The Fresh Loaf

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David Brown's picture
David Brown

My wife and I are beginning to learn the techniques involved in baking bread. So many new terms to learn, so many steps to master. We appreciate this forum as the readers here have already helped us tremendously.

Our question now is the difference between starter and preferment. We were advised to use a preferment to create more flavor and possibly larger holes in our foccacia loaves. While reading about preferments we came across the term "starter" which we had heard before. We thought starter was only used in sourdough bread.

Can someone describe these two aspects, and point us to literature or websites that would be helpful in our journey to the percfect loaf?

Anonymous baker's picture
Anonymous baker (not verified)


I tried making my first loaf of bread that wasn't entirely made from white flour. 

As much as I love white bread, I'm eating it all the time so I felt the need for something that was a bit better for me.

I just used what I already know for making white bread and added some rye flour and wholemeal flours, then mixed in some mixed seeds. 

I'd say the percentages of flour were roughly;

60% Strong White

30% Rye

10% Wholemeal

1 egg

A quarter of an English "tea mug" of olive oil

about 2 tea spoons of dried yeast 

3 or 4 tea spoons of demerera sugar

3 quarters of a tea spoon of salt 


and full fat milk - 

I actually start the whole mix proportions off with the milk, it's why I never measure anything, I suppose some people talk about hydration of their bread, but my way of making the loaf is to put as little flour in as I can so the dough will let me knead it, no more no less - I'm trusting the dough to know best.

But if you imagine a normal kitchen measuring jug which would hold about a pint and a half, if you poured an inch or so of milk in the bottom, you'd have the amount of milk I use.


So, as always - I warmed the milk and oil (with a bit of sugar for good luck) in the pan on a medium heat until it was warm enough to feel it being warmer than my finger but not hot, poured the warm mixture on to the yeast and sugar in the bowl (the salt was in there too but on the other side to the yeast - again - a habit) 

I use a whisk to mix the mixture to a lovely warm, yeasty. sweet smelling mix - and I know when it's going to work because it smells good. (believe it or not).

I mixed in some white flour until the mix was a bit thicker than batter, then covered it with a tea towel and let it sit beside the boiler until it was all bubbly - about an hour.

I then mixed in more white flour until it started to get thicker, which was when I then mixed in the rye flour - I noticed immediately that it made a more sticky and gloopy mix - I mixed in enough rye flour to make the mixture close to being kneadable - then I poured in some wholemeal and set about kneading it.

I, truth be known, chopped and changed between all 3 flours just depening on how I felt, when the dough stuck to my hands. 

I kneaded for about 10 minutes, then let it sit again beside the boiler, covered with a tea towel - an hour later it had doubled in size.

I flattened the air out of it and kneaded in the mixed seeds (I think, pumpkin, hemp and flak? not sure) then I shaped in to a nice wee bowl shape, slightly tucking in the bottom as I turned it around and around on a horizontal axis in my hands, because I hear that folding of the underside - aids the rise.

I then placed my new experiment on some baking paper on the tray in which it would finally be put in to the oven (I've found it's important not to touch it when it's risen for the second time, so put the dough on the tray you'll end up baking it on).

I put the oven on about 220 ish but it's fan assisted so maybe that's hotter than other ovens? I don't know.

And just for the crack I gently rubbed some basil olive oil over it and put some more seeds on the top.

20 minutes later it was out - smelled lovely but didn't look like it had risen much, so I was a bit worried about it, immediately I noticed how soft the crust was and how it wasn't as firm as white bread, so I didn't give up hope.

I went to work from 4pm until midnight (you don't have to do that part hehe) thinking of my loaf all night - got home and tried it out, and it was lovely.

It was really lovely. 

It's got a darker taste than normal, but the texture is very similar to what I normally do, the seeds taste lovely - and now to be honest I just want to make another one, but with sun dried tomatoes and onions and garlic - or I don't know - the possibilities are endless.

I promise to try to give out exact measurements in the future - I don't like cooking like that, but if anyone wanted to copy what I'd done (the beginners out there) I'd like to tell them how I did it.









MadAboutB8's picture

Another weekend baking with 20% rye bread. This time I made the bread using white starter. I still continued retarding the shaped loaved overnight. I was aiming to reduce the sour flavour in the bread I made last weekend (same 20% rye and retardation, but with rye sourdough starter).

I also added chia seeds into the dough. Chia seed was turned into gel after they were soaked, and the gel turned into liquid when baked (I believe). This made the bread really moist and chewy. The bread turned out nicely with good oven spring. I was happy with the taste using white starter. It didn't have the same strong sour flavour as last week's.

I baked two loaves, one in pan and the other as a free-standing loaf. They were both baked at the same time, same temperature. It's widely recommended to bake the bread in loaf pan at slightly lower temperature (to get the softer crust and not to overbrowning them, perhaps). However, baking the loaf-pan at the same temperature as a hearth bread worked fine for me as well. The crust was soft with a good oven bloom. The crumb was also relatively open and moist. I believe it worked as the bread is lean bread, without sugar or fat. So, it didn't have any overbrowning issues as a result.

I also tried new steaming method from Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread book. This steaming method was in the baguette baking section. He suggested this method as the baguette won't fit into the combo cooker. Soaking wet towels were place in the tray while the oven is preheated. The wet towels are removed after 15 mins of baking. I combined this method with my usual, boiling water in cast iron pan. This method had created a lots, lots of steam. So much so that my smoke alarm went off, and kept going off everytime I opened the oven. It also gave a nice shiny crust, shinier than usual for me.

For a full post and recipe, you can find it here.


ph_kosel's picture

Last night, sometime past midnight, I got a craving for sourdough rye bread.  I had dark rye flour and some starter I made from the same flour a couple weeks back, the first time I made my own starter instead of using commercial stuff from

Also, I was looking for something to do with the bag of semolina I got at the bulk foods section of the local Winco Foods market, the same place I got the rye flour.  Found a post on TFL about a sandwich loaf made with semolina that got huge oven spring and decided to throw some in the mix.

Anyway, sometime past midnight and suffering from caffien-induced sleeplessness I whipped up a batch of dough as follows:


50g Semolina (yellowish stuff, coarser than bread flour)

200g unbleached bread flour

250g dark rye flour

333g water (I suppose I could just use ml but I don't have a graduate like I used to use in chemistry class once upon a time)

1.5 teaspoon salt

~1 tablespoon of my homebrew rye starter from the fridge - sorta neglected, sour and hungry stuff


Mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl, the water and starter in another bowl, added the liquid to the dry stuff, and tried to make dough with my recently purchased Danish dough whisk that was actually made in Poland.  Found the dough was too thick to mix with the whisk so turned it out on the counter and kneaded it into submission - sticky stuff, but not as sticky as I recall similar dough with no semolina being. Made a log of the dough and plopped it in a breadpan lightly greased with olive oil, spritzed the top with oil, and covered it with plastic wrap.

Results (so far):

Got up around noon, found the stuff hadn't begun to rise noticeably.  At this hour (9PM my time) it has risen some but not enough to fill the bread pan.  More later, time to watch Hawaii 5 OH.

David Brown's picture
David Brown

My wife and I recently aquirred an interest in baking Foccacia. We have made some screamin' loaves but when we compare them to a certain loaf we purchase at Trader Joe's.... we are lacking. Trader Joe's loaf is filled with large holes. That is a characteristic we love but we are not able to reproduce the holes. The recipe we use for the dough is 3 cups of bread flour, combo of .75 cup water and .25 cup of white wine at 120 degrees poured over 2.25 teaspoons of active dry yeast, to the liquid we T of olive T of honey....and a teaspoon of Kosher salt. We let it rise once, punch it down, then let it rise again, then shape it into foccacia loaf and bake at 450 for 13 minutes.

Does anyone out there know what we are doing wrong? We only produce bread with tiny holes. It tastes awesome, but we want to know the difference. How do we make big holes?


dmsnyder's picture


Artos - Greek Saints' Day Bread from Kassos

Artos - Greek Saints' Day Bread from Kassos crumb

“Artos” is the ancient Greek word for leavened bread. (“Psomi” is the modern Greek word.) However, “Artos” has come to refer more specifically to various enriched celebration breads, particularly those baked for Easter.

I found the recipe for this version of “Artos – Greek Saints' Day Bread” in Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, by Anissa Helou (Harper-Collins, NY, 2007). This is a lovely and quite comprehensive book. Unlike many cookbooks covering ethnic cuisines, it does not seem to be “dumbed down.” There are no ingredient substitutions, and the original techniques for mixing, fermentation, shaping and baking are given. Well, the author does give instructions for American/European home ovens, whereas many of the items in the book are authentically baked in wood-fired ovens or tandoors or the like.

Helou tells us that she found this bread while visiting the island of Kassos which is a small island at the southern end of the dodekanese chain. There, it is baked for many saints' days. It is baked at home, then taken to the church to be blessed by the priest before being cut and shared with the congregation at the end of mass.

Helou recommends this version of Artos for breakfast or tea with Greek-style yogurt and honey or with “very good butter.” She also says this bread makes delicious toast.

The recipe is similar to others I've seen for Artos in that it is spiced, but it is less enriched than most and is very simply shaped. The technique of baking in a 9 inch pan is one I've seen for other Greek breads but never tried before. Helou provides all her measurements in volume, and that's how I made the recipe.

Artos: Greek Saints' Day Bread


4 ½ tsp (2 packages) active dry yeast. (I used 2 tsp instant yeast.)

3 1/3 cups AP flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping.

1 ½ tsp kosher salt or sea salt.

2/3 cup sugar. (I wonder why not honey?)

1 T ground cinnamon.

1 tsp ground cloves.

2 T anise seeds (I substituted fennel seeds, not having anise seeds on hand.)

2 T EVOO, plus extra for greasing the baking dish.

1 ¼ cup of warm water.

2 T red wine.

1 ½ T white sesame seeds

1 ½ T nigella sees (optional)



  1. If using ADY, dissolve it in ½ cup warm water and stir. (I just mixed the instant yeast with the dry ingredients.)

  2. Combine the flour, salt, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and anise seed (and instant yeast, if used) in a large bowl and make a well in the center.

  3. Add the olive oil and, with fingertips, rub the oil into the flour until well incorporated.

  4. Add the wine and water (the yeast water plus ¾ cup or, if instant yeast was used, all the 1 ¼ cups). Mix to make a sticky dough.

  5. Spread 2 T water over the surface of the dough. (I did this, but think 1 T would have been plenty.) Cover the bowl and allow to ferment for 1 hour.

  6. Grease a 9-inch round deep baking dish with olive oil. Sprinkle half the seeds over the bottom of the dish.

  7. Transfer the dough to a well-floured board. With wet hands, fold the edges of the dough to the center to make a round loaf. Wash and dry your hands, then transfer the loaf to the baking dish, seam side down. (I used one hand and a bench knife for the transfer.)

  8. Gently pat the loaf to spread it evenly in the dish. Wet your hands and spread more water over the top of the dough. Sprinkle the rest of the seeds all over the top.

  9. Cover with plasti-crap and proof until doubled in volume. (I proofed in a warmed microwave oven for 75 minutes.

  10. Pre-heat the oven to 400ºF.

  11. Uncover the bread and place in the oven (in the baking dish). Bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 350ºF and bake for another 30 minutes, or until golden brown all over.

  12. Turn the loaf onto a cooling rack and cool thoroughly.

  13. Serve when cooled or wrap in a kitchen town. It will keep up to two days.

Dough, mixed

Proofing in Pyrex baking dish

Artos, proofed and ready to bake

The bread gave off a most powerful, exotic aroma while baking and cooling. The cloves and nigella aromas were most potent, to my nose. When sliced, the crust was crisp. The crumb was soft and tender. The flavor was very spicy and very exotic. In my limited experience of spiced breads, it was closest to a French pain d'epice, but different because of the fennel and nigella flavors. I enjoyed it, but I don't think I could eat a lot of it at a time. I'm looking forward to trying it toasted and with some Greek yogurt, as recommended.


Submitted to YeastSpotting

GSnyde's picture

But, first, the weather.  Thunder, lightening and hail may not be a big deal to people in  some localities.  But in Northern California, they are rare as reliable weather-forecasting.  Saturday, our morning coffee was interrupted by a crashing downpour of (admittedly small) hail.  It went on for many minutes and accented our garden with glistening ice.


Now, back to bread.

I posted a question here a few days ago, asking how to achieve an airy, tender crumb in a sourdough bread, like the ones I’ve had from some local artisan bakeries.  Several wise advisors suggested higher hydration, and mentioned Tartine’s Basic Country Bread in particular.  I am among the diminishing group at TFL who had not previously baked that bread.  This weekend I ended my holdout.  And the result was just the crumb I’d been hoping for.


I found the formula at the breadexperience blog (  I refreshed my basic sourdough starter (70%AP/20%WW/10%Rye at 75% hydration) on Friday morning.  On Friday evening I made up the Tartine Leaven (50% white flour and 50% whole wheat at 100% hydration), using Central Milling Organic Artisan Baker’s Craft (malted) white flour and KAF whole wheat flour.  By Saturday at 9 a.m., the leaven was bubbly, and passed the float test noted in the formula.

The final dough was very fluid, but after a 30 minute autolyse and four hours of fermentation, with a four or five stretch and folds every 45 minutes or so, it became somewhat firmer and silky, though still quite sticky.  The sticky dough did not cooperate in the pull-stretch-rotate boule-forming technique, but I tightened the sheath as best I could, and plopped two blobs into well-floured 8-inch wicker brotforms.  They proofed for about four hours at room temperature, and grew about 25%, passing the poke test.

Then the real mess ensued.  Those blobs did not want to come out of their brotforms.  The edges of the blobs stuck to the rims of the brotforms and the “loaves” (if you can call them that) spread out on the parchment, defiantly declaring themselves to be pains rustiques.  I had decided to bake the loaves on stone with lots of steam, instead of in Dutch Ovens.  And the spreading blobs didn’t quite fit on my stone.  They melded together in the middle and almost oozed over the edges of the stone.

Thank goodness for a fully-preheated stone and the steam power of Sylvia’s Magic Towels plus a cast iron skillet with lava rocks.  The steam heat quickly gelled the oozing masses into something like loaves before they totally lost all form.  And they rose up like they were full of gas.

After 20 minutes of steam, I turned the oven from 450F to 420F with convection, and let the loaves bake for a total of 38 minutes, then left them on the stone with the oven door ajar to dry the crust for another 10 minutes.

Though these are not the best formed loaves I’ve baked, I could tell from their weight the moment I moved them from the oven to the cooling rack that they were going to be light-crumbed and open-celled.



This is pretty close to immediate gratification.  I go to TFL with a question.  I get some answers.  I follow the advice.  And it works!!  The crust was fairly thin and crispy when just cooled yesterday (or toasted today), and only slightly chewy today.  The crumb is deliciously tender and moist, even the day after.  The flavor is subtle, compared—say—to San Francisco Sourdough or the Hamelman Vermont, but very nicely complex in a delicate way.

We made a “bread dinner” of things that go great on sourdough—tuna salad, proscuitto, gorgonzola and a spread of chopped pear, chopped pecans and gorgonzola.  Washed down with a nice Pinot Noir Rose'.  And it was gooood!


Thanks to all for the very good guidance.  I got a happy result, but my crumb quest continues--can I achieve this crumb texture consistently? 



Maryann279's picture

So I finally figured out why I was having trouble getting started on making bread at home after my second SFBI class.  It's the scheduling and planning ahead.  At one time I thought bread making could be scheduled around other activities.  Now I am finding out that it's the other way around:  you have to schedule your other activities around making bread.  It will probably continue to be this way until I get the hang of it all.  Non-prefermented, non-sourdough was usually not that much of a problem for me.  When you add in 12-hour preferments, levains, bringing the starter back to life after it's been hibernating in the fridge, etc., this turns into the opposite of a spur of the moment enterprise.  I know I can use other techniques for creating a nice chewy loaf, but for now I'm trying to work with this particular set of recipes.  Add in the fact that I get tired in the evenings and have difficulty motivating myself, some planning ahead is in order.

I refreshed the stiff started ahead of time, but forgot to leave it out of the fridge so it could develop properly.  When it came time to mix the levain yesterday evening, I decided to use the starter as it was rather than disrupt my bread making schedule (I wanted to have the bread done in time for dinner this evening).  This morning, the levain wasn't quite as bubbly as it should have been, but again I forged ahead.  I had premeasured most of the ingredients for the final dough the night before (very helpful), but I forgot that I needed to mix the soaked seed and grain mixture an hour before it was needed.  That delayed mixing the final dough for an hour.  I was a bit ambitious about the quantity of dough I made, about 2.7 kilos, forgetting I only had a 5 qt. Kitchen Aid mixer.  I forgot that the soaker had to wait until the end of the dough development process, because the seeds and grains interfere with gluten development.  The dough finally came together very well, but had a tendency to crawl up the hook onto the mixer itself, and I had to keep scraping it down.

The dough is resting now in its plastic mini-tub, and almost ready for its first turn at 5PM.  No bread for dinner tonight - maybe breakfast tomorrow AM. ;-)

I think this will all get better with practice and getting used to the methods and equipment I need to turn out ~2 kilos of dough in my kitchen (the magic fermentation number).  Maybe I will have to go back to making less at one time.  We shall see.

ph_kosel's picture


600gm unbleached bread flour

150gm dark rye flour

2.25 (14gm) teaspoon salt

2.25 (8gm) teaspoon active dry yeast (SAF brand)

1.5 tablespoon each of brown sugar(19gm), dill seed(8gm), and dehydrated onion flakes(11gm)

500 gm very warm water (just cool enough to put a finger in and not whimper or yank it out)

NOTE: increased quantities by 50% and switched from dill weed to dill seed.


Mixed dry flours,salt and yeast in kitchenaid mixer, added boiling water to sugar+dill+onion in separate bowl and let soak and cool, mixed on low until dough cleaned the sides of bowl, turned out on countertop, kneaded briefly, formed into ball, and plopped it into a floured(rye flour this time), linen-lined brotform bowl to rise and covered with tea towel.  Let it rise 3  hours.  Preheated oven with pizza stone to 450F.  Turned loaf out of brotform bowl onto parchment paper on inverted cookie sheet (in lieu of a peel). Slashed loaf, spritzed with water, and slid it onto the preheated pizza stone, parchment and all.  Covered with stainless bowl in lieu of playing "steam-the-oven".  Set timer for 15 minutes and removed the stainless bowl when it went off.  Set timer for 15 minutes again and checked browning when it went off.  Browned it a bit more and removed from oven.  Painted hot loaf top and bottom with cornstarch glaze (1.5 tablespoons cornstarch mixed in 1 cup cold water, nuked in microwave until it just boiled) and set on wire rack to cool.

Result:  Dough rose to fill the 10-inch brotform bowl.  Got some decent oven spring.  The glaze dried nice and shiny; using rye flour in the brotform and shaking out the excess prevented recurrance of the caked-white-flour problem.  I like the dill/onion flavor balance in this loaf better   The loaf is still not as tall/spherical as I wish, and this larger loaf lost a bit of crust when it stuck to my cover bowl, but it's great with corned beef.

Now let's see if I can upload some pictures.

^raw dough in brotform

risen dough in brotform^

slashed loaf on parchment^

raw loaf on pizza stone^

cover on pizza stone^

cover removed after 15 minutes^

loaf cooled and glazed^

time for corned beef^


Actually, I liked it with corned beef with or without mustard!  Had three sandwiches!

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

This week I made the dough for Hamelman's baguettes with poolish yet again.  This time, instead of making three 11-13 inch baguettes, scaled at 250g, I made one 750g loaf.  Since the 250g baguettes would be called demi-baguettes, clearly this was a mega-baguette. Clearly.

Okay, fine, I made a batard and scored it like a baguette.  Still it came out pretty nicely.

Crust Crackles, too!

No bursting between the scores! Though on a batard that's kind of cheating.  Anyway.

No crumb shot this time--we had company over for dinner and I wasn't quite willing to beg their patience while I snapped pictures of the bread, the way I regularly do with my wife.  Moderately open crumb, comparable to my recent baguette efforts.  Good flavor, nice crust, though a little chewy.

It will be back to baguettes next week.  Happy baking, everyone.


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