The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A (failed) Attempt at Andy's Rye Sour/Wheat Levain Loaf

louie brown's picture
louie brown

A (failed) Attempt at Andy's Rye Sour/Wheat Levain Loaf

I realize that there is a certain urge here on TFL to publish only the best loaves and the best photos of them. We all want to show each other the best we can do. But in this case, I am publishing what I consider to be a failed attempt at a beautiful bread in the hope that I will learn to improve it from the comments I may receive.

I followed Andy's procedure as closely as I possibly could, except that I halved the formula. To my knowledge, I was faithful to his prescription. I used KA all purpose flour and Bob's Red Mill dark rye. Given that there is low humidity here in New York City right now, the dough seemed just a touch stiff, but it did look like Andy's pictures at each stage.

The rye was allowed to sour for 30 hours, the wheat for 15. The dough came together and was bulk fermented as called for. The dough and room temperature were 78 degrees, 26 celsius. After mechanical mixing with a stand mixer, the dough showed a good window pane. Not a very strong one, but exemplary. One fold, preshape, shape and proof also as called for, one hour in the fridge, two out. The dough seemed absolutely ready to bake.

I used my usual steaming method and oven spring was as expected, quite strong, as the profile photo shows.

The loaf sang and cracked, but it did not feel light enough. Sure enough, when I cut into it, I could tell before seeing it that the crumb wasn't going to be what I was hoping for.

What went wrong with the crumb? I mean, it's perfectly nice, and the taste is delicious, but it isn't what was wanted. nor even close to what Andy showed. Troubleshooting and constructive criticism invited.


Franko's picture


While it may not be the bread you were trying to achieve, in no way is it a failed loaf! I think anyone would be proud to claim that as a loaf made with their own hands and baking knowledge. There may be a clue in what you say about the dough being a bit stiff but I'm afraid I can't offer anything further to what Daisy already has as far as troubleshooting. The loaf looks excellent, from crust to crumb!


AnnaInMD's picture

I am used to from German bread. We don't want huge holes so the melting butter drips through.  Great job!


LindyD's picture

I was expecting to see a flat, formless dud, not a beautiful round, Louis.  

I looked at Andy's formula and he notes he used a "strong white flour."  Perhaps he can share the protein level when he sees your blog.

It could be that KAF bread flour, or even a mix of the AP and BF, might give you a different result.  Or maybe not.

I think how one handles the dough impacts the crumb as well, so it could be something that simple.

Mebake's picture

The answer is in the mixing, Louie. you have intensively mixed it, while you should have developed the gluten to a moderate level, not to form a window pane. Folding will develop the gluten to a level where you'll have a cohesive dough, but a higher rising loaf. Also, preshaping and shaping should be gentle not very tight, with adequate rest period between each. A seemingly weak wobbly dough will rise like crazy in the oven.

Finally, you won't get the same result with AP flour as opposed to Bread Flour. Your loaf will have a lower profile than Andy's, so you may want to take care of your final fermentation persiod, or The gluten in the AP may not be enough to hold all the fermentation bubbles.

Having said all that, your loaf is beautiful!

tempe's picture

Wow! when you said a failed attempt, I was expecting to see something like the frisbee loaf I made a few days ago!  This is a beautiful loaf and if I could make anything anywhere near you're standard I would be ecstatic!  But of course I understand it's not quite what you had in mind, it's like when I do a painting and don't like it at all but everyone else thinks it's great.  Thanks for sharing and I have learnt some things myself from reading other's comments to you.

ananda's picture

Hi Louie, and everyone else posting here,

Well, let's kick out the "dud" theory straightaway.   I'd be over the moon if I'd baked a loaf of this quality.   I agree with Anna, for what it's worth; I really don't obsess about big holes in the crumb [please don't chastise me as "heretical" and dispatch me unceremoniously from the pages of TFL for daring to utter such controversy!]

It's a much whiter bread than mine.   This leads me to question whether you have gained the benefit of rye sour activity in your dough, particularly in respect of protease action to soften the gluten?   Daisy and I use a very coarse organic Dark Rye stoneground at an old Welsh watermill.   It is quite phenomenal, and I do think your alternative may be very different in character.   However, I don't know the flour, but am aware several excellent bakers on TFL do use this brand with considerable success.

There are some really interesting comments made above.   All of these have plenty of merit, and could offer explanations most plausible, as to why your crumb is not the same as mine.   However, in this case, these explanations actually don't hold up.

I'm going to write up why over on my blog post, if that's alright.   The reason is that I think constant reference to the photos I posted is essential in order to see why these explanations do not hold up in this particular case.

By the way, Lindy, so many thanks for posting the link to the videos from KA.   I'd seen one before, but not the one with Jeffrey Hamelman mixing the baguette dough.   Sensational, and I would ask anyone reading my follow-up notes on my blog post to watch that video first, and keep it in mind when I discuss intensive mixing.   The link to Lindy's post is here:

Anyone wanting to read more, you need to go here:

Louie, it's a really lovely loaf of bread, well done for that!

Best wishes


louie brown's picture
louie brown

for all the lovely and encouraging comments. I confess that I used "failed" to attract attention in hopes of getting some good advice. 

I want to emphasize that my objective in trying this bread was to achieve a more open crumb at a lower hydration, exactly as Andy suggested as his purpose. This is an interesting and challenging idea. It's similar to Pat's baguettes in that respect. I have no trouble making ciabatta or Tartine style loaves. This was a different idea and I was intrigued by it. So let's dispense with the big-holes-at-all-cost mindset.

So, the flour was fine, then. The hydration may have been a bit low. Andy, you mention that you suspect that a relevant problem may have been with the rye sour. I prepared mine from an active rye starter, and allowed it to sit for 30 hours, which is what I understood the direction to be. If you have a minute, could you please comment further on this aspect of your method?

Beyond that, the lesson I have taken from baking recently is the one that is the subtext for almost all comparisons of the work we do at home: like politics, all home baking is local. We can try to duplicate something, but in the ned, it winds up being our "take" on someone else's work.

ananda's picture

Hi Louie,

I really like that message that you are putting across, and much respect is due to your efforts.

As regards the rye sour, let me clarify the full refreshment regime.

I started with approx 80g stock rye sour, which would be made up of 30g flour and 50g water, leftover from the previous baking and held covered in a small tub in the fridge.

To this, for the first elaboration I would add 133g of water at approx 40*C, or just over.   Once bleded together in a plasitc bowl, I would then add 80g of dark rye flour and whisk to a smooth paste.   Cover over the bowl, and ferment 12 hours.

After that build with a second elaboration using 420g of flour and 700g of water.   Maintain a temperature of between 27 and 30*C ideally, and blend so you have a smooth stiffish paste.   Cover over and ferment a further 18 hours like this.   I then had enough rye sour to make both the breads in the post, and still have a similar amount left as what I started out with for the first elaboration.   This now becomes the stock rye sour which goes back to the fridge ready for building the next time I want to bake.

Hope this gives a clearer picture.

All good wishes


louie brown's picture
louie brown

It's obvious to me now that I took your original outline differently. Your reply makes your preparatory steps much more clear. 

There are a few adjustments, then, that should produce a different result. I'll look forward to getting back to this loaf again after ticking off a few others that I have on my list. 

Again, I appreciate your generous time and attention.

nicodvb's picture

looked like  yours all the time!

louie brown's picture
louie brown

I know this loaf isn't really a failure, but I tend to be stubborn about working towards a particular result.

It's true, though, as an amateur baking just once or sometimes twice a week, that the sort of repetitive baking that would accelerate the learning process is nearly impossible. As a result, there are certainly real failures. We all have them. TYhe idea, as my father used to say, is to learn from the mistakes.

wally's picture

Yes, I understand it doesn't represent the goal you set out to accomplish, and by all means tweak your formula until you achieve the open crumb you're looking for.

But you'll forgive all of us, I hope, for pointing out that your result is a wonderful loaf - including the crumb!  I should have failures that look like that :>)


louie brown's picture
louie brown

Larry, thanks so much for the encouragement. I certainly do plan to do some tweaking. I still can't get out of my visual memory that single slice of Norwich sourdough you posted some time ago. Talk about setting a standard...

You know what's weird? I now find myself thinking about baking techniques even while I'm working out at the gym. Everything was fine until I registered here a little more than a year ago...

LindyD's picture

Not so weird.  While driving to another town this afternoon, I was mulling over the concept of a hydration neutral soaker.

LindyD's picture

For the most part, at least according to the Bread Bakers Guild of America.

Pat (proth5) talked about it in her most recent blog.  We didn't get to the "official" definition until the last couple of posts.

Tommy gram's picture
Tommy gram

Lighten up, Louis

That's a fine loaf not a failure.

You want big holes? Try and open up the throttle on your hydration, keep the first rise a little shorter and the second rise a little longer--take it to the edge and look down into the valley.