The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

This is a three bake weekend for me, and I thought I'd offer this shot of the midpoint of it all.

From right to left: Poolish Baguettes, fresh out of the oven.  A bag of sourdough bagels (the BBA formula), baked this morning for breakfast.  And a batch of dough for Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain, currently in the bulk fermentation stage to be baked tomorrow.

saumhain's picture

Well, actually, I do love my new job. It's not as boring as the previous one and so much better than studying @ uni (at least my uni). But it has like two major drawbacks: firstly, we are not allowed to wear jeans in the office, and the second, which is really depressing - I have practically no time to bake bread!!!

I leave to work at 8 in the morning at the latest, and get back at 7 if I am really lucky. Of course, I still can bake yeasted breads, but it's not possible to bake sourdough breads... And it's such a shame, 'cause it took me a while (three failed attempts)  to raise a new starter after I've arrived from Austria, and I baked only 3 or four sourdough breads ever since. I do hope that when it gets a bit colder in our flat my starter won't ripen in 5 hours and I would then prepare pre-ferment early in the morning and bake when I come back home. For now I can bake only during weekend.

Last week I baked Hamelman's 5 Grain Levain. Oh yes one (of many))) precious present from Austria - Hamelman's "Bread", which I have been exploring and studying for 2 months already and continue to do so. I really enjoyed this bread, it was really good and tasty even after a week or so, although it became a bit sour.

The same weekend I tried to bake 40% Rye with Caraway (I was tempted by its variation, which Hamelman suggests - Salzstangerl - delicious salt sticks sprinkled also with bit of caraway, which I bought quite often in Austria). But it was a complete fail. Honestly, I had never failed with sourdough before; this time, however, I followed measurements and instructions precisely, but the dough was... Well, strictly speaking, it was not even dough - it was more like muffin batter, obviously with no sign of gluten. I mixed it, got scared by its consistence and then left it for 20 minutes or so, hoping in vain that the flour will absorb water by this time. But since it never happened and I was feeling completely desperate, I just threw it all away. May be someone had the same issue with this recipe? If not, I'd love to learn what could possibly go wrong, any suggestions are appreciated, since I have absolutely no clue.

This Saturday I baked yet another rye bread by Hamelman, this time with much more success. I have chosen his Flaxseed Rye, published in Modern Baking in March 2009. Both dmsnyder (which measurements I used) and hansjoakim had lovely interpretations of this bread, which I liked a lot. Besides it includes "altus" (bread soaker) and I always wanted to taste bread made with it. So, what can I say? Yet again the dough was wetter that I expected, even though I cut down 44 grams of water from the final dough!!! It was also proving a lot less, since I've told already, it's really hot at my place. The final result was still amazing - despite the relative small percentage of rye, it tastes like a real rye bread, goes well with almost anything. Stores good too. I am really satisfied with the result but I keep on wondering what kind of flour is there in America that Hamelman uses, which requires so much water??


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Inspired by dmsnyder's post about Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain, and is recommendation of it to those seeking "a more sour sourdough" (sign me up!), I decided to make that my Sunday bake.  Friday morning I refreshed my firm starter, and changed some of it to a 125% liquid starter, then made the preferment levain friday night, and was all ready to mix the dough Saturday morning.

What I did not realize, at first anyway, is that the amounts of ingredients in my printing of Bread are horribly, horribly wrong. The dangers of not consulting Hamelman's errata before making a new formula, I guess.  The percentages, as given in the book, are supposed to be 85% bread flour, 15% whole rye, 65% water, 1.9% salt, with 20% of the total flour prefermented in the liquid levain, and is supposed to be based on 2lbs of flour.  If you follow the home-baker amounts, however, you'd end up with 70% bread flour, 30% rye, 3.8% salt and a ridiculous 30% water, based on 1 lb of flour.  If figured this out in stages.

It was pretty easy to figure out something was wrong when I did the initial mix and had a 4.8 oz. of water in 16 oz. of flour.  Doesn't make much of a dough, funnily enough :P.  So I add some more water to bring it up to 65% hydration.  But something seemed off.  The dough seemed kinda pasty.  At this point it occurred to me to check the math on the rye percentage.  I wasn't really wanting to deal with a 30% rye bread so I improvised, threw in more bread flour and water to make the bread to make 2lbs of flour with 65% hydration.

But then I only had 10% of the flour prefermented, and only half as much levain as the formula needed.  Improvisation again! I still had about 4oz of firm starter in the fridge from the day before, so I threw about 3 oz in when I added the salt (the formula is made with an autolyze.

I ended up bulk fermenting for much longer than the 2.5 hours Hamelman calls for, more like 4 hours, and even then it seemed pretty sluggish.  But I eventually went ahead and shaped two big loaves, placed them in brotforms and retarded overnight.  I baked them this morning and...drumroll...


It actually worked!  Great crumb, pleasant flavor.  Not overly sour, but I imagine that will change when I have some for breakfast tomorrow.  I got so much oven spring on the boule that I was sure there was just a single giant hole at the top and nothing else.  I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least!

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I've been trying to bake artisan bread for about three years now, since I picked up a copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice as an exchange for a Christmas present.  In that time, I've never been particularly good about focusing on one particular bread and practicing it until I get it down, as so many of the wise bakers on this site recommend.  There are a couple of breads that I've mastered anyway, simply because I love them and bake them often enough to do blindfolded--the BBA Italian Bread in particular.  Starting this week, however I'm going to try to amend that, in a way sure to put me deep in over my head.  My objective: produce a reliable, tasty and beautiful baguette through practice, trial and error.  I don't really imagine that I will truly master the baguette--better home bakers than I have tried in vain, I know.  But I'm hoping to turn what is usually a hit-or-miss process into something I can do over and over again well, if not perfectly.

So, every Saturday from now until I get it right (or get sick of it), I will be baking three baguettes using the Baguettes with Poolish formula from Hamelmans Bread.  I have made this formula before with varying success, and on the first occasion just about nailed it by pure luck and accident--nice ears, open crumb, the works.  I know it can be done, if not precisely how.

This is the formula:


  • 5.3 oz. bread flour

  • 5.3 oz. water

  • 1/8 tsp yeast

Final Dough

  • 10.7 oz. bread flour

  • 5.3 oz. water

  • 5/8 tsp yeast

  • 0.3 oz. salt

Note: I halve the quantities that Hamelman calls for--we can only eat so many baguettes!


  1. Mix Poolish night before

  2. Mix all ingrediants with wooden spoon, let sit 5 minutes  

  3. Mix in mixer ~2 minutes until the dough windowpanes 

  4. 30 folds in the bowl with a rubber spatula  

  5. Ferment 1 hour, stretch and fold  

  6. Ferment 1 hour more, divide into 9 oz. pieces, pre-shape as cylinders  

  7. Rest 10-20 minutes

  8. Shape as baguettes, place on couche, spray with oil.  

  9. Proof 1 hour  

  10. Pre-heat oven to 515 and stone 45 minutes before baking

  11. Transfer baguettes to parchment on a sheet pan, score.

  12. Cover oven vent, slide parchment onto stone, pour steam, lower temp to 460.  

  13. Bake 24-26 minutes, uncovering the vent, and turning the baguettes around after 10.

Pictures from week 1:


The dough was reluctant to slash, and so the scoring is all irregular. Still, it formed a nice ear along the slashes.  I'm thinking for next time I will make two changes: first, I will cover the baguettes while proofing, but not spray them; I think the surface was too wet to score easily.  Second, I'm going to increase the oven temperature--I kept the baguettes in for almost 30 minutes, and you can see how much color they got.  I'm aware that my oven doesn't get as hot as it says it does; I just have to calibrate what temp actually bakes a nice baguette in 25 minutes.

I'll update with crumb pictures later.

I'd appreciate any thoughts or suggestions; but for certain I'll be back next week to try again!

Update: Typical crumb shot below.  Surprisingly nice given the irregular scoring.  Crust wasn't as crisp as it might be; if changing the oven temp doesn't fix that I'll think about applying the "turn off the oven but leave the bread in" method, but one thing at a time.  Texture of the crumb was more fluffy than creamy, and the flavor just okay; I've done better with this formula.  But, again, one thing at a time.

Franko's picture

For this weeks bake I wanted a loaf that had some seeds or nuts as a component as well as one using a levain so Hamelman’s Sourdough Seed Bread seemed to fit just what I was looking for. The formula uses a liquid levain at 125% hydration for the leavening and never having used the liquid type in any previous bakes I was curious to try it out to see how it would differ from a stiff levain in terms of fermentation and flavour. The seeds that are called for are sunflower, sesame and a cold soaker of flax seeds. The one and only addition to the ingredients I made was to include some pumpkin seeds in the mix for a little more variety. All the dry seeds are given a light toasting in a 380F oven to bring out their flavour and which I’m sure adds significantly to the flavour profile as Hamelman suggests in his side note to the recipe. The flours used in the overall formula are bread flour @ 92% and whole rye flour @ 8% with a recommended total hydration of 75%, the water from the flax soaker contributing almost 60% of the total. Once it was time to mix I decided to use David Snyder’s method of using the paddle of a stand mixer for the first 2-3 minutes on 1st speed, and then switch to the hook for the 2nd speed mix of 7-8 minutes. This method works well to get everything combined uniformly and quickly and one I’ll use from here on. Thank you Mr. Snyder! The total weight of all the ingredients was 1.740kg which my poor old KA struggled with it at first but after I adjusted the water slightly it came together nicely requiring only a few minutes work up by hand to a medium consistency. The final dough temp was 77.2F, just a shade over the DDT of 76F then with a bulk fermentation of 3 hrs with 2 folds at 1.5 hr intervals. The dough was molded and placed in floured brotforms, covered and placed in the refrigerator for 15 hours at which point they came out and finished the final proof at room temp for 3 more hrs before going into a 500F oven for 8 minutes with the remaining 30 minutes of bake time at 460F.
The loaf has a good crust along with a crumb structure that is open but fairly uniform, which is just the way I like it. Eaten on it’s own it has a marvelous medium sour, nutty flavour that lasts for some time after, I’m sure due to the long cold fermentation time it had. One of the aspects of this breads long fermentation that I really appreciate (besides the flavour) is that it allows me to do some other things away from the house and kitchen while it does its thing. That for me is a win-win situation that will see me using this method more often.

jkandell's picture

There's been a lot of discussion here about Hamelman's seeded levains (5 Grain Sourdough and Seeded Levain).  Here is an alternative recipe which I find more to my taste-buds and I encourage fans of seeded bread to give it a try.

Although Della Fattoria uses a stiff 49% levain rather than Hamelman's 125%, I think the flavor differences lies more in the mix of ingredients than the method. The flour is half whole wheat (about four times more than Hamelman), with  the remaining flour  "reduced bran" (98% of the germ and 20% of the bran). In other words, this is mostly a wholemeal bread, rather than a white bread augmented with a touch of whole grain.

The following recipe is adapted from Rose Levi Beranbaum's "Sourdough Wheat Bread with Seeds" from her Bread Bible, which she got from Eve Weber of Della Fattoria.  Although you can purchase reduced bran flour from Guisto's, I followed Beranbaum in "recreating" it by adding 2.8% germ and 1.4% bran to 95.8% all purpose flour.  Be careful your whole wheat flour is fresh--not bitter to the taste, and smells fruity when mixed with water. And freeze your germ and bran so they don't go rancid.  With this much whole grain any bitterness will ruin the loaf.

The levain is 49% hydration; the final dough excluding the levain is 79% hydration, with overall hydration of about 76%.  The final dough is tacky.


One Loaf:


bread flour       40  
whole wheat       10
stiff chef
whole wheat

bread flour
germ (half T)


bran (2.5 t)

water       284  
salt       11
honey       14
seeds       73  
stiff levain       100  
SEEDS            grams  
sunflower seeds (toasted)       13  
pumpkin seeds (toasted)       13  
sesame seeds (toasted)       14  
flax seeds
polenta or cornmeal
TOTAL       73  



Starting with about 25g of storage chef, create a mature stiff levain of 100g. (About 12 hours.)

Toast the sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and cool.  Mix with the flax and cornmeal to add later.

Day of baking:

Add all ingredients except salt to bread machine bowl.  Run on dough cycle enough to mix.  Autolease 20 minutes.  Add salt, and run on dough cycle about 7 minutes.  (Because of the bran and seeds, you want to mix a tad less than usual, and do some extra folds to develop the gluten to compensate.)

Bulk Ferment: 3-4 hours @75-80F.  4 stretch and folds half way through, at about 1 1/2 hours.

Loosely Shape. Relax for 20m.  Shape into batard.

Proof 1- 2 1/2 hours.  It is a moist dough and will spread a bit.

Three diagonal slashes.  Bake at 450F for 10 minutes (with steam at 0 and 5 minutes), then reduce heat to 400F for 20 minutes, then finish at 350F for another 10 or 15 minutes until crust is dark orange.  Or bake it Hamelman style hotter and shorter.

varda's picture

It seems to me that if you are trying to gain proficiency in baking bread that it helps to pick a formula and make it over and over again until it starts to seem natural and easy.   I'm not there yet with Hamelman's pain au levain but it ain't for lack of trying.  My biggest difficulty with it so far has been something that should be simple - following the instructions.   When I first started making it I viewed the rise times as something like suggestions.   2 hours seemed like a ridiculously long time to do the final rise, and I would do 1 hour and then wonder why the bottom split.   Last week I did an experiment.   I split the dough into three 1 lb loaves and tried doing a final ferment of 1.5 hours, 2 hours, and 2.5 hours respectively.   The 2.5 hour rise won the looks test, but the 2 hour tasted the best.   And surprise, surprise, the 1.5 hour loaf was a mess.   Today, I followed all of Hamelman's times with 2 hours for the final ferment (the book says 2 to 2.5 hours.)   I still can't get as pretty a loaf as my model in all this (and the post that set me off on this particular quest)   But that doesn't mean I can't keep trying.   And the great thing about practicing on a bread like this is you get to eat it. 

jkandell's picture

Hamelman bakes very high

August 28, 2010 - 3:53pm -- jkandell

I noticed Hamelman's recipes tend to be baked much hotter and a bit shorter time than I'm used to.

For instance, the 5 grain levain is 460F for 45 minutes without turning down the heat at all!

I'm used to, e.g., 450 for ten minutes with the steam then 350 or 375 for 50 minutes.

Do his temperatures work in a home oven without burning the bread?

Also he says "with normal steam", and I was curious what that meant for him.

MmeZeeZee's picture

Hamelman's 80% Sourdough Rye with a Rye-Flour Soaker

August 27, 2010 - 1:00am -- MmeZeeZee

Okay, I think Lepard just has too specific a technique for me and that there is something fundamentally different about my flour, my home, my hands, I don't know, for me to use his recipes for a new grain or new technique.  I find Hamelman's recipes more universal, and fascinatingly, then when I go back to Lepard, I find it works better though it still seems to me I'm following the recipes.


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