The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

SirSaccCer's blog

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Many families have unique holiday traditions, and mine is no exception. I can summon vivid childhood memories of family outings to choose and fell a tree at the farm, then decorating it with "my" ornaments while listening to Manheim Steamroller's version of Deck the Halls (what a classic!). But there is one family tradition that, more than any other, conjures up the vivid smells and tastes of Christmas: the stollen that my German-American grandmother baked yearly, and the baking tradition that she passed to her descendants, wherein we bake loaves of stollen to share with our friends and neighbors during the holidays.

The baking enthusiasts on this site need no explanation for what stollen is, but this year I've looked a little more into its history. The city of Dresden claims to have been baking Christmas stollen from the 15th century, originally with just a few spartan ingredients, in observance of Advent fasting requirements. Over the centuries it's become a richer holiday bread, in a category with panettone and fruitcake, baked with candied fruit and nuts. It's distinguished by a dense, but relatively dry texture, a hearty coating of powdered sugar, and the common addition of marzipan. Otherwise, it seems to be a little more loosely interpreted than more strictly regulated breads like panettone. So what you see here might not be quite true to your vision of stollen, but I'll say it's close to my family's typical loaves, and I'm happy with it for that.

I was motivated to try a sourdough stollen for a few reasons--including, maybe, some 2020 bandwagon hubris. However, the additional complexity and the unique hydration of the sourdough made it possible to eliminate eggs from the original recipe, which in turn made it very easy to convert the ingredients to a fully vegan bake, thus allowing me to share with vegan friends. Also, I was intrigued by the thought that stollen has been a "sourdough" bread for most of its 500-plus year history, since commercial baker's yeast is a recent innovation. So this became a modest experiment in traditional leavening techniques, which have been used to make all kinds of breads for centuries. The dough turns out to be really amenable to wild yeast leavening: a pleasant surprise for my first attempt at converting a traditionally yeasted recipe to one powered by a levain. I'd welcome commentary from those with more experience adapting recipes.

Ahead of time
I was feeling ambitious enough to candy my own orange peel and citron, which I then macerated in brandy for a week or so. Of course, store bought candied fruit would work just as well (but I'd still recommend that boozy soak for flavor). My mom likes to include a "fruit cake mix" in her stollen, for even more colorful candied goodness.

Preparing the levain, baking schedule
Based on the wise words of several TFL members, I began with the presumption that an enriched dough made with a levain would require both a high percentage of pre-fermented flour, and several feeds. I found that for a typical recipe, two feeds spaced 12 hours apart were enough to get mine going. For a larger batch, I added a third feed, for which it only needed about 4 hours to become ripe. I'm using a 60% hydration levain, as I find it much easier to work with as compared to a soupier starter.

As you can see from the table below, it took a substantially long time from start to finish on my latest run, so be forewarned that patience is required. The bulk fermentation is heavily dependent on temperature; on a previous trial run at ~70 F, it was ready for shaping in 8 hours, whereas this latest run at ~60 F fermented for 18 hours.

Here's my current recipe for sourdough stollen, for a 1240 g dough beginning with 220 g of ripe levain (all masses are given in grams).

1. Prepare the 60% hydration levain as described above, with 2-3 feeds over 24-28 hours, until it is vigorously active. And don't forget to soak your candied fruit peel in brandy! Candy is dandy when brandy is handy.

2. When levain is ready, place the required amount in a large bowl. Heat milk to 90 °F and pour onto levain. Add spices, brandy, sugar, and salt, and mix until salt and sugar are dissolved. Then add the flour and work fully into the liquid, until it is a dough of medium consistency with a slight "core" when pinched.

3. Turn the dough onto a countertop, without flour, and knead by stretching and folding for 8-10 minutes, until its texture becomes satiny and it is barely sticking to the counter, if at all. Adding a little flour might be necessary. After kneading, gather into a ball and return to the bowl. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

4. Turn onto a lightly floured countertop, flatten, gather into a ball and return to bowl. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Remove the butter from the refrigerator at this time. Prepare the dried and candied fruit and almonds (I use pre-sliced, blanched almonds, but if you are using whole almonds, this is the time to chop them).

5. After 15 minutes, use a rolling pin to give the cool butter a few hearty whacks, until it is malleable. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured countertop and flatten. Dab all of the butter into the surface of the dough, pressing small chunks into its surface. Pile the fruit and nuts on top of this and fold the dough over. Then spend 5-10 minutes working these ingredients into the dough, with stretching and folding. The dough will slacken considerably and feel weaker than before, but don't worry--the gluten will fully develop over the long fermentation. When the ingredients are homogeneously worked into the dough, turn the mass onto a lightly floured countertop, gather into a ball and return to the bowl. Let rest for 30 minutes.

6. After 30 minutes, one last time, turn onto a lightly floured countertop, flatten, gather into a ball and return to bowl. Now the dough is ready for bulk fermentation. In my hands, the bulk fermentation has lasted for anywhere from 8-18 hours, depending on ambient temperature. It should rise considerably, to near double volume. At least once through the fermentation, 4 hours after the final fold, the dough should be turned onto a lightly floured countertop, gently pressed, gathered into a ball and returned to the bowl. If it ferments for longer than 8 hours, do another fold at this point as well.

7. After the bulk ferment, the dough should be glossy and risen to near double volume. Turn onto a lightly floured countertop and divide if desired (I did small, 500 g loaves in this batch, but a family-sized loaf could be a kilo or even more). Gently press to a circle, ~1 inch thick. Then use 2 folds, envelope style, to preshape a rough log. Rest for 15 minutes.

8. Flatten the dough log to a rough rectangle. Grab a hunk of marzipan (40 g per kilo of dough) and roll into a log that is just shorter than the dough's length. Place it in the middle of the dough log, and fold the dough around with 2 folds, envelope style. Then roll the log with a couple of twists on the counter so you have a just slightly tapered cylinder. Proof in a couch, seam-side up, or shape into a crescent and allow to rise in a bowl or banneton. Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

9. Allow the dough to proof for 1-1.5 hours. It will not double in size, but it will expand and feel airier. If you rolled logs, shape into a gentle crescent before sliding into the hot oven with no steam. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the crust is a rich golden color.

10. Remove and cool for 15 minutes before dabbing with butter, allowing it to melt over the surface of the loaf. Sprinkle on powdered sugar according to taste (I think more is merrier!). Then allow to cool before serving. Stollen is best served warm and spread with butter, so if it has cooled to room temperature, reheat for 10 minutes at 325 °F before slicing and serving.

I tried a dairy-free version to fine effect as well, by substituting fresh almond milk for the milk, and vegan butter for the butter. What a treat to eat rich, vegan stollen!

Enjoy the bake if you give it a try, and happy holidays to you and yours.

SirSaccCer's picture

Two sourdoughs diverged in a bowl, and I... well, I baked them both.

I've baked enough pain au levain by now to get more comfortable with experimenting. Now that holiday season is upon us, it's almost time to make my grandma's stollen, which I've been working to adapt for levain (to follow soon!). For me, this involves candying citrus at home, buying fruits and nuts by the pound, and of course making sure the spice drawer is well stocked. But I won't be making stollen for a week or so yet... so with a pantry full of ingredients and a levain ready to go, I put to work some freshly candied orange peel, a big bag of cranberries, and malted barley left over from a homebrewing session. Voila les deux, pain au craisin (cranberry malt) et pain l'orange (chocolate orange).

Successful experiments both! Though the cranberry bread loosened up a bit when I folded in the rather wet malt halfway through the first hour of stretching and folding. Still delicious even if it's a bit slack.

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It has taken me a while to make real progress with sourdough, but after a few weeks of nurturing my starter and training myself to be more patient during the bulk ferment and proofing, I'm finally getting somewhere. Really pleased with how the crust and crumb turned out on this one. Getting a decent score is my last real hurdle; I can get an ear to open up quite nicely, but my diamond and box cuts often seal up as the loaf bakes. Still playing with some parameters there. Getting sort of back to work has cut down on time available for baking, alas.

I have definitely figured out how to get just the right amount of steam in my gas oven. My system is a cast iron pan on the bottom of the oven, but above the baking stone I place an inverted cookie sheet. This traps a nice cloud of steam just above the loaf. I remove the sheet after 10 minutes, by which time most of the steam is gone anyway.

It was a magic moment to peek at that loaf after a few minutes in the oven and see that mostly everything was going right. Looking forward to doing it again!

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Today I made my second attempt at baking the birote salado from Guadalajara, Mexico. It doesn't seem to be particularly well known outside of its home country: there is no English Wikipedia entry about it, for example, nor (to my great surprise) has it been mentioned on this site outside of a recent thread. I think it's time for the birote to make its way into these hallowed halls, so others can have a go at it, play with the recipe and try making an at-home version of delicious tortas ahogadas, or "drowned sandwiches". These sandwiches are a Guadalajaran street food with which the birote is inextricably linked.

Note that the recipe and much of what I know about the birote salado comes from David Norman's Bread on the Table, an excellent book with a full smorgasbord of recipes for unique European and other breads.

The history of the birote salado seems uncertain, but it's generally agreed that it is based on recipes of the French, who brought their baking techniques to Mexico when they were occupying the country in the mid-1800s. One story is that a French soldier called Birotte invented the bread, while another is that the Birotte family bakery was among the first to produce it. In any case, it's easy to see how the baguette might have inspired the shape of the birote, which is elongated like the baguette but typically much shorter. But in contrast to the traditional baguette, not only is the birote salado leavened with wild yeast, the levain is fed with beer! This appears to slow fermentation considerably, and of course it adds characteristic malt and hop flavors to the final product.

Here is a short video (en español) with a few words to say about the history and popularity of this unique bread. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you'll still enjoy some really cool shots of the production line.

On to the recipe, which makes eight 150 g rolls, each about the right size for a sandwich. I did a half recipe as a trial bake.


LevainMassBaker's %  
Ripe starter20 g3%  
AP flour270 g39%*39% prefermented flour
Beer175 g25%  
Final dough    
Levain all   
AP flour430 g61%  
Salt18 g2.50%  
Sugar20 g3%  
Water444 g64%*20 g more than original recipe 
Total1376 g197.50% 



  1. Begin with a ripe starter (I fed mine and let it ferment for ~9 hours). Mine is 60% hydration, but since the initial starter is just a small percentage of the final dough, I imagine a 100% starter would work fine with no modifications.
  2. Let the beer come to room temperature (a Mexican lager for most traditional flavor, but as you can see, I just used what I have), then mix with starter and add flour. Combine til homogeneous and ferment levain for 12 hours.
  3. Mix final dough dry ingredients together. Dissolve levain in water and add dry ingredients to wet. Combine until homogeneous (my dough was medium stiff--in fact I had to add a few more grams of water, for which I accounted in the recipe above). Stretch and fold 4-5 times over the course of an hour until the dough is taut and smooth.
  4. Bulk ferment for 4-6 hours, punching down once after 2-3 hours. The recipe claims 2 hours of total fermentation, but that is impossible in my hands. The dough never doubled in volume and generally seemed a bit sluggish (I think the microflora are probably a bit hung over from all that beer). However, it was clearly filling steadily with gas, so I took my chances with it after 6 hours.
  5. Turn out and divide into equal portions (8 x 150 g, or perhaps 4 x 300 g). Preshape into balls and rest 20 minutes.
  6. Shape rolls much like baguettes: a few median folds and then a roll and taper. Think "bananas" to get the classic shape. Nest in couche or tea towel.
  7. Allow to rise for 1-1.5 hours. As before, the rolls did not double in volume, but they got gassier as evidenced by the poke test.
  8. Score with one cut along the axis, at a shallow angle. Bake at 475 °F, with steam, for 10-12 minutes. Remove steam, reduce heat to 450 °F and bake a further 10-18 minutes until crisp, golden and hollow-sounding when thumped.
  9. Let cool and enjoy. To make a torta ahogada, the basic idea is to cut a birote nearly in half, spread it with refried beans, stuff with carnitas, dunk (all the way!) in garlicky tomato sauce and drizzle on some spicy arbol chile salsa. Recipes abound on the internet. Or check out David Norman's book!

Modifications to consider

  • I was concerned that the dough would be too dry, but I think it held fine. The beer seems to make the dough a little slacker. When I get better with wet doughs I can perhaps add a few more grams of water.
  • I know there is not a lot of hands-on time in any bread baking activity, but the 7-8 hours from mixing dough to baking can be tricky to find when my schedule is back to normal. If I were in more of a hurry, I'd treat the levain more like a paté fermentée, and add a gram or so of yeast to the final dough, which should shorten fermentation time to under 2 hours. In fact as I understand it this is how it is typically made in Guadalajara. Or else I'd find a point to retard in the fridge; maybe a long cold bulk fermentation would do ok.


Beery levain

Beery levain (¡Salud!)

Dough before bulk ferment

Dough before bulk ferment

Dough after bulk ferment

Dough after bulk ferment (didn't rise a whole lot, but obviously bubblier)

Birotes en couche

Birotes on the couche, before rising

SirSaccCer's picture

A fun experiment that satisfied my yearning for a bagel or two. I riffed on a stiff dough recipe, introducing plenty of whole-wheat and rye flour for dark malt and honey flavors. These turned out with a slightly bready crumb, but I think they are a good starting point for future bakes. Delicious with fresh chive and onion schmear!

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Not a bread, but something to do with it when you've baked too much! I stumbled on a nice recipe for panade from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at The Guardian. This bread-based stew is a vegetarian favorite that I'd somehow never heard of. With extra sourdough baguettes lying around, no ideas for dinner, and a fortuitously-purchased head of cabbage in the fridge, panade seemed like the right thing to do. It was super tasty when baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven but I imagine just as good (and maybe not quite as wet) when done in an oven pan. I used parmesan for cheese instead of gruyere. Apparently one of the great things about panade is its flexibility: you can put basically anything into it and still get a rich, filling result.

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Lately I've been enjoying the freedom to bake on a more... open... schedule, and I've been trying some combinations of techniques I've learned from a book or two and the supremely knowledgeable members of this forum. For sandwiches I love nothing more than piling tasty fillings atop a tasty baguette, so I thought I'd try using my levain to bake baguettes for the first time. Unfortunately I don't have a stone big enough for two-footers so I had to truncate these down to "baton" length.

This was a modestly hydrated dough (75%) leavened with a stiff starter that I worked up overnight in two feedings. I tried a bassinage (second water) step and I guess it worked alright, though I don't have any other experience to compare it to. I forced myself to be more patient during the bulk fermentation and final rise, to good effect I think. They taste delicious--pleasantly sour--and are nice and airy within.

Now I am just trying to figure out how to properly score, load and steam my loaves to get some nice ears (or pretty slashes or lack of blowout, for rounder loaves). I took a look at some helpful scoring tutorials but still need practice putting all of it together. I'm not thrilled to be stuck at home but it's a good opportunity to work on baking skills!


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Hello from a first-time poster! I'm still working on getting truly photogenic loaves, but I am exploring other uses for my levain too. My partner and I were craving English muffins, which I thought would be a perfect way to use up some extra starter. Going off the very easy KAF recipe for sourdough English muffins shared by kjnits, I got some satisfactory results. The texture and flavor of these just crushes anything from the grocery store.

The OP, kjnits, was absolutely right to hold off on the last 3/4 cup of flour for a moist and tender crumb. Besides that, I only modified by a) feeding my cold, 60% hydrated starter to 100% hydration and letting it sit for ~8 hours prior to overnight fermentation, and b) preheating a griddle in the oven for 20 minutes before stovetop "baking". And I used cornmeal instead of semolina (haven't bothered to purchase the latter yet).

If you love English muffins and have extra levain to experiment with, give that recipe a go!

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