The Fresh Loaf

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dolfs's picture

Many a Sunday my wife and son buy a boule at the local farmer's market which they call Spinach Cheese Bread, even though it has lots of other veggie stuff in it too. They like it, so for last week's baking session I decided to try and make my own.

First problem was no recipe available on the Internet that seemed to make what I wanted. So I had to make my own. I decided to use frozen chopped spinach, mild gouda cheese (what else to expect from a Dutchman), and I also wanted to have a portion of whole wheat flour in it. I've made whole wheat bread before and using a poolish did wonders for my schedule as well as for the dough and overall taste. So, I decided this one was to use a poolish too!

I've also been working on a spreadsheet the allows me to do all baker percentage calculations (helps with recipe scaling and design). While I was at it, I added an ingredient database to it with cost information, hydration information and specific gravity for ingredients so I can correctly convert weight measurements to volumes for those we like to bake that way. You'll find a PDF of this recipe here.

A few words about the spreadsheet

The spreadsheet's yellow cells is where you input your desired values (this includes ingredients). A "Y" in the "Pre" column indicates an ingredient that is part of a preferment. A "P" indicates an ingredient that is a separately created preferment. Although there are different options for baker's percentages when using preferments, I have chosen to express everything as percentages of dough in the overall recipe. Note that tap water temperature, mixer friction and baking loss are specific to my situation (and an estimate I am still refining for each type of bread for the loss, mostly evaporation, and friction).

The component temperatures are to be entered on the bottom, if you want to be precise with final dough temperature. If necessary it will calculate how much ice to add to the water if it needs cooling (rarely the case in my home baking). The spreadsheet automatically adjusts for the number of components that have a temperature specified so if you do not enter a value for the preferment (presumably because you are not using one), the factor will be 3 instead of 4.

Some measurements in the "US Weight" column are given in tablespoons etc. The spreadsheet does this if the actual value as a weight becomes so small that, with most scales, you can not accurately measure. Since I have (pretty accurate) specific gravity values for the ingredients, I can quite reliably (subject to all the fallacies of measuring volumes: packed, spooned, shifted) give the volume. I use a scale accurate to 1 gram myself, but for these small amounts, a small measuring spoon workds great (I have a set for dashes, smidgens, and pinches as well).

Hydration is calculated by computing the water content of all ingredients that are composed 50% or more of water and adding them up. That catches water, milk, eggs etc., but does not count water content in dough. Cost is based on a home baker buying pretty regular ingredients in a super market. The exception is that I use KA prices for my flour as I will not use the cheap stuff.

The recipe

Making the poolish is straightforward. I make it the night before and leave it on the counter (about 68F), and it'll be close enough to ready the next morning around 11AM. The amount of final dough in this recipe is about right for an 8" banneton (scaled up from what I used to make the one in the picture above, which got misshaped whe inverting onto the peel). Nevertheless, it is borderline not enough to knead properly in my KitchenAid so I finish with manual labor.

In the last minute or two of kneading I add the cheese (room temperature, cubed in 1/4" pieces), and spinach. I made the mistake of not squeezing enough water out of the thawed spinach, so my dough got too wet and I had to add flour (not represented in the recipe because you should squeeze it out).

Next bulk ferment, about 90 minutes in my case. I did a fold about half way through. Next degas and preshape. Twenty minutes relaxing and final shaping.

I preheated oven at 500F, with water for pre-steam added in a baking pan in the last few minutes. Invert the bread out of the banneton onto parchment paper on the peel. Scored in a \ | / pattern, a sprayed with water. Into the over on baking stone, more water in the pan for steaming. Spray oven walls with water twice, 30 seconds apart after putting loaf in the oven. Then reduce to 475F.

Baked for a total of 35 minutes, oven vented for last 10. Here was the result.

JMonkey's picture

I baked quite a bit this weekend, but, though it may seem I did nothing but bake, I really didn't. The nice thing about baking, especially now that I'm using the stretch and fold technique instead of traditional kneading, is that there's actually very little hands-on time required, except for bagels -- I'm sure it would work, but I don't want them to ferment that long before popping them in the fridge. So I still sometimes need to knead.

Saturday morning, we had sourdough whole wheat bagels. This time, though, I used a wet, 100% hydration starter. I think the sourdough tang was more pronounced, but it could very well be that I tasted what I expected to taste.

Later that evening, we had Desem bread. This loaf was not my best. Once again, I put the loaf on a hot stone and put the bell top the cloche over it. Once again, I pinched the edge of the loaf, which gave me a flat, burnt edge and prevented full oven spring. Still, it was tasty and the crumb was relatively open. It went beautifully with the broccoli, red pepper and cheddar chowder. Also, I highly recommend this recipe for baked peas.

That evening, I made two loaves of our weekly sourdough sandwich bread. %&*#$@Qing bread STUCK on me. Well, just one loaf. And it didn't rip in half, it just sort of opened up the side a bit. Salvagable. I knew I wasn't being thorough enough greasing the pan. That'll teach me.

Today, I had to be a bit creative. I was eager to make a recipe for Spelt Focaccia from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grains Baking book. But I also had a meeting directly after church for our environmental committee.

I had a plan.

I packed the biga, all the dry ingredients in a big Tupperware, and a small Tupperware with the wet ingredients. Then, just before the meeting, I mixed it all up. After the meeting was done, I folded it, put it in the back of the wagon, and hauled the dough and my daughter back to the house (it's less than a mile away). Mission accomplished. The topping: roasted onions and olives.

I paired it with a simple salad and cream of asparagus soup.

The focaccia was good, though next time, I'll use plain olives instead of kalamata. Far too salty.

Next week, my folks are up and we're heading to Providence, RI, to try Al Fourno, the birthplace of grilled pizza! I'll report back. (Last week, btw, I visited the Cheese Board in Berkeley, Calif., which makes just one type of pizza every day. A real hole in the wall joint, with a sourdough crust. I loved the place -- we bought a bottle of wine and sat down in one of the six chairs they've got beside the three-man jazz band playing that night. The pizza? Eh. Was OK, but I wasn't wowed.)

AnnieT's picture

I have been spending waaaay too much time reading all of the interesting comments and hints - love the way people jump in to help. So I decided I have to try to do this "blog" thing - my kids think it is hysterical that Nana is learning such skills. Hope you will bear with me. I made a loaf of nkb today, using 1 cup of white whole wheat and 2 of bread flour (both King Arthur.) My dough was slightly firmer than the last loaf so the folding and shaping was easy. I placed the ball of dough on a square of parchment and dropped it into my banneton, and placed that on top of my propane stove which has the pilot light on still. I have tried several baking containers and have gone back to my stainless steel Dutch oven. I bought a Lodge preseasoned one and got charred bottom crusts each time, and I even bought a wide terracotta flower pot which worked well as long as I remembered the square of parchment over the hole! I was getting gummy crumb and scorched crusts when I tried to bake the bread for a longer time. I also figured I was dropping the dough and deflating it, hence the square of parchment paper. Now I lift the paper and gently lower it into my heated pot - great oven spring and no more gummy crumb. I am pre-heating to 450* and baking for 30 minutes with the lid on, then lowering to 400* for another 20 minutes. The crumb isn't as "holey" with the bread flour but the flavor is good. In case you think I only make the blob in the pot as I think someone called it, last week I made Mike Avery's Micha ( I think) bread using the stretch and fold method he shows on his video. What fun, and so delicious.

Maybe I should have introduced myself first? I am retired and live on Whidbey Island near Seattle. I have a senior one eyed Pug and recently adopted a senior Bengal cat from WAIF, the shelter here on Whidbey. Plus we live in a senior park. My only 2 grandchildren are here, and they LOVE Nana's bread. My son here is building their house and my daughter-in-law is the gardener on a large private estate. My other son lives in Paso Robles, CA, and I recently sent him some of my sourdough starter. He seems to be having fun with it and impressing his friends - they made pizzas last week. Not quite sure what the rules are about rambling. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy The Fresh Loaf, thank you.

mse1152's picture

Oh well...

After reading so much about people's love of the Thom Leonard country French bread, I decided to try it, following the steps in mountaindog's post. Here's the breakdown:

Starter: Early Thursday, I began the rye starter with a generous teaspoon of my active white starter, 1 T. dark rye and 1 T water; fed it the same rye and water amounts almost 6 hours later - had good bubbles at that point. Just before bed, discarded half of it, and fed same amounts again. Friday at about 6:45 a.m., I fed it 50g each of rye and water, without dumping anything. It doubled in 3 hours and was very bubbly!

Rye Starter
















Levain: I mixed the levain at 7:00 p.m. Friday. The starter had not moved up or down, and I wonder if I should have feed it once more; the instructions say you can feed the starter up to 12 hours before mixing the levain, so I thought I was in the ballpark. Next morning, Saturday, the levain looked like this at about 6:40 a.m. (no such thing as sleeping in with a toddler in the house):


TL Levain
















OK, looks good! I began mixing the dough around 7:00. I added no extra flour to knead, which I did for 10 minutes, then 5 more minutes after adding the salt. The dough was pretty firm, not sticky at all. I think mountaindog said it felt like piecrust dough to her, and I agree. Rested the dough for 30 minutes, then did the 3 S&F cycles with 30 minutes between each. The dough was easy to stretch out, but it felt like nothing much was happening until the 3rd cycle, when it began to feel like there was some growth going on. Then it sat in the bowl for the remaining 90 minutes, at about 69F.


Resting and Shaping: I divided the dough into 2 balls, and rested them for 15 minutes, then further shaped into boules and set them on parchment to proof (I don't have bannetons), on a baking stone. Heard plenty of bubbles popping as I tried to gently increase the tension.


Proofing: OK, here's where I deviated a little (busted!). I wanted to make sure the bread was baked before we went to a friend's house for dinner (pizza, go figure). So I used the proofing cycle in my oven, set to 85F. Covered the dough with oiled plastic, and set timers to check once an hour. After two hours, a small tragedy began to unfold:
















The dough had outgrown the stone; it felt nice and light, though. The top one in the picture is mangled because I had started to try to rescue it, then (in true Fresh Loaf fashion) thought to grab the camera for posterity. At first, I had dough damage panic, then I started to chuckle sort of oddly, and thought "Wait, I really meant to make oblong loaves...yes, that's right! Oblong!"


TL reshaped











's over, go on about yer business, folks...back in the warm oven they went for another hour (3 hours total proof).


Bake: Since mountaindog has posted about baking this bread from a cold start, I did that too. Set the oven to 425F and made some of the ugliest slashes I've done recently...too ugly to photograph in the raw. Here's how it all turned out:


TL loaves















They rose, and they look edible, but in a sorta grocery-store-ish way. Well, let's see what's inside, shall we?




TL crumb















The holes were left on the cutting room floor! Though I think that any degassing during the reshaping didn't affect the interior of the loaves; I don't think the crumb would have been open even if the boules had proofed fully untouched. The flavor is mild and it's quite edible, with a slight tangy aftertaste, but I was disheartened at this result. Sounds pretty civilized, eh? Actually, I pouted a bit and exercised my vocabulary, if you know what I mean.

So I'd like to ask the Leonard veterans if anything I described in the procedure sounds like the culprit...other than extreme dough-handling mid-proof. Maybe that's the only problem, who knows?

Now I'm off to go check on TT and JMonkey's starter escapades...


tattooedtonka's picture

Well today has not been my day.  It started out o.k., fed the starters, took my photos, and set out to start constructing a Marbled Loaf.  The goal was to take 3 different colored doughs, (green, white, pink) and mix them into a wonderful round loaf with the colors swirling throughout.

Well I got as far as having all 3 doughs made out.  The green dough was a Spinach dough.  The white was a plain sweetened dough, and the pink was a tomato dough.  This recipe was out of Bernard Clayton's "New Complete Book of Breads". 

Now I have seen photos of this finished bread in another book at the bookstore, but it didnt post a recipe for it.  How elated I was to find it in this book.  However, soon after the three were in their seperate bowls my mutitasking began.  Unfortunately, my muti's surpassed my abilitites to task.  And my poor doughs sat waaayyy tooo looonnnggg before I was able to get back to them.  About 2 1/2 hours too long.  When I finally got back home, I did what I could to salvage my debacle.  I just did a simple braid, baked and hoped for the best.

Oh well, I will try again next weekend.

I just cut open the loaf, it tastes good, the spinach section is my favorite.  The tomato, would be my least favorite.  This however could be because of my errors.  I will try this again, just to see what it tastes like done correctly.


Floydm's picture

On Mother's Day I found myself without a prepped starter or poolish. There were some leftover mashed potatos in the fridge, so I hit the cookbooks and found a recipe that fit the bill in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads.

This made wonderfully soft, sweet rolls. They weren't as rich as brioche, but they certainly tasted much richer than what I normally bake. The crumb was even and very soft, soft enough that my 2 year old was petting it.

Soft! "Purr purr"

Sister Jennie's Potato Bread Makes 1 dozen rolls 1 cup mashed potatoes 2 eggs 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup warm water 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter 2 teaspoons instant yeast 4 - 5 cups all-purpose flour

I combined everything and then let it rise until it had approximately doubled in size (90 minutes).

I scaled the rolls to between 4 and 5 ounces, which was on the large size (almost hamburger bun sized). There is enough sugar in them that they need to baked at a fairly low temperature and on a higher shelf than usual unless you want burned bottoms. I believe I baked them for around 20 minutes at 375.

bluezebra's picture

So I decided to start a baking blog for this BlueZebra to keep track of my baking progress. Hopefully, some of the pros will stop in and offer their helpful suggestions and I will then have it compiled onto my site.

I am also going to ask Bill if he minds if I copy/paste his starter information to my blog so that I will also have it at the ready.

Tomorrow I am going to ignite the sparks that will hopefully lead to my first sourdough starter. I plan on using Mike Avery's starter recipe and instructions (he's at  ) and will also keep my eye peeled on the test being conducted between Tatooedtonka and JMonkey, which started today. I will also check on Bill to see how his new starter is going too.

One thought. Last night I made pizza dough using the PR Neo-neopolitan pizza dough recipe found on Floyd's Pizza Primer thread here at This is the second time I made this dough. I am a bit confused about the instructions for dough development since I don't own the American Pie book by PR that has the recipe in it. Floyd's recipe says to rapidly stir the wet dough mass then set it aside to rest for 3-5 minutes, then to repeat this process. Then to split it up into bags and refrigerate if not using immediately.

I followed these instructions last time and although the end pizzas were really good, I ended up having to knead the dough at the last minute which threw my dinner timing off. The dough wasn't developed at all and had no extensibility or elasticity. It had no "oomph" and was very flaccid and brittle. So this time, I decided to experiment on my own. I kneaded it in the bowl (which I will discuss in a minute) after I did the brisk stirring procedures. Then I put it through 3 french folds on the counter at 30 minute intervals. Then I put it through a bulk fermentation. And then split it up into 4 pieces of dough. Put two of them in oiled bags and into the freezer and kept two pieces of dough out.

Wow the difference was incredible! The first ball of dough fought me as I was making it. It was soft and had a beautiful texture but it obviously needed a rest to get over the final fold and the splitting. This was evidenced by the fact that doughball #2 did get a 60 minute rest as I worked with dough #1 and made and cooked the first pizza to give to Brian. Brian's crust did not have near the oven spring despite the fact that I wrestled it into shape and proofed it for 30 minutes on the parchment. He did say that the bottom was very nicely crisp. But that the inside was a little gummy. I baked it longer too. It baked for about 8 minutes at 550 and was brown on top. The dough was only about 1/8" maximum in the center going into the oven.

My dough had a 60 minute rest and was beautiful to work with for final pizza formation. I did not let it proof on the pan. I formed the pizza. Topped it. Baked it at 550 for about 8 minutes and it was great! Crispy bottom but it did have some gumminess in the center. I am thinking this is a drawback in this recipe. If I blind bake the crust without toppings for a couple of minutes, I'm afraid it will be too tough and overcooked. But, I will try this next week with one of the doughs as a test. I will cook the second one next week at a lower temp (like 425) for a longer amount of time and see what happens.

Now for the breakthrough: The dough was very wet. Not as wet as the pagnotta dough but still wet none-the-less. I worked it with vigor for about 2 minutes then set it aside for 5 minutes. Came back and worked it again for 2 minutes (at this point I was already seeing good gluten development). Then I set it aside for 20 minutes. When I came back, I decided to fold in the bowl. Knowing that it's actually the stretching portion that helps to develop the gluten, I used my big rubber one-piece spatula and in a folding motion, would sweep around to the bottom of the dough and pull the dough up as far as I could before bringing the pulled section down and over onto the middle of the dough mass. Each time I did this, I gave the bowl a 1/4 turn. I worked the dough like this for about 3 minutes. I lost track of how many stretch and rotations I did. But it was uber easy and very therapeutic.

The difference in dough texture from beginning of this step to the end of it was incredible! Night and day. The elasticity of the dough was really beautiful and towards the end I could pull the dough up so much higher with the spatula than I could in the beginning (before the dough showed signs of tearing). When I touched the mass in the bowl it immediately sprang back at me. So I covered the bowl and set it to rest for 30 minutes. Then came back and began the folding steps. I started the dough late and didn't have time to do a preferment. I started at around 2:30pm. It gave me plenty of time. It was a beautiful and bubbly dough. I think I will try the ciabatta dough by working it this way. The dough definitely seemed to like it!

Another important note: I was really skeptical that 1 tsp. of idy yeast would be enough for this recipe with 5 cups of flour, but judging from the action of the yeast in my dough, 1 tsp was plenty! The flavor of the pizza was very nice. It did not brown very strongly so I think I will try adding some malt the next time I make it (which will be Friday after next...Friday being pizza night at the zebra pen).

I also made pasta dough last night. I felt like a real chef! I made it at the same time I began my pizza dough then set it to rest in the fridge until time to form it into sheet for fresh ravioli. I didn't use a recipe! Hard to believe! I just put about 1-3/4 cups AP flour in a bowl and put 2 good pinches of kosher salt in the flour. Made a well in the center of the mixed up flour/salt and cracked 2 large eggs into it. I used a fork and started beating the eggs up in the well and started pulling bits of flour into the center, still beating. When it was thick enough I turned it out onto the counter and did the Mike Avery fold and knead. Turn 90 degrees fold over once and do a strong frissage, then repeat turning the dough 90 degrees. I only worked the dough maybe 2 minutes. Then covered with a bowl and let it rest at room temp for 30 minutes. I came back and worked the dough another 2 minutes and by that time, the gluten had developed although it was still tender to the touch. I refrigerated about 3 hours. Then took it out split it into two batches and started putting it through the pasta roller. Make sheets out of it and set them aside to dry a bit. Then filled and sealed and let them dry a little longer. They were delicious and the pasta was a great flavor and so easy! It made 18 very large raviolis. So we definitely have leftovers!

My filling was fantastic. I had an empty larder so had to used creativity to come up with the filling. I made roasted garlic, gruyere, parmesan, craisin and pumpkin filling in a sherry cream sauce with bacon crumbles and fresh parmesan to finish it. Wow! it went so well with my green olive, onion and mushroom pizza!!! Add a cabernet sauvignon to that and I would serve that meal to company any night!

OK so what am I learning so far (in the last 6 weeks or so that I've been trying to become a home baker)? I've learned that the best thing a newbie baker can do is approach the bread with confidence. It isn't like a pastry. It isn't so fragile. And the recipes are fairly forgiving. I've also learned that the best way to learn about the feel of a dough is to make it a few times. Confidence is built through repitition. I don't pretend to know when every dough had been worked enough. In fact, I'm fairly sure I'm still underworking the dough, but the recent results this past week indicate that thanks to Mike Avery and many of the people here at, I've experienced a huge breakthrough in baking.

Tomorrow I start the sourdough samba. I will spend today trying to think of a brilliant name and will send my hunter and gatherer out to procure suitable jars for the incubation! It's only proper that he have some role in this creation process! ;)  I might even give him a vote on names!

TinGull's picture

Having some friends over for a cookout tonight and made some hamburger buns and hot dog rolls....and marshmallows for our s'mores!  I hate to have to buy the garbage marshmallows at the store, so I love making my own.




Floydm's picture

I was looking at The Fresh Loaf traffic stats in the newest version of Google Analytics today and, I gotta say, I've never seen charts like these. For example, here is a visitor report for a typical website:

Weekend traffic is lower. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday have the highest traffic because most people are in the office those days and most web surfing, even if it is for pleasure, happens while people are at the office.

There is a similar curve throughout the day, with the highest traffic on most sites being between 10-2 PM Pacific Time, when people on both the east and west coasts of the US are in the office. Traffic from Europe and Asia can, obviously, impact how much off hours traffic you have, but I've never seen a US-based website whose traffic that didn't peak in the middle of the business day here.

Here is my chart for the past month.

The spike at the end is when StumbleUpon featured The Fresh Loaf. I think the dip on the 7th was when my server was acting up. Otherwise, it is almost a straight line. Traffic is higher around the holidays, but overall my traffic is extremely constant, with about 65% of traffic coming from new users and 35% from returning visitors.

What is really unusual is the visitor loyalty report:

When people return to The Fresh Loaf, they return. A lot. That almost 20 percent of my traffic has been to the site more than 9 times in the last month and that almost 5 percent has been here over 200 times is unheard of. I've never seen stats like that. This just reinforces my sense that you guys are crazy that we have a very enthusiastic community here. People come here and either decide this isn't what they were looking for and go away, or they decide this is exactly what they were looking for, so they come back again and again and again...

JMonkey's picture

Well, I said I'd make this later tonight, but I didn't exactly expect it to be this late. Ah well, it'll still be "later today" for about 20 minutes.

Anyway, here's what I propose, TT.

  1. Let's use SourdoLady's method, with just a few caveats.
  2. If you've got scales, I'd prefer to use equal weights of flour and liquid ... say 1 ounce flour and 1 ounce water instead of 2 Tbs.
  3. If you don't have scales, no biggie -- we'll just follow SourdoLady's measures.
  4. My grocery store doesn't have pineapple juice so far as I know, so would it be alright to go with orange juice?
  5. I'll use freshly ground flour, as that's all I've got. Hope you don't mind, but since I've got the grains here, I'd rather not go out an buy a bag. What brand will you be using? If you can find fresh-ground flour, that'd probably help, but it's not necessary. I didn't use fresh-ground for either of the starters I made. I've got a whole wheat starter that I began with rye for the first three days and then switched to white flour -- I converted to whole wheat a few months later. That's Arthur the Whole Wheat Starter. Rhonda Rye is a pure rye starter.
  6. How about we start Saturday morning and we'll just post our pictures and commentary here. Sound good?
  7. Would you rather start with rye, whole wheat or whole spelt? I can do any of the above, though my preference would be whole wheat.
  8. Let's stick with whole grains until we're sure we've got something going. I think we'll have an easier time of it and, once we're sure the culture is alive, we can convert to white flour.

Sound good? I'm rarin' to go!


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