The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

100% Sourdough Pain de Tradition with 85% Hydration - Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere or Pain Poilane?

Shiao-Ping's picture

100% Sourdough Pain de Tradition with 85% Hydration - Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere or Pain Poilane?

I've been threatening to collapse my San Francisco starter and call it a day because it performs much slower than my other starters.  At the last minute, David (dmsnyder) brought to my attention James MacGuire's other recipe, Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere in Hamelman's "Bread," as well as Pain Poilane in Daniel Leader's "Local Breads."  The full title of the latter is "Whole Wheat Sourdough Miche inspried by Pain Poilane, pain au levain complet," and according to Daniel Leader, it is "a symbol of artisanal excellence in France and around the world."  David also mentioned Peter Reinhart's Poilane-Style Miche in "The Bread Baker's Apprentice."  

As all three formulae employ a whole wheat starter (to be exact, the flours used for the starters and the final doughs are, respectively, high-extraction whole-wheat flour in Hamelman's book, stone-ground whole wheat flour in Leader's book, and a sifted medium-grind whole wheat flour in Reinhart's book), I thought I'd convert my San Francisco starter into an Australian wholemeal starter first before I decide on an avenue to pursue.  I have been warned that my Australian wholemeal flour is actually white whole wheat flour for North America.  All the better for my endeavour here as the standard whole wheat flour is hard red spring wheat which may not be the most desirable flour for hearth loaves.   

Formula Synopsis Comparison     


Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere


Pain Poilane


Poilane-Style Miche


Starter hydration 




Starter as % of final

dough flour


25% (or 45%)*


Final dough hydration





Mix flour & water, autolyse

20-60 min, then add salt &


Mix flour & water, autolyse

20 min, then add salt &


Mix everything in one go


On 2nd speed for 2 - 2.5 min,

the dough is loose & gluten

only moderately developed

By hand for 12 - 14 min,

the dough should pass

windowpane test

By hand for 12 - 15 min,

the dough should pass

windowpane test

Bulk fermentation

with folding

2.5 hrs with 2 - 3 foldings

@ 40 - 50 min intervals

3 - 4 hrs with one brief

kneading (1 - 2 min)

after one hr

4 hrs or until nearly

doubles in size

(no folding)





Final proofing

2 - 2.5 hrs

2 - 3 hrs

2 - 3 hrs

Dough size for home


1665 g

1010 g (or 1110 g) *

2060 g


440F for 15 min, then

420F for 45 min

470F for 40 - 50 min

Heat oven to 500F, once

dough is loaded, turn it

down to 450F, bake 25 min

then 425F for 30 - 40 min

* There is a discrepancy in figures in Leader's book (page 120); the instruction says leveain of 125 g (25%) is to be used however the table lists a figure of 225 g (45%); hence, the resulting difference in final dough sizes. 

Just by looking at the comparison above, I immediately know that I would like the Hamelman's (ie, James MacGuire's) formula the best.  However, I have a very basic problem here that I cannot reconcile with intellectually.  In Hamelman's book, it specifically says to make the final levain build 12 hours (@ 70F) before the dough mix, and also in Leader's book, it is 8 - 12 hours (@70 - 75F).   My problem is: if final levain build takes 12 hours, why, then, would the dough fermentation (bulk & final proofing all-up) only take half that time?  (Note: in both cases, dough fermenting temperature is recommended roughly the same as the starter temperature.)   There seems to be the pressumption that if your starter is very strong (after 8 - 12 hours' final building), it should be able to leaven dough many times its size with half the time (at roughly the same temperature).   From past experience, I already know what my sourdough would look like if I followed the instruction to the letter.

Anyway, I didn't want to go there.  I decided I wanted to do something bold - no harm, it's only an experiment:

  • 85% dough hydration: my thinking is if white flour can take 80% hydration, wholemeal can take 85%!
  • 12 hours all-up for bulk fermentation and final proofing: my rationale is my San Francisco starter performs very slowly and the Australian mild winter gives me 70 - 75F room temperature, the ideal temp for the fermenting dough.

My Formula

  • 220 g Australian white wholemeal starter @ 75% hydration
  • 414 g Australian white wholemeal flour
  • 365 g water
  • 10 g salt

 You cannot get ingredients more simple than the above list of 4 items!

Main points of my steps are:

  1. 4 & 1/2 hours of bulk fermentation (@ 70 - 75F ) during which 5 sets of 8 - 10 folds were performed, the last set of which also served as pre-shaping as in my Pain de Tradition post.
  2. Then, shaped the dough into a boule and placed it in a basket line with floured towel.
  3. 7 & 1/2 hours of proofing  (@ 70 - 75F).  For the whole time, I checked it every 15 minutes or so to make sure it's not over-proofed. 
  4. When I checked it the last time before I put it into the fridge for the night (for 7 hours) with a floured finger, the dough still sprang back with some "force."
  5. This morning, I brought it out of the fridge, let it sit at room temp for 4 hours! before I baked it. 

And here is this little baby,


    100% Sourdough Pain de Tradition with 85% Hydration (100% Australian wholemeal flour)


                                  the crumb


          and more crumb

Throughout the whole time I was aware that over-fermenting/proofing would mean:

  • no oven spring
  • the dough may collapse
  • the crust may be baked to a ghostly pale color
  • the crumb may taste like glue
  • the taste may be overly sour

In this sourdough,

  • there was a good oven spring
  • the dough held up really well, with no "bread improver" of any sort
  • the crust color was perfect to my liking
  • the crumb tastes mildly chewy and springy
  • there is an assertive sourness, but not excessive.

In fact, the formula and the steps here yielded a complex crumb flavor, far more than the humble ingredients list would have you believed.




Morale (if there is such a thing):  What I learned in this bake is that I have to know my starter to do sourdough well.   As Dan Lepard said,

... a ... baker recognizes that the doughs he makes are living things with individual identities, that they ultimately create themselves.  The baker's skill is to encourage natural developments, and the bread that results from this understanding will always taste better....

If I simply follow recipes without understanding my starter, my dough, and my environment (I mean, the environment the starter and the dough is in), no recipe can guarantee any good sourdough. 

It's near bed time as I was signing off.  My son danced out of his bedroom and asked, "Come on, mum, where is the music?"





dmsnyder's picture

I think you have, essentially, made the Miche, Pointe-à-Callière, except for the different flour and the overnight cold retardation. I agree that the increase in hydration is logical because of the different flour. The increased sourness is an expected result of the cold retardation.

Your loaf profile is higher than Hamelman's bread.

Nice job!

I don't have a problem with the time differential between ripening the levain and fermenting and proofing the dough. The goals are very different. Think about it.


Shiao-Ping's picture

... of my sourdough is of course due to the higher hydration.


You said you don't have a problem with the time differential between ripening the levain and fermenting/proofing the dough and that is because the goals are very different.  Well put.   Thank you.  


I take it to mean also that the bread masters' breads are their sourdoughs using their way of making them.   And, as people's tastes are different, people can do whatever that suits their own tastes, as long as they don't use the masters' names for their own renditions!


foolishpoolish's picture

Wonderful looking bread! Great job on all counts!

Reading the method, I am curious about the proofing time. With a 220g of preferment (23% prefermented flour by my calculations), I would have expected a much faster rise. Yet, you mention a 7 1/2 hour proof followed by 7 hour retardation followed by a 4 hour bench rest before baking! That's 18 1/2 hours compared with 4 1/2 bulk ferment! Granted some of that was refrigerator time, but that's still quite a long time! Did you use very cold water for mixing the final dough?

Your concern over the perceived discrepancy between levain build times and final dough rise time might be explained by the ratio at which the levain is fed versus the amount of starter used in the final dough. (I'm not overly familiar with the formulas in question) Also, as David says, the aims are different. The levain is like the 'training' before the race which is the final dough....(maybe that's a bad analogy??!!) 



Shiao-Ping's picture


Yes, 22% prefermented flour was high; or using baker's percentage, it was 53%, but that's not out of line as Hamelman, Leader and Reinhart use a range of 40 to 62%.   No, I did not use very cold water for mixing the dough (see my calculation for water temp here0; and my dough temp was in the 70 - 75 F range. 

My long fermenting/proofing time is because that's what I wanted, not because that's what is required of me.  I was trying to achieve, also assisted by many folding sessions, a very light, very holey crumb (taking into account that my San Francisco starter is slower in leavening dough than, perhaps, the average starters).  My 85% hydration was also used to achieve towards goal. 




ehanner's picture

Very nice Miche Shiao-Ping. I agree with David as to the relationship of ripening the starter and fermenting/proofing. Not mutually exclusive expectations.

There is one thing thing I would point out. In Hamelman, you have to be careful to read ahead and come back to make sure you understad what he means. For example, on page 165, item 7, He says in the first sentence  "Baking: With normal steam 440F for about 60 minutes." Then in the next sentence he says. "Reduce the oven tempeture to 420 after 15 minutes". I think it is a confusing way to write the procedure. If I read your table correctly you thought you had to bake it 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Obviously you can choose to change the methods of any style bread to suit your own taste. In this case the folding technique is allowing a lighter loaf, a more open crumb. I'm not sure that is an accurate reproduction of the origional, but it might be a better bread for your taste.

I agree with you, it is is remarkable what a few simple ingredients handled in a prescribed manner will produce. I continue to believe that our techniques are far more important than the ingredients we use.


pattycakes's picture

And beautiful loaves, Siao-Ping! I will try your technique.

That part of the Point-a-Caliere Miche directions always confused me:

"Baking: With normal steam 440F for about 60 minutes, etc."

Thanks for bringing this up. I've made this bread many times, and I always stub my toe on that part.


Shiao-Ping's picture

... thank you for pointing it out.  I have now amended the baking time and temps re Hamelman on my table.

Yesh, I would say it is NOT an accurate rendition of either Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere or Pain Poilane (or, for that matter, James MacGuire's pain de tradition).  To say that it is my own version of an old European (French) sourdough doesn't sound right either, simply because the super-high hydration has really changed the character of the loaf. 


Let's say it's SP's highly-hydrated Australian wholemeal sourdough (to not confuse with any master's creations)!



ehanner's picture

I like the sound of that!


Shiao-Ping's picture

I bet you have!



wally's picture


I just finished a class with James and Jeffrey Hamelman at KAF in which we baked James' wonderful miche pointe-a-calliere.  The recipe we followed called for a fermentation of 16 hrs. after mixing the levain, before the final dough.

Times were:

Refresher - ferment 6 hrs.

Levain - ferment 16 hrs.

Final dough - bulk fermentation 2.25 hrs with folds at 45 and 90 min.

Shape and final fermentation - 1.5 - 2 hrs.

Hope that helps!


dmsnyder's picture

I just finished a class with James and Jeffrey Hamelman at KAF in which we baked James' wonderful miche pointe-a-calliere. 

I am so envious!

Larry, would you start a new topic and tell us more about that class?


wally's picture

David - I'd be happy to.  I'm new to this blog, but it's obvious that most of those posting are far beyond me in talent and knowledge.  Are there aspects of the class you'd like me to focus on, or will the ramblings of one (me) who described the experience as "summer camp for adults who like to play with dough" be sufficient?


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Larry.

Well, here's your "term paper" assignment: ;-)

  1. What did the class cover?
  2. What did you learn?
  3. Any amazing insights?
  4. New skills?
  5. What was the best/worst thing about the class?
  6. Teacher evaluation?
  7. Any other thoughts?


Shiao-Ping's picture

... if you are able to answer all thoses questions from David, you'll have done a master course in bread (but we'll be really, really appreciative to hear it from the horse's mouth!).



wally's picture


I wish my pen could have moved as fast as the topics they discussed.  I remember waking up in the middle of the night with their ideas and teachings spinning 'round my head. 

One thing that strikes me in retrospect is that the course really is intended for the professional baker, and this became evident in the approach to baking 'problems' taken by Jeffrey.  Those of us who are home bakers have the luxury of arranging our schedules around the dough, a luxury not available to production bakers.  What impressed me continually was how Jeffrey and James looked for baking 'solutions' (on a production scale) which in the language of mathematics we would call 'elegant.'

One example: we all think of autolyse as a wonderful technique for certain doughs that allow us to minimize mixing and oxidation.  All well and good - and valid.  But James, in explaining Calvel's rediscovery of the technique, emphasized that Calvel grasped it primarily as one practical measure to ameliorate the loss of bread tradition and quality he saw occuring in France.  The nub, for Calvel, was that autolyse reduced mixing time (by about 15%), which meant for production bakers the possiblity of producing more loaves in the same timespan, or alternately, producing the same output in less time. 

It was elegant because it was a solution that improved bread quality and appealed to bakers, thus helping resurrect the culture of bread in France.

These sorts of insights were off-handedly thrown out over the 3-day course, and I only wish I had a better memory!


Shiao-Ping's picture

... I like the way you explain "autolyse" and I like the word you used, "elegant," for it.


p.s.  Are you a mathematician?

wally's picture

Shiao-Ping -

No, philosopher by formal training.  But my ex- was a mathematician and it was from her and logic courses that I was introduced to the concept of 'elegance.' I  now see its applicablility to baking as well...

Shiao-Ping's picture

... mathematics and philosophy have a common ground - logic. 

The concept of elegance....   Hmmm, I have to chew on that. 

Are you referring to the ease with which autolyse confer on bakers to do a large job, or are you referring to the sense of proportion (and therefore, balance) in the whole bread-making process made possible by autolyse, or are you referring to the natural (and therefore, effortless) rhythm emerging from it all?


p.s.  We are still talking about bread, aren't we.

wally's picture

...yes, we are still talking bread, but at a pretty airy level now I think.

According to MacGuire, Calvel knew that he could not persuade bakers to abandon a lot of the automation they'd embraced from the 1950s onward and return to traditional methods of baking.  So autolyse was a compromise of sorts that he knew would appeal to bakers (because it shortened the mixing time required - an economic benefit) while also improving dough quality. 

In mathematics, a solution is deemed 'elegant' if it exhibits a simplicity usually made possible by a creative approach that allows the simple solution to emerge (where other approaches lead to more complicated ways of solving the problem).

Calvel's 'solution' (autolyse) is elegant to my mind because it improves the quality of the product (regardless of whether you are a home baker or a production baker), while introducing a method that he knew could be embraced by professional bakers - thereby helping to restore French baking to its former eminence.

Now if I could just introduce some elegance to my scoring technique....


Shiao-Ping's picture


Shiao-Ping's picture

Many thanks for that input.