Friday, November 23, 2012

well, hello there beautiful

that's it. i've made a decision today about my city bread. i've decided that my signature slash is the 'spiral'. it think that it defines my autonomous path on this 'tartine bread experiment'. i also have mohawk and yin & yang in my repertoire, then the ubiquitous circle and square (which oddly i have yet to master. it's a square. how difficult can it be?). i have sort of used all of my patterns willy nilly, and i've decided to assign each one to a specific style of my city bread. mmmm, i'm calling spiral for my spelts.

today i made three city breads in demi-spelt. white spelt, actually, which i'm excited about because y'all know that i never make white bread. the high percentage of rye contributed by both my 100% rye starter and a rather hefty levain render it less than pure, however. and man, did they turn out swell.

65% hydration city bread in white spelt, signature swirl

 65% hydration city bread in white spelt, square

70% hydration city bread in white spelt, yin and yang

i futzed around with the hydration a bit because it's always nice to revisit the reality that a mere few grams more or less water in my bread makes a huge difference with crust and crumb, the ability to achieve les grignes, and the aesthetic. at the bottom of this post i included some pictures of a fourth boule that i baked (one whose quality does not warrant a formula here) where a hydration tweak and a mistimed levain made for a less desirable loaf in terms of crust texture, oven spring, the shape/aesthetic of the loaf, and the ability to hold les grignes.

i also extended my final fermentation time with these beautiful loaves. as you know, i prefer lengthy fermentation. in my opinion, breads with abbreviated fermentation times both bulk and final do not achieve noteworthy flavor, crust, or crumb texture. full gelatinization cannot be realized if you don't allow the sugars to be fully digested, and you will never achieve those satisfying little gas bubbles or a shattery crust. if you don't have time to bake bread properly, don't cut corners. just plan better next time so that every loaf that you make is a satisfying one. i don't know about you, but a less than stellar loaf makes me pretty cranky, and often sends me into a flurry of baking to rectify where i went wrong. today my loaves made me do the happy dance.

we are not inventing the wheel here. yes, it may seem as though the percentages of flour, water, starter, fermentation times may not be dramatically different from loaf to loaf, but you can make astoundingly different loaves of bread with small tweaks. if it ain't broke, don't overhaul it. and always use your last loaf as a foundation for a new one. for instance, i don't bake with whole white flour breads often, so, instead of forging a wheel from scratch, i referred to my previous formulae, and now that i am familiar with whole spelt, i entered this experiment with some understanding of how this flour behaves.

and here's a trick: when creating a new bread, start with less water than you think you might need. you cannot take away hydration once its been added and adding extraneous flour to compensate is just a bad move that never ends well. have your scale at the ready, and add water in small increments until the dough feels right. be sure to write all this down (yes, hard when hands are full of sticky dough, but you'll manage, you should manage. trust me, as you make your adjustments, all those little additions will get lost if you don't write them down pronto. i learned my lesson when i 'lost' a bread a long while back. it was, to that date, one of the best i had made, but because i didn't record all of my additional grams of water, i was not able to recreate it). remember, if a dough feels a little less hydrated than you would like it to be before autolyse, you always have the option of adding a little more water during the phase of adding salt.

spelt, as you may not know (i am talking whole spelt here) is decidedly NOT as thirsty as one would imagine. when working with whole wheat, you need to increase your hydration for optimal crust, crumb, texture, flavor. but with spelt, i have found that using restraint with hydration is key. lo, you will see below in my experiments with hydration that white spelt was just the same. it is not a flour that wants to be uber hydrated. repeat after me: high hydration is not necessarily better, and super high hydration does not make you a bread rockstar. using restraint of hand with hydration has voluminous rewards, like really pronounced scoring.

the first loaf i made came out smashingly. with 70% hydration (not including water percentage in the starter or levain; for the purist, the hydration, including levain and starter hydration would actually be 75%), the crust was uber shattery and glassy. it achieved gorgeous gas bubbles, and was just the right thickness/thinness. nothing worse than a loaf of bread with a thick, tough, leathery crust (more on this below and at least one reason why this happens). it also had that lovely 'quincy'/honey flavor indicative of fully digested sugars, flavor that can only be coaxed from the dough using a long, cold fermentation.

which brings me to the next bit. with these loaves, i futzed with final fermentation times. it was high time i pushed past my usual brick wall -- the 15-hour fermentation mark, and it worked like a charm. 17 hours and 10 minutes. yup. you heard it here first. while it was relaxin' in the fridge, conjuring up all kinds of fabulousness, i was biting my nails as the time inched up toward the 17 hour mark. turns out, this dough adored being in the fridge for that long. who knows. perhaps it was introspective and appreciated the time to ruminate.

spelt is a bit of a conundrum. you would think it might behave like wheat because it has a high gluten content, but the quality of the gluten is not that swell, so it's challenging to achieve impressive oven spring. in fact, spelt breads consistently produce breads with thicker crusts, and if you don't exhibit a little ingenuity, they can wind up tough or downright hard. i balanced this white spelt boule with bread flour.

certain brands of flour that we can get at the market (like king arthur) boast all purpose flours with a rather high protein percentage. you can use them for pretty much all of your artisan breads, and i do, because i appreciate that it makes for a tender crumb and a good, shattery crust. however, if i am making a bread using whole grains that lack the necessary gluten to create a less compact crumb and a crisper crust, i will use bread flour in conjunction with it. for example, given the lack of gluten in rye, i would definitely use bread flour instead of all purpose to compensate for the loss of structure and lightness. for this loaf, i chose bread flour to compensate for the weak gluten quality intrinsic of spelt (ps, so far i love king arthur for their bread and a/p flours, but i'm not a fan of their whole wheat. i also don't care for bob's red mill whole wheat. if you make whole wheat bread, community grains is the way to go. and for rye, i find to your health sprouted rye nonpareil).

finally, i experimented with my levain, in relation to type of flour and duration of fermentation.
and here's what. for the first three fabulous loaves i used rye flour for my levain, fermenting it for 6 hours. for the experimental loaf below i used spelt to ferment my levain and decreased fermentation time to 5 hours.

i have found that when i use rye for my levains it takes less time to ferment. for one thing, rye is reliable because there are lots of sugars for the yeasts to devour, you will never have a sluggish levain (or starter, or loaf of bread for that matter) if you use dark rye flour. rye flour levains are like speedracer levains, meaning, they do not take as long to come to fruition as a levain with, say, whole spelt or whole wheat flour. sometimes (ok, all the time) i'm too impatient for that. i have found that when i use spelt and whole wheat flours for my levains they will take a bit longer to fully realize.

it is of utmost importance, and this is not unlike every aspect of your bread making endeavor, that you don't follow the times you read in a book or on a blog. i get a number of emails about chad's country bread (i am by no means an expert on his bread), the biggest complaint is the lack of oven spring, or too-sour flavors. it's difficult to answer these questions because there are so many variables that affect bread in a given kitchen. chad has given us an outline, and in his book, encouraged us to find our own bread paths. he never said: THIS IS THE WAY IT IS FOLKS. it took chad years to 'get' his bread, and you shouldn't think, even with that bible in your hands, that it will take you any less time or effort. i think the aura of the book is important, for a baker like me anyway. i appreciate the omission of details that make bread baking more of a scientific effort than one intuitive. it's lovely to have access to information about baking bread, and there are so many books that will do that for you, but i think that it can hamper you, this stringent guideline. the most valuable thing i learned from the tartine bread book is how to 'read' my bread, how to experiment using chad's bread as a template. when i get questions about what temperature my water and dough are i always want to say 'throw out your thermometer, have a quick look at the ambient temperature, and from there, you will know where to go.

i watch my dough. touch it. poke it. i talk to it. i can tell by looking at my bread that it has a few grams too much water, if next time i might want to increase the amount of levain. with my levain i observe it (i never remove the lid from my levain as it is coming to fruition, which is why i always use a glass lid when fermenting it. something about this makes me feel, intuitively, that some of the yeasts will be lost. i don't know if it's true or not, but it's how i feel and it works for me. your levain is a much more fragile thing. it's like a newborn baby. you can poke your dough, but treat your levain with extreme care). as well, i don't do the float test with my levain. i know when it's ready by looking at it. if you listen to your bread, it will tell you what it needs and what it wants to be.

you have to learn to read your dough in relation to your environment. maybe your levain takes more or less time than mine does, whatever type of flour you use. maybe you can push a longer proof, maybe you can't. this is where i ask, is this a hobby or a pursuit? if it's a hobby, and one that you don't really want to put a lot of time into, i would say you might choose to bake breads that rely on commercial yeast. working with sourdough means a serious commitment, a marriage, if you will, to the yeasts that are thriving in that little jar on your counter. just like any marriage, it's complex, sometimes finicky, it gets better over time if you put the effort into making it so, and if you are going to experiment, you have to do it mindfully and openly. you cannot trick your bread, you cannot cut corners, and you cannot give a little and expect a lot. you have to be patient if you want to experience the beauty of it and to watch it unfold into its full potential. and the more love and attention you give it, the more graceful and beautiful the ensuing loaves will be.

as well, you have to honor your wild yeast's preferences. perhaps it doesn't like this, but loves that, and this may change with the weather or time of year. for example, i generally feed my 100% rye, 100% hydration starter once a day for four days a week and twice for the three days prior my bake. lately i've been so busy, so i've only been baking once every ten days, which means more once-a-day feedings than usual. i think last month i only baked once every other week. well, my starter didn't like this one bit. she was giving me attitude when i fed her, and so i started feeding her more. just because i was not baking as regularly did not mean that i could just feed her once a day and expect her to be happy. i learned my lesson there. once a day is fine about four days a week, but at least three days a week, she wants to be fed twice regardless if i bake or not. end. of. story.

above all, you can't get pissed when your starter is 'in a mood', and it sounds silly, but sometimes she is. the thing is, it's generally because of something you neglected that puts her there (as i just outlined above). it's ok. we all make mistakes, just be sure to make it up to her by giving her a little more love if at any point your attention has fallen short.

finally, i received a few emails from people who have experienced sluggish doughs and too sour bread. i do swear by my refrigerator for most of my fermenting. this is where the 'if it ain't broke' thing comes into play. during the 4-hour bulk ferment (and i have experimented with longer and shorter bulk ferments. if this is one nugget of wisdom you take from chad's book, it's that initial formula. the 4-hour bulk fermentation is pretty tried-and-true. across the board, with all my breads, this is the case), i do two hours at room temp (sometimes one, if it's particularly balmy that day), and the remainder is done in the fridge. of course, then the final fermentation is also done under refrigeration.

all of the big bakeries that produce amazing bread with stellar crust and unrivaled flavor use cool proofing chambers to ferment their dough. you will not find a bakery with bread sittin' out on the counters for 17 hours. it would be too warm and the yeasts would gobble up the sugars too rapidly. 17 hours on the counter = dead dough. you could ferment on the counter for less time, but then this produces a decidedly uninteresting loaf of bread. it is the long, cold fermentation that lends to: crisp crust, full gelatinization/incredible texture of crumb, and mind-boggling flavor. long cold fermentations do NOT produce sour breads. ill-timed, warm fermentations DO, even short ones, depending on your environment. you have a fridge. use it. there is no point in making bread if you need to rush or you don't have time. please do not proof your bread in the oven or in a warm spot. i just have no words for you if this has been your method and you are ending up with sour or uninteresting breads with tough, blonde crusts, and flabby, gassy dough. long. cold. slow. patient. and the best flour that you can afford. this is what makes amazing bread.

without further balderdash, here is this week's bread(s).


city bread, in white spelt,  65% hydration

for this city bread i used a 6-hour levain, 100% rye, using my 100% rye starter. compared to the loaf below at 70% which achieved fantastic ears, this one formed uber pronounced ears. the only difference between this 65% spelt loaf and the 70% is the hydration percentage. i am posting the formulae for both for comparison and convenience sake. for the purist, the 65% hydration loaf which includes the hydration in the levain as well as in the starter weighs in at 70.8%, and for the 70% loaf, as stated above, the hydration percentage with all water factored in from starter through dough weighs in at 75%. this formula makes 2 loaves:


make your levain:

80g starter, 160g dark rye flour (i used organic BRM), 160g h2o

mix together the above components and ferment. i began mine at 8:50 in the morning, and as anticipated, it fermented quickly. at 2:50 in the afternoon, just 6 short hours later, we were good to go.

make the dough:

400g levain
500g organic KA bread flour, 500g white spelt flour (i used organic vitaspelt)
650g h2o
22g kosher salt

mix together the components listed above for the dough until you reach a shaggy mass. autolyse for 1 hour. after autolyse, add salt and squeeze into the dough until thoroughly incorporated. from here, your bulk fermentation begins with turns for the first 2 hours begins. here is my schedule

2:50p - 3:50p - autolyse

3:50p - salt - bulk ferment begins
3:50 - 4:20, turn at 4:20
4:20 - 4:50, turn at 4:50
4:50 - 5:20, turn at 5:20
5:30 - 5:50, turn at 5:50, pop into fridge
5:50 - 7:50, refrigerated bulk fermentation

after the first half of the bulk fermentation with turns, pop in fridge and complete the remaining 2 hours of bulk fermentation in the fridge.

after the bulk fermentation, scrape the dough onto a clean workspace that has been dusted with organic brown rice flour, divide, and form into loose rounds. rest for 10 minutes, then shape into boules. pop the boules into linen-lined bowls dusted with brown rice flour, and pop in the fridge for the 17 hour final fermentation. here was my schedule:

7:50 - 8:00, bench
8:00 - 8:10, shape, pop in fridge at 8:10.


one hour before you plan to bake, preheat the oven to 550, fitted with two combo cookers and a baking stone. please be sure to preheat for a full hour, it makes a dramatic difference with the crust and maximizes oven spring.

here was my schedule:

12:10, preheat oven
1:10, turn out, slash, and get the loaves into the oven
1:10 - 1:40, steam the loaves
1:40 - 2:25, bake without the lids, turning at least once during baking for even browning. total bake time was 1 hour 15 minutes

turn the dough out onto a peel with a piece of parchment. score. slide the dough into the shallow end of the combo cooker, cover with the fat end, turn the oven down to 475 and steam the loaf for 30 minutes.

after the 30 minute steam, remove the lid from the comb cooker, turn the oven down to 450 and bake till chestnut brown.


for the 70% hydration loaf, follow the same timing as the loaves above, but use these quantities for flour, water, and starter. this formula makes one loaf:

make your levain:

40g 100% hydration, 100% dark rye starter, 80g dark rye flour, 80g h2o

mix this together, follow the timing directions above.

make your dough:

all of the levain
250g organic KA bread flour
250g organic vitaspelt, white spelt flour
350g h2o
11g kosher salt

mix this together, follow the timing directions above.

i hope your loaves come out as smashingly as mine did!

to the staff of life!



what you are about to see below is frightening! but i feel that it's important to share all of my findings with my bread so that you can see my mistakes firsthand and avoid them yourself. a critical part of experimenting is never to be afraid of making mistakes. for it is from our mistakes that we learn our most valuable lessons, so, read on.

i experimented with this loaf over the weekend prior to the bread that i made above. i was noodling around with a whole grain spelt loaf that used a whole spelt levain, and i noticed that the spelt levain took longer to come to fruition than my rye levain. (i was baking a loaf of 50% spelt from one of my prior posts). i decided to experiment with the white spelt, shortening a spelt levain, and i also wanted to monkey a bit with hydration. this loaf has just 15g more water (so, 365g water to 500g flour split half white spelt and half bread flour), and i intentionally decreased the time of the levain ferment just to see what would happen, as as you can see, the loaf came out all lop-headed. i wanted to share that with you because it DOES make a difference, that little extra bit of water. in this case, just 15g more than our 70% hydration loaf, and 40g more than our 65% hydration loaf. as well, i used spelt flour to make the levain, and only fermented it for 5.5 hours, just 30 minutes shy than those above, willfully ignoring that it did not appear 'ready' for use by sight. i have worked with 5.5 hour rye levains with lovely result. 5.5 hours, as you can see, is not nearly long enough for spelt flour to ferment. the crust was not exactly wretched, but it was not shattery like i like it to be, it was not tough or leathery, but it was certainly a little harder than i care for, though the crumb was nice, oddly, as was the flavor.

the levain probably could have used another 2 hours, at least, but again, you have learn to 'read' your levain, and using it prematurely resulted in an underdeveloped loaf that was lopsided and not very appealing. the excessive hydration, though seemingly minimal, killed any chance of les grignes. this loaf was baked after a 15 hour final ferment.

when you are working with new flour, use the guidelines for a similar bread as a template to start, show restraint of hand with hydration. and learn to read your bread all the way from starter through final ferment. with these tools, you will make consistently balanced loaves.

this post was shared on wild yeast blog's yeast spotting. yay!

to the staff of life!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

community grains hard red winter wheat boule

so the thing about 100% whole wheat sourdough is that it can be terribly dense, the rind can be like cardboard, and the flavor not much further from that. when you eat it, you have to chant some mantra that will trick you into thinking you like the blasted loaf: this is really, REALLY good for me, so i really, REALLY like it. well, you don't. and that's okay, because after today's post you won't have to lie to yourself anymore.

community grains.

this, dear reader, is all you need to know when it comes to red winter wheat flour. i happened upon a 4-lb bag recently and immediately got to work with it. what came of my very first sourdough boule using community grain's red winter wheat flour was like a little miracle.

okay, i'm cheating a little. i didn't exactly happen upon a bag. i once worked with the founder of community grains, bob klein, who also owns oliveto restaurant in the bay area where i used to be a chef, a.k.a., 'the good ol' days.' catherine meng, his assistant, contacted me recently and asked if i would like to try out some of their goodies.

hell yes sister.

sidebar: speaking of meng, she is also a mighty-fine poet. my favorite line in her book of poetrythe moss and lichen argue over who is the most poetic.  damn.

what you don't know is that i have never had any luck at all with 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, in fact, i've even struggled with loaves that contain only 20% whole wheat flour (if you've noticed, i really don't use it all all). when i bake with whole wheat flour, it never gets the oven-spring that i like, and the flavor is always really, well, bad. i have baked many a 100% whole wheat loaf behind your back using other whole wheat flours which promptly ended up in the trash bin while i was chanting that health-lie-chant and grimacing at the flavor and the texture of the whole (wheat) ordeal.

right out of the bag, community grains whole wheat flour is different. it smells nutty and fresh, which immediately increased my hopes. other flours smell like the paper bag that they come in. and upon first sight, i was thrilled by the bright red flecks of grain in the artisan-milled flour. thus, i was hooked and set out to do a little research about why community grains flour is so special.

community grains is a small, sustainable company in california that works closely with california farmers to grow wheat, heirloom beans and italian heritage polenta (which i will be working with this week, so make sure you check out my other blog, farm to table geek. until you have had their red flint floriani polenta, you have not lived). and they only work with local (california) grain growers which means a teensy carbon footprint.

the thing that intrigues me most about community grain's milling practice is that they mill the whole grain in its entirety, while conventional milling companies use technology that splits off the bran and germ at the onset of milling, only to add it back into the flour later. hm. it makes sense that grains milled in a way that never separates the germ, bran, and endosperm and instead mills the whole kernel together the way that community grains mills their wheat results in a 'true whole grain' flour, a much healthier whole grain flour with the appropriate and wholly natural ratio of bran, germ and endosperm. when you think about the conventional practice of splitting off the bran and germ, then adding them back into the flour, it makes you wonder how much more or less is added to a given 'batch', and if they even use the same bran and germ that came off of the grain that they had originally milled. whatever the case, this seems like it would definitely create an 'imbalance' in the resulting flour. it makes so much sense now, when i think of it, the reasons why i have been having so much difficulty with texture, flavor and hydration when using other whole wheat flours in my breads.

i'm also aware that commercial grain growers grow hybridized wheat varieties that have been developed to enhance the more 'desirable' characteristics. for wheat, this means varieties with higher gluten have been favored. hybridized wheat plants are also shorter and support a heavier seedbed (more seeds/bigger seeds) and grow much faster. they are also bred to resist drought and fungi and to increase yield. this translates as the difference between a 'genetically enhanced' tomato and one grown in your own back yard.  i remember reading not too long ago that it is not wheat that many people are allergic to, but these hybridized strains. it makes sense. so many of us would never eat modified produce for obvious reasons (mostly because they lack flavor), but for some reason this intolerance for genetically engineered food slips from our minds when it comes to the flour that we buy. if we are buying flour from large corporations with commercial milling practices, we are undoubtedly eating grain that has been enhanced to benefit the corporation that grows the grain - speed of growth and yield are revered, and it seems that flavor and health properties become secondary. i wonder also how this hybridization affects the nutritive value of the grain. and now, how many of us are thinking of clearing our cabinets of all those bags of flour with just the thought of this?

food for thought.

community grains is a small company, and their body of goodies is growing. you can buy their flour, polenta, beans and pasta on their website and from limited venues like market hall in the bay area. i'm glad that catherine and bob sent me this flour to work with. it's like a very large, very important piece of my bread baking puzzle has been discovered and placed in the heart of it all. i can't imagine going back to a lesser consciousness. as the venerable thich nhat hanh once said, once the door of awakening has been opened, it cannot be closed again.

here are the deets.

community grains 100% whole hard red winter wheat sourdough boule



40g starter
100g community grains hard red winter wheat flour
100g h2o

ferment for 6 hours.


240g levain
500g community grains hard red winter wheat flour
400g h2o
15g vital wheat gluten
12g salt
25g extra virgin olive oil

in a large bowl, whisk the flour and vital wheat gluten together. set aside. dissolve the levain in 375g of the h2o. add the flour/vital wheat gluten to the melted levain and mix until you arrive at a cohesive mass. autolyse for 1 hour.


after the autolyse, add the salt and the remaining 25g of h2o. squish and knead until all of the salt and water is incorporated. add the olive oil and do the same squish-knead until it's fully incorporated.


for the next two hours, ferment at cool room temperature, performing a series of turns every half-hour.

after the 2-hour ferment with turns, pop the dough in the fridge and ferment unmolested for another 2 hours.


after the 4-hour bulk fermentation is complete, turn the dough out onto a workspace that has been liberally dusted with organic brown rice flour, form into a loose round and rest 10 minutes.

after 10 minutes, form into a tight boule, then pop into a bowl lined with a linen that has been liberally dusted with brown rice flour. ferment in the fridge for 15 hours.


one hour before you plan to bake the boule, preheat the oven installed with a baking stone and both portions of your cast iron combo cooker.

after an hour, unearth your dough, score, and slide into the shallow end of the comb cooker. pop the lid on, slide into the oven, turn it down to 475 degrees and steam for 30 minutes.

after the 30-minute steam, remove the lid, marvel at your beauty, turn the oven down to 450 and bake until chestnut brown.

be sure to rest the loaf for at least 2 hours before slicing.

VERDICT: oh. my. god. this is the best whole wheat sourdough that i have ever baked or tasted. it achieved amazing oven spring and a fully gelatinized crust that crackled when it cooled. the crust was shattery, not tough/hard/leathery like so many other whole wheat breads that i have baked in the past. the aroma was heady and earthy/sweet/malty, and the flavor was incredible with a natural sweetness and a lovely earthiness that made me whack off a slice every time i walked past it. but here's the best part: the texture. it was the texture of BREAD, not rubber, not cardboard, not something indefinable. it was moist and chewy and, well, like the bread that i expect from my kitchen.

i finally found my whole wheat flour for my whole wheat sourdough bread!

to the staff of life!

this post was shared on wild yeast blog's yeast spotting.



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