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Starting All Over Again

I've been hit by a mystery starter affliction. The starter, levain and dough would rise well and in a timely manner. But when the dough went into the oven, loft and oven spring were poor.

I've no real understanding of why this has happened as my starter is well maintained. The only thing I can think of is a possible lack of calcium; I switched from a starter feeding mix of 90% BF/10% WG rye to using 100% high extraction wheat flour (home ground and sifted). In the UK, bread flour (well, nearly ALL flour) is fortified with calcium carbonate. Since I was using tap water and our water is very soft there may have been a shortage of calcium in the starter refreshes after I switched flours.

Anyway, I decided to build a new starter and see if that cured the problem.

I made the starter from 50g freshly milled high extraction flour (90% wheat/10% rye), 0.2g malt and 35g spring water. This was stored at 30C for 24hrs, at which point it was looking nice and active.

This is how it looked after after a couple more builds, 2.5 days after starting:



What I noticed is that the new starter is a lot more frothy than the old one - there seems to be more gas production.

And the bread has a much better, fluffier crumb:





albacore's picture

Somehow or other I landed on an Italian web page with a recipe for Colomba di Pasqua. Being nearly Easter, it did seem like a good time to make an Easter dove. Besides, I wanted to send my sister a birthday present, having not seen her for a long, long time - like so many people.

This is the recipe, found on the giallozafferano website. I figured that this must be a well tested recipe, since it has well over a thousand comments! It's a yeasted recipe (I used SAF Gold), but nevertheless, fairly complex.

First problem - no mould and no time to order paper ones. Answer: make one! I liked the look of a single winged metal one that I saw a picture of, so with a piece of scrap thin aluminium sheet, a pair of tin snips and a pop-riveter, the dove was born. All done free-form and the head is a little small, but I was happy enough with it.

And here is the dove at the end of final proof:

And after baking:

Out of the tin after cooling for a few minutes:

No crumb shot, as this was going off as a present, but I did make a small sister loaf with excess dough:



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My Hot Cross Bun Recipe

Here is a hot cross bun recipe I worked on last year, as I felt many recipes I looked at had room for improvement.

It combines elements from two classic commercial breadmaking books (Manna by Walter Banfield published 1938 and Kirkland's The Modern Baker published 1908). Other sources of inspiration were Rossnroller's TFL recipes and a few of my own ideas.

Key points are:

use of a true flying sponge to get the yeast nice and active
careful selection of flour for soft crumb and good flavour - ideally an 11% protein (UK measurement) bread flour plus a bit of high extraction spelt for flavour (optional, of course). Suitable bread flour is T500 (eg German or Polish) or Italian 0 or 00 low W pizza flour at 11% protein
use of egg yolk without egg white, panettone style
replacement of the sugar syrup glaze with an egg yolk wash - I really have no time for the glaze; it makes the buns very messy to eat and to store.
use of a plain flour/rice flour piping paste for the crosses to give good texture and low gluten for "pipeability"

Here we go:


62g currants
21g sultanas
10g peel

Pour boiling water over fruit (minimum to cover), cover container and leave for an hour or two

Flying sponge

79g milk
79g water
8g sugar
5.6g idy (SAF Gold osmotolerant if available, but standard also works)
19g bread flour

Mix in a Kenwood or KA with balloon whisk to get plenty of air in. Aim for a 28C sponge (you will need to prewarm the bowl and whisk).
Store at 28C for approx. 25mins. Ready when head begins to break.

Main Dough

250g bread flour 11%
50g mockmill spelt fine kitchen sieved
2g diastatic malt flour
2g salt
47g white sugar
40g egg yolk
24g soft cubed butter
20g olive oil
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground green cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon


Mix flours, salt, sugar and spices in a bowl.
Sponge in Kenwood bowl fitted with dough hook
Add egg yolk
Add flour mix
Mix slow then faster until mixture leaves sides of bowl. Check for good windowpane
Slowly add in cubed butter bit by bit till mixed then oil bit by bit till mixed.
Add in drained fruit on slow.
Turn out, stretch and fold and shape into a round.

Bulk proof approx. 1hr 28C – should be well risen.
Divide into 7 x 92g buns. Best to weigh them out, so you get uniform buns. Shape into balls, pin to flatten slightly, and arrange on a greased baking tray. The buns should be close together but not quite touching each other or the sides of the baking tray.
Final proof approx. 1hr 28C – buns should be doubled in volume.
Preheat oven to 210C (T&B heat, no fan, no steam, no baking stone, but close vent if poss). While preheating, make mix for crosses.

Cross mix to pipe (combine and mix well):

32g plain (cake/pastry) flour 9%
13g rice flour
13g canola oil
32g water
1 heaped teaspoon sugar
Pinch cinnamon

Brush egg wash on buns – 1 egg yolk, pinch salt and 1 tspn icing sugar dropped directly onto yolk, mix with a spoon, then add about 10 ml water and mix all together.
Then pipe on the crosses


Top and bottom heat
Bake buns on double sheet:
Preheat 210C
210C for 7m, bottom heat only
190C for 7m, top and bottom heat
175C for 7m, top and bottom heat

As soon as possible, get buns off baking tray and on to cooling rack.



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Work in Progress

First step: make the brew piece. Russian red rye malt and process detailed here

Here's the result after 5.5hrs in the water bath at 65.5C. The water bath is a cheap sous-vide circulator in a saucepan of hot water.



To be continued....

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My Rus-ian bread journey

I've always been interested in Yippee's posts about CLAS and I've done a couple of CLAS bakes with good results. Most of the detail on CLAS is to be found on Rusbrot's blog and in his YouTube videos. What caught my eye recently was his post about Russian Monastery bread. This is presented as a rye/wheat bread made with a custom built starter. The starter is made with coarsely crushed rye malt and raisins, followed by a rye flour build, so I'm guessing it is a composite of a raisin yeast water and sourdough. I didn't have any rye malt, but Rus suggests you can use coarsely crushed rye grain and malt extract instead, so I ordered some malt extract, but it never came. Back to plan A mkII - make my own rye malt! This is the guide I followed, but much simplified as I was only making 200g. A few days later it was ready and I kicked off my Monastery bread build.
I followed Rus's process to make a rye/wheat Mischbrot. All went OK and I ended up with an OK bake. It was a bit solid, (like all my rye bread is!) and had a lot of cracks in the crust - not sure why.

After this, things got more interesting. Rus suggests that you can save some of the dough to make a ripe dough starter - pate fermentee, I guess. So I did this and used it to make a high extraction wheat flour big boule.

Levain build 1

    10g rye malt coarsely crushed
    10g Red Lammas wheat grain coarsely crushed
    10g BF
    10g Red Lammas flour
    12g ripe dough
    40g water
    5 hrs 28C
Levain build 2

    10g levain build 1
    100g WW flour sieved
    75g water
    12hrs 25C
Main dough

    200g WW flour #40
    200g WW flour #50
    100g Manitoba flour
    350g water
    autolyse 20m
    106g lev build 2
    10g salt
    mix, 2 folds
    3 hrs 45m bulk
    NB: remove 70g dough as a ripe dough starter and store in frij
    shape to  one big boule
    FP 1hr 10m
    And what a great bake it turned out to be! Super oven spring, good loft, nice open and moist crumb

Just to make sure this bake wasn't a fluke, I did a similar bake, but to two small boules and one tubby batard again nice looking loaves:

So go on - why not give it a try! If you have a proofing box, you are good to go!


albacore's picture

I've made Abel's 90% Biga loaf several times since he published it and in my view it's a TFL classic. However, although I've had great results with the yeasted version, I've never had success with the sourdough one.
However, a recent comment from DanAyo (near the bottom of Abel's thread) made me want to revisit it. Guidance from Michael Wilson (in the same thread) helped me understand that I wasn't using the "right" sourdough for the recipe and that I needed a low acid Lievito Madre type starter to be successful.
So on his advice I repurposed my starter (normally 80% BF/20% rye and 80% hydration) into a pseudo lievito madre one - all white at 50% hydration.


    Day0: build 1 & 2 at 1:2:1 (starter:BF:water) 25C
    Day0: build 3 at 1:2:1 18C and stored overnight underwater at 18C
    Day1: take starter out of water and drain. Build 1 at 1:1:0.5 28C
    Build 2 & 3: repeat build one every 4 hours. Levain should triple

Biga (50% hydration)

    300g Marriages BF
    300g Marriages Canadian flour
    300g water
    60g levain
    Day 1, e11: mix till no more dry flour. Chop up biga into small pieces and store loosely covered at 16C

Main Dough (67% hydration)

    All biga
    395g Grandi Molini Tipo 0 flour
    5g diastatic malt
    377g water
    19g salt
    Day 2, m10: not much rise on biga, which I think is fine, but warmed up for 1 hour in PB at 28C
    Day 2, m11: add water to mixer and then half flour. Mix on slow until smooth and then incorporate chopped up biga
    Add rest of flour and mix on slow until smooth.
    Mix on high 1 min, add salt and mix for another minute.
    Turn out of the mixer into proofing bowl, dough temp 23C
    Bulk ferment at 28C for 3hrs 25mins with one coil fold - about 40% volume increase.
    Preshape to 2 x 850g batards. BR 20mins
    Shape, proof for 70mins at 28C
    Score and bake as normal with steam


    Do you need a long bulk like I did with a SD biga? Anyone know?
    Very difficult to score - I always find this with biga loaves - it must be the long biga ferment degrading the dough
    Ears and loft OK, but not great
    Super open crumb
    Mild flavour - I guess as expected from using the low acidity LM

Lievito madre in water bath at start:

Lievito madre drained, next morning:


Last of the biga just before adding to the mixer:

Baked loaves:

If open crumb offends you, look away now!:



albacore's picture

Don't get too excited - the spelt is only 20% of the flour - but it makes for a nice loaf!

It's ages since I've posted details of one of my bakes on TFL. TFL is full of baking questions at the moment, so I thought a few details and pictures of my weekend spelt bake might give a bit of content variation.

It was a pretty simple bake (for me!) with 20% mockmilled spelt, 3% rye from the levain and a hydration of 74%. It includes 1% of my current favourite ingredient, fava bean flour.

I'm running a trial with my starter at the moment, keeping it on the counter and feeding it once a day, rather than keeping it in the fridge. The plan is to see if it has more "vitality" managing it this way.

Flour mix

    200g Mockmilled spelt
    780g bread flour
    10g diastatic malt flour
    10g fava bean flour


    Build 1 at e7 day0: 5/25BF-5rye/24water 27C
    Build 2 at m8 day1: 55/80-30/88 29C


    True hydration 74%
    Salt 1.8%


    m11 day1: Spelt flour autolysed with 160g RT water + 2g salt
    e1 day1: 532g water in mixer, add dry flours and spelt mixture.  Autolyse 15min
    Add 225g levain, mix in
    3min low speed
    add 18g salt and mix 2min low speed
    Mix on high speed 1min 30secs
    Drip in 40g bassinage water on low speed, total time 4min
    Turn out of the mixer into proofing bowl, dough temp 25C
    Bulk ferment at 25C for 4hrs 15mins with a couple of coil folds. Volume increase about 55%
    Preshape to 2 x 850g batards. BR 20mins
    Shape, proof on counter for 20mins
    Retard in fridge overnight
    Score and bake as normal with steam


    Good ears and nice blisters.
    Pretty open crumb
    Mild flavour - I'd like to get a bit more lactic tang in - maybe by reducing levain quantity and fermenting longer?



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I decided the time had come for a little experiment to try and shed some light on the dark art of bulk fermentation and the influence different percentage volume increases might have on the final loaf.

I started with a pretty standard dough recipe as follows:

Initial mix

    10% wholegrain emmer flour
    10% emmer flour sifted #40
    80% bread flour
    7.7% prefermented flour @ 56% hydration
    0.15% diastatic malt
    75% hydration (69% + 6% bassinage)
    1.8% salt


    20 mins autolyse + 10 mins fermentolyse
    Add salt, then malt
    Mix 2 mins LS, 2 mins HS (Famag)
    Add bassinage on lowest speed
    Bulk ferment at 25C (see below)
    Preshape to 2 x 900g, BR 20 mins
    Shape to 2 batards
    Overnight retard in fridge
    Morning bake at 230C with steam for around 30 mins.

Bulk Ferment Details

    1st bake:
    Coil folds at 1hr & 2hr
    Duration: 5hrs 05min
    Volume increase: 71%
    2nd bake:
    I had to go out during most of bulk time, so I was only able to do one coil fold at 20 mins, so I increased HS mix time to 2mins 30secs
    Duration: 3hr 55min
    Volume increase: 40%

Both bakes produced good loaves, but with some differences:

1st bake
more spread on the peel
less loft
less oven spring
more open crumb

2nd bake
kept its shape better on the peel
more loft
more oven spring
slightly less open crumb
browned quicker in the oven
took slightly longer to cook

First bake:

Second bake:


It appears that there is flexibility in bulk volume increase, as you would imagine, but you can expect differences in the final loaves. These differences will no doubt become more pronounced if higher percentage volume increases are allowed to happen.


albacore's picture

I recently chanced upon an interesting recipe in the excellent Baecker Suepke's blog.

It is for a Black Forest chocolate cherry sourdough bread. The Modernist Bread version springs to mind, but the Black Forest one is different - not sweet, apart from the cherries - and it has toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I also added some non-salted pistachio seed, which gave a rather nice contrasting green colour.

Interestingly, the recipe predates the Modernist Bread one by a couple of years. You can find the recipe HERE. It's in German, but translates successfully. There's also a variant recipe here which I didn't use, but it has a few different tweaks.

The recipe is quite complex, with a soaker, a levain and an "aroma cook piece" (Aroma Kochstück) and various grades of wheat and rye meals. I approximated these with my Mockmill. The recipe also calls for light rye flour T997. I made this by putting wholegrain rye through a #50 sieve.

Here's how the loaf looked after baking:

And here's the crumb:

The crumb and flavour remind me of a "pumpernickel on steroids". It really is bursting with flavour and I can recommend it to all who fancy an  interesting bake, albeit with some complexity.

My favourite pairing was with some good French brie; I shall be baking it again!


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Recently, my loaves have not been fully up to scratch – a bit spready on the peel, poor loft and poor ears.

My starter seemed to be performing OK, but sometimes with starters, who knows? I’m not the sort of baker who would cherish a 100 year old starter, so time to try a new one!

I made my last starter just under a year ago following Gerard Rubaud’s method as detailed in MC’s Farine blog. It requires a freshly milled organic blend of 60% wheat, 30% spelt and 10% rye at each daily stage – and a proofing box to maintain a constant 27C. The starter was good, so I've used the same method again.

Starter creation went something like this:

  • ·         Day 0 pm: 86g 3 grain blend + 86g organic BF + 103g warm water. Hand mix to a ball and sprinkle on 0.4g malt flour and 0.9g salt. Knead these in and sit the ball on a bed of coarse 3 grain blend in a plastic pot. Sprinkle more coarse flour on top to cover. Put lid on pot and store at 27C.

  • ·         Day 1 pm: the dough was well risen with a sweet taste and a dirty smell. I brushed off the coarse flour and took 80g of the crusty part and mixed with 80g BF, 80g 3 grain blend, 108g warm water, 0.8g malt and 0.4g salt. Knead to a ball and put in the cleaned plastic tub, covered. Store at 27c again.

  • ·         Day 2 pm: again well risen, but with a sickly sweet smell. 66g starter + 83g BF + 50g 3 grain blend + 83g warm water + 0.35g salt. Store as previous.

  • ·         Day 3 pm: well risen, with smell much reduced. 44g starter + 58g BF + 25g 3 grain blend + 46g water + 0.2g salt.

  • ·         Day 4 pm: well risen, off smells gone. Starter considered fit for use and proceeded to make levain – my normal feeds at e5, e11 and m8

  • ·         Day 5 am: last levain feed and dough made 2 hours later. 20% 3 grain blend, 75% hydration and 16% stiff levain. Shaped loaves overnight retarded.

  • ·         Day 6 am: loaves baked - quite pleased with the result!

Here's the starter at Day 1, prior to scraping off the loose coarse flour:

Day 4 levain just mixed prior to referment:

Day 5 levain prior to use:

Baked loaf:

And the crumb:



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