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I considered throwing this idea out there as a hypothetical but never got around to it.  So, I went with my preferred method: bake first, ask questions later.  The question that led to this formula went something like this:  Instead of adding yeast to a rye sourdough, as so many book formulas do, what would happen if I added some whole wheat starter? 

The hope is that the vigorous population of yeast in the wheat starter would compensate for the possibly not-so-reliable leavening power of the well-fermented rye starter.  Sounds plausible enough, even if it turns out not to be true.  It sounded even better when I thought of it as something like a multi-stage rye, but with the two stages happening concurrently rather than consecutively.  Yes, a little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing, but I decided to try it anyway.

Since my "scientific" baking experiment lacks even the pretense of a control bread I am left with not much to say regarding  the relative merits of this method vs. any other method... hmmm... awkward.  I'll just go ahead and describe the bread. 

The dough was a sticky mess.  The final hydration was probably 80% or better because of all the water I had to use to keep the dough from sticking to everything.  The dough fermented really quickly.  It rose so fast during both stages that I cut them short.  Even so, there was only the slightest oven spring, and the finished bread was very dense.  When I cut the bread about 4 hrs out of the oven the crumb was still a bit tacky, but not terrible.  The next day, however, the crumb had finally set and the result was very nice.  This is one of those breads that needs 24 hrs to sort itself out.  The flavor was delicious (maybe a little heavy on the coriander).  The crumb was dense but moist and soft - not gummy at all.  48 hrs later it was still every bit as good.  Overall I am pleasantly surprised.  This turned out to be one of the nicer "heavy" rye breads I've baked.

Thoughts for next time:  Let the rye starter ferment longer - I don't think I let it go long enough this time to really test the method.  Shorten either the bulk ferment or the proof (or both?) and see if I can get some oven spring.  See if I can get any more gluten development during kneading.  Any other thoughts are more than welcome :)


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Baking for the county fair.  Or, what if they gave a bread competition and nobody came?  Well, I would win lots of ribbons, that's what!  I'm exaggerating a little, there were a few other breads but none were in the categories I entered (fortunately for me).  Makes the blue ribbons a bit less impressive but I still had fun doing it.

It is always a good learning experience as well.  Things I learned (or was keenly reminded of): 

Baking three batches of bread makes for a much longer day than baking one batch. 
Baking a loaf for a random, judgemental stranger is much more stressful than baking a loaf for myself. 
Baking an olive bread next to a plain bread makes the plain bread taste really funky. 
Pitting a whole jar of lucques olives by hand is a pain in the neck (and the hands).
Sourdough always seems to proof faster when the oven is occupied.
Taking photos of my own bread at the fair may give people (non-bread enthusiasts, anyway) the impression that I am a narcissistic weirdo.
Giving away a loaf of bread feels really good.
I sincerely hope that at least one person walks by my breads and says, "Heck, I can make better bread than that!" and brings it to the fair next year.

The breads:  a basic sourdough with 10% whole wheat, the same sourdough with olives, a 30% rye sourdough, and the same rye with walnuts and raisins The group photo has a couple of extra loaves because I doubled-up on two of them. 



This is the extra olive bread I kept for my own enjoyment:



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I have a zinfandel grape in the yard, originally planted more as a whimsical tribute to our favorite wine grape than for any practical purpose.  It is now producing grapes, something I should have seen coming, but what to do with them?  They are tasty enough to eat fresh if you don’t mind the seeds but still…

Grape focaccia!  Of course!  I’ve never tried it but it sounds tasty and fun.  The catch? The seeds.  These are small grapes, so I needed a lot.  After about 10 minutes of seeding I had a much better idea of what I was in for, stopped seeding, and split the dough in half.  I decided to top the other half with tomatoes and resumed seeding.  Later that day… I finally had enough grapes.

I wanted to know what the grapes would do on their own so I kept it simple.  Just a little olive oil and a very few bits of rosemary sprinkled on.  The other half was topped with rosemary and yellow pear tomatoes.

In spite of a lackluster focaccia dough (no formula posted – I am confident that you can make a better one)  they were both tasty.  I was amazed at how sweet and concentrated the flavor of the grapes became.  If I can work up the enthusiasm to seed all those grapes again I’ll make a thinner bread, maybe even a regular pizza crust so the grapes will stand out more.  A great seasonal summer treat! 


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First the old:  An 85% whole wheat sourdough.  I'm still tinkering with this formula and getting good bread, but I'm coming to realize that the way I handle the dough has more impact on the bread than my endless tinkering with the numbers (if only I could spend as much time baking as I do in front of a computer). 

Now the new:  I finally got a copy of Hamelman's Bread.  Wow.  Now I understand.  I also tried scoring with a safety razor-on-a-stick for the first time.  That was weird.  I didn't think it would be so different from scoring with a bread knife.  It will take some practice, but I think it will be an improvement.  Lastly, but no less exciting, I recently discovered that the little health food store in town will happily special order 25lb bags of Giusto's flours at rock-bottom prices.  Who would have thought?

The Little Things:  That's what this bake really threw into sharp relief.  These two loaves came from the same lump of dough and were meant to be exactly the same except for the scoring.  I don't think scoring alone accounts for this much difference.  The larger loaf isn't just larger because of a better oven spring, it actually is larger because I didn't get them divided exactly in half - there's one little difference.  But obviously the larger loaf did behave quite differently in the oven.  Shaping.  I tried a new (to me) method, first on the smaller loaf.  It seems that by the second loaf I was already better at it.  The crumbs differ significantly as well, though they don't look as different in the photos.  A good lesson for me - keep an eye on the little things!

And the garden is in full swing, so I put the bread to good use!


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     This is a bread that came from having too many different flours in the house at once.  I went to the freezer intending to make another bread altogether but saw these flours and thought, "beans and corn, classic!" Beans and corn and chiles?  Even more classic!  This was to be my sourdough salute to the American southwest, except... the bread never really worked like I wanted it to.  It's not a bad loaf, it just isn't making me as happy as I thought it would.  Hmmm... maybe therapy is what I need.  I could analyze this bread all day, but here are the highlights:

What I like about it - The color contrast between the yellow tinted crumb and the reddish paprika tinted crust gives it a nice look.  The flavor works for me - a nice "something different" - particularly good when very fresh with butter and honey.  It looks better in photos than it actually is... maybe that's not such a good thing.

What I don't like - Stales very quickly, though the up-side to this is it makes very tasty melba toast-style crisp bread.  The corn flour seems to wreck the structure of the dough, which leads to this problem:  as you reduce the corn flour and the structure improves, the flavor goes bland; when there's enough corn flour for a nice balance of flavors the crumb starts to go flat, weak and crumbly - and stale even faster.  The dough is slack, sticky and feels like it is broken down almost immediately after mixing.  Worst of all?  I keep thinking, "Maybe it's me...?"  But, no other dough I make behaves this way so I don't think it's just me.

 The Final Attempt

The formula - This is the final formula I used to try to improve the structure.  It is not the one that produced the best flavor.  For better flavor the corn flour should be about 15-17% and the garbanzo (potent stuff, by the way) should be about 8-9%.  The WW comes from my starter and would not otherwise be necessary.  I tried this with a little more WW but it just got in the way of the other flavors.

A retrospective:

     A promising start



Even when they looked good there was just something missing.

  The tendency to go flat.

     Pretty, but...

Where to go from here - In a word:  Polenta.  I have a good feeling about polenta.  Forget the fine corn flour.  Otherwise, this dough as it is could make a good roll, or flatbread, or even a full loaf if it will be eaten very fresh.




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     I enjoyed the last country rye I baked so much that I tried another one.  This is the Polish Cottage Rye from Local Breads and the formula is pretty similar to the one I used for the last bake.  The only place I really strayed from the book was to use a coarse, whole rye instead of a white rye. 

Two main differences between this and the last bake:  a long knead rather than stretch and folds and a less aggressive bake.  It was nice to be kneading again, even with such a sticky dough.  All that kneading lent a bit more strength and a bit more chew to the crumb.  In combination with the cooler bake it made a crust that was more crispy-chewy than crispy-crackly. 

   All in all a very nice bread.  These light ryes are beginning to grow on me.  I think I'll head back to the books to find the next one.



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     I've been hung up on this line from Tartine Bread regarding the Country Rye ever since I read it:  "Use a medium-fine grind of whole-rye flour as opposed to a course pumpernickel rye, which will yield a very different result."  And that's it, end of paragraph, end of story.  He just leaves that hanging there like I'm not going to wonder day after day just what sort of "very different result" it would yield.  Yeah... no, that won't do at all.
     It just so happens that I have a large amount of stoneground whole rye in my freezer.  I don't know where it falls on the official grind-o-meter, but judging by the big flecks of bran and the fact that it is described as "Graham" rye I'm thinking it's a ways away from medium-fine.
     I re-worked the formula a bit.  I increased the rye and all of it went into the starter.  My ww starter doesn't always react well to sudden white flour feedings, and since the numbers worked out nicely as well... why not.  I stayed pretty true to the process in the book so I won't post that here, but I will say that, since I don't own a Dutch oven of any kind, I baked on a stone and steamed according to the wet towel method described in the baguette section of the book.  This has become my steaming method of choice - simple, safe and effective.

The numbers:

The result - Yum.  A little over-proofed maybe (I cut the timing too close with the bread that went into the oven before this one) but still got a nice spring in the oven.  The crust shattered and flew when I put a knife to it.  The crumb was very light and moist with just enough sourdough spring.  The flavor was very well balanced.  Caveat: I've never baked a light rye like this so I don't really have much basis for comparison, but I could eat this all day long.

So, was it a very different result?  I don't think I care so much anymore, I'm too busy devouring this bread!
This one I will be baking again.



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These are a couple of the bakes from my ongoing attempt at combining methods from Whole Grain Breads and Tartine Bread into a simple, mostly whole wheat sourdough.  The bread is turning out pretty well - crackled crust, soft, springy crumb, lovely flavor.  It's amazing what even 15% white flour will do for the texture of a whole wheat bread.  The hardest part is just making up my mind about the details!

I'm still tinkering with the hydration (the first photo is 79%, the second is 82%) and trying to hit the proofing time just right (first photo could have used a bit more, the second a bit less).  I think I like the first loaf better.  The loaf in the second photo is also a product of forgetting-to-turn-the-oven-down-when-you-take-out-the-steam-pan.  It baked at 500º F for better than 30 minutes before I noticed.  It was a very near miss... whew!  I'm also thinking that reducing the size of the loaves would help lighten up the crumb a bit, I'll have to try that one of these days.

Trying to apply this to a 100% whole wheat bread is turning out to be another matter altogether, but that's for another post.


This is where the formula stands at the moment, but the tinkering is far from over.


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  Just what's needed, right?  Another pizza dough.  There's nothing glamorous about this one, either.  That's what I love about it - it's dependable above all else.  It makes a nice pizza and some pretty good sandwich rolls.  The triple batch gives me enough dough for a pizza the size of my pizza stone and sandwich rolls for a week's worth of lunches.  This has become my standard survival bake when I don't have time for anything else.
   Other selling points?  Sure.  Minimal hands-on time (though you do have to plan a day ahead).  Enough whole wheat and sourdough to be satisfying, yet enough white flour to feel like "real" pizza.  Not so hydrated that it's a hassle to work with.  Flexible, particularly regarding the starter.  The precise amount of starter isn't all that important (It could conceivably be left out altogether, but where's the fun in that?) and neither is it's age.  I frequently make it with a little less than what's in the formula or with starter that's a little past its prime.
   I know I'm being vague on the olive oil.  I wouldn't go so far as to say it is optional, but the precise amount is, well... I never actually measure it, but it must be somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon per portion.  I go with what feels good.


 weights in grams% of flour
Whole Wheat Flour4794141100%
Initial Starter17345136%
Whole Wheat Flour10020030040%
Bread Flour15030045060%
Instant Yeast2460.80%
olive oil to taste    
Whole Wheat Flour15731347051%
Bread Flour15030045049%
Instant Yeast2460.65%
olive oil to taste    
salt in tsp1.002.003.00 
yeast in tsp0.501.001.50 

Mix dry ingredients and starter.
Add water, knead 3-4 minutes.
Pour olive oil over dough and let it rest 3-5 minutes.
Knead about a minute (or less) just enough to work the oil in a bit and tighten up the dough.

Refrigerate 24 hrs - it should be double or better in size.

Divide, rest a few minutes.
Shape into a ball for pizza or final shape for sandwich rolls.
Cover and proof 1 - 1 1/2 hours. 
Shape, top and bake pizza as hot as possible.
Reduce oven temp to 450F and bake rolls about 25 minutes with light steam.


Using part for pizza and part for bread works out nicely.  The bread needs a little longer proof so by the time the pizza is done the bread should be about ready to bake.  The pizza usually only gets an hour proof because I need to get dinner on the table, but a little longer works even better.


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Have you ever made a loaf of bread that turned out really, really well, better, in fact, than you ever would have thought possible, and then find yourself utterly incapable of making it again?  This is that loaf.


It was a revelation.  Shocking, actually, because of how different it was from previous attempts at the same basic bread.  It was a long, cold fermented 100%WW sourdough – just flour, water and salt.  But the crumb was open, soft, and fluffy like no other WW sourdough I’ve baked.  The crust, too, was remarkable – thin, yet toothsome.  It even stayed fresh for an uncanny length of time.

I am not including the formula here.  Whatever happened that day clearly had nothing to do with what was on the page, because, try as I might, I haven’t baked anything like it since.  And, oh, how I’ve tried.  The original formula doesn’t really even exist anymore, because I eventually I grew frustrated and began tinkering with it to try and find the elusive x-factor.

In time I managed to move on.  I hardly think about it anymore, really.  When I stumbled across this photo I felt I should share the tale, as I can’t be the first and won’t be the last person to go through this.

But occasionally I still wonder… what happened that day?  An exceptional bag of flour?  An accidental flour mix-up?  An extra ingredient that was meant for the other thing I was making that day (whatever that may have been)?  Pixie dust in my starter?  Maybe someday I’ll know, maybe someday…



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