The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My bread journey: 13 months of sourdough baking

kenhill85's picture

My bread journey: 13 months of sourdough baking

Warning: Many photos ahead!

Hey folks,

I had a good chuckle the other day as I was going through my photos of all the bakes I ever did over the course of 13 months (Tip: If you use Google photos, searching for "bread" is a fun exercise!). I thought I'd share this journey with you as I somewhat felt that I have now arrived "somewhere" – far from where I was thinking I was going, yet in a place, where I am pretty happy about the bread I make and about the consistency I achieve. I'm posting not all the photos, yet all the ups and downs I encountered... always fun to see someone else struggle! So without further ado...

My first loaf ever. Inspired by watching "the french guy cooking" on youtube, I followed the 1-2-3-recipe he proposed, combined with a process I had seen on "Ellie's everyday" baking, where the loaf essentially proofs in the parchment and then just gets lifted into the dutch oven. The crust was thin, the oven spring... well.. yeah, there were some bubbles, so my self-made sourdough was somewhat alive!

And its crumb...

Two photos above: My second bake. More whole-grain. Pancake. Yeah.

Back then, I didn't know what a "fool's crumb" is. Naturally, I didn't even know who Trevor was. ;)

Three photos above: A nice collection of pancakes. However, they did teach me important lessons: Despite the fact that they turned out flat, the fermentation was further ahead (compared to all those underproofed loaves of the start.

Three photos above: I got "inspired" by fancy scoring videos on instagram. Sigh. But hey, I start seeing some bubblage.

My first ear of sorts!! 

And yet, the next bread was a pancake. A delicious one, but no consistency. My process is all over the place. No notes, just mixing and matching ideas as I start to read about "Tartine" (everybody falls into that trap, I guess: 80% hydration? Can't be so hard!!). No shaping skills, no ability to read fermentation, weak starter that I didn't feed right.

Above: Oh I remember this bake. I had @not.a.crumb.left on the phone as she was giving me LIVE SUPPORT through this bake. Pretty much all I know about baking I owe to this lovely lady in the UK (and I discovered her own bread journey on this very forum, thinking that somebody who still only recently had spectacularly overcome the early problems of sourdough baking might be better at explaining it to me... boy, was I right!)

Four photos above: The first loaves I considered a success back then! Champlain recipe, tons of stretch and fold... and some height and oven spring!

See that Trevor'esque scoring above? Ha!

Three above: Wow, instagram really made me do this. But I got some fermentation going, so that's something.

Two above: Another set of champlains, I think I plateaued at that height for a bit. Kind of OK (my wife thought they were good!), but I was never really happy as I started to see all the tall, round loaves on here and on instagram!

Above: My first batch production for a birthday party. Proud.

Two above: Champlain. Plateau. Why don't I get those big bubbles like the kids on insta?

Er. Yeah. What did I do to achieve this? No idea!

Fool's crumb time!! 

My first batards! And a porridge loaf as I got bored of all those Champlains! 

Walnut-Oat-Porridge. Still one of my favorite flavours! 

Oh, my first quinoa porridge loaf. I was proud. The first "tall" and round loaf in my collection.

And another oat/walnut porridge

And its crumb (about 35% WG)

Above: This was the crumb of the quinoa porridge.

Three above: Some more porridge loaves. Kinda plateaued there, as well. Only small improvements through developing gluten early before mixing in the porridge... Small inoculations, so 5-6h bulks.. what a chore!

My first back-to-Champlain. And all of a sudden, some volume!

Its crumb... my first tall Champlain. What did I do differently? I think I started to push bulk more. Focused more on gluten development. Trevor doesn't do slap and folds, but I figured thanks to Kat's help that I should try it. Rubaud is great and all, but I don't seem to have the patience for it. So slap and fold was a real game-changer for me!

Six photos above: My first "streak" of consistency in the champlain "round and tall" category. As everything had been quite inconsistent in the past, this was the first time that I thought that "I now understand why something worked". And as mentioned above, I think it was mostly about better fermentation (watch the time, not the clock, we all heard that before), better gluten development and... good old "small improvements" overall. 


Now, let's jump into "modern day", Summer 19: I approached a small bakery here in Berlin that's just starting out. They're called "Brot ist Gold", run by two Ex-Adidas guys that decided they wanted to try something else in life. I asked if I could just join them to get some more hands-on experience. To my surprise, they kind of liked what I was doing at this stage, so they just gave me their recipe, which is a pretty "normal" wheat loaf, yet with a few twists: 20% inoculation (compared to 10% in a Champlain!), much better suited for their production times meant only 3h bulk, and it's around 76% hydration. They have a Rofco in the store for workshops, so I baked, again with Kat's help, in there: 


Above: The loaf I'm holding is mine, the ones in the background are theirs. I was able to "fool" customers in a blind tasting! :) 


... and that's the present: A pretty consistent outcome, only disturbed by the occasional fluctuations.. some days, my starter (his name is Siegfried, btw) is a bit slow, some days it goes crazy... but that's the sourdough life, I guess :) Meanwhile, I spent some time in their production and helped shape hundreds of loaves. And, of course, the first day I completely got my a$$ handed to me by the team – these folks know how to handle wet dough with speed and a tension that you wouldn't believe. Being a decent home baker and a pro baker... those are two very different things! 

If you happen to live in Berlin, I now actually started giving home baking workshops  for beginners at Brot ist Gold –  the next one happening next week and some dates to be announced by their newsletter! If you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to hear them!


DanAyo's picture

An extremely  impressive evolution!

What are some of the highlights of your discoveries that most benefited your breads?


not.a.crumb.left's picture

and what a beautiful summary and write up of your journey! Everybody's bread becomes a little bit like a fingerprint and recognizable.....

I love how through posts and photos we can create a diary of our bread making experience and wow...look at those amazing and stunning loaves!  Sooo many of them! That Champlain 'bread audio conference' Berlin - Suffolk, was so much fun and  still makes me smile! What a journey and going stronger and stronger...:D Kat

ifs201's picture

Your hard work has really paid off! Your loaves are just outstanding. I've just been baking since June and would love to hear some techniques/tips that made the biggest impact for you.


I've been doing slap and fold and some stretch and fold, but I think I'm going to try coil folds and lamination this weekend as I'm still struggling with getting the holes I'd like. 

Benito's picture

I did slap and folds with my last bake and today with another dough did slap and folds and coil folds.  I have to say that so far I'm really enjoying doing slap and folds and the coil folds.  The coil folds really seem to build the gluten well and seems so much more gentle than my stretch and folds.  I haven't been brave enough to try lamination yet, maybe in the future.


Benito's picture

Ken that is totally impressive the improvements you’ve made over the course of the 13 months.  I hope I can continue to improve with each bake as you did and eventually get your amazing results.  Thanks for sharing your sourdough journey with us.


Filomatic's picture

Great post!  I love watching the evolution.  You've turned into a great baker!

kenhill85's picture

Hey folks, 

thank you for the wonderful responses! As requested, here are some thoughts on what made the biggest difference:


1) Really, really watching the dough for a 30-50% volume increase instead of the clock. So many of my early bakes were underproofed since I went for low-inoculation recipes (Champlain being one of them) that just got me impatient after 5h!

2) Watching temperatures. Realizing that my kitchen is quite chilly in winter. Investing in a heating pad to get the dough to bulk at 25C.

3) Getting my starter nice and vigorous before baking. Sluggish starters make for sluggish breads. 3 feeds a day for at least two days makes mine go pretty wild!

4) Gluten development: Do slap and folds unless you are Trevor (hey, man!) 

5)  coil folds instead of stretch and fold... Small improvement, but I like the dough structure it gives. Overall: Tension, tension, tension... 

6) Take detailed notes of each bake, document like crazy about which flours, percentages, hydration, etc. - I used to believe that for my WG portion it doesn't matter what I use - they all behave differently! 

7) Sticking to one recipe helped me focus a lot

8) Somehow my batards always come out nicer than my boules so I stick to batards. Narrow bannetons create taller loaves for me. 

9) Actually, that one is a good one: I reduced my hydration quite a bit until I got comfortable with it, still rarely venture above 76% unless with a lot of WG. All this Tartine craze made me think that I should be able to handle 80% hydration from the start

10) Speaking of hydration, using a good bread flour made a big difference in gluten and "thirst"/capacity for hydration. Germany doesn't have high gluten flours in supermarkets, so I get my bread flour in a small shop

11) Naturally, watching tons and tons of shaping videos, reading Trevor's book "Open crumb mastery", following lovely people like Kat on on Instagram for inspiration :)

12) Overnight cold proof makes for better ovenspring. Knowing your fridge's temps is important, too. Mine is almost 12C in the top, 4C in the bottom. Sometimes I but some underbulked dough in the middle part to finish off a slow bulk overnight if I run out of time for shaping on the same day

13) Scoring: Check out orchid_shine on Instagram for nice ears :)


I think that's about all I got for today - there might be more in the coming days! Have a good weekend! 

DanAyo's picture

Ken, do you autolyse and if so, please describe your method?


kenhill85's picture

Hey Danny, 

Good question: I first started doing the Trevor-Champlain-style overnight autolyse (worth mentioning: In Kat's case, this turned her dough into soup) as my flour is quite high in gluten, it took it really well. Then I migrated to Kristen's (@fullproofbaking) method of doing AL during starter build, so around 3h before mixing. No big difference, in my case! Recently, with the shop's recipe, I even cut it down to an hour with no downside so far. So my process looks like this:

About 3h before Build Levain until doubled, AL either now or at the latest 1h before mixing

0 Mix all (Levain & AL) & rubaud

0.5h Add water, salt & slap and fold a la Bertinet

1h 1. Fold (all coil folds) 

1.5h  2. Fold

2h 3. Fold

3h 4. Fold and, if I have a high inoculation dough, it has increased volume enough at this point to go to preshape... If it's a low inoculation I'll bulk up to 6h with widely spaced folds. Then bench rest 30 mins or longer if I noticed that I should have bulked longer, or shorter respectively 

3,5h final shape and directly into cold proof


Baking the next day right from the fridge, making sure to pre-heat in between bakes at 250C