Sonoma Miche, Sydney

shiao-ping's picture


I visited most of the major bread bakeries in San Francisco in August last year and did not like any of the sourdoughs that I sampled except Chad Robertson’s Country Sourdough.  Taste for bread is very individual.  I have given up looking for nice sourdough from shops.  If I want bread, I make bread in my own kitchen but my own results are never consistent.  I have good days and bad days. 


When I turned up at Sonoma Bakery Café in Paddington, Sydney, a few days ago, I really wasn’t expecting much.  I had to be in Sydney for a day and so I was just filling up my time. 



This window display got my heart pumping:



I stood in front of the window with my jaw dropped to the ground at the sight of these giant Miches!!  Unbelievable! I am actually quite easily excitable.



  So, who buys these giant (1.9kg) Miches at A$14.00 per piece?  I do.




It was worth every cent of it. 



It was much later in that day when I realized that Sonoma Paddington is right around the corner from my good friend, Jan of Pastilla Nash, whose delightful Prune and Walnut Log is served at Tetsuya’s restaurant along side sourdough from Sonoma Baking Company


The crumb is [b]translucent[/b] throughout (as seen below)– there is the vestige of fermentation on each and every cell.  Every single cell is aerated.  It is soft and spongy, mildly chewy, and mildly sour. 





On the way home to Brisbane, somehow Chad Robertson came to mind.  I don’t know why.  It is not so much that I could recognize any similarities between Sonoma Miche and Chad Robertson’s Country Sourdough, but perhaps it is more because the excitement that I experienced in both breads was the same.  As soon as I got home, I went onto Sonoma’s website and this is what I found:


[color=blue]"Andrew and Christian Connole, inspired by the artisan sourdough baking of Northern California….  The Connole boys immersed themselves in the baking fraternity of the San Francisco Bay area where they learnt to bake from renowned artisan bakers like Chad Robertson ….”[/color]  Ah ha!


In fact, I like Sonoma Miche much better.  It is rustic on the outside, but the crumb on the inside is very delicate.  Chad’s Country Sourdough, on the other hand, is more what its name indicates.  To achieve this delicate crumb, Andrew Connole says, “At Sonoma we prolong the fermentation process by chilling the doughs as they rise,” and that “These specially tempered doughs … are gently mixed and hand shaped before being given a lengthy fermentation in our retarder.”


The next day after I got home, I had 1/4 of this Miche with my kids.  I sliced 1/2 of this Miche and placed the slices in a zipped locked bag and placed the bag in the freezer.




I kept the remaining 1/4 in another zipped locked bag at room temperature and my kids and I sliced it for breakfast on the third day.  The crumb was still incredibly moist!!  It was amazing.  None of the sourdoughs that I had ever tasted were as moist as this.  I like my sourdough very moist.  Despite what most people say about sourdough’s good keeping quality, I rarely have sourdough without it being toasted if it is more than a day old.  I am surprised that I am happy with the crumb of Sonoma Miche [b]as is[/b] even on day three!  I need not have to freeze half of the Miche after all.


Sonoma Paddington – what a treat!




p.s.  Andrew Connole talks about his bakery in youtube: here 


p.p.s. The white version of Sonoma Miche (Miche Sourdough) is Mission Sourdough which is more than a foot long:





rossnroller 2011 April 3

Hi Shiao-Ping,

While I take your point about memory and nostalgia playing tricks on us, I have no doubt whatever that the German bread was - and hopefully still is - superb. I didn't just go for a holiday and sample a few loaves. I lived there for 8 months, half the time in Munich and half the time in Cologne. I had bread every day. And it was nothing short of a revelation for me.

I think you've read my private blog posts about my bread odyssey; you might recall I have always been very into bread. I don't know why, but this goes right back to my childhood. Some of the white Aussie country uprights from way back in the 60s were not without merit, but I can honestly state that I had no idea of what really good bread was until I lived in Germany in the mid-80s. I also had no idea before I arrived there that the German bread was so incredible. I was well aware of their reputation for great beer (and put that to the test with diligence while I was there), and wurst (over-rated IMO), but the big surprise for me was the bread and the cream cakes! 

Not only was the quality of the bread far beyond anything I had experienced to that time, but the diversity was astonishing. Every little corner bakery had shelves full of different breads on offer daily. Of course, I didn't love every loaf I tried, but overall I found the quality spectacularly good. Sourdough was my favourite. I don't think I'd even tasted SD before living in Germany.

When I returned to Australia I went on a quest for good bread (in Sydney) and found nothing to compare with the German product. Maybe I missed the best bakeries. Dunno. Moved back to Perth - pretty dire bread scene. Things improved in time, and eventually I found a couple of good SD bakeries in WA: the New Norca bakery and the Yalingup Woodfired Bakery down south. But still they did not compare with the German breads.

I finally came across the flavour I was after in a location I never dreamt of looking - my own kitchen. Yep, home-baked sourdough. I've made this point before, but I should make it again: That comment might appear immodest, but it's not. I take no credit, other than seeking out knowledge of techniques, formulae and flours, and putting the hours in. It's all down to the PROCESS and TOP QUALITY organic flours. I believe virtually anyone who has the desire can turn out fabulous SD bread at home. My home-baked is, to the best of my memory, as good as anything I had in Germany. On this point, I would like to put my memory to the test. Perhaps the German SDs are better than I remember!

I take your point on some traditions being handed-down idiosyncracies without merit, but I really think the analogy becomes strained in the context of SD bread making traditions. Germany and some other Euro countries developed their artisan bread craft over many, many years, and I think it would be doing the bakers of yore a grave disservice to countenance the possibility that they were content to just do as their ancestors had done, and that few of them ever experimented in quest of a better bread. Doubtless many of them - like us - tried many things to improve their product. I see SD breadmaking tradition as the accumulated knowledge of generations of committed bakers before us. We have inherited something quite marvellous. That's what tradition means to me in the context of bread.

I do share your taste for fridge-retarded SD bread, and for the same reasons. It so happens that I don't have the luxury of the time required to see the process through from beginning to end without retarding, anyway, so I can't say I'd tolerate any inconvenience to maximise the flavour of my home-baked SD. It's more than inconvenience for me...the time just isn't there, except on weekends. So, fortunate that I, too, prefer the quality of overnight-retarded bread (generally speaking).


CaperAsh 2011 April 11

A great thread. I look forward to your first book on baking Shiao-ping. It will sell many hundreds of thousands of copies in China if properly translated! Your style is clear, passionate, informative and obviously you are a skilled craftsman type.


It's funny. I came to this site today from a TFL posting about Poilane (  ) because I had just asked my mother who loves sending me birthday presents (even though am in mid 50's!) to send me one of those presentation Poilane packs. 


Now in terms of this thread, both the original 'translucently light' posts and pictures, and the subsequent discussion:


last, I am interested that the Poilane is a bit disappointing. I still would like to try it but to echo Rossnroller about Germany and home baked: I lived in Germany for 3 years. Now before that I had lived in upscale London in the 60's, Paris, rural France for 2 years in a chateau in the Loire, Florence, NYC and so forth and in all had been exposed to some pretty darn good food and bread. And I agree with Ross that German bread is exceptionally good compared to most other commercial offerings in other countries.


Strangely enough, I also echo his discovery that you can make the best stuff at home. And to tie this all in, I echo Shao Ping's praise for the translucently moist and springy crumb of the Sonoma Miche, which I have never tasted, but I have managed - mainly by luck - to make what seems to me to be very similar breads.


Now I started baking seriously only a year ago. Built a brick oven that can do about 20 loaves at a time, about 5 batches tops in June-July, and then went into business selling at local farmers markets last October. And now survive - in modest fashion - from those endeavours. But have had an interesting experience:


First: it is possibly to make world class breads just using very simple ingredients and it makes no difference if you are making 2 loaves or 80 in terms of quality.

Second: using high quality organic ingredients does make a difference, including expensive sea salt, good water. I have done little comparison tests.


Third: in terms of the dark crumb: the explanation about rye meal etc. might be correct, but I suspect that they are using mainly rye starters.


Fourth: although I have not yet mastered consisent results (although I do get consistently good results now), mainly because I don't have a proper temperature and humidity controlled bakery (remodelled back bedroom in 1970's trailer in which stands my 10,000 brick oven!!), the best results I got were, funnily enough, my first month last summer when it was warm. I would mix in the evening until about 11 pm/ midnight, then after each batch had had at least 2 hours to get going, put in the fridge overnight, then take out in the morning, shape after 2 hours warming, proof for about 4 hours, then bake. I used 10% of total weight for the starter. Only ingredients are flour, sea salt, filtered and revitalised well water, and natural starter, though I also played with olive oil, lemon juice, brewer's malt and Vitamin C.


But just using this simple method which is: a) build up the rye starter from the fridge to 10% of the desired final weight, doing this usually in the morning since never have enough ready in the fridge plus it's good to 'get it going' b) mixing in starter with water, flour and salt to desired pre-bake weight c) giving it an hour or three of warm time before d) retarding overnight for about 8-12 hours then e) taking out, warming up, shaping, proofing and baking, this very simple method gave truly world class results.


There are subtleties in timing and temperature which I have not yet been able to discern and thus master. But technique seems not to be an issue, i.e. shaping, handling, proof baskets or whatever. When the dough is great, pretty much no matter what you do with it (including squashing it by mistake with the peel as you bungle putting it into the oven along with 20 other loaves etc.) you get excellent results. It just insists on rising beautifully and coming out with lovely crisp crusts and soft, luscious, creamy, custardy crumbs.


And to echo one other sub-thread, I sort of agree that modern technology isn't the answer. It might have found ways to dig into what is going on with phytic acid, phytase, other -ases and chemical phases, but generally speaking the less additives and fancy pancy techniques or techy fixes the better. You don't need a mixer. You don't need a fan in a convection oven. You don't need commercial yeast. You don't need to knead. You don't even need to stretch and fold if your dough is going to take more than 24 hours before being baked. You just need good ingredients, and a judicious application of time and temperature.


I have also found that when working with whole grains that it is helpful - if not vital - to soak them for a while before fermenting. This releases the hold that phytic acid has on all the yearning-to-be-sprout energies in the grain, or in other language releases the enzymes that begin to break out the tightly held ingredients, or in even more simple language (which I prefer): softens it up nicely.


Here is a pic of 70% hydration 100% whole wheat sourdough: oh, I can't see how to put a pic in. Anyway, it has nice large holes and a juicy, springy crumb. (And I can't get those results every time unfortunately!). I prefer mixes of white and dark in terms of getting nice combination of flavour depth, earthy nutrition, and springy, custardy crumb, but it's pretty neat to get soft, chewy 100% WW. And this is just from basic ingredients, minimal technique, no tricks, no shortcuts. I do S&F once or twice, but have found that it makes very little difference. (There is a pic of that crumb on my little website at, sorry am not savvy enough to know how to paste in a link to that pic.)


 Plus there's a magical element we can't discuss, but it has something to do with atmosphere which effects everything all the time, including yeasty beasties, water structure and so on. But that goes without saying, of course...



3petitspains 2011 April 4

I agree with CaperAsh - this is a very interesting post - thanks shiao ping - that's not to say I have read every comment ;-)

Having read all the talk about proofing, I was relieved to see the comment that refridgerating is a bad thing - not that I have anything against it per se, it is just that I don't have that possibility. I make about 100 kilos each bake (three times a week) and would need a very big fridge (chambre froid/pouse) - I wouldn't want to invest (even if I had) such a large amount of money and wouldn't want to pay the extra on my electrcity bills either.

Having said this, do people think that stopping/slowing the fermentation has such a big impact?

Working 'direct' - as they say in France - means I have to constantly adjust to the changes in temperature/weather - but for me this is part of the challenge/fun. 

Regarding the improvement of bread after a few days. I can certainly say that this is the case with mine. It is truer for breads that are more 'complet', particularly Kamut. The flavour improves and they aren't particularly dry. Though I do work with dough that is almost too wet to handle - as this is, for my mind, the most important aspect of creating bread that is moist and keeps well. My breads (white excluded) keep easily for a week and are more than edible 10 days after baking.

I was a bit disappointed with Poilane's bread too - when I tried it - a bit too sour ;-) - and I agree about dryness. (This comment refers to your post on TFL (the fresh loaf - for those, like me, who aren't in the loop).

happy baking



CaperAsh 2011 April 4

Well, although I did use it for a while, I don't anymore but I am tempted. Several factors:


There is the size/cost issue.

I have read, but am not sure for myself, that natural starters don't like being refridgerated because the balance of yeast and bacterias gets skewed in that some do much better than others at low temps.


I also read recently - and tried unsuccessfully to find out where even though I try to save such nuggets of information/wisdom - that the slower fermentation methods give various enzymes a chance to open up the grain making various sugars and other substances available to the yeast and bacteria during fermentation, which is why the slower the fermentation period (and obviously cooler temperatures help slow things down), the more complex the flavours.


My compromise with all this - though I haven't yet mastered getting the perfect 'custardy' crumb every time by any means yet - is to allow the bakery - which isn't properly insulated, to cool down naturally overnight to around 50f or so, meaning the dough usually is around 60f when I awake in the morning. I think the best results with this sort of approach have occurred when I refridgerated because the dough was much warmer during the summer months - closer to 80F when I put it into the fridge. Unfortunately at that time - I was still learning the basics of working with a newly made brick oven - I wasn't recording dough temps so mistakenly thought that 12 hours in the fridge was the same no matter what. It isn't of course. Depends on the temp of the dough going in, and temp of bakery coming out.


My other compromise, which seems not to be chosen by any others I am aware of, is to reduce the starter amount to around 10-12% so I can get a slow fermentation. The problem with this - I think - is that you don't get a very strong rise and thus you don't get much oven spring. I am getting very good flavour though.


Lastly, I have noticed - and seen remarked elsewhere - that the ones I think are close to 'perfect' (though of course no such thing) are creamy with translucent starch noted in this thread, and also, interestingly, there is not so much a 'sour' taste as a creamy base with a soft, wheaty/grainy top. There is also often a hint of honey and/or apple, and indeed many ask how much sugar I use and some clearly don't believe me when I answer 'none'.


My current suspicion in terms of trying to nail down how to get this consistently is that without pretty good temperature and humidity control, it's going to be hard to get consistent unless one well and truly masters the levain-building process so that one knows exactly what sort of strength culture one is mixing into what combination of environmental temperature and humidity and ingredients (bread flour, All-P, fresh-ground etc.).


A final snippet: Rye creates more amylase - I think - which breaks down phytic acid. Or maybe it's phytase. Something. So different grains have different enzymatic effects which also must come into it. My best results have always been with a rye starter.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 4

Hi Ashley of French Road Bakery,

Even if I were a skilled craftsman type as you kindly put, my little operation with barely 1/10th square meter oven space which is approaching 20 years old is dwarfed by the complexity of what you are running with your brick oven.  Your passion in baking sourdough is 10,000 lbs. more than mine.  I don’t know much but I know one thing: I couldn’t do what you do.  It’s too bad that your bakery is 17,000 miles away.  I would have looooved to try your whole meal sourdough.

One very small point: Sonoma Miche is made from organic white, wholemeal and malted barley flours, no rye flour apparently.


CaperAsh 2011 April 4

Thxs for kind words.


I wouldn't measure passion in pounds. (If we measured it in eloquence you'd do pretty well!!) It took about 4 months to build it, much of that waiting between various phases and half of that research. The actual building is probably around 100 hours or so. Putting in the chimney, for example took about 1 hour to place the first three courses of brick funnelling from the door area of the oven, then about one hour to screw in the chimney base to the top bricks, cut a hole in the roof, slot in the insulated round steel chimney pieces, then screw down the sleeve into the roof skin and frame underneath, and spread silicone gunk around the seams to ensure a watertight fit. I had obsessed about the chimney (off and on) for weeks thinking that might be where I finally met my match, skill wise, and would have to start shelling out wads of green dough to professional types. But it ended up being the easiest part of all. And the chimney works fine. Not once have I had smoke burning back into the bakery. AND I over-ruled many of the kind suggestions from very knowledgable people on brick oven forums and user groups simply because I wasn't/am not skilled enough to do what they proposed.


Anyway..... I suspect the barley malt flour kicks things up a notch and might help custardize the starches but again since I've seen that effect (occasionally) with no tricks, I suspect it all comes down to starter management, quality of ingredients, timing and magic/awareness.



shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 5

I read in one of James MacGuire’s articles (I can’t remember which one but I don’t think it was in his write-up in Raymond Calvel’s [i]The Taste of Bread[/i]) that fava-bean flour was a permissible ingredient for French bakeries to call their bread “Pain de tradition” under a law passed in 1930’s because it had long been used.  I imagine fava-bean flour works the same way on doughs as malted barley flour but I am not interested enough to dig further.


For me, there is a very critical relationship in how a levain is built, then how that levain is propagating in the subsequent dough and how that dough is fermenting under the influence of temperature and time it was given - all this to achieve a certain crumb quality that I love.  The cornerstone of all this is the integrity of the raw ingredients.  I cannot articulate what that relationship is, although I have achieved that crumb quality several times in my short sourdough odyssey.  I sometimes think if one wants to learn to be a true artisan, one needs to learn the four seasons at the very least.


What you have briefly touched upon toward the last part of both your last two replies is a complicated topic.  It is hard to impart that experience to other bakers because ultimately everybody’s circumstances are different (different terroir, different flour, different everything).  Comparison of results is also difficult because, at the end of the day, words mean very little.  (I laughed when I read that Mr. MacGuire said that Prof. Steven Kaplan’s bread descriptions in [i]Cherchez le Pain[/i] “sound like ridiculous winespeak.”)


Thank you for your comments.  I enjoy reading on your website too.




CaperAsh 2011 April 7

Your " I sometimes think if one wants to learn to be a true artisan, one needs to learn the four seasons at the very least." is on the money for me at least.


Last September the weather shifted from being unusually hot and humid the last two weeks in August - which gave me serious over proofing issues to deal with whilst still learning how to bake large batches in newly built brick oven - to having very cold overnights followed by sometimes cold days, sometimes very hot days, so each bake was very different from the one before. And for 3-4 weeks I kept adjusting the following week based on the previous week until I finally realised that I had to better understand what I was doing to respond to what was going on with the weather during THIS particular bake NOW. I am not there yet, but getting there.


During this first crisis period I debated whether or not to build a sufficiently large proofing area in order to control the temperature better, i.e. have a steady 70F. Indeed, I now have such an area although the control is sort of 73-83 type (heater with thermostat in enclosed area large enough for about 6 buckets). I don't use it. I could build something much bigger and try for more precise temperature and humidity control but fundamentally I want to learn how to master the leavening process by using judgment and feel and responding to the natural elements. Indeed, I was just thinking about how this current transition from spring to summer will mark my final one, i.e. the end of the first year, and reflecting on how much more experienced I am compared with this time 9 months ago when the oven was first built.


In any case, I feel good about the decision not to make a more perfectly temperature and humidity controlled environment and look forward to spending the next 2-3 years getting past the beginner stage and gradually really getting good at it. And maybe one day I'll be able to make a loaf that looks as good as yours with all those stencils and everything.


This week, after reading the blog entry about Gerard Rubeau (sp?) I'm trying a starter with three types of fresh-ground grain (rye, hard red and spelt) and then making a miche that is 70% white (organic, unbleached) and a blend of rye , wheat and spelt (5,12.5,12.5%). Have never made a mixed grain starter before (not idea why not) and looking forward to seeing how this turns out. Might end up being the Bakery's basic 'signature' loaf, in which case I'll have to learn how to do those stencils!

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 7

The Gerard Rubaud stencils are GR, not SP!   Aren’t those antique-y looking calligraphy beautiful.

One day when you master the temperature/four seasons thingy on the yeasty beasties, you will be a MAGICIAN, on top of being an artisan.


CaperAsh 2011 April 8

Well, yesterday was interesting. It was slightly warmer outside but inside about the same. In any case, I had reduced my starter from 12% to 10% to give me a little more time. What I didn't pay sufficient attention to was the unusually high humidity around 67% versus the usual 55. By the early morning when I got up, it was at 70% and the dough was ahead of itself. So I had to shorten the firing and proofing time, the former something I am still learning how to do effectively but succeeded, and all ended up well.


In fact, the new 'miche' (which is only an 850g pre-bake loaf) came out perfect. The focaccios have the shiny, translucent crumb we have been discussing as well. I will try to get photos (my camera is broken so I borrow from neighbour). But the miche might well end up being my (very little ) bakerie's 'signature loaf'. In any case, although not quite translucently crumbed (very soft and rubbery though), it tastes of honey. It's going to be one of those that people think I am lying when I say there's no sugar added. ( I have to stop making loaves like this! Bad for business!)


Experiment A: I am going to start averaging temperature and humidity (Temp + Hum) / 2 and see if that gives me a good yardstick in terms of timing. I suspect it will. For many people this is probably not an issue in that humidity remains somewhat constant. But for those of us who live in variable climates, it might be more important to pay attention to than is often done. I have NO DOUBT at all that yesterday's accellerated proof was due to humidity. How else could less starter and a slightly cooler internal temperature result in a much faster proof? 


Answer: the starter could have been much more active. Yes, this is true. But I don't think it was given it's condition. That is a judgment call.


Ultimately, sourdough baking especially, is all a great big creative judgment call. Which is why few commercial bakeries use it any more (hard to get consistent results, not to mention costs of extra time and storage space needed etc.), but why so many artisans prefer it (much better breads when it turns out right).


In which case, I'll have to find out how to do those stencils.


Does anyone have a link to an online article or post with pics on how to do that? I have a dream logo (that I dreamt up before getting the idea for the bakery) which is a double vortex which I'd love to put on the loaves.



shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 9

This morning I baked my fifth wholemeal miche in the last five days, each time a 2 kg loaf.  My bag of 5 kg very expensive organic stoneground whole-milled whole grain flour is almost gone.  My son saw me (sort of angrily) chopping it up, he asked, “For Polly?” Polly is our dog.  I said, “No.”  Instead of saying, “Is it that bad?” or “Is that how you feel?” he goes, “If that’s how feel (meaning, go ahead, by all means, chuck it)!”


So, “hard to get consistent results” you are absolutely right.  I am getting very frustrated.  It used to be my problem is the problem I have with my starter.  Now my problem is the new type of flour I am using (I hope).


panfresca 2011 April 9

 I read these posts with just a touch of dismay. If professional bakers and knowledgeable, very experienced amateurs have these problems, then the cliff face in front of me just got a little steeper.

Shiao-Ping, what thoughts do you have on this inconsistency? Did the flour give you good results at all, or were you unhappy with everything baked with it? Do you think external factors such as changes in temp/humidity might have been a factor?

At the moment I'm probably less self-critical than usual because I'm happy just to get an edible result, but I suspect that you might be your own harshest critic...?

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 10

Kymh, not all flours are the same for hearth breads.  When I started out, I had sort of a blind faith on all flours that I used, but if truth be told, there are some flours more suitable (or should I said, superior) than others for the kind of breads we are making.  And what kind of breads are we making?  They are the hearth breads which call for longer fermentation in order for the true flavour of flour to “shine,” and as such, the quality of flour must be able to withstand the long fermentation process and still keep its structure. 

At the moment I am blaming on this particular wholemeal flour that I use for the poor results that I get because all other factors (temp/humidity/time) seem to me the same.  It may be just that I inherently do not like wholemeal bread!  I don’t know.  I am going to try out a few more brands of wholemeal flour. 

Sometime we get a good flour to use but we won’t truly know it until we make comparisons.  Like a piece of beautiful jade, this jade would be scared to be compared against another piece of beautiful jade.


CaperAsh 2011 April 11

This thread is sort of weird. It's dealing with exactly what I am interested in this week. We need a Bread God or Grass Goddesses in our vocabulary to acknowledge this sort of synchronicity!


I am pretty sure I just had a flour issue which sounds similar to one described in the blog about Gerard Rubaud when suddenly his whole dough collapsed and he had to go into hyper-rescue mode. From this thread which linked to that blog I decided to finally work more with a 65% hydration starter. I use a 100% starter because it keeps the math so simple and also because I have been getting good results so why fix something that ain't broken? But it is time for me to start various experiments. Learning isn't just fun - it's a necessary part of the diet of daily human experience we call living; or put another way: without ongoing learning you aren't living. So anyway, I tried a 65% hydration starter using an old bag of Speerville Whole White, which is the closest this Maritime organic millers come to providing a white flour. (It's about halfway to being white.) But the bag was at least 6 months old and had been hiding under others for a while and I had just not noticed it. I also wanted to use a method in which the starter is 50% of the final flour and then you add in the rest 4-6 hours before baking. AND I wanted a high hydration baguette, 80%. So this was many experiments at once and not the miche of this thread.


However, the story does belong in the thread because of what happened in terms of dealing with sourdough issues: The starter brewed overnight in a cool house (low wood fire inside, below zero, barely, outside). It felt great, almost like a mini-loaf dough. So then in the morning during shape and proof time for my main day's baking, I added in the remaing 50% of the flour in the recipe, some salt, and enough water to have the whole dough be 80% hydration and set it aside after initial mixing whilst shaping 20 loaves or so to come back to it for a stretch and fold.


When I came back to it, lo and behold, I had a runny soup on my hands. Now the flour had not over fermented, there simply wasn't enough time (30  minutes) for the new flour to have been fermented at all. But the whole thing had turned into a soup that was WAY more liquid than even an 80% hydration dough would be. I almost just threw it out because this experiment was a side show and meanwhile I was actually there to bake up rent money not mess up experimental methods. But then I decided to be bold and turn the entire Mess into a Miche. I added in more of the Whole White (might as well use it up) and ended up with a 2.5 kg boule that felt like a normal 60% hydrated loaf. I put it in a large mixing bowl covered with lid and gave it 4 hours to ferment whilst I baked everything else and then came back to it to put in with my last batch (1500 g vollkorns). To my surprise it had risen very nicely since the one and only S&F kneading session immediately after mixing in the extra flour.


Into the oven it went and out came a rather delicious (if somewhat suspicious) 2.25 kg Miche. I could tell that something was wrong in the flavour (old flour?, insufficiently fermented last amount?) but at the same time the 65% hydration starter had indeed brought more flavours to the table so I am definitely going to start playing with it more even if it does take more work and also is a nuisance math-wise.


In answer to the question above about the learning curve etc. I think one just has to learn through doing a few times and at a certain point the trajectory of the process, the arc of the story as it were, becomes clear:


Assuming good ingredients, you combine flour water and fermenting organisms in various configurations of time and temperature such that the dough is pre-digested properly, softens up nicely, rises a little such that when baked, the organisms are killed off in situ and the grain is now able to be eaten as something relatively light and easy to chew and taste, whereas raw grains and flour are somewhat inedible (except if you are Tibetan but that's another story). Kneading is something that helps develop nice long strands of rubbery gluten which hold the gases in and create airy bubble structure in the crumb, but you don't really have to knead if you are giving the dough 12-18 hours to develop as is often the case with sourdough recipes. Short S&F's or quick kneads are helpful.


But in terms of technique I think the main thing is just to learn by doing and gradually getting a good feel for that progression: initial mixing, fermentation (not too much, not too little), baking. DiMuzio has some good experiments in his book wherein he encourages the reader/student to follow a simple recipe but then put some loaves in too soon, some just right time (assuming you know it!) and some way too late. Same thing with different types of shaping, slashing etc. So in terms of learning you might always bake 2-3 loaves and do everything the same with each loaf except one thing and that way you can more quickly see/learn the effects of different aspects of the progression on the finished loaf.


Above all, I think, one should have a sense of pleasure, along with precision and discipline. But that is true of everything in life, isn't it?


I wish I could include a picture of the 2.5 kg miche, but I can't do the picture thing here so... I got an email on how to so am now trying again using my website:


S-P - thanks for stencil link. Will look at later.

panfresca 2011 April 10

 Hi Shiao-Ping

I'm interested to hear you suggest that you might not like wholemeal bread.

I have been trying Peter Reinhart's three-part method for wholemeal bread, using sourdough starter, a soaker, then finally adding flour, instant yeast, honey and salt - the idea being to produce a lighter loaf with natural flavour and sweetness. I think the method, and the rationale behind it, is really interesting. I like the result, though I think it is one more alternative rather than eclipsing other methods.

Yesterday I baked a couple of Ciabatta loaves, using a recipe from a Maggie Glezer book - using a biga rather than a sourdough starter - it was a fairly elaborate, time-consuming method and I thought the result a bit lacking in flavour, considering all the effort. My younger daughter loved it though, and when I said I preferred bread with more flavour, she said "Dad, the flavour should be on the bread more than in it." I see what she's saying, though I still prefer bread with flavour!

CaperAsh 2011 April 11

Focaccio which is made alongside others then torn apart from its twin siblings after baking leaving a rather messy-looking jagged side edge. However, you can get a bit of the crumb translucency from the shine in the top bubbles, but the whole crumb had a bit of a shine to it the first few hours after baking.

(When my cash flow is higher I'll get a nice SLR digital instead of using my neighbours little snapshot-shooter.) In any case, they look better in person than in the photograph, these rosemary, garlic and olive oil focaccios. The garlic lightly simmered in virgin oil for a minute or two, along with rosemary which had been soaked for a few hours to soften before cooking, these three add a very pleasing aroma and taste to the bread. It's delicious!




As mentioned earlier (but cannot now insert) I did make a sort of miche loosely based on some of the principles/approaches in this thread. Another hint of translucency in the crumb. I am very pleased with this loaf and intend to do more. It is sort of a white loaf par excellence. This one was 5% Rye, 12.5% WW and 12.5% Spelt, all fresh ground and then 70% Milanaise Sifted #50. It's not my best crumb or loaf. The crumb crumbles a bit too much (fresh-ground flour is courser than miller-stone ground, at least mine is) so next time I will reduce the amount and also pre-soak the fresh-ground whole grain components, but the honey-sweet flavour is really delightful and am curious to see if that happens every time or this was just one of those times. Am beginning to strive less for consistency in terms of exact same flavour each time, but consistency in terms of every batch in every bake day being properly prepared, proofed and baked, so even if each week the same bread is slightly different, as long as it's very good, that's okay with me. I think the starters change from week to week, moon cycle to moon cycle, so it is self-defeating to insist on getting the exact same thing any time. Of course, that might be a cop out. But for now:


Little Miche Crumb Shot (camera couldn't quite capture the translucency with this one but it was there..)



shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 11

...  to see photos of your great breads!!!   After your last reply (the one before), I was tempted to send you a link for how to upload pictures, but then I thought I'd better not to give you work you don't want.   Thanks so much!  Crumb color of your Little Miche is quite dark.  I guess the color is from all the freshly ground whole grains of rye, wheat and spelt.  Must be so full of flavours, wonderful!  You mentioned you might pre-soak the freshly ground whole grains flours next time.  I once pre-soaked 10% organic whole-milled rye flour when my starter was being refreshed for a miche I was making.  The miche turned out to be a disaster - a bit like a glue.  I think fresh ground flour, especially rye, creates a lot of enzymatic activity which often runs havoc on dough. 

CaperAsh 2011 April 12

Shiao-ping: that's very kind of you!


In real life the crumb looks lighter than your pics of the Sonoma, but it's basically sort of the same I suspect.


I am looking forward to seeing what happens with the fresh-ground plus soaking. I know when I soak the already-ground Milanaise WW that I have that the resultant texture is smoother. In terms of the emerging new 'miche' I wonder if a starter that is built up that morning on the three flours fresh-ground wouldn't do okay with those same fresh-ground flours combined with whatever white I end up using because the culture will be feeding on the same enzymatic constituents. I will report back on that because that is tasty 'baker-geek' info!


I found myself chowing down on this new Miche for personal consumption and the more I had the better I liked it. The taste was subtle and light almost, but with many little layers of nuance, caused no doubt by mixing the grains in the starter at least if not also in the loaf. I have mixed things up like this before but after the brick oven was built, for several months I just baked the exact same very simple things again and again to learn how to conduct 50-100 loaf bakes in a new oven in a new bakery which was challenging enough let alone playing with recipes. Now I am starting to play a little more although my personal approach is always going to be to keep it simple. I think garlic-rosemary-olive oil focaccio is as 'fancy' as I will get and indeed am a little miffed that this one sells so well (20 loaves a farmer's market) when the 100% whole wheat often barely attracts 5 or more customers even though, to my mind, it's a truly delicious loaf. I sometimes think that if I didn't tell people it was 100% Whole Wheat and just lied that they would break down and admit they liked it! But maybe white flour really is better for the system as some people, including dieticians, claim. Ultimately, I defer to peoples' tastes and must confess that I would miss white breads terribly if I was forced to eat whole grain only, although I do prefer mixes with about 10-40% darker grains, i.e. 'pain de campagne' or 'mischbrots'.


In any case, this Miche is good and will become one of my staples. I will have to put walnuts in it next week because my most fiercely loyal customers - a couple of which the husband teaches French at the local university - have begged for a walnut loaf again. I am also going to make it more like 5% Rye, 10% WW and 20% Spelt. I really like Spelt. And for some reason I dreamed of this blend so .....


And soon I'll have a heritage wheat to play with: Red Fife instead of Hard Red. That will be interesting.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 13

Look at what type of people go visiting in a market on a Saturday or Sunday morning?  Do they look to you serious sourdough people?  I will guess no trouble at all that garlic/rosemary/olive oil of anything sel well.   Add another ingredient - roasted potatos - they will sell even better (and you only need to have one piece of sort-of charred potato on the crust to claim that you have that ingredient in there)!  I often think in any sales business, you need to be ahead of the crowd, leading the crowd, into the next big thing; but if you are too much ahead, you will be lonely.  (Your 100% whole wheat is perhaps too much ahead for your crowd.)

I like your freshly ground grains in the miche idea.  I can almost imagine the aroma with freshly ground grains.

What wheat is your heritage wheat?  Sounds very intriging. 

CaperAsh 2011 April 14

"I often think in any sales business, you need to be ahead of the crowd, leading the crowd, into the next big thing; but if you are too much ahead, you will be lonely.  (Your 100% whole wheat is perhaps too much ahead for your crowd.)"


Very helpful insight. And I do in any case feel that it is a dance between what my clientele likes and wants and what I like and want to provide, each informing the other. But I have no doubt that your suggestion about the roast potatoes would also fly off the table!


Heritage wheat is 'Red Fife'.

probably accurate summation:

more typical account:


Meanwhile, I am going to be using your picture of the Sonoma Miche as a target which is going to involve playing around with different hydration levels, fresh-or-miller-ground flours etc. I will not use conditioners though, even Vitamin C which I have. I derive great satisfaction from just having flour, water and salt as the only ingredients, with the starter also originating from only flour and water. (Though when the garlic-rosemary-oil loaf was a hit, I kept making it!)

That said about simplicity, though, another thing I tried for fun was to substute 50% stout beer (home brewed) in the water portion of a recipe in a 100% whole wheat loaf. The resultant dough rose much more and the crumb was much softer, more like white bread. There was something slightly suspicious about it, though; I had the feeling that certain parts of the full fermentation process were compromised by the presence of bear yeast  so that although it looked and felt better it did not feel as nourishing somehow. I will be trying it again because a couple of customers commented on it. But that means I'll have to brew some more which takes time!


Still, others here might like to try this. It is certainly quite interesting. I read somewhere that in the Middle Ages in Europe most bakeries were located next to the breweries because that way it was easy to pick up the left-over yeast muck from the brewing. That's what I did: scraped off the scum that forms on top of the primary fermentation bucket ('worst') and then just mixed flour into it and had an immediate culture. Very easy.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2011 April 15

The links you provided about the Red Fife wheat are very informative.  Thank you. 

Substituting 50% stout beer for water... that's interesting.  I was just going to comment that alcohol inhibits the wild yeast activity (it has been proven so scientificically) when I read that your beer bread rose higher than normal bread.  I might have to give it a try myself.  Thanks.

I am also in the process of trying to make a Sonoma Miche look-alike with 35% various whole grain flours, including buckwheat and spelt, so it is nothing like a real Sonoma.  Buckwheat has no gluten or almost no gluten.  This particular whole grain buckwheat flour I've got has very dark color, I am hoping that it will color my Miche nicely.


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