The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Rajan Shankara's blog

Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

...just kidding, there's no butter sandwich. But, I baked another loaf this morning. I made A LOT of starter for some reason, and went on a long weekend. The levain was put in the fridge and three days later it was a pile of bubbly mush. 

"I'm tired of believing I need to ferment sourdough with a fresh levain.." I thought to myself. So, I decided to bake a loaf of bread with 3 day old, cold levain—without refreshing it one little bit. 


I stuck with a safe 75% hydration recipe of mine and trusted my beast of a starter. 

First image is always sideways...?


450g flour (5% buckwheat)

324g water

10g salt

150g levain...yup. My recipe called for 81g (18%) but I had so much extra—and it was cold and unfed—I decided to throw in an ungodly amount in the name of science. (33%) Percents for total dough formula...I think. 

Hydration ended up at 76%. 


The next stages went well, and I gave it a nice long BF, from 1:45pm to 7pm with one hour in the fridge because I wasn't home. 

Shaped at 8:30pm, thrown in a basket and cold retard for 12 hrs. 


Mucho happy with the bake. I woke up, preheated to 450F for a few minutes (our oven is incredibly fast) and plopped that sucker onto the dutch oven and closed the lid. The dough was like a soft airy pillow, held shape very well and was incredibly light. 


The final product ended up being so light and airy that it is hard to cut without holding on for dear life. Great earthy flavor thanks to the buckwheat, not too sour considering a third of the weight was levain!

So, does anything matter? Do "rules" of baking apply? Yes and No. My bakery believes in science, but also intuition, and feeling what is right and when is right. Talk to your dough, make sure it's happy and ready for the next step regardless of what a recipe says the timeline should be. And, if you have a strong starter, you might be able to get away without feeding it for 3 days, throwing it cold into some dough, and baking a damn good loaf. 


Happy Baking, and most importantly...Relax!


Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

Hey gang. I made some sourdough pizza for my lady the other night, and as I was making the dough I said to myself, "I'm going to make some bread!"

I wanted to raise the hydration level of my basic loaf up a notch, from 75 to 77, and I had extra levain so I decided to add more for flavor and punch by going from 18% to 20% of the total, AND I decided to keep the normal timing of the batch. 

Bakers, what does that mean?? If you raise your levain percentage and keep the same's going to overproof slightly. But, I'm all for it. I wanted to overproof to lower the oven spring and come out with a wider dough—and I don't know how else to do that. Plus, the timing just worked better for sleeping in on a weekend morning. 


BRDCLC is my favorite calculator on planet earth. Ok, that's all I wanted to say. 


Cute little thing. 


Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

I love frying my starter! Plop that baby into a sizzling oily pan and you've got fried sourdough. 

For lunch, I decided to take some extra starter and make a sandwich. 


In the pan is a salmon burger with blackened garlic, onion and rosemary. The kitchen had some extra basil so I plucked a few leaves and threw em in!



As the salmon sizzles, the sourdough fries on both sides, gets cut in two and made into the sandwich it was destined to be. 

I got creative and saucy, and added some hard cheese, avocado and sweet California garlic mustard that we picked up from the roadside peach stand near Monterey last weekend. The beer? One of my favs from Rogue—Dead Guy Marzen. 

Nothing like a good German March beer in July, with a sourdough salmon sandwich. If you've got extra starter, use it! 

Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

Well I took a few years off there! Hey everyone, nice to see the pros still baking on TFL. I have learned so much from you guys over the years. 

I am baking again now that I'm settled in San Jose, California, and no longer a monk. Let's get to what you want to know...

I tried to start my own starter without luck! Even after 5 different test trials with all different flours and two types of water... so a neighbor luckily shared some healthy bugs with me because I was getting impatient. (Monks get impatient???)

Side note: Danny aka DanAyo also lovingly mailed me some starter and I will be getting that going today. 


I love sideways levain shots...jk. 


I could see the levain was strong and so I threw together a nice little recipe. 

1 loaf

450g flour. I used mostly KA bread flour, 5% local WW and 5% Rye

74% hydration

18% levain


Levain build: 6am

Autolyse: 8am

Mix: 9am

Slap & fold, 4 times every 30 min. I only do what the dough wants. If the fold looks good after one smash against the counter, then that's all I do. Dough always slacks a little towards the end of the S&F work, so I put in a little more work on the last fold before BF. 

Happy dough, 75F throughout. 


After BF I shaped and cold retard. Baked in the AM. 15 hour cold proof. Wake up, coffee, pre-heat to 550F, slash and in. 20 minutes, uncover until color is good. Turn off oven and rest loaf inside until Avocado is ready. 

I'm happy with it, tastes good. Nice mix of flours and healthy starter, what more can you ask? I'll need to pick up some *parchment paper (not wax, raj) in order prevent the bottom from cookin' so good. 
*the Dutch oven was full of oil! Ha! 

happy baking, relax!



Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

Got some einkorn flour recently and did a small bake, good stuff! Easy to work with and pretty much like white flour, nothing like whole wheat with bran included. Good taste, cool color and mouthfeel. Going to add einkorn to my whole wheat batches, maybe 30%. 

Recipe was 100% einkorn flour, 50% hydration, 100% hydration levian, a litte oil. 2 hour autolyse, because.

The Internet told me to make it dry at 50% hydration or else! Crumb came out tight and dry. Probably will up the water next time since it wasn't as hard to work with as people say it was. I think they don't do autolyse so they don't know what that step does to dough. 

check it: 



Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

The Zen part of baking is the fact that you can't alter every part of an artisan loaf—although you can get close. Eventually the rise and opening of the loafs seam will go its own way and run off in the direction it sees fit. A baker can only control so much before the bake, but once the yeast begin to heat up and ebullition of CO2 is accelerated we can only relax and be happy with what they decided to do. After hundreds of bakes we finally learn to let the loaf decide what artisanal and craft really mean. Defining it ourselves is like telling someone how to interpret Vincent Gogh. The bread will speak for itself and tell its own story, just make sure to have fun and master each step of the process as much as you can, the dough will do the rest. 

I made these last loaves out of a chocolaty coconut porter wort. Wort is the malted barley liquid that is extracted from a brewers mash—hot water and barley. Wort is not beer yet since no yeast has been added. A good brewer makes really good wort; the yeast make good beer. 

I had some extra wort from brew day so I used a 90% hydration level, replacing all the water with porter wort. The wort, and resulting dough, smelled amazing during brew day. The steam coming out of the kettle was intoxicating. Chocolate, coconut, slight roast and toast from biscuit-like malts—wow. I decided from that moment on to always add fresh coconut shavings to my porters(one of the many benefits of living on a tropical island), maybe even my stouts too...or what about espresso? hmm. 

I put two of the loaves in a pan for practice. After making so many loaves in the French free rise style I have really atrophied any kind of American pan training, so I practice on occasion. The pan loaves always come out softer since the crust is focused on one area and the coloring takes twice as long as I attempt to fully bake the inside first with low oven temps. In other words, I still hate pan breads. Give me a free risen scored-up thick crusted sourdough loaf that I need a chainsaw to open up and I'm happy. 

Normal salt, maybe higher than normal, and basic cold bulk ferment for 24 hours where in place for these loaves. I have learned that bulk fermenting is way more fun than cold proofing, and I like the outcome of the crumb better. These were noticeably more sour since the ferment was cold extended and it paired well with the malty sweetness of the porter. I forgot that the wort had hops in it, so a slight bitterness actually came through in the bread. These loaves were so different than the norm and highly appreciated by all.










Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

It's been a while! Over the past month I have been baking on a regular schedule and trying out a new recipe every bake and just having tons of fun. Let's see if I can quickly recap some breads—all 100% whole wheat sourdough of varying hydrations. 



85% WW Jalapeno Cheddar and Sun Dried Tomato SD!


This bread was so much fun, and awesome tasting. Spicy when you got a pepper!



100% Hydration WW SD Beer Bread!  Made with all Homemade Belgian Dubbel, no water. 


Secret monk technique: The beer and the flour have to sit close together and absorb the essence of the beer into the flour. 


I just loved this bread. I have been making a ton of all beer breads without adding water and the flavor is out of sight. Strong, bitter, malty and tangy sour from the SD. I added some seeds to this batch. 



I think this is rolled oats, high hydration. Beyond that I can't remember!



Another batch of beer bread, this time with a Homebrew Vienna Ale. So good. No water. 


I added toasted nuts and seeds. All of these were ground slightly in an R2 food processor. 


Yes, yes. 


Pan breads are new to me and a little challenging. Surprisingly enough, when you do all beer breads without water, the dough isn't even that wet or slack after a 2+ hour autolyse. Beer and water are so different. 



85% WW Fennel Raisin Molasses SD. This recipe, and this bread specifically, was amazing. I can't stress that enough. The crust was so soft and sweet, yet slightly thin and crunchy. The raisin-fennel combo taste like licorice and melt in your mouth. Man o man. 



100% water-hydrated WW SD with seeds: flax, sesame, pumpkin and rolled oats. Because life. 

This bread was so soft and delicious, unreal. I also did a 5 hour autolyse, really softened the bread up. 


I buttered the pans heavily and reaped all of the rewards from that action in the finished product. 


80-something% hydration Walnut-Berry SD! I think I used cherries. Been using all kinds of berries lately. The watery ones are so crazy wet they mess up the hydration. But, they are redeemed in flavor and awesomeness in color. 


Totally great bread. With melted butter these loaves were gone, just annihilated. 



Raspberries have been interesting too, the disappear in the flour and just make a color/flavor profile. 



Aren't these little puff-balls so cute? I don't even know what these are. I think they are some kind of sweet bread with lots and lots of jaggery and honey and milk—all holy things. 



More cute little puff-balled bread. I was really enjoying the natural no-score look for a while...still am too. These are made with some kind of nut and berry, I wanna say apricots. 


Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

Lot's of baking as usual. Our sourdough culture is being fed twice a day and enjoys that. Besides always having starter available for baking on a whim, one can really get to observe how their culture is behaving as it rises and falls everyday. I have clocked mine at 8 hours of work and it begins to fall; this is at a very low amount of starter with each refresh too, 10g SD to 70g flour 70g water. The consistency also changes enough to see where you want to be for baking and where you have gone too far. When the culture is gooey and can easily drip out of the jar, it is done for the day and should be fed again instead of being baked with. When the culture is peaking it has a nice jello consistency, and also glutinous. It holds shape and you can pull and tug on it without it tearing, up to a certain point. Anyway...


Cinnamon Rolls: 

I realized that putting the dough in the walk-in fridge is just not working. The temp is just too cold and the fans are too efficient for yeast. I bit the bullet and started my day off at 4am and cranked out 30 rolls for the brothers. The lamination and proofing went really well, not perfect but we are getting there. I attempted to make a glaze with milk, butter, vanilla extract and stevia, which worked pretty well but I couldn't get it to thicken the way I imagined. Next time maybe. And yes, I laminated cinnamon roll dough cause I don't care. 


Next up is my inaugural steps into understanding spelt and buckwheat, both floured and sprouted. When you bake with only whole wheat 100% of the time spelt and buckwheat don't change a whole lot. But the crust was much more crispy and crackly with a nice nutty flavor. I upped my hydration from 78 to 80, but it wasn't enough for the extra grains. Got more of a tight, dry crumb like my older batches last year. 

Spelt flour, buckwheat groats, buckwheat flour additions. No sprouts this time, just threw them in raw. I sprouted and baked with them in a few more pictures down, not much difference if any but had too many ingredients to tell. 

Quick tip, if you feel like you might forget an addition, like salt, after autolysing, then just add everything next to the autolysing dough, don't worry. Mix it all in when the time is up using the Forkish pincer method. 

and there you have it all mixed in after a few pincer pinches. 


These loaves were fine and merry, not spectacular. 





Now in my opinion what comes next is spectacular. A few days later and I decided to officially up my hydration for all my loaves to 83%. Exciting, right? I am always concerned about making big jumps to recipes that already work well, so I have been upping the hydration little by little. For me it's not working with wet dough that is hard, I'm concerned about the overall rise and shape of the loaf: the beauty of it all. 

I went with the mother of all seeded doughs for the last bake of the week, adding sprouted spelt, sprouted buckwheat, two kinds of flax, two kinds of sesame, pumpkin seeds and rolled oats, oh, and 3% rye flour because we have it. oh ya and walnuts. And yes, my bakes are getting darker and darker. It just has to be that way for that thin crackly crust.


And the middle scoring is going well. I moved from the right end to the middle to lower the ears I was getting. 

As usual I took many photos, too many, and none of the photos give the bread justice. Not sure how so many TFLers are taking such amazing shots. 


I made 5 loaves, gave away the two boules today. The boules looked cool, neat little scoring blooms. 

Baking specs: 

All flour is Giusto's high protein whole wheat fine grade

All salt is pink himalayan 

Recipe goes to 83% hydration if your starter is at 100% hydration. 

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Rajan Shankara

Baking lots. 


Regular SD WW loaves, seeded loaves and blackberry pecan loaves. Also did my fourth batch of yeasted Pain au Chocolat, which need some serious help. I can't get them to ferment and flake. 


Rye Ciabatta with ground flax. These were superb tasting. 


Blackberry Pecan WW SD loaves. Blackberry isn't all that great tasting. Sure looks nice though. 




Flax Sesame Pumpkin Oat WW SD AKA FSPO Sourdough. Pink salt addition on the right. I forgot to add everything in my normal autolyse step so I did it on the first fold. Worked fine. I really like this combination. 


Putting the oats on the crust is a pain, not going to do that again. 




Normal WW SD loaves as usual. Gave these away to friends. Going to move my score closer to the middle to open up that mid bloom look next time. 


OK, here is what I don't get. My chocolate bread rolls don't do much rising or layer separation even though I laminate well and never get butter problems. They taste good of course, but they are more bready than flakie.

Recipe using

1100g ww pastry flour

60% hydration, half water/ half milk straight from the fridge. This is real milk, from jersey cows milked that morning. So I think it was 335g of each liquid.

18g salt I think, it was a 2% addition

20g dried yeast, comes out to 1.8% of the recipe

2 teaspoons stevia since we don't use sugar

227g Kerry Gold's Irish Butter

I messed around with extra dough and tried some Pate feuilletee, those are so cool. 



Dough is mixed, only a little gluten development. Then immediately off to rest in walk-in fridge. 

Work butter and prep for lamination

laminate and first fold

cold rest

second fold and final pressing for shaping

boom done and in walk-in fridge overnight to bake next morning

bake at 350F in convection oven

I have not tried to do these all in one morning, I'm trying to avoid that. The overnight rest and morning bake is great for my work schedule. 

I have been pretty vague about the folding, so if anyone is up for getting this rolls improved I can go into better detail, but I see a fermentation issue here. Is 1.8% yeast too little? Too much? Maybe I should laminate before the first cold break to get fermentation going first? These can't be THAT hard to do. Each of the attempts look about the same, 1.8% yeast is the highest I have gone in the recipe. 




Rajan Shankara's picture
Rajan Shankara

Tuesday's gone with the wind, along with 3 of my favorite loaves yet. 

 I was inspired by a recipe from The Perfect Loaf and decided it was time to change up my routine and add some more stuff to my dough. These loaves can only be appreciated by a baker. I feel like something has changed in my baking and it seems to have all come from this one bake. Have you ever felt that way? As if this is some kind of turning point and I see a bright baking future ahead. 

Thanks to for the in-browser recipe calculator. This is my foundation formula that I work from when I need three 900g batards for dinner. By the time I add the levian the hydration is calculated to rise to 78%.


The process went on normally, or as a famous homebrewer would say "the day was uneventful." 

5 a.m. Take out 40g from the starter culture and build a levian with 104g ww flour to 104g water. Our culture can rip through this percentage of food in about 5 hours. I'm currently trying to slow my culture down with smaller inoculations and larger amounts of food and it's not working. The soldiers in there are like Spartans. 

 9 a.m. Autolyse dough: two hours is ideal for me. Used water that is 100F so the dough knocks down to 90F, then goes to 80F at mixing. This recipe is dialed in and I know each addition is a 10 degree loss of heat. I added the cranberries and baked walnuts at this step. Incorporating the extra items in the dough is always easiest for me right as the water goes in. 




11 am: Add levian after autolyse is done, add salt, mix, rest for 30 min before first fold.  After mixing the dough was at 80F and remained there throughout the process until I raised the temp to 85F for the last hour of bulk. It seems that once I hit my target number, or any number for that matter, the dough holds temp extremely well. The levian is at 6 hours of work now and it is beyond active. The levian temp is about 81F.



    -11:30 am First fold  (when I say fold I mean really just one or two folds. Nothing serious, maybe 10 seconds of dough contact.)

    -12 pm Second Fold

    -12:30 pm Third Fold

    -1 pm Fourth Fold

    -1:30 pm Fifth Fold

    -Dough rested until 3:30 because I didn't see an excessive amount of fermentation. Sometimes I don't see the real ferment progress until I flour the top of the dough and start dividing and shaping. All of a sudden there's CO2 ebullition from within. I also gauge how my last fold felt. Was it airy? Easy to pick up and let go? Who knows. 

3:30 pm Divide and preshape. Each loaf was 900g but the extra items weighed more. I didn't measure for that but I might want to in the future...which is in two days. So each loaf came out to about 950g.

The loaves relaxed on the counter until 4pm. Then I did a final batard shape, just some simple rolls and folds and presses and into bannetons. They proofed next to the preheating oven for about 30 minutes. A few poke tests and I noticed their springback slowed down to half way, so I baked then. I also was running out of time as dinner was coming up and I needed some time for cooling too. 



Baked at 400F in dutch ovens for 40 minutes, took lid off at 40 minutes and baked another 15-20 minutes and just watched the color. Since Dabrownman started to talk about stout the other day, I wanted to bake these loaves dark and stouty. 

The crust was awesome. Thin, crispy, and really easy to slice through to the bottom. It was sweet for the first time in all my bakes, sweet and chewy but also crispy at the same time. Wow. 



The crumb baked well and dry, but still having a moist spongy character. No tacky texture even though I sliced the loaves about 20 minutes out of the oven. I'm finally getting my bakes proper with these dutch oven pots and proper temp control thanks to Derek's help. I would never make beer without measuring the temp at each stage, so why would I ever make dough without measuring temp? 


I thought scoring them would be more difficult, but it was fun. I have been doing the same middle or side horizontal score for the last 20 loaves so I got out of my comfort zone and did something different for two of the batards. I love how they came out all craggy and wild. 

 I still can't believe how great these turned out, and now they are all gone. But that gives me an opportunity to do it again...







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