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Franko's picture

Pain au Levain with Red Fife Whole Wheat Flour

Every year in November Marie and I make a point of attending one of our local Christmas craft fairs in hopes of finding some unique items for gift giving as well as for ourselves. This year the fair had more vendors than I've seen in previous years, with lots of newcomers from various locales in BC as well as Washington state. One of the newcomers was a fellow by the name of Bruce Stewart who owns and operates a craft bakery called True Grain Bread in Cowichan Bay here on Vancouver Island .

When I met Bruce he was handing out samples of his Christmas fruit cake to a group of folks and quickly offered some to Marie and I. Now I'm not usually a big fan of fruit cake but this was exceptional, and superior to any I've had in the past. Bruce is a very genial guy and clearly has a lot of enthusiasm and passion for his craft and product, so the two of us easily fell into a conversation when I mentioned that I was a professional baker as well. At his bakery Bruce mills most of the flour he uses on site, to make a wide variety of breads, including rye, spelt, kamut, emmer, and most interesting to me, Red Fife wheat . Red Fife is one of Canada's premier grains and listed on the Slow Food Organization's 'ark of taste' as Canada's first presidium. For more background on this click the link below.

If you look on the left of the page in the link above you'll find another link to the 'Ark of Taste' which lists all the various foods of countries that the Slow Food Org considers worthy of cataloguing and preserving for future generations. Our TFL members from the USA might find it interesting to note that they have 139 listings for various food groups, more I believe than any of the other nations listed.

While I was chatting with Bruce I noticed he had some bags of flour for sale and asked if he had any Red Fife that I could buy, as I've yet to run across it for sale at any of my usual sources for flour. Bruce smiled and asked me if I wanted the sifted or the whole grain and how many bags. I went with a bag of whole grain Red Fife and a bag of his unbleached organic white , which is one that he doesn't mill himself. I'm kicking myself now for not getting the Red Fife sifted, but it gives me an excuse to take a drive down Island and pick some up at his bakery and maybe get a tour of his shop as well.

Hamelman's Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat Flour was the formula I decided to use the Red Fife in since his formulas are so reliable and familiar to me. First I needed to convert some left over liquid whole wheat starter to a stiff starter using the Red Fife, and then to a levain for the final mix. This took a few days of feedings before it was good and active, and ready for use. I mixed the levain one night before going to bed , intending to use it the next day when I got home from work. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. We've been having some record cold temperatures here on Vancouver Island this last week, making my 70k commute to work in the wee hours of the morning somewhat treacherous. While I was at work my wife called to tell me that another front was moving in and another dump of snow was expected to happen overnight. I decided to stay in town that night rather than try and do the drive back up Island the next morning in even worse road conditions than we already had. Realizing I'd probably have to start over again with the levain was slightly disappointing but preferable to finding myself off the road in a ditch... or worse. The next afternoon I managed to get home without any problems thankfully, and immediately tested the levain to see if it had any life left. Lo and behold it did, popping to the surface of a bowl of warm water I'd placed a few grams in. The rest of the mix went according to Hamelman's directions, but mixed by hand. I'd scaled the mix so that I'd have two 900 gram dough pieces for baking, which I then molded after a 3hr bulk ferment as a batard and a boule, covered with linen, and put overnight on a shelf in our very cold garage to finish a slow rise.

The next morning I checked the loaves and was surprised to find that they'd risen quite a bit more than I'd expected due to an overnight warming of the outside ambient temperature. I could tell the batard was over proofed, but not so far gone it wasn't worth baking off, and the boule looked to be fine in it's banneton. The batard was baked first, on the stone with a foil roasting pan covering it for the first 20 minutes, and the boule was baked using the Dutch oven method. The batard turned out as expected, with low volume and spring, but the boule baked off quite well I thought, with lots of expansion, a good jump, and no wild splits.

To my taste the Red Fife has a certain sweetness to it that I don't find in other whole wheat flours, and which helps to bring out it's rich wheat flavour. Combined with the white and medium rye flours called for in Hamelman's recipe it works nicely to boost the overall flavour of his very good formula. This bread will go perfectly with tomorrow nights meal of red wine braised short ribs and a white bean and tomato gratin that I'm making for our family dinner.

It looks like things are warming up a bit now and the roads are getting back to normal, so with any luck I'll be able to make the drive down to Cowichan Bay to pay Bruce and his bakery a visit sometime in early 2011.

Best Wishes,



bottleny's picture

This was my first time to use oven to bake bread (before used bread machine). I had been wanting to try the no-knead bread receipe since it came out in 2006.

I followed the original receipe but tuned it to suit my case. Since my order of the digital scale hasn't arrived, I could only use volume to measure the quantities:

  • 3 Cup flour (2 AP + 1 WW)
  • 1 5/8 tsp salt
  • 3/8 tsp active dry yeast (direct into the mix)
  • 1 5/8 Cup filtered water

After mixing, it looked pretty sloppy.

Then went back to look at the video and realized that it's 1 1/2C water used in the video. This dough was way too wet. Anyway, I still continued the process. Atfer two hours at room temperature, I put the dough (inside a plastic bag) into the fridge.

Here are a series of photos of the long cold-fermentation process.

With another hour at room temperature (total 58.5 hr), I streched and folded the dough. It's so wet that even with plenty flour it's very difficult to handle the dough.

I let it sit for 15 min and then transferred it onto a kitchen towel with flour & cornmeals. Covered for 2.5 hr for the 2nd rise. The dough did rise quite a lot (but in a flat round shape).

When I tried to put it into the big stainless stew pot (preheated in the oven at 500F), I couldn't let it slide into the pot. The dough was so wet that it sticked to the towel. I tried to use the chopping mat but it still sticked to that. In the end, I had to scrabed the dough down.

I was worried that this might delate the dough quite a lot. But when I removed the cover after 30min, I noticed the bread was all right. So happy that I forgot to lower the oven temperature to 450 until 8 min later. I let it baked at 450 for another 8 min before took the bread out.

It looked not bad right? Initially I shaped it into a round "disk" (it's too soft to be shaped into a ball), but it became oval when I tried very hard to let it slide into the pot. I even slashed the dough but it's all gone during that process.

Look at this caramalized crust!

I brought this bread for the Thanksgiving dinner at my supervisor's house. I had the honor to cut my bread and took the picture.

When I saw the crumb like that, I knew it's going to be good. And indeed, it's very chewy inside! I was very proud of my bread. Well, for a newbie, this was a big success.

If I didn't have the trouble of sliding this extremely wet dough into the pot, the bread would likely rise higher than the above.

I estimate the hydration in my dough was around 90%, much higher than Mark Bittman's in his later note (80%). Next time I would definitely lower the water amount. I would like to try no-knead bageutte. :-)

yozzause's picture

What a mouthfull of a title and what and what a mouth full of a bread

I have recently made a very nice Dark Irish Stout and retained the dregs from the bottom of the fermenter. The stout has just been sampled with  a very big tick of approval it was a very vigourous brew and performed very well indeed. i took 250 grams of stoneground wholemeal flour and added 250mls of my brewery sludge  and bought it together and set it aside as a soaker.

the container shows the brewing dregs that i have kept in the fridge for a few weeks now.

the above pic shows  the dough as it was taken after bulk fermentation marks on the bowl give an indication of the rise.

The soaker showed good signs of activity after 6 hours  but it was bed time so it ended up with a soak time of  15 hours, the soaker was still retaining its gas the nextmorning and so the to the mix was added 250grams of plain white flour (AP) just supermarket home brand stuff 10 grams of cooking salt 20 grams of blended oil 20 grams of malt extract and a further 100mls of stout giving a total hydration of 70% NO YEAST or other culture were added. the kenwood chef was employed for the mix and toward the end 100grams of sunflower seed kernals were mixed in the dough was finished at 9.30am  and from the picture above the dough was marked on the cling film and a good rise resulted after a bulk fermentation time of 5 and a half hours.

The dough was tinned up and was slightly small for the tin @ 900grams the loaf was given a full proof of about 5 hours and baked in a gas oven on 200 deg C for 35 to 40 minutes. little or no oven spring was evident.

The aroma was delightfull but i went to bed as soon as it came out of the oven but was delighted to have a wonderfully moist and full flavoured bread for both breakfast and again as sandwhiches for lunch.

So although we do not celebrate thanksgiving here in Australia i think this would have been a worthy loaf for such an occasion, perhaps Australia day in January when we have a big firework display over Perth city and  we watch it from the back of my Hartley yacht in the Canning River with a nice cold SAV BLANC

kind regards Yozzause

MadAboutB8's picture

Plain sourdough is not something I make often, though I intended to  but I seems to easily get distracted by multigrain and/or fruit breads. Somehow, I feel like one last weekend and I picked the Pain au Levain with whole wheat from jeffrey Hamelman's Bread cookbook.

The recipe uses stiff levain build which is also a good timing that I can convert my liquid starter (100% hydration) to stiff starter (60% hydration) before I am going away in the next two weeks for a month and won't have chances to feed my lovely pet starter, Jerry. I was afraid that he would be starving (for flour and water) and pass away while I'm away.

Thanks to a post on The Fresh Loaf about the sourdough starter feeding. Apparently, stiff starter is more resilient than liquid one. It is more likely that it will survive after not being fed for a while. I only need to feed Jerry a few times when I'm back from holiday to wake him up and come back to his cheerful and active self.

This bread has a pronounced sour flavour, which I believe is the result of stiff levain build with mixed flour in it (mixed of rye and bread flour). The crumb is soft, open and chewy. It's a good complement to olive oil with a bit of dukkah.  

For more details, you can visit ;


gary.turner's picture


For turkey day this year the family get-together will be smaller than usual, 18 rather than the more usual 25 to 30. Maybe that's not a bad thing, though. I volunteered to bring the bread and a dessert.

I have wanted to try a baklava since turosdolci posted her version. Then there was breadsong's bread pumpkin, which I thought way cool.

Just in case, I  put some dinner rolls on my list, and since I was about to run out of sandwich bread, and I was using the same formula for the rolls, I mixed up a four pound batch of dough.

Get the picture? Three breads, each requiring a different time and temperature combo and a pastry requiring yet another. Now David (dmsnyder) may feel completely at ease doing six breads, five pies, separate menus for those who keep kosher and the family vegans, and a partridge in a pear tree. I, on the other hand am a bit stressed.

Let me say that I  expect the baklava to taste wonderful, but to say that prep time is 30 minutes might be understating the case. I think if I never try to  handle philo dough again, it will be too soon. For someone with a palsy from a bout with Gillain-Barré Syndrome back in '98, those sheets are just a bit flimsy. Lots of patchwork in that pastry. But, it did  get done Tuesday evening, and it should be properly cured by dinner Thursday. Now, if I can just borrow a forklift to carry it to the car.

The bread pumpkin was interesting. I  had made a test bake, and found the dough less wet than I expected, and with 25% whole grain flours (I only had whole grain rye), it was pretty dense. I  used medium rye this time, but I think the canned pumpkin puree was considerably wetter than that previously used. The dough was wet. Really wet. Even with a new razor, slashing was an adventure. The loaf does look interesting, if not nearly the perfection breadsong got. It might have been easier had I made the same size loaves she made. Mine was just shy of 1kg.

The rolls are nothing special, simply a sourdough white sandwich bread in 2oz balls. I spritzed them before putting them in the oven,  and the oven spring was enough to cause some  of the rolls to split. I consider that a Good Thing.

I don't have a digital still camera, so  I got out the video with the dead battery. :shock: They're always dead when you need them. So, charge up the battery and shoot a couple  of pics. That's why it's 6AM Thursday morning and I haven't been to bed yet. I'll get a few hours sleep, load the car and head to my niece's for dinner and football.

I hope you all have as good a day as I  will.



SylviaH's picture

With a house full of company, my little grandaughter helped me make this apple and pumpkin pie.  We used Caroline's buttermilk crust recipe..ran a little short on didn't get a fancy crimped matter, won't affect the taste... we also made a couple of pumpkin pies problem just pieced in the edges.  Making a deep dish apple next time I will triple the recipe..also 3X for 2 large pumpkin pies.  I like plenty of dough to work with and can always make cinnamon twists with extra dough...we like our crust a little on the thickish side...especially when it's this buttery tasty and DIL requested a thicker crust, made me smile! 

Grand daughter picked the Indian girl pie bird for Thanksgiving, she liked her better than the Indian boy!  I have a lot of pie birds!



Happy Thanksgiving to TFLoafers!


Nickisafoodie's picture

Boule covereduncovered on left


I made one large 7 pound recipe for two loaves (Hamelman's "Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Wheat").  Given they were 3.5 lbs each I baked one at a time. Both were retarded 13 hours in the fridge (okay, one was 12 and one was 13 hours) then placed directly on the hot stone after slashing, steam used first 12 minutes.

The first loaf used a large stainless bowl covering for the first 15 minutes of baking.  When removing the bowl some of the dough stuck to the side and pulled away, but it finished nice and the tear is not too noticable.  Thus my decision to bake the second loaf without the bowl - a big mistake (on the left in the first picture and in the single shot picture). 

You can see how the bowl made the first loaf on the right better looking with tiny bubbles and a nice crust.  The "mistake loaf" on the left and bottom has a dull looking crust in addition to a demarcation line about one inch up the side and all over the bottom which essentially matches the look and sheen of the crust from the first covered loaf.  The better looking blisters and color must be from the heat of the stone which can be seen when looking at the side of the loaf.   The top part of the uncovered loaf in the second picture doesn't have the nice color and tiny bubbles on the skin that the covered one has. 

I expect them both to look and taste the same when they cut on Thanksgiving- but visually speaking (and poor slashing technique aside) the loaf on the right looks much better.  So my take away is to stay with a covered loaf going forward. 

One other thought that surprised me: the oven spring was better on these breads coming right out of the refigerator and into the oven than those of the past where I would take them out one hour to warm up at room temp while the oven was preheating.  The chilled dough seems to not spread out to lower height and wider loaf by keeping the pent up energy intact until released by the heat - resulting in a higher rising loaf than otherwise. 

Happy Thanksgiving all...

rayc's picture

Because I did not want to throw out some left over starter, I made Flo's 123 formula.  I thought it turned out pretty good.  Loaf got cut before I got a pic, but have pics of  what was not consumed.  Every body here rated it good, but to me it didn't have the degree of sour tang to it that I like.  Crust was definitely chewy and the crumb was chewy also. Overall it was  a good bake. 


 250 grams   White Starter (67% hydration)

498 grams    Water

747 grams    White Bread Flour

18   grams    Salt


Baked at 450 degrees on convection  for 20 minutes covered with a aluminum pan.  (Thanks Susan)

Removed pan and baked another 20 minutes.   Didn't turn oven down, which next time I will turn oven down to 425 after 20 minutes.  Looking forward to the next time. 


I put the good things first The Sandwich with a cup of tea.  I have to say it hit the spot.

 crumb shot:



 crust shot:  I'm happy with the aount of oven spring I got.

Crust Shot:  Other side 


This was a good bake.  Just need to work on shaping a bit.  Practice makes perfect,



amolitor's picture

We broke up a jack-o-lantern for soup the other day (just a regular pumpkin, not a sugar-pie or anything, not a pumpkin especially for eating but of course edible). Had a couple cups of mashed baked pumpkin left over, so I thought I'd see what happened when I put it in bread. I wasn't expecting much flavor, since the regular pumpkins just don't have that much. The answer, in short, was: Eh, it's bread. Sort of moist.

The long answer:

Evening of Day 0:

  • 1 cup whole flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 T active sourdough starter

Let sit out overnight, covered, until you get a nice active/ripe sponge the next day.

Morning of Day 1

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 cups mashed baked pumpkin.. gunk
  • ripe sponge from last night
  • 4 cups bread flour (roughly)

Mix in the bowl to get a kneadable dough. I used a 10 minute autolyze at this point because I wanted to make muself some coffee.

This is where it gets interesting: The dough was kneadable without sticking on a wooded board (just barely -- this is my preferred dough texture). I kneaded in:

  • 2 and 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground coriander (I think this was an error)

and kept kneading. The dough kept getting sticker, and I kept dusting aggressively with flour. I think this not uncommon when you're adding vegetable matter to a dough, I have a potato bread recipe that's similar. I think the vegetables give up water as you work them. I kneaded for about 10 minutes on board, working in probably 3/4 cup of flour just to maintain it at "almost but not quite sticking to the floured board." At this point I gave up, and started kneading it as a high-hydration dough (slap it down, let it stick, streeeeetch a bit and fold it over, rotate 90 degrees and repeat) for another ten minutes. Thankfully, it didn't get much wetter.

Bulk rise a couple hours, with a couple stretch-and-folds, the dough came together beautifully. However, it tasted TERRIBLE, or possibly I was having a stroke. I *think* the coriander was doing something unpleasant, so the dough tasted fine for a few seconds, and then there was this weird bitter thing that happened in your mouth.

Anyways. Shaped into a boule, proofed in improvised banneton, preheat over to 475, bake with steam at 425 for 45 minutes. Probably should have baked longer.

The bad taste seems to be gone (thankfully) and what we're left with is a completely unremarkable sourdough that's rather moist (almost gummy) and has a lovely color. It's too moist to toast easily, which is a bore, I'd bake it another 10 or 15 minutes if I was to do it again (which I won't -- this recipe was a bust, to my mind!)

It's the best looking loaf I've ever baked, though, so by golly, here's some pictures:


Crumb very moist. You can see bits of pumpkin in it! Sorry for the sort of lousy photo, this was in the evening:


Mebake's picture

This is my recipe of a 50% sourdough spelt.

  Total Dough      
A/P flour 50% 539 grams    
spelt Flour 50% 539 grams    
Water 65% 701 grams    
Salt 2% 22 grams    
Total 167% 1,800      
  Levain Build      
        Prefermented Flour
A/P flour 100% 204 grams 35%  
Water 60% 122 grams    
Sourdough 25% 51 grams    
Total 185% 377      
  Final Dough      
A/P flour 310 grams      
spelt  Flour 539 grams      
Water 553 grams      
Salt 22 grams      
All levain 377 grams      
Total 1,800 grams      



In the evening, take you starter out of fridge, refresh it , and leave it on counter to double. Refresh it again before you go to sleep in such a way that it would double overnight.


In the morning, refresh the starter in propotions that would allow the starter to ripen in maximum of 4-5 hours. I chose to bake during week day, therefore i brought the starter with me to work to build my final levain. I was afraid of over ripening during my duty, so i reduced the starter in the levain from 25% (51g) to 25 grams. it took the levain 11 hours to ripen @60 hydration at 78F !

At Home, i cut the levain and dissolved it in the recipe water (tepid water), and then added the remaining ingredients except the salt. I Autolyzed the dough for 1/2 hour, and then spread the dough, sprinkled all salt on top, kneaded the dough until a smooth ball is formed. I was wary of my mixing , so as to not to over develop the spelt.

I immediately transfered the dough in its iled bowl to the refrigerator for an 18 hour retardation.


In the morning, I removed the dough( which has increased 50% in volume) to a bench and stretched and folded it letter wise. The dough was returned to the bowl, and i went to work.

On the evening, and 18 hours later, i removed the dough (which increased 50% in volume) to a bench divided it into two (1000g, and 800g).An hour later, i preshaped the still cold dough into a boule and a batard. An hour later, i shaped the doughs, and inverted them into floured bannetons.

I left the doughs to ferment for 3.5 hours. I preheated the oven with a stone and a pan filled with lava rocks to 470F for 30 minutes, and then inverted the doughs onto a peal and transfered the doughs to be baked for 15 minutes with steam, and 20 minutes without.

The flavor was mildly tangy, and spelt flavor was quite discernable. I liked it, though i would prefer a more hydrated dough (70%).




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