The Fresh Loaf

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breadnut's picture

I've been  making bread for a while. Yesterday for the first time, I saw the dough cracking while beeing fermented and proofed. Never had that problem before. All the steps I took yesterday have been done before, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why it happened (well maybe because of mixing, but not sure). I took pictures of the process and I will post them.

The recipe: Starter (very active), flour (70%), Rye flour (30%), Water, Salt. Hydration was 68%. I've baked with hydration levels before ranging from 60% to 85%.

I followed one of Dan Lepard's methods (which I've also done before).

Here are the steps and pictures of the process.

1. The dough at initial mixing. (starter, water, flour). No salt was added yet. Mixed for a few minutes by hand. Covered and let autolyse for about 1 hour (I've done this autolyse time before and never had problems).

2. Here's the dough after 1 hour Autolyse

3. Added salt and mixed a couple of more minutes. It looked like this

4. Covered for 10 minutes. then turned out on a lightly oiled surface and kneaded for about 15 seconds, covered for another 10 minutes and kneaded again for 15 seconds and put the dough back in the bowl. Here's what it looked like then.

5. Covered it another 10 minutes, briefly kneaded and back in bowl.

6. What it looked like after 30 minutes

 7. Same procedure. brief knead, back in bowl and covered 1 hour

8. Same as before for another 1 hour (This is where the dough started cracking)

9. Didn't make much of it. I figured it will be ok when shaped, but it didn't work out like that. this is what it looked like when shaped

10. I let it be. I wanted to see what was going to happen in the final proof. Final proof was supposed to be about 4 hours. This mess below was only after 40 minutes.

At that point, I was not going to pursue it any longer. I couldn't figure out why it was doing that, so I improvised. I put the dough back in the bowl added a tablespoon of water and mixed it real well this time. I was digging deep to try to get it cohesive. Then I covered it for 20 minutes, put it on an oiled surface, gently folded it, put it back in bowl for another 20 minutes, folded it again, and back in bowl for a final 45 minutes. It seemed to be working fine. The dough was not cracking and it was looking good. So I shaped it and covered it for 1 1/2 hours. About 30 minutes after shaping, It cracked again, so I waited until it was proofed and threw it in the oven. I wasn't going to bother with it anymore. It turned out a mess. Real ugly looking, but I expected that.

The only thing I'm thinking that might have contributed to this disaster was the fact that the initial dough was undermixed. I normally go through about 6-8 minutes of hand mixing, then autolyse 30 minutes to 1 hour, add salt and mix about 3 minutes. This time. mixing time was less than usual, and by reading the handmade loaf, Dan suggests to barely mix the dough and cover it and let it do its work (unless I misunderstood what he said). Maybe this is what cause this to happen, or maybe it is another factor that I can't figure out. By the way, the dough was raised in the same place it always rises, there was no draft, or wind to cause it to dry out and crack. So I don't think it was the environment. If anyone has any clues as to why this happened, pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase let me know. Any comment, feedback or idea is really really appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Floydm's picture

I baked another batch of sourdough today using my normal method (extra hot oven, steam in an iron pan, pre-heated baking stone). It is interesting to compare the loaf from today with the loaf from yesterday that I baked with the French oven method from the NY Times article that we've been discussing:

Sorry it isn't a great picture, but it is the best I got before it started getting dark here.

The French oven one is on the right, traditional on the left. Today's has around 5% whole wheat flour and 5% dark rye flour. Both loaves are very good, but of the two I think today's has superior crust and got better oven spring. If anything, it was less developed going into the oven, but, boy, did it pop. In the French oven it popped some.

I do have to add that one plus of the NY Times approach is that you don't jeopardize your oven's electronic system while trying to steam the oven. I haven't had any problems with my oven, but many folks here have.

One other odd thing to mention about today's loaves.

My starter yesterday smelled a little... weird. I was thinking cheesy, but when I took a whiff this morning it came to me what it smelled like: mustard. Like mustard, it was acidic but... not a sharp, crist acidic smell, more of a chubby, umami-ish kind of acidic. It is hard to explain. Anyway, it didn't look bad, it rose extremely well, and the loaves taste great, so I'm not too worried. I just thought it was odd.

beanfromex's picture


This is Ramona proudly showing her first ever loaves. Nobody in her family has ever made bread this way. Mexico is not a country where loaves would have been easily accesible some years ago. The corn tortilla reigns. This is now changing with more people having access to stoves, and wheat.

Ramona has now cooked bread at her mothers home in Macuspana. She is eager to learn and cant wait to experiment with the loaves .

This recipe is from "the joy of cooking" Basic white bread.

beanfromex's picture

This is a puffed up roti that we cooked at Sabrina's. This puffing is what you want when cooking roti.

beanfromex's picture

In preperation  of the "times loaf experiment tomorrow,
we went to "el centro" (downtown) to a store known for its selection of enamel pots. I bought a wonderful 4 qt. baby blue one with lid and a handle for the equivalent of $7 US.  There were larger ones that may have been 20qt pots for 17 US dollars.

I thought this store had a great selection of enamel and cast iron, but I saw no cast iron. The other material was some sort of incredibly lightweight aluminum pot.  There was also a 8 qt heavy weight type of steel pot for $37. but it was quite heavy and without knowing if this is a technique  worked, I dcided against it.

We then went to the "home depot" store. I was looking for natural flowerpots that I could use as a cloche. I did not find any plain ones, they were all painted. Most with enamel. The other selection was plastic. Plastic is quite popular here as the terra cotta ones tend to mold in an unpleasant way, not the lovely green that I have seen in canada and the USA. Here it is a murky browny black and quite thick. This is quite noticable in the rainy season.

As I write this my "times" dough is in the fridge until tomorrow afternoon. I followed the direction as the video said. It felt strange not to oil a clean bowl.... 

Tomorrow I am planing on continuing with the "times" bread and making the cottage loaf again but using a third WW . I also want to play with the shape...

 Hasta luego

Floydm's picture

So I set out today to try the new technique that we've been discussing from the New York Times article. I created a dough like what he described the night before and gave it an 18 hour rise.

This morning, I dusted off a Le Creuset pot I got as a gift a few years ago but have rarely used.


18 hours later, the dough was extremely bubbly. Personally, I thought it smelled a little overfermented. Slightly alcoholic.

bubbly dough

Around 80% hydration, folding it was a pain.






folded dough

floured bowl

Despite flouring the bowl like crazy, it stuck.

sticky mess

I baked it anyway. It came out ugly, but with pretty nice crumb.

both loaves


The pretty loaf was a sourdough I baked the same way (in the pot covered for 25 minutes, in the pot uncovered for about 20 or so at 450). It was a damp dough, but not *that* wet. More like 65-70% hydration. Much easier to handle.

sourdough loaf

I may try it again, but I'm not overwhelmed by the results. They are good and it is a little simpler, technique-wise, but I enjoy a more traditional approach too.


Floydm's picture

I made a multigrain bread a weekend or two ago:

Multigrain bread

I made a porridge of grains the night before. Oats, millet, quinoa, polenta, and anything else I could find.

multigrain bread

I added all of that to a simple dough. Slightly sweetened with honey, softened with some milk and oil

multigrain loaf

Oh yeah, and buckwheat. Mental note:I really detest buckwheat. At least in a loaf like this. Much too strong a flavor.



Floydm's picture

The furnace is acting up again. No heat this weekend. Thank goodness it won't be that cold, but you can bet I'm going to be baking a lot.

beanfromex's picture

I used the starter than I have been carefully feeding since last thursday night. All indications were right, smell, bubbles etc..and baked somethng that looked great, and felt like a doorstop. It was a VERY dense loaf, not what I would choose to have again. So I fed the starter and popped it into the fridge...perhaps I will try again next week.

However, today I taught Ramona how to do the cottage loaf from last weekend. Again, excellent colour and crust and a reasonable crumb.  I sprinkled cornmeal onto a greased baking sheet and the bottom crust is wonderful. And used poppy seeds over the egg waah.

Ramona did not get the wash evenly around the lower loaf, so you can see where it dripped and where she missed. ...but she will see this tomorrow and learn from it...

Perhaps I should get her to have a try at the sourdough....

I am going to play with this recipe and introduce whole wheat and seeds into the loaf ..

stay tuned... 

beanfromex's picture

Well the sourdough is now into the fridge for the next phase of folding every hour for the next four or five hours. I will then leave it overnight on the lower shelf inthe fridge.

It seems like a surprisingly small loaf given all of the work on the starter..which began last Thursday. I have put the remainder into the fridge after feeding and will use it again next week, should this loaf work....if not, I am going back to tried and true recipes...and the trusty cottage loaf from the weekend.

For the most part, I have followed egullets sourdough directions. Sourdough seems to be one of the more complicated, many version type of baking out there. I have read about concorde grapes, pineapple juice and so many things wtih regards to this bread that I am a bit confused. I am buying a book in Canada in december, and am leaning towards the BBA.

I took some pictures of my starter, but do not think you can see anything due to the flash...I will have to work on that.


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