The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Neophyte Learning Blog

CaperAsh's picture

Neophyte Learning Blog

This will be a regular series of posts documenting some of my learning experiences. I have recently made the decision to

a) learn how to bake bread

b) build a wood-fired oven

c) try to sell it (if good enough) at a local farmer's market where I live in Cape Breton Island, Canada.


I think many might find this amusing - some might even find it irritating - given my lack of experience!


CaperAsh's picture

Inspired by an entry here on Fresh Loaf, I decided to try a 100% rye. I have never worked with rye before. My main experience has been with a few loaves from Carol Field's 'Italian Backer' using a biga starter.

Also, I have decided (at least for a few days) to avoid using any recipes or worry about what I am doing at all, rather simply learning how basic materials behave.


Yesterday I shovelled some mud from a nearby quarry, plucked out most of the larger stones, kneaded a ball or two and then fashioned a 4 * 9 brick. The brick was too wet but I lost patience waiting for it to dry. The balls were baked in a medium heat wood-stove for about 30 minutes. They came out very hard, like rocks. That was interesting. Never turned earth into rock before. Makes we wonder about the evolution story - maybe most of these rocks were formed more quickly than we think? But that is not my concern one way or another!

When I rubbed the balls of rock, they gave off a lot of powder. Not good in an oven.

The brick cracked within minutes of being placed in the oven in an aluminum loaf pan (4 * 9 I think). After it was baked for about 45 mins in a hotter oven than the balls, I took the two pieces out. They seemed very hard and brick like. After it cooled, I dropped the two half bricks from 3 feet and they both shattered. Again, I am just studying basic behaviors at this point, much like a child. Too soon to figure out if the rock and mud in the quarry is suitable for building an oven, although it is my hope that they will be. Something ideal about building the oven from materials about 50 yards from one's home.

In the same child-learning spirit, am now baking a small 100% rye, with another one waiting to be experimented on later today.


Last night I mixed 50-50 rye and water (3 cups of each), a small amount of salt, and about half a cup of starter from wholewheat and unbleached white and commercial yeast which I have had going for about 2 weeks now. My recently started 'wild yeast' jar started bubbling for the first time yesterday after more than a week when I added rye. Hence the interest in rye today, though I am not yet ready to use this natural starter.)

I let the dough and water at 100% hydration (a term I learned to understand here yesterday and also from reading The Bread Builders yesterday) sit overnight in the main room which was at around 60 deg. when I went to bed but around 50 overnight as the fire cooled off. Then about two hours ago I took some of it and laid it out on the cutting board. Well, poured it out. It is highly liquid. I added a little flour to it to give it some body, gently stirred it in with the dough scraper, folding technique sort of, and let it rest an hour under a lid. It was about a third of an inch thick, like a pancake. Enough for about half a normal size loaf pan I would say.

Then I placed in 475 degree oven with steam pan underneath in a pre-heated aluminum loaf pan because I felt there was not enough there to put into a covered pot - would barely cover the bottom of the pot. Really I am making a large roll.

After fifteen minutes, the 'loaf' had doubled in size. At first it filled about a third to a half of the small loaf pan. Then it went to about 3/4s.

It has now been in the oven 40 minutes and has a very thick-looking crust (overcooked it looks) but it did spring a little. It was far too moist to slash although I slashed anyway. They had no effect. So there is a spring-mark (?) along one side where it rose. I also sprinkled black sesame and poppy seeds on the top just for fun.

I will take it out in 5 minutes and let it sit and then report on the quality.

I am looking forward to finding out if it is a better brick than the one I made yesterday out of mud from the quarry, or is something resembling 'bread' or not. Especially since I gather that baking 100% rye is a challenge.

I did not measure what I took out since at first I was intending to bake the whole thing, then I decided to give the second lot more time to become less bubbly. Yes, it was extremely bubbly, basically looking like a large, liquid starter. I guestimate that I took about a third out for this first loaf but not sure since so many bubbles.


My camera has broken so it will be a while until I can post snaps unfortunately.

CaperAsh's picture

Out of the oven. Crust over cooked. Rise not as much as I thought. Inside still very moist. I know this because unable to get the loaf out of the aluminum loaf pan which was only sprinkled with cornmeal. Should have oiled it. So even after waiting 5 mins or so, had to cut the loaf pan to get them separated and in so doing I tore off some of the lower crust. The inside is somewhat pudding-like with small regular holes in crumb, no evidence of lift particularly. Very dark. Will wait an hour before passing judgment, but it is already much more like bread than a brick, so that is good!


That said have already added 1 cup rye to the remaining dough bringing it to around 66% hydration (Assuming there is already 2 cups of flour and water remaining which is a guess, i.e. now it is 3 cups flour to 2 cups water = 66%.) Will give it several hours to cook. I must say, the raw dough tastes delicious! A lovely yoghurt-like taste. But still many bubbles, and all from half a cup of starter yesterday. Which, come to think of it, means my initial hydration was above 100%. I added a handful of flour to the first loaf, but that put it to around 95% I suspect.


Am also wondering if, rather than put it in covered top, I should go for a 'rye ciabatta' on a tile.

CaperAsh's picture

Ok, not a brick, although crust too hard and bricklike.

Interior still like pudding which means there is little aroma and the taste of the grain has not flowered.

The underlying taste is good, though, doubtless from both the flour and the starter and the time they spent together (over 12 hours); Despite not being bread, there is a good flavour and aroma, although on the bitter side.

Not a brick. But also not quite bread!

Interesting how the crust can be so overdone but the interior not done at all. I suspect this is a function of the dough being simply too hydrated to work unless possibly had tried a much slower bake at lower temperature. Possibly also giving it more time to proof and in warmer spot.

The next loaf should be different because at lower hydration. I will not knead this one either and will use the high temp in a covered pot no-knead approach. Some time tonight in order to give the new flour time to blend in and get processed by the yeast. In the back room it is now 65 degrees but will soon start to cool down as the day wanes and night sets in.

Later I will do the same thing (100% rye) starting at around 75% hydration, a long cool fermentation and perhaps at some point a little kneading - if I can - to see how that affects the outcome if I can get some structure and resiliency into a dough that wet.

Dillbert's picture

if you're going to make adobe bricks for your oven, they have to dry out - no shortcuts, sorry.

adobe is just dried mud (some straw / etc as binder material.) they "melt" when they get wet.  not a good trait for northern wet rainy climates.

to make actual building type bricks you'll need temperatures of 2000+'F to fuse the silica into "pottery" or "ceramic" - most any clay will do.  you _must_ dry the clay before "firing" it at temperature - otherwise it _explodes_ - no I'm not kidding.

to make "fire bricks" - capable of withstanding bake oven temps and the thermal stress cycles - you need special clays, etc. - you'll likely not find that material in your back yard.

but, it is a neat idea . . .

Martyn's picture

Hi CaperAsh, I'm enjoying reading your blog. I'm a beginner at bread baking and I also have ambitions to build an oven in the garden. My ears really pricked up when I read you were from Cape Breton; there is some mighty fine fiddling in that place, I listen to Cape Breton Live pretty regularly. I'm a fiddle player myself :-) Hope you get your camera fixed soon.


CaperAsh's picture

Hey Dillbert:

well, I was literally just playing as part of getting a feel for the materials. It just so happens I live not fifty yards away from an old quarry. There is about thirty feet of exposed hillside and I suspect some of that is clay. Perhaps not the right sort. Frankly, I can't tell and will start asking around to see if anyone has ever had it tested. It looks a pale gray in most places. When wet it is dark gray, sometimes a reddish brown. When it dries in a bowl it turns white, but I seem to remember pottery clay doing that.

I made a brick just for fun, actually, to see what would happen. Glad it didn't explode!

But I must say if I can find a way to build an oven from materials on the property, that wouldn't be bad, now, would it. I suspect that what I will end up doing is using the mud and gravel as the aggregrate and then adding some fireclay, lime and sand to it, or thereabouts. I just read Build Your Own Earth Oven yesterday. Tomorrow I might try to extract mud from the quarry again, filter out the rocks, and then try different mixes with sand - I have some from broken sand bags I used to put weight in a truck a couple of years ago. So I have sand, dirt, rocks, some clay content. Probably I can make something with it, but I suspect if it's not the right sort of clay in there that it won't hold together under heat.

Martyn: my little camera might work but I have not managed to get it to communicate with the computer yet. Software doesn't load. I'll get it sorted out at some point.

My second rye was a total bust. I changed plans based on something I read somewhere today and decided to simply put it into the oven in the glass bowl I had used to let it all marinate in and using a cold start. No spring, not really porridge this time but basically just roasted stuff in a bowl because everything was clinging to the sides of the bowl and I had to basically scrape it all out. Now I know why people don't bake bread in bowls. But 2-3 hours after extraction, this one turned out better than the first and I suspect if I had put it into a hot covered pot as originally planned then I might have had something. The starter yeast was very, very tasty, although next time I do rye I will study up on it a little (!) and also have a rye starter.

Generally, though I am deliberately doing just simple/dumb/improvised things like this for a few days as a way to try to intuitively understand baking better. You often learn as much from things turning out really badly/wrong as from trying to follow rules laid down which you don't quite understand, and then when it doesn't turn out like in the picture you are not sure which of 10 steps you might have done wrong, failed to adjust for your particular climate/flour/room temperature/oven type etc. etc. so sometimes it's a bit hard to learn from what you are doing.

I mean:

there are very involved processes involving kneading, rising, punching, rising, proofing and so on, many of them with fast yeasts, many with leavens. Subtle differences between various recipes and styles. I suspect it takes many years to get close to understanding all those nuances. Great bread is baked.

Then there is the no-knead method (my best loaves so far) which basically doesn't have hardly anything in common with the first set and yet: great bread is baked.

Now today I read for the first time you can bake from a cold oven and forget about the stone. Whereas with no-knead you have to have a very hot oven, one source saying put it on a stone (pics look great) another saying put it in a covered mini-oven (Cloche, pot, whatever) pics look great, i.e. with yet another approach: great bread is baked.

In other words, there seem to be many different ways of making good bread. Each seems to have very definite rule, (although no-knead looks pretty forgiving). So very different rules end up producing similar, or equivalent, results. Why? How? I can't figure that one out yet and am hoping to get a better understanding of what is going on in there to make 'great bread'.

So my little exercise this week (so far) is just to drop all methods and play with the dough, much as I am playing with the material in the quarry, much like a child just explores stuff. I think from whatever I do this week I can come back to recipes and begin to understand the process logic behind the various methods. Emphasis on word 'begin'.

Again: how come such very different methods can produce good bread? Or rather: what is really going on to produce good bread? I am not sure I can answer it yet. Well, that's not true: I AM sure that I KNOW I can't answer it yet!

CaperAsh's picture

On another blog here (sorry, forgot to keep track of it) there was a link on how to knead and the chef (Frenchman) for showed his kneading technique. He mentioned I kilo of bread flour, eggs, butter, salt and yeast, but did not specify the liquid amount, using milk.

So I decided to try it but put in much more liquid and decided to stick with it. Kneading was a total waste of time, basically. I ended up stirring it with a spoon on the cutting board 800 times. It got a little smoother but still much too liquid. Then I let it rise for 2 hours in a warm place (this had a little instant yeast and a little fast-rising instant yeast). It didn't rise much I suspect because it really was too little yeast or maybe I hadn't activated the normal yeast properly. I usually use leavens and frankly forgot to put the yeast in until I had mixed in everything else already - though before the 'kneading'.

In any case, I turned it out into a loaf pan after first waiting two hours and no rise, and then adding flour and waiting another two hours and very little rise, this time folding it three times or so into loaf shape and without giving it any time to rest and regroup, put it straight into the oven (which was not yet turned on), turned the oven on and baked at 475 for 45 minutes.

It came out really rather well: eggs and sugar and milk. Sprinkled a little brown sugar on top to get into the sweetness thing. Not much spring though although it almost doubled in size in the oven and made it above the loaf pan (it was a recipe with 3 cups flour, 1 water and 2 eggs if I recall, i.e. a small loaf about 1 lb). But the crust was golden brown (brushed with a touch of milk), smelled alright. Used cheap 'breadmix flour' instead of my usual stoneground organics. AFter two hours, the crumb firmed up but still a bit too dense. Not enough yeast rise, but the dough was well worked and the 'chew' factor is not bad despite there being not enough air in there for my taste so it clings to the top of the palate too much.

Again, just playing around although in this case I watched a video, threw the ingredients together, messed around with some initial goop, changed plans in mid-stream. Two hours after baking the crumb had firmed up and now it is a halfway decent sweet loaf (something I never buy or eat but actually it's great with honey or jam and I'll enjoy it for breakfast tomorrow I'm sure.)

Tomorrow I want to find a simple recipe and practice kneading that way even though my preference is to work with highly hydrated doughs fermenting over a long, cool period, and possibly without kneading.


CaperAsh's picture

Last night it snowed, so decided to let rocks and mud continue slow fermentation in natural refrigerator.

Meanwhile, Artisan Bread in 5 mins a day arrived. I am interested in cold fermentation.

On his blog, Jeff the author states that: "“it’s finished dough, at high hydration (75% for the white-flour Master recipe)” The recommended mix is 6 cups water to 13 cups flour. I don't see how that gets you to 75% hydration. Does the yeast break the starch down to create more liquid content?

In my case I was using Whole White since do not have All-Purpose on hand. So ended up adding 2.5 cups water just to be able to mix it in without breaking the spoon or having heart attack! Now I'll wait and see and use the large amount of dough to

a) practice several loaves, one at a time, to hopefully learn how to do this method well

b) compare tastes as it ages over time since I have enough for 8 1lb loaves

c) compare cooking them on tile and in covered steel pot

My second rye from yesterday is really delicious with cheese and salami and beer even though the crumb is just a little bit too gummy in parts. Although it looked weird after I had wrestled it out of the pyrex bowl in which it baked - well 'butchered' is probably a better description than 'weird' - it really is delicious. I grew up in Europe and travelled extensively. I don't think I have had 100% rye before even though I must have eaten no end of different 'roggenbrots' in Germany. I have a sneaking suspicion that once I get my methodology down more consistent that I will be working quite a bit with rye.

My natural starter tastes very good. It is now in the fridge and basically behaving like my first starter which kicked off with commercial yeast. So hopefully that lineage is established.

In a couple of weeks I intend to have a flour mill (NutriMill) and organic wheat berries, so will start a new wild starter from those ingredients. And although I have read that yeast does not come from the air, I will put it outside by some pine trees when I start it. Can't hurt...

I am irritated with this 13 cup 5-minute-a-day batch because it was my intention to follow the recipe religiously, but first I did not have 13 cups of Whole White left in the bag although it was almost full (comes in 2.25 kg bags), and second I ended up adding 2.5 cups water so now I am not sure if the whole thing is going to work because the proportions are wrong. When I next go to town I will buy All-Purpose so I can learn their technique the 'official' way before playing around.

I might also get Lahey's book on the same sort of approach. It seems that both authors claim to have invented this new technique without referencing each other. I find that a little suspect, although my only concern is baking good bread and I have a gut feeling that this sort of approach is the main one I will be working with even when I get the wood-fired oven built, hopefully in the next 2-3 months.


Aha! Just got answer to my hydration question: it's not based on volume but weight.

Next town trip: Good scale!

Found a small scale I have had in the cupboard for a while but never used. Measured the weight of 1 cup water and most of the flours I have on hand, although have run out of Whole White, the main one in the recent batch. Still, am assuming it weights the same as several other whole grainy flours like Red Fife Hard Wheat and so forth, i.e. 170 grams per cup.

I found my mix was 89% hydrated because I added too much water since started out with way too little and found it very hard to mix (not used to that much dough at a time in a large plastic bin versus domestic-size mixing bowl). So made an Excel Spreadsheet with list of flours and their weight per cup and calculated that if I added 150 grams Whole Wheat the hydration would come to 83% which is what Jeff Hertzberg recommends for heavier flours than his default All-Purpose.

So now it will rest. I will bake first loaf tomorrow although in theory could bake it in a few hours. Well, maybe I'll change my mind tonight. But have too much bread on hand and still not used to idea of 'baking just in order to learn' and throwing stuff away, esp. if edible. 

Anyway, today I had hydration class.

Interesting: my rye flour is 125 grams per cup; unbleached white pastry 130g (you would think rye would be heavier, no?). Whereas Cornbread is 175, WW 170.

CaperAsh's picture

Got the little camera working. Neighbour gave it to me. My much better one just stopped working one day and I haven't been bothered to buy another. This one is very difficult to use at night it seems. The loaf looks better in person than on camera but it's nothing all that unusual.

Dough from the batch I made today with 14 cups flour, 1 tbs commercial yeast, a little sea salt and 1/2 cup starter - 83% hydration. Was at room temp for 2-3 hours, then in fridge for 4-6 hours (not paying close attention), then after reading about pain a l'ancienne (which I suspect is where all the Lahey's and 5-min artisan stuff comes from), couldn't resist and took out about one pound, folded and stretched, let it rest a little, shaped into a batarde and baked at 460 with initial steam for 30 minutes, which I suspect might be a little too long. My oven vents very quickly so hard to do much with steam and suspect generally baking with covered pot will work better crust-wise.

I will try to get a shot of the crumb and very interested to see how it turned out. Rose nicely in the oven, about double the height it was going in.



Unfortunately if I move the camera away to get into focal range, it is too dark. This is made with Speerville Whole White which yields a mellow cappuccino-like color and a delicious taste and bouquet. I went a little too light on the salt with this but it's an excellent bread and better than anything I can buy in town.

I think my plan to learn to make simple breads like this in wood-fired oven is workable.

I have decided to focus mainly on cold fermentation because this is the sort of bread I like best and because making it this way will not require many years of studying the far more complex methods needed when using only commercial yeasts and trying to get the whole thing done in a few hours.

Next time I do a large cold batch, will not use any commercial yeast to see what, if any difference, that makes. Suspect none except in first few hours.

Will also experiment with the one-day flour/water only soak method before adding in starter.

In fact, will put something together tonight, albeit unfortunately not with this excellent flour and now I only have darker flours left, no whites, and tomorrow add my natural starter to it and see what happens!

My first semi-sourdough batarde: not bad!

Second piece with a touch of strawberry rhubarb jam: it is delicious!


OK, now critique: crumb too compacted, suspect I took it out 5 mins early but also not as spaciously bubbled as I would like to see, but this is better than previous attempts with similar mixes (albeit boules which usually flatten); also crust is thin. I thought it was thicker when it was in the oven. It is crunchy, but thin. More steam? Hotter oven ab initio? Need thicker tile (also non-glazed type)? Well, will wait for wood-fired brick oven before worrying about all that.

Also, not all that well shaped. I didn't really plan the batarde business. It was stretched and folded and then I put it in floured glass bowl because I thought it too sticky to leave on wooden cutting board. Then I read about pain a l'ancienne and laid it out on cutting board 10 mins before oven-time and sort of shaped it into something a little like a batarde, but also did not want to squeeze it too much.

Then I forgot to slash and slashed after 5 mins in oven, so I think that's partly why it bulges in strange places. Being a male, however, I find this somewhat attractive in this batarde, so it is now a she!

(And almost half eaten already! Have to save some for breakfast!)

CaperAsh's picture

Oh well; I tried loading in a picture of myself but cannot manage the technological restrictions of getting it to be less than 30 bits and 64 * 64. Acc to my computer it is now 17 bits and 640*480 somethings. Best I can do. It's the bread that matters, anyway.


Today have mixed together an 85% hydration 3 cups Red Fife Heritage with 1 cup Rye and using my natural starter for the first time. Would have preferred to start with Whole White but don't have any left, nor even all-purpose, and my supermarket whole wheat is quite old.

Meanwhile have learned why the regional organic supplier Speerville is considerably more expensive than anyone else: no farm subsidies in our provinces in the maritimes. They pay from $600 - 800 a ton for the flour. I think a ton is 2000 lbs so they are paying 30-40 cents a pound and charging about a dollar. Organic equivalent suppliers from Ontario are charging on average about half what Speerville charges. Of course there will be more shipping costs. I have enquired from Milanaise's local distributor here ( thanks to this forum's motherlode of information) and will get a price list later today.

I think I am beginning to get closer to deciding on the oven but need to talk to a couple of people locally first which means rousing myself from the computer, combing my hair and beard and making an effort to look presentable.

But I suspect I will do the following: in order to be sure that the basic oven will work, will invest in 100% firebricks for the main oven. Then will use materials from the nearby quarry for the base and insulation around it. The bricks will cost somewhere around $800 for a 3' * 4' stove which I think is what I want (about 12 loaves a load meaning about 12 bread sessions per baking day and each firing should produce 3-4 loads, i.e. 2-3 firings on Friday before market day Saturday.

Then also a few tarts, cookies or whatnot when the fire is cooling with special emphasis on custard tarts, which will go down very well with the local market which has an English-Gaelic bent, oatcakes/biscuits, maybe something fancier like the simple Madelaine, maybe even English Muffins too.

I am also leaning away from grinding my own flour but will try it first before giving up on the idea. Not only is it more work, but also it seems that the results are inconsisten the first few days after grinding and also Speerville sends product that is usually only 4 days old when shipped and rarely over 2 weeks old. So if they are doing all that work already and doing it well, maybe I shouldn't bother.

I am also leaning towards just working with the same flour for the next few weeks, their 'whole white' which has 85% extraction, 13.5% protein, milk-coffee color and a delicious flavour which I have enjoyed for years. But by working with the same flour, I think I will do better in terms of developing consistency of technique whereas changing both flours and techniques all the time mean that I won't really learn all that much. Today's loaf for example:


a) new starter which I have never used before, my first all-natural one

b) Red Fife heritage which I have never baked with before

c) combining Red Fife and Rye in a sourdough which I have never done before.


So the real test today is: how forgiving is the cold fermentation method? I am letting it sit in the fridge all day (with yeast but without salt) and might add in salt tonight, let it sit for an hour or two longer and bake it, or might wait until tomorrow to bake it.

CaperAsh's picture

Took about 2 lbs from yesterday's 16 cup batch from the fridge then shaped two boules, waited 10 mins and decided to go for some more 'bastards'. They were quite sticky on the board so I floured them which I gather is not officially 'correct' for baguettes or batardes. To learn further, I shaped one (the one with a clearer shape in attached pics) by folding over 2/3rds lengthwise, pinching it and then doing it again. The other one I simply stretched out a little.

Then 2 mins before putting into the oven (after their 20 min rest) I realised that I hadn't put them on my peel, which is a teflon flat board for cookies. So I lifted them onto the lightly floured board and then tried brushing with water.

Well, I have never had 2 on the board before and the board was insufficiently floured and also I forgot to put fresh cornmeal on the tile. Too many forgets!

The first one sort of went on okay but I had to move it a little. It let me. The second one, which was not shaped so definitively and was generally fatter, did not want to come off the board so I had to help it with hand and then dough cutter/scraper. It ended up curled at a sharp angle with a third off the tile and hanging down. So I had to man-handle the poor bastard into position and in so doing, some of the bottom stuck to the tile and the whole thing was a mess. This one also wouldn't come off the tile after baking and I had to rip a couple of square inches of the bottom crust off to separate it from the tile.

I cooked them both an extra 5 minutes (35 mins) but before taking them out noticed that my internal oven temp was not 460 as desired, but 500. Funny: I have often checked the temp before and it is always accurate. Maybe it is because it is a warmer day than usual and day-time. I usually bake at night. I shall have to pay more attention.

In any case, I have learned that you can shape the cold loaves and it helps with shaping, however the shaped loaf is much smaller and denser and then the one that was unshaped and had all the accidents, so I guess with this wet dough method it is better to leave them alone since otherwise you are just squashing all the gases in the dough. That said, the shaped one sprang up the first five minutes much more than the unshaped one which later caught up and exceeded it's more shapely, less accident-prone sibling.

I have to say, though, they are both looking fine and I feel equal affection for each one! Crumb pics later.

I'll have to get a better camera. This one refuses most shots (not enough light) and I have to guess at which distance it focuses, also what you get in pic is not what you see in viewfinder so 2nd batard is out of focus. Frankly, it looks like the better of the two although I still have to learn how to shape the ends better but without doing shaping. Maybe better not to.

Next will try baguette shape with this dough and try to plan it out a little.



CaperAsh's picture

Crumb is too tight in both, but fully cooked, chewy and delicious. Will not shape at all next time.

Can't get pics. For some reason it just won't accept the light this time. In town tomorrow will try to pick up decent and cheap camera.

CaperAsh's picture

My RedFife-Rye-natural starter has not started. Yesterday in fridge without salt, then added in salt last night and left out of fridge in warm but not very warm room. Today have left out and done 2-3 turn and folds in bowl. No rise. The starter was bubbling when I put it in, but perhaps not strong enough to feed off new flour in the fridge. Or perhaps I just have to wait longer since only put 1/4 cup starter in which was about half what I had going.

Meanwhile mixed and kneaded four bricks from quarry with varying percentages of sand. Tomorrow they should be dry and I can measure shrinkage and thereby learn something.

Baked another 1 lb loaf from the 5-minute dough and tried to be minimalist in approach but still ended up doing quite a bit of work on the dough to get it to a batard shape which resulted in a pretty flat loaf. Crust a golden brown, crumb soft and chewy with holes, taste delicious. Just want it to rise a bit more! With this batch am trying to do the same thing every day to see what differences there are, but also doing one thing different for learning. Today slashed with bread knife once in the oven but made no difference. These are very wet doughs and perhaps I have to slash much deeper. But I think the main issue now is how best to handle them before getting them into the oven. Still having a hard time getting them off the peel and onto the tile and think that process is 'shocking' the dough and making it pull back a bit. But still, nice large holes in the middle of the loaf and really does taste great, which is the main thing. At half of it within minutes (of cutting into it to early). Very tasty flour.



The white marks on the loaf are from cutting it a little too early, i.e. it's not dry flour from poor mixing or anything.

CaperAsh's picture

The Red-Fife rye finally rose in the warm room. Shaped but it was over-hydrated, so am making whole grain ciabattas, basically, which I doubt will come out well. I have not studied whole grain baking per se so am curious as to how to get good shape out of them with sourdough and cold fermentation. Possibly if I had waited an hour or two after shaping instead of 20-30 mins they might have risen again, but they were so wet that I couldn't really shape. Will try the same flour mix again with more like 73% hydration next time and see what difference that makes. Will also read a little on heavy whole grain breads. But at the least it was nice to see that finally my first natural starter managed to raise the dough. It didn't double (my bowl was not big enough), but the dough was filled with holes and quite stretchy after 3-4 lift-and-stretches in the bowl during the day. Basically ciabatta-like liquid pooling on the board. I should have put some in a loaf pan. For some reason just didn't think of it having made four littler loaves out of one big one hoping to be able to get the smaller sizes to hold a bit of form. They couldn't. No oven spring either, so maybe I really should have waited much longer after pouring onto the cutting board.

The challenge with a wet dough is: how do you get it out of the bowl where rising and into the oven when in a risen versus flat condition? I suspect such dough needs to be in a container like a loaf pan or baguette holder or made into ciabatta. But even then: how do you get the dough out of the bowl, onto a board or other surface, and then into the oven? Is this what parchment paper is for? I suspect so, but have never yet used it. Lots to learn.

Many variables at play but I feel I am beginning to understand a little better what I am playing with: elasticity of the dough, shaping, hydration as factor affecting how to handle dough, different types of flour/dough etc. My goal right now is to get a sense that I am understanding the underlying processes involved with baking and although not yet there by any means, I do feel like am making progress. Also getting better at handling doughs and understanding when you can do what to them even though I have little experience with these heavy doughs and have not read up much about them either.

Pics later but I doubt they will show much. Also looking forward to tasting Red Fife, which I don't think I have tasted before, albeit in this case mixed 1 cup rye with 3 cups RF.


Too dark for pics with this camera. Fantastic crumb structure in thin loaves that were overcooked so crusts burned. Really should have checked oven more carefully. All the burning happened in last 5-10 minutes. Because had made smaller loaves should have shortened baking time but simply wasn't paying attention. (It's been a long day.)

But apart from burnt crust and very little remaining but beautifully chewy, holey crumb, the taste of the Red Fife is pretty darn good. I am definitely going to work with it some more. Next time without any rye to complicate things further.

Am chewing it as I type. It really is delicious.

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Have bought camera that hopefully will work, the other one just wouldn't take pics in low light and didn't have flash.

Also put together a no-mortar brick oven this afternoon, only 15 * 21" but 600 lbs of red clay solid bricks. Amazed the tires didn't blow. Will fire tomorrow and see if I get a decent result. Mainly doing this to get a feeling for the bricks and plan to use these as part of the 'real' oven to be built later when I decide on exactly how to go forward design-wise and location-wise.

Today baked a loaf from the no-knead bin. It is well over a week old now and the bread is still coming out great, although I still am not getting the best oven spring and slashing doesn't seem to work the way I see it in other peoples' pictures. But the bread is consistently delicious with nice crumb, crisp golden brown crust, and already I like it better than anything I can buy in town so hopefully others will feel the same way.

Yesterday on impulse baked a loaf using unbleached all-purpose from Co-Op (a very cheap flour) to which I added my basic starter (2-3 weeks old now). The result was sort of a sandwich loaf although with some larger holes in there, a very nice, chewy crumb and decent crust. Took it over to people who are very conventional (i.e. cheap supermarket) eaters and, as I expected, they liked it much better than my default loafs with darker (and much more expensive) organic 'Whole White' flour. So that might end up on the menu: 25 c flour costs versus $1.00 for the high quality stuff and I could charge $3.00 a loaf and be providing something so much better than the 2.35c or 2.10 supermarket mass produced stuff that this would be a very good deal and also a reasonable profit margin for myself. And then those who like this bread and feel comfortable with it will no doubt try the more artisanal types. Also this 'basic white' as I might call it will give me time to learn how to bake consistent, more sophisticated Desems and whatnot.

Well the new (dirt cheap $15 ) camera, I can't get it to work.

Also, bought berries and Nutrimill arrived today, so now have brick overn outside, fresh flour marinating in natural starter inside; tomorrow might try to bake first loaf (using default no-knead dough whose characteristics I am already familiar with) in fire, whilst also baking first fresh flour/natural starter loaf in oven. Soft white wheat, medium grind (which I suspect is not nearly enough and should have chosen fine, but wanted to start in the middle. The grinder shoots flour dust out of a vent when grinding which I didn't notice in the presentational video and I am wondering if I have a bad machine or did something wrong. Will worry about that later.


In sum: no camera; flour mill; test wood-fired oven without mortar.

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Upper level bricks exploded. Have lead on people in local area who know of clay and have found that local red clay works fine in ovens. Also have lead on someone who has such an oven on other side of island.

Still no camera. Today made a rye + allpurpose unbleached using no-knead approach (my default) and it has come out lovely-looking. Still too soon to cut open.

Yesterday mixed up a wholewheat loaf (100%) from flour grinder from which today baked a delicious (overcooked) brick. Crumb inside had nice holes, was soft and tasty, but no real rise. On the other hand, it is possible I simply had too small an amount for the large loaf pan so the pan failed to contain the dough and help encourage it to rise. That said, I know you can get dough like this to rise, although I have not yet managed to do so, nor tried hard to read recipes. Still just experimenting more than anything else.

Have more confidence in handling dough, but still baffled by great difference between the cold-fermentation no-knead and the normal methods with rising, punching, shaping, waiting etc. and wish I could understand how two such different approaches can work.

My theory/understanding/guess is that giving things a long time to process as with cold method itself treats the dough and brings out a gluten stretch. Commercial yeast rises quickly so you can time when it is hitting a peak which will continue the first few minutes of baking, but the cold/slow approach demonstrates little rise before going into the oven, but still seems to work fine. But I have yet to try it on solid wholewheat mixes. Might do that in next few days.

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Well, the camera I bought for $15.00 was useless. A neighbour has lent me a better one until I have time to shop for something I like. Am keeping expenditures down now for unnecessary items as I am going to be spending mucho $$$ building an oven and getting the operation up and running.


Have continued to experiment and am leaning towards a) cold fermentation and the no-knead approaches along with b) stretch-and-folding.


Next week a 20 quart mixer arrives so will experiment with how much kneading adds to the equation.

On Monday - weather permitting - will be driving 7+ hours to spend night and next day with successful regional baker who built his own oven and bakes once a week as I am planning. He does 100% whole grain type bread whereas I am interested in that but also some good French/Italian style white types, all of the mainly 'rustic' variety, and nearly all with organic flour.


This pic is of a loaf with 83% hydration comprising:


All -purpose unbleached flour from local Co-op, 573 grams

110 grams fresh-ground Hard Red berries

110 grams fresh-ground Rye berries

300 grams fresh-ground soft white (pastry berries) starter for flavor - about 2 weeks old.

1.8% salt

1 tbsp commercial yeast prepped in warm water.


Stretched and folded 3 times every 10 mins after 1.5 hours rise in warm room, then boule-shaped and proofed for 30 mins. Then baked using Lahey method by flipping over into an old cheap steel Chinese steamer I use for this, with lid on in 550 degree oven for 30 mins, then 15 mins uncovered.

It looks pretty good, and smells delicious too. Later will attach crumb picture.


(Boy, it's hard to upload pictures here, the camera takes them in high definition, the wrong size etc. etc.)



Oh, this is half the mix above. Tomorrow will bake the rest which is now slowly fermenting in the fridge. To compare the two.

Just had goat cheese and ham on it. This is a very delicious 'pain ordinaire' type loaf. I suspect it will be my 'basic white' in the farmer's market.

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[pic: taken just after being ripped out of pot; all mishe picts of miche#2 today.]

Basically same results today with the 'Basic White', and also similar results with a Miche. Yesterday's Miche did not rise and got stuck to the Lahey pot. Today's also got stuck but did rise a little. In any case, had to rip both to get them out of the pot.


Also, used specially ordered Hard White flour and don't think I like it nearly as much as Hard Red which is good because the latter is regionally available. But wanted to try.

For Miche followed a recipe from somewhere on this blog (apologies for not keeping track of where) with 77% hydration.

The Hard White was fresh-ground. 946 grams.

The 'white' was Speerville Whole White which is halfway to being Whole Wheat - 316 grams. This is pre-ground from Speerville and makes very tasty breads.

The starter was one I have had for a month or so begun with commercial yeast and then fed regularly, mainly fresh ground flour at this point since I got the Nutrimill over a week ago.

I am not sure yet about grinding fresh flour for the weekly 'business' loaves, but will certainly use it for care and feeding of the starters and therefore will not send it back. I will also try a few larger batches with fresh-ground once I have the oven built to experience first-hand how long it takes to do (my guess is about an hour per week) and also to compare between fresh ground and pre-ground from Speerville. If the results are significant, I will grind fresh. If unreliable, will stick with Speerville ground flour which I can order in bulk, keep enough for one month (I think!) in a freezer, and away we go....



[ looks alright from top view, albeit not all that much oven spring. But this is a fresh-ground whole wheat loaf, principally, and given how it was mangled on entering the pot, it came out surprisingly well.]


[ this crumb is also just after being taken out, so it is still a bit 'steamy' phase, i.e. overly moist. I waited until interior at 200 degrees and think this one will be alright, although the very poor into-the-hot-pot-in-oven technique basically flattened the poor thing from the get-go. I also don't like the taste of the flour all that much - sort of bland.]

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Last week was busy involving two delightful visits with bakers and many not-so-delightful detours because of car problems ('88 Mercedes 420 SEL recently purchased for $800).

Monday drove about 700 km to Bridgetown to visit with Doug Brown who built a Scott-style oven about 10 years ago and bakes 100% organic whole wheat, kamut, spelt creations, principally loaves, but also whole wheat croissants and other pastries. He generously shared his baking day with me. He has a separate addition to his old farmhouse in which is the baking room and oven. A very clean, sane, cheerful operation.

He hired a mason to build the oven; the mason couldn't get the dome bricks to stop falling down after removing the form. So after a couple of days of this, Doug did it himself and when the mason came back after the weekend was informed his services were no longer required. Since then the oven has operated fine for 10 years.

I learned very much on this visit; not so much in terms of baking details, which I am not quite ready for since still experimenting with different methods and flours and not all that experienced (though learning more and more each week), rather the whole operation both in terms of the sort of setup needed to handle storage of flour, preparation of starter, the oven, the proofing box, cooling racks and so forth.

This aspect was repeated when visiting Myron Syms, a fully trained baker in Cheticamp Cape Breton, mercifully only 2.5 hours from where I live. He uses a propane Garland oven, but mainly bakes sourdough-based recipes. He was trained by French baker in art of croissant-making and has a croissant folding machine in addition to oven. Unlike Doug, he uses a mixer. His starters are very hard and basically untouched from baking day one week to baking day next week, although in the summer he runs a full bakery and this routine must therefore be different.

Again, I learned much just be witnessing and assisting during the baking day.

Pictures of Doug Brown's oven and setup:

The cloth-covered crock pot is where Doug stores his starters (there are two). The machine to the right cuts rolls which he uses for pitas (which he mainly makes out of kamut or spelt).


Pitas cooking with wood still in oven

[ Oven cleaned out; some bread pans in just to show what they look like; a little while later (after oven cooled sufficiently), a full load of about 40 loaves in these pans (2 loaves per pan since they are large, heavy pans) was put in. The oven is 3' x 4' deep, which is the same size I am planning to build. Doug does not have a thermometer, preferring to use his hand and arm as the main temperature guage.

Unfortunately, both pictures of the full oven are unable to be uploaded despite being 600 * 800 (or in one case even smaller) and less than 50 k. Have tried several times and they are being rejected as being too large. So unfortunately the best pictures (for this blog) are missing.




Fresh croissants. Perfect! Sourdough base, high quality butter, ordinary Co-op all-purpose flour. A group of professional bakers from Germany invited him over there to instruct them on how to make croissants properly.

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One thing I learned last week and not put into this blog was that I have been baking my loaves insufficiently. Many of the early recipes I have worked with call for all-purpose white flour for which I have been substituting Speerville's 'Whole White' which is the same as about 50% white and 50% whole wheat (real whole wheat). So this flour, which is halfway to being 100% whole wheat, takes longer to rise and bake than straight all-purpose. So last week started using an internal thermometer and have found that after 35 minutes most of the loaves are not ready and most of them need 40+ minutes. The results have been a better crumb.

This morning (Sunday) is first chance I have had in a week to bake so wanted to try a very simple loaf: using the Whole White flour only and a 78% hydration, just bake a loaf or two. It seemed a little too moist to handle so I added 15 grams of flour during shaping and folding which I calculate comes to 75% hydration at which point it was easier to manage though still a little sticky. But since I don't knead, maybe the stickiness at this hydration is fine.

In any case, got decent oven spring and am waiting to take it out of oven any minute now, pictures to follow.

Both bakers I visited used 75% hydration and both for the same reason: seems to be the point at which they can get maximum hydration along with easy handling. Myron's breads, the ones I worked with which was bagel dough, croissant dough, and baguette doughs, were silky and very easy to handle. They had been allowed to raise overnight after being thoroughly mixed in a Hobart.

Doug's breads were hand-kneaded for about 7 minutes in 10 kilo batches. He does not use a mixer, preferring his hands to get the flour and water mixed together at first, then after fermentation he kneads the batch (about 15 loaves at a time I think) and then puts aside on racks to proof, then kneads the next batch and so on. He told me he calculated that using a mixer only saved him maybe 30 minutes of time and that he preferred his own hands-on approach in any case, so he sold his mixer after he found he was not using it any more.

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On the way to doug's, stopped off at recycling plant and purchased sufficient steel joists (seven 15' sections of two longitudinal pieces joined by triangular linking struts) to build the base of the oven (C$120.00 plus transportation costs-to-come for a 1 hr trip each way). After figuring out how to get it here (I don't have a truck), hopefully construction will start next week since I am fortunate enough to have a neighbour who is a friend and also a skilled mechanic (and computer programmer, electrician, plumber etc.) and who has offered to build me the base for free. Hopefully will be able to upload pictures of the ongoing construction here and with luck will be ready by early May.

The local farmer's market has not yet accepted my application to sell there because they feel there are already enough bakers. However, one of them is leaving in May and the other main one only comes once every other week in the winter and is not there from May to October. So that will leave only one bread baker using sourdough methods (with some but not all loaves), and another stall or two selling fairly normal instant yeast type pan loaves, so hopefully they will relent and let me in. There is a board meeting in mid-April to consider my application and I intend to write a note to them next week making a case for allowing someone who will be offering brick-oven made sourdoughs. Even if they are a bit hard to get into at the beginning, I think it will all work out somehow and have decided not to worry about it.

If they refuse me, I will make a CBC story out of it, get some publicity, and hopefully a restaurant will take my bread instead of the farmer's market! or whatever!

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My loaf today - 75% hydration including flour used in Stretch & Fold, shaping. Crust seems overdone to me, but waited until 195-200 internal temperature (about 55 mins versus usual 40 min bake).



This looks pretty good. Taste test next:

delicious. Went a little light on the salt because forgot to add more when I added in more flour and water after initial mix when I realised my hydration SS had some errors due to incorrect formatting when copying and pasting a section to new cells for new loaf. I am beginning to be able to judge these things more clearly now.

Nice crumb structure cooked all the way through. Crust is fine eating-wise though a little too thick perhaps. I would prefer results a little more towards ciabatta-like but this is a good bread. There is a lot of bacteria (yogurt-like) flavor from the rise yesterday with relatively small (less than 20%) starter which has been mainly kept in the fridge its entire life. But also nice acidity.

Later on today will bake second loaf which will have had addtional 8 hours to rise, i.e about 20 hours versus this one's 12.

I think with more salt this could be a basic FM seller. Chewy, tasty, nothing special, nice nutty-brown color but smooth texture, not like a 'health loaf'. The 75 - 100% Wholewheats or Ryes will be the health loaves.


A problem with the shaping since loaf came out irregular. But this could also be because I found the dough sticky when moving from cutting board to oven (did not use peel today) and mangled it a little. Have to work on this recurring issue more conscientiously!


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Second loaf in after resting in pan for 40 mins. This dough was decidedly tart after 23 hours in warm space (longest I have ever left a dough out at room temperature), I guess the yeast had gone a little too far. But also a strong yogurt taste = bacteria, so I am not sure. Never had a dough this strong-tasting. Not so many bubbles since had over-risen I think (was out for a few hours having Sunday Easter lunch with neighbours). Also had become extremely liquid, so did not stretch and fold or knead in any way, simply slurped it into a baking pan, let rest for 40 mins, then popped in hot oven.


Just checked and it's WAY too hot, around 550, so turned down. It's the warmest day of the year thus far and my oven thermostat clearly doesn't regulate well. Forgot to check that.

Distracted by connecting new used mixer (20 qt Thunderbird). Plugged it in. Fuse blew. Made a noise or two, moved around once for five seconds, then blew 20 amp fuse. Have to wait for electrician friend to check it out, but maybe I have bought a dud. If so, will work without mixer, using hands/arms instead and slow fermentation, which is my intended main technique anyway. But still: hopefully can get it to work.

Steel materials for base should be arriving Wednesday. 2nd trip to Cheticamp on Thursday. Construction of oven to begin soon thereafter hopefully. If base takes a week or less, then in about 10 days will begin on main oven part. Things are moving out of planning into execution phase.

Need to map out the bakery space and finalize where I will place the oven. Suspect it is out the back door and inside current woodshed, but placing in another location (which will require a roof) or inside the house, need to be thoroughly considered before deciding on final resting place. Because once built, it's going to be almost impossible to move of course!


Next batch of dough will carefully pre-plan the percentages. Got a bit confused with this one in terms of including the starter. Am in two minds about having 100% starter - which requires a little more attention to maintain but is easier calculation-wise, and more hard version, but have to find way to keep track of hydration.

And THAT said, I can also just go by feel a bit more, getting the mix to the point where I can handle it easily, but as much hydration as possible. i.e. about 75%.

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Well, this looks very flat but in fact it rose more than it seems from the shape since this size pan is simply too big for 700 gram loaf. It about doubled in the pan.

Now I overcooked it. Started off with oven a little too high, then turned it down a little too low, and meantime put the internal thermometer in too early because temp. refused to budge much above 180 even after 50 mins baking. Then I moved it and immediately it was up around 200+. So there is too much crust.

However, on opening up about an hour after baking, very pleased by nicely aerated crumb structure, and it is great eating. Again not enough salt in this batch, but this sort of loaf shape will probably be more popular with my clientele who tend to disfavor new-fangled or unfamiliar things. That said, however, to fill this loaf pan will require 1.5 kg bread = 3 pound loaf = $6.00 per loaf charge or thereabouts which is probably more than people will be willing to pay for a single loaf. So will have to find smaller loaf pans or focus more on batards which are a good shape for sandwiches and toast (the main way people here eat bread) and look like a good deal for the money.


But very pleased with the taste and texture of this crumb despite having overcooked the loaf a little. Best crumb so far, no doubt due to very hydrated loaf.

Next time will try 70% and see what happens, though first will use remaining third of current batch to make rolls tomorrow; dough now slow-fermenting in fridge.

VERY strong sour taste in dough, but not all that noticeable in the bread. But the bread definitely tastes very, very good. As good as anything I have been able to buy here, with all due respect to more experienced bakers at the FM. I think it's the organic ingredients combined with sourdough approach that makes the difference, also not using fancy recipes with olives, seeds etc., just basic flour, starter and time. Certainly it's not my baking skills!


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Made several mixes past few days, each with some lessons. Still learning how to shape well and/or get onto baking stone when working with high hydration, also dialing down hydration a little to get more easy-to-work-with doughs. Also learning how the starters behave, when they are ready, need time out of the fridge to warm up and come alive again. Settling into a rhythm that seems to be:

bring starter out and give it a few hours to warm up; then taste to see if ready or if needs another day after yesterday's refreshment to be ready (also leaving out for longer after refreshment so will be ready tomorrow if needed).

Mixing dough in late afternoon-early evening so ready for shaping and baking following day.

Did a large 3-loaf batch with Speerville Whole White. I like the taste but find it a little reluctant to rise.

So did a sourdough with white unbleached all-purpose from local coop. It looks and tastes very good. Talked to Milanaise distributor today and hope to have price list soon and then order some. Suspect that this might be my main go-to flour since personally I like tasty whites more than 100% whole grains, though that said, am going to spend some time in next few months getting more experience at whole grain baking. Suspect, though, that will end up with 2-1 whole grain to white ratios. Milanaise is organic white, which is unusual. I suspect it will fit my bill perfectly.

This one rose very well, but my shaping was not all that good because I started off thinking it was still a bit too moist to mess with and did a Shape and Fold, but in so doing realized that with a bit more flour on the board was workable, and so switched to forming a batard but careful not to burst too many internal bubbles and didn't treat the seam right - too much flour from the board at the seam and it didn't seal properly. That is where it ended up bursting during baking, i.e. at the base (photo out of focus) versus at the top. But apart from this shaping error, a truly delicious loaf, perhaps my favorite so far. Another problem: did not mix the coldish starter in water before adding in the flour and found it hard to get them to blend, so there are parts of the loaf where there is contrast between the brown from the starter (wholewheat and rye base) and the white flour which is gray-brown-ish due to being unbleached. But really delicious, lovely soft, chewy crumb, crunchy dark and golden crust. Very happy with this one.

Then did a WW batch using Speerville Whole Wheat stone ground with Coop All Purpose unbleached white, ratio of 2 to 1, with 71% hydration following the 1-2-3 approach on this forum. This one is a little bitter for my taste, and did not rise all that much from its rather ciabatta-looking batard shaping (pan would have been better?), but it is soft, chewy and tasty with a nice crust made crunchier by bran used since couched this on cloth floured with bran, Lahey-style, since very sticky even at 71% hydration (probably should have waited a few more hours for this one, but figured 15 was okay). Came off the couche easily, but too soft to slash OR my slash-knife is just not suitable and I need a real razor blade.

This WW one came out flat, but the crumb is okay (picture) and nice to eat. Still, I want something with more rise and will do this again and take more care with the amount of time, shaping etc. First time I have been working with two separate batches of dough-type at same time and did not have a clear plan. This is fine because I am still in a somewhat playful mode in general, often trying new things on the fly just for fun and to see what happens.


[ batard from Speerville Whole White ]

[ wild yeast unbleached white batard, lovely crust, delicious flavor, might be my 'basic white' offering for the bakery. I really like this one and will try again with Milanaise if/when I get it.]

[ whole wheat crumb ]

Having a hard time keeping track of the photos, also some of them don't come out the same as they are in the screen on back of camera, and many out of focus. Lost the picture of the white batard crumb. Anyway...

More recent pics of the white batard which I like so much:

[ The loaf, showing good crust and decent rise, albeit it burst down on the bottom because of problems with shaping - using too much flour on the board so the seam did not pinch together well. A new lesson each time. ]



[ Crumb; line across which showing a problem with shaping. However basic aeration and general structure, chewiness etc. are very good - at least by my standards. I like soft, chewy breads as long as they are fully cooked. Hoping to try out Milanaise Whites - which are organic and formulated to emulate the French Whites, but even this basic Coop All-Purpose Unbleached is quite good when 'laced' with a good sourdough starter.]

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Have been continuing to bake but mainly into building the oven. Many decisions to make, waiting for people to reply etc. etc.

Finally decided to take the plunge, build it indoors (in a steel-framed mobile home where I live) and have completed the concrete block base resting on 6*6*8" lumber, notched corners together, and will pray that it can hold the 9,000 pounds weight that is coming.

Have recently used the Brick Oven Yahoo Group a lot. Many experienced builders there. Am going for a sort of modern solution, albeit still simple:

Concrete block base

Slab going over the blocks versus being suspended

Insulation layer using modern foamglass (like grill brick)

Medium grade firebricks, one layer probably versus usual two

Ceramic blanket 2"

Vermiculite-like additional insulation about 4".

So once the slab is made, I'll send in pictures again hopefully. Nothing of interest in showing concrete blocks. Hope to get that poured within the week. Then I found a place with all materials I need since finding things locally was so hard and they should be delivered in about a week so hopefully within 2-3 weeks there will finally be some real progress on the oven front.

At first I thought I could start building around April 1st and finished around end of April.


Now I think I'll be lucky to be finished before around June 10th but we'll see. Once the materials are in place, everything should go much faster.

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I found a regional distributor which carries both the main organic grain supplier around here (Speerville) but also La Milanaise organic whites from Quebec. I am very happy with the whites and have been experimenting with different percentages of whole grains. Recently made a simple white loaf with wholewheat starter and 20% organic rye. A really delicious white loaf with a full-flavoured kick.


However, I have also noticed that when baking and eating whole grain loaves that there is a marked difference in terms of how I feel health wise. For me at least it makes a significant difference (since I have been eating so much bread past couple of months as I experiment - too much.) But when I eat the 75-100% whole grain loaves, clearly they are much more nourishing so I am going to try hard to become a good 100% whole grain baker so that I can be feeding better stuff to my clients, even though I suspect most of them will prefer the whites I have been making which are delicious and get eaten up quickly.

My only worry is that the oven won't work right or will collapse my house. But I now feel confident I will be able to make good bread, very good bread, and if that is the case I should be able to find sufficient clients to make the endeavour worth while, the goal of which is simply to pay my bills and also have something decent and positive to offer my immediate local community.

Once the oven is built and I start baking with it, more photos.

Also put up a simple (free) website, though not sure it will be used and the current page is just experimental:


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Well, I didn't have a good camera and also didn't feel up to computer work during the build. I got going around mid-May and was finished, more or less, about 10 days ago. I have had four fires, but the first three mainly involved pushing moisture out of the mass. #4 was too hot, the door burned, but I did get a good loaf or two out of it. Here's a picture of a WAY overproofed batard (because heating and then waiting for the oven to cool down to 'only' 650dF took about 4 + hours and I thought it would take 1.5). I think you'll agree that even though I don't yet know what I am doing, this is a very encouraging result. A no-knead sourdough, fermented overnight and then retarded in home-made (flour, water & salt) bannetton only after I realised that it was going to be a long time before I could pop in oven. Baked in 650d oven, took 10 minutes. Look at the colors on the crust! Crumb had nice holey structure, very tasty, but did not rise as much as usual because, despite being in hot brick oven, really was way overproofed due to delays with the firing process.


On the other hand, I have now learned how to heat the mass properly. The trick (at least for me) is to get a very hot fire going for a while, then rake out the coals while they are still fairly large and bright and close the door. That's why my wooden door caught on fire, a little part sticking out from the metal insulation in front couldn't take the heat. But after that, it took about six hours, even with only a baking pan one inch narrower than the doorway serving as a thin, non-insulating door, to get down to 500F and 48 hours later was still at 225.

Tonight am doing it again, this time with dough that hopefully will not be overproofed although I started far later than planned again after a longer day than anticipated shopping in town.

Am also trying Jason's quick ciabatta tonight since there will be time to fit it in. He says to beat like crazy for 30 minutes. I just did 50 and it still didn't start climbing up the dough hook. I never had this 20qt mixer on maximum speed before. Not sure I like it! But anyway, the dought is resting now and we'll see if it triples even though it's still like pancake batter. If it doesn't look right, I'll retard it in the fridge and in a day or two it will be fine.

Sorry, I forgot about all the editing you have to do to upload a picture. Will try to get it in there later. Meanwhile it's on my little website at, the first 2-3 pictures in the bread pictures section.