The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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edh's picture

Bwraith, Zolablue, starter time and temp question?

January 4, 2008 - 9:13am -- edh

I'm not sure if I should be asking this of Bill or Zolablue (or anyone else that wants to take a whack at it), but I need help!

I've been making a much altered version of Mariana's Calvel sourdough with great success for several months now, but with cold weather, I'm having problems.

I'd like to post the formula as I've been doing it, and see what you all have to say?

The starter gets a 2 stage build starting with;

28 g firm starter (white bread flour maintained)

36 g white bread flour

22 g water

bwraith's picture

100% Whole Grain Hearth Breads

100% Whole Grain Hearth Breads - Crust

100% Whole Grain Hearth Breads - Crumb

After following the recent adventures of JMonkey with 100% Whole Grain Sourdough and working on answering some of the questions concerning whole grain sourdough breads posted by Ron, Shai, and Taygirl, and wanting to make some bread my wife, who is more of a "true believer" in whole grain breads, would be happier to eat, I've decided to do some experimenting again with whole grain hearth breads. Just to be up front about this, I'm not a "true believer". I'm happy to have some "Work Horse Sourdough" or even a white "Pane Casarecio di Genzano" or a "Sourdough Pagnotta" or a "Thom Leonard CF" or the like in smaller quantities, and just eat other foods to get the nutrients and fiber from the bran and germ that might be missing due to indulging in less than 100% whole grain breads. Nonetheless, when my granola eating friends give me that disapproving look, I just feel guilty if I can't come up with a good 100% Whole Grain Sourdough Hearth Bread to settle their doubts.

With the caveats mentioned above, I still thought this bread had good flavor and texture. My wife was especially happy with it and asked me to keep a small quantity of it on hand at all times in the freezer, along with other favorites. The only other time she has made such a request was for the Sourdough Focaccia, which is an addiction, not a healthy choice.

I made this bread in two different ways. The first is a one-step approach with a very long somewhat cool rise from a very small amount of starter added directly to the final dough ingredients. The second is a two-step approach with an overnight levain allowed to somewhat more than double in volume and a soaker of the remaining whole grain flours that are combined in a final dough with salt and a little malt syrup the next day for a faster warmer final rise. Note that to satisfy the "100% whole grain true believers", I have gone to the trouble of making a whole wheat starter, which I did by taking a tiny amount of my white flour starter and feeding it repeatedly over the course of the past week with exclusively whole wheat flour. Given that I feed the starter 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight) every 12 hours, there is still about 1 billionth of a part of white flour in it. Sorry, I just didn't have time to get it any closer to pure whole grain. However, I then dilute it by a factor of about 100 in the dough, so the final dough is 1/100 billionth white flour or so, just in the interests of full disclosure.

I have spreadsheets for both the two-step version (html, xls), and the one-step version (html, xls). Photos of the process, including a nice pair of roast chicken and some roast yams, later mashed, covered with marshmallows, and allowed to brown in the oven. Kids love those marshmallow covered yams, let me tell you.

Version 1 Mixing and Initial Rise

Version 1 Dough:

  • 15g 80% hydration whole wheat starter (you can probably substitute any whole grain starter, or a white flour starter if you don't mind going a little below 100% whole grain).
  • 41g whole rye flour
  • 141g whole spelt flour
  • 383g Wheat Montana Prairie Gold (high protein white whole wheat flour)
  • 375g Wheat Montana Bronze Chief (high protein red whole wheat flour) or just combine the whole wheat flours and use whatever whole wheat flour(s) you like.
  • 10g organic barley malt syrup
  • 18g salt
  • 758g water

Mixed at 9:55PM with DLX mixer on medium/low for 8 minutes, then folded a couple of times and dropped in covered rising bucket for the night. It started at 74F after mixing and dropped to 70F over a few hours. It was at about 69F the next morning.

Version 2 Levain and Soaker


  • 15g 80% hydration WW starter (same notes as above)
  • 41g whole rye flour
  • 141g whole spelt flour
  • 146g water

Mixed at 10:15 PM and let rise overnight, covered, at 70F down to about 69F.


  • 375g Wheat MT Prairie Gold (same notes as above)
  • 375g Wheat MT Bronze Chief (same notes as above)
  • 604g water

Mixed at 10:25PM and allowed to rest overnight at 70F down to about 69F.

Version 2 Mixing

Version 2 Dough:

  • Levain
  • Soaker
  • 10g organic barley malt syrup
  • 18g salt

The mixing of Version 2 was done at 7:30 AM. I spread soaker out on wet counter like a big pizza using wet hands. Paint levain onto soaker using a spatula. Paint organic barley malt syrup over levain. Roll up and fold a couple of times. Spread out like a pizza again. Spread salt evenly over the dough. Roll up and fold a couple of times. It was mixed in DLX mixer at medium/low for 8 mintues, folded a couple of times and placed in a covered dough bucket to rise. The dough bucket was put in my "proofing cabinet", a spot above my coffee machine that sits at about 76F in the winter. I knew that if I want to bake "Version 1" and "Version 2" together, I would need to speed up the rise on "Version 2" a little to get them to coincide. So, Version 1 was left in a cool spot at 70F for the morning, while version 2 was placed in the proofing cabinet to get a boost.

Version 1 and Version 2 Folding

At this point both versions are in their respective rising buckets, one in a warm spot, the other in a cool spot. I folded both of them about once per hour during the remainder of the bulk fermentation for a total of 3 folding sessions each. All the folds were typical of the description in Hamelman's "Bread". I pour the dough out on a lightly dusted counter with the smooth side down, fold each side in toward the middle, from the north, east, west, and south, brushing off any flour after each fold, and then turn it back smooth side up and drop it back in the rising bucket. The remainder of the bulk fermentation, measured from the point Version 2 was mixed (7:30AM), was 3.5 hours.


At 11:00AM, both loaves were shaped into batards. Each one is about 17 inches long, and both were placed in a half sheet in couche cloths smooth side up, put in a Ziploc "Big Bag", and allowed to proof for another 2.75 hours, until 1:45 PM. The ambient temperature of the kitchen was still about 70F. Version 2 therefore proofed at an average temperature of about 74 or 73F as it started at 75F and dropped to room temperature during the final proof, while version 1 proofed at 70F the whole time.

Slash and Bake

The loaves were turned onto a peel, slashed, and put in my brick oven. The hearth temperature was about 425F and I sprayed a few ounces of water on the loaves and into the oven chamber with an orchid mist sprayer, and sealed the oven with a wet towel covered door. In a kitchen oven, bake at 425F for a few minutes with steam, then drop the temperature to 375F and allow to fully brown. The final hearth temperature was about 375F after 45 minutes of bake. The loaves had browned, the crust seemed done, and the internal temperature was about 209F.


The loaves were allowed to cool completely.


The crumb is somewhat soft, but not fluffy, the holes are irregular and mostly small, but the crumb is open for a whole grain bread. It doesn't feel dense or heavy when you chew it. The crust is crunchy and fairly chewy with a good toasty flavor. The sourdough flavor of these loaves was mild and the crumb clearly had the characteristic nutty sweetness of spelt in it, even with just 15% spelt. It was hard to tell the difference in flavor between version 1 and version 2, but version 2, with the levain, seemed slightly more sour. Also, version 2 had a wetter, more proofed feel at both shaping and slashing time, even though both had increased in volume almost exactly the same amount. When I shaped version 2, it was harder to shape, as it was more gloppy, and it ended up being longer and flatter after shaping. However, the crumb texture, the crust, and the flavor were virtually identical after baking. Version 1 held its shape better and sprung in the oven, while version 2 seemed to spring up very little but did spread out a lot during baking. Although version 2 was flatter, the crumb was slightly more open. The Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread I blogged a while back had a slightly lighter and softer crumb, even though the method was almost identical to version 2 with the levain. I suspect this is because in the sandwich bread version, the loaves were raised and baked in pans at slightly warmer temperatures and allowed to proof a little longer. Also the hydration was slightly higher in the sandwich bread.

Some Thoughts

I have had better luck with one-step versions and with two-step versions where I only allow the levain to just double and no more and with two-step versions with about 10% fermented flour, as opposed to this "Version 2", which had 20% fermented flour in the levain. I think that delivering the extra acid in a riper levain that constitutes 20% or more fermented flour causes a breakdown in the gluten structure of the final dough. This may be why Peter Reinhart's recipes in his whole grain book recommend using instant yeast with the larger levains in his recipes, which works well as many of us have verified. However, if you want to do a sourdough only recipe, my experiences so far point toward doing long slow rises from tiny inoculations, as in the one-step method, or if you are doing a two-step method with a levain, then only allow the levain to rise by double and not more before refrigerating or combining with the final dough. You won't get a big flavor boost from the levain the way you would with a riper levain, but it does allow for a convenient break in the timing, as the levain and soaker can be refrigerated for a day or two, and the the bread making process can be resumed at a convenient time.

bwraith's picture

Workhorse Sourdough - Crust and Crumb

Workhorse Sourdough - Loaves

This recipe is a basic sourdough that I make frequently and use as an all purpose basic bread. It has more components of whole grain in it than a typical white country loaf, yet because of the high extraction flour, it has a more refined texture and less grassy flavor than a typical whole grain loaf. At least for me, it blends better with food than whole grain or close to whole grain loaves I would make for toast at breakfast, peanut butter or tahini, or sometimes as a vehicle for more strongly flavored salted meats and cheeses. I could use it as a substitute for a rustic French bread to have along with a roasted meat or an eggplant parmesan, for example.

Some additional photos are posted, as well as spreadsheets of the recipe and rise time calculations in xls and html formats.


  • 40g white flour paste starter (I used 80% hydration white flour starter) You can use 50g of 100% hydration starter or 35g of 60% hydration firm starter and get about the same rise times.
  • 90g whole rye flour (I used Homestead Grist Mills Whole Rye Flour)
  • 180g strong whole wheat flour (I used Wheat MT Bronze Chief)
  • 68g high extraction flour (I used Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo)

The levain is designed to ripen in 10 hours at 70F or about 7 hours at 76F. In my case, it was left to ripen on the counter overnight at about 70F for a total of 10 hours. The levain can be made ahead and refrigerated after it has just doubled. It will keep for a day or two stored in the refrigerator. Ideally, if it is refrigerated, it should be removed from the refrigerator an hour or two before you put it in the dough.


  • 540g high extraction flour (I used Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo)
  • 540g water

Mix the flour and water enough to form a shaggy mass. Let it rest overnight. I just left it on the kitchen counter next to the levain for the night. You can also mix it ahead and store it in the refrigerator along with the levain. Remove it an hour or two before you are ready to mix the dough.

High extraction flour is a less refined flour that has some or most of the bran removed but contains most or all of the remaining components of the whole grain. Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo has the germ and a small amount of bran in it.


  • Levain from above
  • Soaker from above
  • 18g barley malt syrup
  • 34g salt
  • 608g water
  • 975g AP flour (I used Heartland Mills Organic AP with Malt)


The dough was mixed with a DLX mixer for about 10 minutes on low/medium. The dough is medium soft to soft. It spreads a little bit when you first pour it on the counter and is a little sticky. The dough was folded a few times after mixing, using a wet dough folding/kneading technique, in order to form it into a round ball. The dough was then placed in a covered container to rise.

Bulk Fermentation and Folding

The bulk fermentation phase was designed to last 3.7 hours at 75F. During that time the dough was conventionally folded three times, about once per hour. As the gluten develops, the dough will become stiffer and will no longer spread out when turned out onto the counter. Fold more often if the dough is too slack or fold less often if it seems too stiff and resistant to folding.

The dough should expand to about 1.7 times the original volume and become puffy during the bulk fermentation. The dough is not intended to double in volume during the bulk fermentation.

At 70F the bulk fermentation should take about 5 hours, somewhat longer than at 75F.


The dough was halved and two large rectangular loaves were formed. The two loaves were placed in a couche on a half tray and placed in a Ziploc "Big Bag" with two bowls of hot water. The loaves were proofed for 2.6 hours at 75F. At 70F the loaves should proof for about 3.5 hours.

Slash and Bake

The loaves were slashed, put on parchment paper on a large peel and placed in a brick oven. The oven hearth temperature was about 525F at the beginning of the bake. The loaves and interior of the oven were sprayed with a fine mist using an orchid sprayer (1/6 gal/minute for 25 seconds), and the oven was sealed with a towel covered door. After 15 minutes, the loaves were rotated and the door of the oven was left open. The loaves were baked for a total of 45 minutes until dark brown. Since the dough is fairly wet, it helps to give the loaves a thorough bake. The internal temperature was 209F, but I've found that internal temperature can be an unreliable indicator of doneness with higher hydration loaves.

In my kitchen oven, I would preheat the oven to 500F with a stone and cast iron skillet. After placing the loaves on the stone, put water in the skillet and drop the temperature to 450F. After 15 minutes, drop the temperature to 400F for the rest of the bake.

The loaves are fairly large, as my brick oven has room for them. In a kitchen oven the loaves could be done one at a time, possibly shaped a little wider and shorter. To do a more typical quantity of bread for a kitchen oven, halve the recipe and make two smaller loaves that can be baked at the same time.


Allow the loaves to completely cool on a rack that allows the entire loaf, top and bottom, to be exposed to air.


This bread is named Workhorse Sourdough because it can be used for almost any job. It will work in place of a white country bread for dinner, for sandwiches, for toast, or even for dipping in olive oil. The sourdough flavor of the levain with the rye and whole wheat is a little stronger than breads I've made with a white flour or spelt levain. One could put all the whole grains and Golden Buffalo flour in the soaker, and make the levain from a portion of the white flour. Water would have to be moved from the dough to the larger soaker in that case.

bwraith's picture

Savory Sourdough Focaccia

I spent the day making a couple of sourdough focaccias and a miche that is similar to the Thom Leonard Country French recipe in Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer. The recipe for the focaccias follows.

A spread sheet in xls format and html format for the dough is posted, which has amounts in ounces and bakers percentages, percent of fermented flour and other possibly useful information. Some photos of the process are posted, as well.

These focaccias use a small amount of instant yeast. Olive oil seems to significantly slow the activity of the sourdough once it is introduced in the dough. The fermentation in this recipe runs long enough before a large amount of olive oil is added to the dough to allow the sourdough flavor to develop.


  • 15g of white flour starter (I used my 90% hydration starter, but you can use any healthy, active starter) Use about 12g of 60% hydration firm starter.
  • 216g of bread flour (I used Wheat Montana AP, which is like bread flour despite the AP designation)
  • 194g of water

Let the levain rise overnight until at least doubled. It can ripen a few more hours after that without changing the results very much. The levain is designed to rise for 12 hours at 70F. At 76F it might take 8 hours to be ready and at 65F it would take about 15 hours to be ready. If the levain is ready before you want to mix the dough, refrigerate it when it has about doubled, and it can be used 1 or 2 days later.


  • 14g Malt Syrup
  • 22g Salt (1.6%, because I put additional salt on the raisin focaccia, and the chorizo and cheeses add additional salt in the savory version)
  • 4g instant yeast
  • 70g olive oil
  • 988g water
  • 84g whole rye flour
  • 84g whole wheat Flour (I used Wheat MT Bronze Chief)
  • 280g bread flour (I used Wheat MT AP)
  • 350g high gluten flour (I used KA Sir Lancelot HG)
  • 378g AP flour (I used KA organic AP)

Mixing and Kneading

You could easily use all bread flour for the white flours in the dough. This is just what I did due to finishing some bags of flour. I usually use 50% AP and 50% high gluten flour in this dough.

I mixed the dough in a DLX mixer at low/medium speed with the dough roller attachment for 5 minutes, and let it rest a few minutes. Then I split the dough in half. To one half I added a box of golden raisins - about 15 ounces, and mixed the dough for another few minutes to further develop the gluten. The other half of the dough was separately mixed for a few more minutes.

Each half of the dough was allowed to rest about 1/2 hour and then poured out on the surface and folded a few times and each was placed in its own covered bowl to rise.

Folding and Bulk Fermentation

Each dough was folded about once per hour over the course of about 3.75 hours and was at about 75F. At 70F the bulk fermentation should run longer, maybe 5 hours. The dough should become puffy and soft over that time. How much it rises is hard to tell, since it is being somewhat deflated during the foldings that are done once per hour.

Prepare Ingredients for Savory Focaccia

Sautee 1/4 inch on a side pieces of chorizo or other salty, firm sausage in olive oil until they render some of their fat and are somewhat browned. They will cook more in the focaccia, so they shouldn't be sauteed so much that they become hard. Roughly chop most of a large onion and 4-6 garlic cloves. The onions should end up in strips about 1 inch by 1/4 inch. The garlic pieces should be about 1/4 inch on a side. Sautee with some red and black pepper (maybe 1/2-1 tsp, depending on how spicey you want it). Sautee the onion and garlic until tender and translucent or beginning to brown. Chop up fresh mozzarella, about 1/2 pound into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch on a side chunks. Also have on hand enough shaved or shredded asiago or parmesan or similar salty flaked dry cheese for topping the savory focaccia. Drain the sauteed ingredients well and spread out on the counter or place in refrigerator. They will need to cool to room temperature before being pushed into the focaccia.

Place in Pan

Line a 1/2 size standard tray (about 17x13x1 inches) with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper with olive oil, about 1/4 cup. Place the dough on the parchment paper and patiently press it your fingers starting from the center and working out to the edges. If the dough will not spread out, let it rest a few minutes, and continue pressing it out. Don't squeeze it with flat palms, only press straight down, dimpling it with your fingers. With patience it spread out over the whole pan. Don't worry too much about filling the corners.

In the case of the savory focaccia, as you spread it out, drizzle about another 1/4 cup of herb infused olive oil on top. Also, once it is reasonably spread out, begin to work in the sauteed ingredients and the mozzarella cheese. Push the ingredients into the dough with your fingers. Continue to patiently push all the ingredients down. At first they may pop back up or remain on the surface. After a while the puffy dough will begin to envelop them. Every few minutes for the first hour of the final proof, continue to press in the ingredients.

In the case of the raisin focaccia, just let it rise for the first hour, while pressing in the ingredients in the savory focaccia. After an hour, press the raisin focaccia down with your fingers, working across the entire dough surface.


Cover both focaccias with plastic wrap and allow them to proof for another 2.5 to 3 hours at 75F. If they become very puffy, remove the plastic wrap and gently press them down with your fingers. The dough should be puffy, evenly risen across the whole pan, and at about the height of the top lip of the pan or a little higher. Poke any big bubbles that form with your fingers while pressing down the dough.


Before the raisin focaccia is baked, sprinkle 3/4 tsp of salt evenly across the surface. Use your fingers to pinch the salt and carefully spread it over the dough.

The shaved, flaked, or shredded asiago or parmesan cheese should be sprinkled over the savory focaccia when it is within 5 minutes of being taken out of the oven during the bake.


These focaccias were baked in a brick oven that had been brought to a hearth temperature of about 550F and allowed to cool down to about 510F. The air temperature in the oven was about 425F. They baked for about 15-20 minutes, first in the pan for 5 minutes. They were then scooped out of the pan with a peel and placed directly on the oven floor. If I were doing this in my kitchen oven, I would bake in the pan for about 20 minutes in an oven with a stone preheated for about 1/2 hour to 450F. It may help to gently scoop the focaccia out of the pan onto a peel and drop it directly on the stone, but is not necessary. I sometimes notice a second oven spring when I drop them directly onto the stone.


If they haven't been removed from the pan, slip a peel underneath the parchment paper and carefully remove the focaccia from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper also. The bottom of the focaccia will come out better if exposed to air while cooling. Allow to fully cool before cutting.


The sourdough flavor goes well with both the raisins and the savory flavored focaccias. These focaccias are favorites among family and friends and are regularly requested.

bwraith's picture

Miche with Spelt and Rye Levain

Miche with Spelt and Rye Levain - Closeup

Zolablue, a frequent TFL contributor, encouraged me to try the Thom Leonard Country French recipe in Artisan Baking by Glezer. This recipe is a variation that incorporates some of the things I have liked in other miche recipes. For example, I am using Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo flour as the main flour, but spelt and rye are added in the levain, and there is some additional whole wheat added with a soaker. The hydration is lower than most of the other miche recipes I've tried or blogged here on TFL, which gives it a slightly more regular, dense crumb that is excellent for sandwiches or for holding honey or any wetter toppings. It is a robust texture, as opposed to a very light, irregular, open structure.

Spreadsheets in xls and html format are posted with weights in ounces, bakers percentages, and other possibly useful information. Some photos of the process are posted, as well.


  • 10g white flour paste consistency starter (I used my 90% hydration white flour starter) Use about 8 grams of 60% hydration firm starter.
  • 58g whole rye flour
  • 119g whole spelt flour
  • 141g water

The levain is designed to rise for about 12 hours at 70F. At 76F, the levain would be ready in about 8 hours. At 65F it would be ready in about 17 hours. You can let the levain rise by double and refrigerate it if you want to make it in advance. It can be used after 1-2 days without changing the results of this recipe very much.


  • 203g whole wheat flour (I used Wheat MT Bronze Chief)
  • 203g water

The soaker was mixed the night before and allowed to sit on the counter overnight at about 70F. Refrigerate unless you plan to use it within 12 hours.


  • 1 tsp diastatic malted barley powder
  • 15g malt syrup
  • 27g salt
  • 721g water
  • 203g AP flour (I used KA Organic AP)
  • 763g high extraction flour (I used Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo)

Mix and Knead

The dough was initially mixed/kneaded in a DLX mixer on low/medium speed for about 8 minutes. It was allowed to rest in the mixing bowl for about 1/2 hour and then kneaded in the mixer for another 5 minutes. The dough was dropped on the counter and folded into a ball and placed in a rising bucket. It was placed in a warm area, about 76F, for the bulk fermentation, which should run about 4.25 hours at 75F. The bulk fermentation should take about 6 hours at 70F or 8.5 hours at 65F.


The dough is fairly firm with the very water absorpent Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo and whole rye at a 79% hydration. At this consistency, the dough is stiff enough that it resists much folding, so it was folded only once about 1.5 hours before shaping.

Shaping and Final Proof

A boule was formed and allowed to sit on the counter for 10 minutes to seal the seams. Note, the loaf doesn't rise by double during bulk fermentation. The loaf was placed upside down in a lined round wicker basket style banneton dusted with a mixture of semolina, rice, and bread flour. The loaf was also dusted with the dusting mixture plus a small amount of bran. The basket and a bowl of warm water was placed in a Ziploc "Big Bag" and allowed to rise for 3.5 hours at 75F. Allow 4.5 hours at 70F for the final proof or 6.5 hours at 65F.

Peeling and Scoring

The boule was turned out on a piece of semolina and corn meal dusted parchment paper on a large peel and slashed with a cross-hatch pattern.


This loaf was baked in a brick oven after some focaccias were baked, as noted in another blog entry recently. The hearth temperature had dropped to about 485F, and the air temperature was about 425F. The oven was steamed using a very fine garden sprayer designed for orchids (1/6 gal/minute, by Foggit) and sealed with a towel covered wooden door for 15 minutes. It was then rotated and sealed with a metal door thereafter for a total bake time of about 1 hour. The hearth temperature dropped to about 445F at the end of the bake.

To do the same thing in the kitchen oven, I would use a stone and preheat the oven to 500F and steamed according to your favorite method. I use a cast iron skillet and place a special can with a small hole drilled in it with about 1 cup of water that dribbles out creating steam in the oven for about 10 minutes. I drop the oven temperature to 450F for the first 15 minutes, immediately after adding the water, and then drop the temperature to about 400F or lower, for the rest of the bake, monitoring the crust color and dropping the temperature further to avoid charred crust.


Allow to fully cool on a rack before cutting.


This is a great loaf for any juicy ingredients, or things like honey, mayo, and whatnot. It's more dense and chewy than other miches I've blogged on TFL. It has a nutty, toasty, and slightly sweet flavor, I believe due to the spelt, and is a little crunchy due to the crisp thick crust that has a little bran encrusted in it, and maybe also from the added whole wheat.

Darkstar's picture

Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt - Craig Ponsford videos on CHOW

November 6, 2007 - 12:32pm -- Darkstar

How I love Stumbleupon! My habit of giving 'thumbs-up' to sites and recipies about bread (this one included) got me dropped on the following link. (Heck it helped me land here over a year ago as well)


I'll just quote from the page:

Cooky's picture

Aarggh! Need some help here with cold-start baking

October 21, 2007 - 1:33pm -- Cooky

Hi, guys. I am mightily frustrated this afternoon following my third bad experience with cold-start baking of no-knead bread. I know I've made it work a few times, but when it goes bad, it's a mess. Basically, the bread bakes into the pan and cannot be dislodged without destroying the loaf altogether. I've tried it with two different baking vessels, both of which work great when preheated to blistering temps. I have had the same experience with traditional loaf pans - even when I oiled the heck out of them first.

Joe Fisher's picture

A sour kind of day

October 19, 2007 - 7:05am -- Joe Fisher

There was a time when I thought sourdough was this intimidating, terrifying, impossible thing that required constant work and dedication.

Today I use almost zero commercial yeast. I've found that I can ignore my starter for a lot longer than I had thought. The night before I want to use it I give it a good feeding and in the morning it's ready to be fed again or used right away. I'll usually feed it again to get a nice sour tang.

bwraith's picture

Pane Casareccio e Lariano di Genzano

Daniel Leader's Local Breads has a fascinating story of his visit to Genzano, where he saw them make large, almost charred looking, bran dusted breads raised with a biga naturale, an Italian firm sourdough levain. I enjoyed hearing about his visit with Sergio, while they mixed, raised, and loaded 64 very large loaves into a wood-fired oven. Now that I have a brick oven in my back yard, I thought I'd give a try at making these loaves in the size he says he observed at the bakery he visited. He says they created approximately 8 pound loaves that were loaded eight at a time into an eight foot long by one foot wide by about 4 inches tall box with divisions in it for eight loaves. Thanks to Zolablue for doing this recipe as shown in Leader's book and writing about it in her blog, which provided inspiration as well as lots of information and photos.

I've included some photos of the process and spreadsheets for the high extraction flour loaf in html and xls format and for the white flour loaf in html and xls format.

I only did two loaves of 8 pounds each, which I proofed in a 26 inch by 17 inch by 4 inch roasting pan, and then baked in my brick oven, which is a dome 37 inches in diameter - enough room for two of these loaves. The dough is very wet and is kneaded in a mixer at increasing speed for over 20 minutes or more to fully develop the gluten. The dough is hard to handle, as it is very soft, sticky, and puffy.

There are two styles of this bread, one with a high protein white flour and one with a high extraction flour. I used Heartland Mills Strong Bread Flour for the white flour loaf and Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo for the high extraction flour.  


  • 15g of 90% hydration white flour starter (12g for the high extraction loaf, as it rises a little faster)
  • 392g flour (use the appropriate flour for each loaf, as described above)
  • 273g water

The levain was mixed the night before and allowed to rise overnight at room temperature. The amounts are such that by mixing the white flour levain at about 10PM and the high extraction flour levain at 11:30PM, the white flour levain would be ready at 9:00AM the next day and the high extraction levain would be ready at 10:00PM the next day, allowing me to mix them successively in the morning with my DLX mixer such that both loaves would be ready to bake at the same time later on the next day. The high extraction flour rises more quickly than the white flour, so it is being mixed later to account for that difference.


  • All the levain
  • 1.6 Kg flour (use the appropriate flour for each loaf as described above)
  • 1240 g water with the white flour loaf, 1420g flour with the high extraction flour loaf
  • 5 g instant yeast
  • 40 g salt

According to Leader, the dough is mixed for a long time at high speed. I used a DLX mixer, first at a low speed to mix the ingredients for about 10 minutes, then at medium speed for about 8 minutes, then at high speed for another 4 minutes.

The dough is supposed to be very soft and wet. I had to add a little flour to the white flour loaf, as it was so wet, it wouldn't come together, even after 20 minutes of kneading. I had to add some water early in the mixing of the high extraction flour loaf, as it was clearly too stiff to begin with. Eventually, they were both fairly wet and gloppy, but with reasonable gluten development. I ended up folding the white flour dough a couple of times and the high extraction flour once. It seemed necessary to get some additional gluten development later on.

The inoculation for this recipe is 20% fermented flour to total flour weight, which is a little lower than the recipe in Local Breads (30% fermented flour). The idea was to let it rise a little longer to get more sourdough flavor in the dough. I've had better results starting at inoculations below about 25% with my starter in any event. For the same reasons, the amount of instant yeast was reduced to only 5 grams in 2Kg of total flour. My plan was to let the dough rise for about 3.5 hours in bulk fermentation and about another 2.5 hours in final proof. However, it went faster, as I forgot how warm the dough would be and how long it would stay warm due to the long machine kneading and the large volume of the dough. The dough rose almost too quickly, even with the lower inoculation and amount of instant yeast. I would consider reducing the yeast even further in a subsequent attempt, to match the timing I wanted for the sourdough fermentation with less need to punch down the dough.

Bulk Fermentation

Each dough was placed in a rising bucket. The white flour dough was folded twice, at one hour intervals. The high extraction flour dough was folded once two hours after mixing.

Final Proof

The loaves were placed seam side up in a large roasting pan measuring 26x17x4 inches. A piece of wooden board was placed between the loaves and separate couches were placed on each side of the board to facilitate lifting each large piece of dough out onto the peel. The couches were dusted with KA white wheat bran, which worked beautifully as a "teflon" dusting. After about 2 hours and 15 minutes, the loaves seemed ready. To place them on the peel they were lifted in the couche and basically "dumped" onto the parchment lined and bran dusted peel unceremoniously. They spread out beyond the edges of my 16 inch peel, so I had to quickly but gently fold the edges underneath to get the loaves to fit on the peel, which didn't sound completely inconsistent with the description Leader gave of the process followed in the Italian bakery he visited. He said the loaves were very soft and gloppy, were handled minimally, and quickly moved from one spot to another. I'm sure it was far more graceful than what I ended up doing on my first shot, but it did seem to work. The basic advice here is plow ahead, don't look back, don't waste time worrying about the shape or the tightness of it. This is a rustic loaf, after all.


The oven hearth floor was raised to about 525F and then the flame was put out, the oven door sealed, so the temperature inside could equilibrate and drop over the course of the last hour of the final proof. The loaves were dumped on the peel, adjusted minimally in shape as needed, and transferred into the oven in quick succession. The oven and loaves were sprayed with a fine mist to generate steam, and the oven door was sealed with a wooden door covered with damp towels.

The kitchen oven equivalent would be to preheat to about 450F with baking stone, and use a skillet with water or other steaming method, and drop temperature to 400F immediately shortly after putting the loaves in the oven.

The loaves were rotated after about 20 minutes, and the steam was removed from the oven by replacing the towel covered door with a metal door positioned to allow some air flow out the chimney.

The total bake time was 1 hour and 20 minutes, but the oven door was open and the outside air was fairly cold today, so the hearth temperature was only about 400F and the air temperature about 350F for the last 20 minutes. The idea was to make sure the loaf was fully baked inside, since they are large, wet loaves. The internal temperature was about 207F at the end. In retrospect the oven could have been a little hotter, as they didn't get quite as charred as was intended.


The loaves have a nice color but aren't quite as dark as Zolablue's loaves. My sense of the right temperature for different situations with the new brick oven is still developing. The crumb is just what I like for both loaves, moist with irregular hole structure and a mild but distinct sourdough flavor. The white flour loaf, which may have been made a little too wet, had fewer large pockets and less crust separation than expected, given the excess hydration. As a high extraction flour miche, the high extraction flour Genzano loaf may become a standard, although the Thom Leonard Country French made with Golden Buffalo is similar and also a wonderful miche.


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