The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Maine18's blog

Maine18's picture

Hi all -- Overdue for a proper update on recent bread experiments (there have been many this year, from so much time at home!).  But before that, wanted to see if others might be able to help me figure out an occasional problem I see with some sourdough loaves.  Specifically, every 15-20 or so loaves (e.g. infrequent, but not completely one-off), I tend to see a thin layer or layers of only partially cooked/gummy crumb near the bottom of a loaf when I cut it open.  It's really hard to predict when this will happen until I cut into the loaf, and I'm pretty consistent with my process, cooking time, etc, so I haven't been able to predict when it will happen.  My current theory is that it is caused by something I'm doing in the shaping process, potentially when I "cinch up" the batard, which can sometimes get a little messy/thick and layered, so I wonder if I'm unintentionally creating some lamination at the bottom of the loaf which causes the gumminess. I'll attach some photos of a normal/good loaf, one with slight gumminess, and one with egregious example, for reference.

Normal/Target Inside & Out Example:

Slight Gummy Streak Near Bottom Example:


Lots of compression/gumminess at Bottom Example:


Has anyone else experienced this and some up with some solutions? 


Thanks very much in advance!


PS Some additional detail on process:

My baking set up: 3/4" fibrament baking stone; custom stainless metal steel cover (fits snag around the stone), parchment paper to load the loaves; occasionally some extra water/ice for added steam.  

I generally cook for 20 min with lid on at 500; then 25-30 min lid off at 450; dry out for 6 min with oven off.  

Flours/Hydration: generally a mix of central milling wheat flours (bread and AP) and some fresh milled flour. Hydration in the 75-85% range, depending on the loaf

Maine18's picture

Hi all!  Here are a few recent(ish) bakes, dating back 3 or 4 months.   Starting with a batch of buttery Lion House rolls – a Holiday staple – and then a first attempt at Rugbrod, a Danish rye bread I’ve been a bit fixated on since we visited Scandinavia this past Summer.  I based the recipe on the formula in the New Nordic Cookbook I got for Christmas, subbing in levain instead of fresh yeast.  The texture was perfect, though the flavor needs some work – it had a couple odd/off notes, which I attribute to the dark beer I used in the recipe – will tweak next time and see how it changes. (Side note: would LOVE any suggestions of tried & true Danish-style Rugbrod recipes – there seems the tons of techniques out there, which can be overwhelming, and I’d love to learn from the crew on TFL).


The Rugbrod was also the first time I used my new grain mill to make the cracked rye, rye flour, and whole wheat flour, which was a ton of fun.  I’ve been talking about getting a flour mill for so long, but never pulled the trigger, largely because the Komo mills are pricey and firmly a “nice to have” toy.  For my birthday this year, though, my wife took matter in to her own hands, so now I have a whole new batch of variables to play with as I bake!  Below are a few "standard" levain loaves I baked with ~30% freshly milled whole wheat flour.


The next bake is a Detroit style pizza I made just this week, using Kenji’s recipe on Serious Eats.    Delicious, almost focaccia like pizza, though quite rich/filling – I can see making a full sheet pan of this for a party sometime, though I still favor a Neapolitan-style pizza all things being equal.


I’ll also include a couple bonus beverage shots, as I’ve recently been playing with barrel aging some cocktails in my basement, and the results are really delicious – turns out a 30-day aged black Manhattan pairs really well with Detroit-style pizza. 


Cheers until next time,




Maine18's picture

I finally got around to trying my hand at DMSynder’s San Joaquin Sourdough recipe, one that I bookmarked years ago, but hadn’t got around to trying for no good reason.  I used the “Updated” SJSD recipe post, though he left me know he’s made some updates to the update, so next time I’ll make the latest tweaks as well.


To make things interesting/difficult on myself, I decided to switch up the process a bit on this bake and use the order of operations I've grown somewhat fond of with other levain recipes – specifically the "pre-shape>shape>place in banneton>place banneton in fridge overnight>score/load into oven" routine that Tartine/FWSY uses often.  It seems to just fit nicely into my weekend schedule, so I made that change to this experiment as well.


Happy to report the results look pretty good!  As expected, the formula appears pretty flexible, which is nice.  I still need to bake a bath of this bread using David’s regular process so I can compare, but from appearances, this bake seems solid.  Of course, I haven’t cut into the dough to see the crumb yet, or even tasted it, so hard to say much more than the exterior/over spring look good, but I can update the post after we dig in.


One question for the group:  I've recently been using my baking steel -- previously reserved for pizza -- for sourdough bakes, as I also love the oven spring it produces. I'm having a recurring issue with burnt/scorched loaf bottoms, though, and was wondering if anyone here has experienced the same with the steel, took some mitigating measures? I've tried propping up the loaves on an inverted sheet pan halfway through the bake, but the damage seems to be done in the first 15 or so minutes. I've seen the issue across a number of higher hydration recipes, so it doesn't seem to be unique to a particular formula. I use small pieces of parchment to load the dough, and am going to experiment with sprinklings of corn meal next, see if that helps.   Does the steel just transfer too much energy/heat to use it for these types of bakes? I’ve seen Maurizio ( use the steel with great success, so I’m guessing it’s more about me than the materials, but any advice from you or your readers would be great!


Update: cut into one of the loaves for lunch.  Fantastic, subtle flavor, soft crumb, not gummy but creamy.  Really great for a sandwich (which I just finished).  The crumb was a tad tighter than some other high hydration doughs I bake, but I actually prefer this for spreads/meats.  Will definitely keep working on this one!


Maine18's picture

My blog posting pattern has clearly established itself – long periods of silence, short bursts of “catch up” posts with highlights from the months prior.  Not unlike Steven Jay Gould’s punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution I suppose.  Ah well.  Here goes another one, as I’ve been radio silent for a while now!

Oatmeal Buttermilk Sandwich bread.  So good, especially when you rub hot crust with a stick of butter just out of the oven.

Some Tartine-ish levain loafs.  I went through a bit of slump on levain breads recently, not getting the oven spring/volume I wanted, which I attributed to rusty shaping technique and a sluggish starter (likely some of both).  As I keep my started in the fridge and bake only on weekends – and sometimes only once  a month at that -- I decided to re-boot my starter and see it that would help.  I fed it twice a day for almost a week, until it was doubling predictably in 6 to 8 hours (I used a 40:100:100 ratio, all white flour).  My next bake was much better than the previous 3 or 4, so it seems to have needed the intense refresh


Lobster roll buns.  We were visiting my family back in Maine in the Summer (my home state, hence my screen name from many years ago).  We have lobster almost daily when back home, and I like to make the lobster buns when possible.  They’re always delicious when toasted in butter, but since they’re freeform, they’re also not that consistent in shape, so after this night, I picked up a “New England-style hot dog bun” pan for my collection.  I may not need it often, but it will be handy next Summer.


And because I was in Maine, had to make a few loaves of Anadama bread – my parent’s favorite.


Back in Seattle, pizza night using Jim Lahey’s formula and a white sauce/cheese/broccoli rabe topping – so good.


And for kicks, some spicy dill pickles (bumper crop at the Farmer’s market earlier this Summer), and latte art getting to know my new home espresso machine (for my day job, I head up innovation/product development for a coffee company).


Until next time!

Maine18's picture

Hi all --I'm headed to Paris for work tonight, very last minute, and after finishing some business, should have a free day (or half day) to explore Paris a bit.  It's been almost a decade since I've last visited, and I'd love to make a few stops at a few of the beautiful bakeries in town.  A bit out of the blue, I know, but are there any recommendations from this crew I could bring with me? Anis Bouabsa's bakery, Duc de la Chapelle, made my list from a few posts I read on this site a while back...

Thanks so much!

Maine18's picture

The past few weeks I’ve had a chance for some good weekend baking, and below are the latest results.

I started off on a school night trying Kenji’s take on focaccia, not so much for the recipe composition as the easy technique (simple overnight rise, baked in a cast iron pan).  The results were surprisingly good – really nice crust & crumb, 1 to 2 inches thick, easy to slice in half for sandwiches.  The crumb flavor was a bit bland/simple – not unexpected with an instant yeast build, a bit like Jim Lahey’s no knead bread – so I might experiment a bit with a longer retard process in the fridge and/or introducing some levain, but for a “night before,” easy bread to go with a dinner or sandwiches, this was a very good method.

Next I made a batch of Field Blend #2, from FWSY, as I’m trying to get more into rye recipes, and this was an easy step.  Loved the flavor and crumb of this bread – I made a double batch and gave it to friends who similarly raved.  I’m starting to understand the complexity (and stickiness) rye adds, which is fun.


I then built on the Field Blend #2 recipe by adding toasted sesame seeds, inspired a fellow TFL user (I think) and his great, if dormant blog.  The results were stellar – one of my favorite loafs in a while – as I really loved the flavor and dimension added by the toasted sesame seeds.  It takes everything is different direction than my normal levain breads – nutty and savory – I think it would be amazing toasted with cheese. I’m going to keep on this one, and will try adding toasted sesame into other breads to see how it goes (bonus: it’s much easier to make and incorporate sesame seeds than some of the poridges I’ve been trying).  

One further note, I baked these loafs free form on my baking steel.  It produces really great oven spring (and I was heating it up for pizza later, so it was efficient).  One thing I have to watch, though, is over cooking the bottom of the loaves – they got a bit darker than I might normally like, which I suppose is because of how efficient steel conducts heat, but was curious if others had a similar experience? Could be as easy as inserting something in between halfway through the bake, perhaps…

Wrapped up the week with some pizzas on said baking steel, and [for fun, another batch of habanero hot sauce (if only because I put it on almost everything, including the pizza…)

Cheers from the Pac Northwest

Maine18's picture

Hi Freshloafers.  It’s been a while since my last post, despite best intentions, and I decided that rather than put it off further, I thought I’d submit a bit of a “catch up” post that has a grab bag of quasi-recent bread experiments.  Forgive the lack of commentary or detail on process – happy to answer any questions, of course – but life & work have kept me busier than usual, so I haven’t had as much time for weekend baking or chronicling as I would like.


Nonetheless, I am still having fun with a now clear “porridge bread” phase – oatmeal porridge bread from Tartine #3 has been the house favorite for going on 8 months – as well as experimenting with other grains, seeds, oats etc to add further dimension to loaves.  Like many others have mentioned on this site, the more I bake, the more I “non-white flour” breads I find myself enjoying (the only real exception here is pizza, which, with my baking steel, is a Sunday night favorite).  One territory I haven’t really experimented with yet is rye, so I think that may be the next place I dabble -- building a rye mother starter, and subbing a % of rye flour into standard favorites, etc – I’d love any rye-centric suggestions or recommendations!


Ken Forkish-inspired levain breads (country brown, pain de campagne...)




Sunday night pizzas (neo-neopolitan, and no-knead versions)



Baking for the Holidays (lion house rolls, Mom's sticky buns, oatmeal buttermilk sandwich bread)



Porridge Breads


And a flop (tried to get away with one starter refresh, not so much...)

Cheers from Seattle,

Maine18's picture

In between World Cup games, I thought I’d catch up on a couple of recent bread experiments and bakery visits.  I’ve been traveling for work quite a bit this Spring/early Summer, and two recent trips afforded me the chance to stop by the bakeries of two favorite bread book authors, Chad Robertson (Bar Tartine) and Ken Forkish (Ken’s Artisan Bakery).

Tartine was, as always, pretty phenomenal.  His style bread was, 8 or 9 years ago, what initially got me hooked on levain bread baking.  We had brunch at Bar Tartine, and took that opportunity to order a couple of their loaves to go – the classic Country Loaf, as well as an Oat Porridge boule.

I was amazed by the size of the Country Loaf – at least twice the size of the batards I produce at home.  Rather than cut into it at the restaurant, we ended up hauling this one back on the plane to Seattle and immediately froze it, to enjoy later.  Later ended up being about 2 weeks, when we had steamed clams with a large group of friends that cried out for crusty loaf of sourdough.  Brushed with some EVOO, grilled, it was amazing.


The Oat Porridge bread was a first for me at Tartine, and we cracked into almost immediately, eating as we walked around the city.  It has a really lovely, custardy crumb and dense, dark crust.  My wife, in particular, love it and asked me to try it soon at home.


Flash forward to just last night and I gave the Oat Porridge a go at home.  I’m pretty happy with the results.  Nice oven spring and soft crumb – borderline gummy, which I assume if from the porridge portion (I ended up using Bob’s Red Mill 5 grain cereal). I didn’t get the crust to be quite as dark as I had hoped, despite leaving the loaf in for an extra 8 minutes – would love any tips/thoughts on how I might do this next time around?


Also, I monkeyed with the final proofing time, as to adjust to our weekend schedule.  After a 1 hour autolyse and then 3.5 hr bulk fermentation, the dough looked read to retard, so I put it in the fridge for what ended up being 6.5 hours (instead of a full “overnight”), pulling it out just before bed for an additional hour at room temp while the oven pre-heated.  Everything seems to have come through OK, and I will definitely be playing with this recipe some more, as I’m lately fascinated with flavor and texture of porridge breads


In between levain breads,  I made a quick pizza dough (instant yeast + Cuisinart recipe), retarded in the fridge for 3 days, baked on a baking steel for just over 5 minutes.  The quality of home pizza on the steel continues to amaze me, almost regardless of the dough recipe I try.  I really can’t imagine ever going back to a regular stone at this point, as the quick bake and char from the steel is pretty darn close to an authentic New York-style pie.


And finally, for giggles, I am making a batch of banana-infused Irish Whiskey a friend at work raves about.  Easy to make -- simply cut up 3 bananas and combine with a bottle of Jameson in a sealable jar.  Let it sit for 3 or 4 days, and then drain out the bananas through a fine mesh sieve, and pour the whiskey back into the bottle.  Drink on the rocks with a large ice cube.







Maine18's picture

A bit of catch up today on some Spring baking, starting with Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's day.  The recipe couldn't be easier (especially when compared to all the levain breads I play around with these days), and is a family favorite every St. Patrick's, and this recipe is one I picked up from Elise Bauer's great blog some years ago.  (I like the added raisins).



Then in April I got the chance to take a "Pizza Making at Home" class as one of my favorite cooking workshops in Seattle, the Pantry at Delancey.  The classroom space lovely – fits about 14 students – and is in the same building as Delancey, one of the best (if not the best?) pizza restaurants in Seattle.  I’ve been trying to take this class for a long while now, but it tends to sell out in minutes (literally).  It was worth the wait, as we got to learn a slew of  tips and tricks that Delancey uses to make a really delicious NY-style pie on their wood fired oven.   I came home with some great improvements to my pizza shaping (ball stage and stretch techniques needed some practice!), as well as a new recipe (really high salt content, 18 hr proof) to try out back home on my pizza steel.  Results below, really delicious -- similar in taste/build to Jim Lahey’s pizza recipe.



Next I tried out Song Of the Baker’s Multigrain Levain formula, after seeing his beautiful results on this site.  It was a fun experiment – my first porridge-type bread.  I ended with a few substitutions in the soaker (didn’t have all the various grains needed on hand).  The results were delicious and pretty different than my typical country loaf – I had one friend say it was his favorite of my breads so far.  I definitely think I will get better at this one with practice, as I didn’t exactly know what I was looking for at each step.  The overall flavor was really moist and full, and really makes we want to experiment with even more porridge breaks (Tartine 3?).  Thanks again to Song of the Baker for sharing his recipe!



Finally, this past weekend I baked a version of Ken Forkish’s Overnight Country Brown, which his quickly becoming an all-purpose go-to for me.  I am enjoying the flavor of whole wheat flour more and more in my breads, and this one strikes a great balance for me.  I did modify the schedule of the recipe this time around, as life intervened and I didn’t have the time to do a 10-hr bulk proof and then 4 hour rise in the same day, so I ended up retarding the shaped loaves in the fridge overnight after the bulk fermentation.  I was worried about over-proofing and/or a heightened sour flavor, but neither ended up being a big issue.  The loaves did have an extra tang to them, but it was still balanced by the whole wheat flavor in my mind.


All for now, cheers!


Maine18's picture

 I experimented with some levain bread variations this past weekend, inspired by Maurizio's beautiful blog (Food,Travel, Thought -- so well done).  I made a double batch of Tartine-esque dough, adding walnuts and various dried berries to one half, and mixed olives and lemon zest to the other. 

The results were delicious.  From a flavor perspective, the Walnut Berry loaf is top 3 of levain experiments to date (not that I really have a forced rank list...though I should).  Both had a soft, relatively open crumb, subtle sour flavor, and great complement of the added nuts, berries and olives. 

Though the flavor was great, they did not produce the oven spring or total volume/height I expected, however, which I speculate may be due in part to any/all of the following three things:1) inevitable flattening from the high hydration % (with the liquid levain I use, the dough was nearly 90% hydration), 2) insufficient tension created when I shaped the loaves prior to retarding the dough in the fridge (it was pretty loose/sticky), and/or 3) letting the dough bulk ferment too long before shaping.   To that last point, I didn't measure the volume increase during bulk as I should have, but it seems like it very likely exceeded the 20 to 30% guidance given in Tartine, albeit in only 3.5 hrs in my 70 degree kitchen.

Also, got a new non-bread toy this weekend, a refurbished Vitamix, which I've been using nonstop.  While the loaves were proofing, I made a couple different versions of habanero hot sauce, which is now mellowing/melding in my basement for 3 days before we dare try it/bottle it up.





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