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Shiao-Ping's blog

Shiao-Ping's picture

Chad Roberson's Tartine Bakery doesn't do chocolate sourdough (if they do, I haven't had the fortune of tasting it).  We did Pane Cioccolata (chocolate bread) at Artisan III, SFBI, and it was very good.  Everybody loved it but at the time I was thinking to myself if I were to make it at home I would make some changes for the following reasons: 

First of all, I feel really uneasy about "double hydration" method, which is supposed to be good whenever you have any "add-ins" for your dough, be it dried fruits, nuts, seeds or soakers, or in this case, chocolate chips.  The procedure is: you mix your dough with only 80 - 85%% of the recipe water in the first and 2nd speed as usual until a slightly stronger than normal gluten development has achieved, then turn the mixer back to first speed, slowly incorporate the reserved water and finish off on 2nd speed, then, add the seeds and nuts (or whatever add-ins you have) in the first speed initially for incorporation, and finish off, again, in 2nd speed.  The reasoning for this method is it is easier to develop dough strength with a stiffer dough than a wet dough and so the purpose is to build up the strength before you incorporate any add-ins.  Because of the longer mixing time, the temperature of water you use with this method is lower than for other doughs. 

I remember we mixed the dough for nearly 20 minutes in the spiral mixer.  I am not confident that I could do such a long mixing time with the mixer I have at home.  I always feel "traumatized," looking at the dried fruits or nuts being beaten up and chopped up while they try to be mixed in to the dough after the latter's gluten structure has already been formed; it really takes time to break the gluten bond.

Secondly, after the dough was bulk fermented, it was scored then proofed. One other type of bread where we scored first then proofed was rye bread.  It was said that because of the delicate gluten structure in both of these cases, if you were to score after the dough is proofed, you may destroy the gases that were produced.  While this makes sense to me, I don't care for the look when it's baked.

Thirdly, the Pane Cioccolata formula we used at Artisan III has only 20% levain (in baker's percentages) and therefore it also has a small percentage of dry instant yeast (DIY).  If I increase levain to 100% I wouldn't have to have DIY!  Also, chocolate chips used were only 12% of total flour, I know my son would just LOVE more chocolate chips. 

So here is my Chocolate Sourdough inspired by Chad Robertson's method all by hand (timeline as described in Daniel Wing and Alan Scott's The Bread Builder) in my previous post.







Formula for My Chocolate Sourdough 

Two nights before bake day - first stage of levain build-up

  • 61 g starter @ 75% hydration
  • 121 g bread flour (i.e. two times starter amount for me; I do not know what ratio Chad Robertson uses.)
  • 91 g water

Mix and ferment for 6 - 8 hours at 18C / 65 F (depending on your room temperature, you may need shorter or longer fermentation time for your starter to mature)

The morning before bake day - second (and final) stage of levain expansion

  • 273 g starter @ 75% hydration (all from above)
  • 273 g bread flour (I use one time starter amount in flour but I do not know what amount Chad Robertson uses)
  • 204 g water

Mix and ferment for two hours only

Formula for final dough

  • 750 g starter (all from above)
  • 650 g bread flour
  • 100 g cocoa powder (8.5% of total flours*verses 5% in SFBI recipe)
  • 86 g honey (7% of total flours verses 15% in SFBI recipe)
  • 250 g chocolate chips (21% of total flour verses 12.6% in SBFI recipe)
  • 433 g water (note: with every 12 g extra water, your total dough hydration will increase by 1%. If you wish, you can increase up to 5% more hydration. See step 10 below.)
  • 1 to 2 vanilla pods (optional but really worth it)
  • 20 g salt

Total dough weight 2.3 kg and total dough hydration 73%

*Total flour calculation takes into account the flour in starter. 

  1. In a big bowl, first put in water then put in the starter.  Break up the starter thoroughly in the water with your hands.
  2. Then put in honey; scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods and put it in, and stir to combine
  3. Put in all the remaining ingredients except choc. chips
  4. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine for 1 - 2 minutes. (Take down the time when this is done, this will be your start time.  Starting from this time, your dough is fermenting.  From this start time to the time when the dough is divided and shaped, it will be 4 hours; i.e., bulk fermentation is 4 hours.  The preferred room temperature is 18 - 21C / 65 - 70F.  You may need to adjust your dough temperature by using cooler or warmer water.)
  5. Autolyse 20 - 30 minutes
  6. Sprinkle half of the choc. chips on a work surface (spreading about 30 cm by 30 cm) and stretch or pad the sticky dough thinly to cover the choc. chips.  Then sprinkle the other half of choc. chips over it; press the choc. chips into the dough so they stick.
  7. Gather the dough from the edges to the centre and place the choc. chip dough back into the mixing bowl.
  8. Start the first set of stretch and folds in the bowl by pinching the edges of the dough and fold onto itself to the centre (10 - 20 times).  Rotate the bowl as you go.  As the dough is quite stiff, you may need both hands for the folding.  The hand folding serves as mixing.  I used my left hand to press down the centre, so my right hand can pinch an edge of the dough and fold it to the centre.  As you stretch and fold, try not to tear the dough; only stretch as far as it can go.
  9. After 45 minutes, do a second set of stretch and folds.  At the end of this stage, the dough will already feel silky and smooth.  As the dough is quite stiff, its strength develops very fast.  Be mindful that the bottom of the dough is the right side of the dough; and the right side of the dough always remain at the bottom in the bowl.
  10. After another 45 minutes, do a final set of stretch and folds.  As the dough feels quite strong, no more folding is necessary (unless you choose to increase total dough hydration, in which case, you may need one more set of stretch and folds).
  11. At the end of the 4 hour bulk fermentation, divide the dough to 3 - 4 pieces as you wish.  Be mindful that the bottom of the dough is the right side; sprinkle some flour on your work bench, and place the pieces right side down.
  12. Shape the pieces - gather the edges to the centre, flip it over (so the right side is now up) and shape it to a tight ball with both hands.  (As I find the dough is quite strong, I did not think pre-shaping is necessary.)
  13. Place the shaped boules in dusted baskets or couche, right side down and seam side up to encourage volume expansion.  Cover.
  14. Proof for 2 hours in room temperature of 18 - 21C / 65 - 70F.
  15. Into the refrigerator for retardation at the end of the 2 hour proofing (minimum 8 hours; I did 18 hours).


Bake Day

  1. Bake the boules cold for best result (ie, straight out of refrigerator).  Just before baking, sift flour on the dough and score it.  Bake at 190C / 380F (not higher due to honey) for 40 minutes.  Once the dough is loaded onto the baking stone, steam the oven with no more than 1 cup of boiling hot water.
  2. Note: I find better result when baked cold.  One boule was left at room temp while others were being baked, and it became quite puffy so when I scored, it deflated quite a lot and there was no noticeable oven spring with this bake.          



I sliced one of the boules and went down to the back yard to water the plants.  When I came back up, my son said to me, Mum, the chocolate sourdough was epic.  How I love his choice of words.  Well, you know how to please a growing boy - make a chocolate sourdough!

This is the first time that I made a chocolate sourdough - it is not sour at all because of the chocolate and honey, but it is very chewy.  And the crust!  Very crispy.  The crumb?  Very more-ish.

I don't imagine you find chocolate sourdough made this way in the shops - they would go bankrupt if they do - too much work (but absolutely worth the trouble for home bakers)!


Shiao-Ping's picture

Have you ever seen a photo of very stiff starter wrapped up tightly in cloth then tied up in string (as if making absolutely sure that the little beasties have no way of escaping)?  I never understood the purpose of the tight string until the other day when I was writing about Chad Robertson.   A Day in the Life at the Bay Village Bakery in The Bread Builders says Chad "uses a brief two-hour final stage of leaven expansion before he mixes up his dough" (page 221).  In both of these two cases maximum natural yeast population is achieved without them further fermenting (because there will be plenty of fermentation once final dough is mixed).

Chad Robertson's rustic sourdoughs from Tartine Bakery were my most favourite during my recent stay in San Francisco.  I wanted to see if it was possible to reproduce his style of sourdough at home.  I was told that a bread cookbook is coming out soon (in addition to their existing pastry cookbook), but no date is given.  Alain Ducasse's Harvesting Excellence quotes Elizabeth Prueitt as saying that Chad's breads were hand-made from the very beginning to the very end, and that "it is one person's expression" (page 19).

By the time The Bread Builders wrote about him, Chad Robertson had acquired a mixer from Europe which helped him in meeting the growing demands for his breads.  A brief description of timeline for a typical load of breads that he baked at his (then) one-man bakery at Point Reyes, Califorina (before he and Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and opened Tartine) is as follows (according to The Bread Builders): 

  1. At 8 am, he mixes his final intermediate levain and let it sit in room temperature for two hours (note: I assume the levain is fully mature before the two-hour final expansion);
  2. At 10 am, he mixes the final dough by first putting all the ingredients or all except the levain into the mixer and running it for 2 - 3 minutes at 45 - 50 revolutions a minute;
  3. Autolyse 15 - 30 minutes
  4. Adds the levain if necessary, then mixes it for 4 - 5 minutes
  5. Bulk fermentation 4 hours (counting from 10 am to 2 pm), during which time several stretch and folds in the tub are done;
  6. At 2 pm, divide the dough and pre-shape them, then rest for 15 minutes
  7. Shape the dough and place them on the bannetons or couche dusted with a mixture of bread and rice flours;
  8. Proof in room temperature for 2 hours before going into proofing boxes (at 55F) to retard for 8 - 10 hours (Harvesting Excellence says up to 12 hours); and
  9. The next day, start baking between 4:30 - 5 am.

Based on this timeline, my formula for Chad's sourdough follows:

My formula for Chad's Sourdough

Two nights before bake day - first stage of levain build-up

  • 82 g starter @ 75% hydration
  • 164 g bread flour (i.e. two times starter amount for me)
  • 124 g water

Mix and ferment for 6 - 8 hours at 18C / 65 F (depending on your room temperature, you may need more than 2 times bread flour, or shorter or longer fermentation time for your starter to mature)

The morning before bake day - second (and final) stage of levain expansion

  • 370 g starter @ 75% hydration (all from above)
  • 370 g bread flour (I figure one time starter amount in flour is enough)
  • 277 g water

Mix and ferment for two hours only

Formula for final dough

  • 1,017 g starter (all from above)
  • 1,017 g bread flour (Australian Laucke's Wallaby bakers flour, protein 11.9%)
  • 651 g water
  • 30 g salt

Total dough weight 2.7 kg (divided into three pieces) and total dough hydration 68%

  1. I followed the timeline above but I did everything by hand.  I fully intended to fold as many times as necessary to build up dough strength but as my dough was not very wet the gluten developed very fast and by the end of first set of stretch & folds, the dough already felt silky and smooth.  I did only two sets of stretch & folds in the bowl.
  2. After the dough was divided into three pieces, I pre-shaped them to tight balls, rested them 20 minutes, then shaped them into batards and placed them on bread & rice flours dusted couche.
  3. The shaped loaves proofed for 2 hours in room temperature then went into my refrigerator to retard overnight (for 12 hours).

Bake day

  1. I baked the loaves cold (straight from the refrigerator).  I pre-heated the oven to 250C / 480F.  Once the loaves were loaded, I poured 2/3 cups of boiling hot water onto lava rocks (enormous steam was generated), and turned the oven temperature down to 230C / 450F.  They were baked for 20 minutes, then another 15 minutes at 210C / 410F, and rested for 5 minutes in turnoff-off oven.  (You can bake them for 10 minutes more if you like darker crust.)
  2. There was an impressive oven spring with this bake.




I am quite pleased with the result, although without rye and whole meal flours, I probably cannot call this country sourdough.  Also, Chad's country sourdough has a very rustic look (quite dark) as if from a wood fired oven. 

As I was drafting this post and looking at the black and white picture of Chad's bread in Harvesting Excellence, my daughter came by, I said to her he is the reason why I bought this book; she asked, is he "hot"?  I never understand teenagers' lingo - why "hot" and "cool" mean the same thing.




The crumb is really tender and moist.  It has a very supple texture and open crumb that I did not believe I would have been able to achieve with low hydration dough.  I really don't know what hydration level is Chad Robertson's sourdoughs; I did 68% here because I wanted to have good volume and, possibly, good grigne.  Well, it worked. 

I like the flavor very much, more so than my Sourdough 50/50.


Shiao-Ping's picture

I came back to Brisbane to the first day of spring (1st September).  I had neglected my back yard garden for over a month.  There had been very good rain going into winter after a prolonged drought and no name flowers are sprouting every where.  Even my one and only lemon tree is loaded with clusters of dainty little pink and white flowers.  Any my wisteria!  It welcomes me back with such vivid purple (or blue):


                                                                  I waited three seasons for this to flower. 

As I was going round the garden pruning and liquid-fertilizing, I marveled at how time could not be rushed, how waiting was paying off, and how often my energy was misused in being inpatient. 


                                     no name flower 1                                                                      no name flower 2


                                                                                 and other no name flowers

Since I came back from my baking classes in San Francisco, I had made 6 less than satisfactory breads; three on my Kitchen Aid Artisan stand mixer (which has a C hook, not the spiral hook which comes with the Kitchen Aid Pro stand mixer), two on my Panasonic bread machine (dough mixing function only) and one by hand.  I find it hard to adapt the techniques I learned in the baking school to home set-up - our equipment are different, our starters are different, and our dough temperatures are perhaps different too, etc. etc.  Our instructors foresaw these problems, and they emphasized the need for us to learn to "read" the dough rather than mechanically following instructions or formulas.  We were asked constantly during the mixing process to check gluten development by window paning and by simply tugging at the dough to feel its strength.  But all this is easier said than done.

All that I can do is to keep trying.  The idea of this 7th bread came indirectly from Safa, our instructor at the Artisan I course.  It was my last Saturday in San Francisco; I was on my way to Ferry Plaza market and I ran into him on the train; we chatted all the way.  He said he recently made a bread and he called it 30/30, not that there is anything magic about the number 30, but it's just that it is easier to remember since it has 30% soaker and 30% levain (in relation to final dough flours).  So here I experimented with my 50/50 - 50% Poolish and 50% Levain.

The purpose was to see how this would vary sourdough's flavor profile. I have learnt that the acidity you get from poolish as well as levain that is fed more frequently than just once a day is lactic acidity (e.g. yogurt) as opposed to acidic acidity (e.g. pickles).  A classmate at the Artisan course who had done the bakery tour at Boudin bakery museum in San Francisco told me he saw a baker there use the starter straight out of the refrigerator.  Their San Francisco Sourdough is famous for its sourness which is not to my taste.  I imagine if the starter is fed only once a day and is kept in the refrigerator for part of the feeding cycle such that it stays in the anaerobic condition for a long time the acidity can be developed quite strongly.  I am a fan of Chad Robertson's rustic sourdoughs.  I was reading about him in "A Day in the Life at the Bay Village Bakery" in the Bread Builders and Alain Ducasse's Harvesting Excellence; and interestingly it is mentioned that he uses a brief two-hour final stage of levain expansion before he mixes up his doughs.  I imagine this "levain expansion" would be the aerobic stage of levain build-up where the little beasties are in rapid reproduction (rather than fermentation).  I don't know for sure but I imagine too his levain would be fed more than once a day and would most likely sit in room temperature.




Formula for my 50/50

Early morning - prepare Levain and Poolish, allow for 6 to 8 hours to ferment, depending on your room temp


  • 80 g bread flour
  • 24 g medium rye flour
  • 78 g water
  • 52 g starter @75% hydration

(Note: this starter is on a two feeding a day cycle and stays in my room temperature of around 18 - 21C / 65 - 70F)


  • 117 g bread flour
  • 117 g water
  • A very small pinch of dry instant yeast (or 1/4 of a 1/3 tsp)

Late afternoon - prepare the final dough

  • 400 g bread flour (Australia's Laucke Wallaby unbleached bakers' flour, protein 11.9%)
  • 34 g whole wheat flour
  • 34 g rye flour
  • 275 g water
  • 14 g salt
  • 234 g Levain (all from above), which is 50% of final flours
  • 234 g Poolish (all from above), which is 50% of final flours
  • Extra medium rye flour for dusting

Total dough weight 1.2 kg and total dough hydration 68%

  1. I mixed all ingredients in my Kitchen Aid for 4 min at the first speed then another 6 min at the 4th speed, at which point the dough did not feel very strong.  I pulled it out of the mixer any way because I planned to supplement by stretch and folds during bulk fermentation.
  2. I placed the dough in an oiled container and gave it two letter folds. After the first letter fold, the dough was rotated 90 degrees then letter-folded again, and then the dough was turned upside down so that the folds faced downwards (ie, right side was up).
  3. Bulk fermentation was 2 hours with a set of two letter folds (as above) every 30 minutes.  I turned the dough over first (so the right side was down) before I did the letter folds and when I finished the folds, I turned the dough over so that the folds faced downwards (the purpose was so that the dough stayed tight.).
  4. After 2 hours, I pre-shaped the dough into a tight ball, and while it was resting, I dusted a linen-lined basket with medium rye flour.  After a rest of 20 minutes, the dough was shaped into a boule and placed in the basket and covered with a plastic bag.  I placed it into the refrigerator to retard (for 13 hours).
  5. The next morning the dough was baked cold at 220C / 440 F for 50 minutes with steam for the first 10 minutes.






This sourdough has the flavor profile that I like: the lactic acidity from the Poolish and the levain, the sweetness from the bread flour, and the richness from rye and whole wheat.  All round the flavor is complex and the after taste is long lasting.  It is mildly chewy, very pleasant.

I'd like to work on my scoring.  Also I am finding it tough to apply what I learned on the mixer I have at home.  Perhaps I need to mix my dough to stronger gluten development in order to have a bloom.  Or perhaps the blind faith in a perfect mixer is a sign of no faith in one's self.  Whatever it is, for now, this:


with a view of this:


is what I need.


Shiao-Ping's picture

It was Tony Bennett who first sang "I left my heart in San Francisco" at the Venetian Room of Fairmont Hotel in 1962.  He is now in his 80s.   Many people in Asia who have not been to San Francisco or do not know much about San Francisco (like me) know it through this song (and the post card fog covered Golden Gate Bridge). 


People may laugh if I say I went to Fairmont Hotel to experience the sense of history when that song was first sung.  Or if I say that I stood in Portsmouth Square in the heart of China Town and tried to picture what it was like when Captain Montgomery first raised an American flag there back in 1846.  In fact it didn't feel like that long ago.  I saw old Chinese men gathered in small groups, squatting, happily playing their Chinese checkers, gambling with small amounts of money - just like the old days in any back streets in China.  Certain things just don't change.  As my husband sometimes says, "you can take the man out of the boy, but you cannot take the boy out of the man." 

The 1848 gold rush saw 12,000 Chinese men joining the foray from across the Pacific and resulted in the oldest, and possibly the largest, China Town in America today.  I often wondered why San Francisco is called "Jiou-gin-shan" in Mandarin (meaning "old gold mountain"); so that's why.  That was a part of overseas Chinese history that is very foreign to me.    

And I can't believe I came to downtown Berkeley.  I heard there were a lot of Chinese in California even back in those days when I was studying in Boston, so I avoided the west coast as much as I could.  UC Berkeley was founded in 1868, a very old school indeed, only 20 odd years after Captain Montgomery came to California.  I walked into a bookstore in the campus called Ten Thousand Minds on Fire, and what did I find?  A poster announcing a concert by the young Chinese pianist Lang Lang ("the hottest artist on the classical music planet" according to The New York Times) on 8th September in UC Berkeley; student ticket $10.  See, if you are a student you get great deals (and your teachers love you).

One great luxury about being in a baking course is that you get to "waste" as much flour as you possibly can (everything in the end goes conveniently to a recycling bin which goes to happy pigs somewhere).  We learnt sourdough made with white starter, made with whole wheat starter, made with rye starter, and with starter which was on a cycle of one feeding a day and two feedings a day, and with starter 40% of final flour, 70% of final flour; and with dough that was bulk fermented or fermented at proofing stage.  We had worked with different types of flours - spelt, rye, semolina, whole wheat, and high extraction flour as well as seeds and nuts.  We had worked with different types of pre-ferments - poolish, sponge and pate fermente (old dough left over from last bake) as opposed to starter to see the difference in bread flavor profile.  We also learnt retarding in bulk and in proofing stage and the resulting variations in dough strength required.  Behind all of these are two key concepts - fermentation and strength, in an effort to achieve a balance for the characteristics that we want in bread.

With this post I am doing a plain sourdough with just white starter; for me this is something like after a long, marathon like, but enjoyable, dinner, before you go home, you want something simple to cleanse, maybe not your palate, but your mind; that is, to lighten up your mind, before you take on the long journey home.  So, not too heavy, please. 


Formula for (white) Sourdough 

Levain Build - Day 4 @ 6:30 am

  • 75 g bread flour
  • 5 g rye flour
  • 47 g water
  • 63 g stiff starter @50% hydration

Mix all ingredients until well incorporated and allow to ferment for 6 hours at room temp of 65 - 70F.

(Note: the fermentation at this initial stage is relatively short as the final dough is to be retarded overnight and will have enough fermentation then for the flavor profile for this sourdough.  Because the fermentation is only 6 hours, the starter as a % of flours is higher than normal at around 80%.  If you wish for a more sour sourdough, you could either do a longer than 6 hour ferment or push starter % of flours even higher so the wild yeasts reach anaerobic condition sooner.)

Final Dough - Day 4 @ 12:30 noon

  • 470 g bread flour
  • 330 g water @ around 50 F in order to achieve a dough temp of around 74 - 76F
  • 12 g salt
  • 190 g levain (all from above)
  • extra rye flour for dusting

Total dough weight 1kg and total dough hydration 67%

  1. Mix all ingredients in first speed of your mixer until well incorporated about 4 - 5 minutes.
  2. Switch to second speed (approx. the 4th gear on home Kitchen Aid mixer) for 4 - 5 minutes to achieve a medium strength of gluten development.  (Note: as the dough is going to be shaped and proof overnight, the gluten needs to be quite well developed at this stage.  Conversely, if the dough is to be retarded in bulk overnight and some strength will be picked up in that process, the gluten does not need to be as well developed at mixing.)
  3. Scrape dough out into a lightly oiled container, give it a fold, and cover.  
  4. First fermentation 1 + 1/2 hours with one fold in the container after 45 minutes.
  5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work bench.  
  6. Divide dough to 2 x 500 g and pre-shape to cylinder. 
  7. Rest for 20 minutes and in the mean time dust linen with rye flour.
  8. Shape dough into thin batards with pointed ends.  
  9. Place shaped dough on linen seam side up and cover the dough with plastic bag.
  10. Place the whole thing into your fridge to retard overnight.

Bake - Day 5 @ 9 am

  1. Remove the shaped dough out of the fridge and turn on your oven to pre-heat to 450F
  2. An hour later, steam the oven, score the batards three times down the center line, then load the dough onto your baking stone, steam again.  Bake for 35 minutes.
  3. Bake for another 5 minutes with oven door ajar to let the crust dry out more.
  4. Cool on rack before slicing.







For relatively low hydration (67%), this sourdough has quite an open crumb.  This dough will make for a great sourdough baguette too.  The flavour is very much to my taste, mildly sour but complex with a long lasting after-taste.

With this post, I am going into the air, flying home tomorrow, and I don't know when I will return next; it was like 25 years ago in Boston, I thought I'd never come to America again in my life (flying was such a big deal then), so I did as much travelling as I could within the States, the furthermost west I'd gone to was Columbus, Ohio, to listen to New Orleans jazz.  And for some reason I forgot I didn't have a return ticket to go home!  If not because towards the end of my semester a big multinational corporation offered me a job and to fly home (I was not a seeker of a job then), I might still be like a dog gone astray in the streets of America!  


                                                The light dancing on the tree trunk, UC Berkeley



Shiao-Ping's picture

Didier Rosada is our instructor at Artisan III course at the San Francisco Baking Institute.  The course is intensive in technical knowledge as in baking schedule.  Didier is an incredible instructor with amazing energy; he "trained and led the Bread Bakers Guild Team USA to first place victory in the bread category at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris in 1996."

I chose to blog this bread because, as Didier said, this bread is what bread was like "in his grandfather's days" (he came from south of France), also because back home I don't normally have the luxury of baking big size breads.






First Levain Build - Day one at 2:30 pm

  • 64 g high extraction flour*
  • 76 g water
  • 16 g liquid starter @100% hydration

Mix all ingredients until well incorporated with desired temperature of 21C/70F and allow to ferment 16 hours at room temp 18 - 21C/65 - 70F.

* If high extraction flour is not available, substitute with 80% white bread flour and 20% whole wheat flour.

Second Levain Build - Day two @6:30 am

  • 388 g high extraction flour*
  • 466 g water
  • 2 g salt
  • 156 g all of first levain build

(The SFBI staff did this levain build for us.)  Mix all ingredients until well incorporated with desired temperature of 21C/70F and allow to ferment 8 hours at room temperature 18 - 21C/65 - 70F.

Final Dough - Day two @2:30 pm

  • 263 g bread flour
  • 88 g high extraction flour*
  • 88 g medium rye flour
  • 97 g water (@55F)
  • 17 g salt
  • 1,012 g all of the second levain build**

Total dough weight 1,565 g and total dough hydration 72%

**Note: the total levain is 230% of final dough flour.

  1. Mix all ingredients in first speed of your mixer until well incorporated about 3 - 4 minutes.
  2. Switch to second speed (approx. the 4th gear on home Kitchen Aid mixer) for 2 - 3 minutes until medium strength of gluten development.
  3. First fermentation in mixing bowl for 30 minutes.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured work bench and pre-shape to light ball.
  5. Rest 20 - 30 minutes.
  6. Shape into a boule and place in a well dusted linen-lined basket.
  7. Proof retarding overnight at 8 - 9C/46 - 58 F (in this case 18 hours).

Bake - Day three @10:15 am

  1. One hour before baking, turn on your oven to pre-heat to 450F.
  2. Score (or stencil) your dough any way you like (a traditional score is diamond score; I did a stencil of three overlapping circles with three scores).
  3. Bake for one hour with steam before and right after the dough is loaded onto your baking stone.
  4. Cool before slice.




Didier used my Miche as demo to explain that this bread was how bread was made in the old days and that its flavor was quite sour.   The sour taste is too strong for my liking but apparently many people in the U.S. like the strong sour taste and, surprisingly for me, almost all the other Aussies in the class like it too.  I was told that these days in France however, people generally don't like it too sour. 





If I were to do this Miche again, the following are the changes I would incorporate: 

  1. Hand mix to achieve a more open crumb;
  2. Increase total dough hydration to 76% at least, also for more open crumb; and
  3. To cut down the sourness by reducing the levain as a % of final dough flour from 230% to 120% or lower (in which case the shaped dough will proof at room temperature for an hour or two before goes into the retarder and for shorter time).
  4. I like the flour profile and will make no change in that.  



p.s.  I asked Didier if I could blog this formula with his picture and the answer was a very happy yes to me.  Thank you, Didier.

Shiao-Ping's picture

Day one of Artisan II course at the San Francisco Baking Institute, Frank our instructor touched on a buzz word for me - Freedom.  This was by no means any where in the manual or was there any hint on his part of an emphasis when he mentioned it; it was a casual passing comment.  He said the best bread for him is a bread with a pre-ferment (poolish or sponge where there is a small amount of commercial yeast) and a levain (in the final dough which is then retarded), and that this combination gives you a lot of "freedom."  

There were 16 of us sitting in the classroom.  Not everyone gets a message at the same level.   I am not suggesting one level is higher than another, or a student who gets a particular message is a better baker than the rest of the class.   I am saying - the message I received has a special meaning to me, and me only.  For the rest of the day, I was chewing on the concept.   I did not know what exactly in Frank's remarks that fascinated me - is it the excitement in the knowledge that the combination of a pre-ferment and a levain would give me the possibility of making a great flavored bread, or what?  It was not until the next night when I was reading my French bread book (which I brought from home) with the assistance of Google translator on French bread tradition that it clicked on me - tradition? freedom? 

Is tradition a quantifier and qualifier, a boundary, a set of rules and conventions; or is tradition a liberator?   Why did the best abstract artists in fine art history start their life-long pursuits by doing serious charcoal sketches and still-life drawings?   I am a Chinese, but do I want to be bound by it?   Freedom.   My tradition is one enriching element in my fabric but I do not want it to be a boundary.   I learn bread, but I do not want to be bound by the bread conventions.   I will make breads that are meaningful to me, whatever that is.   I answer to myself.

As in any learning, formula can never replace the reasoning behind.  The concept is always more valuable than the mere formula.  Once we are able to extract the governing concept or principle from the formula, we have freedom to construct our own formula.   The aspect of freedom excites me far more than the formula.  But I have to start my learning from the formula. 

A Sourdough Formula From Scratch - 5 Days Start To Finish

day 1 at noon, starting to make the culture

  • 200 g bread flour
  • 200 g whole wheat flour
  • 400 g lukewarm water (80F)

day 2 at 8 am

culture on day 2 morning before feeding (after the very first mixing of flour and water the day before)

  • 200 g bread flour
  • 200 g lukewarm water (80F)
  • 200 g culture from the day before (threw away the rest)

day 2 at 4 pm

culture on day 2 afternoon before feeding

  • 200 g bread flour
  • 200 g water
  • 200 g culture from the morning (threw away the rest)

day 3 at 8 am

culture on day 3 morning before feeding

  • 200 g bread flour
  • 200 g water
  • 200 g culture from the day before (threw away the rest)

day 3 at 4 pm, beginning to turn the culture into a starter


culture on day 3 afternoon before feeding and turning into starter

  • 300 g bread flour
  • 300 g water
  • 120 g culture from the morning (threw away the rest)

day 4 at 8 am

starter on day 4 morning before being fed

  • 300 g flour
  • 300 g water
  • 200 g starter, amount increased from 120 g to 200g as this would be used in the afternoon to make sourdough!

day 4 at 3 pm, starting to hand mix the following ingredients for sourdough:

  • 673 g bread flour
  • 471 g water
  • 18 g salt
  • 337 g levain from above

Total dough weight 1.5 kg and total dough hydration 76% 

  1. Mix the above ingredients in a bucket (or a large bowl) by hand. 
  2. Turn out the sticky mess onto the work bench.
  3. Use the palm of one hand, stretch out (like smearing) the sticky mess against the work bench for one minute, not any longer, to thoroughly hydrate the flour;.
  4. Scrape the sticky mess back into the bucket.
  5. With one hand holding the edge of the bucket, another hand stretches and folds the dough onto itself at one corner of the dough; then gives the bucket a 1/4 turn, and stretches and folds the dough again until you have done four corners (ie, one round); do two round in total, no more.
  6. At 30 minutes mark, repeat step 5
  7. At another 30 minutes mark, repeat step 6; at this point you will notice some strength in dough has developed.
  8. At another 30 minutes mark, repeat step 7.  As some dough strength has developed, you will notice the dough is smooth and silky and easily clears the side of the bucket as you stretch and fold in the bucket.
  9. At another 30 minutes mark, turn out the dough onto a well floured work surface.  Oil the bucket before you attend to the dough again.
  10. Now, pre-shape the somewhat loose dough (due to high hydration) into a boule by folding 1/4 of the dough onto itself until all the dough is onto itself, then flip it over; and with two hands on both sides of the dough, create surface tension by applying downward pressure against the work bench and form the dough into a boule.
  11. With the flexibility of a gymnast (joking), flip the pre-shaped boule into the bucket (right side in the bottom) in a swift motion.
  12. Dust your linen lined basket with rice flour or a mixture of bread flour and rice flour.
  13. At 15 minutes mark, turn out the pre-shaped dough onto a well floured work bench.  Shape again as in step 10 but try to do it as tight as possible without tearing the skin.
  14. Flip the shaped dough into the basket, right side down.  Cover.
  15. At 30 minutes mark, wheel (I mean, chuck) the dough into your fridge for overnight retardation (14 hours). 

day 5 bake this little baby

  1. At 7:30 am, turn on your oven to pre-heat to 450 F
  2. At 8:00 am, remove the dough from the fridge to room temperature. 
  3. Invert the dough onto a peel, and clean off rice flour on top if there is any.  Dust the surface with bread flour or stencil the top with favourite design of your choice. (At the last minute, I cut out three round circles as stencils.)
  4. At 8:30 am, score your dough; steam your oven for 2 seconds, load the dough onto the baking stone, steam for another 2 seconds, and bake for 30 minutes; then, bake for another 30 minutes with the oven door ajar to vent (in order to dry out the crust) or until the crust is of a desired color. (Note: for home baking the steaming is done after the dough is loaded with 1 cup of water onto lava rock filled cast iron roasting pan.)
  5. Cool completely before slicing. 

And, here is my true San Francisco Sourdough made in San Francisco.  (The above procedure is my own, adapted from various sources mentioned in this blog as well as Frank our instructor's instructions.)



   My true San Francisco Sourdough made in San Francisco






Crust:  I cannot claim credit for the beautiful crust.  Frank was our master baker, the man at the oven.  He controlled the oven temp, the length of the baking, and all that cares that go with the baking.  The crust is very crispy and full of that caramel/charcoal fragrance.





Crumb color: I have never seen such a beautiful crumb color.  You would say there was hardly any oxidization of flour at all due to the way the dough was mixed and fermented, resulting in this exceedingly creamy, somewhat golden, color. 

The taste is a little bit sour.  I am surprised as I would have thought with the liquid levain, there would be more lactic acidity, rather than acetic acidity.  Maybe overnight retardation is the reason.  Or maybe any true San Francisco sourdough is sour... that San Francisco air and sea breeze?

The mouth feel of the crumb is moist and mildly chewy, full of life.   





Before I leave San Francisco I have one more job to do - to "immortalize" my San Francisco starter to bring home to Australia in dry form.  After using it to mix the dough at day 4 afternoon, I had about 460 g of liquid starter (100% hydration) left.  I turned it into a stiff starter (50% hydration) at the end of that day's class and this morning (day 5) I fed it again.  When I finished today's class, it was already very bubbly.  I brought it back to my hotel and was painting the starter onto a few parchment paper.  Before I had done painting the 5th piece of paper, the first one partially dried.  It was lucky that I turned the liquid starter into a stiff one as it dried faster; my decision was one of greed - I thought with a stiff starter, more flour, more beasties. 



                                 Here is my abstract starter painting with flour and water to finish the day.


p.s.  I asked Frank if I could blog today's sourdough.  I never received a YES answer so quick.   His reply was as if my question was unnecessary. 

Shiao-Ping's picture

1973, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  The Taiwan Provincial Symphony Orchestra was coming into town.  I was in my first year of high school.  My father was given free tickets because of his position at the ruling KMT Party.  He pulled me out of the school that day; in my school uniform, I sat on the front roll of the concert hall, listening to the Western symphonic music for the first time ever in my life.  I had never heard anything like it; I was so moved, I had joyous tears in my eyes that to this day I still don't know where they came from.  

Three nights ago, on the eve of my departure for America, my husband suggested that I read our son's English assignment, entitled "Personal Reflection."  It was late at night and I hadn't even packed my bag.  My son wrote about his reminiscences of Australia, "the sun burnt country."  As my kids were born in South-East Asia, up until 4 and a half years ago before we moved back here, their memories of Australia were mostly from our annual beach holidays.  He describes a fishing experience during one of those holidays: 

It is ironic that the memories most vivid are those of Australia and our annual pilgrimages back to Noosa for our Christmas holidays.  I would always look forward to these holidays for they were my only experience of what was supposedly my home country.  One particular event that sands out is shore fishing off the rocks of Little Cove.  Late afternoon warranted weakening light and an orange sun low in the sky.  Golden light skimmed the surface of the ocean creating stunning patterns of reflection.  The point was a peaceful sanctuary.  Swiftly, the armies of the seas would surge towards the rock wall and bombard it with all its force.  Occasionally, the ocean would deliver a penetrating blow when a larger wave collided heavily which resulted in troops erupting further into unfriendly territory.  Perhaps, the sea was a relentless warzone.  The smell of eucalypt combined with a salty breeze to form that earthy sent that was comforting yet unique. 

I would never catch any fish out there; I had enough trouble holding the rod even with two hands.  Also, I had a tricky encounter with our poor choice of bait.  Bloodworms.  I soon found out why they were called bloodworms after I pierced one onto my hook and it spewed a volcano of inferno red all over my long-sleeved white beach shirt that I was made to wear.  What a gruesome experience.  More difficulties arose with actually keeping the pest on the hook.  Casting proved to be another tricky enterprise to undertake.  A five metre cast with arctic winds to aid me would be a heroic effort indeed therefore Dad would usually cast for me.  He would be hauling in fish beside me whilst I, who was sitting just three metres to his left, wouldn't catch a thing.  With my thin forearms flexed, eyebrows crooked and eyes peeled I would concentrate my entire mental wrath just calling, aiding the sea creatures into my domain.  Alas, my mental strain paid off.  I reeled in the line as hastily as my might would allow only to find an empty hook.  At this stage Dad would let me reel in one of his own catch and claim it as my own.  A bear-like hug for my glorious accomplishment was definitely in order.  Despite my bad luck, it was moments like those that put a smile on my face that reached the tip of my ears and a booming laughter that could be heard across the Pacific.  

It was when I read "... an orange sun low in the sky.  Golden light skimmed the surface of the ocean...." that my eyes became wet with joy - because he could see what I saw. 

He finishes his "Personal Reflection" with the following:

I still feel a great connection to Singapore and its unique culture of coconut milk, straw skirts and 'hawker' food markets.  However, reminiscing now I realize just how deep my love for the land down under has entrenched.  It must have grown from my absolute fascination of Australian wildlife and admiration of its charm and care-free way of life.  To me, it will always remain a tropical escape of tremendous adventure.  My bonds to Australia stand Goliath tall; my David attachment to Singapore shrinks into the background.  Thinking back, those bliss Christmas relaxations created a great desire to voyage to my homeland.  Therefore, rather than dread the day I would eventually leave, I was eager to explore this new continent, make long-term friendships and above all, finally reside in the land of my nationality - Australia.


                                                                                          2001 Christmas holiday

My son, 14, first year of high school. 


Shiao-Ping's picture

A thousand years, a thousand more

A thousand times a million doors to eternity

I may have lived a thousand lives, a thousand times

An endless turning stairway climbs to a tower of souls

If it takes another thousand years, a thousand wars

The towers rise to numberless floors in space

I could shed another million tears, a million breaths

A million names but only one truth to face  

A million roads, a million fears

A million suns, ten million years of uncertainty

I could speak a million lies, a million songs

A million rights, a million wrongs in this balance of time

But if there was a single truth, a single light

A single thought, a singular touch of grace

Then following this single point, this single flame

This single haunted memory of your face


I may be numberless, I may be innocent

I may know many things, I may be ignorant

Or I could ride with kings and conquer many lands

Or win this world at cards and let it slip may hands

I could be cannon food, destroyed a thousand times

Reborn as fortune's child to judge another's crimes

Or wear this pilgrim's cloak, or be a common thief

I've kept this single faith, I have but one belief


I still love you, I still want you

A thousand times these mysteries unfold themselves

Like galaxies in my head

On and on the mysteries unwind themselves

Eternities still unsaid

'Til you love me                                                                                                      

                                                                                            "A Thousand Years" by Sting

                                                                                            Album: "All This Time" & "Brand New Day"             






This bread was inspired by Sting's A Thousand Years.                       


My Formula  

  • 200 g rye meal starter @ 100% hydration (built up in three feedings over 48 hours.  I had to increase hydration from 75% and added 1/8 tsp sugar as the starter was looking tough going in rye meal flour.)
  • 350 g white flour
  • for colouring/saltiness/hydration: 28 g soy sauce + 12 g squid ink + 34 red wine
  • 168 g water
  • 1/8 tsp instant dry yeast (I was afraid I might have poisoned my starter with the squid ink and soy sauce so I added instant yeast.  As it turned out my starter appeared to be strong enough.)  

dough weight 792 g & dough hydration 76%  

  1. Bulk fermentation 6 hours with 4 folds
  2. Shape then Proof 2 hours
  3. Overnight cold retardation 12 hours, followed by 2 hours at room temp
  4. Bake at 230 C for 20 min and 210 C for another 15 min, followed by 10 min resting in the oven with the door still shut but the oven turned off.    

This morning I showed my son and daughter the fermented dough before their school; both of them turned up their noses without saying anything.  My husband was more diplomatic.   



             Crumb ...                                                          and more crumb      


Well, I have to say that I am very pleased with the result.   My husband said the crumb was sensational (how supportive).  The crust was thin and ultra crispy (to me, it is baguette crust standard).  



                   top crust                                                                    bottom crust   


There was a very faint bitterness taste to the crumb, which I find adds to the depth of flavour.   I asked my husband if he thought the bitterness was associated with the ink.  He said, even if it was not, you would form that mental association because your senses subconsciously makes the linkage between black and bitterness.       

Notwithstanding the faint bitterness, he likes the bread also because it is very moist; but he admits this inky bread is not his most favourite.  For me, the inkiness is a strikingly sober colour that I like, at once ancient and modern.   I once heard that many Americans like their first cup of coffee blace in the morning and why black? - because the bitterness provides counter-balance to their sweet diet.  Your body actually craves for something bitter.  Another example: why do pregnant women crave for sourness - their body needs Vitamin C contained in many sour fruits or food.   I crave bitterness; not at all because this bread is bitter (it is not), it is the association that makes me welcome this bread.       



                                                                  My black abstract painting    


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Many years ago I became interested in Suzuki Daisetsu's (or known in the West as Daisetz T. Susuki, 1870 - 1966)'s Japanese Zen Buddhism. He was accredited in bringing interest in Zen and Buddhism to the West in the early 20th century. Before I realised it years later, the stuff I was reading was actually Zen aestheticism, rather than Zen per se.

And so a few days ago when I decided to do a giant Miche to imitate the French village bakers years gone by, that was the analogy that came to my mind. The village bakers in France with their torn and worn out proofing baskets, sun weathered and wrinkled faces are soulful to me. There was something quite fundamental and down to earth about their way of life. In our modern day of comforts, we can afford to bake almost every day if time permits and in any sizes we want. We are not constraint. And if the truth be known, small sizes are more practical for our small family units.

I am going on a journey in a few days time for three weeks and I wanted to make a special bake before I leave. Like the New York Stock Exchange closing down its bourse games on the last trading day of the year, I will be "shutting down" my oven once I've done this bake, I told myself. Talking about shutting down, in the days when I was working, I always thought when the Chinese (Taiwanese) say they are "shutting down" ("feng" in Mandarin) their stock exchange ("guan" in Mandarin), it sounded really "epic;" in Mandarin, that is. Because the Mandarin "guan" relates to the Great Wall in China and so cajoles images of the long history of China. A "guan" is a bastion in a strategic geographical location; the two most famous "guans" in Chinese history are "Chia-yu-guan," far west of China, near Tun-Huang, where the famous silk road starts, and "Shan-hai-guan" to the far east, north-east of Beijing in the eastern sea board of China, winding 6,700 Km apart. I am not comparing my oven to the Chinese "guan" or the Big Board of NYSE, but I felt the last three months of bread baking has been quite a journey to me, and I hope the next one will bring me to the next level.






My formula

  • 500 g starter @ 75% hydration (refreshed four times over 72 hours with 100 g rye meal and 100 g white whole wheat and 86 g white flour in total)
  • 1000 g KAF Sir Lancelot Flour
  • 700 g water
  • 65 g olive oil
  • 24 g salt

dough weight 2.3 kg and dough hydration 76%

  1. Bulk fermentation 3 hours
  2. Proof 4 hours
  3. Overnight cold retardation 8 hours followed by 90 min. at room temp
  4. Bake for 80 minutes (230 C for 20 min, 210 C for another 20 min, and the balance 40 min at 195 C)




My husband asked me what the character was.  I said my maiden name.  He said, Oh, Whoo made it.  Who?  Whoo.  He was doing the Abbot and Castello routine of Who's on first.   

We were having this sourdough for our lunch when his boss rang. I said to tell him that the Miche was 2.3 Kg. His boss asked, was that the weight before bake or after. Now, this sounds to me a question by a person in the know. The water shrinkage was nearly 18%! It was only 1.9 kg after bake. I cut off a quarter of the Miche:


to be wrapped in foil and put into the freezer for my husband's next business trip (but I am not confident that it will stay as fresh as today).



                                                                                     Does it look like we are big on this crust?


Shiao-Ping's picture

I found a small piece of Paris in Brisbane this morning.  Today is Saturday and a usual sports day for our household.  After dropping my daughter at hockey and my son at soccer, I gave myself a treat - I went to Chouquette Boulangerie Patisserie for coffee and ... whatever I could find there this morning.  It was a year ago when it has just been open that I last went there ... on the recommendation of my gay friend, the seamster.  He has not been well, and I have not been able to see him.   

The pretty girl at the counter greeted me bonjour!   I didn't know what to respond.   She told me their Baguette Traditionelle and Rustique are sourdoughs (spiked with just 0.2% of yeast).  I bought one each of those, and a Fougasse aux olive.  At A$3.80 (US$3.20), A$4.00 (US$3.30), and A$4.50 (US$3.75) per piece, respectively, they are a good deal.    


                   Baguette Traditionelle and Fougasse aux olive from Chouquette Boulangerie Patisserie, Brisbane    


                                             Rustique from Chouquette Boulangerie Patisserie, Brisbane 

Both the baguette and fougasse have light texture and flavourful crumbs.  With the Parisian music in the background, munching on my baguette and gazing at the sunny spot just in front of me, I was thinking all that I need is a lovely flowering tree to make this scene perfect.  I picked up a book from their bookshelf, Pains de Campagne by Gerard Alle and Gilles Pouliquen , and when I saw this picture I decided I would blog it:  

Georges Cario, Renac, France (page 103 of the above book)     

David, the man's bread (the cut one on the right) looks like 5 times the size of your Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere (or, to put it another way, your Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere is a mini version of his!).   And, check out these giant loaves from the village bakers (I love it!):



                                     page 51 of the above book    

and these worn baskets:  


                  How do you get these holes?  


I once threw away my husband's 15-year old straw hat, full of holes; and he wouldn't talk to me for a week.  I said what's the big deal; it's so worn out and torn.   He said that's precisely it - it takes years and years for a hat to be torn like that!  

He picked up our son from soccer, his last game of the season.  They won today's game 3-1.  With today' win, they won the premiership, and he is a happy Vegemite.  

I collected our daughter.  Her team won 2-0, but she said she played poorly (too much on her mind - the burden of senior year before university!).   I told her about Chouquette Boulangerie Patisserie and that all their bakers are from Paris and so are the girls serving at the counter.  One of the girls even told me that her husband, a baker there, came here last October (and so did she) on a two year contract.   So, there you go.

I said to my daughter the girl said bonjour to me, and I didn't know what to say.  She said, you say bonjour back, or Bonne Matin!  

So, Bonjour to you all!  



p.s.  The boys had a steak sandwich each at the soccer match but were still hungry when they got home.  My son had the leftover fougasse dipped in olive oil and my husband wanted a sandwich of some sort.  I sliced open the Baguette Traditionelle, pretty handsome looking crumbs:  


I had no cold meats in the house, so I made him a salad sandwich with pesto sauce:  


All are happy.


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