“Something saporito,” she said. “With bits in.”

The Queen of Thanksgiving Turkeys wanted me to bring bread, and those were the specifications. I thought of a nice foccacia, but the timing was too difficult. A schoolnight, with a heavy day before it would not leave enough time. So it had to be a loaf. And the bits could not be cranberries, for all kinds of reasons. So I settled on sun-dried tomatoes and olives, and with absurd hubris thought I would just wing it. I’ve also been fooling around with chestnut flour and that seemed like a good idea. Also some durum flour. And heck, why not some wholemeal too, for even deeper flavour.

Step one was to activate my 100% starter, in three builds, to give me about 575 gm of leaven at 100% hydration. Weighed out into the big mixing bowl, it came in at 568 gm.

I wanted a total dough weight of 1400 gm at 65% hydration; 850 of flour and 550 of water. The starter provided 284 gm of each, leaving me to add 566 gm flour and 271 gm of water.

Somewhat arbitrarily, I decided on 10% each of chestnut flour and wholewheat flour, 40% of durum flour and the balance of Manitoba. To which I added 100 gm of sun-dried tomatoes softened in oil and 100 gm of green olives in oil. Baked to a rich, dark brown and delivered to the party, I failed to snap a single photograph. But it seemed to go down well. There was a hint of bitterness from the chestnut, which also added extra nuttiness, and the bits were pretty good too, the tomato especially offering little explosions of flavour in many, but not all, mouthfuls.

Saporito? I should say so.

Here is the detailed method.

Starting 24 hours before mixing, build starter. To 20 gm of starter, add 20 gm of soft flour and 20 gm of water, stir to mix and leave in a warm place for about 8 hours, until it is light and bubbly. To this, add another 95 gm each of flour and water, mix and leave another 8 hours. Finally, add 165 gm each of flour and water, mix and leave.

Weigh 570 gm of starter into a big mixing bowl. Add 271 gm of water and 330 gm of durum flour. Mix, and leave for 20 minutes to autolyse.

Prepare the tomatoes and olives. Drain off the oil and cut the tomatoes into strips about 1 cm wide. I use scissors for this, and to cut the olives in half crossways. Much easier than fiddling with a knife.

Add remaining dry ingredients — 85 gm fine chestnut flour, 85 gm wholewheat flour and 66 gm of strong bread flour — mix until you have a shaggy mass, then tip out onto the counter and knead to incorporate all the flour.

With bitty loaves like this one I vacillate about adding the bits with the flour or trying to incorporate them afterwards. Just the tomatoes, and I would add them with the flour, but you don’t want the kneading to break up the olives too much. So this time I patted the dough out on the counter, spread the cut up tomatoes and olives on it, rolled the whole lot up and started to knead gently. This is tricky. The oil around the bits tends to prevent the dough mixing in on itself, but persevere and gradually it will change from dough and bits more or less separate to dough with bits in.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover. After 45 minutes, tip the dough out and give it a quick stretch and fold. Return to the bowl and leave for another 45 minutes before giving another stretch and fold. Finally, return to the bowl and allow to rise for another 2 1/2 hours.

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured board, divide in two and shape as you prefer. At this point I slipped the shaped loaves, in their bannetons, into a plastic bag and put them in the fridge overnight. I had to, given the timing. But I also wanted to, because the long, slow fermentation would help build lots of flavour. If you don’t refrigerate, allow the loaves to rise for an hour or so.

Heat the oven to 220°C (430°F), gently ease the loaves out onto a tray, slash and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 205°C (400°F), rotate the loaves on the tray, and bake for a further 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

This story starts when my pal Joanne persuded me to reverse engineer a loaf she had bought at some swell place in NYC.1 That done I looked around for other similar recipes, and found one at YeastSpotting. Over time I’ve modified it a bit, mostly by removing the fresh yeast and relying entirely on my 100% leaven. This version makes two smallish loaves.


195 gm ripe 100% hydration starter. I build with ordinary soft flour
220 gm strong bread flour
220 gm durum flour
245 gm water
10 gm salt
22 gm olive oil
110 gm sultanas (seedless!) or raisins, or currants
70 gm pine nuts
10 gm fennel seeds (optional)


Mix the starter, water, flours, starter and olive oil in a large bowl and mix until combined. Turn out onto the counter and knead for about 5 minutes to a smooth, elastic consistency. Add the sultanas or other dried fruit, the pine nuts and fennel seeds (if using) and knead until the additional ingredients are well incorporated into the dough.

Form into a ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl to bulk ferment for 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, press out gently and divide into two portions.2 Shape the dough as you prefer and allow to rise for about another 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 230°C and prepare to use steam.

Slash the loaves and place them in the oven, with steam. Bake for about 10 minutes. Then remove the steam, turn the temperature down to 220°C and bake for a further 20 minutes. Test the loaves for doneness and if done turn the heat off and leave them in the oven with the door slightly ajar to help them dry out. Place on a wire grill to cool.

Durum loaves often dry quickly, but the sultanas help to keep this one softer longer. I like the contrast of the sweetish bread with salty salami and cheese. It also toasts well.


  1. That recipe will eventually be transferred over here. And right now she’s back there again, so maybe she’ll get the recipe they actually use, this time.a
  2. You can also divide into three or four, as Susan at YeastSpotting does, and bake as mini-baguettes, but I prefer a larger loaf.a

Saveur magazine’s May 2012 issue promised that I could “learn to bake like a pro,” and had a bunch of interesting sounding recipes. Interesting, and weird. For all kinds of reasons. So I thought it would be fun to, er, reinterpret them for people who were reasonable bakers, and had no desire to bake like a pro. I decided to start with Apple Cider Levain Loaf. Big mistake.

The two weird things about the Saveur recipes are the amounts and the instructions, especially with regard to their “levain”. They start with 1/4 teaspoon of dried active yeast, and feed that each day with equal volumes of “all-purpose” flour and water. Helpfully, they do the math: “4 ¾ cups plus ⅔ cup and 2 tbsp. (1 lb. 9 ⅓ oz.) all-purpose flour”. I think 2 tablespoons of flour is 1 fluid oz. So the total volume of flour is 44.4 fl oz., and the total weight 25.33 oz. and a Saveur cup of AP flour weighs 4.6 oz. In which case, given equal volumes of flour and water in the starter, the hydration of the start is 174%.


More to the point, how much else is going to be in there apart from commercial yeast? Is it really worth 10 days of buggering about if all you probably have is commercial yeast?

My Starter

So the first thing to reinterpret was the starter. Saveur builds 1/4 cup of its levain with 1/3 cup of water, 3/4 cup bread flour (a cup of which, confusingly to me, weighs 5 oz. rather than 4.6 oz.) and 1/4 cup apple cider. I’m assuming they mean apple juice. Ignoring the 1/4 cup starter, the hydration of this build is pretty close to 125%.

OK! That bit was easy! Not surprisingly it smelled faintly fruity, bubbled a treat, and was ready to roll this morning.

To about 70 grams of 100% hydration starter, add 75 grams of water, 57 grams of unsweetened apple juice and 107 grams bread flour. Stir to mix, cover, and leave for 12-24 hours.

The Dough

Back to those dumb volumetrics; Saveur calls for 2/3 cup water, 3/4 cup “cider,” aka apple juice, and 3 1/4 cups bread flour, which translates, at their rate, to 16 1/4 oz. I decided to go metric now, rather than later, at 28.8 rather than 30. (Why? Because it gives 150 gm of water and 175 of apple juice, as near as makes no difference.) Plus 50 gm of dried cranberries (because I didn’t have the 2 oz. the recipe calls for) and 15 grams of salt.

The whole lot is allowed to autolyse for 20 minus, and although it looked pretty gloopy, I thought it might just thicken up a bit.

No such luck. Knead for 10 minutes, the recipe said, which I dutifully tried to do, although to tell the truth I was really just using my dough scraper and one hand to move a very thick batter around on the countertop. Somehow I scooped it all back into the bowl and cleaned up, leaving the goop to bulk ferment for one hour.

At which stage, after an interminable time washing up, I came to write up my notes. And discovered that on Saveur’s own recipe page, people were not happy.

“Just forget it. Avoid this recipe. It’s just plain wrong,” said Mr Mambo. His math differs from mine, but I feel his pain. “I’ve now wasted a week and a half of prepping a starter and too much flour to count…all for nothing. I hate you right now, Saveur. I really, really do.”

LKYMOM didn’t follow the recipe too exactly (no apple juice, raisins instead of cranberries, and an unspecified amount of additional flour). “I just figured I’d bake it and have an ugly loaf. But to my surprise it rose quite a bit and was very moist and tasty ( although the loaf itself is like five pounds).

“I will not, however, make this recipe again.” Nothing daunted, though, she says she is “moving onto the Filone”.

And the final commenter, Kclement, asks “Was anyone successful following this recipe as it was printed?! I followed it as written and was totally unsuccessful. I would hope that all Saveur recipes are tested before they are run in the magazine.”

Scrape all of the starter into a larger bowl and add 150 grams water, 170 grams apple juice, 470 grams bread flour, 50 grams dried cranberries and 15 grams salt. Stir to make a dough, and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Turn onto counter and knead for 120 minutes. the original recipe says “until smooth and elastic,” but that’s never going to happen. Return to bowl, and allow to ferment for one hour. Stretch and fold in the bowl, and allow to ferment, according to the original recipe “until doubled in size, about 3 hours”. That’s probably never going to happen either.

Me too

I would hope so too, but I’m not encouraged. The recipe says that after a bulk ferment of one hour I should do a fold and return the dough to the bowl, “seam side down”. that was never going to happen. Seam, what seam? I did 20 quick stretch and folds in the bowl, and I’m still not too impressed.

Now what? The recipe actually calls for it to be baked in a greased tin. That makes sense, given how slack the dough is. I think I’ve still got a tin somewhere. Or should I add flour to being it back to a reasonable hydration? I’m somewhat inclined to the former. In any case, I have about 2 1/2 hours to decide.

In the end, not adjusting the recipe seemed fairest. Not having a tin, I had to improvise with barking parchment, which was fine as long as it was held up in a plastic food box. The blob rose pretty well, I have to admit, but as soon as it his the stone in the oven spread out with a vengeance. Just a couple of minutes now before I test to see whether it is done.

And it was. A thick pancake-like object. Now cooling down. Taste test later tonight.

One of my favourite recipes in Bernard Clayton Jr’s Complete Book of Breads is Oatmeal Sesame Bread. The crumb is delicious and moist, from the oatmeal, and great for sandwiches. So I decided to convert it to weights and to use a sourdough starter.


100 gm white flour starter at 100% hydration
120 gm rolled oats
360 gm white flour (I use grano duro 0)
30 gm butter, cut into small pieces
15 gm salt
15 gm sugar
340 ml water
A little milk or eggwash and sesame seeds for the crust


In a large bowl, whisk the starter into the water, then add the oats and 120 grams of the flour, the sugar, salt and butter. Mix well with a wooden spoon and leave to rest in the bowl for about 15 minutes.

Add the rest of the flour and work in the bowl and on a counter to incorporate all. The dough can be quite sticky. Return it to the cleaned bowl and cover with a plate or plastic wrap. Stretch and fold 4 times at 30 minute intervals, and then allow to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Turn out of the bowl, shape into a ball and rest on a floured board under the bowl of about one hour.

Transfer to a baking tray, reshaping if necessary, tucking the edges under, then brush with a little milk (or eggwash if you prefer). Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds and make three cuts across the top. Cover the loaf with some kind of cloche and put into a cold oven set to Gas Mark 8 or 230℃. After 20 minutes remove the cloche and after a further 20 minutes turn the temperature down to Gas Mark 6.5, 215℃, for a final 10 minutes.

Place on a rack and do not slice until completely cool.

I’m sending this to Yeastspotting, with holiday greetings and appreciation. Also, I’ve made this recipe as a kind of crown loaf by forming small balls, dipping them in eggwash and sesame seeds, and heaping them in a round tin. The balls are easy to tear apart and make a great alternative to dinner rolls.

Originally posted 28 November 2007

The blog has taken a back seat of late; we moved, we have no internets, we are tired, we have no time at work. But the whole chaotic jumble is beginning to sort itself out, witness the loaves.

I cannot actually remember when I first started to bake sourdough bread. I know that it was a long time ago. The Independent newspaper published a recipe which it then had to retract and correct. I took the correction as forgiveness for my lazy ways – I had meant to try the original version – and permission to just do it. I know it was before 1999, which is as far back as the Independent online seems to go. And I’ve been baking it, on and off, ever since.

We’ve been through it, my sourdough and me. I brought it to Italy, where it learned to cope with hard water and soft flour. I put it through the mortification of no-knead bread. I ignored it, breathed new life into it, had flings with other recipes and the pleasures of finding fresh yeast in every little supermarket. But I always come back.

This time was no different. When the move was mostly over, the new oven installed and inspected, the kitchen worktop erected, I sought out the little plastic tub that had lain, guiltily uncared-for, in the back reaches of the fridge. I popped the lid and nearly fainted. Man but the bitch reeked. Almost enough to make me retch. That was one powerfully evil aroma. A less experienced, less dedicated, less committed, less biologically savvy individual would have thrown it away and asked her friend for a fresh starter.1 I held my nose, scraped off and flushed the dark brown goop that had puddled on the top of my beloved and set to.

The result was the loaf on the left. all but unacceptable, and inedible to anyone not fully committed. Three days later the mother still smelled pretty bad, but already the good germs were getting the upper hand. The result you see in the middle. Much lighter, but still heavy. And then, a week after that, the loaf on the right. Almost perfect. Devoured far too much of it last night with some fine minestrone. And again at lunch today.

All this matters for two reasons. First, for me, a home is nothing without home-baked bread. There’s no fancy accounting for it, no justifications, nothing. It just happens to be so. I now have a home again and I bake bread in it. Secondly, the whole business of sourdough is a lesson in life. The way the flour ecosystem adapts to the prevailing conditions, changing its composition and the outputs of the system as a whole, fascinates me. I’d like to really study it, and the influence of temperature, humidity, flour and all that. There’s not a lot of point, of course, because it has mostly been done and I could just read it up. I’ve also discovered, these past three loaves, that the working of dough is as important to me as the eating of the resulting loaf. I’ll go back to no-knead some time soon, but it will never really be my staple loaf.

  1. If you’re reading this, you know who you are, and yes, you can have another starter. []