The Fresh Loaf

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Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Just a softie?

According to Wikipedia, about 90% of the people in the USA live in places where the water is hard or very hard. I know I always have.


Now, I've moved to a place where the water is amazingly soft. According to Calvel, soft water prevents dough from having good cohesiveness. And that seems to be the case. My lavash cracker dough at about 55% hydration and a San Francisco Sourdough type dough at about 60% hydration both feel soft to me. How soft? Like 75 to 85% hydration doughs in other areas where I have lived. Even at 60% hydration, and with good dough development, my doughs are too soft to be good free form loaves.


Needless to say, it's driving me crazy. (My wife will tell you that I can walk that far.) Regretably, Calvel didn't mention what to do about very soft water.


Anyway, are there any bakers here who have coped with soft water? And if so, what did you do?





hullaf's picture

making use of bmuir1616's "guide to refreshing a sourdough starter"

I caught onto refreshing sourdough starter in bmuir's guide as one of the easier ways to understand my starter -- TFL node 6742. Now that the weather is warming up I find my starter is developing better though this guide really helped me with the numbers. 

First, since I have been wanting to convert my 100% starter to a firm one and I had just bought a used Glezer "Artisan Baking Across America" I thought I'd try her method for that. (My starter began about three years ago from freshly milled rye flour per RL Bernbaum's "Bread Bible" method.) I took 15 grams of my starter, added 15 of water and 50 of while bread flour (15-15-50), it rose 2x by 8-12 hours. Since it seemed slow to rise I then used Glezer's method to enliven my firm starter to make sure it was active enough - so I did a refreshing schedule of (15-25-45) starter-water-flour every 12 hours. That just didn't seem to go as Glezer said it would (by tripling or quadrupling!?). So, as I read in various blogs here on TFL (such as node 1807), I took Andrew's advice and used his amounts (30-30-50), and my starter started to grow well to 2-3x in 3-5 hours. So, I knew my sourdough starter was good. 

Now, I was ready for bmuir's guide and graph to direct me. I did the (25-50-50) building first, every 12 hours I added on, and by 36 hours I had the 500 Grams of starter/preferment to bake. (I didn't want the 1000 gram amount.) After the first two feedings it had doubled in 4-6 hours (the aroma was soooo goood) and with dmsnyder's and Mike Avery's advice I refrigerated it "because you want to use the starter at the peak of activity when you add it to the dough". 

I was now ready to make bread. I took out the refreshed starter/preferment from the fridge and let it warm up for 2 hours to nice and bubbly. I made half recipe of Glezer's Thom Leonard Country French by zolablue's node 3934 -- specifically with the sifted Hodgson Mill graham flour mixed with KA bread flour. I followed the recipe fairly exact; it rose according to the hours mentioned (I made sure of a 75F rising temperature by using a heating pad+rack+towel cover). I made one large boule, risen in a willow banneton, and baked it a total of 40 minutes.  


shaped Thom Leonard country french bread

shaped Thom Leonard country french bread


baked Thom Leonard country french bread

baked Thom Leonard country french bread 


sliced country french bread

sliced country french bread

 The bread rose well, had a great oven spring (though maybe not deep enough slashes?) and had a great wheaty taste. I wish I had real high extraction flour to see how that affects the taste. 

  Then since I had more fresh sourdough starter leftover, I made pizza dough per Peter Reinhart's 'transitional' whole wheat pizza in his WGB book. I quickly made up a soaker with whole wheat flour, let it sit/autolyse for an hour, added it and the remaining refreshed starter to the total dough and refrigerated it until an hour or two before I made the pizza, probably 6-8 hours. The dough turned out much more elastic and fun to work with than in the past when I had used this recipe. I did use active dry yeast instead of instant yeast - maybe this and the nicely active starter helped.  


elastic sourdough pizza dough

elastic sourdough pizza dough

I used the tomato based sauce per "a pizza primer" by Floydm's recipe and here is the result, a tasty pepperoni-onion-mushroom-basil pizza.  


'transitional' sourdough crust pizza

'transitional' sourdough crust pizza 


As you can see I used several different books, and many ideas, recipes, and recommendations from a variety of TFL bloggers. The Fresh Loaf has been so good for me! 


proth5's picture


Oh, the flour that is...As promised, I have let my home milled high extraction flour age for the 2 months as recommended by a number of texts.Once again, I made this loaf "by the numbers" - dough temperature, strokes, folds, ferment times and temperatures, etc.This time, I did feel a need to adjust - the dough seemed to "come together" a bit faster than my earlier home milled trials - but I soldiered on with the test method.

Once baked, this was the result:

It really did seem a bit more open in the crumb than earlier attempts which is consistent with the theories that aging is required for the best gluten development. Although the loaf was pretty tasty and showed no signs of the flour having become rancid with the long storage, it did lack that “fresh from the berry” taste of truly fresh milled flour.

So, what to do?  Two months of flour is quite an inventory for flour storage if you are baking on a regular basis.  Although the results of this loaf (in terms of lightness of crumb) were better – the freshly ground wasn’t bad.  So, as usual, it’s all a matter of personal preference.  But as earlier experiments seem to show – if you are going to age the flour, it should be quite a long aging – a few days or a couple weeks does not suffice.

Happy Baking!

aturco's picture

No Rise to My Sour Dough?

This website is great. I recently starting making my own bread using Mark Bitman's NY Times no-knead recipe. I've had tremendous success with it and I am using a clouche. The crust and crrumb almost perfect and I am creating some nice loaves.

I wanted to try a sourdough loaf at the request of my 10 year old daughter. I used Mark Shepard's Simple Sourdough formula/recipe for a starter and the bread.

I am able to get a pretty good starter, it bubbles has a sour smell, has hooch and looks a lot like the pictures posted on the web sites I visit. I also am able to get a pretty good sponge. Its a little too wet but again its bubbly, has a sour smell and when stirred has a pretty good body.

My problem is when I make the dough, I am not getting a good rise. I let it sit in the gas oven with the pilot on for 4-6 hours. It looks like it is rising or doubling is size but when I go to put it in the clouche or a loaf pan it just lies flat. I follow the directions and start out with a cold oven and set it to 375 and let it bake for 55 minutes.

The loaf comes out as a flat disc that is very dense. The last one I made had a an alright crumb, nice holes in it but it was very dense. The flavor was pretty good too but not nice and airy like the other bread I've made. I am using King Arthur Whole Wheat flour for the starter and for the dough.

Any suggestion to get a good rise would be greatly appreciated.

btw, i have ordered the starter from Carl Griffith's page and am thinking about ordering the starter from King Arthur.

 I have the starter in the refridge now and it looks pretty good.



marcsababa's picture

One stage sourdough bread made the best whole wheat sourdough bread !! But how can I make it a little less sour?

I found this recipe here on the boards.  It was called Sourdough Guy's one stage sourdough bread.  I used the exact quantities given with whole wheat.  It requires so little labour and it actually allows you to soak your flour for long enough that I think it must meet the requirements of the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, but it produces a loaf that is incredibly light.  I am so happy because I have been trying to make the healthiest bread possible out of wheat flour and yet I wanted it to be light for sandwiches and buns. 


My one problem now is that it is quite sour.  My husband loves it and I think we will get used to it, but is there a way to make it less sour? 

 The recipe: 

Take 20-35 grams of active starter and disolve it in 765g of low chlorine or filtered water.  Add to the water and starter, 1090 grams of flour and 20g of salt. Mix the salt into the flour first.  Stir until all the flour is wet and set aside for an hour.  Tip the dough out onto the counter and do a "french fold" or do a "letter fold" 4 or 5 times. Put into a clean oiled container and allow to double.  This should take around 16 to 20 hours.  After it has doubled turn it out shape and allow to proof 4 hours or so and bake as normal.  This recepie makes a 70% dough.  I have found that 35 grams of my starter will double after 16 hours on a 70 degree day.  I scaled back to 20 grams or so to get the full 20.  Cool thing about this is you can throw it together 8 or 9 pm.  let it set until 4 or 5 the next day, shape and bake around 9 or 10pm.  If you make it with cold water I imagine you could stretch the fermentation time out even longer.  I also sometimes give it a second folding the first night if I think it needs it.  This bread also has wonderful flavor as well.  Hope this helps.

Da Crumb Bum 


canuck's picture

Really Easy Sourdough Onion Rye

Hello Folks, this is my first post on The Fresh Loaf, altough I have been reading and trying out recipes for a long time.

I wanted to share a very easy recipe for Sourdough Onion Rye, which is an adaption of pretty much everything I have learned from this site. It's really quite easy to make and comes out fine every time, so good luck and please give me feedback, I would love to hear about your experience.

The Starter

I use a fairly wet "batter" style sourdough starter. I keep it in the fridge and refresh it after I use it and then let it sit out for a while. Right now I am living in Zambia, this starter is therefore infested with Zambian yeast - I wonder if there is a difference? In any case, it's pretty active and works really well.

The Flour

I love reading the discussions about the various types and properties of flour, and how important a specific type of flour is for one recipe or another. In Zambia, we get two types of flour: Bread Flour and Cake Flour, that's it. I use Bread Flour and it works great. Rye flour is harder to come by, I get mine from a local bakery that imports it from South Africa. I have no idea exactly what kind of Rye it is, it looks sort of a like a medium extraction. I have learned not to worry too much, it all comes out tasting pretty good.

The Recipe

The night before baking, start the poolish.

about 1/2 cup starter

3 cups bread or all-purpose flour

1 cup Rye flour

2 cups of water.

Mix it all together, cover and let sit overnight.

The Next Morning.

Add to the poolish:

3 cups of flour as before

1 cup of Rye, as before

1 large (raw) Onion, finely chopped

(Optional) 1 Tablespoon Dried Dill

1 Tablespoon Salt

3/4 Cup water.

Mix well and let sit for twenty minutes.

This makes a pretty wet dough, one of you scientists can figure out the hydration. Because of the rye flour its quite sticky. I find the best way to mix it is to just get my hands in there and squish it all together.

After it sits, knead for 10 minutes. You will need to use quite a bit of flour as the dough is very sticky. After kneading cover and let rise until doubled, about two hours.

 Sourdough Onion Rye dough, just after kneading

After rising, dump the dough onto a well floured surface and cut in half. Stretch each half **gently** into a ball, then **gently** stretch into a loaf shape. You don't want to squish the air bubbles. I find the "envelope" method of shaping just a bit too vigorous.

Transfer the the loaves onto baking paper, cover and let rise for about an hour.

 Sourdough Onion Rye - Shaping the loaves


Sourdough Onion Rye - Ready for the Oven

Sourdough Onion Rye - Ready for the Oven

Meanwhile, preheat your stone and your oven to 450/220. Then transfer your loaf onto the stone, I use the back of a cookie sheet as a peel. When the loaf is in the oven use whatever steam method you prefer, I simply toss a cup of water into the bottom of the over and shut the door. Bake for about 25 minutes, turn the loaf once. I have a very small oven, so I can only bake one loaf at a time.

Take the bread out, and let it cool for as long as you can, and then enjoy! Also makes great toast!

Sourdough Onion Rye - The Finished Product

Sourdough Onion Rye - The Finished Product

Your feedback greatly appreciated



ehanner's picture

DLX Dough Hook


I don't mean to turn this into an "Ask Mike" day but as far as I know you are the only one who has used the dough hook on the DLX. This is the first time I have used the hook on the DLX. I started out with the roller and was frustrated with the roller not developing the "ring". So, I thought I would give it a try. In the bowl is a double batch of your Bohemian Rye SD so it should look familiar. Is this the way it should look? Are there any clues as to when it's developed? It rolled into the cone shape shortly after starting on the lowest range and stayed that way for the next 10 minutes.

The dough was decently developed when I pulled it off the hook so I did a couple french folds and dropped it into the oiled bowl to rise.

My first impression is that the hook is way easier to use and like you say, just walk away from it and let it work. The roller seems to require my constant attention with almost any dough type. I do wonder if the hook would distribute the firm white starter as well as the roller. I broke it up into pieces and let it sit in the water to soften then ran the roller for a minute to dissolve the chunks into the mass.


bmuir1616's picture

The proper use of starter from frig to oven

Hi. I am new to the site and love what I see so far. I have a sourdough starter going and it is in the frig. I am confused on how to treat it in order to make sourdough bread on a Saturday. Here is what the current plan is gleaned from reviwing past posts (comments welcome):

  1. It is now Thursday night about 11:00PM here in Michigan.
  2. The started was refreshed last Sunday and put in the frig.
  3. I plan on taking it out of the frig, taking a cup out adding in two cups of flour (10 oz) and adding 11 oz of water and letting it sit at room temperature over night.
  4. Tomorrow morning (Friday), I will use 1 cup starter with 10 oz flour and 11 oz water and let it stand at room temperature all day while I am at work.
  5. Friday evening I will make the pre-ferment using a cup of the starter (or whatever the recipe calls for) and whatever flour and water are needed and letting that set at room temperature overnight. I will use some of the leftover starter to rebuild the starter, leave it out overnight and put it back in the fig on Saturday for next week.
  6. Saturday morning I will make the dough; let it rise; shape; let it rise; and bake.

Will this work?

Thanks for the help.


Marni's picture

Help storing/freezing starter, please

I need to store my two starters that are just about one month old.  One is rye and the other is pretty much white (I sometimes add a bit of rye or whole wheat)  They are going to be completely ignored for ten to twelve days.  I would like to freeze them.  I've read that I can dry and freeze starter and rehydrate later.  Has anyone here tried that?  I would like to find instructions for preparing, rehydrating and using a frozen starter.  Now that I finally have working ones I don't want to kill them off.  Thanks for any help.


Eli's picture

Sourdough Loaf

this is my first sourdough. I created a starter sometime ago. Didn't get the crumb I wanted but it taste great. Will keep practicing.