The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Custom-designed loaf

chuk's picture

Custom-designed loaf


A newcomer, starting by saying I'd like to "custom-design" a loaf: I hope that won't be off-putting. My flour is (perhaps) a bit odd, so I want to use good ideas from here/there to get the best one can from this flour. The wheat is hard red spring. Protein analysis (grower told me) is a bit low for the variety, just under 12.5%.
I'd like a sour taste slightly relieved by sweetness. Gotta have the onion.
My levain is in good shape. I've forgotten when I started it - possibly 20 years ago, probably a mix of commercial wheat & rye flours. I want to use levain only. While I have both dry and fresh "wet" yeast, I feel more at home using levain only.
I'm not pushing my Whisper Mill to grind to maximum fineness (to avoid overheating the flour).So the product is a bit coarse, but finer than cornmeal. I'm sieving the flour, removing perhaps 1/3 of the bran.

Ingredients (all carefully weighed except as noted):
700 g wheat flour
1/2 c levain (60%hyd.)
water: 60%
onion (chopped)  1/2 c
sugar 3%
salt 2%
coriander 1%
flaxseed 1.2 c (c/w only as much water as it will absorb)

I've had lots of failures. But there's one constant that keeps me trying: the taste is always super!

Process so far. In mixing bowl, thin levain with some of the water. Add remaining water and all flour. Spoon mix. Rest covered 1/2 hour. Mix hard @ minimum speed in my old mixer with doughhooks. Add remaining ingredients except salt and mix more.
Next morning (after overnight, covered, in fridge): warm it up thoroughly. Add the salt and mix it in well. Covered, @ warm room temp, rest 5 (or more) hours to rise.
Then knead it and put into oiled bowl for second rise. After again kneading, and making two pieces, put into (what I think are) correctly-sized bread pans. In electric oven @ 100F., pan rise for close to 3 hours.
Finally, slash the loaves & put them back in (only warm) oven, and start the heat to 400F. A second thermometer left in oven verifies temperature.

I'm getting less oven spring than I'd like, the finished loaves are too dense, and getting the interior baked seems to take a very long time. My dough hasn't passed a windowpane test yet. I could still be underworking it.
It seems to me that if I can work this process out, switching to 1/3 rye shouldn't demand much adjustment.
Last note. Once only, I added about two cups of whole wheat berries softened in a sugar/water solution. Those loaves were super, only over-dense.

I'll be grateful for any comments that may move me toward that happy sweet spot. I'm addicted to homemade (beer, wine, Gravadlachs, brined/smoked meat, etc). And I'm pretty sure I teethed on homemade bread lo-ong ago.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

After reading the recipe, the thought of raising the hydration 2% (at a time) might be a direction for experimentation.  I would also let the just blended dough sit 15 minutes before running the mixer longer.  I would also break up the second rise and combine it with time from the final rise and use some stretch and folds  instead of kneading (which sounds like you're pressing out all the gasses in the loaf.)  

You're working with a bread flour and 60% is rather a stiff dough with very absorbent flour.  I also don't bother to soak cracked flaxseed.  I've found that it absorbs up to a point and then stops after 30 minutes.  You know how much water it absorbs, try adding the water to your bread recipe and compare the hydration.  Mix the crushed flax into the flour when you mix the dough.    

Nowhere do you mention the exact temperatures of the dough which makes trouble shooting much easier.  Very important to take notes about dough temp as all temperature affects fermenting times and dough integrity as well as yeast and bacteria growth.  

If you are chilling the dough immediately after mixing, you might want to try waiting a few hours first, giving the dough warmer bench time to get the yeast working and gluten stretching before retarding the dough.  Then dough folding can start with the salt addition the next day letting your hands help warm up the dough.

All my family teethed on hearty bread and steak bones.  :)

chuk's picture

@ Mini Oven:

Those are super tips and very welcome.

I held back some details simply because I didn't want to write a book at my first visit. I'm brevity-challenged.
My last batch was the first not done "by-guess-&-by-God". I'd had lots of over-hydration failures.
So I thought that choosing 60% (at the reasonable minimum?) made a bit of sense.
And I still do. In artillery school a half-century ago, the term was "bracketing".

My latest batch followed the process I described until it swerved into the ditch. I'd mixed only the levain, flour & water. Warmed up after over-nighting in fridge, it was way stiff.
i added the soaked seeds and other adjuncts (except salt) and 30g water and worked it in the mixer again.
After a very long rise (kitchen temp about 70F.), it went onto my counter for kneading very soupy. So by guess, I kneaded in considerable flour, and things went downhill from there. Mainly because I was running out of day, I shortened the next rise and the pan rise.
I think that's quite enough of that embarrassing  "histoire de misere."

I'll happily incorporate all of your great tips, staying with 60% for a couple more batches.
And I'll buy a temp. probe. Only if to check for "doneness" temp., I see the need (even though my house is over-full of gadgets.
And I'll report in a few days after next batch.
Many thanks, Mini Oven.

@clazar123...  Your post just in is also very welcome. I've scanned it and want to give it the careful attention it deserves.

But ... my garden compost heap (2-1/2 m. dia) is yelling to be turned over; a major chore I need to get to. With apologies, perhaps I'll reply to your post today ... but tomorrow @ latest.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If you can find a warmer place to proof, you might get rise times similar to the book recipes.  I can't help but think the dough is underproofed if it is as cool as the kitchen.

clazar123's picture

Mixing>retarding immediately overnight>mix in salt>bulk ferment for 5 hours>knead it>second rise (another 5 hours?)>kneading>shape/pan-proof @100F for 3 hours>slash  &immediately bake  by starting in warm(100F) oven.

Whew-I'm worn out thinking about all the raising that yeast had to do-almost 24 hours of continuous hard work and in adverse weather (cold retard and hot proofer!)

Try this:

Mix without salt>Rest 30 minutes>mix in salt>Stretch and fold every 30 minutes x4 at room temp(about 70F)>Put in refrig to retard for 2-16 hours>Take out of refrigerator and let sit at room temp for 1 hour>shape/pan>Proof at room temp or slightly warmer (80F?) until it is properly proofed (use search box for "finger poke test")>Bake in a 400F oven till internal temp 190-200F.>Enjoy!

And definitely up the water to 70% esp since your starter is only 60% hydration. Whole wheat needs extra water and time to soak  it up,esp when you have a coarser grind of flour.It should enter the initial retard as fairly moist (almost wet or sticky and when it has soaked overnight, it should be at that desired "tacky not sticky" phase. You will never get a great windowpane with WW but you can get great gluten development, even with the cornmeal consistency of the wheat you are using. If you want a lighter consistency, you need to either use a mash process,a water roux or add some finer type flour (AP,Bread or even more finely ground WW).

A preferment will improve the flavor and hydration of this dough. I do like the flavor profile you have created. It is chive blooming season here and I just made CHive Blossom Bread. It has a great onion flavor.

If able, take a look at Peter Reinharts "Whole Grains" . You would learn a lot about whole grain doughs.

Have delicious fun!

ssorllih's picture

When I make bread with whole grain flour I usually preferment that for overnight to 24 hours before I mix the dough. I always find any hydration below 66% when using whole wheat flour in the mix makes too tight a dough. I very rarely use more than 33% whole wheat flour with the balance ap unbleached.

chuk's picture


My spring composter recycle complete, it's time to express my gratitude for those three super replies.
I have my process worked out for my next trial batch incorporating your suggestions. I'll hang to the 60% hydration "like a dog to a root" for next batch.
Even if I risk dry loaves, I want to see if I can get airier loaves from (theoretically) higher structural strength in the pan rise and the oven spring.

@clazar:Incorporating chive flowers: what a great idea ! Why didn't I think of that? I'll have loads in 3 weeks, and all summer.
"mash process" "roux": you do get around.

I need a word, svp. ("lamination" is all I can think of) that describes the finished loaf's "fabric" (that the glutin threads are wound as a baseball is wound).
What is that word (it's one of the qualities I'm aiming for)?

I'll report in 2-3 days. Again, thank you three very much.

chuk's picture


This is a wizard forum ! I'm delighted to have found it.

My next batch is refusing to do final rise before loaf-shaping. I think it's sure that I've worn out the food supply for the yeast in my levain.
So I'm going into rescue mode which I think I won't report.

I didn't get full glutin development despite having worked it with mixer dough hooks and Bertinet-kneading it (both as hard as I could). I know it will develop, for I've done it with same mixer using beater blades. I feel safe saying it would take an Olympic athlete to develop my glutin in the Bertinet way.

So my next attempt will accept that the glutin in this wheat is very resistant. I'll machine-work it next time holding back (say) 1/4 of the flour 'til after getting development.
I hope my next attempt will be worth reporting and asking for your comments.

I've been through some eight of the "best" bread books in our city library, plus Laurel's Kitchen that I own. Laurel's is my go-to book. She's very blunt on page 364: for wholewheat, use hard red spring or winter, or hard white wheat @ 14% protein or higher. So mine passes except a bit low @ 12.5%. Doesn't worry me, for I've extracted at least 1/3 of the bran.
Another Laurel comment on p.366: newly threshed wheat ought to be cured for (min.) 90 days before milling. She implies that flour straight out of the mill (following grain-cure) is fine to use.

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... so resistant to increasing the hydration, may I ask? You say:

I'll hang to the 60% hydration "like a dog to a root" for next batch.
Even if I risk dry loaves, I want to see if I can get airier loaves from (theoretically) higher structural strength in the pan rise and the oven spring.

But if the dough is simply not wet enough, you will not get airy loaves.  Gluten starved of water can't develop sufficient elasticity and extensibility no matter what thuggery with mixer or Bertinet slam-folding you inflict upon it.  I think you're making life rather hard for yourself by keeping rigidly to 60% - better to give the dough what it needs.

After a very long rise (kitchen temp about 70F.), it went onto my counter for kneading very soupy.

'Soupy' sounds suspiciously symptomatic of overproofing. Agree with you, your protracted proofing/ kneading/whatever - was something of a marathon for the poor yeast, so a more timely agenda to take you from mixing to baking would be far kinder and more conducive to a healthily risen loaf on the finishing line.

Also, worth a thought perhaps - I think I read that onion can impinge on yeast activity - though I have no idea how much, I must admit.

It's a delightful quest - so very much look forward to hearing the results of your latest attempt. Keep us posted!

All at Sea



ssorllih's picture

I think that you are trying to make a dog hunt like a cat! Bread is simply flour, water and yeast. If you don't have enough of any one you are not going to make good bread. I don't know that i have ever gotten a dough too wet(80%) is as high as I have pushed so far but I have made some bricks from less than 60% hydration and it doesn't take much evaporation or added flour to make the mix too dry. 48 ounces of flour and 28.8 ounces of water is 60% hydration dropping down to just 28 ounces of water takes you down to 58.33% hydration That is just a tablespoon plus a teaspoon of water.

aloomis's picture

I've been baking 100% whole wheat bread on and off for 10 years.  This year is the first I've been successful.  Previously, my dough was always too dry.  I used to make 3 loaves at a time, and knead well over an hour by hand.  I'd take shifts kneading with my husband.  We'd try to knead to a window pane.  The bread was still always dense.  Now only was I baking by volume, I kept kneading in more flour until the dough wasn't sticky.  

Now, I make 3 loaves at a time following Laurel religiously, by weight.  I never add flour when kneading (only water).  I "knead" until the ingredients are encorporated.  I stretch and fold 3 times during the bulk ferment.  My loaves are light and airy.  

It's not that you need the water so the loaf isn't dry.  Too little water makes the dough act like inert clay.  You won't be able to stretch and fold or slap and fold, and you'll kill yourself kneading.  60% is too low for anything whole wheat except bagels (and I can't get my stand mixer to knead 60% hydration bagel dough from my supermarket whole wheat without adding a little more water.  I have a coarse ground whole wheat I buy in bulk that it could probably handle.)

ssor's picture

If you are growing cactus then you can work with rather dry soil and still get a healthy cactus. BUT if you want to grow lettuce then it will need more water. Yeast will grow best when it has enough water. That is why our starters are made very wet. We want them to grow all of the flora that makes our bread taste good. But if we transplant this healthy live starter to a desert dry pile of flour it is certainly going to wilt. If on the other hand we give it enough water to florish it will reward us with lovely bread. I knead my doughs in a large(13 qt.) bowl without added flour until the very last when I dust it to form a ball. Then I grease the ball with poultry fat and cover it.

chuk's picture


Sincerely, I'm very grateful for the helpful replies received from all of you.

@ ssorllih : "make a dog hunt like a cat!". On my chorelist: train my tomcat to swim out and retrieve ducks.

I am surprised, googling in English, German and French, to find nothing, positive nor negative, about chopped raw onion in bread dough. I've found  recipes for sauteed onion inclusion in German, French. Same for garlic: I don't recall finding a bread recipe that included raw garlic ... only sauteed or roasted.
So: if raw onion in dough does suppress yeast, I'll on one hand be glad to be relieved of my ignorance. On the other hand, I'll be plumb disappointed, for I find it works flavour/perfume magic for me in combination with my levain and flour.

There's this (that makes me uneasy): onions contain (volatile?) organosulphur, released when cut by an enzyme action (I think I read).
This only ,I know: sulphur is often added to wine before bottling (especially artificially sweetened wine) to put the yeast to sleep and prevent re-fermentation.
Is there a Dr.Chem. in the house?: <>

My "rescue" that I wrote of last (final rise before loaf-shaping was taking forever). I made a fresh batch using 200 g. flour (and other ingredients in proportion except no onion/coriander added). After spoon mixing using only 3/4 of the flour, then 1/2 hr. rest, I mixed the dough using my beaters until it passed the windowpane test. In 30 g. water that I had withheld I'd started 1 tsp dry yeast. I added that and the sugar and salt and mixed that in. Finally I mixed in the remaining flour and beat again.
After a one-hour rest, I kneaded the  original dough and the rescue together. I incorporated as little flour as possible. I shaped and panned the loaves. After 50% rise, I slashed and baked. I got modest oven spring. Two lengthwise slashes in each loaf opened almost 1/2" each.
Loaves while dense, are as light as any of my last several batches.
Crum is too dry.
In last three days, I've been studying Bertinet/Reinhart arguments in favour of "high" hydration. And the replies here certainly agree.

@ clazar123
 My next batch will conform with all the following. My mixer will thank you.
"Mix without salt>Rest 30 minutes>mix in salt>Stretch and fold every 30 minutes x4 at room temp(about 70F)>Put in refrig to retard for 2-16 hours>Take out of refrigerator and let sit at room temp for 1 hour>shape/pan>Proof at room temp or slightly warmer (80F?) until it is properly proofed (use search box for "finger poke test")>Bake in a 400F oven till internal temp 190-200F.> And definitely up the water to 70% "
I'll (reluctantly) incorporate fresh cake yeast.

@ ssor: "I knead my doughs in a large(13 qt.) bowl without added flour"  I have a rather shallow bowl of that size. I'll try to make that work for me.

One fact I've omitted so far: while I am resting/hydrating my batch @ 70F, all my rises I'm doing in my electric oven @ 90-100F. I'm able to hold it there with very short bursts of power.

Many thanks,

chuk's picture


I wrote lastly: "I am surprised, googling in English, German and French, to find nothing, positive nor negative, about chopped raw onion in bread dough."

I ought to have looked here harder. In this recipe Reinhart uses double the raw onion that I'm using: <>