The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Silent Spring: Umpteenth Epic Miche Fail's picture

Silent Spring: Umpteenth Epic Miche Fail

Is it ok to post failures and ask advice?  I've never seen anyone show anything but picture perfect loaves @ TFL.  My bread baking is rock-bottom-novice and getting worse, if such a thing is possible.  So maybe if I show my latest in a seemingly neverending string of compost-destined bricks, someone might have an idea.  Any thoughts?  

Please don't "flag [this] as offensive", even though it probably is.   And sorry to waste bandwidth in this expert forum on such basics.  I couldn't find a "Beginner's Forum" here -- or anywhere for that matter.

Thank you.


aytab's picture

Could you tell us more about what you did or didn't do? Recipe, rise times etc.'s picture

See below.  Thanks.


Franko's picture

Hi tdb,

 Yes, it's quite OK to post failures and ask for advice, that's what the forum is all about, exchanging ideas and information.

It looks like there's something going on there from the photo, but without any details of what you were trying to make it's difficult to know how to help you with this bread. Just post the recipe that you used, how you made it from start to finish with as much detail as you can, and answers will come. In the meantime, have a look at the TFL 'Handbook'  here to acquaint yourself with the basic language of baking, particularly the section on Baker's Math. Ratio of ingredients relative to total flour (100%), is the key to successful baking , after that it's practice...and more practice.

Welcome to the forum tdb!

Franko's picture

There's definitely "something going on from the photo", no doubt about it.  See method to its madness below.  I've been through the TFL handbook and over the holidays adopted Peter Reinhart and Chad Robertson as my gurus.  I've been "practice ... and more practicing" for about 9 months.  So it was time to go public with my frustrations (actually, I've posted some more minor whines here before) or  -- I dunno what.



tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

I remember making some sourdough hockey pucks that our pigs couldn't even eat until they'd staled enough for the pigs to be able to rip them apart.

As mentioned above, more on what you did will help others make suggestions.

Was your loaf baked in a pan? And it has a fairly open crumb structure for a brick! Is it really that bad or just not what you want?'s picture

We don't have pigs (we're mostly vegetarian - me 99%, my wife 100%), but the raccoons love my baking failures.  Bright side of that is that maybe they'll get hooked on yeasted breads outa the compost and leave my damn corn alone this summer.  Fat chance o' that, little buggers.

YES, it was proofed and baked in a 5 qt ceramic/iron Le Creuset knock-off from the supermarket ("Grand Cuisine" was the make, I think:  pretty generic).  I've had such constant trouble with floppy loaves spreading out into pancakes on the stone that I took subfusca's (sp?) advice and proofed right in the cold DO and into the oven, covered (as Mr Tartine does in the Danish masterclass video, discussed here).

Is it really that bad? you say.  Well, funny you should ask.  It's the sourest bread I've ever had.  And we really don't like sourdough bread all that much (but we do prefer naturally leavened bread, if that makes any sense).  It's very stiff and wet -- my wife said it's like pumpernickel.  But I found that, annointed with a bonne tranche de St. Nectaire cheese, it earned its keep today.  But that's no excuse to repeat it.  One objective of this (and any) bread is that it should be satisfying tout seul.



spsq's picture

That looks  a lot like my loaves that I would "encourage" by keeping everything WAY too warm on every step of the way - used warm (hot?) water or milk, put the dough in an overheated oven to rise.   left them rise too long too.   Cold makes everything go more slowly.  Overenthusiastic heating kills.'s picture

Well as you can see from my protocol below, I somewhat desperately tried NOT to let the chill of our late winter house slow everything down this time.  The seemingly incorrigible tendency of my doughs all winter to be wet, sticky and floppy I have (provisionally) attributed to This Cold House, as opposed to standard bakehouse temps of high 70˚F's.  So this time I said "OK Chad, have it your way" and used our crockpot base to gently heat things up to temps that guruji Chad recommends.  That being said, I read here an account (by a retired person -- that stuck for some reason) who said he keeps everything (including DDT, which I assume to be ? Dough Temp -- desired? designated?) at 55˚F.  If that's the DDT, then our house is perfect and my "cold house" hypothesis regarding wet-sticky-floppy doughs is rejected.

Should I return to the cool and slow?  Sure would be easier than turning the crockpot base on and off every few minutes...



gmagmabaking2's picture

Never. LOL. From each experience we learn... even if it is what not today. We all have many failed loaves, so analyze and recalulate, remix and reap the knowledge! This is a great website for advice and learning. That is what it is all about. I have received the best advice from some of these folks... Great to have you aboard.'s picture

If I actually "learned" from each experience (that sounds so much better than disaster doesn't it?) over the past 9 months, I'd be the most learned baker on the planet.  But it's not like a failed loaf explains itself.  It just says "well that didn't work -- guess again".  So I be still guessing.


G-man's picture

This community is happy to help, and most folks are knowledgeable. What I've always liked best about TFL is that, whenever I have a question, I can find pretty much any answer I might want. The problem with baking, and part of what makes it so fun, is that it's a real challenge. One problem might have a few different possible root causes, and folks are happy to suggest ways to fix things. People baking their first loaves of bread can get advice from experts who have been doing it for decades. Many of us are closer to the former than the latter.


This particular loaf looks a whole lot like a cake. Without knowing anything more, I'd suggest underdeveloped gluten as a possibility. What's your recipe and method?

Another possibility is that the loaf is overproofed.'s picture

"It's a real challenge". Understatement of the year. God I WISH this was one of my "first loaves".  Ha!  It's my first YEAR of making loaves.  Does that count?  But yes, this is a diabolically addictive pursuit.  If only the anticipation of the activity that I experience all week could be met with a proportionate measure of satisfaction with the product, all would be right with this world.  But until then, I guess there's TFL.

"Looks like a cake".  Is that a complement?  :-)  Tastes like a cake from Wonderland.  Or hell maybe.

"Underdeveloped gluten"?  Could be.  See my protocol below.   So of course I have to ask, how and when could I have recognized that the gluten was "underdeveloped" (poor thing) and what could I have done to "develop" it, having acknowledged its pitifully immature state?

"Overproofed"?  Two hours at 70-80˚F?  Seems to fit most protocols I've seen.  Guruji Chad even says to go 3-4h for more sour -- god I'm glad I didn't take him up on that!



G-man's picture

The fun thing about working with several different flours is that you get several different reactions to the same basic events. My first time using oat flour wound up a horrible mess because it moves from rising beautifully to breaking down in a split second, and once it starts falling apart there's no bringing it back. Thankfully I had started on more bread just in case the first batch failed. You live and you learn.

I have to ask, is this the recipe you started your sourdough adventures with? It seems like a fairly complex formula, even if you've been at it for a year. Unless you've been baking every day, anyway. I'd probably recommend cutting the number of different flours and starters you're using. Sourdough can be ornery when it's treated to a steady diet of the same single flour, let alone when it's mixed with other flours and other starters and such. As has been said elsewhere in the thread, spelt in particular behaves differently. You're probably getting the very strong sour flavor from the rye you're using, it's recommended frequently as a way to increase the sourness of a starter.

Finally, the cake comment was really just an observation. Most cakes don't have much gluten development to speak of. As for how to tell if you've got nice gluten development, it's when the bread doesn't tear easily. Some folks use the windowpane test, where they tear off a small ball of dough and stretch it until the dough becomes thin enough to be translucent without tearing. You can google that one or use the search function here and get plenty of pictures. I never take mine that far, and plenty of folks don't. As long as your bread feels tight, you're doing fine. Even with higher hydration doughs, gluten should develop to the point where it is relatively tight. From what you said in reply to clazar, about the dough being shaggy and tearing easily, I'm now certain that gluten development is at least part of the problem.

Check this video out: This is for a sweet dough, but the signs you're looking for are rather universal as long as you're making a yeast-rising bread that depends on gluten. It's just a thought.'s picture

Hey G-man,

I actually started my natural leaven adventures (once I had a starter that appeared up to it) with straight Tartine CBs.  Made a couple of ok ones, but all more wet and spreading than anything in his book, on his video or pictured here @ TFL.

But my aim with the overwrought multi-flour madness was, and remains, is to create a large loaf, that will keep for a week, with enough complexity and whole grain to satisfy two passionate bread-eaters for a week.  I confess, kind of the way Poilane (Lionel/Apolonia) loaves are described.  There, I said it.  Poilane.  Why not?  Aim high.  But I'll be back to fewer flours this weekend.  The rye is probably out.  Golden Buffalo and spelt in.  We'll see.  And I'll bid some of my 'children' (as my wife calls my starters) good-bye as well.  Interesting idea, learned a lot, but time to trim and tighten the operation before the ship sinks.

Indeed, I should be more careful in applying appropriate tests:  windowpane, poke (others I should know of?).  I'm way guilty of letting my own schedule trump the dough's intrinsic schedule.  Bad idea.  Thanks for the reminder, and apologizes to guru PR for ignoring his excellent teaching.

Finally, yes I've watched Bertinet's entertaining slap and stretch several times, plus another younger french baker's video who does the same, first warning his asian students and cameraperson to "stand back".  Funny -- I tried the slap and stretch a couple of times.  My wife yells from the living room "What the f*** are you doing in there?".  And when I did it with post-autolyse dough to which I had just "incorporated" (or not) some big-grained Normandy gray salt, the slaps seemed to squeeze the salt grains right out of the dough so that they ended up all over the kitchen floor and not in the loaf (note to self:  grind Normandy salt in mortar first, then weigh).

I've not found the slap-and-stretch to make a bit of difference in a dough yet.  When does it work?



clazar123's picture

That is where we all started.  You are in exactly the right place.

First of all-what ingredients, recipe and techniques did you use to make this beautiful-colored loaf? Is this  sourdough based?Yeast? Baking soda? No Knead?  Rye? Wheat? High hydration? Did you cut the loaf while fresh from the oven? Crumb wet? Dry?

I think you get the picture. There are so many possibilities! Having more information will help us narrow down the cause.

You mention in one of your first posts that you did some baking in a Tassahara-style bakery back in the 70's. Did you just follow a recipe back then or actually get to the point where you understood what was happening and how to effect changes in the outcome? I ask with a specific reason in mind. When I started here a few years ago, I discovered that I actually had to UN-learn a lot of things I thought I knew from past breadbaking instruction from my mom.She showed me how to follow an ingredient list but did not have a clue about technique and what it all meant. Once I realized I should start from square one, I actually learned how to make bread and how to change things around and adapt to have the resulting loaf turn out as I wanted (more often than not, these days, but still not 100%). I still have elarning curves on rye and big holes!

 It all goes back to rather tedious (but delicious) experimentation and tracking of results. Get out a notebook and make 1 recipe about a zillion times. Take notes-change only 1 thing-realize that technique is as important as ingredients. Some things are discovered by serendipity. Throwing the just mixed dough in the refrig overnight because someone had to go to the hospital helped me discover the joy of retardation! Best tasting loaf of bread ever!

Keep posting here. You learn nothing and we can't help you if you don't follow up.

I really would like to know how your loaf is so beautifully colored? Rye?'s picture

...for such a generous and thoughtful response.

Uh, I think a few TFListas would disagree with "we're all beginners here".  Les Freres Snyder, Shaio-lin (I'm sure I'm mangling her name) and Andy from Newcastle might beg to differ.  Hell, if they're "beginners, then I'm what? Fetal?

See my protocol below for details.

God you remember my Tassahara comment -- wish I had a memory like yours!  Hey -- I was a helper there.  My girlfriend at the time and two of her buddies started the bakery and I spent a few weeks burning their ginger cookies mostly, before I took my Journey To The East.  Despite being called The Good Bread Bakery, the product wasn't.  I think it was more good for Janet, Fred and Kathy's souls than for the customers' tummies (sorry Janet, Fred and Kathy if your lurking here -- but it's true, right?).  So no, I didn't really learn anything about baking bread there, except that a proofer is hot and raises bread, and Hobart makes mixers to burn ginger cookies.  And that Mystic, Connecticut is pretty magical at 4 AM.  So I didn't have much to unlearn when I cracked the copy of Lahey that my son gave me last year.  All new.

"Change only 1 thing" - Man, life is too short for that.  Even though, as a biologist, I know where you're coming from, I have a fairly demanding day job and can only do one bake on the weekend.  There are so many variables at play here that if I changed one variable per week, I'd never get anywhere!  In theory, one change per bake -- but (to quote one of my favorite movie quotes) This is reality, Greg.

See protocol about ingredients:  yes, 10% rye, 20% spelt, 30% high ext flour -- makes it chesnut colored.

tdb's picture

Yikes, a mass uprising.  Thank you atab, Franko, tn gabe, spsq, gmagmabaking, G-man & clazar123.  If you insist, here's the protocol - more like a journal entry I guess.  I'm going to insert an uppercase header here to warn anyone googling for 'miche' (as I have) or something who hits this but doesn't read the fine print of my initial post.


Thursday PM
1. Make up 1 kg mix, in 4:3:2:1 mass ratio, of AP (CM): high extraction (Golden Buffalo): fine spelt: rye.
2. Disperse 1 tsp each of Golden Buffalo starter, CMAP starter and rye starter into 100 ml spring water (all starters "young").
3. Add 100 gr flour mix and combine well.
4. Incubate o/n in warm* place (*our house = 55˚F, so starters ride atop hot water heater, ~75˚F).

Friday AM
5.  Preferment active and bubbly:  Combine it with 200 ml spring water and 200 gr flour mix in heavy ceramic bowl --> cover and ascend hot water heater summit (~75˚F).

Friday PM  
6.  Disperse vigorous preferment into 450 ml ~80˚F spring water in big ss bowl. Mix in remainder (700 gr) of flour mix.  Final hydration = 75%.  
7. Autolyse 30 min.  
8. Mix in 20 gr salt and 1 Tb flax seed meal*
[*I'm leaving out rationale for all these ingredient choices and proportions -- can supply if "necessary"]
9. Move into 4 qt Cambro bucket, cover and (bear with me: it's cold here) set on a firebrick sitting in crockpot base that has been on 'warm' for a few minutes (~80˚F). Cover w/towel.
10. Four S&F (IF that's TFL-speak for Robertsonian in-bucket grab-lift-fold down) on 30 min interval.
11. Two S&F on 1 hr interval.
12. Into 4˚C fridge, covered (14 h).

Saturday AM
13. Lightly flour dough surface and invert onto lightly floured board.
14. Fold in half, omlette style, so "flour is sealed on the outside" (one of my Top 5 favorite Robertsonisms).
15. Gently preshape into boule
16. Bench rest ~40 min.
17. Letter fold (a la Robertson) into boule. Pull for tension.
18. Set into 5 qt ceramic/iron oiled DO, sitting in (now ~70˚F) crockpot/brick proofer hack.
19. Proof 2h
20. (theoretically) slash but surface way too wet.  Like surgically incising Jabba the Hut.
21. 20 min @ 500˚F(preheated)-->450˚F, covered.
22. 30 min @ 450˚C, cover off.
23. Center of 'loaf' (brick?) = 205˚F
24. Remove & cool on rack
25. Slice, photo, recover composure, post plea on TFL.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

slowing down the fermentation and then work up to the 75% if that is what you like.  It does look like the water is in control of the shape.  Wrangle the control back!  That's an order!  :)

Easy for me to talk, I haven't been baking lately.  I find myself near the northern coast of Spain near Bilbao.   Absolutely lovely country!  So far the bread that comes to the table tastes white wheat yeasted with low salt.  A low loaf, thick sliced (about an inch) hardy crumb with a light colored crust.   It's Sunday so I'm curious what I'll find when a bakeries open tomorrow.  

Mini's picture

I've thought that 75% hydration might be inappropriately high for a miche like this.  But I'm sort of shamelessly tethered to Guru Chad Robertson's protocol.  Time to cut the cord on that I suppose.

Spring in Galicia!  ¡Que suerte!  Some people are living right.

Hi to Mickey.



clazar123's picture

You have a fermentation period (about 4 hours) at about 80degrees and then it goes into a refrigerator for about 14 hours. (Steps 9-12)

Describe the dough quality and rise after step 11 (before refrigeration) and then after step 12(after refrigeration). I am curious to know how risen it was and the moisture/sticky level of the dough texture, though, of course, the rye will lend it some stickiness but at that level should not affect the dough structure too much.

Describe it again after the bench rest for the S&F.(step 17)

I would tend to concur with Mini that hydration is actually a bit high. The appearance of the loaf was more of a batter than a dough-it assumed the shape of the DO. I also wonder if the yeast may have fizzled out. Young cultures can have a lot of activity but that may not all be from yeast.

An interesting experiment may be to make a smaller batch, handled similarly, with some instant yeast added to see if it changes the rise and texture.'s picture

Great questions -- getting right down to it.

Dough quality after BF was soft and puffy, but wet and sticky on outside and noticeably still shaggy, or tear-y.  That is, when I stretched it, it sheared apart.  Not very elastic.

After bench rest, the dough was soft and airy and, to be honest, impossible to "pull for tension" effectively.  It was wet and heavy and certainly destined to pancake if not constrained during baking by an appropriately sized DO.

As I answered Mini, yes, hydration is perhaps too high for (1) a relative novice like me, and (2) a multigrain miche like I'm aiming for here.  I noticed PR's "Poilane-style" miche is "(approx) 62.5%".  But I have to ask:  If 75% hydration resulted in such a brick like this (albeit a wet one), wouldn't reducing hydration 10% or more result in more of a brick?

Franko's note below suggests that I blew out the yeast by pampering them with 20% spelt in the dough.  So yes, maybe the yeast "fizzled".  That's actually one of my pet hypotheses about this bake:  yeast ran out of carbs before final proof.  But would that explain the dough's batter-like consistency?  "Batter" nails it:  It was somewhere between a batter and a dough.  Maybe I should have just fried it :-)

Add instant yeast?  Dude, I expected someone to tell me to cut back from three to one starter, not add a fourth source of yeast.  But yep...I can see your point.  Maybe better to time starter cycling such that I'm not doing this two-stage build.  That was actually a scramble, since the thursday PM feeding resulted in such rampant starter growth that wouldn't have been 'young' by dough prep time 24h later.  So I fed it again (step 5) on Fri AM.  I'm thinking yeast overgrowth.  Would have contributed to uber-sourness too.

Thanks again,




Franko's picture

Hi tdb,

Spelt is a notoriously fast fermenting grain and have a suspicion this might be one of the culprits at work here. I'm not saying to leave it out, but that fermentation times and temps need to be shorter and cooler. I would try leaving it out of the starter entirely and not add it till the final mix. Try the autolyse using cooler water and without adding the preferment, aiming for a desired dough temp in the mid 70F range. Add the preferment to the final mix, mix till the dough is uniform then add the spelt and salt and continue developing till the dough is cohesive. I'm not sure that the blend and ratios of the flours in your formula are really suited to an long overnight fermentation, so that may be something to reconsider as well. With your process of fermentation beginning at autolyse, and if I've read it correctly, it shows a total fermentation of 19+hours.Yeast eats spelt like a kid in a candy store and it's easy to have an over-fermented dough even with small percentages of it, but with rye and high extraction in the grist as well, I think it's something that needs to be monitored very closely until a reliable fermentation schedule can be established. Try cutting the time by 50% and your dough should have a little more oomph to it.

All the best,

Franko's picture

Wow, these are some golden fine points, Franko.  Maybe it takes a novice like me to think that all flours (e.g., the four I've used here) behave the same in doughs, but only differ in flavor and color contributions to the baked loaf.  NOT.  Yes, it was a long fermentation, but 14 of the 19h in the fridge.  Alas, life goes on at 4˚C and I need to realize that if we don't like uber-sour natural leavened bread, I shouldn't BF any longer than necessary.  And spelt exacerbated it majorly, from what you're telling me.

My tendency toward long fermentations arises from, (1) "bad habits" (?) from starting with Lahey NKB, which has an 18h fermentation, (2) PR's evangelism about long ferments for more flavor, and (3) a busy schedule that begs to split up any baking protocol among 2 or 3 days.

I'm determined to try something new now:  Bake all in one day.  Funny how that's become a novel idea.  And the weather's warming up, so This Cold House won't be quite so.  Should be interesting.

Thanks again!


clazar123's picture

There is a point of diminishing returns with time/flavor and I think you found it. This time around you mentioned how the dough tears. Classic. I suspect there is some enzyme issue going on and deteriorating the gluten, When gluten bonds break, it does release water, thus the wetness. I think E.Buehler describes this in "Bread Science".

I get great flavor with some very simple techniques. I'm all about simple. I mix a simple preferment about 6-12 hours  before mixing dough.Room temp affects the time it takes to ripen (as you know)-the cooler the temp the longer to ripen.   The preferment is 144g AP flour (or flour of choice),225 g water,50g active starter.Mix well,cover and sit at 65-70F til used (6-12 hrs).(Top of the water heater for you-top of my refrigerator for me). The choice is to make the preferment in the evening and mix the dough the next AM or mix the preferment in the AM,the dough in the PM and let the dough retard overnight in the refrig to be baked the next day.All in all, it is a 24 hour cycle. This small amount of preferment imparts great flavor. This preferment amount is for about 500-700g flour.My repertoire of loaves so far is: whole wheat, fruited whole wheat, potatoe rye, milk bread,brioche,Italian/French variations. I usually use natural levain but don't aim for sourness. My loaves are all non-sour tasting.I use instant yeast to adjust timing of the baking day. Work time always interferes with baking-kids,too. Darn!

I am having an issue with dough deteriorating when I use kefir instead of milk. (Another post). It is possible to get a loaf but it won't be a great one. No responses, so far, but if htere are any responses, you may want to follow it to see if anything would apply to your situation.

What country are you in?'s picture

Bingo, clazar123.  This has been a not unfamiliar trajectory for me, diving into any new passion.  Go for broke early, run into a ditch, and then backpedal into reality.  I'm grateful to you TFListas for help with the backpedal.

Your routine resembles what I was aiming for (and had done 2 weeks previously with better, but still wet and spreading results) in my Epic Fail Miche:  Feed starter Fri AM / prepare dough Fri PM / retard / bake Sat AM.  But when I mixed up all the flours (more on that in a minute) Thurs PM to be ready to feed my starter(s) with it Fri AM, I jumped the gun and fed the starter(s) Thurs PM.  Oops.  By Fri AM, they had gone berzerk and topped out (indeed, spilled out of the 16 oz canning jar), so I fed them another 200 gr of the flour mix Fri AM so I wouldn't be mixing up a dough with old (as opposed to young) starter Fri PM.  That make sense?

Regarding diminishing returns of time/flavor....roger that captain.  I'm backpedaling now.  As a biologist, growing all these starters and imagining (probably correctly) that they would all impart different and interesting flavors when used in concert, is probably beyond the ability of my palette to discern.  So I'll be back to one (Golden Buffalo) starter and fewer flours for this weekend's adventure.  Lower hydration too.  And only as much BF as necessary.

But here's some late-breaking good news:  I just finished a sandwich made from that pumpernickel-looking brick above and it wasn't all that bad.  Not that I want to ever bake a loaf like that again.  But with just one thin slice of La Quercia Prociutto Americano (I said I'm 99% vegetarian:  this is the 1%), I wish I had made a bigger sandwich.

Don't know anything about kefir vs. milk -- just know that I've used milk in some of PReinhart's "epoxy" formulas and enjoyed the products.  Otherwise, just spring water here (and definitely not our well water).

Brioches.  Man, if I ever venture away from bread and into sweet treats, I'll make a beeline for baking those.  There's nothing like a good brioche.  [though a proper Devon scone runs a very close second]  Good news is a local baker here can do them just fine for me, some mexican style (Day of the Dead Brioches, with anise, for example. Mmm.)

I'm in the USofA.