The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Back after the long hot (not) summer

First I want to say hello to all of you again after being "away at my summer job".  I've missed you all, and have not even had much time to just lurk, let alone post.  I've purposely held back from posting knowing I could, at any time, be completely unable to follow up or hold up my end on a discussion.  The latest part of Spring and the main part of Summer are my very busiest times of the year, when weeks and even entire months can and do go by without a break.  I've had the liberty of rearranging my schedule some this year so I have had some daylight time off, as a trade for night time on, to get some things done around the house, where I work.  That's the only reason I've been able to continue baking at least, to keep my hand in and the store-bought bread out.

The juggling of my work and off time schedule comes at the price of sleep too often, but it has permitted me to accomplish some baking things I'm proud of.  The biggest one we celebrated just tonight, with:

First Fire!! Woohooo!  The WFO got lit for the first time tonight with a small drying fire.

First Fire in New WFO

Thanks to a herculean effort the last couple of weeks, and the blessing of a wonderful neighbor who pitched in and helped, my earth oven is nearing completion.  Whenever I've been able to steal or swap for a couple of hours of daylight off duty time I've been working on this, since back in March originally.  Finally the rains quit and I could make some progress, then my "summer job" started and it has been pretty slow going.  I had to get it finished enough to use this winter before the rains come again!  I'm there, and will probably get it insulated in the next couple of weeks.  It must finish drying out first though, and this was just a small drying fire for less than a half hour to speed things along some.  It got things warmed up really well though.

This has been the highlight of my summer, without a doubt.  I've done some baking, of which this (back to front, RLB Beer Bread, RLB Sweet Potatoe bread as dinner rolls, and some of "my" sourdough) is my most recent highlight,

and I continue to explore the world of bread.  This oven will expand my horizons and challenge me even more.  I look forward to it with excitement.

I've many pictures of the entire building process from footing to, yes, first fire, thanks to the diligence and skill of my wife/photographer.  I plan on posting them somewhere (Flicker, or ...?) one of these days when summer is completely behind me and I have time to write the story.  Till then, well, we'll just take it as it comes.  It is starting to come easier as the harvest season here in The Valley heads into the home stretch.

It's good to be back on "The Loaf".  Thank's for stopping by for a visit.


spinge's picture

Using/Sourcing Baking Stone Alternatives or Substitutes

I have read regarding baking stones, and some people cannot understand why for the love of god people are discussing quarry tiles and substitutes, when FDA approved baking stones are readily available.

I have no option but to choose a substitute to baking stone, and I'd be glad if you could help me find one. To put it bluntly,

To use a baking stone, a baker need to satisfy 3 conditions:

1) Live in a location where baking stones are available

2) Or Live in a place where safe handling and delivery is made

3) And Have the item tested for safety

Unfortunately, I don't satisfy either:

1) I'm from India, specifically Mumbai city (its similar to NY city, but much worse), and apparently no baking goods supplier knows what a baking stone is here. I just went to some B2C shops in this godforsaken city and they were totally confused. I'm sure the pros get their tools B2B and imported. Also Google, shows no suppliers in India. None whatsoever.

2) Even if I do import one, I will not receive the baking stone in one piece, due to the way things work here. To put it simply, the handling is so bad here, even if it was FedEx-ed/UPS-ed or DHL-ed, the delivery will be made by a chilled out local who will definitely break it if its says handle carefully, or steal it if it says valuable :D Ok so I'm cynical, but I've had my share of experiences when I ordered Zildjian cymbals from NY some years ago which 'luckily' arrived 7 months later, yeah I kid you not. Luckily they were too durable to break. Other items aren't so fortunate.

3) The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is USA specific, and others countries may have their own version, but where I live the item to be tested (baking stone) isn't really available and therefore obviously there is no further question of testing.


Regarding Unglazed Quarry Tiles: Its a USA specific substitute from what I've read.

As far as Mumbai is concerned, some Tile shops I went to here clearly said its unavailable, others have no idea what it is. Even if I was told it is available, there is no way to check if it is glazed or unglazed. The seller will pass off a glazed piece as a unglazed here, as long as he makes a sale, since value of life in a country of 1 billion+ (1.1 billion now?) comes very cheap. :)

Therefore, of the other available substitutes (Granite, terracotta flower base plate, ceramic dish, soapstone, anything else? PLEASE SUGGEST OTHERS) which one would you think would be the best bet to get a good bread, especially pizza, or focaccia, and are there any conditions, that need to be satsfied for them to work. eg. unpolished granite, etc.

Although I'm throwing random darts here, I hope you will help me.



P.S.: This is my first post :)

sf mountain's picture
sf mountain

Spreadsheet translator--volumetric recipe to gram wgts recipe

Does anyone know of an Excel spreadsheet type translation program that will turn a standard (American-style) volumetric recipe into a gram weight recipe? Being unable to find one, I have been working on a simple version: a spreadsheet that translates the whole recipe at once. Most conversion systems i've seen on the internet work on a one-ingredient-at-a-time basis; i like being able to translate the whole recipe at one fell swoop..


mrpeabody's picture

An article on baked baking soda as a substitute for lye...

Just curious but I caught an interesting article in the NY Times about alkali ingredients (specifically baking soda and lye).  The author contends that baking baking soda creates a reasonable substitute to lye (while not as strong as lye, baking does make the baking soda stronger than unbaked baking soda).  As a professional geek, I find this very interesting.  I know that there are many here who make their own pretzels and bagels.  Thoughts?

Here is the article:


Mr. Peabody

davesmall's picture

Is That Plastic Container Safe?

I like to keep refrigerated bread dough in the refrigerator so I can bake a loaf of bread, a pizza, pita bread, or fougasse on a whim without planning ahead. I keep the wet dough stored in a plastic men's shoebox because it is the perfect size and shape for efficient storage. However, I worried about the safety of the plastic. Could unhealthy chemicals leach out of the plastic and into the dough?

A little Google research on the web turned up this excellent article that I'd like to call to the attention of bakers in this forum.

The most important thing to know is that not all plastics are safe for food storage.


Know the code. Look on the bottom of your plastic to find the recycling symbol (a number between 1 and 7 enclosed in a triangle of arrows). The code indicates the type of plastic you are using and can give you important clues about safety. "We generally say 1, 2, 4 and 5 are considered to be the safest," says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group. Try to avoid using plastics with 3 or 6, as these leach chemicals that may be harmful. Number 7 is an "other" category that includes BPA-containing plastics called polycarbonates. These plastics, which you should avoid, will have the letters PC printed underneath the 7.

In case you are wondering, my shoeboxes are coded "2"


Dave Small



GSnyde's picture

Sourdough Typology - SJSD, SFSD or what?

As I begin the mental preparation for trying to bake David's San Joaquin Sourdough this coming weekend, I am distracted by a matter of semantics and typology. I am familiar with the origin of "San Joaquin Sourdough" (see David's 12/14/09 comment at  I assume the name was coined as a reference to the Great Valley in which Fresno is located, where he lives.  I am in San Francisco, which has a sourdough of its own.  But I'll be be baking San Joaquin Sourdough in San Francisco, with a starter that evolved from David's starter from the San Joaquin.  It may be that my starter, born of generations of native San Franciscan yeasts, albeit descended from earlier generations of Fresnite yeasts, is now a San Francisco Sourdough Starter.

Perhaps my bread ought to be named for some geographic feature located between Fresno and San Francisco.  Maybe Mt. Diablo.   "Pane di Diavolo" sounds pretty sexy.  Or perhaps it should be named for the town of Fort Bragg, where that original glob of David's starter came into my possession.  In fact, my starter had bred for many generations in a jar that formerly held Pudding Creek Farms Ollalieberry Jam, made in Fort Bragg.

Before I make myself crazy trying to give a name to a bread that hasn't even been made yet, I should inquire whether there are typological principles that apply to the varieties of Sourdough Bread.  Is there a quasi-governmental body that enforces sanctioned naming conventions?  Does a new formula need to be a certain distance removed from a previously named formula before it gets its own name?  Or do we just get to make it up as we go along?  I kinda suspect it's that last one, but I don't want to get into any trouble.

Thanks for any help.


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

9/16/10 - 34 1/2 Hour Cold Bulk Retarded Dough Pain Au Levain

Hey All,

Me again.  This whole baking and blogging thing is a little nutty...  It's something one of those things that's fun, tedious and addictive...  Anyway, let's get on with this post...  How long can you cold bulk retard a dough and still have some good bread?  I've done 24 hours with good and bad results.  How about longer?  Why cold bulk retarding vs cold retarded proofing?  Well, from my experience, cold retarded proofing in a linen lined banneton seems to dry out the surface of the dough, so after baking, the crust becomes thick and tough...  This is my experience.  Also, I have a small under the counter refrigerator that has enough room to bulk retard maybe 4kg of dough in 2 X 4L plastic tubs.  So bulk retardation is my only option short of not sleeping if you've been following my baking schedule these days...

Here's my recipe:

Liquid Levain:

150g White Whole Wheat Flour

50g Rye Flour

50g Liquid Sourdough Storage Starter (100% hydration)

200g Water

450g Total Liquid Levain


Final Dough:

1000g AP

616g Water

30g Kosher Salt

450g Liquid Levain

2096g Approx Total Dough Yield



8:15pm - Mix liquid levain, cover and let rest on counter overnight.


8:00am - Mix final dough (in large mixing bowl put in water first, then levain, flour, salt).  Mix with rubber spatula until shaggy dough forms.  Cover and let rest 20 minutes.

8:25am - Knead for few minutes with wet hands until relatively smooth dough forms, transfer to lightly oiled container at least 4L, cover and let rest.

8:45am - Turn dough in container (stretch and fold), cover, place into refrigerator (40F), go to work.


6:30pm - Come home and take the dough out of the refrigerator and find that it was working on escaping the container

Divide into 2 equal pieces, shape into boules and place into linen lined bannetons and proof for 3 hours.

8:40pm - Arrange 2 baking stones on 2 levels, put steam pan in oven, preheat to 500F with convection.

9:45pm - Take bannetons out of plastic bag, lightly flour and give poke test...

10:00pm - Turn off convection. 

Turn boule out onto a lightly floured peel, slash as desired and place into oven directly onto stone.  When last loaf is in, pour 1 1/2 cups water into steam pan, close oven door.  Turn oven down to 450F and bake for 50 minutes, rotating between stones half way.  Then turn off oven and leave loaves in for another 10 minutes.

Loaves are done when the internal temp reaches 205F or higher (210F preferred), and they weigh at least 15% lighter than their prebaked weight.  Mine were 1050g before baking, and around 870g after, which is about a 17% weight loss...

Cool completely before cutting and eating...  Crumbshots tomorrow morning...  I wonder it this is a less stressfull baking schedule...  You tell me...


mimifix's picture

What if the label says organic but...

What if the label says organic but the bakery you know and trust couldn’t source
any organic flour that week? Do you have an expectation of being informed before
you purchase a loaf? If you knew, would you wait a few days until they could buy
organic flour? Since the flour that week costs the bakery less, would you expect
to pay less?

As a customer I expect any bread I purchase will have a correct label on the
wrapper. If that wrapper says organic flour then I expect an organic product.
Especially if I’m seeking that specific product and paying an extra few dollars.

As a former bakery business owner, however, I understand the disruption in
business if signs must be posted and customers are upset. And what do we use
instead of all those pre-printed bags claiming organic ingredients?

I ask this question because my students have worked in established organic
bakeries and have seen this happen. We talk about ethics and mission statements,
since these students are looking for guidance in starting their own businesses.
I have offered suggestions based on the size of the business: small bakeries
post signs while larger wholesale bakeries add a disclaimer to their bags with a
phone number or email address for further info.

I’m curious about your opinion to this very touchy question.

Many thanks,

Mebake's picture

Hamelman's Olive Levain **w/crumb**

This is a late bake of Hamelman's "BREAD" under levain breads. It is 90% White flour vs. 10% Wholwheat with 230g of Pitted olives.

The loaves were fermented for 2.5 hours bulk, and immedietly retarded for 8 hours overnight at 50F (10c). I suspect the crumb will be tighter than i wish, because i believe the loaves needed an additional 1 hour fermentation prior to retarding.

Any ways, today i'll cut into them and find out!


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

9/13/10 - Pain au Levain in a Pan

Hi All,

So I was up really late waiting for some Pain au Levain to rise...  Maybe a little too late, which is why I don't feel so hot right now and should be getting to bed early...  Way, way before 2:00am like this morning...  Anyway, just wanted to share with you some Pain au Levain in a pan that I baked very late last night...  They turned out really well, but I should have used smaller loaf pans...  Enjoy!  Recipe and method will follow the pics and the obligatory crumbshot...  Also, this recipe was inspired by one of the Pain au Levain recipes in Le Pain, l'envers du decor by Frédéric Lalos.



Final Dough:

1110g AP (KA)

555g Stiff Levain (63% hydration)

700g Water

38g Kosher salt

2400g Total Dough Yield (approx)


Stiff Levain

304g AP

192g Water

60g Sourdough Starter (I used a stiff one)

556g Total Stiff Levain Yield


Method to the Madness


3:50pm - Mix stiff levain, place in covered container, let rest on counter.

430pm - Place stiff levain in refrigerator.


6:50pm - Mix final dough in large bowl using a large rubber spatula, plastic scraper, wet hands.  Knead for 5-10 minutes.  Cover bowl, or place in plastic bag and let rest.

7:30pm - Knead dough for 2-3 minutes in bowl with wet hands.  Do not add any extra flour.  Cover and let rest.

7:45pm - Turn dough, cover and let rest.

8:45pm - Line loaf pans with parchment paper, or grease them if you like.  Divide into 3x800g pieces, and shape into loaves, place into pans, place pans into plastic bag, proof for 4 hours.


12:00am - Place baking stone and steam pan in oven, preheat to 500F with convection.

1:00am - Turn convection off.  Lightly dust loaves and slash as desired, place into oven on stone.  When all pans are in oven, pour 1 cup of water into the steam pan, close door.  Turn oven down to 450F and bake for 45 minutes.  Halfway through bake, remove loaves from pans and return to oven and place directly onto stone.  Turn oven down to 425F for remainder of bake.  At end of baking, check internal temp and weight loss.  Should reach 210F and lose approx 15% weight.  Turn oven off and put loaves back in for another 10 minutes.  Cool completely before cutting and eating...  Also, get some sleep...