The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

BlueZebra's Baking Banter

bluezebra's picture

BlueZebra's Baking Banter

So I decided to start a baking blog for this BlueZebra to keep track of my baking progress. Hopefully, some of the pros will stop in and offer their helpful suggestions and I will then have it compiled onto my site.

I am also going to ask Bill if he minds if I copy/paste his starter information to my blog so that I will also have it at the ready.

Tomorrow I am going to ignite the sparks that will hopefully lead to my first sourdough starter. I plan on using Mike Avery's starter recipe and instructions (he's at  ) and will also keep my eye peeled on the test being conducted between Tatooedtonka and JMonkey, which started today. I will also check on Bill to see how his new starter is going too.

One thought. Last night I made pizza dough using the PR Neo-neopolitan pizza dough recipe found on Floyd's Pizza Primer thread here at This is the second time I made this dough. I am a bit confused about the instructions for dough development since I don't own the American Pie book by PR that has the recipe in it. Floyd's recipe says to rapidly stir the wet dough mass then set it aside to rest for 3-5 minutes, then to repeat this process. Then to split it up into bags and refrigerate if not using immediately.

I followed these instructions last time and although the end pizzas were really good, I ended up having to knead the dough at the last minute which threw my dinner timing off. The dough wasn't developed at all and had no extensibility or elasticity. It had no "oomph" and was very flaccid and brittle. So this time, I decided to experiment on my own. I kneaded it in the bowl (which I will discuss in a minute) after I did the brisk stirring procedures. Then I put it through 3 french folds on the counter at 30 minute intervals. Then I put it through a bulk fermentation. And then split it up into 4 pieces of dough. Put two of them in oiled bags and into the freezer and kept two pieces of dough out.

Wow the difference was incredible! The first ball of dough fought me as I was making it. It was soft and had a beautiful texture but it obviously needed a rest to get over the final fold and the splitting. This was evidenced by the fact that doughball #2 did get a 60 minute rest as I worked with dough #1 and made and cooked the first pizza to give to Brian. Brian's crust did not have near the oven spring despite the fact that I wrestled it into shape and proofed it for 30 minutes on the parchment. He did say that the bottom was very nicely crisp. But that the inside was a little gummy. I baked it longer too. It baked for about 8 minutes at 550 and was brown on top. The dough was only about 1/8" maximum in the center going into the oven.

My dough had a 60 minute rest and was beautiful to work with for final pizza formation. I did not let it proof on the pan. I formed the pizza. Topped it. Baked it at 550 for about 8 minutes and it was great! Crispy bottom but it did have some gumminess in the center. I am thinking this is a drawback in this recipe. If I blind bake the crust without toppings for a couple of minutes, I'm afraid it will be too tough and overcooked. But, I will try this next week with one of the doughs as a test. I will cook the second one next week at a lower temp (like 425) for a longer amount of time and see what happens.

Now for the breakthrough: The dough was very wet. Not as wet as the pagnotta dough but still wet none-the-less. I worked it with vigor for about 2 minutes then set it aside for 5 minutes. Came back and worked it again for 2 minutes (at this point I was already seeing good gluten development). Then I set it aside for 20 minutes. When I came back, I decided to fold in the bowl. Knowing that it's actually the stretching portion that helps to develop the gluten, I used my big rubber one-piece spatula and in a folding motion, would sweep around to the bottom of the dough and pull the dough up as far as I could before bringing the pulled section down and over onto the middle of the dough mass. Each time I did this, I gave the bowl a 1/4 turn. I worked the dough like this for about 3 minutes. I lost track of how many stretch and rotations I did. But it was uber easy and very therapeutic.

The difference in dough texture from beginning of this step to the end of it was incredible! Night and day. The elasticity of the dough was really beautiful and towards the end I could pull the dough up so much higher with the spatula than I could in the beginning (before the dough showed signs of tearing). When I touched the mass in the bowl it immediately sprang back at me. So I covered the bowl and set it to rest for 30 minutes. Then came back and began the folding steps. I started the dough late and didn't have time to do a preferment. I started at around 2:30pm. It gave me plenty of time. It was a beautiful and bubbly dough. I think I will try the ciabatta dough by working it this way. The dough definitely seemed to like it!

Another important note: I was really skeptical that 1 tsp. of idy yeast would be enough for this recipe with 5 cups of flour, but judging from the action of the yeast in my dough, 1 tsp was plenty! The flavor of the pizza was very nice. It did not brown very strongly so I think I will try adding some malt the next time I make it (which will be Friday after next...Friday being pizza night at the zebra pen).

I also made pasta dough last night. I felt like a real chef! I made it at the same time I began my pizza dough then set it to rest in the fridge until time to form it into sheet for fresh ravioli. I didn't use a recipe! Hard to believe! I just put about 1-3/4 cups AP flour in a bowl and put 2 good pinches of kosher salt in the flour. Made a well in the center of the mixed up flour/salt and cracked 2 large eggs into it. I used a fork and started beating the eggs up in the well and started pulling bits of flour into the center, still beating. When it was thick enough I turned it out onto the counter and did the Mike Avery fold and knead. Turn 90 degrees fold over once and do a strong frissage, then repeat turning the dough 90 degrees. I only worked the dough maybe 2 minutes. Then covered with a bowl and let it rest at room temp for 30 minutes. I came back and worked the dough another 2 minutes and by that time, the gluten had developed although it was still tender to the touch. I refrigerated about 3 hours. Then took it out split it into two batches and started putting it through the pasta roller. Make sheets out of it and set them aside to dry a bit. Then filled and sealed and let them dry a little longer. They were delicious and the pasta was a great flavor and so easy! It made 18 very large raviolis. So we definitely have leftovers!

My filling was fantastic. I had an empty larder so had to used creativity to come up with the filling. I made roasted garlic, gruyere, parmesan, craisin and pumpkin filling in a sherry cream sauce with bacon crumbles and fresh parmesan to finish it. Wow! it went so well with my green olive, onion and mushroom pizza!!! Add a cabernet sauvignon to that and I would serve that meal to company any night!

OK so what am I learning so far (in the last 6 weeks or so that I've been trying to become a home baker)? I've learned that the best thing a newbie baker can do is approach the bread with confidence. It isn't like a pastry. It isn't so fragile. And the recipes are fairly forgiving. I've also learned that the best way to learn about the feel of a dough is to make it a few times. Confidence is built through repitition. I don't pretend to know when every dough had been worked enough. In fact, I'm fairly sure I'm still underworking the dough, but the recent results this past week indicate that thanks to Mike Avery and many of the people here at, I've experienced a huge breakthrough in baking.

Tomorrow I start the sourdough samba. I will spend today trying to think of a brilliant name and will send my hunter and gatherer out to procure suitable jars for the incubation! It's only proper that he have some role in this creation process! ;)  I might even give him a vote on names!


kjknits's picture

I love BZ's idea of the warmer.  Also, when mine was bubbling and not doubling, Bill suggested I increase my feedings to 1:4:4, using only about 10-20 g of starter.  That seemed to help a lot.  You could always pull just 10 g out of what you have, feed it that way, and feed the rest 1:2:2 like you've been doing.  Then you'd have a side-by-side comparison to see if the larger ratio feeding made any difference.

I have a sodo sponge sitting out for the night.  I have to make Bill's pagnotta, it has gotten such great reviews.

Katie in SC 

bluezebra's picture

It's our favorite so far! Be sure to do both a regular and an olive loaf!

kjknits's picture

Oooh...well, olives aren't my cup of tea.  Although my mom likes them.  If the pagnotta works out plain, I might make an olive version when she comes to visit later in the summer.

It's sitting right now for the first rise--I used AP and bread flour as instructed, but then used ww graham flour for the remaining 100 grams of flour.  And I mixed it to windowpane level with my KA--I don't have time for all this folding stuff.  But the dough is rising and it looks pretty with the graham flour flecks in it!

Katie in SC 

bluezebra's picture

I just started a plain dough recipe too for this weeks sandwich and plain bread. Hubby prefers it plain. I do 100g of WW flour and 700g of AP flour cuz those are the flours I have here.

Where do you get your graham flour?

I just finished mixing and it's in it's first resting stage. I figure if it has to sit that long and ferment then it's easy enough to come in and fold every hour for 2 minutes. That's about as long as it takes me now. And the dough comes out just beautiful. I still probably under develop it but it eats good. You know?

I have your english muffins rising right now. I think I screwed up and patted out the dough too thin. Can I let them rise longer than 45 minutes do you know?

kjknits's picture

Bluezebra, sorry I missed your message.  Obviously your muffins turned out great!  I didn't notice any rise at all in mine during the 45 minute period.  They got all of their spring from cooking.

I got graham flour at Wal Mart, of all places.  It's Hodgson Mill and the package says "whole wheat graham".  The one I got is organic, because that's all the one WM I went to had, but the other WM I go to has the regular, non-organic kind also.  I have one loaf in the oven--will report back later!


bluezebra's picture

I will check here at our Wally World to see if they have it!

No sweat on missing this! This thread is getting so long it's hard to find stuff! :D

edh's picture

I'm getting hungreee...

I may just have to try the yeasted version of the pagnotta (with and without olives) just to keep myself from getting into the sourdough too soon. This waiting stuff never gets any easier, does it?

I made husband and son very happy with cinn. raisin bagels this morning, but I hear the sourdough calling me-- must resist, bake with yeast for a little longer!

I think I might try the warm cooler idea; I sort of ignored it when I first read about it, because the last thing my chaotic kitchen needs is another object squeezed into it, but the temp. is just not cooperating here! 46 degrees this morning. It's June for Pete's sake! I know I live, well, pretty near to the end of the world, but this is nuts.

We do have a gas stove for cooking; the woodstove is in the living room, but not fired up regularly enough at this time of the year to be any real help. Back when my first sourdough starter was still alive, I made the mistake of thinking the oven with the pilot would be a good place for proofing; too warm and I met my first over-proofed dough.

If I ever get this starter to behave, I can't wait to try those eng. muffins! I used to make a yeasted recipe from my mum-in-law, but I sort of forgot about them. Sourdough sounds way better!


bluezebra's picture

Don't tell anybody but I am thinking I prefer working with yeast! I just don't have that lovin' feeling for my sourdough starter and doughs so far (only 4 things baked with it). I MISS that smell of delicious yeasty know?

Where do you live ed? 46 in June, yikes!!! It's hotter than hades here already (Houston). Raisin bagels sound great! I haven't gotten the nerve up to try bagels yet but I will soon! Maybe do a homemade gravlax with bagels, onion, tomatoes and capers! OMG. TDF!

You should MOST DEFINITELY try the yeasted pagnotta. OMG. The crumb is sooo creamy. It's divine! I actually prefer the olive version (I used Kalamatas that I pit myself. Very easy to pit: simple take the side of your chef knife or cleaver and gently press down on the olives. They will kinda "split" and then you just pick out the pit and tear the olive in half the rest of the way. Takes only a couple of seconds to do that amount). The olive bread sliced for sammys is great. My fav is avocado arugala and tomato (or if you don't have arugala then baby spinach, water cress, spring mix or romaine works great too!).

I can relate to the sourdough angst and desire for immediacy. My little guy still isn't performing like he's sposed to. Don't quite know what to do about it. He seems to be performing well in a recipe though even though the flavor isn't very strong.

I think you can make a yeasted version of most sourdough recipes. From using Bill Wraith's help here's kinda what I deduce from it. Take whatever the starter quantity is for the with the english muffins it calls for 1/2 cup of starter. So just take roughly 4 oz as the starter: 2oz would be flour, 2oz would be water and that's your equivalent amount for the starter...but the quantity is sooooo small on the english muffins, I would take a shot and try making your preferment a larger % of the recipe. Meaning I would look at your other 2-3/4 cup of flour and take 3/4 cup of the flour away and 3/4cup of the milk away and I would add that to the amount of your preferment starter amount. Sounds confusing I know but it would look like this:


Preferment: 100% hydration

2oz flour + 3/4 cup flour

2oz water

3/4 cup milk

1/16 th to 1/8th tsp of yeast

Mix all together well and cover. Let sit at room temp for 8 hours or overnight.


Main Body of Dough (add the next morning):

1-1/2 cup flour  (That leaves you with an additional 1/2 cup of flour from the recipe. Use this amount to sprinkle on the counter for kneading. That way your dough stays wetter.)

1/4 cup milk

1 Tbsp sugar

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/16 of yeast or a pinch of yeast


Mix all together well until it forms a mass. Do the fold in the bowl method. Set aside and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Come back and turn out onto counter. Knead for 4-5 minutes with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. If necessary, dust with a bit more flour as needed to keep from sticking.

Press or roll flour out to about 1/2 to 3/4" thick. Use a biscuit cutter and press down straight through dough to the bottom then twist. Do not twist as you cut because it will interfere with the rising. Place cut muffins on parchment lined baking sheet that has been dusted with semolina or cornmeal. Recipe will make between 10 and 12 muffins depending on size. You may need to re-roll or re-press your remaining cut dough to make the remaining muffins.

Warm griddle or cast iron skillet over medium to medium low heat. Transfer muffins to the hot pan using a spatula. Do not move them once they are placed until that side is set or they will stick to each other and to the pan. Turn once halfway through and let cook on the opposite side.

Cooking: Cook for 3-4 minutes on one side then turn to the opposite side. Cook another 3-4 minutes on opposite side. Turn again to opposite site for another 3 minutes till you reach the desired color. Do the opposite for the same color effect. If the crumb is still too moist on the inside place muffins on baking pan and finish in the oven at 450 degrees for 3-5 minutes.