The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Bread Magic

wally's picture

Bread Magic

It has been a long time since I have posted anything on The Fresh Loaf.  Having become more deeply entrenched as a professional baker has left me less time to bake at leisure.  And having helped to launch a new restaurant in Washington, DC has entailed too many days of continuous work to allow the time to bake for myself and share the joys and tribulations on this forum. 

But after a couple months since our opening I found myself one early morning placing wheat-rye sourdough boules onto the loader and shaking my head at how pathetic they looked after nearly a day in refrigeration, yet confident that they would not disappoint.

So as I journeyman baker I share these thoughts:

Bread is magical, but also a form of magic.  Like Penn & Teller, but instead of applauding you get to eat the magic. 

The photo above is a good demonstration of the magic of bread.  While I'm a professional baker and help perform the magic each day - Teller to the dough's Penn - I never cease to be amazed at the magic which bakers call "oven spring."  It is a phenomenon which occurs within the first 15 minutes of a loaf's bake, and when successful, it beats sawing a pretty lady in a box in half hands down.

If you look at the piece of dough on the right, you cannot help but be struck at how much it resembles nothing so much as a frisbee.  And yet, if the baker and the dough have worked their magic well, in 45 minutes the flatish frisbee has sprung up to become the beautiful round loaf (called a boule) you see on the left.

Not only is this magic, it is a performance conducted daily without a net:  By which I mean, if for some reason the baker and the dough have not worked together well, the result is not a beautiful tall boule but a barely risen loaf.  And because of that, every day when I load dough into our oven, I tremble looking at how flat and deflated my boules look, and hope that the result will be magical and not a disappointment.

Ok, the hope is actually an expectation.  But I am working with a living organism. This is a relationship. Miscommunication can occur. You and the dough may not be on the same page for any number of reasons.  And so, you never have certainty that the resulting bake will meet or exceed your expectations.  "Hope" is a good way of putting the feeling I experience when I load these loaves each day. 

There are, of course, technical, scientific explanations for oven spring and how it is that a seemingly defeated, deflated round of dough can and will rise into a mountain of a loaf.  But they are not nearly as wonderous as witnessing the event first hand.  And in the end, they take none of the wonder away from this truly magical event.

Some other pictures of this and other loaves as they transformed themselves into beautiful wheat-rye sourdough boules over a long bake in a deck oven.

For starters, freshly formed boules placed on a floured board before being retarded:

 Loaves being baked and cooling on racks after baking:

We call this a "bold" bake, and the sweetness of the bread's crumb contrasts nicely with the slight char on the surface of the boule's crust.

And finally, the interior crumb that magic and a successful bake produced:

This is what gets me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning.

And protects me against the cynicism which can easily come with age.

Because as long as I can bake bread, I'll believe in magic.

Best regards to all,



Janetcook's picture

Hi Larry,

What a beautifully written piece.  Really touches on why some of us bake and do it with such regularity....the magic is one way of explaining it but I think only 'bread' people understand that....

My neighbor would love to sink her teeth into your boldly baked loaf :)  I bake for her regularly and her request is that I burn the loaves that are for her!  I have yet to get a crust that looks like yours though.  Your loaf gives me something to shoot for :)

I am amazed by your before and after photo too.  I have yet to get oven spring such as that.  Really nice outcome.

Thanks for sharing and it is nice to know that baking professionally hasn't zapped your love of baking.

Take Care,


Yerffej's picture


I admire the "boldness" of your bake.  I am creeping to that point ever so slowly as a matter of imposing nearly imperceptible change on the customers.  I tried going to your level of boldness initially and it brought about protest and backlash.  I had to back off but am now headed there ever so slowly.  Nice nice bread.


Floydm's picture

Beautiful, Larry, both the breads and your post.  Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to share it with us.

codruta's picture

Beautiful, Beautiful post, Larry.


Charmingly written and amazing looking loaves. Thank you for sharing the magic with us. 

(as a soon to be baker, I can only hope my hads will do the magic as long as I listen to the dough)


hansjoakim's picture

I loved reading the post and the bread you share with us here is simply stunning. Thanks for sharing!

varda's picture

Beautifully put and magnificent breads.  Wonderful to have you check in.  -Varda

Mebake's picture

Welcome back, Larry!

Thanks for sharing the magic with us.

Very inspiring. I'm glad to know that your career is a source of inspiration to you, and us.


LindyD's picture

Love that char, Larry.  A bold crust brings so much to the taste table and it's wonderful to see such lovely breads offered to the public.

Thanks for your poetic sharing of the magic  - am so glad that your career switch has given you so much joy.


dabrownman's picture

only get in out dreams! Very nicely done. Perfect inside and out and the boldly baked, blistered crust just tastes better to me too. Could read you post over and over.

So what formula and methods are you using for these great boule?

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

These are beauties.  What a treat to have professional commercial ovelns to bake bread in.  The crust on that one is amazing.  Good luck with your restaurant And great to hear from you.


wally's picture

for the kind comments!  I'd love to share the recipe for the boule but it's the property of my employer and I'd be violating a NDA I signed when I hired on.



Franko's picture

I've missed seeing your always interesting, sometimes reflective, and well written posts Larry...a lot!

Your perspective on the what and why we get up in the wee small hours to do what we do is spot on and so refreshing to read. Much as I appreciate all the technical contributions and discussions on bread making to this site, your post struck a chord with me on a deeper, more fundamental level, reminding me of why I got into the trade in the first place. Bookmarked to remind me when I forget what the essence and joy of baking is all about.

Thanks Larry!


SylviaH's picture

What a beautifully written post and photos too!  

Gorgeous loaves all the way around!

 I can very much relate to what you are saying about oven spring.

Oh, the anticipation 'magic' of it!  It's something I don't talk about to my family or friends..they would think I was

loosing it 'lol'.

Now I'm going to think about what you expressed, everytime I look at my flat looking loaf going into the oven with

a big smile.

It's always great to here and see what you have been up to.

Thank you for taking time out to share.  I enjoyed your post very much.

I'm a little late getting here..I've have a grandson graduating tomorrow and I was out shopping all day for some 'dorm room' supplies for him.  That's a scary thought..him being off, away to college on his own..I hope he does half as good as his big sister.



Foodzeit's picture

Look at the crumb... Awesome. Found this via facebook and had to leave my commment here. "Liked" it right away

wally's picture

Appreciate your taking the time to comment.


BellesAZ's picture

Without giving up secrets of your job or recipes, what are your recommendations for similar results at home?  Loved reading your post.. magical indeed!

wally's picture

To be honest, I've not found it possible to reproduce the results I get at a production bakery at home.  Could be me.  But the environments are so different, starting with what a professional deck oven with steam can yield compared to a home oven.  But it goes so far beyond that: the levain we use at work came from my own home levain.  But the two are so very different: that at work used daily in large batches is chomping at the bit every morning, while my poor refrigerator bound levain used once a week seems sickly by comparison.  And then, there is the fact that a production bakery is yeast laden compared with a home kitchen. 

Bottom line: I've never been able to reproduce what you see above at home.  Doesn't mean it can't be done,  but there are a lot of obstacles to be overcome.

Good luck and good baking!