Tuesday, June 5, 2012

50% Whole Red Fife Wheat Bread

I made these two rustic looking loaves with the Red Fife wheat flours I brought back from my visit to Cliff Leir's Fol Épi Bakery in Victoria, BC (see related post Meet the Baker: Cliff Leir).

Cliff's formula and timeline for Fol Épi's 50% whole wheat bread 
  • 2:30 PM: first build of the levain: 7% starter + 100% white flour + 100% water. The build goes into the fridge (Cliff explained that some of the oil present in the bran gets smeared on the white flour during the milling. For that reason the starter moves very fast and needs to be refrigerated for this first long fermentation)
  • 6:00 AM: second build: 72% starter (the whole first build) + 100% white flour + 100% water. No fridge this time
  • 11:00 AM: final dough: 50% whole wheat flour + 48% white flour + 2% whole rye flour + 11.5% starter (the whole second build) + 75% water + 2% salt. Mix on first speed. Autolyse: 20 min (no salt, no starter). Final mix: add salt and water. Mix 6 minutes (same slow speed). Dough cooled to 50°F/10°C. Rest until 12 AM
  • 12 AM: dough allowed to warm up to 72°F/22°C (depending on the weather or other conditions, it might need to be retarded some more at this point)
  • 5:00 AM: one fold
  • 7:00 AM: divided @ 750 g - preshaped (20 minutes rest) - rolled into a batard shape - final proof: 45 minutes on couche dusted with white flour
  • Bake for 35 minutes 445-465° F @ 230-240°C
I like how the bread turned out when I made it at home: the flavor of the grain shone through, there was no acidity whatsoever and the crumb was wonderfully mellow. 

My version of Cliff's 50% whole wheat bread
But, as can be seen from the two pictures (the one above and the one below), I didn't get as good as oven spring as Cliff.

Cliff's own 50% whole wheat bread
I used the formula that Cliff had so generously shared with me and did my best to follow his guidelines as to timing and temperatures but in a home environment, life (and sleep) sometimes intervene. Once again the grain is only half of the story, fermentation control is just as important. I didn't have the means of cooling the dough to 50°F/10°C right after mixing. The best I could do was to put it in the garage when the temperature hovered around 62°F/17°C, leave it there and check it periodically to make sure it wasn't fermenting too fast. I didn't want to put it in the fridge which would have been too cold.
The dough behaved in unexpected ways both during mixing and during fermentation: you know how it is hammered in our heads as apprentice bakers that you can't ever follow a recipe exactly because there are such variations in the flours from one manufacturer to the next (and even from one batch of flour to the next from the same manufacturer) that the percentage of water must be adjusted each time?
Well, I thought that I had that angle covered. I was  using flours milled by Cliff, the dates of the milling were indicated on both bags, I was well within the two-three week period (actually much closer to two) and I figured I could safely go ahead and hydrate at 75% as he does. I didn't put in all the water in one shot but still I was less cautious with it than I usually am and soon found myself in a spot.
I was mixing by hand (at the bakery, Cliff uses a very slow and gentle old mixer equipped with two "arms" that mimic the rythmic gestures of an artisan baker). The dough was gobbling up the water beautifully but almost as soon as I stopped folding it over itself, it sneakily relaxed to the point of slackness. I now wonder if it could be because I forgot to use filtered water and just used tap water (we have city water and it is chlorinated although not heavily so).

As it were, I thought it just needed more folds and I must have folded it half-a-dozen times but every time I went back to check on it, it had spread again. That being said, it later lent itself rather gracefully to being divided and shaped. I set the batards to proof on a flour-dusted couche making sure I secured the edges on both sides so that they wouldn't morph into ciabattas behind my back. Still when I put them in the oven, they were a bit flattish and I was definitely not hopeful...
So I was pleasantly surprised to see that the breads did get get some oven rise and turned out acceptable looks-wise. Flavor-wise, they were fragrant and wonderfully evocative of sun-drenched wheat fields (although not quite as complex-tasting as Cliff's). I don't have any more flour to try again but Cliff also kindly gave me some Red Fife grain. I am storing it in the fridge for now. I will try milling it to see if I can reproduce the two loaves I made with his flours and this time I will remember to use filtered water!

Ingredients (for two loaves scaled at 980 g):
Levain: first build
  • 1.5 g mature white starter (at 100% hydration)
  • 18 g white Red Fife flour
  • 18 g water
Levain: second build
  • 38 g starter (all of the first build)
  • 51 g white Red Fife flour
  • 51 g water
Final dough
  • 600 g whole Red Fife flour
  • 576 g white Red Fife flour
  • 24 g organic dark rye flour
  • 900 g water
  • 138 g starter (all of the second build)
  • 24 g salt
As indicated above, I forgot Cliff's recommendation regarding filtered water and it may have made a big difference in the way the dough behaved. Also the second build of the levain took forever to ferment and I had to delay mixing by eight hours (a whole night) because I wanted it to be fairly bursting with singing bubbles before putting it to work.
Otherwise I did my best to follow his guidelines in trying to make this amazing bread at home and I am happy to have this opportunity to thank Cliff and all the other bakers I have met so far for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and resources. Seeing the pros at work is truly the best way to learn and I love the fact that these artisans care enough about their product to help a bread enthusiast make better bread. I know no better way to thank them than to support artisan bakeries wherever we go. Truth be told, that's my favorite kind of shopping spree!
The 50% Whole Red Fife Wheat Bread is going to Susan for this week's Yeastpotting.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe and the procedure. Great article and as usual very inspiring. Unfortunately i was in the office when i read the article and i couldn't immediately start mixing a dough...
    I can 100% empathize how you felt when it started deviating from what you have expected (dough is relaxing after a fold and gets flat). It still came out as a wonderful (and i guess delicious) loaf. It is almost impossible to reproduce exactly the same results at home (temperature, water, oven...). I really appreciate your posts, as they always remind me to remember the basics.

    1. Hello Bernd! I know exactly what you mean. Being at work and itching to put your hands on some flour and water instead of a computer keyboard! I remember before I was retired, I used to look forward so much to Thursday nights when I could get my levain out and give it a feed and it smelled so delicious and it announced a baking weekend and I loved it!
      Thank you for your kind words about the article. Yes, it is quite stressful to have an unruly dough but it is also a challenge and therefore part of the fun! What will you be baking this weekend?

    2. The first challenge is the broken Kitchen Aid. I have to fold / kneed the dough by hand. I am going to bake again a Swiss Bread which is called "Ruchbrot" using a special flour in Switzerland (it is wheat). It is milled after the heart of the grain is removed and it is strong flour with a excellent taste. Basically all vitamins and minerals of the shell are in the flour (without the bran). It has a high hydration of 80% (180).
      Probably nothing compared with the Red Fife Wheat which looks amazing. I specially love the texture and the bran flakes in the freshly milled flour. I'd like to put my hands and my nose in it...

  2. and thank you for sharing all this knowledge with us. your posts are way more informative than any book on bread I have ever read. about this loaf... well, the outcome looks very good looking at the airy crumb and the very nice crust. 50% whole-wheat really is a challenge for a baker, I can only imagine... will keep this post in mind if I venture on the tough whole-wheat side.

  3. Thank you, Barbara, you are really too kind! Yes, it makes sense to bake bread at home with a certain percentage of whole grain since it is more nutritious. I have learned that some wheats are not as pleasant as others though. The Red Fife is unique in that it is very fragrant without being overbearing and it has great baking properties. If you had access to some older wheat varieties in Sweden, maybe you could try them?

  4. Hi Farine, almost the same, yours and Cliff's version. I would be very happy with your version, I can almost taste and smell the flavors. I will try to bake my own version, with what's available in my pantry. I'm intrigued by Cliff's formula and timeline, especially when you mentioned no acidity whatsoever. But I've 2 questions:
    1. when do you add salt and starter? Final dough: ... Autolyse: 20 min (no salt, no starter).
    2. you lost me with the timeline. Does Cliff leave the dough for 17 hours (between 12.00 AM and 5.00 AM the next morning?) So he bakes the loaves at 7.00 AM?

  5. Hi Connie, yes, salt and starter are added after the autolyse (I will add that to the post, thank you!). In answer to your second question, he actually lets the dough ferment quietly at cool temperature for 18 hours before doing the fold, then another two hours and he divides and shapes. So the total bulk fermentation time is 20 hours. The trick to having no acidity whatsoever is to use a low percentage of starter and to never use the fridge. I don't know if not using the fridge is a possibility where you live. Keep me posted as to the results you get if you try it and thanks for stopping by!

  6. You did an awesome job! I savored each word, and wish I could try it too, but I bet different types of flour will affect the end result too much

    You know, I will soon be moving to Kansas, and I'll be in touch with you to "discuss flour" - they've got some amazing types milled right in the state and sold in bulk, I might need some guidance and advice from you. (probably by email)

    Great post!



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