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I was pretty happy with my first attempt at a polenta sourdough ( The hydration in that first loaf was 70% without taking into account the water in the polenta porridge. But I wanted a loaf with higher hydration, a more open crumb and more polenta. I decided to go with the tried and true Tartine basic country bread.

"Tartine Bread" has a recipe for a polenta bread from which I took inspiration. But I left out the corn oil and herbs and used lightly toasted sunflower seeds instead of pepitas (pumpkin seeds). I cooked my polenta into porridge instead of doing a soaker.




So here's my polenta sourdough version 2.0 which is just the Tartine basic country with 25% cooked polenta and 12% sunflower seeds added into the dough.

 Baker's Pct

90% AP flour

10% Whole wheat flour

75% Water

2% Salt

20% Levain

25% Cooked polenta*

12% Sunflower seeds

[*I added 60 g Bob's Red Mill polenta (corn grits) to 240 g boiling water and cooked it over low heat until the water was just absorbed. I let the porridge cool overnight in the refrigerator. Then I scaled out what I needed (25% = 250 grams for 1000 grams flour). ]

Overall hydration is 77% including the levain. I didn't include the cooked polenta in the hydration level calculation since I'm treating it like an add-in. The oven spring I normally get with the Tartine basic country bread is pretty good. My 1 kg boule ends up about 4.5-inches tall. This polenta boule was about 3.75 inches tall.




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I've seen a few posts showcasing polenta sourdough breads lately, so here's my take on it.

I cooked more porridge than I needed for the dough because it's hard to cook less using my smallest pot. I added 30 g Bob's Red Mill polenta (corn grits) to 120 g boiling water and cooked it over low heat until the water was just absorbed. I let the porridge cool overnight in the refrigerator.


My polenta sourdough formula is loosely based on Hamelman's Vermont sourdough. Overall hydration was 70%. I included the levain in the calculation, but didn't include the cooked polenta.

Polenta Sourdough

Grams (Baker's Pct)

AP Flour 410g (88.17%)

Whole rye flour 55g (11.83%)

Water 305g (65.59%)

Salt 10g (2.15%)

Cooked polenta 80g (17.2%)

Levain 168g (36.13%)

Total 1018g

I made one batard and one boule. Final proof on the batard was 2.5 hrs at room temperature. Here's the batard's crumb:


The shaped boule was retarded in the refrigerator for 19 hours. Here's the boule's crumb:


The batard's crumb was definitely better than the boule's crumb. The boule was most likely overproofed, but it still tasted great. Live and learn!


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Every once in a while I buy a loaf of bread from Tartine for "research purposes". Here's their buckwheat porridge bread. It's a large loaf weighing 1130 grams.


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My husband and his friends were having a peach sour beer tasting party and he asked me to bake something that could pair well with those beers. I considered baking something peachy, but peach season is not quite in full swing yet, so the ones available at the farmers' markets are still a bit too pricey and not quite at their best.

I decided to bake him a chocolate sourdough bread. I used the formula found on the SFBI website, but I think there's a similar formula in "Advanced Bread and Pastry". It's a hybrid bread using both a levain and instant dry yeast which worked out well for me since my starter is acting lazy and won't raise bread sufficiently right now. (See this thread about it:

The recipe called for chocolate chips, but I used chopped chocolate instead. Chopped chocolate had the added benefit of staying soft even after the bread cooled off. It's easier to slice when a hard chocolate chip isn't tearing through the crumb. I added 27% dried sour cherries which along with the chocolate gave me an add-in percentage of 20%. The dough is low hydration (64%) so it's easy to handle.


Others (elsewhere on the 'net, not on TFL) that have made this bread mentioned that it was not sweet at all. So I was taken by surprise that it was sweeter than I expected. Maybe other people expected something like a chocolate cake? Well, in that case I can understand the bread was not sweet when compared to cake. I expected less sweet and felt it was more sweet. It's all about expections.

Perceived levels of sweetness aside, I would not call the bread overly sweet. The honey played very nicely with the Dutch-processed cocoa. I didn't detect any tang from the levain. Overall, the flavor of the bread was very well-rounded. The smokey bitterness of the cocoa and the bright tartness of the cherries paired perfectly with all those sour beers.



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I've been baking mostly boules at home since the cast iron combo cooker has been my method for generating steam. Sometimes I just feel like having a loaf pan-shaped bread, but I still want to have all those hearth bread qualities.

My favorite naturally leavened loaf pan breads in the city are from Outerlands and Josey Baker. Outerlands sells only one kind of bread since it's a restaurant not a bakery. You can see his levain bread in this Tartine video at around 2:30. The other bread is the "wonder bread" from Josey Baker which is the opposite of that supermarket  fluff bread of the same name. It's tangy, chewy and moist with a crispy, crackly crust. Perfect for PB&J (or, if you prefer something fancy, almond butter sprinkled with Maldon sea salt and drizzled with rooftop honey).

For this week's bake I decided to make a naturally leavened bread in a loaf pan just like the ones I mentioned. I used Ken Forkish's overnight country blonde formula. This was my first time using this fomula so I prepared myself by reading TFL posts from others who have already tried it. The "overnight" bulk fermentation at room temperature seemed to be where people had some problems. I mixed my dough late at night so that I would be awake in the morning to catch the dough before it would triple. It's fairly cool in my house (68F/20C) so my 11 hour bulk fermentation seemed to be in line with Forkish's 12-15 hour timeline. My dough didn't have as many bubbles along the sides of the container as I would have liked, but the dough was already 2.5 times the original size so I decided to proceed with shaping.


Dough proofed at room temp for 4 hours then I baked it at 425F on a stone covered with a stainless steel bowl for 20 minutes and uncovered for another 20 minutes. Then I removed the bread from the loaf pan and baked it directly on the stone for 5 minutes.


The crumb was moist and chewy. The crust was crispy for a few hours out of the oven, but softened by the next day. It was quite sour just the way I like it!

My results were very close to what I get at Outerlands and Josey Baker, so overall I was quite pleased.


I also baked some bourbon pecan pie chocolate brownies.



Happy Mother's Day to all!

:) Mary

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I'm having a good time baking my way through "Bread" by Jeffrey Hamelman. Here are three Hamelman formulas I tried recently.

This beer bread used two starters - a liquid levain and a rye sourdough. According to Hamelman, each starter contributes different flavor characteristics to create a nice, full-flavored bread. I baked the loaf on a baking stone. Instead of a cast iron combo cooker or "magic" SS bowl, I decided to try Sylvia's hot towel method for generating steam. The oven spring was not very impressive and I didn't get "ears", but I'm not sure if that was because I didn't create enough steam or if I didn't develop and/or shape the dough properly.



When eaten plain, I found the bitterness from the beer too strong, but other eaters quite liked the taste. Although, when eaten with some pastrami, I hardly detected any bitterness. The crumb was wonderful. It was moist and slighty chewy. And it had that nice sheen from the gelatinized starch.


Even though it's springtime, I was dying to make the harvest bread which is a walnut loaf with golden raisins and dried cranberries. As you can see my bread turned out very dense and slightly gummy. Slices tasted okay after toasting, so it wasn't a complete loss. I should have extended my fermentation since I did not add the optional instant dry yeast. I was a bit absent minded that day since I was suffering from a terrible migraine. I read somewhere that a baker's feelings are present in the product they bake. I don't know if that's true or not, but my head was definitely feeling dense and gummy that day.


My mom is a huge fan of pain de mie so I made her a pullman loaf. I prefermented 17% of the flour and also added about 10% discarded starter with the hope of extending the shelf life. I've had a 13x4x4-inch pullman pan for years now and I normally use it (without the lid) for baking tea cakes. This is the first time I've used the pan for bread. I've never noticed until now that my pan is not completely square! The pan is 3/8-inch wider at the top than the bottom which gave me a trapezoidal shaped loaf.


And now a non-Hamelman loaf. I'm still practicing my Tartine basic country bread. 



:) Mary

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The Chinese steamed bun is the bread of my childhood. The dough can be used for many different applications. The most well known would be char siu bao (steamed BBQ pork bun). The dough can also be filled with other savory things like chicken or vegetables. There are sweet bean paste and custard filled ones too. My mom likes to roll up a piece of Chinese sausage (lop cheong) to make a Chinese version of 'pig-in-a-blanket'. And they can be plain when meant to be served with Peking duck or pork belly.

Plain bao (before steaming):

Plain bao (after steaming):

Filled with braised pork belly and quick pickled cucumbers:

With a smear of hoisin and sriracha:


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A couple months ago I took a Viennoserie class at the San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI). The students were mostly home baking hobbyists like me, but there were a few professionals too. Most of the 40 hours were spent hands-on in the pastry kitchen. The high quality of instruction combined with the excellent equipment and facilities were totally worth the tuition. The curriculum was designed with a professional production environment in mind so each batch of dough was in the 5-6 kg range and were mixed in large stand mixers. All the lamination was done using a dough sheeter. It was a bit exhausting handling such large pieces of dough and carrying fully loaded sheet trays around the kitchen, but I got used to the physical nature of the work fairly quickly. I learned so much in that one week and had so much fun doing it.

The SFBI also offers a few classes that are only 2 days long with a focus on baking at home. The quantities of dough are smaller and the mixing is done by hand. Although the baking is still done in their professional ovens, they demonstrate how to bake the items in a home oven too.

Last weekend I took the "sourdough at home" class. The students were mostly home bakers. Thanks to TFL and "Bread" by Jeffrey Hamelman, I already knew a lot of the information covered during class, but it's always good to hear it repeated again. It's the only way I'll remember. :)  The most important thing I learned was how to shape free formed loaves. Having the instructor correct my hand motions while shaping was the best part. I've watched a lot of shaping videos, but nothing beats the hands-on instruction I received in class. 

We made 6 different formulas in class. Each student came home with thirty 500g loaves and a little bit of SFBI liquid starter.

1. Sourdough with liquid levain



2. Sourdough with stiff levain



3. Multigrain (flax, sunflower and sesame seed soaker)



4. Sour rye


5. Olive


6.Semolina sesame



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Now that my baby starter is quite active and I've had a few successful naturally leavened loaves, I wanted to try making some Tartine bread. I dined at Bar Tartine recently and the idea of baking my own oat porridge bread was stuck in my head. I used breaducation's formula for the Tartine oat porridge bread.

Let's just say mine turned out nothing like breaducation's beautiful bread. My dough was very wet and sticky and I had trouble handling it. You can see that my loaf hardly rose at all.



Even though it was more pancake than bread, the flavor was very good. In fact, the flavor was very close to the porridge bread they sell at the bakery. I could taste the oatmeal and it had that sourness I've been trying to achieve in my breads.

Thinking that the oat porridge may have been too ambitious, I tried the Tartine basic country bread recipe instead. This did not go so well either. I think I see the Batmobile parked in there.



After searching for clues on TFL, gluten underdevelopment was the most likely culprit. Even though I bulk fermented at room temp (70F) for 3.5 hours with 5 stretch-n-folds during the first 2.5 hours, I was making the newbie mistake of watching the clock instead of watching the dough.

I vowed to be patient during my next attempt at the Tartine basic country. I bulk fermented until the dough volume had increased by at least 30%, the top of the dough was slightly domed not flat, and I could see bubbles along the sides of my container. This took 5 hours at 70F.


My patience really paid off!




I even made pizza with some of the dough.



I hoped that my success wasn't just a fluke. I made another batch of dough the next day.




This time the crumb was even better than in the previous bake.




The take away message is "Watch the dough, not the clock".

:) Mary

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I baked two loaves of the Tartine basic country bread today. Both loaves were from the same batch of dough and were proof retarded in the refrigerator. The loaf on the left was baked on a baking stone with a stainless steel bowl as its "cover". The loaf on the right was baked in an enameled cast iron combo cooker.

Tartine basic country heights

The loaf on the left was proofed in a bowl lined with cloth. The loaf on the right was proofed in the brotform. Both loaves looked identical going into the oven. I scored both the same way. The baking stone/SS bowl loaf (retarded for 24 hours) was baked first and was followed by the combo cooker loaf (retarded for 25 hours). It would have been nice to bake them both at the same time, but my oven is not big enough.

The scoring on the baking stone loaf didn't really open up at all and the difference in height was pretty surprising. I didn't think using a combo cooker would make such a big difference.


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