The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hamelman's Natural Leaven Class Report

ein's picture

Hamelman's Natural Leaven Class Report

I just returned from the King Arthur Flour Co’s Baking Education Center and wanted to share my experience taking the 10hr, day and a half class:  “Naturally Leavened Breads” with Jeffrey Hamelman. Being greeted by sunny 70 degree weather in beautiful Vermont was a great way to start the day and the Education Center is a light and airy building with lots of well managed work space. 

We were set up two at a work bench and each of the 12 participants had their own set of tools:  a 6qt Kitchenaid or 7qt Viking mixer, a scale, metal and plastic dough scrapers, stainless steel bowls and of course access to lots and lots of Flour. We were also given a packet with formulas we would be using for our Breads along with others on Desired Dough Temperature, making Liquid and Stiff Levains, etc. The class room is in the same building as the K A Bakery and we would work in the commercial equipment area as needed during the day.

the breads

After a short introduction Jeffrey had us dig right in … within minutes of arrival we were Scaling materials and preparing in earnest for the 7-8 loaves of Bread we would each be bringing home  by the next day’s end of class. It became clear from the beginning that this was not going to be a walk in the park … not a lecture format about Bread … rather an intense, professional, emersion into natural levained Bread … real ‘on the job training’ under the hand of a Maestro.

The whole class, the flow and timing of everything we did, was built around the Bread.  When our dough was taking a breather then we had time for a demonstration, a talk from Jeffrey or questions and answers, otherwise we were attentive to our job ... making and baking Bread.

We worked with:  a Pain au Levain with All Purpose Flour (KA Sir Galahad) and Medium Rye, a Currant and Walnut Sourdough with Sir Galahad and Whole Wheat Flour, and a 5 Seed Sourdough with Sir Gal, High Gluten Flour (KA Sir Lancelot) and Whole Wheat Flour.

5 seed sourdough

5 Seed Sourdough

We used both Liquid and Stiff Cultures and were shown, and then directly used, different techniques on each loaf: hand or machine mixing, autolyse, soakers, room temperature bulk fermentations with folding, and 40deg overnight retarding to name a few.  Forming options for different types of loaves and slashing styles were shown and then tried out. We received countless tips like: adding optional fresh yeast, using a lined benneton when retarding, how to convert a liquid levain to a firm one, and on and on. Luckily these many learnings were not isolated lectures but put to use right after the individual descriptions/examples were shown. This made everything Jeffrey taught easier to integrate.

This was set up to great advantage because it not only allowed us to learn the varied construction possibilities but also to be able to do comparisons. For example, a machine mixed Pain au Levain could be compared side by side with a hand mixed Pain and an overnight retarded Pain.  Or a Sourdough Bread made with Stiff Levain compared to one made with a 125% hydration Liquid Levain. So, ease/timing of production using different techniques at the bench was directly mated with actual taste tested results from the oven. I saw that everything we do in Bread making is more than just a method choice … it is a choice for a desired result.

currant and walnut sourdough

Currant and Walnut Sourdough

If there was an overriding theme to the class it would be this:  Once a ‘technique’ was completed he directed us to then look to the dough for confirmation/nonconfirmation of what we had done. I saw how measurement and clock work are very important parts in Jeffrey’s production. They are a foundation that helps bring consistency and a standard and honesty to our work. But, he stressed that only through direct connection with the dough itself can we see if what we are doing is really working well and will make the best Bread. 

At some point during the two days of class each participant called out ‘ Jeffrey!!! ‘   Is this Poolish ripe?   or    is the gluten developed enough?     am I too wet here?     Is this proofed enough?  

“ See with your fingers ”  he would reply,  and then he’d call us all over to give our opinion, each to look and touch … to know for ourselves. He would never tell us what his take on the matter was until we gave ours. That was a real gift.

I’ve attached a few photos of the Breads I made in class.  One of my Pain au Levain is missing from the group picture … I ate it on the drive home.

Thank you Mr. Hamelman

        and Susan and Crew at the KA Baking Education Center.


Pain au levain

Pain au Levain




miche style pain au levain approx 1.5 kilos

Pain au Levain Miche


LindyD's picture

Thanks for the excellent description of what had to be an amazing experience.

Your breads look beautiful.  Of course, they would.

Perhaps someday I'll get a chance for a little bread baking vacation in Vermont.

dmsnyder's picture

Thank you for a beautiful description of the class process. Your breads are gorgeous!

Did you get to bake in the commercial ovens in the KAF baking center? If so, do you have any observations regarding how this was different from baking similar breads at home?


xaipete's picture

The class sounds terrific and the breads look great. It must have been a wonderful experience!


ein's picture

Yes Dan,

I grew leaps and bounds in such a short time thanks to his teaching skill.  Have you worked with Jeffrey?


Hi Lindy, I hope you do get a chance for that little bread baking vacation in Vermont! It was easy to write with the smell of bread filling my head. :)


Hi David, thanks for asking, we did use the KA Commercial Ovens. They are sitting there ready for bread ... 50 loaves slide in as easy as 2. So they invite baking!

The main difference for me was the definitive action of loading a tube. At home I can turn a loaf after 20min to even the color, cover with a foil tent if I want, even lower the temperature. I never realized how much I was fiddling around.

When you load up you are commiting to the bake you've planned.  Jeffrey did say that if you are going to finesse at all do it with the bake. When they should be done slide out a few loaves with the peel and take a look ... if they need another 30 seconds that's ok.

On the mechanical end:  The heat does not excape much when loading/unloading so the temperature is much more even. The steam is regulated by valves. Open for a few seconds before loading for initial steam. Then steam each tube after loading. The doors are closed while steaming so again it's a much tighter operation. In the middle of the bake the vents are opened to let the steam out.

The bottom line ... no need to convert the garage ... as we have seen so often on the Fresh Loaf our little home ovens can turn out a mean bread!

Janknitz's picture

Thank you for the vicarious chance to experience a Hamelman class.  I live on the West Coast on a tight budget and even saving up to buy his book is a challenge.  So I do appreciate the chance to hear all about his class and have you share what you learned. 

Your breads look awesome, especially the 5-seed sourdough.  I'm salivating on my keybaord!