The Fresh Loaf

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Sam Fromartz's picture
Sam Fromartz

One of the challenges for a home baker is to try and figure out how to make a great bread once you've tasted it. Like encountering the Platonic ideal, you recognize it, reach for it and try and duplicate it -- and then you fail miserably and often give up.

Jim Lahey, the founder of Sullivan Street Bakery, was like a culinary Plato for me. Every bread he turned out was amazing and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't find a way to make the airy, light, wonderfully tasteful bread at home. To learn more, I actually visited his bakery in New York several years ago and did a story on him. And while he gave me a few generous tips in an interview (and critiqued the sample I had in my backpack), it wasn't enough. I had to learn on my own and like most bread, I later realized success was less about the recipe than the technique.

Lahey, of course, later caused a storm on the Internet with his no-knead bread recipe, courtesy of Mark Bittman. Then, he spun those recipes into My Bread published this past fall, which ranks as a perfect starting point for an aspiring baker.

Less known than his bread, however, are his terrific pizzas, which he also includes in the book. These aren't the round pizzas he serves up at his New York restaurant, Company, but rectangular sheets of exceedingly thin-crust pizza, topped with onions, mushrooms or just tomato sauce. They are sold by the slice in his bakery.

The big secret about these crispy gems? Like no-knead bread they are dead easy and fast to make. For the effort, you get great results. 

In fact, the pizza recipe was so easy that I was skeptical it would be worth it. You mix the dough quickly, let it rise for a couple of hours, flatten it out in a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, spread the topping and bake it. The recipe was also quite different from another here, because no mixer is necessary. 

You can dispense with a baking stone, too. And finally, watch your impulse on toppings! The biggest error pizza novices make is to pile on so much stuff the pie turns into a soggy, gloppy mess. As Jim told me many years ago, when it comes to pizza, "less is more." He's right. Like many Italian concoctions, he also avoids cheese on these rectangular pies and the result, in my opinion, is superior. But if you insist, go ahead and add a bit of cheese.

Here's his basic dough recipe and the stellar pizza patate (potato pizza).

Basic Pizza Dough 

Yield: enough dough for two pies baked in 13x18-inch rimmed baking sheets

3 3/4 cups (500 grams) bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons (10 grams) instant or active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon plus pinch (3 grams) sugar
1 1/3 cups (300 grams) water
Extra Virgin olive oil for pan

In a bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water, and using a spoon, your hand, or a baker's plastic bench scraper, mix together until blended -- about a minute (Jim says 30 seconds but mine took a bit longer). You don't want to mix or knead this dough too much, or else the gluten will develop and you won't be able to shape it in the pan. But you want to mix in all the lumps of flour. In the end, you'll arrive at a stiff dough.

Cover the dough and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours. (If your room is cold, put it in the oven with a pilot light to warm up a bit, or in a closed cabinet).

Dump out the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in half. Use both pieces, or save one in the refrigerator (I use a zip lock bag) for up to 1 day. Oil a 13x18 inch rimmed baking sheet liberally with good extra virgin olive oil (yes, pour it on). Then gently plop the dough on the pan and stretch and press it out to the edges. If it springs back (that's the gluten working) wait five minutes and then proceed. I found the gluten weak enough to spread it fully over the pan. The dough is very thin. If it tears, piece it back together.

Lahey has a few basic toppings in his book, such as pizza pomodoro (tomato sauce), pizza funghi (mushroom), and pizza cavolfiore (cauliflower), but I zoomed in on his pizza patate (potato). This might sound like a carbo-loading dream, but remember the crust is thin, so you're not stuffing yourself with dough.

Pizza Patate

As Jim writes, "Potato pizza is another Italian classic you don't see very often in the United States. While my rendition is pretty traditional, I soak the potatoes in salted water first, which actually extracts about 20 percent of their moisture. That causes them to cook more quickly and makes them firmer. It's a little trick I learned from cooking potato pancakes."

YIELD: One 13-by-18-inch pie; 8 slices 

EQUIPMENT: A mandoline

1 quart (800 grams) lukewarm water 
4 teaspoons (24 grams) table salt 
6 to 8 (1 kilo) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled 
1 cup (100 grams) diced yellow onion 
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) freshly ground black pepper 
About 1⁄2 cup (80 grams) extra virgin olive oil 
1/2 recipe (400 grams) Basic Pizza Dough 
About 1 tablespoon (2 grams) fresh rosemary leaves

Preheat the oven to 500 F (260 C) with a rack in the middle

In a medium bowl, combine the water and salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Use a knife or mandoline to slice the peeled potatoes very thin (1/16th inch thick), and put the slices directly into the salted water so they don’t oxidize and turn brown. Let soak in the brine for 1-1/2 hour (or refrigerate and soak for up to 12 hours), until the slices are wilted and no longer crisp. (Note: I cut the soaking time to 30 minutes and the results were still good.)

Drain the potatoes in a colander and use your hands to press out as much water as possible, then pat dry. In a medium bowl, toss together the potato slices, onion, pepper, and olive oil.

Spread the potato mixture evenly over the dough, going all the way to the edges of the pan; put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie, as the outside tends to cook more quickly. Sprinkle evenly with the rosemary. (Note: I left it out in the version pictured above, but feel it's better with it). 

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the topping is starting to turn golden brown and the crust is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature.

Variation • Pizza Batata (Sweet Potato Pizza)

Substitute 2 sweet potatoes (800 grams), peeled, for the Yukon Gold potatoes, and use about 4 cups (about 900 grams) water and 24 grams (4 teaspoons) salt for the soaking liquid. Omit the rosemary in the topping.

(I originally posted this on ChewsWise)

jennyloh's picture

As a newbie to baking bread,  sometimes going back to the basics help to boost my confidence that I still can make a decent loaf.  


Here's a recipe for Japanese Milk Loaf,  secret seems to be whipped cream.  

Simple loaf,  a little sweet to my taste,  but generally a good bread to go with cheese and ham and made a good 12 pieces from the loaf to be eaten within 2 days.  




breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hey All,

This is my 15% breadcrumb bread from my 1/15/10 bake.  I had a some baguettes left over from a previous bake, and didn't want to waste them so I made bread crumbs with them, and made more bread...  Enjoy!




Total Dough Weight: approx 998g

Yield: 2 loaves at 400g weight after bake

85% AP - 470g

15% Breadcrumbs - 70g

10% Firm Sourdough Starter - 47g (straight from fridge fed day before)

100% Water - 470g

1.8% Kosher Salt - 8g

0.4% Active Dry Yeast - 2g (1/2 tsp)

Notes: I used breadcrumbs made from baguettes that I had made earlier that were sliced and dried out.


Day before:

Feed sourdough starter, or convert liquid starter to firm starter.  Leave on counter at room temp for 4 hrs, refrigerate until ready to use.

Bake day:

1.  Measure out all ingredients, grind breadcrumbs by hand or in a food processor.

2.  Place all water and bread crumbs in large mixing bowl, mix well, and let stand for a few minutes to let the crumbs absorb the water.

3.  Add sourdough starter cut in pieces and the rest of the dry ingredients at once, mix with wooden spoon until all is combined into a shaggy dough, transfer to well oiled plastic container, cover and autolyse for 30 minutes.  It will be very wet, but it will firm up as the breadcrumbs absorb the water.  Do not add any extra flour.

4.  After autolyse, stretch and fold dough in container with wet hands, cover and let rest for 30 mins.

5.  Stretch and fold dough in container with wet hands, cover and let rest for 30 mins.

6.  Stretch and fold dough in container with wet hands, cover and let rest for 30 mins.

7.  Stretch and fold dough in container with wet hands, cover and let rest for 1 hr.

8.  After rest, dough should have doubled in size.  To test, poke dough with a floured finger.  If impression remains, dough is ready.

9.  Turn dough out onto a well floured surface, divide into 2 pieces approx 498g, preshape and cover with cloth and plastic, let rest for 15 minutes.

10.  On a lightly floured surface, final shape loaves into batard shape, and proof for 45 to 60 minutes in linen couche and cover with kitchen towel and plastic so they don't dry out.  Arrange baking stone in the oven along with a steam pan, and preheat to 500F with convection.

11.  When oven reaches 500F and loaves are proofed, carefully turn them onto wooden peel, slash as desired and place in oven.  When all the loaves are in, pour 3/4 cup of water into steam pan (use oven mitts), close door and bake for 18 minutes at 450F with convection, rotate and bake at 450F with convection for another 18 minutes or until internal temp reaches 210F. 

12.  Cool for at least 2 hrs before eating.

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hi All,

Here's some more catch-up blogging.  The top 2 are basically fat baguettes.  The bottom 2 are my made up version of bauernbrot with breadcrumbs.  Enjoy!


trailrunner's picture

This is the rest of this weeks' bake. This is my 2nd attempt at the Nury rye and I can definitely see a huge difference in both my abilities w/ wet dough and my starters. They are older as am I :) The bread has been commented on at length on this site so all I will say is that everyone is right...this is a fantastic bread. Thank you Zolablue for your original post, and David for his follow up comments and pics .



Photobucket crumb: Photobucket

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

This is for Floyd,

I think we should have a "The Fresh Loaf" T-shirt...  Have you thought about this before?  Lemme know...  I'd like to see what other Freshloafers think.


jpchisari's picture

Just recently joined this site and enjoying it very much! I had these photos from some breads I have made in the past. No crumb pics! Breads are long gone. Will Include those in future posts.

Sun Dried Tomato Bread w/Biga


Potato Bread-Straight Dough


Italian Bread-Straight Dough


Baguette w/ Poolish

Old Fashioned Bread w/Biga

Doughtagnan's picture

After reading the excellent recipe  by Pat (proth5),  posted by dmsnyder  I thought i'd give these a go over the weekend and well, it must be a good recipe as even in my ham fisted hands I managed to turn out some very tasty bread, even if I need to watch some more shaping 'n' slashing videos!  I varied it by using 300 grams of flour / 195ml eau (plus the rye starter) and made an overnight sponge with roughly 100g of the flour, starter and water the day before.  The one on the right was baked 1st and was better, must have been the proofing en plastic guttering! I had thought i'd slashed it fairly deeply but the rise was quite impressive. 

hansjoakim's picture

I've been experimenting with some different levain breads recently, all made with more or less the same procedure: Between 15% and 20% prefermented flour, bulk fermentation around 2.5 hours with one or two folds, and retarding in fridge overnight (or at least 8 hours).

First up was a semolina levain, loosely based on Hamelman's semolina bread from the levain chapter in his book. I added a pinch whole-wheat and whole-rye flour to the formula, to give it a bit more body. There's toasted sesame seeds in the dough, and flavourful seeds on the crust, that provide a rich taste to each slice. A very nice bread to go with cured sausages or paninis!

Semolina bread


A bread that really blew me away was a levain made with roasted potatoes, roasted garlic and fresh herbs. Here's a link to my spreadsheet which details the formula. If you want to try it, keep an eye on the hydration of the dough as you mix it: You might have to add or reduce water depending on the moisture of the roasted potatoes. The garlic gets a mellow, rich buttery flavour after roasting it, and it blends perfectly with herbs and potatoes in this humble bread. I used parsley, but anything from thyme, basil, rosemary, dill to oregano would work equally well. You could also replace some of the water with olive oil if you prefer a softer crumb. Either way, I can heartily recommend it.

Roasted potato and garlic bread


Finally, my everyday pain au levain from "Bread", the pain au levain with whole-wheat flour:

Pain au levain with whole-wheat flour


PS: If you're a literature buff (like me), keep an eye out for Sofi Oksanen, a young Finnish writer who's making waves in literature circles here in Scandinavia. Two of her three novels are translated into my mother tongue, and her third novel "Purge", is soon published in English ( link). Estonia, torn between Finland (West) and the Soviet union (East), is central to her work, and the tension between the two blocks has devastating effects on her characters. "Purge" is nominated for this year's Nordic Council's literature prize, arguably the most prestigious award for literature written in the Nordic languages, and I wouldn't be surprised if she wins.

trailrunner's picture

I found this formula on Sourdough Companion and used it as a starting point for my bread. is the link. I subbed the dates and pecans for the dried fruit. I also changed the spices . I used 400 g KA bread flour and 100 g KA ww flour. Sorghum syrup from TN for the sweetener. I baked it as one large loaf at 375 for 1hr. No steam and no stone this bake and no slash.

This is the most amazingly good sourdough I have made so far. The dough comes together like silk. I could handle it with ease and the folding of the fruit into the dough was simplicity itself. I used rice flour for the 1st time on the linen napkin with which I lined the basket. I will always do that from now on. It makes the dough literally fall off of the cloth w/ just a light dusting remaining. Things I will do differently...I will use a larger basket next time or else make 2 boules, I will slash...I didn't as I was afraid the fruit would burn. Turns out the charred dates are so YUM that it is a good thing when they caramelize. I will also go ahead and steam and stone although it is fine w/o but I want to see the difference. So here goes...formula "my way" and pics.

400g KA bread flour

100g KA ww flour

200g starter ( I used my 100% hydration white)

162g warm milk ( I used 1%)

162 g warm water

20 g sorghum syrup ( you could use honey)

10 g Kosher salt

7 g mixed spice ( 5 g cinnamon,1g cardomom,1g nutmeg)

250 g mixed dried fruits/nuts ( I used 1/2 chopped dates and pecans)

Mix all but fruits/nuts in KA just till moist and autolyse 20 min. Use mixer on setting 2 for 1 min to knead bread x 3 with 10 min rests between. May need to add a few drops of water depending on your ww flour and your moisture in your home. Dough should clean the bowl right away and be soft,pliable and silky almost from the start. Ferment 1 hr . Do 2 stretch and folds at 1 hr intervals on the counter. Return to oiled covered bowl after each.  Remove dough from bowl and flatten to a large rectangle. Dough is so smooth and soft that this was a pleasure. Strew the nut/fruits over the dough and roll up to a long tube and then gently fold in ends and sides to make a smooth ball. Return to oiled covered bowl 1 hr. Remove and shape as desired... 1  large boule, batard or 2 .Place in cloth lined basket. Let rise in a warm place for 3-4 hrs, I use the mantle in my kitchen above the fireplace. Bake in preheated 375 oven one hour for one large loaf or to 200 degrees internal temp...see my notes above...steam/stone etc are optional. Finished loaf :

Photobucket crumb shots: Photobucket Photobucket


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