The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


breitbaker's picture

Hi everyone...I've been MIA the past few months...certainly not from baking, but mostly from commenting on this site. I still consider this an invaluable resource though!

Somehow, summer overtakes.

I have begun blogging at a separate domain though, so come on over and see what I've been up to! It's my adventures in the kitchen along with snippets of the things I grow and create....

See ya there!

Cathy B.pane siciliano.JPG

breadsong's picture


I tried a half-batch of Hamelman's Baguettes with Poolish, to make four half-size baguettes. I'm fairly certain these don't qualify as baguettes, due to appearance! as well as size...!
I tried Richard Bertinet's mixing technique and found this made a good strong dough.
I don't have a couche cloth, so proofed on a floursack (tea-type) towel. I didn't flour it enough and the dough stuck a little bit when trying to move the loaves to the peel.
I also wasn't careful enough when transferring one of the loaves to the peel so two of the loaves ended up sticking together, for their complete length! That was dicey, trying to separate them without deflating them.
I found my dough to be hard to score this time, with a lot of pulling and dragging on the dough. After shaping, the loaves proofed for one hour, loosely covered with plastic wrap, and the room may have been a bit on the warm side.
I don't think they were overproofed though but this is something I'm having a difficult time judging.

I look forward to any suggestions regarding what went wrong!  They taste good though; we tucked in for breakfast.

Regards, breadsong


amolitor's picture

I have posted this recipe, more or less, elsewhere, but I am recording it in my blog for posterity, with some updates to my process and my thinking:

Again, this isn't a recipe for the baker who prefers precise measurements!

This is a two levain naturally leavened bread, based on Joe Ortiz' recipe from The Village Baker but modified so that, well, to be blunt, it works which the original doesn't really. The only substantive change is at the beginning, rather than starting a chef from scratch and expecting to get a sufficiently active culture to raise a loaf, I start with a liquid-ish starter.

My "storage starter" is a all whole wheat starter, fed every 2 days and kept at the consistency of mayonnaise, more or less. I use a pinch of salt in it to slow it down a little more. I use it often enough to keep it out of the fridge, but not often enough to want it sitting around eating its head off all day! So, I keep it a little hungry, and a little slow.

Step 1

Feed my starter. If I'm planning to start the next day, I make sure to feed my starter the night before so that it's pretty active the next evening. I could probably improve this by feeding the morning of, and getting the first levain started in the evening. Anyways, making sure the starter is pretty active is important -- the levains will be lethargic and slow to work otherwise.

Step 2

First levain:

  • approximately 1 oz liquid starter (2 tablespoons)
  • approximately 1 oz water
  • 2-3 oz whole wheat flour

I vary this according to how active my liquid starter is. If it seems a little sleepy, I will make this levain a bit larger AND use a higher percentage of starter in it. You're looking for 4 to 5 ounces of stiff dough here. It should feel like a regular american bread dough (say 50% hydration or so). I cover the bowl with plastic wrap, which keeps a crust from forming. I think it you cover with cloth, you may get a crust, which you might want to discard -- if so, make the levain bigger to you have some extra to discard!

In any case, use amounts of flour and water as indicated, but in ratios such as to give this stiff dough. The hydration of your starter will affect things as well, of course. I think that, based on the level of activity of your starter:

  • use 2 oz flour, and 2 tablespoons starter if Very Active
  • use 3 oz flour, and 3 tablespoons starter if Kind of Sleepy
  • use something in between if your starter is somewhere in between

Then add water sufficient to make a stiff dough. I use 'the fountain' method which seems to give pretty good control here, but I have also just mixed all the stuff in a bowl as well. Knead a bit for some little development, but don't worry much about that at this point.

This rises overnight, 8 to 12 hours. Again, if the initial starter seemed sleepy, I might give it 12 hours. It will become soft and inflated, at least doubling. One test I have seen and used for ripeness is 'does it float' (or does a little piece snipped off and not degassed much float). When you deem this levain ripe:

Step 3

Second levain (the next morning):

  • all of the first levain
  • 2.5 to 3.5 ounces of water
  • 5 to 7 ounces, total, of flour -- equal parts whole wheat and white bread flour

At this point, again, the size of the second levain will be determined by how sleepy the first levain seems, and how big it was. If the first levain still seems a little slow, I'll mix the second levain smaller (to have a higher percentage of first levain in it -- I could make the first levain "richer" by adding more liquid starter, but at this point you're stuck with the first levain as-is, so the way to enrich is to actually mix smaller). The result will be 12 to 16 ounces of levain, again mixed quite stiff.

You'll cut the first levain up in to bits, and let them soak in the water (use maybe 2 ounces of water, 1/4 cup, for this), and then add flour as you think best to mix a smaller or larger levain (5 ounces flour if the first levain is Kind of Sleepy, 7 ounces if Very Active, and in between if in between) and then add water as necessary to get a stiff dough. Kneading this to get a little more dough development is probably worthwhile, as we'll be making up dough and baking today, most likely.

This rises for 4 to 6 hours, until doubled or so. You can use the float test here as well.

It should be about mid-day at this time.

Step 4

Final dough:

  • all of the second levain
  • 12 to 16 ounces of white bread flour
  • 8 to 11 ounces of water
  • 1 tablespoon salt or less

Break up the second levain into 1 cup (8 oz) of water and let soak, add in appropriate flour. As usual:

  • if the second levain seems sleepy, use less flour (12 ounces, you're going to bake a smaller loaf)
  • if it seems active and excited, use more flour (16 ounces, hooray, you get a bigger loaf)
  • if your second levain is somewhere in the middle, use somewhere in the middle!

Adjust salt. A tablespoon is good for the larger loaf, reduce it proportionately (probably never below 2 teaspoons).

Add water sufficient to make a wetter dough than the levains, but not a "wet" dough as such. 60% hydration, maybe. It will get wetter as it proofs, so err on the side of 'stiff'! If the levains have been slow and sleepy, mix this stiffer since you'll be proofing longer, and if you feel like you've got a vigorous and excited culture, you can go a little wetter. Knead thoroughly. It should windowpane, but perhaps not very well, as you'll be proofing for a while. I proof for a couple of hours, with a stretch and fold every hour or thereabouts.

Shape your loaf, and let proof until ready (poke test -- I use 'poke it gently, making a hole 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep; the hole should slowly refill, being mostly gone after several seconds').

Bake at 425 or thereabouts suitable to the loaf size and shape, with steam. I use 40 minutes for the "smaller" loaf shaped as a batard, and 50 minutes for a full-size boule (when I am able to mix the "full sized" loaf). You could probably bake it hotter and faster if you liked!

Pictures below are the batard, with levains mixed at, roughly: 5 ounces, 15 ounces, and final dough at around 35 ounces (probably baked down to 30 ounces or less):


Mebake's picture

This particular bake was a redemption, after several all-sourdough Multigrain failures in a row. Having seen David, Lindy, and many other TFL bakers exhibit their wonderful 5 grain levain loaves, The recipe was on my to-do list for some time.

Also, Hamelman praises the flavor of the said loaf in his "BREAD". Yesterday, I gathered some nerve to start another sourdough, this time armed with the collective wisdom thankfully shared by fellow TFL members.

I discovered that the cause of my levain loosing vigor and character soon as it is built is because the starter culture that seeded the levain did not contain enough happy yeasts. I apparently underfed my starter or did not correctly nurture the yeast population in it, which lead to less than optimal culture, and consequently weak proteolytic levain.

yesterday, i had a well fed starter and at the peak of its activity. I seeded the levain, and took it to work for observation. It peeked during my duty after 8 hours, and i had to refresh it. Eventually, the final dough was full of vigor.

I chose to omit the yeast, so i retarded the dough for 10 hours at 10C.


I had some slices today, and it is very light and tasty. It is only remotely acidic. i suppose it should taste better tomorrow. I believe that omitting the yeast changes the special flavor that Hamelman praises, so i'd want to try it next time with yeast.


Elagins's picture

Baker Ben suggested that since the testing is over and we had such a great group come together, that I continue to blog about the actual process we'll be going through to actually get the book into print.  I think it's a great idea, so, with thanks to Ben, here goes:

July and August were simply insane.  I was putting out a couple of dozen recipes each month, keeping track of all the testing and feedback and trying to get all of the other stuff written.  It was madness, to the point where everything else on my to-do lists (several) simply had to be pushed aside so that I could get the manuscript done by the 9/1 deadline.  

Norm and I were on the phone at least weekly -- usually more often than that -- going over recipes, fine points and all of the background stuff that needed to be included in the book we wanted to write.  If I tell you all that I got very little sleep over the last couple of weeks, it wouldn't be an exaggeration.

Those last 2-3 weeks are a blur now, writing, researching, fine-tuning, making sure all of the measurements and conversions were right, all of the steps and procedures consistent and all of the narrative smooth and where it was supposed to be.  

9/1 came around and I had about 99% done ... everything except for the Acknowledgements, Picture Credits (since we hadn't yet made final picture choices), and a couple of last-minute recipe tweaks.  Nonetheless, I assembled what we had -- about 280 pages, including somewhere around 130 recipes -- and emailed it off to our publisher and our agent.  

So of course the publisher said, "Well, no rush.  Just put everything together, print it all out, burn the files into a CD and send it off to me when you can."  When I met with him back East the beginning of July, he didn't seem like he was terribly concerned about deadlines, but I like to honor my commitments.  

So Norm and I went back at it, doing illustrations of the challah braiding, strudel dough stretching, and a couple of other recipes, including the rye flour honey cake (lekach) and revised plum cake (flomenkuchen). I figured I'd take a couple of weeks to make sure we got it all in shape. So naturally, less than a week later, I get an email from Edward (the publisher) asking, "When will we get the package?" Shift into high gear, put the final touches on it.

At that point, my laptop died.  I mean really died: motherboard, display, keypad, who knows what else?  Of course, I'd been backing up to spare hard drives, pen drives and whatever, so I had three or four backups and didn't lose a thing.  Switched to an old Dell that we had lying around ... slow as honey on a cold day ... got the manuscript all put together and start printing .... now at 260 pages, after some cuts and consolidations.  

Print, print, print.  At page 243, my printer dies <sigh>, so I load the finished file into a pen drive, take it downstairs and finish on my wife's printer.  That's Monday morning a week ago (9/12).  Then I discover that the old Dell's CD drive can only read; it doesn't burn.  Back downstairs to burn the CD on Syl's puter.  Pack it all up into a FedEx box and drive it down to the local Kinko's/FedEx office. 

A week earlier, I had asked our agent, Stephany, about typical production schedules and she said, "Be patient.  It usually takes a publisher 9-12 months to get a book into print." Nine months to a year ... feels like an eternity.

At that point, I had such mixed feelings ... so much intense work, suddenly ground to a halt, all this energy with no place to go and exhaustion suddenly setting in.  For two days, I could barely think.  But at the same time, I felt the same way I did when I took my kids to their first day of kindergarten:  proud, full of anticipation, a little bit afraid that they wouldn't do well and also sad that in an instant I was no longer as needed as I'd been the day before.  Norm and I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking about the closure of that part of the process, which he said was less real for him, since he wasn't involved in any of the writing.  

It was strange, the sense of loss finishing the book created -- first the dissolution of our tester group, which had brought together well over 100 people and created a very intimate bond of shared experience, and then the departure of my youngest child (the book). 

I waited until today (9/23) to phone Edward to find out how things were going with the book and whether he could give me more information on the production schedule, other next steps and how much more work would be needed.  Instead I got Brad, the head editor, a very kindly man who clearly loves books.  "It looks very good," he said.  "We just need to get it to copy editing and then we'll have a better idea of what else needs to be done, but I don't think it will be very much."

Then I asked the question I really wanted answered:  "Any idea of the publication date?"

"We want to get it out before summer ... probably in the March-April timeframe.  We want this book to look terrific, so we're choosing our designer carefully."

March-April! Six or seven months!  Wow!  .... Other things to think about now ... promotion and finishing up all the remaining tweaks and revisions (there are still a few), getting all of the photo permissions in place ... 

We've entered a new level of reality.

Stan Ginsberg

(to be continued)

hmcinorganic's picture

I haven't baked in a while;  super busy at work.  I just made the bread described on this page, modified to not include raisins (no one in my family likes raisins except me).  My 5 year old helped with the measuring for a school math assignment.  It came together easily, and the gluten developed with 2 minutes of kneading, and 3 rounds of stretch and fold over 2 hours.  The dough was dryer than I'm used to working with lately, and it took a while for all the liquid to spread through and hydrate the whole wheat flour.  But, it smells really good.  It rose very high (much higher than I'm used to... maybe its the yeast.  I'm used to working with my sourdough starter now!).  

Loaves are in the oven and they look great.  Good proofing and oven spring.  I can't wait to try them.


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hey All,

Just wanted to fill you in on my latest baking installment...  I have this older German lady that lives in my building that I've been baking for for the past few years.  Once or twice a week, I will bake something, and drop it on the little table outside her door before I go to work.  She has taken a liking to my breads, in particular the dark hearty ones that reminder her of Germany...  She's been here for many year now...  She's on this weird schedule and only comes back to the city randomly... and she notified me that she would be in town only for an evening before heading back to the woods...  I had to bake something for her to take back to the woods...

I've been experimenting with pain au levains which were mostly AP flour with a WW levain.  They were about 5% rye, 10% WW and 85% AP.  I wanted to flip that around and try something like 70% WW, 20% AP, and 10% rye...  I also did not make a starter the day before, so I needed to figure out how to make a starter in a short period of time so I wouldn't have to stay up all night..  So it went something like this:

Fast Liquid Levain:

75g Rye Flour

75g WW

104g Sourdough Starter at 100% hydration preferably fed a few days ago, or the night before.

10g Honey

464g Total Liquid Levain


6:40pm - Mix liquid levain, let sit covered on counter for approx 4 hours.


Final Dough:

625g WW

200g AP

25g Rye

550g Water

24g Kosher Salt

464g Liquid Levain

1888g Total Dough Yield

10:40pm - In a large mixing bowl, place the ingredients in the following order: water, levain, flour, and salt.  Mix with large spatula until dough forms, and mix with hands to make sure all the lumps are out.  This should take about 3 minutes.  Cover and let rest.

11:00pm - Knead for 1 minute, cover and let rest.

11:20pm - Turn dough, cover and let rest.

11:40pm - Turn dough, cover and let rest.


12:00am - Divide dough into 2 equal parts, preshape into boule, let rest seam side down on work surface.

12:10am - Tighten boule, flour top, place in well floured linen lined banneton/basket, place in plastic bag and let proof.  Place 2 baking stones into oven along with steam pan in oven.  Go to bed.

5:00am - Wake up, fill steam pan with some water, put thermometer in oven, turn on oven to 500F with convection.  Make sure your kitchen windows are open for ventilation.  Go back to bed.

6:00am - Wake up, turn convection off, turn boules onto a lightly floured peel, place in oven directly on the baking stone.  When the last loaf is in, pour 1 cup water into steam pan, close door.  Turn oven down to 450F no convection.  Bake 50 minutes, taking the steam pan out at 20 minutes, and rotating the loaves between the stones at 25 minutes.  After 50 minutes, take a loaf out and check the weight and internal temp.  Should be 210F and weight 15% less than the prebaked weight.  Turn oven off and place loaves back into oven for 10 minutes.

7:00am - Take loaves out and get ready for work...

8:00am - Deliver loaf to my friend and go to work...  I left my loaf at home and didn't cut into it until today...  Here's what I found:


probably34's picture

I've been having trouble developing a gluten structure in rye breads that will will hold up. The surface of the dough cracks and splits. Anyone have any pointers?





Vogel's picture


Usually I am not too much involved in the blogging world, or the blogosphere, as it seems to be called. There is a fine line between writing just for serving your own ego and writing as part of a social endeavour, the desire to contribute to the wide array of knowledge and media which is the source for all the people, including myself, in the need for advice. I always feared going too much for the former.

When I started baking a few months ago, I learned that this is a craft which is less about pure facts and information but more about feeling, instincts, checking out boundaries, trial & error. All the things involved in social relationships. Thus it seems to discuss and reflect on the craft of baking in the environment of a social community is the natural way to do it. Often I learn the most from just reading about what other people have done, about their individual success and mistakes, originating from their individual circumstances. It makes me feel getting a better sense of the thousands of individual factors you have to take into account when baking.

As I am still quite new to baking, I am far away from being experienced. Therefore I won't be able to post fancy regional recipes yet. I definitely hope to get to that point in the future, in order to give something back to the community. At this point of time, this blog will be more of a personal baking diary, which serves as tool for myself to keep track of my own progress and mistakes, but maybe there are still some people left who are less experienced than me an might take some useful information out of my posts. That would be exciting!


General progress: sharpening my senses

Although I have produced some decent loafs of bread in the past, the results are generally varying a lot. Sometimes when taking the goods out of the oven I think "Wow, I should open my own bakery!". And then the next day something more along the lines of "Ehm, I should wrap this loaf in paper so that no one ever can see it" comes to my mind. Being well aware of having not quite figured out how long I have to knead, proper shape without every second loaf becoming flat again, at which point the final proof is finished and such things, I finally decided to buy a few books as advised here. I ordered Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Jeffrey Hamelmanns "Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes", and "Bread Science" by Emily Buehler. The latter has arrived yesterday, so I haven't read the whole book yet (but I have a feeling that this will be my favorite and the most enlightening one), but I've already absorbed the other two.

Reading those books literally took me to a new level of bread making. When I made bread after having read them, it was the first time I really opened my eyes and tried to use my senses. It was the first time I actually started to get a feel of what I am actually doing. I learnt a lot of new concepts, like thinking about the dough having an axis, with two poles, the smooth side and the seam side, and that you should try keeping them on the positions. It feels like having progressed from step 3 of 100 to step 7 of 100 or so. Thus I am still far away to produce really good and constant results, but I have become yet again really motivated to finally get to this point.


Most recent baking experiments


dough pieces / oven spring / crust /

Ciabatta doughCiabatta ovenCiabatta crust

Ciabatta crumb

The Ciabatta is made from an 80 percent hydration wheat dough with a biga (30% pre-fermented flour). Since I don't have a stand mixer, I used the Richard Bertinet kneading technique ( Unfortunetaly, I didn't knead long enough so the gluten wasn't developed enough, which I realized while doing the stretch & fold during bulk fermentation. That's probably why the dough flattened a little during the final proof, but that's okay. I am really happy with the crumb. It has an open and glassy texture, just as I expect it from Ciabatta bread. The flavour was good, too.
Still I have a problem which I still haven't figured out, which is the following: My Ciabatta loafs tend to have rather hard crusts. I believe I know why it comes out like this. When pouring the dough onto the counter, I need a lot of flour to prevent the dough from sticking. The dough has a really wet surface (probably partly because I do the stretch & fold directly in the bowl and with wet hands) which hydrates the flour and creates sort of an outer layer of fresh and unfermented dough. As I use more flour because it is absorbed into the dough over time, this layer thickens. In the oven it creates a hard crust and prevents the loaf from properly browning. Another problem arises when I turn the dough upside down on the baking stone after its final proof. On the bottom side of the dough the flour from the counter builds thick lumps (especially when you stretch or scrape the dough a little) which are often incorparated into the dough when handling it. These lumps harden in the oven as well. I'm still searching for the perfect solution to use as little flour as possible and create a nice crust. Not turning the dough upside down when going to bake helps (see this photo:, but then all the flour sticks to the bottom of the bread and I almost have to cut it away because it is too hard.
Well, I'll keep trying.

Norwich Sourdough

proofed dough pieces / right after loading into the oven /
3 minutes of baking / 8 minutes of baking / crumb /

Norwich Sourdough proofed loafsNorwich Sourdough oven 1

Norwich Sourdough oven 2Norwich Sourdough oven 3Norwich Sourdough crumb

Norwich Sourdough crust

This is a Norwich Sourdough ( I basically used Susan's recipe, but I used medium dark rye flour (Type 1150) because that was the one I had here. I used a little more sourdough (16,7% instead of 15% pre-fermented flour). I am really happy with this one. I would say, these are the best loafs I have produced so far. I've learned a lot from reading the above books and finally found out that my shaped loafs need much more than the advised 2 1/2 hours (which produced this underproofed and very dense crumb: I let them proof about 4 hours and the dough still felt very elastic (springing back when poked). This time I used the "put some dough in a glass, mark it and wait until it doubled"-test ( ; I let it triple) which helped a lot.
Especially considering that you cannot really find high protein or malted wheat flour in German supermarkets (the usual one used for breads has 9,8% protein relative to the whole flour weight [including natural moisture], that's why most white breads that are sold in Germany have additional pure gluten in the dough) I am quite happy to have finally produced a rather "big" loaf that is holding it's shape. Maybe I will try to find some malt to produce a more reddish crust, but if I will be able to reproduce my current results I am perfectly happy for now.


News from the local baking scene

"Aldi", the most popular discounter in Germany (a supermarket that offers a limited range of products but to the cheapest prices), slowly wants to set up vending machines for baked goods. You can imagine it like this: You press some buttons on the machine and order some rolls. Then the order is sent to some people in the store who finish half-baked rolls which come from big factories (and may contain a lot of chemical additives) in their ovens. Traditional bakeries are now protesting against it by trying to make a case out of it to bring to court. The bakeries charge Aldi of falsy using the term "freshly baked" where in fact the goods aren't really freshly baked but just warmed up industrial food, kicking the traditional craft of baking with their feet and just trying to make money. One of the bakeries is "Bäckerei Huth" (, which is home near the town I was born and therefore well-known by me (they have my favourite lye bretzels!). I'm eagerly waiting for which direction this whole case will be taken and keep you updated.

amolitor's picture

This isn't a recipe, nor is it instructions to anyone other than me, it's just a statement of where I am right now in terms of baking bread. Some will be appalled, others might be inspired. Most probably won't care!

Right now, I'm keeping it simple. When we moved from San Francisco, CA, to Norfolk, VA, we found that there really wasn't the kind of bread here that we were used to. At that point, I sort of fell in to teaching myself to make european style breads, of the kind that we used to buy from Acme and Semifreddi. Since my wife and I have always cooked and cooked fairly well, we had a pretty well-equipped kitchen (including large, heavy mixing bowls, and some strong wooden spoons, a pizza stone+peel kit someone gave us once, and so on). I haven't bought any new equipment for bread baking, and that's the way I like it. I mix and knead by hand,  I score with a very sharp german-made paring knife, I bake on a pizza stone.

Since I've developed a little skill and some small understanding of how breads work, I've stopped measuring much of anything for breads I make frequently. I use measuring cups to scoop flour and carry water around so I know roughly where I am at, but mostly I follow my nose around familiar recipes. My goal is to understand the way the dough should feel, and to adjust it as I go. Sometimes I am trying to make it feel the same way it did last time, other times I'm playing a little 'what if it's a little wetter? I wonder what the result will be' game.

Consistency, as you will have guessed by now, is not something that matters to me. I have enough understanding to know that the result will probably be good, whatever it is. If it's a slightly different loaf from last time, well, perhaps I will learn something about how changes in handling change the loaf, and as a bonus, my family gets a new bread to enjoy!

Things I do worry about and take some care with:

  • dough temperature (I'm not completely fussy, but I do try to cool things down when the ambient temperature is too high, and heat things up when.. well, this is Virginia, it's not really too cold very much of the time).
  • salt, which I worry about to the extent of having a base idea of where it should be, and adjusting up or down a bit if I've got a bit more or less dough than the basic recipe.

Note that even here I'm not measuring, I'm following my nose, just to push things in the right direction. Nothing is too extreme here, so even these rough adjustments get the temperature within a couple degrees of right, and the salt within a gram or two of optimal. And, hey, every error yields a "new" kind of bread!

Anyways. This is really just a note to a future me, and maybe someone else will find something herein they can use!



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