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The dough is the Tartine Basic Country Bread. The formula of the polenta bread can be found in Tartine Bread (page 93). I added pumpkin seeds, corn oil, fresh rosemary and blue corn polenta instead of the usual variety. It follows a similar approach as the porridge breads in Tartine Book #3 by using a polenta soaker. The soaker was too wet. Nothing that can't be fixed by dehydrating it in the oven until it becomes more like a paste. Another change I made to the Tartine method was an overnight cold retard in the fridge during bulk rise. The result is quite stunning. The beauty of the bread surprises me: the painterly brush strokes flowing through the crumb, contrasting nicely with the shatteringly light crust.


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Didn't know making panettone was a challenge until I read a recent article on the New York Times referring to this traditional Italian bread as "the Mount Everest of baking."  I tasted an exceptional piece of panettone made by Jim Lahey. Met him on his book tour in New York city when he spoke about his new book The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook. How difficult could it be to make the panettone armed with a detailed five-page recipe in the cookbook? This is what I've found.

Bread bakers deal with this process everyday: 1) prepare a preferment, 2) mix the dough, 3) bulk ferment 4) shape the dough, then 5) proof and 6) bake the bread. A fairly linear approach going from start to finish; done it, been there many times before. There are a few indispensable things to keep in mind. Among them, you'd need: a lively stiff starter, a stand mixer, panettone molds and long metal skewers. None too daunting. What I was not prepared was how long every stage of the process took. How many times I thought nothing good could possibly come out of this?

I'm starting to understand climbing Mount Everest requires endurance, a clear and focused mindset, a firm belief that you'll reach the destination and the discipline to ward off negative thoughts and resist messing around unnecessarily. It dawns on me that a recipe is just a set of guidelines; it's what we do with it that matters the most to the final outcome.



This Jim Lahey's recipe works, unequivocally. It's perfectly balanced. I have to keep reminding myself to stop messing around on the edges. It may take longer than 24 hours to get the preferment ready, 15 minutes at high-speed in the stand mixer to emulsify, 48 hours for the dough to quadruple during the bulk rise, 7 hours to get the dough to rise to the top of the panettone mold and 55 minutes to bake and several more hours for the inverted panettone to cool completely.

Who knows the unrelenting waiting game, especially if you haven't done it before (or you are type A like me), is the secret to a successful panettone? The panettone is weightless, cotton-candy airy, delicate, indulgent and far better than anything I've ever bought. More important, it's not about the bread. It's about a long and arduous journey, while keeping the hands and impulses (after all, I'm the master of the universe!) from interfering the dough and leaving it alone. Yes, sometimes it may take longer than you believe is sensible. That's the real challenge and a humbling experience.

Happy holidays to you all!


P.S. I have given these breads as gifts, therefore no crumb shots. I have another batch waiting.... Will post the interior pictures in a day or two.


Finally, some crumb shots. Not too shabby. Certainly, there is room for improvement!


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This is different from the traditional challah. From a baker's perspective, the sprouted wheat challah has many things going for it. The use of sprouted wheat and there is no other flour to help or mask its true nature. It is enriched with only egg yolks, producing a tender and creamy crumb. Lastly, no butter is added, making it suitable for a kosher diet. I think the store-bought sprouted wheat flour shines and finds its true expression in the making of this challah loaf, a recipe from Bread Revolution by Peter Reinhart.

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The chocolate cherry sourdough bread recipe is published recently in the New York Times article, "slicing through the myths to rethink bread." The article reviews the new bread book, Modernist Bread, chronicling the history and science of the bread making in-depth. It addresses the key question: how do you make the best bread possible?

Do I need another bread book? I own the Modernist Cuisine at Home and have read it from cover to cover. Furthermore, I thoroughly enjoy the deeper explanation and useful variations the "modernist" books provide. This bread book can be useful. But it is also seriously expensive ($600), there is just no way to justify it for a home baker, isn't there? Why not start baking one of its recipes?

This chocolate cherry sourdough bread has earned a place on your holiday dessert table. What is different about this bread as compared to most sourdough breads I make?

  • The use of yeast as leavener, in conjunction to the basic one-stage sourdough starter.
  • Sourdough starter is in excess of 100% of flour weight, a large amount of sour culture where lactic-acid-producing bacteria or LAB dominates.
  • Hydration is about 89%, considering the high percentage of 100% hydration sourdough starter used. However, the dough was quite manageable.
  • A copious amount of cherries and chocolate chips are added at the second fold, making the bread a delectable celebration dessert/bread.
  • High degree of gluten development is desired.
  • A cold ferment in the refrigerator for 14 to 16 hours is an option. Or proof at about 55 degrees until the dough has increased in size.
  • Cold dough is brought to room temperature in a cold cast-iron Dutch oven. (This reminds me of Westphalian Pumpernickel and Icelandic thermal bread that cook low and slow, in sealed pans. The slowly rising internal temperature creates the ideal conditions for the amylase enzymes to transform starches into sugars and the bread carries a slightly molasses notes.) Then bake in the 500°F oven for a total of 43 minutes.
  • The final bread has a subtle sweetness, produced by the enzyme activity and as the sugars caramelize during baking. Meanwhile, there is no sugar at all on the ingredient list.

The addition of yeast, the high percentage of sourdough starter, the cold-temperature proofing and the use of a cold Dutch oven are some of the measures bakers often use to manipulate the yeast, enzyme and LAB balance. They work wonderfully well here to create the complex flavor profile of this bread. This recipe is reminding me what I've read in the bread-baking books and the true notion that "baking is biochemistry." Indeed!


For details on the recipe:

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The credit goes to dmsnyder (, who bakes and writes extensively on the San Joaquin sourdough bread. When you think your bread baking can't progress much, you can always count on getting fresh ideas and inspirations from other Freshloafers. Among all the sourdough breads I've made, the San Joaquin takes it to the next level. The crumb is more open and the crust is more delicate and light. I can't be happier when these loaves hit the oven with remarkable oven springs. Thanks, dmsnyder for your recent detailed post in September.

They are the same hands doing the mixing, kneading and shaping; it's the methodology of the San Joaquin sourdough that has made it the real standout. The San Joaquin comes with an exceptional pedigree: it originates from the Anis Bouabsa's baguettes which won the prize for the best baguette in Paris in 2008.

Specifically, it's the long cold fermentation before dividing that makes all the difference.

The key is the long bulk fermentation after four series of stretch-and-fold in the initial 2-1/2 hours. The bucket of  dough went straight into the fridge for 18-24 hours, without dividing and shaping. The dough becomes pillowy and very stretchable. I took special care in shaping the dough in rounds. You have to because the dough feels so delicate. I use Dutch ovens as my steaming apparatus. They are mostly round in shape. Therefore, I shaped the loaves in rounds rather than in batards.

Now the crumb structure is more open, the next hurdle is to get it completely open throughout the loaf. I guess, I need more practice!

Welcome any suggestions how I can get the crumb structure to be open from one end to the other? Again I'm turning to fellow Freshloafers for their comments!



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This is not a bagel, hahaa! It’s a 69% Swiss rye, shaped in a circular ring so that it can be hung from the ceiling during the long winter months from the Alpine region in Switzerland.

While I grew up eating white bread, making complex, robust and nutritious breads, have been my ultimate goal. My experience in making rye bread is limited. Therefore, I’ve turned to Stanley Ginsberg’s The Rye Baker for guidance and inspiration. He did not disappoint.

Once you get passed the lengthy 3-steps build before the final mix, this recipe is relatively easy. On the first day, I made the rye sponge from a rye starter (a low-hydration sour rye sponge that favors acetic acid formation) and the wheat poolish (that’s refrigerated overnight to bring out the wheat’s nutty sweetness). On the next day, I mixed the final dough and let it rise. After shaping, I let the dough proof in a round cake pan lined with parchment paper. Then transfer and bake in a Dutch oven for about 30 minutes. What came out was a complex, flavorful and tight-crumbed rye bread. More than that, the smell in the kitchen was fragrant and mellow. Similar to Nordic breads, this rye ring goes well with smoked fish or brined meat. The ring shape makes cutting and slicing really easy.

The amount or rye flours (medium and light) is about 69%. Preferment flour is about 55% (33% rye). The recipe calls for first clear flour, which gives rye bread its unique flavor. I substituted that with bread flour. That has worked out better than the high-extraction whole-wheat flour substitution I used in my first attempt. You can tell from the smaller and denser slice in the middle of the last picture, from the first bake using whole wheat, as compared to the bigger slices and the ring, from the second bake using bread flour. In the second round, I can’t help myself in adding more water. That was a slippery slope, literally. The dough became quite fragile and slippery to shape. I think the dough benefits from higher hydration, but I’d hesitate to add water much beyond 70% of flour weight.


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If you like the flavor of licorice in jelly beans or fennel in sausages, you may like ground anise in breads too. I have not used anise seeds before in breads. But, why not? This unique and warm spice enlivens the fig and hazelnut bread. For the start, the sweetness of dried figs and the smoky nutty notes of roasted hazelnuts bring big flavor to the bread. Just the right amount. The surprising finish of anise is merely the icing on the cake, I mean, the bread. There is just so much to like about this bread.

The specifics of the fig hazelnut bread are shown in the cheat sheet below. In summary, a 12-hour stiff levain build, 20% in whole wheat flour, about 70% hydration, one fold half way through the 2 ½-hour bulk ferment and a 2-hour final rise. This is a straight-forward formula I’ve borrowed and adapted from Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman.

I made two loaves, ate one and froze the second one (which I forgot to score late at night.) Once reheated, the second loaf develops an unexpected crunchy crust, even better than the freshly baked loaf (the slice standing up, right below) as I can remember. Hard to believe.

Here is the bread reheating setting which have worked well for me: full steam at 212°F for 7 minutes, then convection bake at 320°F with 20% humidity for 35 minutes. The timing may differ depending on the size of the bread. The bread usually goes directly from the freezer to the cold oven. In case you wonder, there are countertop convection steam ovens which are fairly affordable and priced competitively. They are not heavy duty enough for baking breads, but perfect for reheating.

What goes well with the fig hazelnut bread? A fig salad tossing together fresh figs, baby kale leaves, prosciutto and a simple dressing. On its face, I’m convinced that the sum is better than the parts, including the bread!


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Breaking this bread is tantamount to opening a holiday present. At least, it feels that way when I cut the bread. The abundant good eats: olives, walnuts, sunflower seeds, herbs de Provence, lemon zest, filled the interior to the rim, are what make this bread sing. 

This Tartine olive walnut bread uses a young leaven (20% of flour weight) and 10% whole wheat flour. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, the big winner is with all the add-ins, especially the olives. Since the dough is quite wet, series of stretch-and-fold help to strengthen it. I sprinkled more sunflower seeds around the proofing basket to prevent the dough from sticking. The dough was retarded in the fridge overnight. I made a full recipe (see the cheat sheet below for details) and baked two large loaves in Dutch ovens (one round, one oval) in a preheated 500°F oven. Lower the oven temperature to 475°F as the loaves are loaded. Finally, bake for 15 minutes with the cover on and 20-25 minutes uncovered.

All the olives, nuts, seeds and herbs make for quite a substantial bread. The bread stands on its own with its fairly loud flavors. Like all good breads, serve up with some fine cheese and wine, nothing can be better!

Adapted from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

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I’ve been experimenting with sprouted whole wheat flour (KA flour, not the home milled varieties) wondering what’s the upper limit I can deploy, without compromising the decent open crumb texture. Started with 30% and then increased it to 50%, a few days ago. Mistakenly I put in 100 grams more water than intended. I had no choice but to add a little more sprouted flour. Unfortunately, at the stage after autolyze, the dough won’t be agreeable with that much more flour. Gritted my teeth and, reluctantly, I had to deal with a much wetter dough than I’m comfortable with.

Well, those are the situations, until you are tested, you don’t know how far you can go beyond the usual boundary, real or imagined. Can’t believe even bread making is a mental thing. Didn’t think I can handle a wetter dough than 80% for hearth breads. A siren would go off at that marker, screaming danger! I just don’t go there.

To my surprise, the finished loaf was much more open than the 30% sprouted bread I made and posted recently. See the side by side crumb comparison in the last image. (30% on the left and 50% on the right.) More pictures of the 30% are shown here:

The major factor was none other than the hydration level. No doubt, there were differences between the two bakes: flaxseeds addition to the 50%, preferment amount, autolyze duration, cold retard. They were not meant to be controlled experiments. To me, the key contributing factor to the better outcome of the 50% sprouted bread has to be the higher hydration, 84% vs. 65%.

This was a breakthrough for me, but just with the bread: I no longer fear a high-hydration dough. It’ll take me to some underexplored and rewarding territories, I am convinced.

I made pear and goat cheese crostini with the bread. If you need an idea what to make for mom as part of a breakfast or lunch spread on Mother’s Day, consider making this crostini. The sweet smoky flavor of the grilled pear and the creaminess of the goat cheese is a winning combination. There is no better way to show off the bread you’ve labored for a long time to perfect.




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This bread was inspired by dabrownman and lucy’s “a special Saturday” sprouted multigrain bread (April 14). He commented on my 100% sprouted struan bread (April 16) and suggested I should try making this bread, since I wanted something with similar characteristics to the Vermont sourdough.

The formula I used: 20% liquid levain build with only bread flour. Mixed the dough with 50% bread flour, 30% sprouted wheat flour and 2% salt. Hydration level was an upward of 70%. The final dough looked like it needed some water. I kept my hands very wet as I performed series of stretch-and-fold. After three hours of bulk fermentation, I shaped the dough and left them to proof in the fridge overnight. See the cheat sheet below for details.

Dabrownman was spot on. Thank you for being my bread (and best) guide. But somehow I fell short in my execution in making this bread. The crust came out nice, but the crumb was a little problematic. When you compare pictures of the Vermont sourdough and the sprouted version, you couldn’t really tell the difference. But the devil is in the details or the crumb!

Close to the base of the bread, there were areas of dense and compressed custardy clumps. Was the bread underbaked? Did that have something to do with the shaping of this particular loaf? The bread had a soft and slightly moist underbelly. Not what you’d expect in a perfect loaf. What can be done differently to make them better? I want to know before I push this bread up to 40% sprouted wheat. 

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