Imperfect Bread

Bread has been on my mind lately, as regular readers may have gathered from recent posts. Baking my own is of course part of that preoccupation but so is the social context of bread, along with its emotional hold on…well…all of us. Bread is a universal food. Every culture on the planet makes some version of it from flatbreads such as Indian roti to hefty beauties like a French boule to Chinese manitou.*

The fact that I have time to ponder bread and mess around with homemade artisan recipes says something about the role of social class in the contemporary economics of bread: only the leisured can make it one loaf at a time from just water, flour, salt, yeast and sometimes olive oil. That means high quality artisanal leavened bread that is actually good for you is only available to the well off who can afford to buy it from a bakery or a grocery store at a cost of five to seven dollars per loaf or have the time to make it themselves. 

No one tied to an employer’s clock or the demands of a small business can reasonably be expected to make their own leavened bread except on days off. And who wants to do that after a hard week at work? Bread nerds, maybe. People who are fascinated by the art of bread and love it as much as others might love painting or decoupage. Folks like me. But that’s it.

Making leavened bread at home requires the kind of intelligence that can only be developed with experience. Which brings me to this week’s post in which I attempted to make a 75% whole wheat levain loaf based on a recipe in Ken Forkish’s book, Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. 

It was not an entirely successful effort. We ate it though. It tasted fine, but it didn’t rise while baking as much as it should have. I think it was over proofed. 

When I jammed my finger into the dough to check if proofing was complete, a test recommended by Ken, the dent I left stayed for quite a while. Apparently there is a magical point at which one’s finger divot remains, puffing out slowly.

I also had to make some adaptations to his method since I don’t have the huge tubs for dough mixing that he recommends for making 2 loaves at a time. Nor did I feel the need to make his levain. I used my fed sourdough starter in the same ratios his recipe called for. 

So maybe my version of levain (that’s the fed starter) had more moisture than his finished levain. Which then could have caused my dough to behave differently. My kitchen is warmer, too. So that would certainly have been a factor, except that this bread proofs in the fridge overnight. The warmth of my Florida house contributed to a faster bulk rise for sure, but I moved on to the shaping and proofing stage before his recommended rise time was up because the dough had doubled. 

Perhaps the alchemy of a faster bulk rise had an effect requiring less proofing time than the 8 hours I gave it. I don’t really know for sure.

The only thing to do is to try again and see what happens.

Here’s my recipe and technique using Forkish’s book as a guide. I’ll update this post when I make it again.

If any bread nerds have advice on getting this recipe to work better, please contribute a comment.


*  But none is as controversial as that uniquely American invention: mass produced, plastic-wrapped white sandwich bread. I’m currently reading a book about it called White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain. This is a topic for another day.

75% Whole Wheat Levain Bread

Martina at Comfort Me With Beets
A sourdough that uses both starter and dried yeast. Makes one loaf weighing 1½ pounds.
Active Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 day
Cuisine American


  • 1 Dutch Oven 4 or 5 quarts in size
  • 1 large bowl For mixing the dough.
  • 1 proofing basket Buy one; totally worth it. But your big bowl will do in a pinch.
  • 1 Instant read thermometer Mine is from Javelin. Works like a charm.


  • 45 grams white flour All purpose or bread; I used all purpose here.
  • 355 grams whole wheat flour I used KIng Arthur.
  • 330 grams water at 90°F I warmed mine in the microwave and checked the temp with an instant read thermometer.
  • 10.5 grams sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon instant dried yeast
  • 180 grams fed and active sourdough starter



  • Combine flours and water in large bowl using your hands to create a shaggy dough. Let rest for 30 minutes. This is the autolyse stage.

Make Dough

  • Sprinkle salt and yeast over the autolysed dough. Add sourdough starter (levain). Hold the bowl with your left or non-dominant hand. Wet your dominant hand with water and mix dough by hand using the pincer method in which you pinch off sections of dough and fold them over each other to mix completely.
    You should have something evenly mixed that looks like dough at the end of this. The target temperature is 77°F to 78°F (25°C to 26°C).

Bulk Rise for about 5 hours

  • Now allow the dough to bulk rise for about 5 hours. This is the fermentation stage. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap and place it in a warm, quiet place. The bulk rise is complete when the dough is about 2½ times its current volume.
  • Thirty minutes into the bulk rise time, perform a dough fold. Do this by pulling the top of the dough towards you, stretching but not breaking it and folding it over itself. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and do this again. Turn the bowl and fold until you've gone around the dough ball. Repeat this procedure an hour later.
  • Meanwhile prepare a proofing basket by dusting it with flour before moving on to the next step, shaping the dough. This is so that you you have a place ready for the shaped dough.

Shape and Proof the Dough Overnight

  • Once the bulk rise is complete, shape the dough. Flour your hands and pick up the dough. Put dough on an unfloured surface. It needs tension for shaping, that's why we don't flour the countertop at this step. Shape it into a tight ball by folding and stretching it like you did before and then once a tighter dough is achieved, shape it into a round ball by cupping your hands around it until you're happy with the shape.
  • Place the ball seam side down into the proofing basket. Put the whole thing into a plastic bag and then into the refrigerator overnight. It will rise again but not as much as during the bulk rise. this second rise is called proofing.


  • Preheat the oven to 475°F with your Dutch oven in it.
  • Invert the proofed dough onto a lightly floured countertop. It will now be seam side up.
    Once hot, remove the Dutch oven and carefully place the dough ball inside. It will be seam side up. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Then uncover and bake for 20 minutes until the the loaf has turned brown.
  • Remove the Dutch oven and tilt out the loaf. Let it cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing.


Credit for this recipe goes to Ken Forkish, author of Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. I’ve rewritten it here in my voice, but the ingredients and method are both his.
Keyword bread, Flour Water Salt Yeast, homemade, Ken Forkish, sourdough, whole wheat

One Reply to “Imperfect Bread”

  1. Now you sound like a scientist, Martina, with your ‘let’s try again’. I think your hypothesis about you having more moisture than his would be where I start. Say, I tried a new recipe this week. Inspired by your using rye flour in your sourdough pancakes. I made sourdough pretzels from a recipe on I replaced 1/4 of the flour with rye. Instead of putting the formed pretzels into the freezer before boiling, I left them in the refrigerator overnight, also I baked them until brown and until they sounded firm when tapped. Sprinkled with Kosher salt after an egg wash before baking. So baking time was longer than suggested. Absolutely delish! Handicapped daughter helped me shape the pretzels, and I did some pinching of joints. No falling apart at all!

Leave a Reply