The Fresh Loaf

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GSnyde's picture

Before I started bread-baking 10 weeks ago, we used to always have excellent hearth bread in the house from one or the other of the wonderful artisan bakeries in the area.  But lately, we've been eating my bread, except for the occasional bakery challah or bagels.  When I get great bread in a restaurant, I take it as a challenge: someday soon I can do it just like this.

But yesterday at the grocery, I bought some smoked turkey for dinner, and realized my weekend bread is stale.  So I bought a loaf of an old standby, Acme's Pain au Levain.  It makes me realize how far I have to go before I can bake great bread.  It is humbling.  Gorgeous to look at.  Perfect crust and crumb.  And deliciously sour and complex.

After that experience, I needed to bake something sweet to give me courage and determination, and avert a lapse into hopelessness.  

Floyd's cream cheese blueberry braid did the trick (  I used apples instead of berries, and topped it with cinnamon sugar.  It is wonderful.



With the other half of the rich dough, I made improvised chocolate-cinnamon-pecan rolls.  They were nothing to look at (in fact, I think I'll add them to OWS's "Ugly Loaf" thread), but boy were they delicious.  I rolled the dough out and filled it with cinnamon-sugar, chunks of Scharffenberger semi-sweet chocolate and toasted pecans. The dough was too sticky to roll up properly and I overfilled them.  I also should have baked at a slighlty lower temperature.  But I'd gladly eat ugly pastry with my eyes closed.


Now I am reinvigorated to keep at the quest for great homemade hearth bread.



Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Last Saturday I made my sixth consecutive attempt at baking Hamelman's Baguettes With Poolish.  My report on it is very late, and my procedure had a couple of forced errors (for a very good reason I'll get to in a moment), but I got some very good results nonetheless.

The key factor affecting both the late report and the minor errors in production is that when I measured my poolish at 10:30pm on Friday night, my wife at that time was exactly 40 weeks pregnant.  Her water broke a little before 7am on Saturday.  We were off to the hospital and I was more than ready to write the poolish off as a loss, but the midwife sent us home to wait for labor to begin in earnest, and so when we got home at 10am, I set about making my baguettes to pass the time.

So I had a poolish that was slightly overfermented (if you haven't been following this series of  blog posts, I've found that I need to start the final dough after 10-ish hours for best results).  I went ahead anyway, prepared to toss the whole thing if we had to run to the hospital.  As it happened, I got the baguettes made and out of the oven while my wife was still having sporadic contractions.  As with last week, I tried extending the final proof to 75 minutes (up from 60 in previous bakes), although I may have been off by a few minutes, since my wife and I went for a long walk during the proof in order to get contractions going, and I didn't pay close enough attention to the time (I'd set the timer for 60 minutes, and it had gone off when we got back, but that was all I knew).

We headed out to the hospital for real just before dinner time, but I ended up cutting into one of the baguettes and scarfing it down while my wife was on the phone with the midwife.

The Results: Exterior

The Results: Crumb

The baguettes were a little pale, and the crust a little chewier than last week--both results of the poolish over-fermenting, I'm pretty sure.  The cuts are much improved, though I still need to put a little more angle on them so they don't merge so much.  The crumb on the baguette I cut was great in some places, but a little tight in others.  However, the texture of the crumb was just lovely--finally creamy rather than at all fluffy.  The flavor was up a couple notches from previous weeks as well.   I think if I do everything the same, but get the poolish right next week, I should be well on my way (though it will take much more practice to get the cuts and crumb reliable, I'm sure).

So I'm fairly proud of these baguettes.  That said, I am infinitely prouder of the other "bun" pulled out of the oven last weekend, my beautiful daughter Miriam Bell Sandler, born at 12:18 pm on November 7th.

Lisa Mary's picture
Lisa Mary

I have started to work part-time in a bakery. Not a commercial chain bakery, but one which has an old 1939 brick oven, once fired by coal.

ehanner's picture

I have had my copy of Chad Robertson's "Tartine Bread" book for some time now and have read the posts here from those who have baked his breads. As has been pointed out by other posters, 100 pages are dedicated to recipes that use bread in them which is nice but isn't normally part of a "Bread Book". It is a beautiful book and the images take up many of the pages. The book was delayed in publishing for what seemed like forever. Several critics gave it rave reviews so I was hopeful.

The text is written like it is aimed primarily at new bakers or those who have heard about the bakery in California and want to learn to bake the Tartine breads. The author talks about how anyone can pick up this book and make good bread using just the chapter on the Basic Country Loaf. Robertson details his basic formula and attempts to de-mystify bakers math so you learn to "think like a baker". The working formula for building the leavan calls for double the amount needed in the dough build. Then his representation of the recipe or formula is in my opinion very non standard and confusing. Additionally the discussion of bakers percents and the listed percents do not add up correctly with the amounts in the formula. The total hydration of his basic country bread is off by the amount of the leavan. The total amount of flour is also off by the amount of the flour in the leavan. I wonder if he really understands bakers percent math. Small mistakes are one thing but any professional baker would be or should be embarrassed by this interpretation of bakers percent math. A new baker will gain nothing useful by the confusion created on pages 47) para 1. and page 48. In addition the percent for salt is shown to be 2%, which is a common ratio for that ingredient but then since the flour in the leavan isn't included in the total flour, the amount shown in under the salt column is off by 10%. That mistake won't ruin the bread but, the instructor/author should stay true to the universally accepted use of Bakers Math.

The concept of baking in a cast iron combo cooker is in my opinion, an accident waiting to happen. While covered baking has been demonstrated to be an effective way to avoid the venting issues in a gas oven, the weight of a dutch oven at scorching 450F heat being held upside down is very difficult to manage. Yes, it can be done but the results are attainable using any one of many far safer methods. Remember the book is aimed at folks who have never baked bread. Even the famed "No Knead" breads only have you removing a lid on a dutch oven.

The one redeeming component of the book is the discussion of managing fermentation to manipulate the outcome. The idea of using the leavan prior to it's maximum activity is interesting. I made the basic country bread yesterday and found it to be demanding. The fermentation time for my room temperature was 5 hours, during which I had to stretch and fold every 30 minutes to build the gluten strength. The proof time ended up being 4 hours before I finally called an end to the wait and baked it in 2 sessions under a clay le choche bell cooker. I left the second loaf in  the oven unmolested for the full 20 minutes after removing the cover and got a darker color. The first loaf, I checked a few times and rotated the loaf which looses a lot of energy.

I like the bread. A good crust and a moist crumb with mild sour flavor the first night. It's hard to say for sure but I'm not sure the starter feeding schedule lowered the sour notes. It's about the same as usual for my regular Pain au Leavan. I might do some further experiments with controlling fermentation and using the starter before it is at its maximum ripeness. This is the only area of the book where the method put forth is new and unique to me. This is an advanced technique in my opinion. It's difficult to determine how far along the activity has progressed by using your sense of smell. Waiting for it to begin to fall is at least a stage most people can understand, and knowing your starter will double or triple in a given length of time is quantifiable.

I don't want to be taken as a mean spirit here. But. I feel  a responsibility to speak the truth where it conflicts with normal conventions. I appreciate that it is hard to get a book published and off to market. In my opinion this book is not for a new baker and maybe not for anyone who is just learning to bake with sourdough. You have to be experienced enough to know on your own that the formulas are all wrong. At the least you have to know that every other bread author in the world uses bakers math in a different way to arrive at a final dough. The in depth description of all of the phases of baking are well written and helpful but the basic concept of using bakers math is flawed. There are many good books on the market to help aspiring bakers learn the basics. Reinhart's "Bread Bakers Apprentice" is one, and Hamelman's "Bread" is another to name the first that come to mind. Daniel DeMuzio's "Bread Baking" or Dan Lepard's offerings are some others who are well known and follow standard conventions. In conclusion, my advice would be to pass this book over. Its basis is factually sloppy and the method is unnecessarily difficult.I don't mean to be harsh but, it is what it is. Lots of good books out there to choose from.



rossnroller's picture

Like many here, I imagine, I like to try lots of different breads in amongst my rolling repertoire of regulars. I've been doing more new ones than regulars lately, but had a sudden urge to revisit one of my old favourites: Gérard Rubaud's bread, which Shiao-Ping brought to the attention of TFLers some time ago in a spectacular bake that was essentially her homage to GR: see here. Shiao-Ping referenced Farine's blog on Gerard Rubaud as the source of her inspiration. I acknowledge and thank Farine and Shiao-Ping for alerting me to this wonderful baker and his bread.

For those of you who have not tried making Gérard's bread, I'd strongly recommend you give it a go. It's not an easy one due to the 80% hydration of the dough. Whenever I make it, I wonder whether I'll find it easier than the last time. I use it as something of a gauge as to whether I've improved!

I'm still a bit hit and miss with the shaping. The dough can get very sticky and hard to handle. These days, I use GR's batard shaping method, which I prefer to Hamelman's or Reinhart's, but you need to be liberal in sprinkling flour over your working surface to avoid the unholy mess that can result if the dough sticks (to surface or hands, or both!). I also sprinkle some over the dough itself to make it a bit easier to manage.

Scoring can be a challenge with a wet dough like this one. I managed it quite well this time, but in my haste to finish the slashing and get the thing into the oven before it slumped flat on the peel, I scored it unevenly (see pic). Still, the rise ended up not too bad, especially considering that some ciabattas are less highly hydrated than this baby!

I basically stuck to Shiao-Ping's recipe directions, but halved her quantities, making a large single batard instead of a boule. I also altered the baking times as follows:

  • Oven on max (250C), load dough, drop to 225C. Bake with steam 15 minutes (I still use ice in a tray in the bottom of the oven and manual misting at the beginning of the bake...better results would surely result from using better steaming methods, such as those recently written up by David Snyder and Sylvia...must try them).

  • Rotate loaf, then bake @ 215C for another 15 mins.

  • Lower temp to 200C, bake 7 minutes, then out.

  • Cool for 2 hours before attacking.

The favours of this bread really are special IMO. I'd forgotten how damned good this is. Also, there's an intriguing quality about this crumb that I can only describe as a sensation of coldness when you bite into it. I've experienced that before with other breads, but not often. Tantalising stuff.

Anyway, enough of my blah. Here are a couple of pics:



Best of baking folks!


ronnie g's picture
ronnie g

I suppose it is rather funny to be making homemade sourdough bread and never having eaten any of it before.  I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be comparing it to.  I was in the San Francisco airport this time last year and saw everyone advertising their sourdough bread and wondered what was so special about it.  I didn't buy any!  What a dummy!

Anyway, my friend knows I'm in full sourdough production at the moment, so today she bought lunch over.  (Oh, she didn't come to bake, we paint together.) She bought a little sourdough bun from a local bakery that is just starting to sell sourdough bread.  I won't buy it because it's nearly $7 a loaf!  I was excited now to be trying what I thought was real sourdough.

Well, I found it to be quite flavourless and stodgy apart from the lovely olives in it.  It had a bit of a tang to it and a little bit of a crunchy crust, but it made rather a hard task to eat it! I was surprised by the density and heaviness of the bought bun.  

In fact, even though my sourdough is far from perfect in these early stages of learning, I far prefer what I'm making which seems moist, slightly chewy, less dense, nuttyish, slightly sourish, with a crust to die for.  And I'm a beginner!!! 

Soooooooooooo everyone, what should good sourdough taste like?  And is it supposed to be a bit heavier and dense than regular bread?

Katelyn's picture

Hey All,

So I tried making Sourdough Bread Bowls for the first time a few weekends ago, and it turned out a disaster! I used my own Sourdough Starter, and followed the directions...but they came out really hard and just didn't look good at all! The inside was alright, but nothing to brag about. I was wondering if anyone had any tips on what I can do different next time! 


Home Baker's picture
Home Baker



  • 700g all purpose flour

  • 700g bread flour

  • 200g rye flour

  • 150g whole wheat flour

  • 100g wheat germ

  • 100g ground whole grain cereal

  • 100g milk powder

  • 50g cracked/kibbled wheat and/or rye berries

  • 40-50g course kosher salt

  • *1/2 teaspoon citric acid powder

  • *1/2 teaspoon ginger

First, grind, weigh and measure all the dry ingredients, combining them in the mixer bowl.

Let the mixer stir the dry ingredients to an even blend. I use the paddle attachment turning on its lowest speed in the completely filled bowl of a Kitchenaid K5A mixer. Once mixed, you will divide the dry ingredients into two equal parts.

I should mention here that the portions and processes in this recipe were designed to match my own kitchen and my own equipment. The dry measures completely fill my largest mixer bowl, the four loaves are the maximum that my oven can handle in one bake. 


I start building production starter a couple of days ahead, with the aim of having about 600 grams of vigorous starter ready when I plan to start mixing and fermenting the loaves. 

Measure separately for each batch:

  • 250g production sourdough (from whole grain rye, whole grain wheat and unbleached KA all purpose -- all organic)

  • 660g water

  • *2 tablespoons honey (from a local coop)

  • *1/2 teaspoon natural soy lecithin

  • *1 tablespoon organic barley malt syrup

  • *1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Make two batches of wet ingredients. The dough will be mixed in two batches to prevent ruining the mixer by overtaxing its motor and gears. One batch of wet ingredients goes into each half of the dry ingredients mixture. 


Into each of two large mixing bowls, add one measure of the combined wet, then one measure of the combined dry ingredients. Fit dough hook onto mixer and carefully work one measure of wet ingredients into one measure of dry ingredients for only a few minutes, ending with two batches of wet dough. Cover each  bowl with plastic and let it rest for 1/2 hour.


Dump each bowl of wet dough into the same large plastic lidded tub. Stretch-and-fold dough a few times in the tub, then cover tub with lid and place into refrigerator for total of 16-24 hours.

Remove tub from refrigerator for about ten minutes of stretch-and-folds at two intervals, first after 4-6 hours and once more after 8-12 hours. Rest in refrigerator for final, uninterupted 8-12 hours.

Place at least a pint of water into a clear glass or plastic container and place the container the same spot the final rise will occur. A ball of dough will be dropped into water at the same time as the loaves are set in the rise location. By watching for the moment when the sunken ball of dough floats the the surface it will be possible to determine exactly when the dough has reached its maximum rise. The vessel of water is placed in the area where the final rise happens well ahead of time to ensure that the water achieves the same temperature as the air --and the rest of the dough-- in that space. 


Cut a small (50-75g) piece of dough off and shape into tight ball. Cover and set aside.

Divide remaining dough into:

  • 2 pieces @ 950g for smaller (8") loaf pans, and

  • two pieces @ approximately 1125g for large (9") loaf pans.

The process I use is to portion two pieces of dough at 950g, then weigh remaining dough and divide it into two equal portions. The larger amounts can vary somewhat but I find this recipe gives the best result from the standard 8" loaf pan when the loaf is formed from a 950g measure of dough. Shape and pan dough into the greased loaf pans. Place loaves into plastic bags or lidded tubs for final rise, then move to the final rise location. 

Now, retrieve the reserved ball of dough and drop it into the glass of water which had been placed hours before in the same final rise area where the shaped, covered loaves have now been placed. The ball of dough will sink to the bottom of the container of water. The ball of dough will remain submerged in the glasss of water for a long time, but start checking it periodically after about two hours. The amount of time required for the dough ball to float (which marks the end of the final proof) can vary widely, from at least two to more than four hours, depending on temperatures and the vitality of the starter. I have found that capturing the precise moment when the dough achieves its maximum rise (but not a minute more) is the key to producing a really remarkable flavor and appearance from this recipe. Excellent and repeatable results are obtainable by using this method to monitor the final rise: when dough ball floats to the surface the loaves must go immediately into the hot oven.


About an hour before you think baking will begin, place a shallow metal pan in the bottom of the oven and turn on the oven to preheat to 500°F. As soon as the dough ball floats to the surface of the water it has been submerged in, place a mug 2/3 full of hot water to boil in the microwave. Remove panned loaves from their plasic enclosures and slash each loaf once down the middle, along its longest dimension. Take mug of boiling water from microwave and pour it carefully into the metal pan in the bottom of the oven. Place the four panned loaves on one shelf, set at a height just below the center of the oven, close oven door and reset oven temperature to 460°F. After ten minutes lower temperature to 425°F. After 20 minutes rotate loaves for even browning and turn heat down to 375°F. After 40 minutes begin checking loaves for doneness. I bake the loaves to an internal temperature of 205°F - 210°F, which takes 45-55 minutes. Each of the loaves always seems to need slightly more or less time in my oven. 

Cool loaves on rack for at least two hours before slicing. Flavors don't fully develop until about 24 hours after removal from oven. 

*NOTE ON MEASUREMENTS: Measuring cups and measuring spoons handle thick liquids and small quantities of dry product more accurately and with less waste than my scale does.

Recipe submitted to YeastSpotting page at Wild Yeast.



OldWoodenSpoon's picture

I think I'll post these here, and then start a new "Ugly Loaf" thread in the General forum.  It seems I'm always posting loaves I'm proud of because they look nice (to me), so it is time to admit I'm human.  Really, really human.

I spent the day yesterday baking, and making a giant batch of Red Sauce for pasta and lasagna.  In and among all of that I also started a batch of sourdough bread to ferment overnight and bake tonight.  Tonight, my wife made us a lasagna for dinner from the red sauce out of the refrigerator, and I planned to follow that in the oven with my bread.  The sauce was cold, the cheese was not thawed out, and things took a lot longer than planned, so by the time the oven was free and up to bread temperature, my loaves were, shall we say, more than ready!

On top of that, I broke the bottom of my La Cloche baker last week (another story for another time) so I started experimenting with the inverted roasting pan for steaming.  Yesterday went okay, but I need lots of practice!  Today these over-proofed loaves bested me easily.  The first stuck to the peel, which was not big enough for it's over-proofed girth anyway.  It ended up in almost the middle of my baking shelf and I could not move it.  I pushed the second one in alongside as close as I could get it and told my wife "This is going to be ugly." in my best deadpan tone.  I was right.  Here's proof!

The two loaves were overlapping "a little bit" in the middle.  They also spread out plenty when they hit the stone, and I could not get the roaster pan "around" them, so it sat on them, kinda, at the edges.  The results are worth a picture, and it says the prescribed 1000 words easily.  Many of them unprintable!

So, there it is in all it's glory.  An edible lesson.  Ah, the joys of baking.

Thanks for stopping by, and I'll bet this never happened to you.

Franko's picture



Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread book has been getting a lot of attention on this forum of late so I decided to order a copy and see what it was all about. Mr Robertson's description of his journey to create the bread he had in his mind is a fascinating read and speaks to the dedication he has for his craft. While the book doesn't get into the same level of technical detail as Hamelman's 'Bread', it doesn't suffer for lack of clear and precise instruction, making it accessible to anyone interested in producing fine hand crafted breads, croissants, and brioche. Included is a chapter on various ways to use day old bread, which in itself is worth buying the book for, and one of the best collection of recipes I've seen for quite some time. Eric Wolfinger's excellent photography is found throughout the pages and adds significantly to the overall high quality of this book.


Chapter 1-Basic Country Bread describes in detail Mr Robertson's foundation formula and procedure for making the bread upon which all his other breads are based. Out of respect for copyright I wont share the formula here , but as Mr Robertson says, it is a simple process , and the formula is that of a basic levain style dough. It seems that this past weekend a few other TFL'rs decided to make this bread as well, notably David Snyder, who had wonderful results using Chad Robertson's technique of baking the bread in a dutch oven.

Never having used a pot for baking a loaf, I was intrigued by the photos in the book of the dark bold bake that this method can achieve, but as the recipe makes two loaves I decided to bake one in the pot and the other on the stone using Sylvia's method of steaming that's been so successful for her and other TFL members. I made the dough up by hand giving it a 45 minute autolyse and then a 3hr bulk ferment following the guidelines in the book for folding in the bowl, a technique I appreciate because of it's easy cleanup. The dough was divided into 955 gram portions, lightly rounded and rested for 20 minutes before final molding, then placed in floured bannetons for an overnight rise in the refrigerator. I would have liked to have done it all in one day but it was a 'work night' so my time was limited. After 19hrs of final cold rise the first loaf was slashed and placed in the lid of the dutch oven with a round of parchment beneath it, and the pot was placed on top of that. I thought this way would be easier than lowering the loaf into the pot with a lot of extra and unnecessary parchment paper. The oven and pot had been preheated to 500F for a good 40 minutes before the bake began, then turned down to 450F for the remainder of the 45 minute bake.

After 20 minutes the pot was lifted very carefully off the loaf and the loaf continued it's bake, finishing the crust and taking on a rich brown colour.

When the first loaf began it's bake I took the second one out of the fridge and let it warm up on top of the oven, so that by the time the first was out and my stone had heated for the second bake it was ready to go. Into the oven it went with Sylvia's towel steaming method in place and the vent blocked. I gave it as much steam as I possibly could during the first 10 minutes, spritzing regularly in 3-4 minute intervals. It didn't result in quite the jump that #1 had but it did bloom nicely along the slashes creating the type of pattern I've been trying to get on some previous bakes of other levain style breads.

Even with an 8 minute longer bake than #1 it just didn't take on the same kind of caramelization as the pot baked loaf. Still, I was happy with both results and I think both methods have their place depending on what your preferences are for a particular type of loaf. I'm not sure I'd use the pot with anything other than a very lean formula, as I think you might just get a little more colour than you were bargaining for, but for the Tartine basic Country Bread, and similar lean levain style breads it's a method I'll continue using.

Recently my wife Marie hinted that I might be getting a new mixer under the tree this year for Christmas since my KA is getting pretty long in the tooth, so to speak. Now I love new toys as much or even more than next person, so she was a little shocked when I told her that I've decided to start mixing bread by hand as often as possible from now on. It just makes sense to me that the breads that many of us are trying to emulate, are breads that have been around since long before the electric mixer appeared on the scene. I realize it's possible to mix these 'craft/artisan' breads with a mixer by controlling speed and mixing time, but for home baking it's become apparent to me that it's much more practical, and in most ways more satisfying to use the two best mixers I came equipped with. If I had any doubts about making this change they were put to rest when I cut into loaf #1.


This is the type of crumb that I want for my wheat based levain breads.... not exactly, but closer than I've come previously, which I think is due largely to the fact that this dough was worked even less intensively than I would normally do by hand. Why it took me so long to connect the dots that have been staring me in the face all this time, I believe is due to having been trained on mixers, and having used them throughout my professional career for bread mixing. Just goes to show that in baking, the learning never stops if you keep an open mind to the new ideas.. as well as the ancient tried and true methods of bread production.


Best Wishes,





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