The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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joyfulbaker's picture

This wonderful bread, pain au levain with mixed sourdough starters, from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, brought me a first prize at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.  This was the first time I ever entered anything in the fair.  I love this bread, and it has become a regular around our house.  It can't be beat for flavor.  My only tweak is to add a mix of seeds on the dough exterior before baking and to borrow 1 oz from the bread flour and give it to the whole wheat flour.  Here are some pictures, the first being the levain, then the first place exhibit tag (blurry, sorry), then yours truly, pretty excited.  Thank you, Jeffrey Hamelman, for this wonderful bread! 












hanseata's picture

When I made my wonderful rose hip jam a month ago, temperatures were in the eighties, t-shirt weather for weeks, and we even used the air condition in our bedroom - in Maine!

The glasses were sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting to be properly tagged before going into the basement. But my husband, immobilized by a broken foot, needed special attention, and, between baking twice a week for our local natural food store, answering student questions online, and taking care of our undeserving critters, I didn't get to it for quite a while.

After a week or so, I noticed that one of the glasses showed ominous signs of frothy activity. Obviously I didn't fill it quite high enough to establish a vacuum, and, with the prevailing heat as incubator, my rose hip jam had started to ferment.

I was pretty annoyed with myself. Why didn't I pay more attention, and place the compromised glass into the fridge, before it could turn itself into booze?

No help for it, this was a goner, and had to be thrown out..... Or not? Suddenly I remembered my experiences with apple yeast water two years ago. Made from fermenting apples, the yeast water had proved to be a powerful leaven, my bread even grew a horn!

But in the end the apple yeast water died a slow death from starvation in a dark corner of my fridge, all but forgotten, since we preferred the tangier taste of sourdough.

Wouldn't it be worth a try to experiment a bit, and see what would happen if I fed the tipsy jam with  flour?

I measured a teaspoon of jam in a little bowl and added equal amounts of water....

....and whole wheat flour to the bowl: 

5 g fermented rose hip jam + 25 g water + 25 g whole wheat flour.

Eleven hours later the reddish mixture had become bubbly and spongy, and emitted a wonderful fruity-sour smell.

I fed it two times more, aways with 25 g flour and 25 g water. It ripened faster each time, first after 3, then even only after 2 1/2 hours.

   Fully developed rose hip mother

I was very pleased and contemplated my next move.

I wanted to make a fairly simple levain, with a bit of whole grain, but not too much. I expected a rather mild taste, but I didn't want the blandness of an all-white bread, nor a too hearty loaf that overwhelmed more subtle nuances.

So I adapted a recipe for Pain au Levain, made with apple yeast leaven, from Jan Hedh's "Swedish Breads and Pastries". I had made this bread before, with apple yeast water, it had been nice, but rather mild.

Hedh's book is gorgeous, with wonderful recipes, though not without some pesky errata - my first attempt of an attractive looking Levain with Bran and Vinegar had ended in a dense, compact brick - thanks to one erroneous Zero too many in the bran department.

Even though it was already evening, I didn't want to wait, and started with 16 g of my newborn rose hip mother - mother, chef and levain are the classic French terms for the 3 steps to make a leaven - to make the second stage: the chef.

 Chef after kneading

I woke up at midnight, went downstairs, eager to see how my starter was doing, and found a nicely grown chef, wide awake, and hungry for more.

  Fully developed chef

After feeding the little guy with more flour and water, I tottered back to bed. The next morning my levain was fully ripened and ready to go!

 Fully developed rose hip levain

PAIN AU LEVAIN  (adapted from Jan Hedh: "Swedish Breads and Pastries")

21 g mother starter (it doesn't have to be rose hip, an ordinary mature wheat or rye starter will do)
   8 g water
21 g bread flour

  50 g chef (all)
  50 g water
100 g bread flour

200 g levain (all)
 16 g spelt flour
 16 g rye meal
282 g bread flour
219 g water
    6 g salt

DAY 1:
1. Mix together all ingredients for chef. Knead for 2 minutes, then let rest for 5 minutes. Resume kneading for 1 more minute. (Dough should be stiff, but not hard, moisten your hands to incorporate more water, if needed.) Cover, and let sit for 4 hours, or until doubled in size.

2. Mix together all ingredients for levain. Knead for 2 minutes, then let rest for 5 minutes. Resume kneading for 1 minute more. (Dough should be stiff, but not hard, moisten your hands to incorporate more water, if needed.) Cover, and let ripen for 5 - 6 hours, or until doubled in size. Knead briefly to degas, and refrigerate overnight.

DAY 2:
3. Remove levain from refrigerator 2 hours before using, to warm up. Cut into smaller pieces and place with flour and water in mixer bowl. Knead for 3 minutes at low speed, then let dough rest for 5 minutes.

4. Add salt and continue kneading for 7 more minutes at medium-low speed. Stretch and fold 1 x, gather dough into a ball, place it in lightly oiled bowl, turn it around to coat with oil, cover, and let rest for 90 minutes.

5. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface, place hands in the middle and push out the air, stretch and fold 1 x, gather dough into a ball, return it to the bowl, and leave it for another 80 minutes.

6. Push out air again, and let dough relax for 10 more minutes. Shape into a round, place in banneton (seam side up), or on parchment lined baking sheet (seam side down).

7. Sprinkle bread with flour, mist with baking spray, cover, and proof for 60 - 90 minutes (in a warm place), until it has grown 1 3/4 times its original size.

8. Preheat oven to 250º C/482º F, including steam pan. Score bread.

9. Bake bread for 5 minutes, reduce heat to 200º C/400º F, and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Rotate bread 180 degrees, remove steam pan, and bake for 20 minutes more, venting the oven once to let out steam in between.

10. Leave bread in switched-off oven with door slightly ajar for another 10 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely.

  Rose Hip Levain crumb

I changed Jan Hedh's recipe a bit. Instead of long kneading, I added a period of rest (autolyse) while mixing the dough, thereby shaving off some hands-on time.

A total baking time of 60 minutes, as stated in the recipe, was not necessary, my bread was already done after 40 minutes. And leaving it a while longer in the switched-off oven with the door a bit ajar guaranteed a nice crisp crust that didn't soften soon after baking.

Did it taste like rose hips? No. But is was delicious! And not only that: The best of all husbands found it "the crustiest bread you ever made". 

One question remains: what was it exactly that gave the bread its marvelous lift? The rose hips? The apples? Or the red wine the jam was made with?

Bar Harbor Shore Path - where Rugosa roses grow in abundance
davidg618's picture

or Too Many Changes Addle the Brain

Recently, I made some sourdough levained baguettes, Sourdough in Baguette's clothing and was delighted to find their flavor included a distinct acidic tang (sourness) that I especially like, but my wife usually doesn't. However, with this bake, I caught her returning more than once for another slice of the cut loaf. When I confronted her, she allowed the flavor was "interesting"--and took another bite.

 The baguette dough was similar to the dough I bake weekly in batards: our daily bread. The differences are:

                         Original Formula                                          Baguette Formula

Flour ratio:     45%AP/45%Bread/10%Whole Rye          66%AP/24%Bread/10%Whole Rye

Preferment:    28% (100% Hyd., all Bread Flour)            49% (100% Hyd., all Bread Flour)

Additionally, I routinely build levain from refrigerated seed starter in three progressive steps, feeding 2:1:1 at eight hour intervals. For the baguettes I allowed the third feeding to ferment for 12 hours.

Salt and Hydration was the same for both: 2% and 68% percent respectively, and, except for the loaves' final shape, all the dough handling, fermentation times, fermentation temperatures, and baking temperatures were the same. Batards are generally proofed at 82°F, baguettes at 76°F (RT) because they won't fit into my proofing box.

Over the last two days I built levain, made dough and shaped three batards. The intention was to duplicate the dough I used to make the sourdough baguettes, and experience the same flavor.

However, I have a very strong Imp of the Perverse in my flawed character. I couldn't resist making more changes. Specifically, I built the levain in three progressive stages reducing the hydration of each build by one-third the difference between the seed starter hydration (100%) and the final dough hydration (68%). I let the final build, at 68% Hyd., ferment for 12 hours. Seduced by the sourdough lore that stiffer levain favors bacterial acid production, I reasoned "Hey, it can't hurt!".

Furthermore, I returned to the original flour ratio 45%AP/45%Bread/10% Whole Rye. And, to exacerbate my sins, I put three teaspoons of diastatic malt powder in the final dough. I wanted a darker crust.

I cannot detect any flavor difference in the finished loaves compared to our weekly sourdough bake. The distinct tang has vanished. Of course, with all the changes I've nary a clue why.

But I did get a darker crust.

David G

mareblu's picture

Robertson: Amount of starter to discard when re-feeding; Amount of starter used to make a levain

July 21, 2012 - 1:09pm -- mareblu

Though I have had success with Tartine's Country Bread, I am still confused by Robertson's directions on three points:

1.  Regarding feeding the starter.  Even after the seed culture has been successfully transformed into a healthy starter, it appears that Robertson discards 80% of his starter before each regular feeding (Tartine, p. 46) whereas others simply re-feed by adding to the existing starter at a ratio of 1:2:2 (starter: flour: water by weight) without discarding.  Am I reading Robertson wrong here?  

breaducation's picture

I love a good country bread as I think most people do. It is one of the most fun, beautiful and often times challenging styles of bread to make. However, I find myself becoming bored of the standard 10% whole wheat flour in the formula. In an attempt to changes things up I will often raise or lower the percentage of whole wheat in the dough. As little as a 10% change can have drastic effect of flavor. I've also tried putting all the whole wheat in the starter, something that adds quite a bit of sourness to final flavor.

Lately, I've  been playing around with different flours to accent the flavor. In my latest effort I have used spelt flour in place of the whole wheat. The result is quite nice! It has a subtle nutty flavor that is quite pleasing. I think in my next bake I'll try upping the spelt to 20% and see if I like it as much.

Here are the spelt results:


hasunhats's picture

Converting from commercial yeast-based preferment to a levain/starter-based preferment

June 8, 2012 - 8:43am -- hasunhats


First, I'd like to thank this community for being so helpful! This is my first post.

I have checked this forum and many other sites, read and re-read books and have tried to find a somewhat easily understood method or way of converting commercial yeast-based preferments (biga, sponge, poolish, etc.) to a levain/starter-based preferment? Most of what I see goes a little over my head so does anyone have any tips?




Doughboy44's picture

Sour losing its sour

June 3, 2012 - 9:18pm -- Doughboy44

Hi Guys

Recently noticed our sourdough no being as sour as usual. Can we do something with our levain to increase the sour flavour. We currently feed it every 24hrs with 100% flour 50% water and 50% old levain. Mix this until incorporated and then place in container for the next days sour if we make. 

Some advice would be great.

Juergen's picture

Correct me if I'm wrong - bakers formula

May 12, 2012 - 3:14am -- Juergen

I've never been good at math but decided to make a bakers formula spreadsheet based on the Bread Bakers Guild format. This in order to make it easier for me to work with bakers formulas. 

Now that I'm ready for baking with it, I'm just looking for a confirmation that what I'm doing is right. Below is the formula with which I want to bake this weekend. It's a basic 2-stage levain/sourdough formula using white wheat flour only. The goal is 1,5 kg of dough (1501 grams to be exact) with 25% levain/sourdough starter at 100% hydration.

PiPs's picture

I bought a new book. Yes! another bread book. I wasn't planning to ...  and thinking back I'm not completely sure where the inspiration came from, but sometimes inspiration just happens. (or in Nat's version of events ... self indulgence just happens...)

A week ago a second hand copy of ‘The Taste of Bread’  by Raymond Calvel, Ronald L. Wirtz and James J. MacGuire was delivered to my doorstep and I have been trying to absorb as much from it as I possibly can. I find it such an interesting read─on so many levels─from heavy discussions on the effect mixing has on dough maturity to small soulful snippets on French bread.

The chapter that captured my attention most and had me obsessively re-reading it was the chapter on flour. The classification and choice of flour available in France intrigues me. Finding such depth within a seemingly simple ingredient as white flour was something I wanted to explore and as luck would have it I had recently been given the name of a bakery─‘Uncle Bob’s Bakery’ that was stocking imported French flour.

Not only that, but the owner of ‘Uncle Bob’s Bakery’, Brett Noy was recently given the honour of being a jury member for the 2012 Coupe du Monde del la Boulangerie─the Bakery World Cup!!! … mmm … another French connection to this story it seems.

In France the purity level of flour is determined by mineral content measured by the ash level. So at different extraction rates you may have different ash content depending on the type of wheat, procedures used, mill equipment and the skill of the miller. As the ash level rises you will have flour that is richer with bran particles and darker in colour.

Choosing flour was the easy part but trying to make a final decision on what to bake was a bit trickier and in the end the flour dictated the final choice.


This flour is normally associated with viennoiseries such as croissant, brioche and specialty breads containing high fat, sugar and eggs. As winter is slowly creeping upon us, it was time to revive one of my favourite traditions over the cooler months─brioche for weekend breakfasts with café au lait. 

The formula I worked with was Raymond Calvel’s ‘Brioche Leavened with Sponge and Dough’. It has a butter content of 45% (I used a cultured butter) and a small sponge of flour, yeast and milk which is mixed into the remaining dough after 45 mins of fermenting. As is usual when mixing this type of bread by hand I was kneading at the bench for at least 30 min by the time the butter was fully incorporated smoothly into the dough. Day-by-day a mixer looks increasingly tempting! (only if Nat gets to pick the colour!)

The dough was rested in the fridge overnight and shaped in the morning for the final proof. Oh, it has been such a long time since we have had brioche around our house. The  soft golden crumb teared so easily and when dipped in coffee─made my soul smile.



T130 Rye

For my experiments with this medium rye flour I took inspiration from photos of the amazing crusts of the tourte de seigle found in the boulangerie windows of Paris. It’s the contrast I love─the dark well baked crust scattered with flour coated islands.

Tourte de Seigle adapted from Denis Fatet’s formula at





Total dough weight



Total flour



Total water



Total salt



Prefermented flour






Sourdough build: 1h 30 @ 35°C



Levain at 60% hydration



T130 rye flour



Water at 70°C









Final Dough: 1h 45 @ 40°C



Rye flour T130 sifted or T85 rye



Water at 70°C











  1. Prepare sourdough: Stir hot water into rye flour then add levain and mix until smooth. Sprinkle with rye flour and allow to rise for 1hr 30 at 35°C. Cracks will appear on the surface of the sourdough. 
  2. Prepare final dough: Stir hot water into rye flour and salt then mix in sourdough until smooth. With wet hands round the dough and flatten into a round disc. Set to proof seam side down on floured parchment paper. Dust with flour and smooth with hand to ensure an even coating.  Proof uncovered and away from draughts.
  3. Proof for 1h 45 at 40°C. Cracks will appear on surface during proofing.
  4. Load into oven with steam at 270°C for 10 mins then reduce temperature to 250°C and bake a further 60 mins.

I have to be honest, I was a little nervous about the idea of mixing the levain into the hot water and flour mix. But my worries were unfounded. The hot mix cooled as I stirred it and cooled even further when I added the levain creating a warm sourdough sponge that really went off fast.

I have heard that keeping a correct proofing temperature greatly assists with even cracking over the surface so the tourte de seigle proofed in our tiny bathroom under the heat lamp. I pushed the proofing to two hours but think next time I will reduce it to the specified time as the crumb shows some signs of slight over-proofing.

This is a crust lovers bread. The crumb is smooth and mild with only a hint of sourness. After many bakes of whole-grain ryes this bread is a pleasant change─A perfect balance of flavour and texture. But most importantly I love the way it looks. Dramatic bread! Breakfast during the week has been slices of this slathered with cultured butter.




The classic French bread for a classic French flour. Looking again to ‘The taste of Bread’ I used Raymond Calvel’s Pain au Levain formula substituting the T55 flour with the T65 I had on hand. At 64% the hydration was quite a bit lower than what I have been mixing recently but after an autolyse and solid 15 min mix by hand it produced a smooth and silky dough. It certainly felt different to the Australian flours I have been using but I am not sure how to put it best into words. Softer to the touch perhaps?

While the book uses a spiral mix followed by a 50 min bulk fermentation I was mixing by hand so opted for a gentler mix followed by a longer three hour bulk ferment to build strength and maturity in the dough. The final proof stretched out through the afternoon as the temperatures dropped but all the time increased the flavour of this delicious bread.

Nat is torn. She loves the flavour and texture of this bread, more so than the some of the Australian organic flours I have been using …  but it has come all the way from France … sigh. We are mindful of our footprint ...

I love the flavour as well so I am keen to keep experimenting with it … for the time being anyway.



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