Tag Archives: Mellow Bakers

Forums and Bake-Alongs

The Mellow Bakers project of baking through Jeffrey Hamelman’s great collection of recipes in Bread, A Baker’s Book of Recipes and Techniques,  has come to an end.

This is a sort of thinking aloud post, so I’d be interested to hear any thoughts particularly with regard to using wordpress for group baking. You may of course think there are plenty of places already to do that, but I think it is always worth experimenting with different formats, as different things suit different people.

 I was just having a quick read on the Mellow Bakers forum to see what they are up to and it looks as if there will be a brand new group of bakers starting working their way through Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman this year,  so if you wanted to join in last time but felt it was too late to do so, have a look on that forum and see what’s going on.

jeffrey hamelman five grain bread

The principles are very simple.  It’s a free to join, no strings, come and go as you please internet space, run and moderated by Paul.  You can write about your baking there, you can post photos, links to your blog, ask for help, chat. Bake some, all, or none of the recipes.

I began Zeb Bakes because I wanted a home for my bread posts while I was baking along with Paul, Abby, Andrea, Jacqueline, Ulrike, Melanie, Geraint, Doc Fugawe, Natashya, Steve to name but a few of the many fantastic people who dropped in and baked and chatted there. Some people only popped in once or twice, some people baked everything they possibly could. It has been a fairly relaxed affair and I have learnt so much while I was doing it. Thank you all of you!

I really enjoyed baking along with some great people who dropped in and out over the course of the Hamelman project. I take my hat off to the amazing bakers who baked every single one of the recipes.  I managed forty five (I think!) different bread recipes out of all the ones we could have made. You can see the ones I made by clicking on these two pages in my menu bar, here and here.

There are of course other forums to join up to if you want to talk bread, there’s the Real Bread Campaign in the UK, which you have to pay to join. I was a member for one year but it seems more aimed at would be professionals than at people like me so I have let my membership lapse.

There’s also the Fresh Loaf in the US, which has members from all over the world and is a very fast moving and big forum. If you speak German or Spanish these are links to two forums in those languages.

Terry, who I met at Joe’s and Martin’s baking weekend in Yorkshire, runs a wood & pizza oven forum where they talk bread and pizza in particular and is well worth visiting too if you have questions about oven building.

And then there are the one off Twitter bake alongs where people teach you how to make a starter, or how to make rolls like Luc Martin did recently. I made brioche one happy Sunday following the @halfdrunkduck’s great instructions.

Zeb checks the mise en place for Dan Lepard's Dundee Cake

It reminded me of Dan Lepard’s Dundee Cake bake off which was one of the funniest things I have ever done on my own, Sally BR and Gill the Painter were in on that one and we have been great friends ever since –  I wish we could do another one day, though I know they take a lot of organizing.

Thinking along those lines, maybe we could do one using the P2 group theme on WordPress which allows for realtime updates?  If anyone is interested in giving it a go, maybe one Sunday later this year,  do let me know.

For those of you unfamiliar with how WordPress.com (not wordpress.org which is the self hosted side of the business)  works, you sign up as a user (free) and then you have a wordpress name and password and you can be added to a group blog where you can upload text and photos without having to have a blog if you don’t want one.

Of course if you do want a blog, you just opt for that. WordPress don’t charge you for the basic blogs, but they do have fees if you want to keep your blog advert free, like this one, or to register your own name, and various other things, all explained on their site.

I could set one up and see if we could make it work for one-off bake-alongs if there is interest.

If you want me to add a link to any non commercial bread forums or upcoming low cost bread events that I have missed out, please put something in a comment below and I will edit this post.

Happy Baking Everyone!

NB I’ve edited this post a bit since I first wrote it to make the bit about wordpress clearer.

22nd Feb 2012

I have taken out all references to group baking of Dan Lepard’s books as this seems to be causing problems lately. For more on this see Paul’s recent post on Mellow Bakers and if you wish join in the discussion there.

I have left people’s comments on this post as they are.


Five Grain Levain for Mellow Bakers

My Dreadful Memory

When I flung the book open to the right page I saw the evidence that I had made this one before. I have zero memory of doing it. But there are my pencilled in gram weights against the home column. When I first started baking from this book I weighed the home column out in ounces and then clicked over to the gram reading and wrote them down directly in the book. Later on I figured that one could far more easily divide the middle column by 10 and get pretty much the same numbers, so my inner Sherlock tells me that I must have made this bread before the blog.

Did I like it then? Again no notes. This is why it is good to write a blog. At least you can stare at the pictures a year or two later and try and trigger your memory.


There was nothing for it but to make it again. I mixed up the liquid levain, left it overnight. Mixed up a little bowl of crushed rye grain, (sourced at the Swedish Shop in London where it is sold under the name of Rågkross) rolled oats, golden linseed and sunflower seeds with boiling water and curiously a pinch of salt – and left that overnight to absorb the water.

In the morning I mixed up a dough with very strong (high gluten flour) and a bit of the old Swiss Dark. I held back on some of the water as it all looked very wet and indeed JH warns you that this is a water-full dough in the text and advises you to bake it well and long.

It’s all in the Timing

Various timing disasters happened along the way. The levain had risen and fallen in the night, leaving a tell tale tidemark in the bowl, but I used it anyway. Then the dough didn’t want to rise so I put it in a warm oven at about 30C (forgot to turn it down, wandered off and did something else for several hours) rescued it belatedly, it had tripled in size as you can see here…

So I threw it out onto a board with a large wet splat – then the phone rang – and I chatted away, while poking it with one hand to stop it sliding onto the floor. Eventually I shaped it into a large floppy boule that wouldn’t hold its shape. Then I changed my mind and tipped it out onto the bench (more flour everywhere) and finally wrangled it into six little rolls and a loaf instead. Messing around with the dough doesn’t do it any good, I know that, but that’s what happened.

The bread has good flavour and I like the combination of grains, but it is supposed to be light and airy according to Jeffrey Hamelman and you can see that the crumb is fairly close and dense. That is down to my handling. In my defence it was a very sticky, gooey sort of dough, but again that was my mistake for letting it get too warm in the ‘proving’ oven. Cooler doughs are a lot easier to handle than warm ones. You’d think maybe I would know all this?  Well I do know it, but every so often I just ignore what I know and do something fairly senseless. It’s lucky I don’t do this for a living, that’s what I say.

A Neat Trick

The good bit was making the rolls look very perky with just a single scissor snip to the top of the roll, a trick I saw Luc Martin, the supper club maestro,  do with some very interesting rye rolls he made recently which I have copied here.  [By the way if you are a pasta maker, have a look at the fantastic filled pasta tutorials on his blog.]

5 grain levain roll with scissor top Jeffrey Hamelman Bread

If you are despairing of your slashing, try using a pair of scissors instead, hold them at a shallow angle and cut little V’s into the dough and with any luck you will get a very nice hedgehog effect on your loaf.

Roast Garlic Levain by Jeffrey Hamelman

You can see the stiff levain just after it has been mixed in the righthand bowl, this is mixed using more flour than water to form a dough like consistency, as opposed to a liquid levain which uses more water than flour. The liquid ones ripen faster and tend to be more acidic in taste in my experience, the stiff levains are milder in flavour. It is easier to mix the liquid ones into the final dough. If you are mixing by hand the stiff levains can be tricky to mix in so that you don't get a patchy crumb, something that happened to me a lot before I got a stand mixer.

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Mellow Bakers comes to the end of Bread

The final breads for Mellow Bakers from ‘Bread’ by Jeffrey Hamelman are:

  1. the Five Grain Levain (P 174)
  2. the Two Semolina breads (these use that very fine rimacinata or durum wheat flour that is quite hard to find in the UK)  (P 135 and P 137)
  3. The Roasted Garlic Levain on Page 183

and then the Mellow Bakers will have baked their way through the entire oeuvre. Well, some brilliant bakers have done it, I didn’t quite manage it, but so it goes. I’m going to have a serious crack at getting these done though as they all look like great recipes.

The pics at the top are nothing to do with these breads as I haven’t made them yet but what is a bread post without pictures?

So if you’re wondering what to bake this month, we’d love you to join in with this final set of breads, dig out some garlic from your stores and make roast garlic yumminess, you can use it in other dishes too,  and post about it on your blog, or tweet a photo, or send me a link or post about it here on the Mellow Bakers forum. It’s never too late to be Mellow about your baking.

Due to the old banner being a different size to the new one it has vanished from the Mellow Bakers Pages which is sad but here it is for those of you who haven’t seen it.

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Sunflower Seed Bread with Paté Fermentée

Hamelman's Sunflower Seed Bread with Paté Fermentée

I recently made the Sunflower Bread with Paté Fermentée from Jeffrey Hamelman’s book Bread as I have got a bit behind lately with Mellow Bakers, the group that is slowly but surely doing its best to bake all the recipes in the book. This is one of those breads that is full of grains, so if you are a seedy person then it’s another variation to try.

I am not quite sure why this one came out so flat in profile. When I sliced into it it was reasonably aerated and I don’t think it was overproved, but it didn’t do much in the way of rising at any point so I think it was the load of grains, soaked chopped rye, sunflower seeds and some linseed that I added as I was short on sunflower seeds.

Hamelman's Sunflower Seed Bread with Paté Fermentée Crumb shot

So far it’s been fine, but maybe this bread could have done with ten per cent very strong flour in the mix to give it a bit more lift. I was using Shipton No 1 for the flour in this one. Who knows? I’ll have to check out what the others made of this one when I post the link over on the Mellow Bakers forum.  It’s been a while since I made a seeded loaf and I think there are other recipes which are less faff than this one and give you a similar if not better result than this one.

I also bake these breads at a lower temperature than Hamelman gives, simply because I don’t like these grainy breads to have very hard crusts. Any grains that are in the crust area then get super hard and are not pleasant to eat unless you have the teeth of a rodent. More people crack teeth on hard grains in bread than anything else according to my dentist. The trademarked ‘Granary’ in the UK being the worst culprit for this or so she says, not my words, hers!

Hamelman's Sunflower Seed Bread with Paté Fermentée and bacon

I am not convinced that just soaking the chopped rye (which forms a hefty component of this dough)  in cold water for four hours softens them enough either. Another time I would use warm water or gently simmer them to make sure they soften up and maybe soak them overnight in some fruit juice or ale as Dan Lepard does to great effect in his grain breads in the Handmade Loaf.

All the same this made a moist and tasty seedy loaf that improved in flavour and texture on the second day and was lovely with a rasher of middle cut bacon.

The sun came out for this shot!

Just a footnote: I wrote a couple of posts about this book (which is my second most useful bread book)  a while back and I also came across this thread on the Fresh Loaf, which might also be of interest.  It seems to imply that the most recent edition has had all the errors corrected. However, the only way to be sure that you get the most recent edition is to check the printing number at the front, and if you are ordering from an online supplier, they may well have old stock.

Patée Fermentée – For some reason this bread made with five different grains came out gloriously – so have a peek at that one if you want to see seedy loveliness!

Deconstructing Jeffrey Hamelman’s ‘Bread’ – Part 1

Firstly let me say, this is not a how to bake bread post, this is a ‘how to read and use a book’ post. I hope no one is offended or feels patronised and if you are completely comfortable with baking books then please do skip on to something more interesting.

I find myself recommending this book simply because it has a really solid range of recipes and formulae and tons of good advice and information embedded in the text but it is a bit scary when you first open it!

EDIT April 2013 : There is a new and updated edition of this wonderful book now available and I recommend you get hold of that one rather than this older one. It has new recipes and has been considerably updated.

challah winston knot

Celia figured out the instructions for this one, bless her!

I remember when I first got it I was really excited and then my heart sank as I looked at the dense pages of text, flicked through, came across all those decorative bread projects, rummaged through the formulae, stared at the columns, wondered what on earth the words meant. Continue reading