enzyme bread tech

JohnD's picture



Most of us are aware that modern commercial bread had all sorts of additives which are supposed to “improve” the bread….bread “improvers”. The function of the improvers is to strengthen gluten, strengthen dough, improve handling, improve crumb structure, delay staling and so on. The results are the impossibly soft and white stuff which means “bread” to most consumers in the industrialised, largely western European-influenced world. I need not go into the quality of this type of bread, save to say it is clearly deficient in nutrients and fibre, both of which cannot be replaced by the addition of chemical vitamins and “fibre”.

The additives in bread cause increasing anxiety to many, with the ingredients label being more like a chemical formula and taking up a large part of the label. Those who inadvertently glance at the ingredient list are often shocked at the extraterrestrials indwelling, and may well wonder why bread needs all of these things, when the label on a good tasty wholesome sourdough will read Flour, water, salt. We`ve come a long way.

In order to avoid the lists of modifying chemicals on bread labels, and to increase the shelf-life of bread, not to mention creating light high breads from various grains not usually used in bread making, the new technology is using enzymes instead of chemicals. Briefly, enzymes speed up and catalyse reactions, and are an incredibly important and natural part of living processes. They would seem to be innocent additives deserving the title natural, and would appear harmless because of their natural origins. Most will hate reading this, but bakers often spat in their doughs because saliva contains necessary enzymes which speed up the fermentation of flour. Modern tech takes the same enzymes and uses them for the same purpose albeit not from human saliva. Far from it. The new enzymes are usually “functional” enzymes, carefully bred to perform highly specific functions, seems harmless or benign doesn’t it? Which is exactly the spin on these new,”novel” enzymes.

One of the most common and widely used new enzymes is something called maltogenic alpha amylase, which is used to increase shelf life. It prevents the re-crystallizing of starch ..staling..and bread stays soft for days longer than usual…meaning it can be sit on a shelf longer, be sold days later yet still be “fresh”. There are many others being developed, but its useful to focus on this one as its indicative of the processes involved with all of them really. One of the companies involved in this new bread tech describes their new enzyme like this ..“we have cloned and expressed a novel maltogenic alpha amylase from bacillus stearothermophilus on plasmid in bacillus subtilis. Originally the plasmid was very unstable…but was stabilised due to a spontaneous copy number reducing mutation”….…reassured? What their chemists have done is to take, clone, an enzyme generating fraction existing in bacillus stearothermophilus and combined it with a plasmid from another bacteria, then allowed it to mutate until a stable mutation was formed. A plasmid is a piece of an organic molecule which is not involved with its chromosones and can replicate independently. So this is recombinant technology, splitting up the structure of an existant molecule and adding a bit from another one to it to create a novel combination…also known as genetic engineering or molecular biology. Plasmids have all sorts of functions from conferring selective advantages to killing other bacteria and conferring anti-biotic immunity to bacteria. They can rapidly spread through a bacterial population. The chemists don’t know what the new creation will do, and in this case have lucked-on a stable form which they can then experiment with.

The bacillus used for the experiment, stearothermophilus, is an interesting one. It is highly resistant and is usually the one which will cause spoilage in those ultra long-“life” (UHT) products. Being gram-positve, its in the same class as those which produce anthrax, gastroenteritis, botulism, tetanus, diphtheria and meningitis. The bacillus from which the plasmid was taken is also interesting in that while generally thought to be benign, it “could be expected to temporarily inhabit the skin and GI tract of humans” and “ gene sequence transfers can occur between bacteria, and B subtilis has shown the expression of toxins from pertussis, diphtheria and pneumoniccocal bacteria”, also, “b subtilis can produce toxins as enzymes which disrupt mammalian cell membranes and cause allergic reactions in people continually exposed (as in bread production…consumption?) and finally, “there are reliable examples of infections caused by b subtilis, generally in immuno-compromised people, ranging from endocarditis, fatal pneumonia and septicaemia”. The point that gene transfer “can occur” is underlined by the fact that this bacillus is used for this very purpose, being compliant!. In the same manner  genetic modification is bullishly foisted on us as being safe, the US EPA found “no inreasonable risks with the use of these strains for enzyme production in fermentation facilities”…what you may ask is “unreasonable risk”?

It’s a case of the scientific community just saying, “trust us…we`re scientists” which is about the most un-scientific rationale one could offer. There are no double blind trials on any of this, which is the heart of the scientific method.  This is the new “faith healing” or “faith in technology” mind-set which deeply contravenes all that modern science is supposed to stand for. We unwittingly will be the human trial, but even without a double blind! How  does one then prove that  allergies aren’t caused by this technology, or how does the “scientific” community prove that your allergies (or gastroenteritis) aren’t caused by one of these novel organisms in your bread? Heat as in the baking process,denatures an enzyme, which simply means it becomes inactive and loses its shape, however the protein molecule is not broken down into amino acids…its still there.

While it is easy to scaremonger about this sort of technology in our food, that certainly isn’t my intention, and it is usually the only thoughts offered back by the “faith-scientists” as accusations…again deeply unscientific. No scientist can honestly assert that the scientific method is being followed in the genetic modification of foods. This sort of organism is being slid sideways into our foods as the innocuous replacement for those nasty sounding chemicals, which may even prove to be innocuous compared to the genies released from GMO vase.

The solution is to join the rapidly growing number of people who choose to make their own bread from ingredients they can  trust, or to support those bakers who make good honest trustworthy bread, even if the price is higher….what price your wellbeing?














JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 14

Damn just lost the whole new post!!! back to the drawing board!


Your high falling number-crop rejection scenario is accurate for sure.....typical corporate tactics.

When I was in full commercial swing, one year our doughs were suddenly sticky, we went into damage mode and i was on the phone asking why...the (Victorian) crops had been rained on at harvest time and all the wheat was sprout damaged, the situation remedied as you suggest by mixing with interstate flours. Australian flours rarely have this low falling number. I was inadvertently making this worse because my standard practice was to sprout wheat, grind it and add to the leavens which produced flavoursome bulky doughs.

Im beginning to wonder if this sprout damage isnt common in the UK as English flours seem to make dense wholemeals no matter what. Elizabeth David mentioned this and it suprised me, as Australian flours produced well-textured wholemeals. Tuscan BD flour ive used  recently produced similar wholemeals to Australian...dry/warm climates. Its a problem with "local" as the whole crop can be similarly damaged, making the "local" bread damp and heavy....unless we have recourse to wheat from Gleadhalls etc ( thanks for the link).

Anybody noticed the occasional advert at the bottom of the page, via google, for enzymes from genetech lol

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 14

Hi again John

agree with most of what you write but isn't this bit contradicting rest of your mail?

[quote=JohnD]I think the enzyme levels in sourdough are from the leaven process, not so much endemic to the flour, although of course there are enzymes there.[/quote]

not sure you can get enzymes basically out of thin air? Surely at least there must be an enzyme load starting point for sourdough ferments within the flour and/or starter?

Of couse rain during harvest is notorious in UK and its precisely enzymes getting active just before or during sprouting moisture level that produces your sticky dough etc - one harvest example from Doves Farm so falling numbers have gone from 277 to a really low 124 here in five days in 2010. Don't forget that wheat has been bred millenium ago to be much faster and reliable to germinate than a wild grass. But

1) at Brockwell Bake we are lucky to have grain from 3 farms south from London so our chances of having stuff to blend is much better than relying on one farm. Rain during harvest period is often similar to the present pattern, localised rain storms. Unfortunately as our farmers were telling us yesterday the small farmers loose out to the mega farms when it comes to being serviced by contractors at harvest so if they haven't got their own combine - which fortunately all ours have - they tend to suffer the most from not being able to get crop in nicely. Another tactic if one has the capacity is to store vintage grain from years with really low enzyme activity and/or especially good protein for blending with not so good years.

2) bakers need the information from the millers and then the knowledge how to use this info - as with your example of cutting the sprouted grain addition to your doughs.


CaperAsh 2011 May 14

Maybe I should first review the initial post but I won't. This thread has got me thinking but I don't have time right now for more research so if this is confused or confusing, my apologies. Still, it might also be interesting/helpful.


Since becoming a baker every few weeks I keep coming back to an ongoing contemplation around the musing question: 'what is bread?' The question can approach bread from many angles, all of which are fine.


Now in terms of this thread, I've been musing about enzymes and fermentation. Enzymes to me denote a certain amount of inherent life force and presumably starter cultures do better with an enzyme rich diet.


Meanwhile there is the phytic acid business, or rather the fact that when you grind a grain in that state it's growth potential is blocked/locked until various things (warmth, moisture etc.) begin the sprouting process. Now exactly what the state of ground flour is I don't know. It can't sprout but at the time of being ground it was in stasis, which stasis apparently, accompanied as it is by the presence/control of phytic acid (and no doubt other things), causes this all to be labelled an 'anti-nutrient' because it goes against many of the digestive processes.


It is my loose impression that proper sourdough fermentation, even working with phytic-acid rich flour, can somehow emulate what happens with the sprouting process turning an anti-nutrient substance into a nutritious one.


Seems to me that the ideal bread might be the sprouted sort but of course it takes a lot of work. I am going to start a small sprouting operation this summer mainly to have a daily vitamin drink, but the automated 5-tray system will make it quite easy for me to start experimenting with sprouted flour baking. I can bake the sprouts at low temperature in the brick oven and then keep them, dried, until grinding them just before soaking and leavening the next bake day. Should be interesting.


But somehow in this discussion I am sort of missing what the point of discussing enzymes is. Is it the difference between natural and good ones - and their effect in the baking process - and the artificial additive ones?


Finally, the thing which amazes me still is the way in a which a starter culture population naturally forms around the ground grain mixed with water. Mixing it with water presumably activates many of the enzymes involved in the sprouting process even though, now the grains are chopped up, they lack the brain power, so to speak, to form sprouts any more. Still, chemically they change when soaked and also the sourdough feeding process seems to make what was previously rather undigestible into something healthy. This is partly because of the breaking down of the component elements, but also because it synchronises with friendly flora in the gut and meanwhile, to cap it all off, these cultures self-regulate to maintain themselves consistently and also act as a natural preservative.


Whether or not one believes in God per se, I simply cannot regard all this as 'random' as in the modern evolutionary theory which seems like a kindergarten level over-simplification in comparison to the amazing creativity, complexity and elegance of actual, natural processes.


Like making bread!

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 14

well maybe the point is the discussion? My blog was about the use ofGM  bacteria to produce variant enzymes which can perform an unusually thorough job on digesting starch to maintain bread freshness for so long it could outlast the pyramids...which is in my opinion , too wierd for a food, so the process is suspicious, and especially the bacteria they use.....cue natural sourdough bread...it stays "fresh" for ages, enzyme action inbuilt...how stupid is all that technology, it doesnt benefit people, just a way to make $....and food needs to benefit people....thats its nature

.Ive made sprouted wheat breads since first tasting them in California in the late 70`s from the original Essene bakery, and thinking it was the best thing id ever eaten....Im working for a company which makes  quite a few types of sprouted grain breads, and been doing the research to write up on their website.....its impressive and yes the Phytic/anti-nutrient thang is deactivated and nutrients are increased, lysine a limiting amino acid  in grains is even synthesised...yep its a beautiful wondrous process...just add water! Laurels bread book has a good section on how to make good sprouted breads.

I always used fresh ground sprouted wheat and rye in my commercial sourdough breads, it works magic. Peter Reinhart is raving about bread made from sprouted wheat flour...he says its the next best thing!!.... but the sprouting has to be accurate as for malting....so good luck with that and let us know your results...i will be doing same as soon as can get the dehydrator.


CaperAsh 2011 May 14

Gotcha re discussion. Grass is the preferred food of ruminants. Wheat is a grass. Discussions about bread by nature should be ruminatory!


Sprouted breads: have you published some recipes? I have Laurel's and will consult. I did read something from the Essene Gospels I think which involved sprouting, packing it into a disk and then baking on a rock in the sun. Makes sense to me.


Am I right, logically speaking at least, that in theory if you sprout the grain that you really don't need to ferment it any more. It's thoroughly edible as is (i.e. as a sprout). So in theory also one could simply low temp bake squashed sprouts, but on some level the only purpose 'baking' would serve (here I go wondering what bread is again, albeit in this context) would be to reduce the moisture in order to prevent rapid decay.


Alternatively when making this great bread you are talking about, what is going on? Adding sprouted grain to increase complexity of flavour and lifeforce quotient? Presumably when you bake you kill all enzymes so no benefit there nutritionally except insofar as the enzymatic dynamic has managed to liberate nutrients from the grain before the bake. Seems to me that sprouting does the best job of liberating the nutrients, but then a sprout is not the best thing to turn into bread.


I suspect that once I get my sprouting routine going that there will be many experiments going on around here.... My problem with this, though, is that I really like simple techniques and processes. I hate being overly bound by a clock or using tight temperature control, or having too many phases in a recipe. Using sprouts seems like quite a lot of work. On the other hand, it really might be worth it. Guess I'm going to have to find out the hard - but hopefully also fun - way. First though, I look forward to drinking the wheat grass juice. I want to see what it does to my teeth for one thing!




Panevino 2011 May 16

I think that millers have to start taking bakers' concern/bussiness to heart.  Sometimes, it seems, that they mill whatever grain shows up at their door and then pass it along to the baker, the end user.  It's like they're saying, here you go, figure it out.  The baker s left holding the bag.   Sure there are tricks and techniques to compensate for their faults, up to a point.  I recently called the quality control dept of a mill and spoke to a guy, who, after making some suggestions on how to make the flour work, recommended their dough conditioner as the possible solution to my woes.  Seems it's all working in concert.  One year later, I asked for a sample of said conditioner.  It came in a very nice shinny black foil bag.  I may try it out ... just to see.  Or I may use it make make corn likker!


Edit - wanted to add this comment to the end of the thread, but it showed up here!  Posting lately is mystery, just like baking!

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 17

Yes, but there are real millers around who dont do that. Yes the corporate mills design their flour to be used with their "improvers", neat huh!

 Im working for a company which does it well, we extensively test all grain and blend it to achieve consistent results..and provide personal follow up and trouble-shooting....no "improvers" here!!...find a real mill/miller mate.

CaperAsh 2011 May 15

First a complaint: this is a seminal thread - potentially - and is very hard to follow because of the ability to embed replies to particular posts, i.e. one post does not follow another chronologically. Perhaps the latter is better and posters can include snippets of what they are replying to instead? Just a thought.


FIrst a report: I sold out at the FM because I already have a following in town, which is nice. More importantly, though, I have a nice story to share with you guys because I know you will understand that I'm not really boasting although it will sound that way. More on that at the end:


A stalwart Polish lady client who buys a loaf or more every week just got back from a visit with family in Europe including several weeks in Paris. I sent her to Poilane which I had read about here and elsewhere and she reports back that it's no good now and there are several commercial outlets. Fair enough. Then she says that she tried many different boulangeries in Paris, including organic ones, many VERY good ones, and she still likes mine the best!


Wait a minute, I think, several hours later, if my bread is better than any in Paris, does that make me...... the best baker in the world?!!!


Why not really boasting: well, as you guys here all know, a good sourdough baker does very little. (More on THAT later!). I keep a natural culture which I never made, simply hosted (flour and water, nothing else).

I mix that culture with more flour, more water and sea salt. I don't knead it. I stretch and fold once or twice but if I don't it doesn't make all that much difference truth be told. I wait. I put it in a hot oven having either shaped it or put it in metal loaf pan. I take it out of the oven. I cool it, then eat it or sell it. Why this is so much hard work I don't know but it is. And it isn't. The point is, I do the MINIMUM possible and get VERY good results!  The bread is good, if I say so myself. I think this is because of the minimal approach on the one hand, and high quality flour, water and salt on the other. ( I have Viktor Shauberger technology 'revitalized' water from dug well, and Marison Portuguese Sea Salt and La Milanaise flours, either stone or fresh ground by myself for the 'pudding' or vollkorn loaves.)



So that's why I am not boasting: good bread is not made by me so how can I take credit for it? I think there is a big lesson here, one that exposes the hubris of the modern mechanistic scientific approach that leads to the systemic neurosis that more is better, or that manipulation/technique always is superior to letting things be. Just a thought.


I am intrigued and disturbed by a comment above somewhere about how maintaining a sourdough culture is a very tricky art.


First, (touch wood 1000 times!!!) I started a natural culture a year or so ago from flour and water and ever since have used it at least once a week, leaving very little in the bowl after use and filling up with 100% hydration flour and water, waiting 2-5 hours, then putting in 35F fridge. It is always good and I've never had the slightest problem. Am I lucky ( in which case maybe forces other than objective mechanistic 'reality' are in play, aka good karma good luck!) or does keeping the cultures cool cut down drastically on the trickiness of keeping vibrant cultures? I suspect the latter.

On that subject: just met new neighbours moving in from Germany. They have a friend 30 km away, also a German and an ex brewmaster who I want to meet, who sent me a message, via his friends these new neighbours, that I should learn how to dig into the earth to make a steady 8 degree Centigrade cool storage area. They didn't say why he suggested it and if relevant to this forum I will report back but I suspect this is because he, knowing know from these new neighbours that I am a serious sauerteig baker, he thinks I need this natural 'keller' for the sourdough cultures, i.e. it's a natural fridge which keeps the starter well controlled.


Food for thought there in terms of maintenance techniques....


That French baker in Vermont, Gerard Rubaud, who seems like a real master (http://www.farine-mc.com/2009/11/meet-baker-gerard-rubaud.html ), has to tend to his starter every 5 hours night and day I think, and has done so for decades. That is a bit much! (On the other hand, maybe that is why he is a real master, he is just following the natural order and has discovered that this way the cultures thrive the best and why he doesn't regard that as hard work, per se, just what is necessary.) Excerpt:

"A good levain has a delicate and complex flavor, it must taste like a ripe pear or peach. The only way for the baker to get these aromas is to control the production of acids. Gérard feeds his levain every five hours, which means that he never sleeps more than five hours at a stretch or leaves the bakery for longer than that. When he needs to go away for a few days, he dries it up. Exceptionally he may put it in the fridge for 12 hours at a time (but then he makes sure the temperature never goes below 46 degrees F/8 Celsius) to avoid losing some tasty acids.
Gérard says jokingly that he is a slave to his levain but almost in the same breath, he says that what he loves about his job is that it is constraint-free. I suspect he doesn't see what he does as a job. It is his life, his "raison-d'être". He shares his days and nights with Jojo and Bibi, his two black labs who seem to love bread with the same passion. They never come close either to the dough or to the loaves (they even act as though they didn't exist) but the minute they hear the crunch of the bread knife in the kitchen, they rush in, sit and wait, tongue lolling, eyes shining. They always get a slice. Clever puppies!"


My starters work well, although they vary from bake to bake depending upon temperature and humidity and I still wonder if this is due to my lack of mastery or whether the mastery will develop as I learn to adapt to the conditions and not expect exactly the same results every time.

On pasting in and re-reading the excerpt from Gerard I have to say: I have on occasion had the fruity taste aroma he describes, though in my case I find it closer to autumn apple. But I know what he means. It is the best. You know it. And it is what I look for with each bake. And don't yet get. If he is getting that consistently, he is indeed a master, in my book. I intend to ask him. And if so, I will try to be one of the people who spend a week with him. For that - learning in depth about the starter cultures etc. - given that we do so little else as sourdough bakers in terms of the minimalism sketched out above, is the MAIN job we have to learn, the underlying skill.


Another German friend of mine from Bavaria said that the old bakeries changed their output and technique based on the moon cycles, indicating (to me at least) that they didn't expect exactly the same results every time. ... Or maybe they did expect - and get  - the same results, but they understood that the nature and behaviour of their starter and flour would change depending on moon, temperature, humidity, mood of their wives and so forth, and adapted to all of that to the point that they could still get consistent results.


This expectation of the same, of repetition, echoes the modern cultural and scientific fallacy of postulating a predictable, dependable, essentially unchanging 'objective' (aka scientific) truth or reality separate from consciousness-awareness.


In other words, there is more to bread than ingredients and techniques.





JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 15

Ive had similar accolades, but you know Bread can only get so good...theres a plateau where its all good. I think there are lots of "best bakers in the world" and most of them arent the well publicised groovy dudes....but they are all sourdough bakers for sure. Imagine those bakers of the past who believed their bread was made to rise by nature spirits....im sure their bread was as good as anything which is made today by those who know all the sciency stuff....probably definitely better!

It was the Barm culture which is hard to maintain and lots of work...sourdough is the easiest possible way to make bread....thanks to the nature spirits lol....

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 15

Hi all

well I sprouted some barley and wheat a couple of days ago. Seems to me there are quite a few questions and parameters that can be changed. How to long to allow before kilning/drying off? What temperatures for how long?

I had grain sprouting in tupperwares with cling film loosely over top to stop other things getting in on the act but today with barley I have problem that a few grains that were clearly infertile have therefore started to go mouldy so decided to stop things (roots are quite well developed on sprouted - about 3mm). Sun drying I have kind of rejected since chance of more bugs intruding - so have put in wood fired oven that was used yesterday and is curretnly 67C. I think this will be enough to kill off sprouting without denaturing amylases but does anybody have figures? - clearly this kind of temperature and time of kilning control is a standard part of malting - see this list for instance http://www.muntons.com/homebeer/other-products/grain_malt.asp or this for baking http://www.fermex.co.uk/products/p_malted.htm. Fortunately I have moisture metre so at least I will be able to measure when have got grain down to a good moisture for milling.

If one is trying to focus on "pitching" a particular yeast into this wort/starter material how can one minimise risk of other yeasts from grain surfaces etc getting in on the act?

Called in at http://thekernelbrewery.com/ yesterday and had good preliminary chat with Evin and some others of his brewers - really encouraging (they rather demolished the bread samples I was carrying intended for one of our farmers). Basically their main in-house yeast is a "clear" Californian strain that is designed to add nothing (or as little as possible) to other ingredients other than alchol obviously - I don't think what I am interested in at moment. However they also use a British yeast http://www.danstaryeast.com/products/windsor-ale-yeast (described as giving a full bodied fruity British ale style) for one of their best known creations, their London porter http://thekernelbrewery.com/tastingnotes.html so I think I will concentrate on this to start with. For more out of the way taste properties I was told to go for Belgian and so on yeasts that have strange esters to add and one of the brewers said he will bring a selection in for me next Saturday.

Due to visit Evin O'Riordain for a secondary chat after a (very late) wheat sowing at the local Tower Bridge Primary School on Tuesday - armed with Elizabeth David and Kirkland for a brewers view on all these barm preparation recipes.


CaperAsh 2011 May 15

Yeah, well I trust you do understand I was joking about it. A nice thought, though, nevertheless...

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 15

Sounds very positive Andy. All my books are in OZ, but I know there are very specific parameters for malting. The sprout has to be a certain ratio of the length of the grain...seems like oversprouting is the worst...keep dredging for info, its there.  You could always just pitch the yeasts into a wort made from malt extract and water. Remember as well that almost nobody will be able to say anything much about the Barm process because its long gone and they will have as you say a brewers take, which ive found to be unhelpful really. Just get some of the top yeast from their brew as it heads.

The easiest way to make a barm bread is to use the organic yeast because as i said, its made faultlessly, and is in fact "barm yeast"...after growing this on a stiff dough, then liberating it in a malt-rich sponge, as the English bakers did, the results are fantastic....unlike any "yeast" bread.

CaperAsh 2011 May 15

Re: "The easiest way to make a barm bread is to use the organic yeast because as i said, its made faultlessly, and is in fact "barm yeast"...after growing this on a stiff dough, then liberating it in a malt-rich sponge, as the English bakers did, the results are fantastic....unlike any "yeast" bread."


Forgive if you have gone over this before ad nauseam but being new here I find that intriguing and would appreciate just a little more detail specifically about what you mean by a 'malt-rich sponge as the English bakers did'. Have you published a step by step recipe that walks you through a good example or could you write one out for us please? 


I read recently somewhere how backferment is made with honey in the mix. So I am going to add honey to my initial starter build next bake just to see if it invites some different flavours into the resultant loaf. Just a few spoonfuls in about 2 kilos of starter. But this malt-rich business sounds closer to the nature of bread/wheat per se.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 15

Yes im actually working on a book which will have the details, but i did outline them briefly in the "Natural Tucker Bread book" which i published in 1982, in the "Scotch bake" recipe which ive considerably refined. I used to make that bread in the late 70`s and it was very popular.

Im dubious about putting honey in bread. I think the sugars are not fermented by any of the sourdough critters, and so its all about residual taste...but in India and in the Ayurvedic tradition they are phobic about heating honey at all, especially baking with it, as they say it produces "ama" in the body which is a sort of toxic residue...eventhough there is this German tradition of cooking with honey and honey cakes.....im with the Indians on this....enjoy the essence of nature, honey, fresh ON the good bread I say. Steiner has some ideas about baking with honey, which is the bakferment idea which I find implausible, and the breads ive seen baked this way by biodynamic/steiner fans are very unimpressive...simple sourdough as you know wins hands down.

CaperAsh 2011 May 16

Fair enough. It makes sense. Personally I have always liked the idea of letting nature grow the starter using the ingredients you will then bake with, i.e. flour and water. Why mess with a good thing. I did read about the backferment getting excellent results with non-wheat things and I am overdue to play around with making a very good fermented corn cornbread. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.


This is probably the wrong thread for the following question but maybe not in that answering it - if you or anyone else can - might further clarify some of the enzyme related issues in terms of where those z's fit in with other things like yeast, bacteria, temperature, humidity.


OK: Bake Day two days ago featured cooler than usual temps (about 50 F overnight) with MUCH higher than usual 80% humidity. Now I have a hard time during spring-fall because it is now too warm outside for my woodstove to draw well (short chimney) so the house ends up being cooler than during the winter.


My usual starter is 12% of total weight mixed in during the evening. Then the loaves are shaped to proof/prove for 4-5 hours before being baked. Usually it's about 18 hours from start to finish. My typical hydration is 68-72% depending on flour, slightly less for spelt onlies.


OK. So Bake morning I am up at 7 having finished mixing around 12.30 am. So it didn't have that long. The dough is not as developed as usual. I had used 10% starter versus 12% because of the extremely high humidity, the same as the previous week which featured the dough being ready sooner than usual. But the temperature was quite a bit lower overnight.


Anyway, the dough is not as developed/risen but since this is a big bake for me (100 items in oven) for first day at main FM in town, I need more time to build up heat in the oven anyway so I think all is well. But then the dough during shaping seems still to have not really got good lift off and then during the next 4-5 hours it never really rises except the rye which has a rye only starter. But that exact same starter doesn't seem to get the 'pudding' or 'fresh-ground vollkorn' rye loaf rising and usually that is totally dependable.


And then by the time I get to put them in the oven, both the 100% wholewheat and the 35% Spelt & White are puddling like they are totally over-fermented. But they never rose, remained very sticky instead of rising and getting unsticky to the touch.


Now the bread was still all delicious, but definitely not my best loaves visually. The spelt whites were like huge pancakes, although one which stuck to the peel more than the others and I ended up folding onto itself rose beautifully and you would never guess it was a 'nightmare' loaf going in.


So does anyone have any idea what might have been going on? I ask because it seems to me that although the dough puddled in the same way it does when it is over-proofed (happens in heat of August when I'm not careful), this one never seemed to really get going. My pet guess theory is that the humidity over-favours the bacteria or perhaps enzyme action (not sure of the difference to be honest so that's a question right there) at the expense of the yeast action, which latter produces gas and the rise.


Apart from the overly flat WW and Spelt loaves (the 35% Rye and 65% white loaf came out picture perfect), the crumb in all loaves is basically fine, if a little more moist and compact than usual.


So the crumb is fine; the flavour is good. The dough sort of collapsed but then it never rose.


Anyone understand what happened there? I went through something very similar last August but then it was VERY hot and VERY humid AND it was my first month baking sourdoughs in a brick oven so there was just too much going on at once for me to learn much from it. I am surprised this is happening in a similar fashion now, the only common factor I can tell off hand being high humidity.


Seems to me that humidity and sourdough cultures - at least my one grown here in Cape Breton Nova Scotia - are something to pay real attention to. But maybe there is something else going on..... Does humidity effect enzymatic breakdown or is this a different way of saying the same thing?

Panevino 2011 May 16

Somedays when I'm losing heart I come here and read one of John's threads and I regain my strength and commitment to making good bread.  Thanks John, your passion is absolutely uplifting ... and contagious.

HVHB 2011 May 18

 Been watching this thread but haven't had time to post all the things I'd love to say to everything above.  This is a great discussion thread.

On the note of the Barm process, I don't know if it's really anything like Barm as such, but I cultured a yeast culture from a bottle of unpasteurised Australian beer and the results were fantastic. 


If anyone's interested:

I initially fed a leaven of one 375ml bottle of beer, sediment swirled up and included, with liquid malt extract and water with a small amount of flour.  Each day I fed it with more flour and less malt extract for about a week before I baked a bread that out-stripped any brewer's yeast bread I have ever tasted.  

It was definitely a yeast bread, but the flavour was more complex, it rose more than a yeast bread during the oven spring, and it had a pleasant "freshness" - as opposed to the cloying yeasty flavour - despite (or as part of) its complexity.  I gave it to a few "sourdough" diehards who couldn't believe it was a yeast bread.


I have this leaven still going, but it is now "contaminated" with numerous other cultures and is now a "sourdough" leaven.  I suspect that, by now, the lactobacillus, candida and other cultures have now well and truly out-competed the saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer's yeast), but it might have a cell or two still fighting the good fight.  As John says in his "Natural Tucker Bread Book" it only lasts a certain period of time before you need to start again.  I suspect this is because the conditions, and the flour itself, contribute to, and invite, other cultures to grow and "contaminate" the leaven.

I'm keen to replicate this again some day, when I get time.


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 20

ONYA and well done ...how i first started mucking around with the idea years ago, and the bread is as you describe...really good and unlike regular yeast breads whic got me going!. same also for the culture, it becomes a sourdough within weeks as opportune critters over take the delicate ale yeasts, and why the barm brewing process was difficult and demanding because they had to continually re-brew and be on guard against invaders.

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 19

Hi all

some URLs relevant to stuff in this thread

this one gives some clues how to produce different malts, timings, temperatures etc


so I have in fact now produced a mix barley wheat malt which smells lovely and hay like and which I hope I kilned gently enough to retain full diastic activity

how to get a yeast from a bottle - which is quite fun


differences between the alpha amylase in the grain and fungally and bacterially produced. This one I found when I picked up some old print outs to swat a fly - which was rather opportune!


so bacterial is no good for bread keeping qualities and fungal causes "baker's lung" - these author's alternative for diastase action is scalded flour though would have say if the scalding was too hot one would "de-nature" amylases rather than encourage them.

more on the problem of "baker's lung" and fungal amylase


so I had second chat with head brewer Evin at Kernel Brewery yesterday but seeing as both brewing and bottling were in full tilt plus constant stream of orders, visitors and customers the conversation was quite disjointed. Interesting that the concept of a particular brewery using more than one yeast rather than just a single "house" yeast for everything is quite new apparently - and when a good one is got a copy is sent off to a yeast bank for storage in case the one in the brewery changes or gets contaminated. In his opinion the procedures described by Elizabeth David for "washing" yeast may partly stem from brewers of old having more than one yeast in the mix and therefore a procedure to select the ones more suitable for bread making (as she says basically). He was a bit surprised that in Kirkland and David hops were included because of bitter tastes they can add but they will indeed inhibit bacterial activity - so I am including in my experiments at least for time being.

In Kirkland he writes how he tried himself one of barm recipes he gives and succeeded particularly in that you could NOT taste the barm in the bread. I think what I am aiming for is quite different in that I would like to create some breads that are reminiscent of the beers that yeast used comes from. So my initial idea is to try a "porter" bread which is a very dark malty fruity style beer traditional to London and maybe a more strange one using Belgian style yeasts (La Chouffe is one of my favourite beers so I will go with yeast from that and maybe addition of yeast for wheat beer).

So I have culture i made from a bottle of Kernel Brewery porter (and will at weekend get some top froth from next brewing of this) and Evin gave me some hops and pale chocolate malt. I think strategy at moment will be to make essentially a fresh brew which I will then take a proportion of to make a sponge starter fed on flour and my own malt plus a little of the pale chocolate (mostly for colour). The rest of brew I will keep ether to top up starter if it drifts into sourdoughness or re-start starter. Dough itself I think I will leave out any rye and add a touch of wholemeal.

Some first pics here http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/gallery.php?page=6&project=68

One interesting thing Evin the brewer mentioned is how stress can get yeasts to generate extra esters (which give different taste notes etc). Example was pitching in less yeast to a wort than normal, enough so they won't simply disappear but so that they are if anything spoilt for choice what to feed on. He wasn't entirely sure why this would be stressful but I speculated that it would be like putting just two or three cows into a very big field of very high quality grass - in which case a) they would probably overfeed and b) being herd animals would be lonely therefore stressed. I think maybe its what we perpetually do in baking actually but for some more on this re sourdough baking check this paper.(again one I re-found when swatting fly) here.

Anyway - question for anybody

How long should I expect my newly created barm starter to take to raise dough? Note I don't actually know how to use baker's yeast so kind of new to non-sourdough leavening. I am guessing much quicker than average sourdough but I need an idea as I will be baking on Friday with wood oven so can't simply switch on oven when the dough comes ready.



CaperAsh 2011 May 19

This is on a different (more crude) level, but the couple of times I used beer in the recipe (substituting kit-home-brew stout for about 50% of the water in the recipe) I did not notice a significant difference in the timing. There was a more yeasty texture and taste, but also the flavours in the stout came through too. Very simple to do.


When I used scum to make a starter it seems to me that it was about 20% faster. But you can adjust these things, of course, in terms of how much starter relative to flour you are mixing in. It wasn't a dramatic difference. The bread was much more 'yeasty' but very different from anything else I have had. I prefer sourdoughs (my ones at least) because of the soft, chewy texture and smooth aromatic finishes, but both of the beer breads I tried were interesting. Once my operation settles down I intend to regularly offer the first type, which is very easy to make, namely substituting some of the water with home-brew. It adds a conceptual/creative, as well as actual gustatory perk. Or put another way: there are some people who really get a kick out of ordering and eating a 'beer bread'.


Hunter types especially!

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 20

Good stuff Andy...the timing...depends on how much you put in the dough. The barm method seemed to be usually 3 stages, or banfields quarter dough system, but I would make a sponge with the malt and that strong Weald  flour of yours, quite thick, and it should go pretty rapidly...3hrs at the most. if you then basically thicken this to dough texture (not as soft as a sourdough hydration is about 66.6 (!)), but with your softest flour, and plenty of salt, that should be an hour in bulk and an hour in the tins/basket, and because the gluten isnt as degraded as in SD, it appreciates resting between stages.... also this bread springs athletically so it doesnt have to be as fully risen as a sourdough in tins, but if you do it in a basket/banneton, slash it properly to allow it to open because it should expand a lot...lot more than a sourdough....i reckon long/bloomer is best for this process as the cuts may allow better rising and aesthetic than in a round/miche shape..

yes i stopped using hops because of the bitterness which ruined a fantstic batch i`d made.

Thanks for the links.

Australian bakers often used a cooked potato mash rather than flour as the substrate...which can work brilliantly or can go horribly awry!

The scalded flour is as food...damaged starch which allows the enzymes and also other bioids like yeasts to go off in some way im not clear on...perhaps it allows more enzymes into the mix because of the extra easily broken down food and that type of starch really feeds yeasts. Cooked rice, especially Brown rice does the same thing, and really accelerates a ferment, but also takes it in a new sensory direction...the bioids morph according to the substrate..

Also, the yeasts are living... they are like plants and react to selection pressures and similar parameters to plants, and hybidisation with the same results, so they morph and can be made to morph... and quickly because they reproduce so rapidly...plants also react strongly to music...vibrations...and is why some bakers are more successful than others, because they create a tune with the process(become atuned)...same way some people can work with animals and get results which others cant...good vibrations.....my sourdough culture likes dub-reggae, Indian classical music and bands like TransAm.!

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 22


took dough out of mixer at 11.40am, after 7 hours hadn't moved a millimeter! After an hour put in my bed covered by duvet with electric blanket switched on still nothing. Had to go out. Finally on return at 9pm its risen, doubled in size. But there has obviously been quite a lot of enzyme activity as dough now sloppy and hard to handle, though not without life, have had to chop like ciabatta and scoop into banetton for a quick final proof. Of course have had to keep wood fired oven topped up but now no time to add a bit more heat and oven is at 280C - hope will be OK.

Really a bizarre experience, consider I did a starter with the barm the previous evening which took 4 and half hours to full drop - since so relatively fast decided couldn't do overnight dough. Did two over night sourdoughs around 1:30am with just 15% bakers percentage sourdough starter. Though these hadn't got far by 8am showing plenty movement to get on with firing oven quickly. Took barm sourdough out of fridge at 8am, fed 50% extra - immediate movement which halted after an hour, then made dough with this at 50% bakers percentage aiming to have ready to go in as part of second batch in about three hours. I was expecting to be too fast if anything.

With no movement realised that I would have to put barm dough in as a separate third batch. By 4pm still with no movement I then thought maybe I had done some horrible mass murder on the starter by letting it run out food on morning refresh before using. With a healthy sourdough starter even at 5% with current 20C daytime temperature I would expect to see movement. So I refed the little barm starter I had left to test it - super fast rise which took just 2 and half hours to get to full drop on a +100% feed. viz http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/docs/p_b.pdf "re-test" graph etc

So what happened?
pics here http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/gallery.php?page=6&project=68
end result is an extremely malty, fruity loaf with a very chewy but also in parts crunchy crust - would actually like a bit more "twang" myself.

It seems to me easiest explanation of the saga is that without lacto bacilli buffering or because brewers yeasts are used to swimming about in a more liquid environment (and sending and receiving signals from other yeasts through relatively liquid environment) or some combination that when mixed to dough, even though 50% starter quantity and high yeast count in this - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mating_of_yeast - by sourdough standards - these yeasts sensed they were in a relatively low population and very very promptly swapped to haploid reproduction mode (even though plenty of food around I think) - much slower, survival and exploration mode, not the mode which raises dough and mode which requires something akin to sex (a yeast needs to meet α yeast and mate) in order to swap back to diploid/budding fast reproduction mode.

So looking for a solution to this for the future, I checked Kirkland "Modern Baker" on the quarter sponge method he gives as that used in Scotland for barm baking and that John mentioned. Actually the method is three stage process, which it total takes around at least twenty hours - but at one point switches from extremely slow to extremely fast.

Anybody know how heavy was a sack of flour in 1924 - so I can convert Kirkland recipes?


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 23

Yeh its about 120lb, about 60kg im not sure exactly but i worked on 60kg when i converted Banfields recipes i think, but havent got my books with me.

I think its disastrous to have refrigerated the barm...(barm-sourdough?)..im sure those type of yeasts are really demanding of warmth and you may have induced a hibernation response by chilling them. Manipulation of the temperature parameters is one of the major differences between sourdough production and barm in that barm was always very carefully kept warm and protected from draughts.

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 24

Hi John

been through Kirkland's Scotch quarter sponge method now and I don't think 60K is at all right weight for one sack flour, more like +100K -seems at time of Reformation it was 280 lbs but by this time by my calculations somewhere around 240 lbs.

check spreadsheet I have done http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/docs/quarter_sponge.xls of the recipe converted to metric and bakers % etc

the missing figure in Kirklands recipe is the final flour (in the red background box)

the way I have set the file up you can edit the conversion figures in case I have got them wrong (elsewhere in Kirkland apparently 1 and half Scotch pints equals three and half English gallons or something crazy) and then you can alter the total hydration in baker's percentages to give the missing final flour figure (and therefore the weight of a sack of flour)

or from the total salt in recipe (5lb 8oz - 2.49K) by altering that as bakers percentage one can estimate a sack of flour

either way it seems to me around 240 lbs for a sack of flour

who did they get to lift these sacks? I know notoriously every large bakery had a dumb strong man but even so ...

I'll try ringing Dan L to see what he knows.

If my calculations are right and Kirkland's recipe is right the hydration of the first stage (a soft dough) and hydration of second stage (a batter) is not enormously different - 71.5% v 78% - but the rising times are clearly dramatically different - 13 to 14 hours v one to one and half. I think its all about head count of yeast, very precise liquidity and temperature of medium therefore mobility of yeasts and as I speculated before therefore a switch between haploid and diploid reproduction. Basically I think yeasties are got incredibly frustradely horny in first stage and then released into equivalent of orgy situation in second after which they are hurried into making final dough.

I'll test the theory that fridge killed (or knocked out) the barm on what I have left that's been in fridge for several days now - soon. I did refresh with luke warm water and some flour and malt before mixing dough and saw very fast though short rise so I am not sure its explanation as a whole of my experience last week.


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 24

Doesnt really tally. From Banfield, who i recommend you consult as hes way more modern than Scotch and English gallons ????!!!!, and from my own experience, the first stage is a very solid dough, havent measured, but hydration must be about 58%, (12 hours), this is broken into a warm thick  but liquid sponge with malt,which goes off...yes orgy...in max 3 hours, then to dough which is ripe in 1 hour, then shaping and rests about another 11/2 hours, and it springs amazingly in oven.

I think you will find that refrigeration IS disastrous for this process, AND, the yeasts have to be harvested at exactly the right stage so that this is conferred on the first dough. You see, by this stage if you were doing the whole sourdough thing, you would be looking at a loaf of bread....which is why im in awe of the barm bakers, because they had to repeat this regularly, and from what ive read/experienced, it is very much more skillful and demanding than sourdough....it would also help to have a brewery next door and a system in place...but even then, the breweries sometimes had problems and yeasts had to be sourced from another brewery....ive also read in obscure sources in the past about your exact experience...dough didnt rise...which mystified me as I thought at the time they were talking sourdough, but then discovered they werent, it was ale-yeast-leavening. But clearly the trouble was worth it, and i agree, as the bread is beautiful, especially the wholemeal..long keeping/.best toast imagineable, sweet bread, yet digestible and flavoury....which I also believe was the distinction between manchet and maslyn, except for the rye etc in maslyn, the manchet was always from ale-yeast, hence a "sweet" bread , and the maslyn was SD.

I remember years ago somebody being interviewed by Parky and him talking about his pre-war youth and eulogising about the long gone barm cakes, so they were still being made in the period between the WW`s.

I also remember seeing those giant sacks when I was young. They were full of oats for horse feed...and must have been about 60kg or a bit more judging from the size of bags now. I cant concieve that anyone could lift an unwieldy sack weighing 120kg?...and lots of them?...thats 5 current 25kg sacks!

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 25

I was quite impressed to see a Marriage's mill delivery guy carrying 3 x 25K sacks on one shoulder today.

Unfortunately I can't find Banfield text online and only secondhand copy I could afford at moment is at Barnes & Noble from a London UK supplier who turns out not to be known of at their given address and makes regular habit of not fufilling orders.

but an interesting snippet from Kirlkland elsehwere in Volume 1 - chapter on "bread improvers" - some truly scarey chemical stuff they were using at this time, alum and so on. Anyway on rye flour

"Rye flour has long been considered a very eifficent quickener of ferementation, and this attributed to the relatively large amount and nature of the souluble proteids in rye flour. ... The peculiar effect of newly milled wheat flour from stone mills was very similar in kind, but incomparably less in intensity to that noted in rye flour ..."

So there you have it - you don't need "bread improver" other than from the grain but it has to be both fresh and stone ground (ie containing some elements of bran and germ) - unfortunately I don't know many bakers that have this available to them though. Certainly many customers for our Brockwell Bake flour which is normally sold a day or two old report it produces more volume than supermarket brought bread flour - even though its all from only UK grown wheat. Personally I also prefer to use at least most of a bread mix with really fresh flour, and certainly to feed starter, I feel its more 'lively' - though I have started adding maybe 30% to 40% two or three week old stuff to some mixes as well.



JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 25

Yes theres no question men did carry those massive sacks, on the back/shoulder....but it was "back-breaking" work and of course as weve evolved from the days of expendable humans/slaves, now in OZ, no apprentice is allowed to lift more than 25kg....so down the track, Marriages guy might regret that herculanean feat as his back gives out? maybe not, maybe hes a goliath?

! Ive seen pics (and my Dad did it during the great depression), of chains of men with those bags on their backs...rolled on  to their backs as they bent over, unloading a ship...then walked to a stack. ...then do it again!

Kirkland is full of info like that, hidden in there, hes great.......it was well known wasnt it, just been obscured by the corporates.....you would be hard pressed to find a "regular" baker who knew anything of the sort today! As I say, |Banfield was the last of those bakery professionals/writers with anything worth reading, they all became tech-cats by the 50`s, with no real knowledge.

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 26

just to confirm from E. David actually.

In the Midlands a sack of flour was 4 bushels whereas in London and rest of UK 5 bushels. A bushel being a dry volume measure its not exact but typically for UK grain 60 lbs, for imported grain 67 lbs (smaller denser grain typically) and for flour 56 lbs. So a sack of flour in most parts was 280 lbs or 127K. I suppose its possible a sack was a unit of measurement only rather than the sack in common use but nonetheless I would have thought Kirkland would be using this definition.

Windmiller mate cut his sacks to 16K recently so his 90+ mum can continue to lift them - 4th pic http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/gallery.php?project=49

A Scottish pint varied between 3.75, 4 or 4.5 English pints!

What is you best guess for Scotch barm loaf baker's percentage hydration and/or salt (notoriously they like it up there), John? If all other calculations here are right would be salt 1.95% and hydration (including water in all stages) would be 55% - not allowing for the notorious disapearing 3%.

I have refreshed "porter yeast" starter that has been in fridge for 4 or 5 days, it came up more promptly than I would expect of similar sourdough starter (here compared to here), but only by 40% before collapsing back instead of 80% it was doing last week before storage - but I wouldn't expect different from this for a sourdough. Its now doing a second lift at 6 and quarter hours (as mentioned by Kirkland).


CaperAsh 2011 May 25

Nuts! The downloads I got from archive. org do not include Vol I which it appears is the only one of interest. But that doesn't matter. I have John D below to provide all the info I need.

CaperAsh 2011 May 23

This week I switched back to fridge retardation for some of my loaves since it suddenly became very warm - almost 20C versus usual 5-10. Had largest ever load and took too long on top of that getting oven fired and ready with result that most hearth loaves, despite fridge retardation, were over fermented and collapsing/turning to soup.

1. Soup dough baked in loaf pans makes darn good bread, but pancake-like hearth loaves.

2. I cannot prove this but my experience with soup/collapse/enzymatic over-abundance etc. echoes the wise remarks about chilling barm-born populations. In other words, suspect that even though sourdough can be retarded, it unbalances the yeast-bacterial population somehow, favouring some at the expense of the other.


I find it hard to definitively determine since I have less time for pure play experiments - doing different things to same original dough batches in order to learn - and with retardation in fridge am doing it during warm temperature months (usually June - Sep here in Maritime Canada), during which periods, of course, there is greater tendency to get collapses. So how much this is due to imbalance from retardation and how much due to simply using too much starter relative to rising schedule I am not clear on.


In this regard: does any one of the very experienced bakers here have any comments/ guidelines/observations about the difference in breads made with initial low percentage starter, say 5%, versus more typical 15-25%? Assuming each comes out perfectly, what are the principal differences in end result, if any?


I think the next time I brew a batch of beer will start a culture and try one batch with that culture alone and a second with a 50-50 blend of beer/sourdough culture, with the expectation that the latter mix will prove better in that you will get additional flavours and aggressive rise from the beer yeasts, along with more gracious, well balanced fermentation of the natural starter populations.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 24

What % of starter are you putting in the recipe?.

Wow..20 is hot mmmmm....try baking at 40oC or more as we often have to do in Australia...or Spain.

When its 40, the starter has to be refreshed about 3 times per day...and a Spanish friend does the same. But even with 5% leaven, the doughs get to an exponential stage and the fermentation is so rapid , Ive sometimes lost control...nothing works except refrigeration, which I dont use....its interesting that the architectural loaf is an artifact of cool/cold countries.....hot countries make flatbreads, and theres cultural/terroir/climate wisdom in all that....because the food matches the bread as well....more liquid/saucey.

Even using the parameter of time which usually works...ie staggering doughs so they dont all rise simultaneously, is less effective in extreme heat, but 20 should be manageable by manipulating time and the amount of starter used....and the starter should be fresh, not well advanced as then it will convey its advanced acidity and enzymatic load to the bread.

5% starter works , but it may be slow and upset your coordination of WF oven and dough rising....needs to be graphed out carefully. At 20o 10% should be fine. The bread is less sour/acid at that temp, but its difficult to attenuate acidity in 40o+ weather....in fact ive seen doughs in India which just ferment spontaneously-immediately in extreme heat and humidity with no starter added at all.

CaperAsh 2011 May 24

JohnD, thanks for your helpful replies.


My usual % is 10-12%. The starter is built from mother from fridge (first warmed to room temp) in the am and then, after initial build up to amount needed for next day's bake, mixed into the dough in the late pm, around 9-12. Dough ferments overnight, either retarded in fridge or not depending, then is shaped and goes into oven, usually around 2-4 pm. I prefer not to retard in fridge but find it hard to manage otherwise. The solution is probably to go to a three phase, i.e. initial mix in the pm and final mix in the am but I have been holding off for two reasons:

a) I like to keep things simple process-wise

b) I want to have the maximum time for fermentation of all the dough, versus adding half the dough 4-5 hours before the bake, this in the belief that, esp. with whole grains, more fermentation is better. I am aware that perhaps this is false thinking in that the last half of the dough added a few hours before baking can be thoroughly processed by a lively culture, i.e. you are just adding in at the end for the final doubling phase. But I have made breads like that and although good, and with better oven spring and looks, there is something about the mouth feel and taste which I prefer when the slower method comes out perfect. It is, however, tricky and I confess I don't quite understand what is going on when it comes out right versus when it doesn't. Temperature and humidity are at play, clearly.


So I am using a two-phase method and perhaps this is too simplistic but I like to keep things simple.


This week I used 10% but because it was my largest bake to date I took too long with the firing process, letting the coals burn down for 2 hours versus usual one and before I knew it, from starting the fire at 7 am it was 3 pm before first loaves went in instead of targeted 1 pm. So all might have been well.


I shall try lower percentages.


Question: how do you guage starter being 'fresh'? What I do is take mother out of fridge and, to build up say 2 kgs of starter for the evening mix, put in no more than 30% of that from the mother, i.e. 666 grams. Now last week I had to go to town during the day (to pick up wood for oven, I get these great hardwood 8' branches which are perfect) and I had the starter in a heated proofing area because it was cold. But during the day the temp zoomed up and the starter was overheated and over ripe in my opinion. With a rye starter I like to see a well risen but still shape-holding sponge, not something beginning to turn to soup, which this was. With a spelt starter (I do all at 100% hydration which is another issue of course!) it just bubbles away like a poolish and I can't really tell except by aroma and taste. But in terms of rye, is that judgment viz the sponge qualities basically how you determine it? If so, I would say that I let me starter go too far before the mix last time. Perhaps this is an area of my method where I need to be much more precise since it is the launching pad, so to speak, for the resultant bake. The sexual dynamics elucidated in this thread have been a bit of an eye opener. I need to study more! (yeast porn?!) I thought before that as long as I was getting enough healthy yeasties et al into the dough mix that all would sort itself out. Now I am feeling that this is too simple: it's not just numbers but quality, and quality is atmospheric, and/or phase/dynamic sensitive. A vibrant, growing, sexually aroused and fertile culture is different energetically than an exhausted, overly-satiated one even if the latter might actually have greater numbers of living beasties. All this is imagination, but imagination plays a part when managing and harvesting our microscopic worker friends....


Second: I find your description of the different breads for different climates fascinating. I have found that I get the best results from a 72% hydration 'flatbread' which is basically like a ciabatta dough. It goes into the oven about half an inch high maximum and comes out 2-3" high with dramatic crumb structure and extaordinary flavour. I am not getting such results with my hearth loaves and am beginning to feel that I probably have to work with a 3-phase structure. And you are right: given where I live, I should be able to work with the well-structured loaf better. So I must be doing something wrong. The temperature does vary rapidly here on Cape Breton Island and my bakery does not have good temperature controls for both budgetary and ideological reasons, but I should be able to do better at mastering the end result.


Do  you or anyone have a basic recipe with timing for working with wood-fired oven? Perhaps I need to go back to basics and am now ready to really learn and understand the various options in terms of recipes and timing. I really like the rhythm of building starter mix day am, mixing mix day pm, lighting oven bake day am and baking loaves bake day pm but if it has to change, it has to change...

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 25

I have a very different take on fermentation. I was in a similar situation, but in cool weather use starter at40-50%...now this is ripe and confers its ripeness on the dough quickly...it cant get riper. Im not a fan of long long fermentations, its a waste of time....the concept of ripeness, which underlies all baking, is widely misunderstood, and theres so much blah blah hype....as i said, a dough can be fully ripe in 3-5 hours...it cant get any riper with 20 or 30 hours af slow ripening....and I like to have a life outside of the bakery as well, and the guy quoted who spends all his time on his levain...I think thats neurotic....how is  this manifested in the bread? I just dont think it is and doesnt make "better" bread...how much better? by what standards/criteria?..I simply have not observed that and im really critical especially of my own bread....ive had customers come back from a famous bakery in california and tell me to my face that my bread is "better". well thats gratifying and wonderful for ones self esteem, but as I said I do it with a 31/2hr total fermentation with wholemeal and abt 5 1/2 with a white dough, using the age-old concept of ripeness....not for 25 hours, but for 51/2!. Granted im making 120 loaves not 120,000, but i also think thats greedy and rather than open a bigger bakery, help someone open another one to spread the light.....but ive never done it for the $ alone. Beyond excellence, how is "better" measured? its purely subjective from there.

My way is to light the oven first and make sure it was sitting there ready for the bread....it is firing as im making dough and proving. Usually the bread was at perfect stage after 51/2 hours and the oven just perfect...every day, same...in summer i light the oven well in advance as i know the bread will be rapid.Ive kept records of every bake since the 80`s, so i know the parameters and rigidly stick to my graphs of time/oven/bread which ive observed for that period.

By fresh leaven I mean at its peak, before it drops at all...it must be frothy and raging...then when used, this "chi" (which is not a religious concept as somebody opined, its a proto-scientific one) is conveyed to the bread dough and the fermentation will be at a good pace....this is a yeasty phase of fermentation before bacterial overkill, so is a sweeter ferment as well, which i prefer. I time it carefully and vary it depending on the season. Usually the leaven for the(white) dough is made the night before say 8pm. then this is simply knocked back at 7.30am next morning, and made into dough say 10.30 am,bulk ferment for 2 hours,scaled and ready to bake at 4pm(1600hrs). I would take this to the farmers market at 6am next morning and its all sold by 10am, and still beautifully fresh, and good eating for 5 days, usually 7 days really.

CaperAsh 2011 May 26

Well, I am reading through some JohnD blog entries and find this about flours:

"Recently I was in the UK looking at bread and flour. It strengthened my conviction that Australian sourdough is really characterised by the flours we use here. I saw well volumed loaves made from organic English wheat, and missed out on the bakeries using the French organic flour from the Loire…next time…but the Canadian Viagra flours, which are widely used, really do spoil the show. They are just so strong, being able to handle long retarding, and long process times, so they are really popular. But this type of flour always tastes like card board, and doesn’t eat well because of the tough doughs they form which make the texture of the bread tough. In a way they really arent appropriate because they take so long to reach ripeness…everybody uses them green, so that any flavour they have is never released by appropriate fermentation, which if done correctly could  be twice the length of what I do, and I consider possible for flour from Australian prime hard and medium hard wheats. But theres always extra loaves too (strong flours hold more water) which also makes these mega flours attractive."


First, is the term 'Canadian Viagra flours' an insider-joke or does it refer to a specific type? I am interested because although I work mainly with very high quality la Milanaise organic flours, both white and dark, I do find that there is often less taste and aroma than many French baguettes (good ones) that I remember from my years in Europe - not to mention good German, British, Italian etc. Now I have been putting this down to my skill level, but I have many times baked what is clearly a perfectly fermented and timed loaf. You just know. And these are delicious and irresistible. Perfect. But they are still not as good, flavour and aroma wise, as I would like. I am wondering if you or anyone else can quantify the qualities in your excerpt above in terms of ash and other things used to describe flours. Then maybe I can learn what to shoot for and/or work with la Milanaise on something closer to the European style since they already make several different formulations of white, for example recently coming out with a special croissant formulation.


Apologies if this is the wrong place to post this query. If it is, please remove it and tell me where else to post it.

Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 26

I am just guessing but I would think John is referring to grain generally known in Europe as Manitoba - which can refer to grain type and/or the actual region grown. I believe it is actually used a lot in French and Italian milling grists, even though the French in particular may like to sweap this fact under the carpet.

La Milanaise grain research here is intriguing http://www.lamilanaise.com/anglais/recherche_developpement_en.html - what exactly grain types or varieties have they become interested in? The picture second down on right shows crop trials of varieties which appear taller than most modern wheats, certainly the line on the left (though this could be rye) and also right and even the middle one. Is it possible you can get them to pass on names of varieties - are they modern or "heritage" wheats they are researching. I'd be happy to help them source European heritage varieties, both UK and French the nature of which it sounds possible is what they are working towards.

Flavour and aroma I think may, as I suggested before, lead back to the higher enzyme levels in UK and to a certain extent European (Western France - closer to Atlantic) grown wheat compared to wheats grown in land. This may also equate to la Milanaise move away from Western Canadian to Eastern Canadian (coastal?) wheats. Of course Canada won its place in the global wheat market by focusing on strength/protein level (and moving wheat growing progressively further inland and further north, breeding for late frost tolerance and speed of growing) more or less from the beginning, flavour and aroma may have gone out the window from an early stage in resulting Canadian wheat breeding.

BTW got some (Canadian heritage) Red Fife grown as winter corp doing nicely here http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/gallery.php?page=33&project=65 - especially considering no significant rain since beginning of March - and in comparison to other modern red Canadian http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/gallery.php?page=29&project=65 (very low yield, very high protein 16% to 17%)


CaperAsh 2011 May 26

First, let me begin by saying I didn't intend to be critical of Milanaise because I have the strong impression they are a truly superior operation and I for one am very grateful they are there. I am struggling a little with the white flours but their 100% whole wheat gives me terrific results. Soft, chewy, very tasty, extremely easy to work with. Frankly, whenever I work with it and taste the bread I wonder why white flour exists at all. Except when a perfect white loaf comes out!


I believe the Manitoba wheat is Canadian, no? I have heard that the best French bakers for years used a rather specific blend for the best baguettes but have not yet got to the level of researching this type of thing. Certainly I remember both there and in Italy in the 70's and 80's occasionally getting some excellent breads with delicious wheaty aromas and taste, though they were white. But perhaps I just was getting them sooner than usual after being baked? Or perhaps it was from T90 or T80 flour and I just wasn't paying sufficient attention. (I suspect this latter might be it. I'll be experimenting with a Milanaise T90 next order come to think of it.) German bread is so good you take it for granted; but I think I lived there three years and don't remember eating a single piece of white-only bread - except pretzels which I don't really like anyway.


I think you should get in contact with the research group at La Milanaise and see what happens. What I am thinking - from this thread - is that they might be interested in blending in some of the older and softer European wheats into their Eastern stock to get more flavorful, aromatic flours. Elsewhere John D mentions a famous Irish flour, for example. But as someone who grew up in England, I still have enormous affection and respect for British rural culture (without knowing if it still really exists!) and suspect that there may well still exist a few pockets of pricelessly excellent tasty wheat fields whose strains, like spelt back in the 80's, deserve to be revived. And La Milanaise is the sort of operation, I suspect, which might be open to exploring this - although of course they might approach anything from England with a little initial pudeur! Still, they don't turn up their noses at Canadian wheat, and in any case they are after excellent bread flours and I suspect the Quebec/Maritime climate is closer to the British Isles than it is to either the Canadian prairies or the southern French wheat growing areas (do the French grow their own wheat still, does anybody know? Or the Italians?).


You mention a slow grinder. Did you hear of - or better yet - try this one? At some point I would like to grind my own and am also hoping to find local farmer. But if I don't get better results than Milanaise, am more than happy to keep using their excellent stuff.




It's $1800 Canadian but sounds like it can do about 25 kg an hour, which ain't shabby. My suspicion is that it won't be nearly as good as a masterfully milled Milanaise flour.


I have been on your website and it looks fantastic what you are doing. You know, it seems I am part of a little movement here but I was totally unaware of it before deciding to build a brick oven and bake sourdoughs. As I think I said elsewhere, I don't think I had eaten any before but as I started researching about 'artisan bread' I saw pictures of the ovens, and also since I was on a very limited budget I was interested in building my own, then I realised immediately that I liked the idea of baking with fire better anyway, and then whilst testing recipes I found I liked sourdoughs much better and they reminded me of the good breads I had preferred growing up in Europe. But I wasn't really aware of any potential 'community' out there. Anyway, so now I have the oven and the business, it's time to really get good at baking the bread!


Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 26

[quote=CaperAsh]I believe the Manitoba wheat is Canadian, no? I have heard that the best French bakers for years used a rather specific blend for the best baguettes but have not yet got to the level of researching this type of thing.[/quote]

Manitoba is a Canadian province (?), and the spread of wheat growing into it with the vareity "Marquise" which followed Red Fife really put the icing on the Canadian ultra strong wheat export trade - so "Manitoba" is like a marketing name for this style of grain which is still used in Europe, not sure about elsewhere.

You have to realise French baking also went through a very dire period of producing white pap even if in baguette shape and certainly has not in general totally recovered. There is a trend to using T75 - "baguette a la ancienne" which is a bit of a misnomer since the baguette is by no means ancient and as John has remarked a relatively recent - post bakers yeast - Viennese import to France. I think you may be thinking of Moul-Bie (part of Grands Moulins de Paris, one of the monoplisitic big three French millers) propaganda about the secret ingredient they found in the wall of one of their mill which I think is really just a lab enginered flour improver http://www.fwpmatthews.co.uk/french_breadflours.php I should say young French but UK trained Brockwell Bake member Vincent Talleu was quite stunned by the addiction of French bakers to additives and millers pre-mixes (often they are in any case contracually tied to using the flours from a particular big mill and following their recipes) that he encountered working for a year back in France recently. His French co-workers really could not believe him that possible to make good bread just with flour, salt and water. In my experience "pain au levain" (sourdough) available in France currently is 90% out of a packet - in other words just flavour powder rather than a process. Previous "pain de campagne" fashion was also ridiclous tarting up of bascially white pap with some bran in most small bakeries as well as supermarkets.

Not to say there isn't also good French baking incuding a genuine revival and renovation of large rural wood fired ovens producing miche style loaves and the support for retrieval of heritage wheats is much more deep seated and widespread than in UK - where we lost (in general cultivation) our true local heritage bread wheats in the 1830s whereas France over 100 hundred years later than this. Check this grouping Reseau Semences Paysannes

What I am thinking might be of interest if not already tried in Quebec is "Ble de Redon" which is from around town of Redon in Brittany, was still grown by farmers into 1960s and was fortunately collected with over 200 accessions by researchers at this time - which is considerably later continual farmer cultivation than most other French surviving (in gene bank) heritage wheats. It would have persisted in Brittany other than general isolation of the region because modern wheats couldn't cope with Atlantic sea air or storms so maybe this is appropriate for Quebec also? And the Quebecois often have Breton roots in any case, no? We have two examples in London http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/gallery_s.php?search=redon only just coming into ear the last few days so I can't say much about them as yet - they seem in general to be going to be shorter than many other heritage wheats which would make sense given winds in those parts.

I am sure John Letts - Brockwell Bake's wheat guru from Oxford would also be very interested to liase with Milanaise as he's Canadian and I think brought up in Quebec though not of French origin.

How do we contact Milanaise research group?



I think this American mill's rpm is inconceivably much too fast, for this diamter I would expect 330 rpm max not 900+

CaperAsh 2011 May 26

Well, now I can clarify further about baguettes. I am not surprised to learn it is modern because I have found them almost impossible to make correctly in sourdough mode, albeit my slow two-versus-three phase method no doubt has something to do with that. When I bake a high hydration ciabatta-style 'flatbread', however, I get superlative results, it's just that such a moist dough doesn't lend itself well to being shaped into a small batard, let alone baguette. I am happy with my solution.


But in terms of my experiences: years ago when I lived in Europe and munched happily all over the place therein, I often came across a better-than-average baguette which was fresh from the bakery and a pleasure to tear into and eat with nothing on it. And part of the pleasure - always with one of those better loaves - was a distinctive, wheaty aroma (more than taste) wafting up from the loaf. No doubt these were yeast loaves but probably they were poolished and also I was fortunate to buy them within a couple of hours, maybe less, of their being baked. I was at a baker friend's last year, very experienced and good baker, but he uses yeast or a biga-poolish method to get more distinctive flavours. Within an hour or two of having cooled sufficiently, I was eating his 'Sicilian' loaf on the way back home which is about 40% whole wheat I think, and it was drop dead delicious. Two hours later it was no longer interesting. The next day I didn't want it any more at all. Sourdoughs are completely different of course.


Now in terms of Milanaise, I could try to find a name by contacting them myself but the fact is that I have really only corresponded with people who deal with occasional oddball retail requests since they work entirely through distributors whose orders are a minimum of 40 * 20kg bags a run. I can't get whole rye kernels from Milanaise, for example, because none of their distributors is willing to invest in 40 bags. I find this a little hard to believe and have complained in a very friendly fashion (why can't they make up 40 bags and then accept smaller orders given that the whole kernels last so long as such in the bags) but got no reply. I am basically not someone they tend to deal with (a small micro bakery). But if you contact them from the email on the website, I am sure in no time you will be able to get in touch with the research section which is probably a totally separate outfit somewhere in Quebec farm country.


And from your description of the Brittany wheats, you may well be onto something and it sounds also like you may very well, and John Letts, may be people whom the researches at La Milanaise would value working with further.


In this vein: from a JohnD blog 'the flowers of Flour':

Walter Banfield writes in 1937, that as an English baker, he likes to blend 6 wheats: Manitoba(hard)30%,Argentine 15%,Australian (S.A./W.A. he specifies) 15%, American hard winter 15%, English 15%, Indian 10%. He says “A well balanced mixture-high protein, good colour (the Australian), and the English for good flavour.”


So baker as blender. I like that. I also now like better that Milanaise is blending. Same with Scotch. Although an excellent single malt is a treasure indeed, usually they are somewhat extreme in one way or another whereas an excellent blend (now harder to find because blends are regarded as inferior) can get into orgiastically harmonious synergy type stuff.


Well, maybe not tonight but I am going to blend what I have to see what happens: 5%cornmeal, 10% freshground white wheat, 10% soaked/sprouting hard wheat, 10% freshground hard wheat, 15% freshground spelt, 10% stoneground rye, 5% freshground oatmeal, 35% stoneground white. And see what happens flavour-wise. Just one experimental loaf. Meanwhile will do a small batch of loaves with some sprouted wheat added into my 100% whole wheat recipe to observe the effect on texture and flavour.


This is fun!



Andrew Forbes's picture
Andrew Forbes 2011 May 26

[quote=CaperAsh]And from your description of the Brittany wheats, you may well be onto something[/quote]

Reputedly Ble de Redon has the added interest that it has a distinctive spicy flavour - I find hard to imagine - will have to wait several more months to find out.


JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 May 26

"viagra flours " is just my perverse humour ...I mean flour grown on the Canadian praries (manitoba/Saskatchewen?)which is extremely strong not just in protein but the proportion of gluten in that protein is high as well. Similar flours come from Nth Nth America as well, but now also Russia and Kazakhstan, and the strong flours from sth Queensland in Australia are similar. Canadian has the toughest gluten though...but all of them are the lowest on the flavour scale, firstly because they are rarely fermented enough, but also because they lack inherent flavour....which is why they are great to mix with flavoury soft flours....which is the taste you were missing, because the Italians and French mix their own wheats with the canadian, and the really good flavour is in their home wheats. 

Any bread ive made from just Canadian hard is huge but really lacking in flavour...and bloom as well. Its the myth of hard flours. Really good bread was always made with softer flours 10-12% protein is perfect really.  I think the good organic wheats from my home state of south australia  are the best ive ever worked with for both flavour and bloom and they are usually 10-12%.  Walter Banfield actually specefies them for his ideal blend, and calls them "the peacock of the species" because of the colour/bloom on the finished loaf.

Really, those mega flours were an adjunct of the Industrial revolution and roller-milling....they are perfect for factory bread, but not artisanal bread...quite a bit of US artisanal bread is suprisingly lacking in flavour because of the widespead use of these flours.

CaperAsh 2011 May 26

well, I realised it was humourous but I didn't know if it was code for something very specific from previous threads. Gotcha.


One Milanaise flour I use, my preferred, is Stoneground 'sifted 50'. It has 11.4% protein. The All-Purpose (roller milled but unbleached and organic) is 13.05%. I have noticed a difference in rise.


What exactly (or poetically if you prefer) do you mean by bloom? Just so I am sure.


Now I am wondering. I have some white wheat berries but know nothing about them content wise, but I think they have less protein. Also what about pastry flour wheat berries, and if they exist what are they called (or is that what white wheat is?)


If I mix 10% or so in there of the flour quotient, would that emulate what they are doing? Or at some point can I order 10 bags of berries from the UK for the same purpose, i.e. to use as a 10% additive to soften it up? Personally I would prefer to stay in my home region as much as possible.


OR: sprouting: albeit there are many other aspects to it in terms of nutrition and flavour, will that also soften things up even if I use my Canadian hard wheat berries? I suspect it will and I suspect it will also release far more under and overtones to the resultant flavour. After reading one of the articles here on your forum today and seeing someone using a meat grinder for the soaked berries, I am going to get one very soon and play around with that. I have held off experimenting with this because of the extra time and work even though conceptually I think it's most definitely a worthy approach. I mean: first you moisten/soak them. Then dry them. Then grind them after they are totally dry (because otherwise my little Nutrimill will sieze up) or I should get a hand grinder. But now I saw those pictures of the meat grinder, well I can pick one of those up used for $20.00 to play with before investing in anything more fancy and fine-tooled for my specific needs once I understand what they are and if I need anything else in the first place.


Have never had a sprouted sourdough but I remember when sprouted loaves first started turning up in health food stores in the 70's that I loved the nuttier, moistier, tastier results.


OK, question about enzymes: dough gets overdone and collapses. This is enzymatic breakdown or when the gluten/protein is so chewed through by the digestive/fermentive processes. But wait: there are also enzymes in there otherwise it wouldn't be called enzymatic breakdown.


So what are the different effects of yeasts, bacteria and enyzmes and how does the baker see them unfolding in the fermentation process, i.e. what are the positive and negative characteristics and markers of each?


I tried some retarded slow fermentation yeast breads before rapidly settling on sourdough as my only method. I bought a bag of yeast a year ago before building the oven several months later and there is still 90% left in the freezer just for emergencies in case something drastic happens to all my starters and backups at once. (At least I presume it's still in the freezer!) But even after 15 days in the fridge you don't seem to get that breakdown. So I assume that is bacterial contribution. Or do bacteria and enzymes (and yeast) inter-act in some way?


I guess I am really asking: 'what is fermentation in bread baking' which is possibly unfair to just throw out there. But I will anyway!

CaperAsh 2011 May 26

Thanks again for a generously informative post. It must be time. After baking only sourdoughs in my self-constructed brick oven for the past nine months I am about to graduate from begiinner to intermediate and at this point a little guidance is extremely helpful. I think the main difficulty I have had is that very few baking books or recipes really deal with the sourdough process beyond publishing their own way of doing it and not explaining the whys and wherefores.


Then there are certain differences with the brick oven. One can bake at far higher temperatures, for example, because of its radiant heat so different hydration levels are possible.


But it is your explanation of 'ripe' that takes the biscuit. I have been mulling over this but frankly have been too attached to my own way, imperfect as it has proven, along with the idea of giving the dough as much time as possible. I will have to prove this for myself but I suspect you are right. When using commercial yeast, increasing the time via retardation does unquestionably build more flavour. But it is not as good as real sourdough flavour imo, which is far more harmoniously balanced.


I would just like to clarify because what you have described is what I was planning to experiment with starting tomorrow with one out of five batches, namely:

1. Build the starter overnight to the amount you need for the dough

2. Mix in the am whilst the fire is getting going and about 6 hours later she's ready to go. The key is having a lovely ripe, still vital, starter culture to be introduced to the dough.


Question: In cool weather you have built the starter to about 50% you say. That explains (to me) why you get the 3-5 hour rise. Fine. But in warm weather it goes down to what, 25%? Or do you have a rough guideline based on temperature and that is what you have graphed. I guess I am asking how would you define warm and cool and/or asking for one more example, in this case a warm one, in terms of starter percentage at what warm temperature just to get an idea of the range to play with.


Part of my problem with this is that during our spring (so-called) the temperature swings dramatically. Yesterday morning there was thick frost on awakening but it was around 20C by the afternoon and it is very hard to anticipate these swings accurately. But I have long been suspecting that I need to proceed more along the lines you have sketched out and even before your last post had decided to give it a shot with one batch so am very heartened to read that this is basically what you do.


I know what you mean about chi and science etc. I have studied that stuff on the graduate level, as it were, and just wish there was less cultural hubris and isolationship since that entire approach (yin-yang process or systems theory) has an incredible amount to offer contemporary science and other disciplines. A world treausure insufficiently appreciated. I might write a book about it one day. But then again, I might not!


Finally, I assume your percentages are baker's percentages, i.e. of the flour? For some perverse reason I began by calculating my starters in terms of percentage of total weight. So my 12% starter figure is 12% of the total weight, i.e. 120g per 1kg total dough; if this were flour at 65% hydration that would come to 20%. In any case, I just want to verify what you were describing before so I can get a good ballpark range with which to start the first experiment tonight.


Thxs again.

Journeyman 2011 May 27

John ,in describing your bake routine you mentioned, 'knocking back ' the morning mix .I'm new to sourdough baking , 4-5 years, and have a background in yeasted work where I am familiar with the term , 'knocking back'. I also have no refrigeration, ( wind turbines don't like fridge compressors ), but strive to keep my finished breads as 'non-acid/tangy as possible as I believe more british people will eat the breads as 'bread' that way .

My bakery is often hot 30-40 c as I work alongside a large wood fired oven.

My approach to keep the leaven active and 'sweet' at present is to do a series of short 'builds' just before dough making and this seems to work well. My leaven is more like a very thick batter. From what you described I guess you use a stiffer  leaven ?

I bake between 180 and 280 sourdough loaves a night. I have pretty much given up all yeasted work, only do 40 loaves a week now, as I found the yeasted bread just became uncontrollable in this heat without a fridge and I also fell in love with Sourdough bread !

Rick in Wales . UK



Journeyman 2011 May 27

I find it really frustrating the way the industries,agricultural and baking, here in the UK at the moment seem to be pre-occupying themselves with a race/chase for highter protein uk grown flours.Some articles in an organic magazine I receive have recently just been pushing the need for higher protein.There is a danger we could lose the wonderful taste of british wheat just to provide breads full of air and water from the supermarkets.

I at present am  finding it hard to get organic straight british flour which has not been tampered with to push protein up by adding grain from Kazachstan ( spelt wrong ).This is not the fault of the miller,  they often have to take what is offered by the grain merchant . I only use stoneground  flour from traditional water or wind mills. 

One of the beauties of making sourdough bread is you can make, as you say John ,good bread with protein between 10-12%. Also the lower protein needs less 'working', machine or manual, the leaven does the lifting .

With all the talk about climate change and the need to use less power etc etc , I believe sourdough, without fridges, short mix times , local flours, is the obvious way forward for bakers which will enable them to supply their customers with good healthy bread and get bakers back  in control again of their craft and  return them to be a valuable part of their local communities, rather than being tucked away on some industrial site.

Rick in Wales UK.

P.S. I've just been given some straight english flour from grain grown on Howard Roberts farm and milled by my friends at Felin Ganol mill here in Wales, so I'm off to party in the bakery.

JohnD's picture
JohnD 2011 June 7

Thanks for you insights Rick. Theres a few problems with local flour tough, as i see it, and the first would be to get people to accept the less architectural breads weve all become used to. The british flours while deliciously tasty, dont favour high breads...my approach is to (a) use them as leavens/sponges, for which they seem brilliant, esp the bio-active biodynamic ones, and use a stronger flour for the dough.....(b) make more foccacia-style or leavened bannock-style breads, which i think are so great and can be torn and dipped in things and still split for sandwiches/ grilled.

You are essentially correct about the global warming/local scenario...but Britain has always been at the centre of trade routes and hasd been importing flour/grain forever...its not indigenous here after all, and was brought here eons ago...trade isnt all bad, and is an important part of human culture.

Further, there just isnt enough british flour to go around...every harvest is a scrabble to get what there is, and if the harvest is bad or rained on, well that further complicates it all...organic flour especially so is in demand and mostly all sold before it is harvested.....more organic grain needs to be grown here.

As far as your leaven management goes, I favour the thickest batter possible, but not a dough. the multiple feed works well. surely, but only if the leaven which is being built is in fact sweet and not too twangy....in which case it will impart the acidity (which becomes "sour" not just acid) if the baker isnt really careful. Timing is so crucial, and sometimes a leaven built from the minimum sweet starter can be really great IF it is timed to meet the dough at the perfect moment, which is my usual method. IN this case, I "knock back" the actual leaven about 3 hours before using it, which , depending on the flour, makes it peak and confer its activity on the dough. It seems to maximise the yeast-party before too much acidity develops....acidity can then develop in the final dough, as an end-point before baking,and is the bread has minimal-just-right acidity. ( I think anyway!). I hasten to add that this works beautifully for dry, medium strength Australian flours. I have had a British flour not spring back much after the knock-back, which indicates to me a terroir based floating-world of technique....which is such a great thing about sourdough as you indicate...it demands "local"creativity  Time is the master!

But British flour seems to work really well with the multiple feeding you describe, and becomes very sweet and yeasty...but if using all British, there seems to be a real hydration cutoff point, so its almost impossible to get the mega-hydrated-mega-holey and groovy bread as you can get with American/Canadian flours.

You know ever-so English apples originated in Kazakhstan, as did Garlic, so its not all bad!!!...trade is cool! also, because of demand, they are growing lots more organic grain in Kazakhstan which is better for their environment and a green victory really in a country where it could have gone all-chem.

CaperAsh 2011 October 21

I am ashamed to admit I STILL haven't gone through that set of really interesting looking links. But I will. Once things slow down again in November.


Update on sprouting: during the warm summer months I developed a very simple loaf which proved delicious and popular. I call it an 'Ezekiel Style'. Ezekiel because that is a brand name (based on recipe in Book of Ezekiel of course) known well in my area because it is sold in the freezer section of the Health Food Dept. Style because only 50% of the grain content is sprouted. But also I have changed the technique and perhaps what I have done is very ill-advised or something so I would appreciate (well informed) feedback if that is the case.


I add about 80% water to kernels, a 50-50% blend of spelt and rye (organic) and soak for about two days in 70-80 degree day temperature, a little cooler at night. After about 48 hours the grains are very soft, white juice comes out if you squeeze them and I like to go to the next phase when they just start to push out the little legs/sprouts.


I picked up an 1880's design meat grinder (used for $20.00, though you can still buy them new for about $175) and put the grains through it. Takes about 15 minutes or so to do 2-3 kilos. If the grains are very soft it's easy, if they are not quite ready it is hard. (Of late they have not been ready so rather than change all my schedules, I have just dropped the loaf until I have more regular temperatures in the home once the winter settles in and I have the fire on all day and night and so will have warm night time temps which is not the case any more. ) But most of the time until recently after 2 days they were more than ready. Oh yes, I rinse them thoroughly. Sometimes there seemed to be some dark mold forming on top, but most of the time there was just a nice yeasty bubbling display. Probably this is all one needs to get a good starter culture come to think of it, just water and the whole grains, then take that water and mix with ground flour and water. Who knows?


Then I adjusted my loaf hydration to about 55% to compensate for the large amount of hydration in this sprouted sausage stuff. By the way, it comes out sticky and holds together, not a soup or fluid. It's firm and resilient, almost springy, to the touch. So rather than dry the sprouted grains and then grind them, I am grinding them wet and putting them straight into the dough.


The rest of the dough is a blend of fresh-ground spelt, rye, millet and red quinoa. Oh, also in the sprouted combo is barley and lentils.


I use a basic rye starter. Add ground flax, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, ground coriander, fennel, anise and caraway, all of which soak with the grain for about 12 hours before the starter goes in, and then that gets about 18 hours or so with a 2% baker's percentage starter amount (i.e. about 1% of entire dough weight, though more once the summer has peaked in terms of high temps high humidity which we get in August).


I put in a loaf pan because it is too liquid for shaping and bake until internal temp of at least 195 F.


This really isn't hard to make so I encourage others to try unless there is something dangerous about working with the sprouted grains this way. I don't see why there should be but I bring it up just in case (mold issues etc.???).


It is delicious! The sprouted addition adds a nutty, springy texture but also the sprouted grains have a definite taste and aroma of fresh green growing things, plants, curling, growing, responsive life.


It's good stuff. Sprouting and grinding, though it takes a little work, is basically very easy to do. You just have to have a 3-4 day schedule to make the bread, that's all.


Now this week I am experimenting with spent grain from a local farmer who does complex home brews using his own hops and barley. This stuff has the former plus some shredded carrots. It smells very 'malty' and I am just adding in about 10% to several other recipes as some sort of a 'harvest theme'. If the 10% is good I'll put more in next week. I suspect it's going to be delicious and will report back later!


Great thread.


CaperAsh 2011 October 22

Well, I put spent grains (organic hops, barley and carrot shavings) into a couple of loaves and the results were excellent.


With my 70% hydration focaccio-styles baked at 750F the 5% addition merely made them a little nuttier in texture and taste, but with subtle additions to flavour from hints of grass, sugar, malt, whatever. Since I also added in fresh oyster mushrooms it's hard to tell exactly what the spent grains contributed. Oh, apart from making the bread so liquid it was more like a pancake. There was more residual moisture in the husks than I guaged by intuition.


The star was the whole wheat loaves which are just stone ground whole wheat, sea salt and rye starter. Here I added in 10% of the flour weight and included it as being the same hydration as the flour so again the loaf was far more moist than usual. It also fermented a little faster and since the temperatures and humidity shot up the past two days it gave me scheduling problems today. But the resultant bread is the best whole wheat loaf I ever baked except that because it was overproofed it didn't spring as much as I would like, although still respectable. To the touch it's as soft as most fluffy white 'san francisco sourdoughs'. Pillow soft. The crumb is translucent. The taste has hints of complexity without being obvious about it. The presence of the malts is delightful. Mainly I appreciate the springy light crumb and texture along with more complex aroma. It's an incredibly good whole grain loaf, put it that way.


Last is a multigrain recipe in which usually I sprout 50% of the grain but of late I am fresh-grinding everything. In this case I added 10% of flour weight to the mix but here it didn't count, i.e. there was 100% of the usual multigrain flour plus 10% of the spent grains. Here there was little difference in hydration doing it this way. Again, the texture was improved - lighter, springier, more translucency even in this extremely dense recipe (fresh-ground spelt, rye, lentils, barley, millet, red quinoa plus sunflower seeds and ground flax, ground coriander, fennel, anise seed & caraway).


The farmer who gave me this stuff will be at a nearby market in the Village of Baddeck on Wednesday. I'll present him with some of these loaves albeit next time I'll up the percentages to 20% and in all cases do the last method, i.e. add 20% of spent grain on top of 100% flour in the recipe, and then just adjust the overall loaf weight so it comes out the way I like it, and which is very easy to do with my spreadsheet which allows you to configure your recipe to end up, after baking, with X gram per loaf.


This was fun!


I don't have a camera any more so no pictures. Soon I'll get another....


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