The Wood-Fired Blog

Bread Photos. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I’ve been baking bread for years and years. It was my baking and building hobbies that led me to start Forno Bravo in the first place (those many years ago). So I am happy to say that my baking has continued to improve of the past months, and that my bread is a lot better than it was 10 years ago.

Which doesn’t mean that I still don’t make a lot of mistakes, though I think it does mean that I at least understand what the mistake is when I see. Which is a big step in the right direction. Going ahead, I am going to start posting bread photos, along with a brief description of what went wrong, and how I think I can fix the mistake in the future.


Here goes. This one came out pretty good. This is a 100% whole wheat sourdough loaf with 80% hydration, three builds and overnight, refrigerated fermentation. I brought the dough of oven refrigerator first thing in the morning, let is warm up, shaped my boule an let is proof at room temperature for about three hours. Timing sourdough is one of my biggest sources of mistakes, but retarded fermentation in the refrigerator (along with folding, yeah!) is the most important thing I have incorporated into my baking recently. It makes it a little bit easier to get the timing right, for not under-proofing or over-proofing by loaves, and when you get it right, the results a much better. The crumb is more mature, with better texture and better flavor, and the crust has better color, and a thick, chewy feel.

I still have a really long way to go — there are some incredible bread photos out there (which, of course, require really incredible bread to photograph in the first place), but for now I am happy that my bread is still improving. And that I haven’t hit a plateau yet.

Next up. Some mistakes, what went wrong, and how I have tried to avoid that problem in the future.

Back to Bread; Folding

My bread baking skills are slowly improving, which is a good thing for all — for me and the family. I have learned a handful of new skills over the past few months, including temperature control, long (24 to 48 hour) fermentation, builds and folding.

On folding, I started baking when you were supposed to punch down the dough after the bulk fermentation. The idea was to push out some of the air holes and re-distribute the available food for the dough’s bacteria and yeast. But I always wondered why my higher hydration dough always sagged sideways and didn’t have the structure to rise properly. I would always tell myself that I need more gluten development, and that maybe I needed better flour.

Which brings me to folding. Folding re-distributes the nutrition in your dough, and releases the bigger air pockets, but it also gives your dough structure. It elongated and lines up the dough’s gluten strands to build strength. For the sourdough whole wheat rye that I have been making, I fold the dough 3-4 times at various points in the process. After mixing, every hour or so during bulk fermentation, etc.

There seem to be a number of different techniques, but I fold by bringing the top edge of the dough down to the bottom (while stretching it) and seal the seam. Then I turn it 90 degrees and stretch, fold, seal again. For a about six folds. It gets a little tighter each time.

After trying a lot of different techniques (letter fold, etc.) and a lot of experimenting, I read that your bread should have a consistent orientation during folding, where the same side basically faces up the entire time. Which, looking back, explains why I had a lot of inconsistent results with my random folding. Once I started to consistently fold, rotate, fold, and kept the same side of the dough pointing upward the entire process — from the count, to the proofing bowl, through shaping and into the oven — my loaves spring upward much better, and my wetter dough breads don’t just spill sideways.

Of course I have a lot more to learn.

Baking Bread in Someone Else’s Oven

I’ve been baking bread in other people’s ovens for years. It’s a lot fun. You get to experiment with flour and yeast from other countries, use different ovens, and bake entirely by feel. Forget the digital scale and baking stone, most rental apartments and houses don’t even have measuring cups. And besides, hand-mixing dough is a lot of fun. It’s therapeutic. A couple of years ago, I even grew a sourdough culture using plums straight from the tree. Looking back, that dough was too stiff and I didn’t give my bread enough time to rise, but I guess that’s a sign that my baking has improved over the years.

whole wheat flour


One of the interesting aspects of this experiment was that the flours and yeasts in the supermarket (Plodine) were entirely in Croatian. Often you see packaging with lots of different languages, where you can work out what is what. But in this case, I had to get by completely with pictures. So I went for the flour with the picture of a whole wheat boule on the front. haha. Luckily, whole wheat flour and instant yeast is what I got.

Of course with the help of a handy Internet translator, I now know that pšenični brašno are the Croatian words for whole wheat flour. Good guess.

My first trial was only OK. I was fitting it in between going out for the day and breakfast, so I basically mixed the dough, let it proof overnight in the refrigerator and baked it straight from the refrigerator (results shown above). It was OK, but not great, but I didn’t have the time to let the dough warm up and actually do the final proof — and besides, I always like hand-made whole wheat bread better than supermarket white bread, even if it isn’t perfect. Of course the basic white Croatian baguette was a lot better than our local Safeway bread (a lot better). haha.

The second time through I had a little more time, and was able to fold the dough twice and give the final loaf a decent rise before baking it. My dough was sticky, but I was able to work with it using wet hands. Here’s the fun part; take a look at the photo below. The slightly rounder bread at the top of the photo is the supermarket whole wheat baguette and the slightly flatter bread is my loaf. My crust was a little more crunchy and a little denser, and the crumb between the two was very similar. What a chuckle. I clearly ended up using the same flour that they did.breadI’m not sure where we’re going next, but I’m looking forward to trying out new flour and maybe someone else’s wood-fired oven.


The Ever Humbling Art of Breadbaking

Just when you think you have seen a lot, you do something new wrong. haha. This is a 75% hydration sourdough rye boule (the flavor was really good), where I did not use enough flour to keep the loaf from sticking to the banneton — it’s as though I am trying to find things that could go wrong. From now one I will use lots of flour to line by banneton.


Oh well. The loaf came out OK despite the huge tear in the top. One skill I need to develop is docking a very wet load. I need to read up on that, or find a good YouTube video.

Sourdough rye boule

A Sourdough Boule

Sourdough Boule

Here is the bread from my three build, four fold sourdough rye. I think an honest assessment is that four folds worked — the bread had a solid structure and no problem with loaf height or oven spring (boing!). But the three build technique did not work as well as I had hoped. I would have liked a better final proof and a lighter, slightly less chewy crumb and a crust that wasn’t quite as thick and crunchy. It was not a loaf for the faint of heart (though I really liked it).

To summarize, I added 320 grams of whole wheat flour and 265 grams of water to a 80 gram AP flour/100 gram water starter and let that ferment for 12 hours overnight, and then added 50 grams of  rye flour and let that ferment for 24 hours, and then added a final 50 grams of rye flour and 10 grams of salt to make the final dough, and gave that 8 hours to proof. 64% whole wheat, 16% white flour and 20% rye, and 73% hydration. I just didn’t get the volume I wanted in the final proof.

My thinking is that sourdough culture just ran out of gas (haha), both because I did not retard the temperature of the second fermentation and because I only added the final 10% of the flour the final day. Next time I will fix both of those problems, and try to make the same loaf — just with more volume.

And I will definitely remember to do more folds for higher hydration dough that needs more structure; including baguettes. More to come on that.

Lots more baking to do.

Dough Structure and High Hydration Dough

Sourdough Rye

I am making sourdough rye today, and pulled out Hamelman’s  Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes (a really good bread technique book) to looks for some new ideas — and I think I had another ah hah moment.

The Hamelman recipe for a mixed flour Miche calls for 60% whole wheat, 20% whole rye and 20% bread flour, and 83% hydration. Yep. 83% hydration. I was already in motion with 64% whole wheat, 20% whole rye and 16% AP (from the starter), with a multi-stage, and only (haha) 73% hydration — which is typically a lot of water, so I read the instructions more closely. My problem with these high hydration formulas is that my bread tends to ooze sideways, stay flat and not give me the rise/spring that I want. This definitely happens with my wetter baguettes. I also have trouble scoring really wet dough, but that’s a topic for another day.

What I found is Hamelman recommends folding the dough three times at 40-minute intervals, after mixing the pre-fermentation build with the final dough and bulk fermenting the dough for 2 1/2 hours. Then a final 2 1/2 hour proof in linen lined proofing basket.

Thinking about this more, I can see that the extra folding should give my wet dough the strength (body, structure) it needs.

I hope this works.



Pain Pauline at Trader Joe’s

Pain Pauline

Trader Joe’s is like the Wells Fargo Wagon from the musical the Music Man (sorry for the arcane reference). You never know what is going to be new (or which of your favorites has been phased out). Anyway, I was bemoaning the lack of a whole wheat sourdough option at our local Trader Joe’s in Pacific Grove, CA just a while back, but today there was Pain Pauline. A clear play on the famous Pain Poilane from Paris. I’m not sure how it compares with Pain Pascale, but it sure looks similar.

As I noted before, this a nice miche in the traditional French style, and while it doesn’t really compare with the real Pain Poilane, it’s good. Of course it does not compare with a homemade sourdough miche, either in terms of taste or in the smug sense of well-being you get from making your own bread, but then in the past couple of weeks since I got my sourdough culture going, I’ve decided to become a bread snob. haha.

I really like the list of ingredients:

List of Ingredients

Leave it to Trader Joe’s. Now they just need to keep it in stock. Maybe everyone should email TJ’s and tell them to never stop selling it.

Pain Pauline

Retarded Fermentation

sourdough starter

I’ve been reading more about sourdough cultures, and learned something interesting — and valuable. There are two main acids produced by a sourdough culture; lactic and acetic. Acetic acid is the acid that produces vinegar, and it gives your sourdough bread a more distinctive tang, while lactic acid is associated with yogurt production and gives a smooth, milky flavor. As an aside, lactic acid is a big component in wine, where it is important to convert tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, into softer-tasting lactic acid (malolactic fermentation). There are various ways of balancing how these two acids and flavors in your bread and your starter, including:

Hydration. Lactic acid thrives in a wet environment in your starter.

Whole grain. Acetic acid producing bacteria like whole grains.

Alcohol. Keeping the alcohol produced by fermentation (the think layer of liquid at the top) increases acidity.

Temperature. Acetic acid flourishes at 50F.

For me, this is one of those ah-hah moments. We have all heard (over and over) how retarding fermentation and long, slow fermentation gives us a dough that has more flavor and more character — and I have always intuitively understood that giving yeast more time for work on the flour is a good thing; and it even made sense that a longer fermentation gives enzymes and bacteria time to work on the carbohydrates in the flour (which is a good thing). But the idea that there is a bacteria in sourdough that works a lot better at a cooler temperature (and if you want to get that flavor you need to hold the temperature of your fermenting dough to a very chilly 50F) is such a clear statement. I think I get it. haha.




A Well-Developed Crumb

sourdough crumb

Here is the crumb of my latest sourdough whole wheat toasting bread. This is a 90% whole wheat/10% white AP flour (from my starter) and 70% hydration, so given my tendency to make the occasional whole wheat “brick”, I am really happy with this. This with zero yeast.

It tells me that my starter is very active, and the flavor is very nice. Plus, as many people will tell you, sourdough whole wheat has a lot of character — both in flavor and in the nice chewy texture of the crumb. The basic idea is that sourdough brings a range of bacteria, enzymes and wild yeasts that work on the flour, breaking down its complex carbohydrates and releasing lactic acid.

This was a three stage loaf, with an overnight pre-fermentation (without salt), and then a day-long fermentation (including some time in the refrigerator) with the finish flour and salt.

My sourdough journey will continue!