The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Joe Ortiz

sweetbird's picture

I can’t seem to resist any opportunity to watch a sourdough culture get its start. I’ve made many starters over the years but it never loses its fascination for me. I love watching the miracle of wild yeast emerge. That’s what drew me to this formula in Joe Ortiz’s book The Village Baker. It had the added charm of being an authentic formula that has been passed down through the ages. According to the author, it has been in use for hundreds of years by home bakers who gathered once a week in the French countryside to bake in communal ovens. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

It takes about 6 days to complete this, but that’s because you’re building a sourdough culture from scratch. You could substitute an already thriving sourdough culture of your own, but you’d miss out on all the fun (and probably end up with a good but different-tasting loaf). This deeply wheaty and tangy levain lets you know, without any doubt, that it is there in the final loaf.

As I did with my previous Joe Ortiz formula, I’ve done metric conversions while still providing his original measurements for anyone who prefers those. I didn’t convert the tiny amounts to metrics. Also, as in my previous Joe Ortiz loaf (the Pumpkin Seed sourdough), I’ve increased the quantity of salt from 2½ tsp. to a rounded Tbs. and have used Celtic salt.

He isn’t very specific about temperatures, instead using terms like “warm” or “very warm.” I used my judgment and generally took “warm” to be in the mid- to upper-80sF and “very warm” to be anywhere from the 90sF up to 100F. Of course, it also depends on the weather, etc., so it’s best left up to the baker.

This makes one large 2-lb. or approximately 1034 gm loaf.

Chef (2-3 days):

78 gms organic whole wheat flour (½ C.)

46 gms warm water (scant ¼ C.)

1/8 tsp. cumin

½ tsp. whole organic milk


First refreshment (18-24 hrs.):

117 gms organic whole wheat flour (3/4 C.)

72 gms warm water (1/3 C.)

44 gms chef (2 Tbs.)


Second refreshment (10-12 hrs.):

115 gms levain from the first refreshment (½ C.)

117 gms organic whole wheat flour (3/4 C.)

70 gms organic unbleached AP flour (½ C.)

115 gms warm water (½ C.)



420 gms organic unbleached AP flour (3 C.)

342 gms levain from the previous step (1½ C.)

285 gms very warm water (1¼ C.)

15 - 16 gms finely ground Celtic salt (approx. 1 slightly rounded Tbs.)


For this loaf I used organic Central Milling whole wheat flour and King Arthur unbleached AP four. And spring water, which I always use rather than tap because it gives me better and more consistent results.


To make the chef:

His method (presumably the method used for hundreds of years) is to make a mound of flour on your work table and make a well in the center. Into the well pour about two-thirds of the water, and then add the cumin and the milk. With one finger, start mixing and pulling the flour in from the outer ring. Adjust as necessary until you have a firm but somewhat sticky dough. Knead 5 - 8 minutes.

I did it a little differently: I mixed the flour and cumin in a large, wide bowl, made a well, added the liquids and incorporated the flour from the outer ring slowly with a small spatula. I kneaded it right in the bowl; more of a stretch-and-fold technique than a traditional knead.

Transfer to a ceramic or glass container. (Don’t coat with oil.) Cover and let sit in a warm place free from drafts for 2 to 3 days.

A crust will form on the top, but when you peel that back you’ll find a spongy, inflated chef. He describes the aroma as “slightly sour but fragrant and appealing,” which is exactly what I found.

I did my first refreshment after 2½ days, and that happened to be at 8 o’clock in the morning, which turned out to be perfect timing for the rest of the steps, leaving me with a baking schedule that would suit most of us I suppose, which is to bake during daylight hours. I can’t say I planned it that way but once in a while we non-planners get lucky.

First refreshment:

Remove the crust and take 2 Tbs. (about 44 gms) of the sponge. Make a well of the flour, put the chef into the well and add the warm water. After the chef dissolves, begin to draw in the flour from the sides of the well. You should end up with a very firm but still slightly moist ball of dough. You may not even be able to incorporate all the flour. Try to do so, but don’t worry if you can’t.

Transfer to a ceramic or glass container, cover, and let stand for between 18 and 24 hours. I left mine for the full 24 hours. When ready it will have risen noticeably and fallen a little. It will have a “pleasing, alcoholic aroma.” Mine did.

Second refreshment:

Discard any crust but use most of this levain (should be about 115 gms). Hold back some of the flour until you’re sure that you need it. It should be slightly moist to the touch but firm, as the first refreshment was. Let this rise, covered, for between 10 and 12 hours. Mine became active very quickly and rose like a champ throughout the day. It was raring to go by 10 hours, so I went on to the next step, mixing the final dough, which I did in the evening in preparation for a bake the following day.

Beginning of 2nd refreshment:

After 4 hours:

After 8 hours:


Make a well in the flour, add all the levain (broken up into pieces) and all the water and mix as before, stopping when you still have about a cup of flour left to incorporate. Add the salt and then incorporate the rest of the flour. Knead for 5 minutes until firm and elastic.

Let rise, covered, for 8 to 10 hours. It should double. I left mine overnight in a cool room (probably about 66°F, give or take a few degrees throughout the winter’s night) and it had doubled beautifully by morning. It was domed, so it hadn’t begun to fall, and it smelled nicely of fermentation.

Deflate gently on your work surface and save a walnut-sized piece of dough for your next bake. About 44 gms or 2 Tbs. is a good amount. You can refrigerate this for a day or two or begin another loaf right away if you like. To make another loaf you would let it sit at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours and treat it as the “chef,” using it in the first refreshment, then continuing on with this formula.

Pre-shape the dough and let rest for half an hour.

Cool trick: when you’re ready to shape, remove another small walnut-sized piece of dough and put it in a Mason jar (or any medium-sized glass jar) filled with room temperature water. Shape your dough and put the dough and the jar with water together in the same warm place. When the little ball of dough pops up and floats in the water, the bread is ready to bake.

Joe Ortiz calls for an 8 to 10 hour rise, but I found mine was ready to go at 3 hours, so you need to be checking your dough as you always do (even if you’re using the Mason jar trick). The important thing is to have your oven and baking stone ready when your dough is ready, so some educated anticipation is called for. The author makes the point that the final rise plus the previous step (the dough rise) should total 16 hours, but I found my levain to be too active to push it that far. That seems like it has to be left up to the baker.

By the way, for large loaves like this one, I’ve used an Easter basket lined with cloth for years and it works great. It cost about 99 cents. I searched around for one with the size and shape I wanted; this one is nicely rounded from rim to rim, and once the handle was removed it was perfect.

Preheat the oven and stone to 450°F about 45 minutes before you expect to bake, and prepare for steam. Score and load the loaf and adjust the temperature down to about 400°F or 425°F if your oven tends to bake hot. Mine does, so I went down to 425°F. Remove steam apparatus after 10 - 12 minutes and rotate halfway through for even browning. He recommends baking for a full hour, but mine was ready at about 40-45 minutes or so. I turned the oven off and left the door ajar for 10 minutes.

When I transferred this loaf to the peel, I had a bad feeling that I had over-proofed it. It seemed flabby. That may—or may not—account for my inelegant scoring:

I didn’t think I was going to get any oven spring, but I ended up getting a moderate amount. Not perfect by any stretch, and a bit of a clumsy shape, but not a disaster. The color was deep (somewhere between the film noir shot at the top and the sun-drenched shot just above) and the crust was nicely blistered with signs of fermentation. The real joy came when I tried my first slice. I LOVE this bread! It has a genuine, pronounced sourdough tang and the flavor of well-developed, long-fermented wheat, which is brought about by the leisurely development of the levain, but also by the generous proportion of levain in the final dough.

My husband Angelo especially loved it too. He has a wheat sensitivity (but not an allergy, thank goodness), so he’s not supposed to eat much wheat, but he can’t resist trying some when I bake. I am thrilled with it and will make it again and again. Someday I’ll try it with one of my standard starters and report back on the results. At the moment, I’m in the process of refreshing the “old dough” from this bake in preparation for another loaf in a few days.

This little sweetie seems to like the smell of freshly baked bread, because she has a habit of showing up when I do my "photo shoots." Now I have a good shot of her face so I'll know who the culprit is if some of my bread mysteriously goes missing!

Happy baking to all,


p.s., submitted to Susan for yeastspotting

sweetbird's picture

I’ve made this bread before and loved it, just as it’s written up in Joe Ortiz’s wonderful book, The Village Baker. His formula begins with a sponge that uses commercial yeast and it results in a delicious bread. But I was recently looking for a way to use some active sourdough starter (I hate to waste it!) and decided to try it as a sourdough loaf. For some reason it escaped my notice until after I had embarked on my experiment that he already has a sourdough version of this bread in the book(!), but it was interesting to see how mine differed from his. (For example, he uses a full cup of 100% hydration sourdough starter, making adjustments to flour and water to compensate, and mixes the sponge a bit cooler than I did mine; I will try his method the next time I make this. I also use a bit more salt than he calls for; he calls for 2¼ tsp. in the direct method and 2½ tsp.—scant—in the sourdough method. I use about a tablespoon, and I like Celtic salt in this.)

This bread’s most unusual (and, I think, brilliant) feature is the seed mixture, which Joe Ortiz says he learned from Kurt König, a baker from the Bavarian village of Miesbach, who describes himself as “your organic grain madman.” There is a fun and fascinating profile of Kurt König in the book. His bakery has existed in the same spot in Miesbach since 1650! Anyway, the seed mixture is deeply toasted and has the added magic of soy sauce, which is mixed and toasted with the sesame seeds. I want to try this mixture in a Tartine loaf one of these days.

The Village Baker came out near the beginning of the artisinal bread revival in the U.S. (copyright date is 1993), and I think that’s probably the reason that his formulas are based mostly on measures rather than weight, since weights would have seemed strange to most home bakers at that time. Now I don’t think you’d ever find a serious book without weight formulas. In any case, I’ve converted it and will also try to indicate the measurements in case that’s helpful for anyone.

By the way, for anyone not yet familiar with The Village Baker, one interesting part of the book is the final section of professional formulas (which are given in weight) and which result in serious amounts of bread!

Here’s the formula & method I used for my sourdough version of this bread:


Makes 1 large 2-lb. loaf or 2 smaller boules in 8″ brotforms

Seed mixture:

75 gms (½ C.) unhulled sesame seeds

2 tsp. soy sauce (I used San-J naturally fermented tamari)

152 gms (1 C.) pumpkin seeds


Rye sour (sponge):

25 gms sourdough starter (100% hydration)

566 gms (slightly less than 2½ C.) warm water

198 gms (1½ C.) organic dark rye flour

134 gms (slightly less than 1 C.) unbleached organic AP flour



All of the rye sour from previous step

374 gms (2½ C.) unbleached organic AP flour

11 - 12 gms fine Celtic salt (approx. 1 Tbs.)


To make the seed mixture:

Toss the sesame seeds with the soy sauce until well coated and toast them in a 350°F oven for between 15 and 20 minutes until just browned (not too dark). Toss a few times while roasting to keep things even. Toast the pumpkin seeds dry in a separate pan at the same temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring around a couple of times for even browning. Don’t worry if some are darker than others—that’s normal—but don’t let any of them get too dark or they’ll be bitter.

Let all seeds cool down completely, and then grind half the sesame seed mixture and one-third of the pumpkin seeds until you have a medium powder. Add that to the whole seeds, mix together and set aside. This can be done the night before when you set up your rye sour or can be done the morning of the bake.

To make the rye sour (sponge):

Mix all the ingredients together, cover with plastic and let sit overnight at moderate room temperature for 12 hours.

To make the dough:

Transfer the rye sour to the bowl of your stand mixer, but begin the process by hand with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the flour, a handful at a time and stir vigorously after each addition. When you still have about a cup of flour left, add the salt. At this point I switched over from hand mixing to KitchenAid mixing (with the dough hook) and continued to add the flour. I don’t really see any reason why this couldn’t or shouldn’t all be done in the KitchenAid, but Joe Ortiz recommends hand mixing the whole way. The dough will be moist and sticky. The seeds will absorb some of that stickiness in a few minutes, so don’t give in to a temptation to add too much flour. You’re aiming for a slightly stickier dough than you might otherwise want. I did find that I needed to add a few tablespoons of extra flour, though, in spite of that. I decided to add whole wheat flour for my last few tablespoons because I thought it would be delicious in this bread. I didn't add that to the formula, since that's based on how your dough performs.

Flatten the dough on your board and add all but ¼ cup of the seed mixture. Incorporate by kneading and folding into dough. This is difficult! Next time I will try adding the seeds at the end of the KitchenAid mixing and incorporating them gently on a very low speed.

Here are the seeds waiting to be incorporated:

Here is the first attempt at incorporating them:

Here they are trying my patience:

And here is the finished dough trying to pretend it was always a little angel and never once misbehaved:

Place in lightly oiled bowl or container of some sort and bulk ferment for about 3 hours at 85° or so, with two stretch-and-folds at 45 and 90 minutes.

Remove to lightly floured board and roughly pre-shape. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for half and hour. Shape into desired shapes, coat the loaves with the remaining seeds* and let rise in a warm area until ready to bake. Mine took a little less than an hour and a half.

* Note about coating with seeds: I lightly sprayed the loaves with water and turned them over into a shallow bowl with the seeds, but I don’t think I’ll do it that way again. They didn’t adhere too well and didn’t look attractive. In fact they looked downright ugly. Joe Ortiz recommends glazing the top just before they go into the oven with 1 whole egg whisked with 1 Tbs. milk, then sprinkling with the seeds. I'm not a huge fan of glazed breads but this is probably a good idea! However, be careful about the baking temperature. He bakes at 350°F (seems like a low temp. to me), and that may be because of the glaze. I baked (without the glaze) at a more normal temperature for hearth bread.

Begin preheating your oven and baking stone to 500°F about 45 minutes before you expect the dough to be ready, and prepare for steam. Load the loaves and lower the temperature to 450°F. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes with steam and then remove the steam source. Turn halfway for even browning. Bake for about 30 - 35 minutes more or until internal temperature is at least 200°F. Let sit in hot oven with door ajar for about 10 minutes. Cool completely on rack.

I don’t like to badmouth any of my bread “offspring” but I have to admit this one just wasn’t a pretty sight coming out of the oven. It looked like something that had been dug up out of the earth with mud and twigs and pebbles still clinging to it. I was a little crestfallen when I first saw it. But once it cooled down and I got to taste it, my happiness returned. It wasn’t perfection, but I loved the tang of the sourdough against the texture and flavor of the seeds, which are deepened by that tiny bit of soy sauce that is roasted into them. And the best part was that it turned out to be one of those breads that improved with age. I liked it better each time I tried it. It was baked on a Monday afternoon, and my favorite slice was on Wednesday morning.


Now I want to get this post finished so I can hurry up and write my next one. I took another Joe Ortiz loaf (a Pain de Campagne) out of the oven last night and it's wonderful! I’m looking forward to telling you about it.

All the best,


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