The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Recent Blog Entries

amolitor's picture

This isn't a recipe, nor is it instructions to anyone other than me, it's just a statement of where I am right now in terms of baking bread. Some will be appalled, others might be inspired. Most probably won't care!

Right now, I'm keeping it simple. When we moved from San Francisco, CA, to Norfolk, VA, we found that there really wasn't the kind of bread here that we were used to. At that point, I sort of fell in to teaching myself to make european style breads, of the kind that we used to buy from Acme and Semifreddi. Since my wife and I have always cooked and cooked fairly well, we had a pretty well-equipped kitchen (including large, heavy mixing bowls, and some strong wooden spoons, a pizza stone+peel kit someone gave us once, and so on). I haven't bought any new equipment for bread baking, and that's the way I like it. I mix and knead by hand,  I score with a very sharp german-made paring knife, I bake on a pizza stone.

Since I've developed a little skill and some small understanding of how breads work, I've stopped measuring much of anything for breads I make frequently. I use measuring cups to scoop flour and carry water around so I know roughly where I am at, but mostly I follow my nose around familiar recipes. My goal is to understand the way the dough should feel, and to adjust it as I go. Sometimes I am trying to make it feel the same way it did last time, other times I'm playing a little 'what if it's a little wetter? I wonder what the result will be' game.

Consistency, as you will have guessed by now, is not something that matters to me. I have enough understanding to know that the result will probably be good, whatever it is. If it's a slightly different loaf from last time, well, perhaps I will learn something about how changes in handling change the loaf, and as a bonus, my family gets a new bread to enjoy!

Things I do worry about and take some care with:

  • dough temperature (I'm not completely fussy, but I do try to cool things down when the ambient temperature is too high, and heat things up when.. well, this is Virginia, it's not really too cold very much of the time).
  • salt, which I worry about to the extent of having a base idea of where it should be, and adjusting up or down a bit if I've got a bit more or less dough than the basic recipe.

Note that even here I'm not measuring, I'm following my nose, just to push things in the right direction. Nothing is too extreme here, so even these rough adjustments get the temperature within a couple degrees of right, and the salt within a gram or two of optimal. And, hey, every error yields a "new" kind of bread!

Anyways. This is really just a note to a future me, and maybe someone else will find something herein they can use!


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Maybe this is unsolicited advice, but here goes... 

For those of you who have tried recipes and have failed, my advice to you is to make note of what went wrong, and try it again.  Try it again until you it works for you.  And keep trying until it comes out how you want it to.  This is the only way to get better.  Success is not a very good teacher.  Learning from your mistakes is...  This applies not only to baking bread, but life in general...


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hey All,

So my mother keeps pestering me to send my brother a birthday card for his birthday on September 22nd...  Personally I think sending a $5.00 card + $0.44 postage that just says Happy Birthday is sort of lame...  I don't think sending birthday cards is really a guy thing either...  So what's a guy baker going to do for his brother who lives on the West Coast?  Bake bread and ship it to him via USPS Priority Mail...  So here's the project.  How to bake a loaf of bread large enough to survive the 2 day trip out West without drying out and getting stale, and fit into the large priority mail package box which is 12" x 12" x 6"...   Hmmm...  Here's what happened:  I had some lasagna pans that were as close to square as possible, and my floured linen couch fabric...  Here goes...

Here it is!  It's about 13" x 10" x 5" and weighs about 1800g after bake...  Total dough weight before bake was about 2150g...  It took a little work getting it into the box, but it worked...  The cool thing about this big priority mail box is that you can ship up to 20lbs for $14.70...

Side profile and crackly crust!

More crackly crust!

Close-up of crack!

Some little ones for me and my friends at work...

Crumbshot of one of the little ones...  I hope the big one as a nice crumb like this one...  Maybe my brother will be nice enough to send me a crumbshot when he gets it...



odinraider's picture

I took the trip to the Amish store, and I brought back two types of bread flour, some high gluten flour, wheat gluten, whet germ, oat bran, and spelt. I wanted to try the spelt to make something hearty, something chewy and rich and full of old world flavor. The first thing I made was pasta. Talk about good! We usually use bread flour because I don't have any semolina to buy nearby. It is always good, but the spelt I put in changed it from good to ridiculously amazing.

Enough about that. The next thing I wanted to do is make a country style sourdough loaf akin to Dan Leader's pain de campagne, but my very own. Talk about success. This is what I came up with. Don't adjust your monitors; the loaf really is that dark. My wife thought it was burnt, even though it did not have a whiff of burnt odor. I was excited, because that is exactly what I wanted. I have the recipe below if you want to try it for yourself.



50 grams ripe, recently fed 100% hydration starter.

150 grams water.

50 grams whole wheat flour.

50 grams bread flour.

50 grams rye flour.

50 grams spelt.

Mix well and let develope, between 7 to 12 hours.

Bread dough:

350 grams starter (50 grams left over for next starter).

13 grams salt.

250 grams water.

50 grams rye flour.

50 grams whole wheat flour.

150 grams spelt.

250 grams bread flour.

Mix well, do your normal dough mixing operation. I let it go about 10 minutes in my mixer on medium, then one minute on high. The dough should be soft, loose, and tacky.

Let it ferment for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours, the heat the oven to 450 degrees. Shape the dough however you want, I think a boule would work best. I like an oblong, because it is easier to slice. Proof it for 1 and 1/2 hours. I proof it either on parchment or on linen, only because I have no banneton. That would work best. Anyway, bake it for 50 - 55 minutes, until it is nice and dark. Let it cool completely before slicing. Oh, and guess what - this is baked without steam!

txfarmer's picture

This year Chinese Mid Autumn Festival falls on 9/22, Wed, even though it still feels like high summer here in Dallas, I have been making traditional mooncakes to mark the occasion.


Traditionally, it''s a holiday for people to gather with loved ones. The round moon symbolizes "togetherness" and "family". My parents are in Seattle, while my husband's family is all the way in China, so we can only celebrate with them spiritually.

These mooncakes in the picture are of "Cantonese" style: the dough was kneaded then filled with various fillings (usually sweet), pressed with a special mold with different patterns for the top surface, then finally baked. The process of making them was long and tiring since I had to do everything from the scratch, while in China one can often buy the fillings or other ingredients readily made. It took me a whole day to make 40+ of them, with 3 different fillings: red bean paste with salted egg yolk, chestnut paste with salted egg yolk, and finally coconut cream.

The hard work was worthwhile though since we took them to my parents' home in Seattle last weekend, and had an early celebration there. My husband made very nice packaging for these so they don't get destroyed during the trip.

While in Seattle, I also made a batch of "Suzhou" style mooncakes. They have a different wrapper than the ones above, laminated similar to danish dough, and the filling is often savory. Here we used grounded pork and salted cabbage.

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hey All,

I had a friend Russ in town from LA that I haven't seen since his wedding about 5 years ago...  He finally made it out to NYC, 13 years after we had first met in college...  Funny thing is that last Christmas, I send a loaf of bread to another friend Greg in LA that we both know.  Greg was raving about it to Russ and his wife...  Anyway, many months pass, Russ finally makes it out to NYC, and his wife jokingly asks him to bug me for some bread...  Of course as an obsessive baker, I don't turn down many opportunities to bake for my friends...  I have been baking Poilane style pain au levains for the past fiew weeks trying different things with levain, flour combinations, hydrations...  I've been playing around with 68% hydrations levels which was inspired by Dominique Saibron of Le Boulanger de Monge:

He says on his website that they use 68 parts of water:

So here's recipe and process:


1576g Total flour (5% Rye/10% WW/ 85% AP)

1072g Water

38g Kosher Salt

316g Liquid Levain (100% hydration fed night before and refrigerated.  I keep mine an ever changing mix of rye, ww, AP)

3000g Approx total dough yield

Method To Madness:


4:45pm - Place all ingredients in large mixing bowl in the following order: water, levain, flour, salt.  Mix with large rubber spatula until a shaggy dough is formed.  Mix with wet hands to ensure all lumps and dry bits are gone.  Place bowl in large plastic bag and let rest.

5:00pm - Rest

5:30pm - Turn dough, divide into 2 equal pieces (1500g), transfer to lightly oiled plastic tubs, cover, let rest.

5:45pm - Turn dough, cover let rest.

8:30pm - Turn dough.

10:00pm - Turn dough.


12:40am - Shape into boule, place in well floured linen lined banneton, flour top of dough, place kitchen towel over each banneton, place bannetons into large plastic bag, proof for approx 4+ hours.  (Be sure to flour the bannetons very well as this is a very long proof with a wet-ish dough.  I had to be very careful when turning the boules out as they did stick a little and I had to be very patient for the dough to unstick itself and drop...)

5:00am - Place 2 baking stones on 2 levels along with steam pan with lava rocks.  Place a few cups of water in steam pan.  Preheat oven to 500F with convection.

6:10am - Turn off convection.  Turn boules out onto well floured peel, slash as desired, place in oven directly on stone.  When last loaf is in, place 1 1/2 cups water in steam pan, close oven door.  Turn oven down to 450F, bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove steam pan, rotate loaves between stones, turn oven down to 425F, bake for another 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes are done, turn off oven and leave loaves in for another 10 minutes...

7:10am - Take loaves out of oven, check internal temp and weight.  Should be around 210F and 15-20% lighter than the prebaked weight.  Cool completely before cutting and eating...

These are by far the most open crumb that I have ever achieved using levain only...  I have no complaints here other than I should have used more levain to speed up the dough...  This was about 14 hours from start to finish...



turosdolci's picture

This Baklava recipe isn’t overly sweet and for large group parties it is a winner.




amolitor's picture

This is my imitation of Acme Bakery's walnut levain. It's based on the Mixed Starter bread recipe in Baking With Julia. If you're not comfortable working with doughs by feel, if you really prefer to weigh ingredients, this recipe will not be helpful to you.

First starter:

  • 1 walnut sized piece of white-bread dough (this can be saved and frozen)
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2/3 cup bread flour

Thaw the old dough, if necessary, and cut/break it up into the water. Let soak 5 minutes or so, then mix in the flour. Knead to mix thoroughly (no need to develop gluten here). You're looking for quite a firm dough here. Let rise overnight.

At the same time:

  • 2 tablespoons liquid sourdough starter (whatever you have in a jar)
  • 1/4 cup rye flour
  • 1/4 cup WW flour
  • 1/2 cup bread flour
  • 1 cup warm water

Mix all together. Set out overnight (you will have two covered bowls sitting out overnight, the first starter, and this sourdough mixture).

Second starter:

  • first starter, cut up into
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup bread flour

As before, let the previous dough soak in the water for a while, then add the flour and mix/knead. Again, you're looking for a moderately stiff dough. (feels like 50% hydration, perhaps?). Let this rise 4 hours or so.

The sourdough mixture should be well-active by this time, approaching "mature" (not growing any more, starting to deflate a little), and the second starter should be well-risen (doubled, soft, ideally with some visible bubbles under the surface). When the second starter and the sourdough mixture are as described, which should be at least 4 hours, but could be more. place them both in the fridge for at least an hour, but longer is fine. The sourdough mixture is used for flavor, not really leavening, so you don't need to be very fussy about how mature it is.

Final Dough:

  • 1/2 tsp yeast proofed in:
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • all of the second starter, cut up into the previous water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • all of the sourdough mixture
  • approximately 2 cups bread flour

Let things warm as appropriate to manage your final dough temperature (you're shooting for around 75F, of course), and begin adding sourdough mixture and flour to the water/yeast/starter mixture. Add the salt fairly early. When you have acheived a shaggy mass, begin to knead. You're looking for around a 65% hydration dough here, moist but not particularly hard to manage. Knead thoroughly, 8-10 minutes by hand.

Now add 1 cup of coarsely chopped walnuts. Knead them in gently, enough to ensure they're evenly mixed in.

  • proof for 2-3 hours, with a stretch and fold or similar every hour, until you have good development
  • shape as desired (I use a boule)
  • final rise approximately 1 hour
  • bake at 425 or so, with steam, 45-50 minutes.

Baking will take longer than you might guess due to the walnuts. The crust should be more brown than golden.



hanseata's picture

Fall is the time of the year when Alsatians and wine loving Germans think: "Zwiebelkuchen"! For this mellow sweet onion pastry is the perfect companion to new wine.

If you travel in fall through the wine growing areas left and right of the Rhine, you will find inns, restaurants and many vinyards offering sparkling new wine (Federweisser). They often serve it together with freshly baked Zwiebelkuchen (Onion Tarte) or, an equally tasty variation, Porreekuchen (Leek Tarte).

But beware - Onion Tarte is an aider and abetter of that seemingly feathery light youngster, helping it go down so smoothly, that you are tempted to drink it like lemonade! When you wake up the next morning you realize why Federweisser is also called: "Sauser" (Buzzer) - there's something buzzing in your stomach and your head is spinning...

You find the recipe for Zwiebelkuchen or Leek Tarte here:

  Leek Tarte

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Okay, after all the compliments and enthusiasm over my new WFO, it is time to tell the dirty details of something I only just touched on in my earlier blog post:  the little matter of too much fire too soon, and the problems with the doorway arch.

Saturday morning I got over enthusiastic throwing wood into my "small drying fire".  My wife admonished with "Isn't that a little big?", to which I replied in my best know-it-all tone "No honey, you should see a big fire!".   Then we noticed the cracks, and the top bricks of the arch sagging from thieir proper position.  After much running around for steel buckets, fireplace tools, water and my heavy elbow-length gauntlets (it was really hot in there) I shoveled the live fire out of the oven as fast as I could and doused it with water in the bucket.  It was too late though, and the damage was done:

The crack is not all that bad, but the brick problem is another story.  A couple of days earlier we had noticed these bricks had come loose.  When I investigated, the mortar and the bricks had all separated from each other and the mortar was just loose slabs between the bricks.  This next shot makes it easier to see both the loose mortar and the keystone brick dropping through the top of the arch as well as a head-on view of the crack.



I hoped the insulation layer would secure things together, but the heat expansion in the dome proved I was just wishful thinking.  Something had gone wrong somewhere and my arch was coming apart as I stood there.  You can see the tops of two bricks I wedged into the arch to hold things up while the oven cooled off and I figured out a plan.


Here you can see my solution, if you look carefully.  I hope we can get a better shot of this tomorrow when the light is better, and I will edit that shot in here if we are successful.  However, if you can see it, my solution was to break another rule about ovens:  I installed a metal arch support in the form of a hoop shaped to fit inside my arch.  I made the hoop loose fitting, and then loosely packed a wood stove door gasket made of a fireproof, non-volatile glass fiber between the hoop and the brick to take up the slack and provide compressible space between the hoop and the masonry.  These materials expand at different rates and to different extents, and I have no idea if this will work or not.  Since my alternative if it fails is to rebuild the arch, and my alternative if I don't try this is to rebuild the arch, this is a free chance to get lucky.  As you can see in this shot above, I pulled all the old loose mortar out of all the arch joints.  That's all it took too:  I just grabbed it bare-fingered and pulled each wedge out in one piece.

While working on all this and running around I noticed something I now call "probable cause".  Earlier, I blamed this whole incident on too much fire in a green oven, too soon.  The next shot proves I could be wrong about that.  It certainly was contributory, but I'm not sure it was the cause at all.  I think I made a bigger strategic error earlier in the building process, in how I joined the arch and the dome.  If you look carefully at this next shot, especially at the very top brick, you will see it is tilted up to the right.  This brick was dead-level when I built the arch.

Here's what I did and what I think happened:

- When I mortared the arch originally I only mortared the front 75% or so of the wedge-shaped gaps.  I left the rear 25% empty so I could tie in the oven dome itself.  This was, I believe, the fatal flaw.

- As planned, I built the dome and filled in the rear-most 25% of these mortar wedges in the same pass as building up the dome, effectively making those parts of the arch an integral part of the new dome.  I also added a layer of oven mud over the top of the back 25% of the arch as well, thoroughly integrating the arch and the dome.

- I sat back and watched it all slow-cure as I kept the dome and the dome-arch joint draped with moist towels for three or four days, and then under cover of dry towels for two or three more days, all to slow down the surface drying and let the inner clay keep up better.  During this time the new dome showed some stress cracks from drying, which I worked over with the back of a spoon as much as I could to try to iron them out.  Honestly, it did not help much, and my overzealous drying fire on Saturday morning brought them all back.

Now, look again at the tilt up-to-the-right of that top brick in the shot above.  I believe the oven dome shrank significantly in drying, and because the doorway arch was so throughly integrated into the dome, the dome squeezed the arch in on the sides and down on the top at the back edges of the arch bricks, popping all the mortar loose and opening up bigger gaps between bricks than were there when I built the arch originally.  When the arch alone was complete, the inner surface was continuous, with the inner edges of each brick neatly and firmly in contact with the edges of it's neighbors.  Now it looks like carved jack-o-lantern teeth.

The fact that I built too hot and too large a fire on Saturday only brought all this to the fore sooner.  I now believe I doomed this arch when I tied it so tightly to the dome of the oven.  Nothing I read told me I should do this, and it also did not tell me I should not.  I learned that part myself.

I installed the new metal arch support today, and also re-mortared the arch.  Now I will give the fresh mortar in the arch a couple days to dry out and go back to small (yes, really small!) drying fires to slowly cure the oven dome and all, and see how it goes.  When I am finally able to really heat things up I will find out if my metal arch is going to be a help or the final straw that destroys the doorway arch.  Then I will know what the next chapter will be.

Thanks for listening, and stop by again.  I'll continue to post my progress, positive and negative, right here.




Subscribe to Recent Blog Entries