How does one survive a focaccia dough which is based on a wet ciabatta dough?

Focaccia is something many of us are familiar with and it is relatively easy to make as such. I’ve done it often enough with my basic bread dough recipe. However, after taking a closer look at J.H.’s recipe (decided to refer to Jeffrey Hamelman by his initials from now on, less typing!) I was intrigued by his use of biga and the fact that his focaccia is based on a ciabatta recipe which oh my giddy aunt is a rather wet dough!

A venture here into a brave new world of dough! Sloppy dough to be exact. J.H.’s technique in BREAD was a revelation for me. Who would have thought that the marriage of a very sloppy, relatively high hydration dough with some stiff biga would be so effective. I’m in love with it now. Bring on the sloppy dough!

I also tweaked J.H.’s recipe a bit further, after I watched the Salt Episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix presented by Samin Nosrat. I thought the use of salinated water by the Liguarian baker before baking was rather a good trick! It helps keep the indentations down and stops the dough from puffing up.

If you would like to get my scaled recipe with instructions for this focaccia – all you need to do is click on this FOCACCIA LINK

In the interest of transparency, the links I have provided for the Jeffrey Hamelman book: BREAD are affiliate links. If you choose to order his book via my link I stand to to earn a teeny weeny commission in the process. Thank you in advance if you do order, it all helps to support Flour-and-Spice.


Durum bread

Durum Bread – Using 2 pre-ferments – Jeffrey Hamelman p174 – This is my second experiment making Jeffrey Hamelman’s bread recipes from his book on BREAD. Just following on the use of durum flour thought this would be an interesting one to try. It is not a pure sourdough bread at all as it uses 2 pre-ferments: a biga and a liquid levain (as in the previous recipe I made). Kind of taking advantage of the best of both worlds.

It was an interesting contrast to the Semolina bread, specially as the biga is rather “stiff” and the levain is “liquid”. I prepped both in the morning at the same time with the objective that these would ferment throughout the day and be ready for the mix in the evening. I did all this according to plan but I have to admit the dough felt very fragile and I wasn’t terribly confident that it would be a success. My original intention was to pre-shape and shape the dough after folds etc and leave the shaped boule to have a retarded rest in the fridge overnight. However, because it felt so sloppy and wet I decided to leave the dough in its box as it was and let it do its bulk fermentation there.

The dough was definitely firmer and easier to tackle in the morning. I managed to shape it alright, although it kind of looked rough, as if it had been in a fight and received a few bruises. Nevertheless, as it did shape up of course I was going to bake it. After all this is all an experiment and part of the learning curve!

As you can see it turned out pretty good looking – an ugly duckling in disguise. Once sliced, the texture and crumb was pretty good too and best of all it was yummy! I was really expecting the worst and was so pleasantly surprised by the result. Definitely doing this bread again and hopefully it will only get better and better in the process. The golden hew of the crust & crumb along with a slightly nutty taste was delicious. Toasted for breakfast with a drizzle of local honey ooooh!

Give it a go yourself! Below are the Baker’s Percentages I’ve used and if you want my recipe card for a scaled down version of 250g total flour on how to make this bread, perfect quantity to start experimenting with as after all it’s all about quality, not quantity, then click: HERE FOR RECIPE and join my recipe quest of Jeffrey Hamelman’s bread recipes!

Happy Flour Power! Tia Next time I’ll be trying out his Focaccia :))

PS There are still a couple of spots available for this week’s (Thursday May 23rd 2019) Mindful Baking workshop at the Chaffey Community Centre to book go to: Trybooking

In the interest of transparency, the links I have provided for the Jeffrey Hamelman book: BREAD are affiliate links. If you choose to order his book via my link I stand to to earn a teeny weeny commission in the process. Thank you in advance if you do order, it all helps to support Flour-and-Spice.

Semolina bread

I’ve made myself a bread baking challenge. Nothing new under the sun in the sense that there have been others who have blogged about cooking every recipe from a book. Julie and Julia springs to mind here. Anyway, the reason I’m doing it is because I’m trying to bring more focus into my baking and expand my learning curve. So this is my baking quest to bake all the bread recipes from Jeffrey Hamelman’s BREAD book, well ahem hopefully most of them (which incidentally I have reviewed in one of my earlier blogs). Note: I’m not planning to do the recipes in any particular order, more in terms what tickles my fancy and according to what type of flours I have on hand that need using because: Unlike Wine, Flour Does Not Improve With Age.

My first experiment (calling these breads: experiments for lack of better description) was Semolina Bread on page 172. In my first attempt I did everything according to instructions and I scaled the recipe to a total of 800g flour. The culture was certainly active, this recipe uses no commercial yeast, only natural levain. So I built up the liquid levain on Saturday night. On Sunday morning the levain did not appear terribly active, but I went ahead anyway because I was impatient and wanted to just get on with it. At this point I think I managed to over hydrate the dough. However, after the autolyse the dough was looking better than I expected. After bulk ferment etc I divided the dough and pre-shaped and shaped it ready for oven after final proof.

As you can see from the picture above it all looked dandy up to that point BUT I knew the experiment had not been a success the minute my two breads were out of the oven. They looked sort of ok… but felt way too heavy, which is the first sign that the bread isn’t going to live up to expectation. Once I cut through: the crumb was way too dense and gunky. The odd air hole you can see was trapped air in a badly proofed bread, as pictured below. The bread was bearable toasted but I won’t lie to you, I ended up feeding the rest to the chooks.

My second attempt has been more successful. I scaled the recipe to 250g of total flour after building my liquid levain once more. It was quite late by the time I had gone through all the steps from shaping to placing the dough in a basket to prove. So I decided to retard the proof and left the basket to spend the night in the fridge (which Jeffrey Hamelman suggests you can do too). I baked it in the morning just after 8am – as soon as the oven was hot enough. Dare I say: Eureka! This time the bread had the desired oven spring and felt light, like a bread should after a bake. As you can see from the featured image above there is quite a difference between my first and second attempt of making this bread.

Lessons: on hindsight I think I didn’t weigh the liquid levain build properly (I actually should have held some of it back too) and also used too much water for the hydration. I’m inclined to suspect that the natural levain build wasn’t powerful enough either. Plus it’s easier to do one small loaf rather than many loaves from a large quantity of dough, specially if you are doing it for just home consumption. Anyway, unless I have bread orders, too many breads around the house is too much of a luxury to become chook feed on a continuous basis!

Overall I’m very happy with the result of my second bake. The bread is is light and the crust is crunchy. Jeffrey Hamelman advises that the sesame seeds can be optional and you can either mix them in the dough or just use them on top of the crust. I actually mixed them in the first time and second time did the crust bit. Either way is delicious in terms of taste & crunch. When they are incorporated into the dough there is a definite flavour effect on the nuttiness. The bread is also very moist, which would suggest that it has a good keeping quality. I think I will have to make some more in order to attest to that as there wasn’t much left of this one in the bread bin by the end of the day!

If you would like my scaled recipe using 250g total flour with full instructions click here: Semolina Bread Recipe to receive your copy.

My next experiment is what I like to think of as a double whammy on the use of levain because I’m making Jeffrey Hamelman’s Durum Bread using 2 preferments, a liquid one combined with a biga – stay tuned!

Happy Flour Power! – Tia

In the interest of transparency, the links attached to any books on my website are affiliate links, so if you do choose to order via my affiliate link you will be supporting Flour-and-Spice. Thank you in advance if you do!

Hot Cross Buns

Happy Easter!

Hot cross buns tend to be an all time favourite with everyone during Easter. Spiced buns have been eaten since spices have been around, but the custom of eating spiced buns in England on a Good Friday was established during Tudor times thanks to a by-law forbidding the sale of such buns, except on Good Friday, Yule time and burials.

Continue reading Hot Cross Buns

“No Need to Knead” Workshops with Tia

Join me these coming months for one of my “No Need to Knead” workshops at the Chaffey Community Centre – to book just click HERE

Lets get together to do some Mindful Baking


Ever heard of Runeberg Torte?

Who was Johan Ludvig Runeberg and what is Runeberg Torte?

The 5th of January is a national flag day in Finland which celebrates Runeberg’s Birthday. Why am I writing about this? Well there is something yummy that is made available for this celebration that involves baking. Bakeries and patisseries around Finland, roughly not long after New Year start to produce and sell Runeberg Torte, the sales of which culminate on the 5th of February, after which they disappear again until the following year.

I thought it would be fun to delve into the history of the torte and to Who was Johan Ludvig Runeberg? Current younger generations of Finns are perfectly aware of Runeberg Torte and that they are in season from the beginning of the new year until the 5th of February but often not much more…..

This is what I discovered Continue reading Ever heard of Runeberg Torte?

Irish Soda Bread or Quick Bread

Kids’ Holiday Workshop – Chaffey Community Centre January 2019

One of my favourite cookery authors and inspirations has always been Elizabeth David, who once wrote that: “everyone who cooks, in however limited a way, should know how to make a loaf of soda bread” and I couldn’t agree more with this. The skill of being able to make bread means that you are always able to have good sustenance. I’m sure there is a reason for that quote: “Bread is the staff of life”.

Soda bread is simplicity in itself and easy as 1-2-3-4! Which is why we are making some at the Chaffey Community Centre this week because to make it you need only 4 ingredients:

  1. Flour
  2. Bicarbonate soda
  3. Buttermilk / soured milk
  4. Salt

You don’t need any particular gadget either. In the olden days it was made on open hearth either on a griddle or a cast iron pot which was placed in the fire. The Irish call this pot a Sebasticle, which is actually is a very similar relative to the Australian Damper/Camper Oven Pot.

Although soda bread often is defined as Irish and many believe that it originates from Ireland, this isn’t strictly true. Similar quick breads, for example, were being made around the same time also in Britain, Austria, Poland.

Did you know…

Soda bread isn’t that old either, its leavening agent was only put into general use less than 200 years ago. It became popular in Ireland because apart from being a “quick way” of making bread, it was also “cheap”. Bicarbonate soda can sit in your pantry cupboard without fear of going off (unlike fresh yeast which has a definite use-by date).

Some Curious Trivia

  • Earliest preparation of Damper breads in Australia were first recorded in 1827
  • Soda bread in Ireland became very popular in the 1840s
  • More fascinating: indigenous Americans were making similar sort of bread back in the Eighteenth Century (before all the above!) by using pearl ash – a kind of forerunner to bicarbonate soda –  with corn meal
  • Corn bread is indeed a form of soda bread!
  • Different parts of Ireland have their own variations on soda bread shapes:
    • In the North they make them into discs, which are then divided into triangles and cooked on a griddle
    • In the South they shape them into a round loaf with a deep cross
  • Soda bread technique is very similar to how you make scones, not too much kneading!

So how is soda bread such a quick way of making bread?

It’s all to do with the chemical called bicarbonate soda (an alkali leavening agent), otherwise known as baking soda. It is. When an alkaline and an acidic component, such as butter milk or yoghurt get combined with soda that has been mixed into flour, a kind of chemical eruption takes place. Lots of gassy carbon dioxide bubbles are released. It kicks the dough into action and makes it rise when it hits the heat. For this reason, it is very important to have your oven hot on the ready, so that you can take advantage of this reaction before it passes.

Importance of having the right balance

Getting your soda and flour proportions is VERY IMPORTANT. As a rule of thumb, less than 1% soda in proportion to your total flour content is all that is required. Any more than that, you are liable to have an unpleasant chemical taste in your bread. As soon as the dry ingredients are mixed with the liquid ingredients, there is a chemical reaction taking place, so speed is key!

Type of flour

Moist and crumbly, rather than light and airy, is the name of the game. From this point of view, strong bread flour isn’t really necessary as the texture we are after is more crumbly as opposed to airy like in sourdough bread. So plain flour is the usual type of flour to use. Soda bread in general is more like a scone, meaning that if you over knead it, it will become tough and rubbery. This is not to say that there are not people who prefer a denser and heavier mix. Everything is a matter of taste which is totally subjective.

Free form or tin?

Traditionally soda breads have been made free form with the deep crosses. Tins can be used too. There are no hard and fast rules, do what suits you best.

How to keep your soda bread moist

Soda bread has a cake like crumb. It will also dry and go stale faster, than say sourdough bread – it does make great toast though! It is one of the reasons why soda bread was often made every other day and consumed as quickly as it was made.

One way of keeping your soda bread moist is to bake it in a cloche or dutch type of oven, like the traditional Sebasticle used by the Irish, or Damper /Camper oven we use in Australia as I mentioned earlier.

A decadent way of keeping moisture is by slathering the baked bread with lots of melted butter when just out of the oven.

Placing a damp tea towel over the bread after it has been baked is another option.

Another option for a cloche type of method is to bake the bread inside a Pyrex dish with a lid to retain steam and encourage moisture retainment.

Some Soda Bread Variations

Soda bread is open to all kinds of variations (the sky’s the limit!), it is incredibly versatile, specially as it only takes minutes to assemble and roughly half an hour plus to bake.

Here are some popular versions:

Spotted Dog, also known as a Railway Cake – same as a plain soda bread, except it has sweet ingredients added to it. It usually contains a little sugar, sultanas and an egg.

Stripy Cat – also sweet, but the currants or sultanas get replaced by roughly chopped up chocolate.

Savoury wise you can add olives; sun dried tomatoes; caramelized onions; even chilis – whatever tickles your fancy!

Brown soda bread is made by replacing some if not all of the plain flour with wholemeal flour.

To make your soda bread/scone cheesy, you can baste them with egg wash and dip or sprinkle it with grated cheese of your choice.

Last but not least, you can also make a Vegan soda bread by simply replacing your dairy component with say oat, soya or rice milk which can be soured with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The flour mix is open to your own choice and you definitely omit any egg wash.

How not to get Jinxed by the Fairies!

According to popular legend, the reason a cross is made on the soda bread is to ward of evil spirits and bless the bread. In Ireland they go a step further, they prick holes on the sides of the bread to allow the fairies, that helped make the bread, to escape. If you don’t give them an escape route they will definitely jinx the bread. Without an escape route, they will huff and puff and deform your bread. So you are best advised to never ever make the fairies angry :)))))

So why not join me for some quick bread fun if you are in the area and discover how to make Irish Soda Bread, get your very own recipe and take the bread you make home!

Chaffey Community Centre
86 Nineteenth Street, Renmark SA 5341 
DATE: Wednesday January 16th, 2019
TIME: 10am to 12pm COST: $5.50/CHILD – adult supervision required
Opportunity to discover how to make Irish soda bread and how not to get jinxed by the fairies! No special gadgets required just yourself!
Tea & coffee provided
BOOK YOUR TICKET HERE: Baking Bread as Easy as 1-2-3

Eek! What do I do with over proofed dough?

If truth be told, I think this has happened to most of us at some point in time. I will happily admit that this happens to me every so often and usually it is connected to that syndrome we call multi-tasking. I get ambitious and try to do too many things at the same time and as a consequence something will cop it in the process. Heck, I’ve found doughs in the fridge the next day I’ve totally forgotten about and proving baskets on shelves where I’ve left dough to prove. The basket might have gotten hidden behind something else as I’ve shifted stuff, so there you go, out of sight, out of mind…

Nobody wants to waste dough, as it costs dough to make it (pun intended) – well there is a way to salvage the situation. I’m not talking about re-shaping and proving the dough again, which can be done in some cases. However, when the proof has stretched itself just that tad too long, the dough becomes lost old dough. The good news is that not everything may have been lost because the lost dough has become “old dough”, or what the French baking term refers to as Pâte Fermentée.

So what is Pâte Fermentée?

Pâte Fermentée basically is a piece of “old dough”. This is a baking practice whereby old dough is kept back in order to start the next batch of bread dough. The old dough is packed with flavour because it has already gone through the fermentation process. What you need to be clear about here is the fact that Pâte Fermentée is not like a sourdough starter which can be fed and kept into perpetuity if one so desires. One particular difference between sourdough starter and “old dough” is that the latter contains salt. All other preferments don’t contain any salt as a norm. It will keep roughly for 48 hours after which it will begin to loose its punch. Even if it is under 48 hours it may not contain enough leavening power to raise a new dough all on its own. It helps to add a speck of instant yeast into your new flour mix. For me, when I use old dough, the main purpose is to take advantage of the flavours that have already been established into it. Call it a form of condiment agent if you like and with the help of a little extra yeast you are on the road of making more bread relatively faster than you would be with sourdough. If you don’t intend to use the old dough straight away you are better off putting it in the fridge, the caveat being that you only have a window of two days to use it up.

The way you use old dough in your bread formula is slightly different to how you usually combine the ingredients to make a bread dough. Before you put any old dough into the dough mix, you need to mix all the other dough ingredients first, and only after that do you start chucking old dough chunks into the mix. If the mix appears too dry, you can always adjust the hydration by adding water into the mix. I always tell my workshop bread pals to keep back some of the hydration (usually water) as you can always add water into the mix, whereas taking water back from a sticky mix… well you figure. It’s all part of the baker’s percentage concept where the flour is always the constant and the hydration is the variable.

Here is my adaptation, from Jeffrey Hamelman, to make baguettes using Pâte Fermentée

Yield: approximately 6-8 baguettes depending on how big/small you make them.

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 250g plain flour (flour with a lower protein content)
  • 495g water
  • 15g salt
  • 3-5g instant yeast
  • 420g Pâte Fermentée / Old Dough
  1. Measure the water into your mixer bowl (remember to hold some water back).
  2. Then measure and combine all the other ingredients before you incorporate them into the water.
  3. Mix with a dough hook until combined, after which you can start chucking the pieces of old dough into the mix.
  4. Adjust the hydration if the dough appears too dry and knead until it is smooth and elastic.
  5. Once this is done, allow the dough to have a couple of hours of bulk fermentation.
  6. Give the dough a fold half way into its bulk fermentation.
  7. After its bulk fermentation, divide the dough into 250g pieces.
  8. Give the pieces a light pre-shape and allow to relax for 15-30 minutes before you give the baguettes their final shape up.
  9. Once shaped, let your baguettes prove for another 45 minutes to an hour. Make sure they are well covered to stop a dry crust forming on the surface of the dough. Sprinkling flour on top helps.
  10. Bake your baguettes in a really hot oven with some steam for 10 minutes, after which turn them around and bake for another 10 minutes.

TIP: To create steam, I like to have an old cast iron pan that heats up with the oven and when you place the baguette tray in the oven you spray the cast iron pan with a spritzer which will create steam on the hot pan – just like you get steam in a sauna.

So instead of chucking over proofed dough in the bin, chuck some into a new dough mix!

Happy Flour Power!


Flour-and-Spice Halloween Workshop

Halloween is around the corner!

This is an invitation to celebrate this bewitching time of the year I am having a Halloween Pumpkin Bread “Hands On” BreadCoaching workshop at the Chaffey Community Centre in Renmark Tuesday 23rd October, starting at 10am. The session will be at least until 3pm. There will be freshly made baguettes for lunch, all I ask is that participants bring some toppings to share.

We will be making some pumpkin shaped breads with pumpkin as an ingredient too! Best part will be that there is hardly any “Need to Knead” – No fancy gadget required either – Opportunity to discover how to make artisan, sourdough based bread. All ingredients are included in the cost of the ticket ($60.30 – booking via TryBooking)

So don’t delay as there is limited space, you can book your tickets here

I look forward to meeting some Bread Heads or should I say Pumpkin Heads in this instance? :))))

Happy Flour Power!


sourdough, real bread, baking, wild yeast, spices

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