Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the bread that moved the earth & felled a tree

rosemary reminds me of babies. just kidding.

for some reason, whenever i make bread with rosemary it's always focaccia. and because i'm a lazy baker i always only ever make boules (someone please invent a combo cooker in the shape of an oval). i do have a habit of being staunchly married to my habits. don't we all? alas, i decided to change up today so i made a rosemary loaf, though not a focaccia, and definitively not a boule.

but wait. before i get down to the brass tacks of this bread, i have a story to tell.

this loaf of bread began as a happy little accident and ended with an earthquake and a fallen tree. here's the long and skinny of it.

i usually make my levain in the morning or just before i go to bed, since those two times allow me to make bread most conveniently. well, this time i started the levain smack in the middle of the day, which would have meant that by the time it was done fermenting, i would have had to be awake at 3 a.m. to start the process of making bread. i am smitten with my loaves, i think this blog as an ode makes that clear, but my love has its limits.

i had read somewhere that once a levain is fully realized, one could refrigerate it for up to (insert reasonable number here) days and pull it out for use when it was convenient. i always wondered if this was true or not, and since i was faced with either experimenting with this idea or tossing out my levain (and waste all that perfectly good spelt? no sir), i figured it was the perfect opportunity to put this all to the test.

my levain for this bread fermented for 9 hours, from 6 p.m. till 3 a.m. i was meant to pop in in the fridge before bed but had forgotten. at the obsidian hour of 3 a.m., and fully invested in my slumber, my levain roused me to remind that we were knee deep in this experiment, and that i had better get it into the fridge tout de suite. i guess this loaf was destined to interrupt my sleep after all. see. rosemary = babies.

here's the real kicker: no sooner had i swung my legs over the side of the bed in loving effort to keep my true love happy did an earthquake hit. mon dieu! as you can imagine, my heart pounded as the earth rumbled beneath my feet. my pottery collection clinked and clanked in the cabinet, and the dog chased her tail. (in dog language that's equivalent to running for cover). and not one second after i awakened to tuck in my levain. i couldn't believe it. what were the odds?

wait. my story, it gets better.

next day. so, the weather here is still blistering, and rosemary reminds me of autumn, my favorite season. i thought that if i baked this bread with the resinous herb that the smell would waft up to the gods and inspire them to turn down the thermostat. a little love note, one might say, a reminder that the superior season is ready to be dragged in.

i also decided to try my hand at shaping a batardboules work for me because of the shape of the combo cooker, and i've not really had much luck making a pretty batard. they come out flat and dumb looking every single time (not unlike this one).

the combo cooker is my crutch, i confess, and i'm not too proud to admit it. i am not in the habit of fixing things that ain't broke, see, but i am firmly committed to branching out with this loaf of bread. it has already caused an earthquake after all.


after making the dough i gathered up the dog for a stroll. i live in a lovely part of L.A., where the streets are lined with 150-foot palm trees that wax the ever-blue skies. here i was, strolling along, blissfully unaware of anything but my thoughts when BAM! a giant palm frond fell from above, landing inches from my head. and i will be damned if the thing didn't whistle on the way down from its heights.

my dog immediately pounced on the devilish thing (in dog language, this is equivalent to assault and battery). this, just 30 minutes before i am to bake my rosemary's baby. first an earthquake and now the fallen frond.

home again to shape the bread.

the kitchen smelled like rosemary and i hadn't even started to bake. my dough was lying in wait, and beautifully so. my fear was that the levain would be lethargic and wouldn't have the strength to make it rise. nevertheless, full steam ahead with our plan.

i shaped it, popped it in a homemade banneton, and back in the fridge it went to proof for about 15 hours because y'all know how i love a long-proofed dough. the next day it was baked and lo, we arrive at this blissful thing.

the texture, despite a slightly less than optimal oven spring, was divine. full gelatinization was realized, and the crumb was light without any unpleasant density at all. the flavor was down right amazing, the crusty was shattery, and i've been nipping at it since i sliced it open. all in all i am pleased, even with the aesthetic issues which evidently (oddly) had no impact on the texture or the flavor of the bread at all.

and so my consensus is this:

i think that the refrigerated levain would have been fine with a shorter proof, though i wouldn't make a habit of it. it didn't spread or look slack as i slipped it from the banneton as one would might expect. these are all signs of over-proofing or over-hydration. it did, however, spread to an extended degree once it was slashed, and didn't hold les grignes, which again, can be a sign of over-hydration or over-proofing in my experience. since the dough was hardly over-hydrated, it must have been the endured proof time. it was not because of the spelt, since i often make this loaf (without the rosemary or the olive oil, but with the same ratio of flour to water, though i typically use bread flour for extra elasticity in the dough) with endured proofing times (up to 15 hours refrigerated proof) and it always yields lovely oven spring.

nevertheless, the experiment yielded interesting results. i would say that if you need to refrigerate your levain, you might consider a 3 or 4 hour refrigerated proof, max, given the extended life span of the levain. even though its growth is retarded under refrigeration, it is still  consuming the sugars in the flour which will ultimately result in a spent levain as time goes on.

the crumb of my rosemary's baby was light and airy with largish holes, and it tasted divine. i will try this loaf again with tweaked variables and post my results. for now, i am going to happily enjoy this bread. once sliced, because of the tender open crumb (not dense or compact at all), fabulous taste and texture and shattery crust, it's hard to believe that it didn't provide optimal oven spring.

spelt rosemary 'batard'


(i used to your health's sprouted spelt flour for this formula, and ka all purpose flour)

i made my levain at 6pm like this:

35g 100% sprouted spelt, 100% hydration starter
58g filtered h2o
58g organic, sprouted, whole spelt flour

dissolved the starter in the water then mixed in the flour until i arrived at a smooth paste. covered and let ferment at room temp for 9 hours. popped it into the fridge until morning, 7 hours.


the next day, i made the dough like this.

350g h20
325g all purpose flour
75g organic, sprouted, whole spelt flour
all of the starter
25g extra virgin olive oil
12g sea salt
3g chopped fresh rosemary

i dissolved the starter with the water then mixed in the flour until i arrived at a shaggy mass. then i let it autolyse for an hour and 10 minutes.

after the autolyse, i added the salt, rosemary and the olive oil and mixed well. at this point, i am headed into my 4 hour bulk fermentation. the first two hours of which are comprised of one series of turns every half hour for a total of four series of turns, the last two hours the dough is left unmolested in the fridge.

after the 4 hour bulk fermentation, i scraped the dough onto an olive oiled bench and let it rest for 25 minutes.

i drizzled it with a little olive oil and tucked and coaxed it into a compact little batard.

awaiting was an impromptu banneton that i had fashioned out of some heavy duck fabric that i usually use as a couche.

i lined the banneton with a strip of parchment paper for easy transfer onto the peel later on.

then popped the batard into its hammock and sprinkled the sides liberally with organic brown rice flour.

i wrapped the whole kit and kaboodle in plastic then popped it into the fridge till the next day, 15 hours later.


on bake day, i preheated my oven to 500 degrees installed with a stone and a HUGE dutchie to accommodate the length of the dough, for 45 minutes.

i pulled the batard out of the hammock, slipped it onto a peel and scored it.

then i jerked it into the the dutchie and i turned the oven down to 450 degrees (i didn't bake at 475 like i usually do because the size of the dutchie meant that i had to put the oven rack on the lowest rung, very close to the gas line, which would likely burn my bottom crust before the bread was properly baked). i steamed the batard for 30 minutes with the dutchie in place.

after the steam, i removed the top of the dutchie and baked till browned. i didn't take it any darker because of the hampered oven spring. after it cooled for an hour, i ate it with avocado and olive oil.

to the staff of life!

of course, trying to make the deadline for the wild yeast blog's yeast spotting this week!


  1. amazing.
    I read carefully your method as I find this bread absolutely beautiful. I wonder where could I get a doutch oven in Sweden. the sprouted grains I may get in US on my next trip... not clear about the levain: what is the difference between 100% sprouted spelt and organic sprouted whole spelt?

    1. barbara. you can get dutch ovens (or combo cookers) on amazon. so, for my (organic) sprouted whole spelt levain, i use the organic sprouted whole spelt flour. same flour ; )


    2. hi there. missing your posts... btw, they do not ship to Sweden. And I could not find anything like that here. BUT: finally got the book (Tartine) and he says that 2 cast-iron pans, one shallow and one deeper would do the trick. found a good Swedish producer which seems perfect, now I just have to find a retailer. not so easy on this side of the Ocean but still doable. ps: the book really rocks. just like your bread.

  2. Great post, as usual. Made my day.

    1. Awww, Tracy. You posted on my birthday ;)

      Thank you for the compliment!

  3. Hi there - hope you still see these comments... recipe looks terrific! I don't have spelt flour on hand, could I repeat the recipe with rye starter & whole wheat flour instead? would the quantities change at all?

    1. Hi Michal. Well, you could, but then you would have a new formula, and would have to change the hydration percentages. But yes, in theory, you can....

  4. Hi Francis, I like to let you know that I made double the recipe and the Batards were absolutely delicious indeed �� thank you for sharing the recipe.�� P.S. If you like you can go to my post and see mine..



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