Drum roll, please…  

This post officially inaugurates the new kitchen in The Little Apple!  What better than a loaf of bread to start things on a nice track?  So, let me share with you a golden bread perfumed with the special saffron I received as a gift from our friend Steve. The bread looked like a blast of sunshine sitting on the black granite, and it made nice cracking noises as it cooled, the promise of a nice crumb underneath a hearty crust.

(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Flo Makanai)

125 g  sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
250 g water (divided)
large pinch of saffron
375 g bread flour
7 g salt
1 tsp fennel seeds

Heat 50 ml (no need to be precise) of water in a microwave until almost boiling, add the saffron and let it sit until it cools to almost room temperature, stirring every now and then.  Strain the saffron water through a fine mesh colander, and add to the rest of the water for a final volume of 250ml. Reserve.

Add the active starter to a large bowl, mix it with the water until it dissolves more or less smoothly. Add the flour and the fennel seeds, and briefly do a few kneading moves to form a shaggy mess.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough and incorporate by kneading lightly and folding the dough on itself.  You can keep the dough in the bowl, or transfer to a surface.  After 20-30 seconds of kneading/folding, cover the dough again and let it sit for 40 minutes (total rising time up to this point: 1 hour).

Repeat cycles of quick kneading/folding two more times, spacing them 40 to 50 minutes.   After the third and final kneading cycle, let the dough sit for 20 to 30 minutes, shape it as a round or oval loaf, and leave it at room temperature  30 minutes longer.  Total rising time from beginning to end: about 3 and a half hours.  Place it in the fridge overnight.

Remove the dough from the fridge 2 hours before baking (see my comments). Heat the oven to 450F. If using a clay pot, place it in the cold oven as you turn it on. Bake the bread covered for 30 minutes, remove cover, and allow it to fully bake (reducing the temperature to 425F if the bread seems to be browning too fast) for 12 to 15 minutes longer.  Remove to a rack to cool completely before slicing.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  It’s been a while since I baked a loaf of bread that made me as happy as this one! I’d been refreshing my starter for weeks in a row, but placing it back in the fridge, unable to squeeze bread baking in our crazy schedule.  My cookbooks are not unpacked yet, so I decided to go with the simple but very efficient method devised by Flo Makanai years ago: her famous 1, 2, 3 recipe.   One part starter, 2 parts water, 3 parts flour.  You can adapt and use any liquid or flour, but that’s the basic formula.   I wanted to incorporate saffron in the dough, and fennel seemed like a good match too.  Considering that it was not a tried and true recipe, and that it would be my first time using the oven in our new home, I admit I was  pushing the envelope. Interesting expression, by the way, I learned its origin not too long ago, and was a bit surprised. No Post Office material was used in its making.  Live, and learn.

Live, learn, and bake!  😉

To add a bit more emotion to the adventure, I could not find my banettons to proof the dough after shaping.  I actually have two, one round, and one oval, but they are both MIA, probably hidden inside one of the unpacked boxes.  I ended up using a copper colander, lined with a white cloth.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I pushed the envelope once more by removing the dough from the fridge only 30 minutes before placing it in the 450F oven, trying to minimize the time our kitchen would be exposed to such insanely high temperature. Still, the bread had an impressive oven spring, and the beautiful, golden open crumb I hoped for.  It would be amazing with paella or a bowl of bouillabaisse, but until the weather cools enough for those dishes, we’ll enjoy it with fresh, juicy tomatoes and a sprinkle of Maldon salt.   Simple pleasures. Golden pleasures.

A final remark: I wish I could take credit for the title of this post, but my beloved husband was the genius behind it…  Sorry, ladies, he’s mine, all mine!

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2011

TWO YEARS AGO: Heavenly Homemade Fromage Blanc

THREE YEARS AGO: A Perfect Sunday Dinner


Just for a change, here’s a bread that’s not part of the BBA Challenge…  😉

Who doesn’t love a good bread? But, while some people prefer a hearty crust, uneven holes and an assertive taste, others like a tight, smooth crumb enveloped in a soft crust.  This  “pain de mie” joins the best of both worlds: it’s leavened with sourdough starter, but it’s moderate hydration produces a surprisingly closed crumb, especially if you bake it contained in a loaf pan. It’s a perfect sandwich bread, with more “pizzazz” than anything you’ll find at the grocery store.

I discovered this recipe in a wonderful French blog called Makanai: Bio, Bon, Simple. When a French woman (who has superb boulangeries on every corner) bakes bread at home, then I pay attention: she must be an outstanding baker! You can read Flo’s detailed description here.

(adapted from Makanai’s blog)

210 g  sourdough starter (mine was at 80% hydration)
420 g water
500 g bread flour
130 g rye flour
11.5 g fine sea salt (13 g if using unsalted seeds)
30-35 g seeds of your choice
(I used flax seeds and roasted, salted sunflower seeds)

Mix the flours, water, and sourdough starter until they form a shaggy mass.  Let it stand at room temperature, covered, for 30-45 minutes (autolyse).  Add the salt and mix it with either using a Kitchen Aid-type mixer for a few minutes, or by hand.  Add the seeds and knead with the machine for about 7 minutes at low speed.  Alternatively, mix gently by hand to incorporate the seeds and knead the dough by folding 4 times during the first hour, at 15 minute intervals.  Let the dough rise undisturbed for another full hour, in a warm place, covered.

Refrigerate the dough for 12 to 24 hours (very important step!), misting the surface lightly with olive oil, and covering with a plastic wrap.

The next morning remove the dough from the fridge, remove the plastic and cover it with a towel, to rest at room temperature for 2 hours before shaping.  Meanwhile, prepare a loaf pan by lightly coating it with olive oil and sprinkling flour, especially in the corners. You can make a single large loaf or divide it half depending on the size of your pan.  Mine was a 9×5 loaf pan, so I divided the dough in uneven pieces, placed the larger one in the loaf pan, and shaped the smaller one as a “batard“.   Ideally, the dough should fill 2/3 of the height of your pan.

Allow the shaped bread to rise 2 hours at room temperature, slash it with a blade, sprinkle some flour on top and bake it in a 435F oven for about 45 minutes, with an initial burst of steam.  Check the internal temperature: the bread will be done when it reaches at least 200F.

If you are patient enough, let the bread cool for a couple of hours before slicing it. Good luck with that… 😉


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This was a fun bread recipe. If you’re a novice baker, then incorporating the seeds and folding by hand might be a little intimidating, so use a mixer instead. If you are experienced with minimal kneading and folding, then by all means use the technique here.

For the sandwich bread, I slashed the dough slightly off-center, as Flo did in her blog.

The same dough, baked in the loaf or free form, produced breads with different characteristics. The “batard” browned more, and the crumb was more open, reminiscent of a levain bread with a heartier crust.

My favorite method to create steam is to fill a large roasting pan (like this one) with hot water, and empty it before inverting it on top of the bread.  These affordable roasting pans, sold for cooking outdoors, effectively mimic a “steam oven.” Bake the bread covered in this way for the first 30 minutes, then remove the cover to promote full browning of the crust.  I used this method for both the breads in this post.

The textures and flavors of this bread were outstanding! Its slices stood out in ham and cheese sandwiches, and were hearty with a thin spread of fig jam. I normally don’t even care for bread with jam, but my husband twisted my arm and I’m glad that he did!

I am submitting this post to this week’s Yeastspotting, to join Susan’s fun on Friday….


A few years ago, a small revolution  took place among American bakers  after the publication of the no-knead bread recipe.  It was hard to surf the internet food world without daily encounters of posts about it.  Like many other people, I boarded that train, which I do not regret.  As a result of the “no-knead” recipe, I baked good bread at home, which was something I’d struggled with for years.  Also thanks to the “no-knead” recipe, I gained the self-confidence to attempt more elaborate breads, until my travels took me to an unforgettable turning point:  the “Handmade Loaf“, by Dan Lepard.

I now have too many bread-baking books,  but  The Handmade Loaf is the one that I cherish, in part because his respect and love for everything about bread shines through in every sentence.  Technically, his instructions are flawless and his photography is superb.  Sure, I can make and enjoy a loaf of bread that was mixed in five minutes, but that’s not the bread that I fell  in love with.  Rather, this is it….

(Dan Lepard’s  Handmade Loaf)

350 g bread flour
1 tsp sea salt
150 g water
150 g sourdough starter
1/2 tsp fresh yeast (I used instant)
25 g olive oil
100 g pitted green olives
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Combine the flours with the salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the water, starter, yeast, olive oil, olives, and thyme.  Add the liquid to the flour, then stir with your hands. Form a loose ball with the ingredients and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

Proceed to kneading the dough three times at 1o minute intervals. Each kneading cycle will last only 10-15 seconds.  After the last kneading cycle,  let it rest for 10 minutes and form it into a rectangle.  Fold it by thirds like a letter, let it rest for 1 hour.  Stretch the dough again, fold it by thirds, allow it to rest for another hour.  Shape the dough very gently into a rectangle and pat the surface with your fingers  to flatten it slightly.   Sprinkle cornmeal on the surface, cover with a cloth and allow it to rise for 45 minutes.

Bake in a 425F oven for about 40 minutes.


I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting….

Comments: I’m not sure why this bread wasn’t called “White Thyme Bread with Green Olives,” as they are so obvious in the loaf.  Make sure to use best quality green olives;  Dan suggests piccolini olives from France, even if you have to pit them yourself.

The bread is supposed to be quite flat, but I decided to form a more rounded shape.   I could have slashed the surface,  but I didn’t expect as much oven bounce as it achieved during baking.

This bread is a departure from his white levain, because it calls for a small amount of commercial yeast in the dough.  That adjustment reduces the fermentation time, and creates a slightly less “creamy” crumb.  The addition of olive oil allows the flavor of thyme to permeate  the crumb, imparting an assertive, but not overpowering taste.

It’s bread as bread should be.  Thank you, Dan!

Here are some photos of the process…  Keep in mind that I gave only a short, summarized version of the recipe.  In the book, Lepard goes through all the steps in detail.  So, if you want to make  a loaf of bread in your own home that you can write a poem about later, then consider buying The Handmade Loaf.   It’s worth every penny.

Easy to fall in love…

Levain Bread with Caramelized Onions

I am beyond excited about this bread for three reasons: first, it is….. it is…. (drum roll)….. my own recipe!!!! Second, I am entering it in a “Bread Contest” launched by Jackie, from Pham Fatale.   I hope you will have a moment to visit her site on October 1st to see all breads and vote for your favorite.  Third, I am submitting it for this week’s Yeastspotting, my third contribution to Susan’s event.

Of course, for the most part a “new recipe”, is an oxymoron, because almost all are variations on previous themes, and this bread is no exception. I played around with a basic sourdough formula that I’ve used countless times (from Hamelman’s Bread). It uses wild yeast as the sole leavening agent.   I put my very own 1.5 year old starter to work (I call him Mr. Dan), together with white and spelt flour, plus caramelized onions and a small amount of goat cheese in the dough, to balance the sweetness of the onions. I can’t thank Jackie enough for this contest, that gave me a big push to create a bread recipe; I look forward to seeing all the entries.


For the caramelized onions:
2 medium yellow onions, sliced very thin
large pinch of salt
1 T olive oil

For the bread:
330g bread flour
45g spelt flour
185g mature liquid starter
185g filtered water, at room temperature
1 + 1/4 tsp sea salt
85g caramelized onions, cut in small pieces
20g goat cheese, cut in small chunks

Caramelize the onions by sauteeing the slices in olive oil with the salt until they are dark golden. Sautee them slowly over low heat, stirring from time to time to prevent burning. It took me about 40 minutes.  Don’t  rush this process.  Drain the onions of excess oil on a sieve, then cool them and cut into pieces.

Refresh your starter two to three times over the previous couple of days to make sure it’s very active. Do the last refreshment 8 hours before making the dough.

Add all the ingredients (except onions and cheese) to the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on first speed for 3 minutes. Check the hydration: if too sticky add a little more bread flour. Mix for 3 minutes more on second speed. Add the onions and cheese, and mix until incorporated. At this point, depending on the amount of moisture in your onions, you might have to correct the hydration. My dough needed almost 2 full tablespoons of flour.

Place the dough in a bowl coated with a spray of olive oil, allow it to ferment for 2.5 hours, folding the dough at 45 minutes, 1.5 hours, and 2 hours and 15 minutes. After the last folding, wait for 15-20 minutes and form a “boule”. Place it in a banetton or other recipient of your choice, and retard it in the fridge for at least 8 hours. (You can see pictures of how to fold the dough in one of my previous posts)

Remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 2 hours. Bake it at 430F for 45-50 minutes. A clay pot is perfect for this kind of bread. Place it  in the cold oven, when the oven is ready,  remove the lid (with oven mittens) and quickly dump the dough inside, make a couple of quick slashes, and close the lid.   After 30 minutes, remove the cover  to brown the crust. Internal temperature should be at least 200F.

Place it on a rack to cool for 2 hours before slicing. (I know this isn’t easy, but it’s essential to avoid a gummy crumb).


jump for more photos and final comments




This is my second submission to Yeastspotting

The recipe for this traditional wheat bread from England comes from Dan Lepard’s book  “The Handmade Loaf”, that I mentioned before. I’ve made quite a few  breads  from it, and at first this one seemed a little too involved,  because it required not only a levain (sourdough starter), but also a barm .  But, I was inspired to try it after reading a wonderful post about it.

Lepard  came up with a nice strategy to duplicate the barm at home by taking  a bottle-conditioned beer, and adding to it a small amount of your own  levain.  It’s a simple bread once  the barm is ready and bubbly…

To make the barm….

125g Chimay beer (or other beer containing live yeast)
25g bread flour
2 tsp white levain (commercial or made from scratch)

Heat the beer to 160F, remove from the heat and quickly add the flour. Transfer to a bowl and allow it to cool to 68F, then add your white levain. Leave it at room temperature overnight or until it is very bubbly (my barm fermented for 30 hours).

Waiting for it to cool to 68F….

To make the bread dough…


75g barm
125g water at room temperature
250g bread flour
3/4 tsp fine sea salt

Mix the barm in a large bowl with the water to completely dissolve it, then add the flour and salt. Mix it all with your hands;  it will be pretty shaggy and you will doubt that it will ever become smooth…. don’t worry, just let the dough sit there for 10 minutes, covered.

Now follow this timeline, kneading for 10 to 15 seconds (yes, seconds) at each timepoint:

10 minutes / 20 minutes / 30 minutes / 1 hour / 2 hours /3 hours / 5 hours

at the 30 minute timepoint the dough will already be quite smooth…

After 5 hours, knead it briefly again, allow the dough to relax for 10-20 minutes, and  shape it into a  “boule” (see one method here).  Gently transfer it to your vessel of choice for the final rise (about 4 hours) before baking. I used a banetton lined with a fine cloth, sprinkled with cornmeal.

The bread will rise to 1.5X  its initial volume; when you press it gently with a finger, it should feel airy and light. I baked mine in a clay pot at 430F for 30 minutes covered, and for 15 additional minutes with the lid off.


This bread is a winner in every way:  flavor, crust and crumb texture, and looks. The beer gives it a subtle sourness completely different from a regular sourdough, made with levain only. It is a perfect match for a ham sandwich, or to go along a hearty soup or salad.  I kept thinking about split pea soup while munching on the bread. I’ll definitely make it again, with different beers and flour mixtures, as advised in Lepard’s book.

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