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archive for bread

alas, the baguette

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Recipe: sourdough baguettes

After spending the last two months trying different recipes and employing a variety of techniques, I think I’ve finally found the right sourdough baguette recipe! By “right”, I mean it has all of the qualities I seek in a sourdough baguette. I have not traveled the world in search of the finest baguettes, but I do know what I like. My desire to document how to make a sourdough baguette is mostly for my own convenience as my notes are currently scattered between several messy and cryptic pages in my recipe notebook.

So what makes a good baguette in my book? I love the slightly floral and mildly sour notes that come from using sourdough starter as opposed to added yeast. The interior should have an airy and delicate structure without being mostly holes. I want to sink my teeth into bread, not air. It should have a well-browned crust with shine and blisters. That crust ought to crackle and shatter when cut. And my biggest motivation for making my own baguette: the base should not be caked in flour (ahem, Boulder Whole Foods). If someone made the perfect baguette, I would gladly buy it. Now I don’t need to.

Making the baguettes spans 3 days for me. The first day is mere minutes in the evening when you make the levain. The second day is the bulk of the time commitment. The autolyse step (letting the flour(s) absorb the water) can be as short as 30 minutes up to 4 hours. I tend to mix the dough early in the morning and give myself a 4 hour window to work, get a workout, run errands, etc. Then I spend the next 2.5 hours near the dough, but it only requires a minute of my time every 30 minutes to turn the dough (four sets of folds at 90 degree rotations). After the last turn, the dough can rest 30 minutes to an hour. I always choose the longer period of time which may or may not be a good thing. Once shaped, I put my dough in the refrigerator for a 12-24 hour cold proof. This means you need to make space for something like baguettes which require a lot of area, but not much height. I don’t proof at room temperature because I find shaping and handling cold dough to be far easier. The next day, I bake the bread which takes about 35-40 minutes per baguette. Planning when to fit this into your schedule is probably the hardest part.

The unicorn was the baguette. The rainbow unicorn was the épi de blé or sheaf of wheat.


my épi de blé

testing whole wheat percentages



My baguette expedition rambled through a few recipes before I circled back to the dough used for my favorite sourdough bread, which is based on the recipe from Tartine in San Francisco. All the steps are the same up to the shaping, but I decided to swap some whole wheat flour for a little of the bread flour, gram for gram. [Using a kitchen scale rather than cups is going to see you to greater consistency and success when baking breads.] I made and we taste tested 0%, 2.5%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, and 30% whole wheat flour baguettes. They all tasted GREAT. If entertaining, I would make a 0% (all bread flour) or 10% (10% whole wheat flour and 90% bread flour) baguette. The 0% is classic, but the 10% has a subtle nuttiness that I really love without feeling any heavier than the 0% baguette. The baguette does start to taste a little less floral and less sweet at 25% and 30% whole wheat flour.

This sourdough baguette recipe doesn’t use any additional yeast, it relies on the sourdough starter for leavening. If my starter is in the refrigerator, I’ll bring it to room temperature and feed it daily for a couple of days before making the levain on the evening of day 1 (sometimes I call it day 0).


the starter should be fed, happy, and bubbling

weigh out the starter

the levain: starter, bread flour, water

stir together

leave no dry pockets of flour

the levain is bubbly and ready after 8-12 hours



**Jump for more butter**

all the dough in the world

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

Recipe: sourdough bread

Last week felt like proper winter for once. We had two powder days, cold temperatures, and great skiing on the mountain and the Nordic trails. I had almost forgotten what a real ski season is like! A real ski season is like butter. Smooth, silky, fluffy, cold, snowy butter…


jeremy grabs some powder runs before a meeting

hello winter, nice of you to come by!



It was also the perfect time to be experimenting with bread baking and running a hot oven. Baking sourdough bread has been on my List of Stuff and Things for over a decade. My greatest impediment was my fear of the unknown. You mean you have to CARE for sourdough starter? As in, keep it alive?!? How many times do we put off doing something because we can’t seem to overcome the activation energy (mental or otherwise) required to get going? And how many times, after we finally get around to doing it, do we kick ourselves for not doing it sooner now that we know it wasn’t such a big deal after all? I do not possess enough hands to raise for all the times I psyched myself out of awesome things, but I am learning that sometimes we need to simply get out of our own way.

i baked some bread



Over the last couple of years I’ve admired my friend, Dawn, as she cranked out artisan pizzas, breads, pastries, and a host of other goodies. She grew and milled her own wheat! Dawn is one of my real life girl crushes because she’s badass and wonderful and rescues abandoned pups in the mountains left for dead by jerks. So it made sense that I would ask her for some sourdough starter in the hopes that her awesomeness would accompany the starter into my kitchen. In the last two weeks, I’ve given starter and Dawn’s Starter Care Guide to two other friends. Bread is for sharing! Once I saw how straightforward it is to feed and maintain my starter (I named it Wheatley) without killing it, I went in search of a sourdough bread recipe. My absolute favorite sourdough comes from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco and the recipe I used from The Kitchn is adapted from Tartine’s method, but for the home baker.

sourdough starter, water, water, flour, flour, salt



It blows my mind just a little (okay, a lot) that you can transform water, flour, and salt into a deep golden loaf of perfection. Whether you purchase, receive, or make your own sourdough starter, what you have in your jar is wild yeast that requires regular feeding. Feeding basically means stirring in equal weights of water and flour. [Note: While some may insist that I’ll have to pry their measuring cups from their cold dead hands, a kitchen scale eliminates the inaccuracies of volumetric measurements.] As the little yeasties digest the sugars in their food and produce energy by the process of fermentation, they create byproducts of carbon dioxide and ethanol. The carbon dioxide forms bubbles in your starter. That’s how you know it’s alive and active.

If you don’t feed your starter, it will eventually die. This was my biggest hangup with baking sourdough bread – was I going to kill my starter? Thankfully, you don’t have to babysit your starter daily if you don’t want to or are unable to. The lower temperature of the refrigerator slows the metabolism of the yeast such that a single feeding can sustain the organisms for a week or more. And if you are going to be away from your starter for longer than a few weeks, you can always make a backup. But a healthy and active starter should probably hang out on your kitchen counter at room temperature, receiving regular feedings for a few consecutive days, before making your bread. I typically feed my starter in the morning, and it is ready for use about 8 hours later.

The recipe I followed makes two 1-pound loaves of sourdough and calls for one tablespoon of starter. I halved the recipe and used a half tablespoon or 8 grams of starter. The starter gets mixed with flour and water and is left to feed overnight. This is the levain (leaven) – the stuff that makes your bread rise. As our municipal water is treated with chlorine, I use purified water for the levain (there is always some leftover from my kombucha-making) as I don’t want to kill my baby yeasts. Alternatively, I could let my tap water sit out for a day as chlorine is pretty volatile and will evaporate naturally.


weighing the water for the levain

mixing the levain

bubbly the next day



The levain should be bubbly and light and expanded the next day. I usually give it a sniff to make sure it’s a little sour smelling, a little alcoholy. Is it bad that I like sniffing sourdough starter? You can take a small spoonful of levain and drop it into water. If it floats, it’s ready to use. Stir the levain into the water until it is dissolved, then mix in the flour. You can use all-purpose flour or bread flour. I accidentally used all-purpose flour on my first attempt and then made sure to use bread flour on the second attempt. The bread flour dough was easier to work with, and I think the texture and flavor were better than the all-purpose flour loaf too. Also, if you have a Danish dough whisk languishing away in a drawer somewhere (like me), this is the perfect time to use it. It incorporates the flour so easily and quickly! The dough should look like a shaggy mess with no dry pockets of flour remaining.

Now let that shaggy mess rest for 30 minutes to 4 hours. This process, called autolyse, allows the flour to absorb the water and begins gluten development. I let mine rest for 4 hours (and went skate skiing on the local Nordic trails). And because I never know which factors of my kitchen (high altitude, cold, aridity, etc.) are going to impede my culinary endeavors, I cover the bowl with plastic wrap rather than a kitchen towel to prevent the dough from drying out, and I set the bowl atop the refrigerator where it is slightly warmer and out of Neva’s reach.


dissolve the levain in water

add the flour

mix it into a shaggy dough



**Jump for more butter**

neva’s year is coming

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Recipe: taiwanese fluffy pancakes (zhua bing)

Chinese New Year is Friday, February 16th this year and it’s going to kick off the Year of the Dog. Neva is particularly excited about this. Actually, she could care less, but I’ll take any excuse to celebrate our lovable canine companions. And who am I fooling? Every year is the year of the dog at our house, right?


fetching on sunny days

playing on snowy days



I had grand plans of pulling off a Chinese New Year’s Eve feast and inviting friends over to celebrate, but something in my head is telling me to lay low and keep things mellow this year. Or maybe I’m simply adjusting to my life being dictated by the schedules of several fermenting foods of late. Whatever it is, I’m trying to keep the stress levels to a minimum and sanity at a maximum.

Okay, maybe sanity at a little less than maximum. See, I always feel compelled to try at least one new Chinese recipe for the Lunar New Year. If you are a fan of Chinese scallion pancakes, these Taiwanese fluffy pancakes or zhua bing are similar, but more fun.


flour, boiling water, cold water, star anise, sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, more flour, salt, vegetable oil, chinese five spice, scallions



I didn’t grow up eating this style of pancake, but my parents would sometimes order it as a side dish at Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area when we visited my Grandma in California. Most of the time they arrived plain – made from flour, water, salt, and oil – with concentric layers of hot delicate, crisp-edged dough. I could be mistaken (likely with my poor understanding of Mandarin Chinese), but I always thought zhua bing meant “grab pancake” as in, pull it apart with your hands. This version is flavored with spices, scallions, and sesame seeds.

mix the salt and flour together

mix the boiling water in the center well

stir in the cold water

the dough will be rough and shaggy

knead until smooth and cover with damp cloth for 30 minutes



**Jump for more butter**