The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Shiao-Ping's blog

Shiao-Ping's picture

Lang Lang was on the radio this morning (his piano, not his presence).  The English lady, Emma Ayres, hosts a fine, fine classic FM radio show, Teas on Toast, on ABC Radio.  She played Lang Lang's Haydn sonata in Carnegie Hall, 2003.   Lang Lang, 27, is the pride of modern day Mainland Chinese.   His reputation spread so rapidly that a Chinese-language biography appeared before his 17th birthday.  I have no business joining the band wagon in praising him.   But I can feel his sensibility through his fingers (the fastest fingers in the whole of China, his fans will have you believe).   

He comes from Sheng-Yang in the far north of China.  Whenever I think of northern China, I think of the noodles they have and the hot steam buns they have.   They always say that the north has wheat and the men grow tall up there (and ride horses!); and the south has rice.   My father comes from the border line between the north and the south in Mainland China, so we ate both noodles and rice at home when I was growing up.   My father's favourite Sunday lunch was noodles with the best quality soy sauce one could find.   Can you imagine fresh pasta with the best quality olive oil you can find; it is like that.   Plain, with nothing else on, the flavour of flour comes "shining through" (to borrow James MacGuire's words) in freshly boiled noodles.  

We kids didn't appreciate that.   

So, on the way driving home from dropping the kids to school this morning, I thought to myself - Lang Lang, I am going to do a steam bun today, my version.   You watch.   




  1. Roll the dough (formula below) out to about 1/2 to 1 cm thickness.  Sprinkle some olive oil and salt on top (a couple of drops of sesame oil would be GRAND), spreading it evenly, and
  2. Sprinkle the chopped shallots. 
  3. Fold 1/3 of the dough to the center, then the other 1/3 to the center like folding a letter (the dough now has 3 layers).  Slice the dough one inch width apart.  
  4. Place two pieces on top of each other (ie, six layers in total).
  5. With the help of two chopsticks, press the dough down to the bottom to make indentations.  
  6. Slide the chopsticks underneath the dough, lift the dough up, then twist the dough    

I made some smaller ones with just three layers too:  



My formula: this is just any white bread dough; it should pass windowpane test;  let it rest for 3o minutes up to an hour before rolling it out as above.  

  • 300 g white flour
  • 168 g water
  • 24 g olive oil
  • 10 g sugar
  • 6 g salt
  • 3 g instant dry yeast (the reason for this is because this is meant to be a quick rising dough)
  • a big bunch of shallots, chopped up
  • some olive oil (and sesame oil if you wish)
  • some more salt  


                                                               dough resting after shaping  

Let this rest for 3o minutes up to an hour again.   Bring a big pot of water to boil; THEN, place the steamer on top of the boiling water.  The dough will expand rapidly in steaming temperature.  After 5 minutes, turn the heat down to medium.  Boil another 7 minutes.  Total steaming time 12 minutes.   And there we have it:  



                                                       Chinese Shallots Steam Buns  


I can imagine diners in a northern Chinese tea parlour very happily ordering these shallots steam buns for their Sunday brunch, followed by a pot of tea over some gossip.   




p.s.  Lang, the first word of his full name, is his family name, which is not a common one among Chinese.  Lang, the second word of his name, is a completely different Chinese character which pronounces the same as the first character.   His name reads very poetic to a Chinese literary mind.  Many Mainland Chinese names today still retain that poetic-ness about them, whereas the names of Chinese from other parts of the world, especially, those from Taiwan, are as ... oh what should I say...; girls' names denoting beauty, virtue, chastity, etc, and boys' names effecting courage, loyalty, righteousness, and the like, are very common; and for both girls and boys, wealth and fortunes are a forever welcome theme for names.          

Shiao-Ping's picture

Po-Lo is a Chinese antiquity name for pineapple.  It went to Japan and then from there it went to Taiwan.  In 1931, a bakery in Tokyo obtained a patent for the cookie dough on top of a bread dough.  This cookie dough is made of flour, butter, sugar and milk.  Some experts in Japan say it had its origin from Austria ("viennoiserie," rings a bell?)  This is the bun that I had when I was a kid in Taiwan.  Today, you still find them in every bread shop and pastry shop over there.  







It's my son's soccer training this afternoon and it's our team's turn to bring afternoon tea for the boys.  Boys all have a sweet tooth somewhere, don't they.  I thought they would be happy with these soft buns with cookies on top - two treats in one bite.  But guess what?  I should have gone one extra mile.  I asked my boy how he liked these rolls on the way home.  He said, "Mum, some custard (in the center) would be GRAND."   

So, these are not GRAND enough.  How I adore - the economy of his words.  


My formula for the bread dough (for 12)  

  • 350 g white bread flour
  • 60 g almond milk powder (or just milk powder)
  • 244 g soy milk (or just milk)
  • 60 g water
  • 3 g instant dry yeast (or 1 tsp)  

My ingredients are not conventional.  Normally there would be loads of butter and eggs for that rich flavor in this type of soft buns.  I simply cold retarded my dough overnight to try to improve its natural flavor.  

The dough would normally go through intensive kneading to pass windowpane test.  But I did the James MacGuire no-kneading and folding impression on this dough instead.  

My formula for the cookie dough (for 12)  

  • 135 g white bread flour
  • 50 g icing sugar
  • 80 g butter
  • 30 g egg (about 1/2 an egg)  

The trick with this cookie pastry, as with any tart shell, is time.  Once it's mixed, it needs to breath and relax in the refrigerator (overnight, preferably).     


It's baked in 190C (375F) for 15 to 18 min  

A savoury variation with stir-fry noodles and vegitables (without the cookie dough on top) follows:


I once made it with leftover spaghetti mince, and it was a hit with my boy and his friends.  

Other sweet variations:


             with strawberry cookie top                                                 with coffee flavoured cookie top  


My son is ordering a peanut cookie top for his sports day next weekend.    



p.s.  The bun has nothing to do with real pineapple save for the criss-cross indentation on some of them which resembles the pineapple skin. 

Shiao-Ping's picture

There is a bread style in Hamelman's Bread (page 129, A Resting Loaf) that I've been trying to emulate:



This is at least the third time that I've tried to make it but still couldn't get it right.  The piece that is supposed to somehow separate from the main body of bread during baking always get stuck back to it.  Next time I will let the dough proof right side up to see if it makes any difference.  Anyway, for the record, this is my Guinness Multigrain Loaf.    







               With homemade strawberry jam and strawberries pre-soaked in champagne and caster sugar  


My formula  

  • 260 g Guinness soupy starter @328% hydration
  • 120 g multigrain bread flour by Laucke
  • 300 g white bread flour
  • 25 g olive oil
  • 142 g water
  • 1/2 tsp instand dry yeast
  • 9 g salt  

dough hydration 76%  and dough weight 850 g  



Shiao-Ping's picture

Have you ever had the experience of searching for some one or something high and low?  We are in the dead of winter, but I am already thinking of spring.  A few years ago we were on our way to the jacaranda capital of Australia, Grafton, in the state of New South Wales, 300 km south of Brisbane.  Every October Grafton is as beautiful as April in Japan with its cherry blossoms.                


                  Spring in Grafton                                                           Spring in Brisbane  

Just before we reached the city I saw a quaint little antique store with a book store attached to it.  We went in and I found a cook book there, "A Chef in Provence" by Edouard Loubet, who, I learnt later on, owns a two Michelin starred restaurant in Lourmarin, south of France, 60 km north of Marseille.    Ever since then I have been searching on regularly to see if there is any new book by him.   Then, recently with my new interest in bread, I've been buying a few books in  Just last week it dawned on me that I should check on instead for Loubet's book.   I couldn't believe my luck.  He published his second book last month! "6 Saisons en Lubéron."  So, after nearly three years of waiting, I've got another book by him.  

Every so often some bloggers at TFL will contribute some ideas to how best to utilise leftover starters or leftover dough.  Now, here is another idea for leftover dough.  It is one that I have used time and again.  I first got this idea from Loubet's A Chef in Provence.  I adapted his "parcel of baby leeks" (page 52) with the addition of prosciutto and gruyere (or bacon and cheddar as in the example below).   Or, instead of spring onions that I used below, asparagus and brococcini will work very well too.     






My version looks like a far cry from Loubet's original.



Shiao-Ping's picture

My son had put in his order for Indian food this weekend.  We have Indian food at home every now and then.  My kids' favourite combo is Tandoori chicken (marinated in yogurt, lemon and the usual tandoori spices the night before), Indian-style fried rice with cashew nuts and sultanas, poppadom, and mango chutney.  As it's only my son and myself for supper I didn't feel like cooking a big pot of rice - why not putting all the ingredients for the Indian rice into a bread?  A curry bread?  This is not a new idea.  I used James MacGuire's baguette formula and added a few more ingredients.   

My alternate Indian dinner menu looks like this:  

  • Warm green salad with Tandoori chicken;
  • Baguette with mild curry spices, cashew nuts, and mixed dried fruits; and
  • mango chutney.  

When the dough is done fermenting, I simply divided it into three pieces without shaping.  

My formula  

  • 400 g white bread flour
  • 10 g  Hoyts mild curry powder
  • 60 g cashew nuts
  • 60 g mixed dried fruits
  • 275 g water
  • 25 g olive oil
  • 20 g honey (to counter balance the bitterness from curry powder)
  • 8 g salt
  • 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast  



   The supper    


                                                  curry rustic bread                                       



   My grilled tandoori chicken turned out to be more like just simple curried chicken.                                            


                                                         open sanger            


                  curry bread with butter and mango chutney    




Shiao-Ping's picture

Imagine you invested in a piece of art work but shortly after that the artist decided to go into retailing, sales, or anything totally unrelated to art - the value of your investment is down the drain! because there is no continuity in the creative force.  Or, consider a completely different scenario:  for 30 years you've enjoyed an artist, he has accompanied you from when you became a young adult, marriage, career, through till you retired, and has begun your second 50 years of life...  

I was trying to think of an analogy in bread when Peter Reinhart came to mind.   And certainly Jeffrey Hamelman is another great example.  In these masters, I see a continuity.  You follow these masters, and if you are discerning enough and are able to extrapolate the lessens you've learnt along the way, you will see the relationship between your life and bread (or any other serious endeavours).  What you can learn then is beyond bread.   What these masters can teach, then, is beyond bread.  If you are able to find in these masters such continuity and such value, you have transcended beyond the physical.     

In Van Morrison I have found such a master, and value for all my investments in him.  I have found a life evolving, unfolding, deepening, and ever refreshing.   

I wanted to do a bread to pay him tribute.  I am pondering if Spelt would be a good fit as Spelt is an ancient grain and Celtic is an ancient culture.   I went to Dan Lepard's The Homemade Loaf for some help; I thought maybe Dan's proximity to Van Morrison's Irish Celtic roots would give me some hints as to what bread would do him honour.   Under the heading Ireland, all that I can find is Irish Soda Bread which is not a levain bread.  It uses bicarbonate of soda in place of yeast so requires no proofing.  I was told from other sources that the soda bread is a staple of the Irish diet.  It was and still is used as an accompaniment to a meal.    

Why Celtic New Year?  To the Celts, their year begins with the festival of Samhain on 31st October at the end of the harvest season, when nature appears to be dying down ... but "from death and darkness springs life and light."

I have a few months up my sleeve and I am brushing up my skill for a Irish Celtic stew too.  To soak up the Irish stew and Guinness beer, a hearty, somewhat dense, bread is what I need.  

My Guinness soupy starter  

  • 420 g Guinness draught stout (brewed in Ireland by Guinness & Co., St James's Gate,* Dublin)
  • 84 g white flour
  • 100 g starter @ 75% hydration  

*  The only St. James that I know of is Van Morrison's Saint James Infirmary in his album What's Wrong With This Picture, what a monumentally beautiful song.   

I heated up Guinness to 70C (158F) then stirred the flour in.  When it cooled down to 20 C, I added the starter and let it sit covered overnight.   

In constructing my Celtic Sourdough, I took cue for some of my ingredients from Dan's soda bread which has soft wholewheat flour (white wholemeal flour?), fine oatmeal, lard** (I used dripping fat from roasting a leg of lamb last week), butter milk and milk (I steered clear of dairy products), and sugar (I used black strap molasses for that deep color and bitterness).  

** Have you ever heard of a Chinese 50-year old stock pot?  Yes, in Europe or US you have 150-year old starter; in China, there is the 50-year old stock pot.  If you ever see a picture of it, you swear you're never going to get near that stew the shop owner is brewing out in the open.   My stock is, oh, maybe 18-month old (against my husband's knowledge), and it lives safely in my freezer; it gets ever renewed with each new stew or roast I am making.   Can you imagine the deep meaty savoury aroma that comes out of the little bit of lard that I skimmed off from my stock pot and put in the dough (below)?   

My formula  

  • 200 g Guinness starter from above (hydration about 328%)
  • 280 g organic spelt flour
  • 120 g organic stone-ground wholemeal flour
  • 50 g fine oatmeal
  • 30 g dripping fat from a roast ** as above
  • 20 g organic black strap molasses
  • 167 g water  
  • 10 g salt 
  • Rolled oats and oatmeal for dusting

The dough hydration from above (74%) may seem high but it is not at all; the dough feels more like a 65 - 68% dough because of the fat and molasses which are not exactly liquid, and also because oatmeal soaks up a lot of water.  I was in two minds about whether I score or don't score.  The ancient Celts, if they ever made breads, would they score like the French village bakers?  I left it untouched.  On hindsight, a score would have helped it bloom.      Anyway, here is my rustic Celtic Sourdough:    



    Celtic Sourdough


                         a Celtic banquet?

The crumb may look heavy, but, gee, it is not heavy at all, it is soft and tender made possible by the Guinness soupy dough and fat; you can clearly smell the lamb fat.  The crust is extra crispy also because of the fat.




                                befitting to Celtic hospitality?

A few years back there was a new Van Morrison biography by the English Australian composer and writer, Andrew Ford, Speaking in Tongues, that was released; I placed an order, but my friendly neighbourhood book shop never rang me back about my order and I just left it there.  So I don't know much about Van Morrison the person.  And I don't know if my Celtic Sourdough would suit his tastes if at all; doesn't matter, at the end of the day, it's me, not him.     

In the end, it is you that matters, not the masters.     

Polly our dog is pacing restlessly up and down the hallway.  I sang out, do you want to go OUT?  As soon as she heard that word, she hopped deliriously, so the answer is YES.  Out, she went; she hit her nose against the security door in excitement as she always does ... into the backyard ... into the winter afternoon sun and Australian sky ....




p.s.  Van Morrison: some of the albums I love:  

Into the Music

Poetic Champions Compose

Inarticulate Speech of the Heart


The Philosopher's Stones

Hymns to the Silence, and



Shiao-Ping's picture

I saw a picture in Aime Pouly's Le Pain of a twisted baguette, which reminds me of the Japanese sourdough "wave" loaf that I made. I thought James MacGuire's formula would be great for me to try Pouly's baguette fashion. I incorporated the following additions:

  • French starter, which I got from Teresa's Northwest Sourdough website.
  • Chinese (to be exact, Cantonese) style of sausage for one of the three baguettes (below). Canton is the south-eastern province of China where Hong Kong used to be a part of until the latter's cession to Britain for 99 years to 1997. The dialect spoken in Canton Province is Cantonese, which is also the dialect in Hong Kong, naturally, as well as many overseas Chinese whose ancestors were from Canton.
  • I reduced the instant dry yeast by half to 1/3 teaspoon (ie, 1 gram).

Here are the pictures of my three baguettes.






I have never gotten such a creamy crumb before. The flour I used is Laucke's Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour (protein 11.9%). They are a South Australia based company. During our kids' school holiday last year, we went very close to the heart of the base of German and Italian immigrants in Australia where Laucke is located. We ate at the famous Stefano de Pieri's restaurant in South Australia.







By now you probably know that I mostly eat my baguette with my eyes.  This is my supper.





Shiao-Ping's picture

My husband text me from China and said his boss told him over pre-dinner drinks that he is a sucker of sourdough!   Immediately I was thinking what would I bake if he ever makes a trip to Australia, not that I've been forewarned of any near-term possibility, but I was just entertaining hypothetical visits.  Somehow, I know it's not MacGuire's that I've been making lately even with all those lovely big holey crumbs that I've been getting.  The flavors of all those MacGuire breads/sourdoughs are not the best of all breads/sourdoughs that I've made.   Indulge me with this explanation: the flavors of all those super-hydrated (and the resulting super-holey) crumbs are not deeply alluring for me to want to come back and have another slice once chewing is done.

I was out doing a bit of gardening and enjoying the gorgeous sunshine of Australian winter.   It hit me that my husband left a bottle of Irish ale in our bar fridge.  There is a Dan Lepard's recipe that uses ale (as one would expect) in his "The Handmade Loaf" that I've been wanting to try.  It's called "Barm bread."  For most of you out there there will be no difficulty guessing what a barm bread might be, but I've never heard of this word, barm.  My Wiktionary says it is an old English term referring to the foam rising upon beer or other malt liquors, when fermenting, and used as leaven in making bread (and in brewing).  So, that's it - a barm bread is like a sourdough bread.


To make a quick barm

250 g ale (or bottle-conditioned beer)

50 g white bread flour

4 tsp white leaven (Dan's starter is 80% hydration; as the amount used is so little, it would not matter if your is not 80%.)  

Heat up the ale or beer in a saucepan to 70C (158F), then remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the flour.  Transfer to a bowl, leave to cool down to 20C (68F), then stir in the leaven.  Cover with a plastic wrap and leave overnight to ferment.  (My barm took 36 hours to be bubbly.)  Use as you would a leaven (but adjust your recipe water as the barm is quite liquid).    


          the ale and the barm freshly made up                              the barm is ready

Dan Lepard says this is a perfect replica of the complex barm of olden times for the home bakers.

Now, the above formula is really curious to me.  Recently a TFL user Bruce (Frrogg1son) asked me about a Chinese "65C soupy dough" and when I Googled it a whole string of Hongkonese and Taiwanese bread recipes ran up; many of these breads are on the sweet side with milk powder, butter and sugar, almost like French brioche breads.  I see these type of sweet white breads in Japan a lot too.  

The curious thing is that the ratio of water to flour in this "65C soupy dough" is the same as Dan's ale to flour ratio; ie, 5 to 1, and it is heated up to 65 C, closed to Dan's 70 C.  Bruce told me that the science behind this soupy dough is that "when the flour particles reach about 65C, they burst, releasing starch molecules, which have the capacity to absorb very large amounts of water.  It is like gelatinization."  What this does to a dough is that it improves the moistness of the crumb and keeping quality of the bread.   He first discovered it on the internet as a natural way to extend the moistness of some doughs.   How interesting.  I imagined what this does is similar to what potato does for some sourdoughs - very most crumbs and good keeping quality.

That said, I felt a sense of auspicious foreboding coming for this barm bread.  Dan's book (page 41) says the Barm bread is the traditional wheaten bread of England.  Wow.


The formula

150 g barm from above (the rest can keep in the fridge for a week)

250 g water (adjust your water temp to achieve a dough temp of around 21C / 70F)

500 g strong white flour (or a flour mix of rye and wholewheat, or even soaked grains, but I used white flour only)

10 g salt (or 1& 1/2 tsp)

*  Note: This is a 68% hydration dough; but I added 20 g extra water to bring it to 72%. 

Schedule in hours and minutes 

0 :00    In a large bowl, whisk the barm with the water.  Add the flour and salt, and stir until you have a sticky mass.  Cover.  Autolyse. The dough temp should be about 21C (70F).

0 :10    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 - 15 seconds.  Return the dough to the bowl.  Cover.  (I gave the dough 7 - 8 folds inside the bowl, which  lasted 15 seconds, much the same way as dough is folded in James MacGuire's pain de tradition here that I recently posted.) 

0 :20    Knead again as above.  (I folded the dough again in the bowl.)  The room temp should be about 20C (68F), if not, you may need to place your dough in the fridge for part of the time to keep the dough temp down.

0 :30    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.) 

1 :00    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.)

2 :00    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.)

3 :00    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.)

5 :00    Turn the dough out and divide it into two pieces of 450 g each (I left mine as whole).  Pre-shape each into a ball.  Cover.

5 :15    Shape dough into boule and place into floured linen-lined baskets or bowls.  Cover.   Leave at room temp of around 20C (68F) for a bit longer than 4 hours or until dough almost doubled.

8 :30    Turn on your oven to 220C/425F (if it takes one hour to pre-heat).

9 :30    Bake with steam for 50 - 70 minutes.


Phew!  This schedule may look like a bread making marathon to you but in truth my dough was not ready until after 12 hours!  I started mixing my dough at 7am yesterday, and it was only ready to bake at 8 pm!  Possible reasons are that my room temp was only around 18C (64F) and/or my barm was very slow.   And this is it:



   Dan Lepard's Barm Bread 



What a beautiful barm bread; the taste is most amazing, richly flavored from the ale-based barm, which has a slight bitterness and sweetness from the ale.  I am most impressed by Dan's formula.  The crumb is sweetly fragrant.  It has a very deep aroma, and allure.  Now, this is something that I would come back to have more.   






It's been years since I ate past 8pm but last night I literally had 1/3 of the loaf on my own!  Any of you ladies out there, don't do what I do. 

I have not recommended any breads to people up until now because most of my breads are frivolous experiments and for my eyes only, but I do commend this one.   Whether your guests are experienced connoisseurs or no foodies at all, there would be no qualms about this superb sourdough.  (I am blowing my own trumpet.)

Thank you, Dan. 

It's time Polly our dog go out for a rumple-trot in our yard; I sang out her name and she stirred from behind my couch.  Out she went through the hallway door to enjoy the green and the afternoon sun.   And me?  I am having my afternoon tea with this bread!






Shiao-Ping's picture

I've been threatening to collapse my San Francisco starter and call it a day because it performs much slower than my other starters.  At the last minute, David (dmsnyder) brought to my attention James MacGuire's other recipe, Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere in Hamelman's "Bread," as well as Pain Poilane in Daniel Leader's "Local Breads."  The full title of the latter is "Whole Wheat Sourdough Miche inspried by Pain Poilane, pain au levain complet," and according to Daniel Leader, it is "a symbol of artisanal excellence in France and around the world."  David also mentioned Peter Reinhart's Poilane-Style Miche in "The Bread Baker's Apprentice."  

As all three formulae employ a whole wheat starter (to be exact, the flours used for the starters and the final doughs are, respectively, high-extraction whole-wheat flour in Hamelman's book, stone-ground whole wheat flour in Leader's book, and a sifted medium-grind whole wheat flour in Reinhart's book), I thought I'd convert my San Francisco starter into an Australian wholemeal starter first before I decide on an avenue to pursue.  I have been warned that my Australian wholemeal flour is actually white whole wheat flour for North America.  All the better for my endeavour here as the standard whole wheat flour is hard red spring wheat which may not be the most desirable flour for hearth loaves.   

Formula Synopsis Comparison     


Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere


Pain Poilane


Poilane-Style Miche


Starter hydration 




Starter as % of final

dough flour


25% (or 45%)*


Final dough hydration





Mix flour & water, autolyse

20-60 min, then add salt &


Mix flour & water, autolyse

20 min, then add salt &


Mix everything in one go


On 2nd speed for 2 - 2.5 min,

the dough is loose & gluten

only moderately developed

By hand for 12 - 14 min,

the dough should pass

windowpane test

By hand for 12 - 15 min,

the dough should pass

windowpane test

Bulk fermentation

with folding

2.5 hrs with 2 - 3 foldings

@ 40 - 50 min intervals

3 - 4 hrs with one brief

kneading (1 - 2 min)

after one hr

4 hrs or until nearly

doubles in size

(no folding)





Final proofing

2 - 2.5 hrs

2 - 3 hrs

2 - 3 hrs

Dough size for home


1665 g

1010 g (or 1110 g) *

2060 g


440F for 15 min, then

420F for 45 min

470F for 40 - 50 min

Heat oven to 500F, once

dough is loaded, turn it

down to 450F, bake 25 min

then 425F for 30 - 40 min

* There is a discrepancy in figures in Leader's book (page 120); the instruction says leveain of 125 g (25%) is to be used however the table lists a figure of 225 g (45%); hence, the resulting difference in final dough sizes. 

Just by looking at the comparison above, I immediately know that I would like the Hamelman's (ie, James MacGuire's) formula the best.  However, I have a very basic problem here that I cannot reconcile with intellectually.  In Hamelman's book, it specifically says to make the final levain build 12 hours (@ 70F) before the dough mix, and also in Leader's book, it is 8 - 12 hours (@70 - 75F).   My problem is: if final levain build takes 12 hours, why, then, would the dough fermentation (bulk & final proofing all-up) only take half that time?  (Note: in both cases, dough fermenting temperature is recommended roughly the same as the starter temperature.)   There seems to be the pressumption that if your starter is very strong (after 8 - 12 hours' final building), it should be able to leaven dough many times its size with half the time (at roughly the same temperature).   From past experience, I already know what my sourdough would look like if I followed the instruction to the letter.

Anyway, I didn't want to go there.  I decided I wanted to do something bold - no harm, it's only an experiment:

  • 85% dough hydration: my thinking is if white flour can take 80% hydration, wholemeal can take 85%!
  • 12 hours all-up for bulk fermentation and final proofing: my rationale is my San Francisco starter performs very slowly and the Australian mild winter gives me 70 - 75F room temperature, the ideal temp for the fermenting dough.

My Formula

  • 220 g Australian white wholemeal starter @ 75% hydration
  • 414 g Australian white wholemeal flour
  • 365 g water
  • 10 g salt

 You cannot get ingredients more simple than the above list of 4 items!

Main points of my steps are:

  1. 4 & 1/2 hours of bulk fermentation (@ 70 - 75F ) during which 5 sets of 8 - 10 folds were performed, the last set of which also served as pre-shaping as in my Pain de Tradition post.
  2. Then, shaped the dough into a boule and placed it in a basket line with floured towel.
  3. 7 & 1/2 hours of proofing  (@ 70 - 75F).  For the whole time, I checked it every 15 minutes or so to make sure it's not over-proofed. 
  4. When I checked it the last time before I put it into the fridge for the night (for 7 hours) with a floured finger, the dough still sprang back with some "force."
  5. This morning, I brought it out of the fridge, let it sit at room temp for 4 hours! before I baked it. 

And here is this little baby,


    100% Sourdough Pain de Tradition with 85% Hydration (100% Australian wholemeal flour)


                                  the crumb


          and more crumb

Throughout the whole time I was aware that over-fermenting/proofing would mean:

  • no oven spring
  • the dough may collapse
  • the crust may be baked to a ghostly pale color
  • the crumb may taste like glue
  • the taste may be overly sour

In this sourdough,

  • there was a good oven spring
  • the dough held up really well, with no "bread improver" of any sort
  • the crust color was perfect to my liking
  • the crumb tastes mildly chewy and springy
  • there is an assertive sourness, but not excessive.

In fact, the formula and the steps here yielded a complex crumb flavor, far more than the humble ingredients list would have you believed.




Morale (if there is such a thing):  What I learned in this bake is that I have to know my starter to do sourdough well.   As Dan Lepard said,

... a ... baker recognizes that the doughs he makes are living things with individual identities, that they ultimately create themselves.  The baker's skill is to encourage natural developments, and the bread that results from this understanding will always taste better....

If I simply follow recipes without understanding my starter, my dough, and my environment (I mean, the environment the starter and the dough is in), no recipe can guarantee any good sourdough. 

It's near bed time as I was signing off.  My son danced out of his bedroom and asked, "Come on, mum, where is the music?"




Shiao-Ping's picture


       Sourdough Black Tea Bread - using James MacGuire's Pain de Tradition procedure


                                   the crumb

I always remember that very dense Black Tea Sourdough that I made a month ago (it feels like ages ago).  Back then I received a lot of kind remarks and encouragements but really the sourdough was like a stone.  So, I had on my list to try my hands again at some stage.   With the new technique I learned from making James MacGuire's Pain de Tradition, I thought my time was ripe for a second go at it.  Back then, my dough hydration was a shy 64% with a dough size of 685 g.  This time I jacked up the hydration to 80% (total flour 500 g and total liquid 400 g) for a dough size of 910g.   Not only that, I gave the dough an overnight cold retardation in the fridge.

My formula 

210 g wholemeal starter @ 75% hydration

290 g white bread flour

90 g KAF Sir Lancelot high gluten flour

125 g cool black tea (I used 2 English Breakfast tea bags)

151 g water

18 g honey

16 g Tea Liqueur

10 g salt  

2 g instant dry yeast


With only mother and son at home (my husband and daughter are away on the International Young Physicist Tournament in China) I was afraid that I would have a lot left over; but no, my son couldn't have enough of it, and he made me slice up the whole loaf. 


                    more crumb


                                                                                            and the close-up

Tonight my muse is the music from my late teens/early 20s; my whole house is ringing with the music, I think my roof is protesting.  My son walks out of his bedroom, dancing to the music.  He has a smile on his face as, when the daddy is away, the mummy lets him free-range. 

Oh, let me get back to the bread.

The bread is lovely.  It's too easy - with MacGuire's procedure.  The crumb is favourful and the mouthfeel is mildly chewy - totally unlike the cottony/fairy floss like crumb of yeasted breads.  There is "substance" to the crumb.  The addition of sourdough starter and the retardation overnight really do the trick for me. 

One complaint - I might have over-dosed the bread with the instant dry yeast!  Even though I used the prescribed quantity (ie, 2 g), I think less instant yeast so that the dough doesn't rise up too much might be good. 

Isn't that funny - a month ago I couldn't have enough aeration and holes in my sourdough, now I am begging for less!




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