The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Overnight Country Blonde from "Flour Water Salt Yeast"

dmsnyder's picture

Overnight Country Blonde from "Flour Water Salt Yeast"

My first bakes from Flour Water Salt Yeast, by Ken Forkish

David M. Snyder

July 20, 2013


I've been aware of Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, Oregon since shortly after it opened. I've driven by it a few times on my way to somewhere else, but, if I've ever had Ken's bread, it has been in Portland restaurants. And I'm pretty sure I have.

On our last visit to Portland, I browsed Ken Forkish's baking book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, at Powell's bookstore. I liked it immediately, and I ordered it as soon as I got home. Flour Water Salt Yeast won both the James Beard Award this year and also the very prestigious IACP award. It is certainly a great addition to my bread book library.

Forkish is clearly writing for the home baker who wants to bake the highest quality bread of a particular type: Crusty, open-crumbed, mixed flour hearth loaves. The book is short on bread science and focused rather than comprehensive. But it does a superb job of demystifying bread making. Forkish presents a set of techniques and very manageable equipment requirements that apply to essentially every formula in the book. The breads and pizza doughs vary in leavening (levain only, levain plus commercial yeast or commercial yeast only), flours used and their proportions and fermentation schedules. Forkish, encourages his readers to experiment with these variables but based on sound principles. The breads presented are ones produced in Ken's Artisan Bakery, with the formulas and procedures are modified somewhat to better fit the typical time demands of the working and/or parenting home baker. I really think this book will encourage its readers to want to make bread and feel confident that they can and will make great bread.

After reading Flour Water Salt Yeast pretty much from cover to cover, I decided to make the “Overnight Country Blonde” for my first bake from the book. This is a 90% white flour, 5% each whole rye and whole wheat, 78% hydration bread. It is a pure levain-raised bread. The prescribed schedule is to refresh the levain in the morning, mix the dough in the mid-afternoon and ferment it at room temperature until the next morning, when it is divided, shaped, proofed and baked by noon. That's a nice schedule. However, my dough was clearly fully fermented after 6 or 7 hours, rather than the 12 to 15 hours called for. This was not really a great surprise, given that my kitchen was at least 80ºF. So, I retarded the dough in the fridge overnight and proceeded from there the next morning. I decided to make one 1.8 Kg miche rather than two boules. This meant that I baked on a baking stone rather than cast iron dutch ovens. The loaf was pretty slack going into the oven, but there was great oven spring.


The resulting loaf had a thin, crisp crust that got chewy as the loaf cooled. The crumb was very open. In fact, there were huge holes, especially under the top crust, suggesting the dough had been over-fermented.

The crumb texture was otherwise marvelous. It was somewhat chewy but very tender. It had a quality for which I don't have a name, but it is very close to the sourdough bread I had in San Francisco as a child. I suspect it is partly the result of gentle mixing and partly of long, slow fermentation. The flavor was sweet, complex and moderately sour.

My wife and I both enjoyed this bread a lot, but I wanted to do it again without over-fermenting the dough, and I wanted a thicker, crunchier crust. For a second bake, I used the same levain which had been refrigerated for 2 days. I did not refresh it. I fermented the dough about 5 hours at which point it had expanded by 2.25 times. I divided into two 904 g pieces, shaped boules and retarded them overnight. The next morning, I let them proof another 90 minutes or so at room temperature and then baked in cast-iron dutch ovens. (At 475ºF, 30 minutes covered then 15 minutes uncovered.)

These loaves looked much more like those in the book. They had a thick, shiny crust that looked marvelous.


When sliced, the bread had a thinner crust than I expected. The bottom was crunchy but the rest of the crust was pretty chewy. The crumb was more evenly aerated, but there still were some pretty big holes near the top of the loaf. The crumb was chewier than that of the first bake. The flavor of the bread was pretty much the same - maybe a little less sour - but we will see how it develops over the next couple of days. Overall, this is a really nice, mostly white sourdough bread. I'm looking forward to fiddling with the flour mix and trying to slow down the fermentation.

There are many other breads in this book I really want to bake, not to mention the pizzas and focaccias. I very much like Forkish's approach to mixing and fermentation. He really emphasizes the value of a long, slow fermentation for flavor development. With the high Summer temperatures in my kitchen, to really slow things down, I need to try his formulas with a smaller amount of levain (or yeast) than he calls for.



dabrownman's picture

have stumbled on the problem bakers run into with the recipes in the book.  They do a 12 hour counter ferment and ar'disappointed that their bread is over-proofed, pooped out and just wont make the 2 nd rise and spring n the oven.  If left dough on my counter for 12 hours at 80 F + is would go in into making EM's in the morning with some baking soda.

Maybe the timing is great for Portland in the winter :-)  Better to always watch the dough rather than clock they say  -and they are, who ever they are, are always right! 

It didnt take you long to figure it out and get some very nice loaves.

Happy baking


dmsnyder's picture

Well, we do know that fermentation rates are exquisitely responsive to temperature variations. If a 12-15 hour fermentation is the goal, I should be able to achieve it by reducing the amount of levain. But by how much?

Another thing: The relative production rates of lactic and acetic acid will be different at 70 vs 80 dF. So the flavor profile will be different, even if the duration of bulk fermentation is the same. 

Ah, well. Bottom line is that both bakes produced pretty yummy bread.


golgi70's picture

Those sure look tasty David.  I need to get back into the book buying thing again.  I started to collect when i got into baking, got into bread, bought a few books and work took over.  I'll just need to treat myself to a good ol Amazon run and get some of these staples.  Actually I already started.  At the local CO-OP on the discount rack was a book titled Home Baked "Nordic REcipes and Techniques for Organic Bread and Pastry".  It has a nice over and I noticed the Foreward was by Hamelman.  Then the three authors to to make comments on the back were Reinhart, Leader, and Bertinet.  So I had to buy it.  I've just barely flipped through it but I intend to get involved with some of the interesting breads inside. 

Sorry to ramble.  Bread looks great.  Is that first loaf not the "losing the roof" syndrome from shaping???  Still looks yummy.  And the following look really good.  Boldly Baked.


Happy Baking


dmsnyder's picture


Syd's picture

Lovely russet brown crust and great blistering there, David.  Promises of lots of flavor.  78% hydration dough:  that must have been a challenge to shape but you still managed to get it nice and round with a good height.

Look forward to seeing more of your bakes from the book.  



dmsnyder's picture

You have to periodically flour your hands, use a very light, quick touch and keep your bench knife handy for when the loaf sticks to the board. 78% hydration dough isn't that hard to shape into a boule. Now, baguettes .... 


gmabaking's picture

I just baked two boules of the twice fed sweet levain bread, very good - with that chewy crust and soft but chewy crumb. I haven't tried the refrigerator overnight proof yet but think I may with my next bake. We are only 5 or so hours from Portland and usually cooler weather (and house) but still find my breads just won't keep that overnight schedule. Worked better in the cool Spring weather. What I have been doing is starting late in the day so that the final proof doesn't start until close to midnight or at least by the 11 o'clock news. By then the house is usually nice and cool and the dough behaves itself until early morning. I like to bake first thing in the morning anyway so for now this is working pretty well. Have tinkered around with flour mixtures, a little white rye, a little spelt added to the whole wheat and white flour mixture for several of the other breads. Looking forward to seeing what you bake next-


dmsnyder's picture

Nice solution, changing the schedule. I'm not sure it would help me that much, unfortunately.

It will be interesting to see how Forkish's fermentation schedule works in the Winter, when my kitchen runs about 67dF. 

At the moment, I'm inclined to try "Field Blend #2" next, or at least soon. I have a list of things I want to try, in the form of notes I took while reading through the book.


Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Nice and boldly baked it David.  Also, looks like I could fit in that crumb hole and live in there for a while.  Eat the loaf from the inside out!


dmsnyder's picture

Traditionally, huge holes in loaves, such as I got, are known as "The room where the baker sleeps." I think there is some implication that, when you see those holes, it's an indication that the baker was napping and let his dough get away from him/her.


golgi70's picture

I've heard that before and its now my go to when there are big holes in a bread (more commonly caused by a shaping error).  None the less I love using that as the excuse.  Its just fun when someones like why is there such a huge hole here and I get to say where else would we sleep? Silly and they don't get it.  But it makes me chuckle. 



MisterTT's picture

And also found that the bulk ferment is a bit too long. My house was about 24 C at the time and I stopped fermenting at about 8 hours and started proofing (I, like gmabaking, began the bulk ferment just before going to bed, allowing some time to work in three folds). The crust and crumb were great, but still I can't help wondering how does Forkish pull such a long ferment.

He lists a DDT of 25-26 C and he says that he tested the recipes in each season and that his kitchen temperature is about the same year round, a bit colder in winter. Since he tells us in step 6 of the formula that his house is about 21 C, I think it is fair to deduce that bulk ferment temperature should be 19-20 C, because it should naturally be a bit colder at night.

Sadly I don't have a proofer or any other temperature control chamber. It would be very interesting to try this recipe with exactly the same temperature parameters as Forkish recommends. 

All in all, though, David, amazing looking bread!

SallyBR's picture

...but it's good to know why I had such a bad experience with this recipe


No doubt my dough was way over-proofed.   


Well, back to the drawing board, or... to the kneading counter!   ;-)

evonlim's picture

hi David, beautiful loaves .. i just bought this book!! inspiring..

happy baking


dmsnyder's picture

I think it's a great book, but you are going to face the issues of faster fermentation where you live, I believe. 


dmsnyder's picture

Clearly, if a long (12-15 hour) fermentation is the goal, Forkish's procedures need adjustment for a warmer environment. This could be done three ways:

1) Find a cooler environment in which to bulk ferment. When it's over 100dF outside and my thermostat is set to 78dF, the coolest place in my house (an internal hallway) is 78dF. The Kitchen is about 80 or 81dF. I'm not going to lower the thermostat setting. Proofing boxes are great for creating warmer temperatures. Hmmm ... Fermenting in an ice chest/cooler? Maybe worth a try to see if a temperature of 70dF could be achieved that way.

2) Use less levain. This would prolong the fermentation, but would also change the flavor profile toward more acid. A long fermentation in a warm (80dF) environment should increase lactic acid production. How much levain to use would have to be determined by trial and error, AFAIK.

3) Start with a cooler dough by using cooler water. Again, what temperature water for what ambient temperature? Over 12-15 hours, it seems to me that the dough temperature would equilibrate with the room temperature at some point. I'd guess in about 4-5 hours, at most. Longer if ice water were used. 

It seems to me that option 1) would be the best one. I'm going to do some experimenting.


FlourChild's picture

Gorgeous crusts and a wide open crumb- those are spectacular breads.

FWIW, when I was baking from his books the temps that seemed to make his timetables work were 65-68F.  As soon as I went over 68F, the breads were ready earlier than his earliest time frame suggested.  

dmsnyder's picture

I appreciate your kind words and the temperature guidelines. Thanks for sharing your experience.


jkandell's picture

I bake desem in a hot house a lot (tucson).  To add to your list:

4) add more salt!  


dabrownman's picture

that shows the reproductive rates of labs and yeast at various temperatures.  i used it on another post to show why breads are much more sour if retarded at low temperatures for long periods and at high temperatures for short times.

It also explains the FWSY dilemma of Ken's counter proofing times.  His are based on 70 F but David's kitchen is 80 F. You can see that the reproductive rates of yeast and labs are rough 1.8 times greater at 80 F then they are at 70 F.  So, a 12 hour Forkish proof at 70 F equates to a 6 1/2 hour proof at 80 F.  Nearly exactly what David experienced.  It is just science and luckily yeast is the most experimented on living thing ever by a wide margin and we know more about it than any other living thing.  Happy Baking and thanks to doc, Dough for his spreadsheet and happy baking.


Reproduction Rates of Labs and YeastL/Y 
T(°F)T (°C)L. SF IL. SF IIYeastRatio
     36       20.0190.0160.0053.787
     46       80.0470.0430.0212.222
     61     160.1440.1500.1141.265
     68     200.2390.2590.2251.064
     72     220.3010.3320.2951.021
     75     240.3740.4160.3651.024
     82     280.5350.5980.4171.284
     86     300.6090.6720.3461.760
     90     320.6580.7060.2023.255
dmsnyder's picture

That table is very instructive, but it documents organism doubling times. The data for fermentation rates and lactic and acetic acid production are also relevant. Perfect control would take account of all these variables. 

What Forkish (and, most baking book authors) does is keep temperature constant, choose a schedule and formulate a recipe to give good results. What we're seeing is, if you loose control of any one of the important variables, you have to compensate by adjusting one or more of the other variables as best you can to still get good results.

My experience and, I am learning, that of many others suggests that, if you can duplicate Forkish's environment, ingredients and procedures, you get fabulous results. But, I'm thinking that his recipes are much less resilient to changes in conditions than, say, Hamelman's.  With Hamelman's breads, I have to make minor adjustments according to the season, but his formulas are pretty darned bulletproof. Forkish's are not. This is not a fatal shortcoming. The baker just has to be aware of it and make adjustments accordingly. 

As some one already mentioned in this topic or another, Forkish "pushes the limits" until things fall apart, then backs off a little. He leaves less wiggle room by choice. I'm not going to forget that!

Happy baking, indeed! 


dabrownman's picture

perfect control but any baker shouldn't.  No one can afford more than 80% control anyway.  That last 20% of control costs a fortune to get, to get it right and with diminishing returns the closer you get to perfection.  Perfection isn't worth much as a result.   I don't have any problem with Ken Forkish or any other bread book writer as they are all poretty darn good and professional enough.  If they say to use 70 Fdegrees for a counter temprature for my formula - we should.  They should also say what to do it it is higher or lower too don't you think ....if it so important?

We have no idea what is in their starter for yeast and bacteria and no idea what else is in there and I could care less. Al I can tell you mine is different but acts just like there does to some extent within reason.  My SD soup makes lactic and acetic acid and CO2 gas and all kinds of other stuff I couldn't care less about - just like theirs does.

I can't mimic their flours even if knew what they were and could get the same batch - which would be impossible since their writings and flours  are very old by the time I see them and I am buying grains today to grind where they may not even grind their own flours.  I don't have access to the water they use either but I paid $1,500 for my RO over  25 years ago and I'm using it no matter what to get some payback on the expense :-)  I use pink Himalayan sea salt - they don't - at least no mine.

So the whole flour, water, salt, and yeast thing is not worth talking about in my book.  I figure If I have nearly the same ingredients, same procedures, same temperature I should get similar but not exactly the same results - within 80%.

My SD starter has; labs that make acids, other compounds and CO2 and the yeast make CO2, and other compounds just like theirs does.  Trying to control things outside of your control leads to nothing but frustration.  I'm not going to get Ken's starter, water, flour or salt and I am never going to get his taste but he is not going to get mine either.

But I know; what I can control,  what higher and lower hydration means for labs and yeast and what higher and lower temperature means for them,  what lower protein and gluten means for the bread, and what more and less salt means.  It isn't difficult - the science is well known.  Knowing how to compensate for more or less of any variable is what separates a good baker from one that is less so.

If folks try their best to get the ingredients right in the right proportions and the right temperature they should get a Forkish bread as near the same as they can get with what they have = to within 80%.  In this case, the temperature is the only variable assuming we did the best we could for everything else. 

Science says, if you have everything else the same as you can get it, the proofing time Shoild be 6.5 hours instead of 12 hours plus or minus a little bit simply because the temperature is 10 F higher and that difference in temperature fully accounts for a much less proofing time  =  6.5 hours and nothing else.  If it came out to something else, than the science is all wrong or we didn't do our best, as sloppy bakers, to duplicate the other variables as best we could.

But as ovens change, humidity changes, temperature changes over time, flours and  water are different not to mention starter differences - getting 80% of what Forkish does is pretty darn good and not many can afford more perfection than that. 

But, he can't get more than 80% of your SFSD either and I know yours tastes better, with more sour than his does since i've made both. But yours, isn't as sour or tasty as mine In my book either ....since I use more whole grains, more variety of them and do much more to promote sour in my SFSD that you do - but I won't get your holes as a result either   - but who the heck does? :-)

You can't duplicate my bread any more than you or I can duplicate Forkish's perfectly.  But, we can all get to 80% of all of them no worries.  I think Forkish's  recipes are as bullet proof as any other baker with a book published but he is closer to the edre and should warn folks that the temperature needs to be watched but.maybe he just expects that people know this simple fact - and they should too. 

No formula for any bread is as bullet proof as your San Joaquin.  My personal experience and experiments that nearly burned down the house clearly prove this fact too.  But, if you take the temperature up or down 10 F for 12 hours on the counter  or the say 18 hours in the fridge and every formula by all of them fail miserably.

What we do know is that this Forkish recipe needs to be made at 70 F degrees counter temperature to work as described in the book.   Science and experimental data says that it will produce a mild sour taste which is also on the bland side of the scale with an open crumb as a result of the starter, flour, nyudration temperature and procedures used to make it.  It can't be 80% of anything else.  Sadly, the hardest part for any baker to control is the temperature of anything at any time.

So the story goes.... that almost every one of my bread failures were due to over proofing or over fermenting and not the formula,  Same problem - watching the clock instead of the dough :-)  I for one will never learn !

Happy baking David

dmsnyder's picture

Perfection is always just over the horizon. Enjoy the journey.

For your problem remembering to watch the dough rather than the clock, maybe printing out this and taping it over all the clocks in your kitchen would help:

Happy baking, DaBrownman!


SylviaH's picture

And, you liked the flavor.

You've inspired me to pick this book up again and read.  When I first received it I glanced through it and the main thing I noticed was the proofing time would not work, for me it seemed.  I put the book down and haven't opened it since...thinking it was another repeat with a few changes...that's what I get for glancing and lack of focus. 

Thanks, David


PS  now might be the perfect time for fermenting outdoors.  8pm to 8am my average outside temperature 65 degrees.

rossnroller's picture

Hi David

Glad to see a post from you on the Forkish book. I decided a while back not to buy any more bread books, since I already have a small library of them, mostly under-exploited. But I've been tempted by FWSY - and you have triggered an impulse to promote it from Wish List to Shopping Cart! So thanks (I think!).

Where I live the summers are extreme and long. I've tried reducing the levain content and the other usual strategies to deal with very high ambient temps such that the bulk proof time could be extended, but was never very satisfied with the results. Seemed I couldn't find a way around reducing the bulk proof to a shorter period than desired. I always do an overnight retardation, so that part of the process was not an issue.

Last year, it occurred to me that there must be a way to counter extremely high ambient temps by using the fridge for the bulk as well as the final proof. I posted here in search of a reliable strategy and received some good tips, but one from Trailrunner was so simple and logical that it leapt out at me. I tried it, made a couple of adaptations and have not looked back since.

My summer baking process is follows (and I've added a few explanatory clarifications for the benefit of others less experienced than you who may read the thread):

  • Include salt at the initial mixing stage with the objective of slowing the initial fermentation during the 'autolyse' (40 mins is my usual).
  • Do the entire bulk proof in the fridge. This is 3 hours for my standard pain de campagne; obviously the time will vary according to recipe and starter quality. Experimentation will be necessary. Also, I start with a S&F before fridging, then do two more at 50 min intervals, but YMMV.
  • After last S&F, leave dough out of fridge for rest of BP period.
  • Preshape, rest 10 mins, shape, then put into fridge for final proof - 10 hours in my case.
  • Bake straight out of fridge next day.

I have been delighted with the quality of bread achieved using this simple approach. My summer loaves have a lovely flavour all their own, which has to be related to the fridge proofing.

The original thread includes some excellent observations and comments from some TFL regulars, and can be found here.
Hope some of the above may be of help.


dmsnyder's picture

Thank you for taking the trouble to share your experience. 

The routine you ended up with shares elements with both of my compensatory strategies - In the first, I did the BF then retarded the dough in bulk. I did not retard the shaped loaves. In the second, I did the BF at room temp, divided and shaped, then retarded the formed loaves overnight. You did a double retardation, as I understand it. Salting the levain is a good idea.

My next trial is going to be trying a long BF in an ice chest. 


Mebake's picture

Seems like an Interesting book indeed, David! Other TFL members have posted their lovely version of the blonde, and now you. How fabulous! the crumb is so open and attractive, as always.

Now, another book lining up behind Tartine, pleading to be bought.

-Khalid's picture

I believe it was I who reported here that KF "pushes processes to the limits and then dials back." That edgy philosophy will likely keep anyone from calling his recipes bulletproof. But when they work, the results are terrific. By contrast, JH's rather more conservative (flavor and process-wise) approach has made BREAD a bestselling classic. For my baking, the value of KF/FWSY (and to varying extents, that of any new bread book I read, or week's worth of TFL posts for that matter) is learning that the parameters within which I've been baking are not natural, absolute limits, but merely the extent circumscribed by my experience, learning and adventurousness to date. There is a nearly infinite universe of flavor space to be explored by stretching formulas and processes, allowing biology to run its course farther than a particular recipe may have suggested it safely can. FWSY shines there.

I've come to attribute some of the curiously potent allure of bread baking to that very aspect of the pastime: the calendar and biology conspire to never render the outcomes identical (but nearly always satisfying) for us home bakers with tenuous control over temperature and, often as well, our baking schedules. Yet it always strikes me how uniform products appear from a given baker! Your KF Overnight Country Blonde looks not-coincidentally very similar to your SFBI miches and other bakes, and less so to another TFL poster's KF OCB. In fact, if presented with a lineup of five identical formula/process breads from you, Khalid, dabrownman, txfarmer and Shao Ping, I'll bet the majority of TFL regulars could pick out who baked which. Speaks volumes for bread baking's peculiar version of terroir. Called "experimenter bias" in my day job.

On a less philosophical note, I tabled KF's long room-temp bulk when summer ramped up here. I attribute the nearly (but not entirely) uniquely successful bake of his Overnight Country Brown that I posted to conditions in my kitchen and "warm spot" happening to be just right for that approach back last winter when I baked and posted it. Too many overfermented doughs followed, as our house thawed out in March. Attempts to reduce inocula amounts were as varyingly successful as was KF's original formula. I've provisionally adopted a personal baking maxim now that goes something like No blind bulks in warm months. That is, no setting up an Overnight Country Brown bulk fermentation before bed unless I can count on monitoring it during sleep-walking (not). "Watch the dough, not the clock" applies to bulk as well as proof, anywhere outside of the fridge. On that note, I've been experimenting very satisfyingly with Phil/Pips's recent process snippet of doing the entire bulk in the fridge (from his winter down-under bake post, curiously enough). Marvelous so far in our ~80˚F house.



dabrownman's picture

one with Toadies in it that looked over-proofed :-)  You are right all of my bread look the same  My wife says they taste the same  She is wrong because she thinks that pumpernickel  tastes like Mello Yellow, semolina, corn and pistachio bread. :-)

I'm with you.  The only time i can do a Forkish bake is in the dead of winter with the heat turned off, or do it with a 2 hour bulk on the counter shape and put it in the fridge for 10 hours and then let it finish proofing in the morning on the counter. Can't be too much difference in the 2 results.

Very insightful post Tom!

dmsnyder's picture

The routine Ross describes and also Phil's (I think) are very similar to what I do with the San Joaquin Sourdough and the Bouabsa baguettes. They are all somewhat like what Gosselin does with his Pain à l'Anciènne. Although Bouabsa and Gosselin said they were primarily after a long bulk fermentation in the interest of flavor development, one wonders if the temperature of their bakeries was the original problem they were trying to solve. 

I'm going to give the ice chest solution a try. Otherwise, refrigeration may be the best solution. I might consider buying a mini-fridge. I don't have the expertise in electronics to build one myself.

Anyway, we keep reinventing the wheel, but that's okay. You understand something better if you "invent" it rather than following step-by-step instructions without participation of your pre-frontal cortex.

Re. "the curiously potent allure of bread baking:" I think you are correct. Rewards (great bread) which come at unpredictable intervals are called "intermittent reinforcement" by behavioral psychologists. This has been found to be the ultimate motivator of persistent effort, much better than getting rewarded equally with every attempt.

David's picture

To be sure, nihil sub sole novum when it comes to bread baking.

A man as aware of the vintage of the wine whose case supplied his baguette flipping board as I recall you are (were), David, must be a serious enough oenophile to justify acquiring a wine cooler (multiple uses!) to achieve what that "ice chest solution" may be frustratingly ineffective at delivering reliably.  Or perhaps you already have a wine cooler but sullying it with such other fermentations would be bad form, or taint the vintages developing character nearby.


dmsnyder's picture

I don't have a wine cooler. I don't like the appearance of the free-standing ones. If I were building a custom house, I would build in a wine room/cellar. I may indeed end up buying a "dorm room size" fridge, and I have no problem with wine and bread dough co-habitting. 


MichaelH's picture

I bought one from Walmart about 2 years ago, it is about the size of a dishwasher and cost $110. I can adjust the temp to as low as 34F and as high as 48F. I works well for retarding breads and I only turn it on for that purpose.

Sjadad's picture


I attempted the overnight country brown.  My kitchen is about 70 degrees (the miracle of A/C) so over proofing wasn't my problem. I was out of rice flour so I used plain white wheat flour to coat my bannetons. It was a complete disaster!  When I attempted to unmold the loaves they stuck to the bannetons. The result was that half the loaf eventually plopped onto the counter and the other half remained in the banneton, with strands of dough hanging down like stalagtites.  This was my greatest bread-baking failure ever!  I baked what I could anyway. The loaves came out very flat, but they were delicious. Amazingly, what little crumb there was had a nice holey texture and was quite creamy. The crust was very good too. 

I've been trying to figure out what went wrong. Hard to believe that the absence of rice flour in the bannetons could be the only reason for the failure. I'm thinking I must have measured wrong and the dough's hydration was too high. I'll try it again and see what happens. 


DulceBHbc's picture

Dmsnyder, I wanted to ping you specifically because I'm going to make this tomorrow. Before I get into the details of my query, let me say that this will be only my second bread using a starter. I made my first one (the Tartine recipe) earlier this week on a schedule that was completely off from Chad Robertson's recommended time frames, yet I still got a decent-looking and tasting loaf. Anyway:

I want to give Forkish's Overnight Country Blonde a go. I have a starter that I got from a fellow baker in the L.A. area. I believe she started it per Tartine's "recipe." I've been keeping only 9 grams of the "mother" starter or so, feeding it every morning and evening with 9 grams of 50/50 whole wheat and white flour and 9 grams of water. So I think that makes it a 100% hydration starter, yes? The total weight of the starter is 27 grams. I saved a bunch of refuse/extra in the refrigerator should I run out of room-temperature starter.

The starter is pretty active. It seems great. I am wondering if I can use this starter to create the OCB.

If so, I want to halve Forkish's recipe (one loaf rather than two). I also don't want leftover levain (he instructs to make 1000g of levain when the final dough only requires 216g of the stuff!). Given these criteria, this is what I calculated for the formula:


12.5g mature, active levain (my starter)
50g white flour
12.5g whole-wheat flour
50g water

Total weight: 125g (a little more than the 108g—216g of what's called in the original recipe divided by 2—I need to make one loaf)

Final dough

402g white flour
13g whole-wheat flour
25g rye flour
342g water
11g fine sea salt
108g levain

Do these numbers look correct?

I also have a question about step "1a." When it says, "Feed the levain About 24 hours after your previous feeding of the levain, discard all but 100 grams [in my case, just 12.5g] of levain . . . " In this step, I can assume that levain = my extant starter, correct?

Thanks in advance for answering my questions. I want to get this all sussed out before embarking on the recipe. I don't want it to come out a dud!

dmsnyder's picture

Robertson's levain and Forkish's should be pretty interchangeable. 

Without going to the book, your formulas look correct for what you want to do. 

Step 1a. means make the levain for this loaf using a "mature, active levain," meaning it had been fed within the preceding 24 hours.

The biggest risk of making a dud with this formula is paying more attention to the clock than to the dough. Watch out for over-fermenting and over-proofing in a warm kitchen.

Good luck!


DulceBHbc's picture

Wow, I didn't expect such a quick response. I'm going to try it out tomorrow, starting with feeding the levain.

I just had some anxiety about my room-temperature starter because it didn't look as bubbly and didn't smell as acidic as the starter in my refrigerator. I ended up throwing it out and started anew (of sorts) with the retarded/sleeping starter in my refrigerator, which I collected from the various feeds throughout the week (instead of throwing out the extra/spent fuel).

I'm wondering if you can share with me how your "mature, active levain" might look like before you use it. I see conflicting accounts of the appearance of a ready-to-go starter:

To this: 

Before I tossed out my room-temperature starter, it looked more like #2. The first photo looks out of control—almost as though it was overhydrated.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I generally bake with something that looks much more like your photo 2 because that is what my starter looks like after a week or so of not being fed.  I take 18 grams or a tablespoon of it, disperse it in the water, mix in the flour and let it sit for half the day and it creates a nice active levain (or freshly fed starter if you like).

dmsnyder's picture

The Forkish breads, like Chad Robertson's, call for a young levain. One as bubbly as that in the first photo is probably way over-ripe. The aroma should be fruity more than acetic acid sharp. There should be bubbles on the surface and throughout, but not foam on top.

That said, one of the things that often confuses new sourdough bakers is the signs of a ripe, active starter. These signs are different for a firm starter (50% hydration) versus a liquid starter (100-125% hydration). 

I am activating some starter today for baking breads on Sunday. I'll take some photos and post them, but it might not be until early next week.


DulceBHbc's picture

I began the process for the Overnight Country Blonde tonight. I fed my starter at 8 am this morning, and when I got home, it looked as though it was just about ready. It smelled good—a slight tang, but nothing too acidic—and when I put my spatula in to take some out to build the levain, it collapsed to reveal a wonderful web.

Say I want to use 13 g of the starter. Does it matter if it's a firm starter or a more liquid starter? Does the difference in the density affect the outcome of the bread besides the taste? In other words, would it expand less, be flatter, etc.? Really basic question, but I want to understand how starters can be manipulated to achieve desired looks, textures, flavors, etc.

I'm looking forward to see photos of your starter. Do you typically leave a collection in the fridge 'til you're ready/have time to use them? 

dmsnyder's picture

Liquid and firm starters are different in the flavors they produce, slightly. The more important difference is hydration, of course. This matters when the starter is a significant percentage of the final dough.

If you are talking about 13 g of starter, I assume that is to mix with more flour and water to make a levain. So, the hydration will make a difference or not depending on how much additional flour and water you add, how many builds you are planning on before mixing the levain in the final dough, and the hydration of the levain you are building.

Dulce, you are asking good questions. The issues you about which you are asking suggest it's time for you to get a good book that will provide a comprehensive overview of sourdough baking and levain management. You are not going to get the understanding I think you want by fragmented learning.


DulceBHbc's picture

Do you have a book recommendation that gives a good primer/understanding of starters, levain, etc.?

I currently have FWSY and the Tartine book. I've read through the FWSY chapter on levain, but frankly am still a little mystified about the difference between levain and starter (he conflates them, I think), and I've yet to do a close reading of Robertson's book.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Two names for the same thing, which is why people use them interchangeably.  It is less confusing if you think of it this way:

The stuff you keep on the counter or the fridge is starter.If you bake in two steps by taking only a little of that "starter" (say, up to 100 grams of it) and mixing it up with some flour and water which you let sit for a while and then use to bake, you've created a "levain".

But it really doesn't matter, as you may now notice ... if you did not bake with your "levain" you would just have a lot more starter.  If you bake with "a lot of starter" you would be using a "levain".

Don't get tied up in terminology. The things to focus on are how long has it been since it has been fed, and how much of it do you need to get to the next step.

dmsnyder's picture

I would say Jeff Hamelman's Bread still heads the list, although there are many other good books on it. If you are interested in having access to a very wide variety of breads and bread making techniques with clearly written instructions, get Bread. If you do, read and study the introductory materials. The formulas themselves assume you have done so.

Re. definitions: Levain is French. Sourdough Starter is English. That's the difference. There are lots of other terms used, but few have a standardized definition.


Rick Dooling's picture
Rick Dooling

FWSY is my favorite book. And Overnight Country Blonde and Brown are our two favorite breads.

Just got a grinder and some berries and will be trying them using different percentages of whole wheat.