Ghost Loaf and the death of an oven

Last week I posted a recipe for wholegrain and millet sourdough, and mentioned that one of the loaves did not come out of the oven as I would have hoped.

The pasty ghost loaf. Over proofed, and worse!

The large loaf ended up with a pasty, dull coloured crust and an uneven rise. After thinking about the disappointing results from a few angles, I’ve decided that three factors combined to create the unfortunate looking “ghost loaf”.

  1. The dough was over-proofed – Although the dough was refrigerated overnight in the same manner as previous loaves, it was significantly larger, and probably took longer to cool in the fridge. This would mean that it was proofing for longer than intended. The deflated look around the slashed parts and uneven colouring also point to over-proofing. Additionally, in a seriously over-proofed loaf, much of the sugar in the bread that causes the colouring has been used up.
  2. The crust developed a skin– also during the refrigeration process, the dough seemed to have dried out. This made it difficult to cut, but also had an adverse effect on the conversion of starch to sugars in the crust.
  3. The oven temperature was not high enough – The other loaf baked from this batch of dough, as well as being smaller and the first out of the fridge, was baked in a cast iron pot. This would have created a more concentrated, hot, and moist environment, all of which would have aided the colouration of the crust. The next time I baked with the oven, I placed an oven thermometer on the inside. At maximum, the thermometer only reached 180˚C – it looks like my little gas oven has finally given up!
ghost loaf
The slash opened out, but it looks as though the sugars in the loaf, for one reason or another, were not caramelised

So, three factors combining to make this pasty looking “ghost loaf”. The loaf was cooked through, and actually tasted good,  but between now and when we get a new oven, it looks like we’ll be baking at low temperatures, or visiting someone else’s house to bake!


Wholegrain and millet sourdough

In the last post, I experimented with the amount of sourdough starter, and the effect that it had on the final taste and texture of the loaf. This time around, I decided to completely overhaul my usual method for sourdough, and try something new – a firm starter.

A firm sourdough starter, cut up and ready to go into the dough

Usually, I use between 20 – 40% of starter, made from a 1:1 mix of rye flour and water (for an explanation of the %, see my previous post on baker’s percentages). I find that this “100% hydration” starter give reliable results, but, as I’m always interested in finding out new methods, I decided to give the firm starter method a try.

The process began by converting my usual starter to a white flour starter – basically, feeding it with white instead of rye flour. The initial mix was actually wetter than I usually use: 130g of water to 100g of flour, making a foamy and light batter. This, as explained below, was finally built up into a firm dough, briefly kneaded, and then left overnight before beginning the bread.

Wholegrain sourdough dough
The dough with flecks of yellow millet

The bread itself rose very well (for one loaf, it rose too well, leading to an unsuccessful loaf that I will be writing about later!) and, after retarding overnight in the refrigerator, baked into a great looking loaf with a golden crust and light, open crumb.

The finished loaf – wholegrain and millet sourdough

Wholegrain and millet sourdough – makes 3 small loaves

Firm starter

  • 250g white plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 450g white starter at 130% hydration


  • 650g firm starter
  • 200g wholegrain flour
  • 50g millet meal
  • 450g white plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 19g salt
  • 420g water at room temperature
  1. This recipe takes a few days to plan ahead – I refreshed my starter with white flour on Wednesday, built it up to about 250g on Thursday, and made the firm starter on Friday. Mix the wet starter and flour together, and knead for several minutes to combine. Refrigerate the starter, covered, overnight.
  2. Cut the firm starter into pieces, and add the remaining ingredients. Knead for 10-15 minutes. Place into a bowl and bulk ferment for 4 hours.
  3. Divide and shape the dough into 3 small boules (at this stage, I shaped into one small and one large loaf – the large loaf, it turned out, was a bad idea…). Place boules into floured bannetons. Proof for 3 hours at room temperature, then refrigerate, well covered overnight.
  4. On the morning of baking, take the first loaf out of the fridge and preheat the oven to maximum with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch oven”) on the middle shelf. Bake the first loaf for 30 minutes with the lid on, and 15 with the lid off. Repeat with the remaining loaves, removing each from the fridge whilst one is baking.
  5. Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour.
The risen dough (including the large loaf which later proved to be a bit tricky…)

Throughout this post I’ve mentioned a loaf that didn’t quite work. For reasons I’ll explain in a later post, the large loaf that is in some of the pictures did not come out very well – the interior was fine, but the exterior was pale and not very well crisped up. Trying out new methods sometimes gives disappointing results, but the small loaf came out very well!

The small boule, which came out at about 500g. Great colour, taste and texture

(Gluten Free) quinoa and millet loaf

As you could probably guess from previous posts, I am neither gluten intolerant nor gluten sensitive. I’m also not a fan of fad diets or cutting out whole food groups without a good reason. I do, however, like to experiment with different bread recipes, and have enjoyed the challenge of making a quality gluten free bread. If there’s a chance that there are actually some health benefits along the way, then that’s a bonus.

I have been looking around for a decent gluten free recipe and some of the ingredients are a little concerning. Xanthan gum, used to replace the elasticity of gluten, is often highly processed. So too are the flours often found in gluten free bread; tapioca, potato and rice. Instead, I searched for recipes that are similar to the whole grain sourdoughs I am used to.

This recipe is based on one I found here. I have adjusted the recipe slightly to include linseed and millet as well as the quinoa and chia. The chia replaces xanthan gum and gives the dough a springy textured crumb whilst the combination of millet and quinoa give a crunchy crust and excellent flavour. This loaf isn’t winning any prizes for its appearances… It looks similar to a 100% rye loaf, but the method is completely different to any loaf I have made before. The leavening comes from the combination of bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice, and there is no “dough” as such- instead the ingredients from a batter. The flavour, which is the most important thing, is great, and the texture is very pleasant too.


Gluten free quinoa and millet loaf makes one small loaf

60g chia seed
125g water
150g hulled millet
100g red quinoa
50g linseed
60ml olive oil
125g water
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice

1. Soak the chia in 125g water overnight or for at least 4 hours. In a different bowl, soak the millet, quinoa and linseed in about twice the volume of water.
2. Rinse the quinoa mix thoroughly and drain in a sieve until all of the water has drained out. Preheat oven to 160C.
3. Combine the quinoa mix, chia, which should now be gel-like, the remaining 125g water, olive oil, lemon juice, bicarbonate and salt in a food processor. Blend for 3 minutes.
4. Line a small loaf tin with baking paper. Pour the batter-like mix into the tin and bake for one and a half hours, until the loaf is firm but slightly springy.
5. Cool in the tin for 30 min, then cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. As per the instructions on the original website, I fried the slices in a pan rather than toasting before eating, although it would be good without frying too.