The Fresh Loaf

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MaryinHammondsport's picture

With the loaf shown below I have managed to solve a couple of recent problems.

I mentioned earlier that I was having a spreading problem with my sourdough and other artisanal breads -- actually, anything not baked in a loaf pan. I speculated that this was because our water was softened. We had the water tested, and it came out as 1 grain (the equiv. of 17 ppm.) while Hamelman recommends between 100 and 150 ppm as ideal. We purchased some spring water just to test it; this was rated at 8 grains, or 134 ppm. It worked. Same recipe I have had trouble with, now no longer spreading all over.

A second problem with this particular recipe was a pale pale crust. Paler than Wonder Bread. I added 6 grams of diastic malt this time. Wow! Boule trial with harder water and maltBoule trial with harder water and malt

Because we have a very well-vented gas oven, I baked it under a stainless steel bowl. This was my second trial with the bowl and I am convinced. Real oven spring this time.

The crumb is the next area that needs work. I had some scheduling problems, and the dough was manipulated a little more than I had planned. The crumb is acceptable, but could be better. The taste is fine, though perhaps not quite sour enough, but I can work on both of those.

Thanks to Susan for the bowl idea and the Mike Avery for introducing the idea that overly soft water sould cause problems. Who would have guessed!






ejm's picture

I did it!!! I did it!!!

wild bread

After weeks of angst with babying my jar of wild yeast, feeling I would never be able to bake a loaf of bread that WASN'T sour (not to mention the several times I was going to throw in the towel altogether), I have achieved my goal.

Not only was it not too sour; it wasn't sour at all! And it was light!! Light as a feather!!

And here's how I did it: I virtually started over with feeding. Some time in March or so, I brought the sludge out of the fridge and returning to McKenna Grant's (Piano Piano Pieno) original formula, and started a twice a day regimen:

  • 2 Tbsp wild sludge
  • 3 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp water

And kept at it for days until finally finally, it began to look like a real starter again.

Now the question is whether I'll be able to repeat the success...

I like to balance cookie cutter(s) on top of the just shaped bread to etch a design in top of the loaf. For this loaf, I used 3 heart shaped cutters. Instead of removing them just before baking, I left them there for the first half of the baking and removed them when turning them around to account for uneven heat in the oven.

wild bread

The bread really was outstanding. Wonderfully crisp and chewy on the outside and light and open-holed inside.

dmsnyder's picture

So, for my last baking experiment of the weekend, I chose another bread I've baked many times - the Sour Rye Bread from George Greenstein's "Secrets of a Jewish Baker."

 I made two loaves and baked them together, covered for the first 15 minutes with the base of a large oval enameled metal roaster. This was a mistake. I was aware that the loaves were a bit crowded, in order that they both fit under the covering pan. When I attempted to remove the pan from them, I found that the loaves had stuck to the sides of the pan, one badly. I had to remove the pan from the oven with one loaf still stuck to it, scrape the loaf loose and replace it in the oven to finish baking. Both loaves suffered localized loss of crust. 

Compared to my previous bakings of this bread, with the oven humidified with hot water poured into a cast iron skillet, I had increased oven spring. And the loaves were, if anything, a bit over-proofed. For those of you who love burst loaves, this is for you! The crust was a tad crisper than usual, but still not thin and crackly. The crumb was denser than usual, but still quite in the proper range for this bread. The taste, as usual, was delicious - moderately tangy/sour. 


Sour rye, baked covered

Sour rye, baked covered 

Sour rye, baked covered

Sour rye, baked covered 


I will try baking this bread covered again some time, but I won't be crowding two loaves under one cover again.

 At this point, my overall feeling about baking bread covered is that it doesn't make a huge difference in the product - maybe a bit more oven spring, but is easier than fussing with the skillet/hot water method, in some ways. Other kinds of breads, like baguettes, may benefit more than the ones I've tried this weekend. I'll post my results when I try them.

It's been fun!



Susan's picture

Here's my first loaf using Bay State Milling's Bouncer. (Premium high gluten flour made from the finest high-protein spring wheat.) Smiling nicely, isn't it?

Dough made with this flour felt softer than with the GM All Trumps I've been using, and less stretchy. I was worried that my usual 70% hydration would be too high, but I don't think it was. The crust seemed a bit thicker and, boy, did it sing when it came out of the oven!

There was no real reason to switch from All Trumps to Bouncer; I just wanted to try out different flours.



Thanks for looking!

dmsnyder's picture

We have had a stimulating and instructive discussion of methods of replicating the effects of commercial oven steam injection in home ovens. (See I found it interesting that many home bakers have found coving the loaf during the first half of the bake to yield the best results - better oven spring, crisper, thinner crust, etc. So, I had to try it.


My first attempt was with a bread I have made many times - Jeff Hamelman's "Miche, Ponte-a-Calliere." I made it with King Arthur Flour's First Clear Flour. There would not have been room in the oven to bake two loaves, even if I had divided the dough, so there is no experimental control, other than my past experience. I baked this miche covered with the bottom of a large, oval enameled metal roasting pan for 30 minutes, then removed the pan and finished the baking for another 25 minutes.


The results:

Ponte-a-Calliere Miche

Ponte-a-Calliere Miche 

Ponte-a-Calliere Miche Crumb

Ponte-a-Calliere Miche Crumb 

My conclusion is that this bread has as good a crust and crumb as any I've made but is not substantially different from the miches I've baked using hot water poured into a hot cast iron skillet after transferring the loaf to the baking stone. The crumb is a little less open than I wanted, but the dough was less slack. The weather has warmed up, and the flour was probably dryer. I should have added a bit more water.


Janedo's picture

For the last few days I have been preparing two different sourdough breads, one is the basic recipe in Nancy Silverton's Breads from La Brea Bakery and the other one is my own concoction using the old dough technique from a piece of sourdough that a friend gave to me. It dates from 1993 and has a very disctinct, delicious aroma. Many of her friends tell her that her bread smells like "pain d'épice" which is a spice cake. I'll explain what I did and then I have some questions to ask you all.

Nancy Silverton's sourdough bread

Nancy Silverton's basic

Nancy Silverton's basic crumb

For this bread I followed the recipe. Then split the dough in half, left one to rise a few hours then baked. The other half, I rose for an hour and then placed in the fridge as directed in the recipe.

Sourdough from Laurence's "old dough"

Laurence's "old dough" bread

Laurence's "old dough" bread crumb

For this bread, the original bit of "old dough" (pure sourdough - no yeast) was about the size of a small orange. It was taken from the dough, then left to rise a little bit. It was put in a glass bowl and left in the fridge a few days. I then took it out and fed it a small bowl of flour with some water so that it became a pretty thick paste. This was left out and covered overnight. The next morning it was nice and bubbly.

In a bowl I added 600 ml of cold water (I'm worried about the rising temps here even if it just one or two degrees °C). I stirred and then added 1kg of flour (500g T110 and 500G T80). I let it knead in my mixer a few minutes and then did a 20 or so minute autolyse. Added the salt (4 tsp) and then let it knead until it was nice and soft and supple (window paned and all). It rose about 3,5 hrs. Then punched down, split in two parts, mise en couche, formed and rose again for an hour. One of the doughs was risen again about 2 hrs (can't remember) and the other one was put in the fridge with the other half of the Nancy Silverton dough.

NB I still don't have any bannetons, so I do a basic natural rise on a sheet. 

My AIM here as to see what the big fuss is about leaving the dough to develop those wonderful aromas, etc ovenight in the fridge. I have done that technique a few times now and haven't enjoyed the results at all. THIS time I really concentrated and watched to make sure there were no problems, over fermenting, etc.

Now, here are my questions:

1. I see in my books that in America, the goal is a very even, proportional bread shape with a relatively thin but crunchy crust and no "bursting". I see it in pictures too. So, does that mean that over there you don't like bursted, jagged crusts and non-uniform bread? Because people here think American bread looks pretty standard and boring. Now, is this a cultural thing do you think? Because if I understand well, the way my bread explodes and has jagged edges and super crunchy crusts... that is a BAD thing. But we love it over here. I am very interested in the cultural differences.

2. The bread that stayed in the fridge had a pretty strong sour taste. Is that the developed flavor everyone is talking about? I didn't find that crumb as nice as the bread baked the evening before which has lots of irregular holes and a nice, elastic crumb. The times I've left the bread over night, the crumb isn't as nice. I'm not quite sure what I'm missing. I'd love to know your opinions. Here's a picture:

Levain two days

It stayed in the oven a few minutes too long. 

3. I read somewhere that the varieties of flour grown over there are different than over here. It's not only what is done with the grains during milling, etc. Can that change everything SO drastically concerning taste and texture? I find it amazing and I would just love to do a huge taste test and compare.

4. Am I missing something? Doing something wrong? 

I guess the reality is that I'll probably never know. I really would like to pierce the secret of the slowing of the fermentation in cold. Why is that so wonderful? I haven't had any great results. But yesterday when my friend came by just as the bread was cooling from the oven, she thought she'd died and gone to heaven after tasting the bread. So, I am more prone to thinking "to heck with the over night fridge thing".

Any comments or ideas are most welcome! The discussion is open. 


Rosalie's picture

I had reported with shock that my tap water had chloramines in it.  The spring water was behaving more like reverse osmosis water, so I'd started using tap water.  Mike Avery's plaint about his overly-soft tap water got me curious and I inquiried of our public works director about our water.  He said that due to the distance it travels from its source (from the Sacramento Delta to Morro Bay, a couple hundred miles at least and not what I'd consider a positive environmental situation), its treatment produces long-lasting chloramines.  Mike asked me to try making a starter with it as an experiment.

I have a variety of things to report, and I'm not sure what to make of all of them.  I tried to make a well-controlled experiment, but the biggest glitch was my inability to get reliable information about my water.  I took it to Culligan to be tested for hardness, and I learned that my water softener wasn't working.  That cost me $85.  I learned that the Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water I'd given up on had a hardness of 124ppm, so I don't know why I was having problems with it.  The reverse osmosis water's hardness was 27.4, quite reasonable.  But I forgot to ask for a chloramine analysis.

After the water softener was fixed, I took some more samples to Culligan to get another test.  A different person - the son of the owner and the heir apparent - did it this time and I liked the first one better.  The first time I got precise numbers in parts per million, but the second one just gave me vague softness declarations based on grains per gallon, their preferred unit.  The multiplication factor is 17.1, but he didn't even give me numbers.  He just declared all of my waters very soft, less than 1gpg or 17ppm.  I have my doubts.  Furthermore, he was unable to detect any chloramines in any of them.  He did complain that the samples were too small.  And he told me that because I'd drawn the samples the day before that the chloramines were probably mostly gone.  About all I got out of that visit was an assurance that my water softener was working and a reminder that my deck and garage front waters were both on the softener and that I had to go to the special line installed in the back yard that bypassed the water softener for the original hard water.  I now have another e-mail in to our public works director about the chloramines.  After all, that's what this experiment was supposed to be about.

Another thing that I learned was that reverse osmosis is an effective remover of chloramines.  And that aquarium owners are also very concerned about chloramines.  I learned that from Google and the Internet.

But back to the experiment.  I'm hoping to have more info later, but here's what I did.

For my starter procedure, I chose Mike Avery's You mix 1/4 cup water with 3/8 cup flour in a quart container, cover, put in 85-degree oven for twelve hours; repeat; then toss half and repeat until there's lots of bubbly.  That's a brief summary.  I chose three waters to experiment with:  Deck tap water (later changed to back yard water when I realized that the deck water was softened like the kitchen water); Kitchen tap water; and Reverse osmosis.  I was fairly methodical and did my best to keep from cross-contamination without being anal.  I started with the purest water starter and rinsed out the implements well between starters.  The oven with the light on has been my incubator, and the temperatures have been ranging from just below 80 to about 87.  And, of course, I keep a fairly detailed log.

I was surprised to see life from the beginning in all three.  I started on Saturday evening, fed Sunday morning (12 hours), Sunday evening (12 hours), then three times Monday (yesterday) because of my schedule.  I've fed it twice today and am wondering if the experiment is ready to be called over.  Maybe I should try baking some bread; but I'm a bit surprised at the result.

Since chloramines were the issue, I'd thought that the reverse osmosis water would do the best.  But it was consistently the worst.  It's been six hours since the last feeding.  The other two starters (and I've been using the hard water on the one for only the last two feedings) are at double, and the RO starter has hardly budged.

Well, I'm not sure where to go from here.  Whatever I do or learn from the city, I'll report here on the results.  The only reliable lesson here so far is that RO water is not good for starters.


proth5's picture

The tests results are in! (It takes so little to make me happy.)


This particular batch of wheat was tempered for 48 hours with 20% of water added by weight of the grain.


It was then ground as follows


1 – Coarse pass sifted through #20 sieve – contents of sieve returned to mill

2 – Medium coarse pass sifted through a #20 sieve – contents of sieve returned to mill

3 – Medium coarse pass sifted through a #20 sieve – contents of sieve removed from process.  This was about 20% of total weight

4 – Medium fine pass sifted through a #30 sieve – contents of sieve returned to mill

5 – Fine pass sifted through a #30 sieve – contents of sieve returned to mill

6 – Very fine pass sifted through a #50 sieve – contents of sieve retuned to mill

7 – Very fine pass sifted through a #50 sieve – contents of sieve returned to mill

8 – Very fine pass – results combined with the rest of the flour


This is a lot of passes and a lot of sifting and it take me about an hour and a half to do this for 2 pounds of wheat berries with my hand turned, steel buhr Diamant mill (brief tea breaks included.)  However, the multiple passes are actually easier to do than fewer more aggressive passes and the sifting steps decrease the amount of material that needs to be ground in each pass.  The resulting flour is fine and silky and bakes up pretty much the same every week.  I am milling hard white winter wheat.


The flour was stored for about a week before taking the samples.


I had a very small number of tests run – I still need to produce some bread each week, – so I selected those which seemed to be under my control.  Falling number seems to simply be high in these types of flour, and although I am adjusting ash when I extract material from the process, I haven’t been focusing on ash content (but that would have been my next test if I had enough flour.)


So the results are:


Moisture                      10.4%

Farinograph (14% MB)

            Peak (min)  7.00

            Tolerance (min)  9.00

            Absorption  68.6%

            M.T.I (BU)  25

Starch damage %   6.23


The moisture is low despite my addition of water in the tempering process.  This tells me a couple of things.  One, the Mile High City is dry.  Two, I need to get going on getting that moisture meter.


But the other numbers are within what is considered to be required for good bread making flour.  The starch damage is actually on the low side – probably reflecting my “many small passes” approach – but still will within range.  M.T. I. is also on the low end of the range and is not really troubling given how gently I mix my bread.


The bread has been bearing this out, but it is good to have the numbers.


So even with my low tech setup where I hand grind, hand sift, guesstimate moisture content and adjust grind by look and feel – a reasonable quantity of good quality flour can be produced on a regular basis.  My hands on process not only takes the place of a trip to the gym, but gives me some quality time to think about the stupendous journey of the grain or wheat as it goes from field to table.


Now if I can just find a lab willing to give me an analysis of the critters in my levain…


Happy Milling!

Floydm's picture

Hey there. I am still here.

It has been a very busy spring. Among other things and as dstroy mentioned, we went to San Francisco for a week. I attended the Web 2.0 Conference while D and the kids checked out the city. It was interesting to hear talks about social networking and community building and think about what we've done right here and what I should work to improve. Overall, we are doing more right than wrong.

Work has been extremely busy as well. As has been much discussed here, grain prices are up worldwide, which makes life tough for humanitarian aid workers on tight budgets, so we are working very hard on the fundraising side to try to prevent us from having to cut back any of our programs. The economic downturn in the US doesn't help our fundraising any either.

We've also added a blog where we are tracking the impact of rising grain prices worldwide. Some folks might find it interesting. Yes, it is annoying for us at TFL that our raw material costs are up, but that is nothing compared to the economic disruption many people in the world are dealing with.

Baking? I've done some. Mostly the standards: blueberry muffins, honey whole wheat bread, sourdough miches like this one from last night:

a sourdough miche

My kids are big enough now that they don't take naps reliably. That used to make scheduling baking really simple: whatever we might have scheduled for the day, we could count on being around the house in the mid-afternoon while they dozed. Now it is up in the air. And, as much as I enjoy baking, given the option between having the flexibility to spend the afternoon hiking to a waterfall or out for a bike ride with the kids or needing to be home by 2 so I can shape my loaves, the flexible option is winning out (with positive results: we are having a wonderful time together, and I know there are not going to be many years that they are going to want to spend their weekends with their parents). I need to figure out some other baking routines that both allow me to try new breads and still spend my afternoons out playing with the kids.

bshuval's picture

After preparing for it all of last week, feeding my sourdough daily with mash to make it a Monica Spiller-type barm, I finally made "Whole Wheat Barm Bread 2008", from the recipe that Monica Spiller recently published.

The resulting bread is excellent, one of the best whole-wheat breads I've tasted. I will definitely make it again. I heartily recommend it. You can read more about my making of it here


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