphasized, it is important to take the time to let the culture mature.  He did discuss that a type of bread (similar to salt rising bread) could be made from a young culture, but he expressed that it would have a very strong taste (from all the random bacteria) and be a very heavy bread.

Then both Mr. Yankellow and Mr. Ponsford held forth on the myth of special sourdough starters being grown from grapes or raisins or any number of odd things.  This is where I tread carefully because there is much emotional energy attached to the origins of starters.  I'm just saying that both of these distinguished bakers were convinced that the yeasts in the flour used to feed the culture and later the starter will always be the yeasts (and bacteria) in the starter.  Yeasts from grapes (for example) - and grapes are a fruit with a lot of yeasts - will not thrive in the flour and water environment and eventually be out competed by the yeasts in the flour.  Mr. Ponsford told the tale of a starter that was grown in a wine cave that gave the bread a particular flavor - until it was removed from the cave.  He also told the tale of a unique apple cider starter - but which was refreshed each day with apple cider.  I'm not taking sides.  I'm just saying.

Both similarly felt that after passing from the culture phase to the starter  phase there is no advantage (in terms of actual bread making) to the "150 year old starter carried across the Rockies."  They are both convinced that the starter will take on the characteristics of your locale and promised that if you went to their bakeries and asked for a bit of starter (now, don't everyone rush to do this!), they would gladly give you a piece because it will eventually come to reflect your locale and your level of care and itself was not the secret to their great breads.  Again, I'm just saying what I heard.

They presented some fun facts, among which were:

  • One gram of commercial yeast contains 8-10 billion yeast cells

  • One gram of regular flour contains 13,000 wild yeast cells and 320 lactic bacteria cells, and

  • One gram of whole-wheat flour contains 320,000 yeast cells and 62,000 lactic bacteria cells.

Now, that's something to think about...

Moving on the starter care, I couldn't help but think of the hard hearted way many home bakers treat their starters - leaving them to languish in refrigerator for weeks at a time and reviving them only when they are needed.  Starter care as discussed was for professional bakers, as feeding suggestions were given for feeding once, twice, or three times a day.

Well, that stirred up some hard feelings.  However I'll give you two quotes. 

Craig Ponsford "There is no shortcut to caring for your starter" and Jeffrey Yankellow "Treat your starter right."

I don't have the qualifications to argue.

They both also emphasized consistency - claiming that every time you see a problem with sourdough, the issue is consistency (feeding routine, temperature, etc.)

I am not making this up.  (Even though it is what I have been preaching on these pages for some time.)

In terms of the impact of sourdough on the final dough itself, they reminded us that the acid in the sourdough will strengthen the dough considerably and that more gentle mixing with the objective of somewhat under developing the dough would be something to consider with sourdoughs - allowing the dough to develop during the first fermentation.  Mr. Yankellow expressed that he preferred to retard sourdough doughs after shaping as the acidity and long fermentation would strengthen the dough to the point where it would be difficult to shape.

Well, that's enough controversy for today.

I then toddled off to the Bread Bakers Guild of America booth to hear a presentation from a representative of the California Wheat Board.  Apparently I've been studying about wheat a little too much, but one interesting fact is that California produces a particularly fine durum wheat called "Desert Durum" which is used in great quantities by the Barilla pasta company.

Swinging by the LeSafre cup, I was able to see yesterday's creations.  I was quite impressed by Costa Rica's colorful artistic piece.  Argentina's and Brazil's pieces were also very nice, but I did have to ponder if they would regret their bland color schemes.  We will know tomorrow.  Once again the breads were lovely.  Although I am completely unbiased, I still think Team USA rocked - but this is one tough competition.  I can't wait to find out the results.

Attracted by the sight of free dough scrapers, I spent some time at the Retail Bakers of America booth.  This organization, whose website is ,is an organization for professional bakers to aid them in connecting with other bakers and suppliers. Not an organization for most of us, but the very nice lady who chatted with me was happy to swap a mention for some plastic scrapers.  We talked a bit about my "retirement business" and she gave me some very good advice about not spending my retirement on a bakery business (which I knew, but it was nice of her anyway.)

I'm beginning to enjoy this "resting up and not pushing myself to the limit" thing and so left the show early, blowing off the Ciril Hitz book signing.  Although I like him very much because unlike "my teacher" he doesn't yell at me and doesn't give me homework assignments that take years to complete (he was also the first person to introduce me to a sheeter - and he even remarked to me about the love light in my eyes), but I just wasn't up to beating off the vast throngs that would no doubt be there.  I also don't want to lose that air of "I'm so cool I can hang with famous bakers and never even consider getting a book signed or a picture taken."  Once you give in to that, well, you lose your street cred.  Anyway, I have a lecture with him tomorrow.

And I hear those martoonies calling (Hey! It's vacation!)

Happy Baking

hanseata's picture

There's no doubt about it - Pflaumenkuchen (German Plum Cake) is my birthday cake. In the beginning of September the first prune plums show up on the market just in time for my birthday.

My birthday party was always arranged by my grandmother, my Omi, who invested all her love and imagination in coming up with games and other entertainment for me and my friends. She definitely was my role model on how to make a child's birthday party a huge success!

"Hide-and-Seek" (in the dark), "Choose-the-Right-Candy" ( with nail biting suspense) , "Say-Whom-You-Love" (good for many giggles) and "Unwrap-the-Chocolate" (with hat and mittens, fork and knife!) were some of the games that raised excitement and noise levels to heights that called for quiet intervals of soap bubble blowing, or story telling, to calm down all the boisterous little guests.

Of course my grandmother also baked my birthday cake, a large sheet brimming full of prune plums resting on a bed of sweet yeast dough, generously sprinkled with almonds and cinnamon sugar. I loved that cake, and could eat a lot of it (though not quite as much as on those memorable occasions when my cousin Thomas and I would compete at wolfing down Omi's famous yeast dumplings!).

Nowadays, if I don't have to entertain a horde of hungry cake monsters, I bake a smaller plum cake version, either with a short or a streusel crust, in a springform pan. They taste as good as the large yeasted cake - especially with Gifford's award winning vanilla ice cream...


There are hundreds of German plum cake recipes, this cake here is easy to make and tastes best slightly warm, with vanilla ice cream.

You'll find the recipe here:



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