Tag Archives: bread


One of the favorites on the Rich Table menu is Sarah’s country style levain. The bread is served warm with house-churned cultured butter. Sometimes the bread is scented with Douglas fir, but the most popular version is when it is flavored with wild fennel “pollen”. The pollen is actually the bright yellow tiny flowers of wild pollen that grows all over Northern California and blooms from mid to late summer. Rich Table has their own forager who brings the pollen in from fields north of San Francisco, and the restaurant has an abundance now. Unfortunately the source is regional and seasonal – that’s one of the reasons for using Douglas fir – but if you don’t happen to live in Northern California, ground fennel seeds can make a workable substitute. The smell and taste are not as delicate, and if you use too much can be overpowering, so use it carefully.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I watched Sarah make her bread in the basement prep kitchen at Rich Table. The experience inspired me to try to adapt the recipe for the home baker. This is pretty close to the real thing, but Sarah did not share any of her baking secrets with Old Dad.

Sarah’s recipe makes twelve large loves, too much for the home baker. For that reason, I have pared down the ingredients to make two generous loaves. I have made some other modifications to make it easier for the home baker. First, professional bakers weigh their ingredients, while home bakers usually measure things in cups and spoons, so I have set the quantities in the home style. Second, if you have your own sourdough starter, that is great, but if you don’t you can substitute packaged dry yeast. Third, if you have harvested your own wild fennel “pollen” (actually fennel flowers) that’s also great, but you can substitute ground fennel from your spice shelf.  Finally, you can mix the dough by hand, but that is a labor of love, so I have used a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook for the kneading and gluten-release process. Resting times are very important to make sure the gluten releases and supports good lift of the dough.


Levain with Fennel Fragrance


  • 3 cups + ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup levain* or substitute 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 6 cups bread flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • vegetable shortening or butter for greasing bread pans

* Baker’s note: You can find the method for making your own levain or sour dough starter in an earlier post. If you choose to use yeast instead, increase the water and flour in the recipe by ½ cup each.


  1. Place 3 cups water in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix in the levain (it should float in the water, otherwise it has not risen enough) or yeast. You should feed your levain the night before you bake to make sure it has good rising power the next morning.
  2. Slowly mix in the flour, a cup or so at a time.  When the dough becomes stiff enough, change to the dough hook attachment.
  3. Add all the flour. Then beat with the dough hook at a slow speed for 10 minutes until smooth and shiny.
  4. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 30 minutes.
  5. Dissolve the salt in the ¼ cup water.
  6. Beat the salt mixture and ground fennel into the rested dough until completely incorporated.
  7. With a scraper, transfer the dough to a large metal bowl.
  8. Cover the dough with a plastic film and let rest for 30 minutes. Then turn the dough gently in all directions with moistened, clean hands. Recover the dough with the plastic film.
  9. Repeat turning the dough every 30 minutes for three additional times.
  10. Turn the dough out on a well-floured work surface. Divide into two equal pieces. Each piece should weigh a little over 2 pounds.
  11. Shape each piece of dough into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes.
  12. After the rest, shape the dough by lifting the far edge of the ball and pulling it to the center. Repeat this motion in all directions. Pinch closed any seams and let rest, covered with a cloth, for 10 minutes while you prepare the baking pans.
  13. Prepare two 9 x 5 inch bread pans by greasing the insides well with vegetable shortening  or butter.
  14. Arrange the dough pieces, seam side down, in the two bread pans, cover with a clean cloth, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled.
  15. While the bread is rising, pre-heat the oven to 450°F (232 °C)
  16. When the loaves have risen, slash the tops with a sharp knife and transfer to the middle of the pre-heated oven.
  17. Bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F  (177°C) and continue to bake for 45 additional minutes. Turn the loaves front to back at least once during the baking.
  18. At the end of the baking time, test for doneness by thumping the bottoms for a hollow sound. Transfer the baked loaves to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.


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I had some napa cabbage left over from my New Year’s Day braised cabbage, so I decided to make some soup.

Napa cabbage (also spelled nappa cabbage) is an authentic Chinese cabbage. The name comes from a Japanese word that means something like vegetable greens.  So far as I have been able to figure out, the name has nothing to do with the Napa Valley in California. I think that name is probably from the Spanish, meaning an aquifer or gas layer. The taste of the cabbage is milder than regular cabbage, and the leaves are crisper

Regular cabbage dates back to the Egyptians, but probably cabbage heads did not appear on the culinary scene until the twelfth century in Germany. For this recipe, you can use regular cabbage, but I think you will like the flavor better with Chinese cabbage.

The soup makes a simple lunch or dinner. We had the added pleasure of a slice of Srah’s new bread, Douglas fir scented levain topped with fresh butter. A perfect winter-time light lunch


Napa cabbage soup with Douglas fir levain-1Napa Cabbage and Bread Soup with Croutons and Parmesan Cheese


  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ large head napa cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon beau monde seasoning, or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 ½ inch slices good quality white bread cut in ½ inch cubes
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • ¼ cup minced parsley


  • In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, stir, and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the onions are wilted and translucent. Do not allow them to brown.
  • Add the shredded cabbage to the pot, cover and continue to cook until completely wilted. Do not brown. Then add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the beau monde seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper.Cook for 40 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. Add more liquid if necessary.
  • In the meantime, place one of the diced slices of bread on a small baking sheet and dry in the middle of an oven preheated to 225°. Bake for 30 minutes, turning frequently, until the bread cubes are completely dry and crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • When the cabbage is fully cooked and tender, stir in the remaining cubed slice of bread. The bread should dissolve and thicken the soup. Add more liquid if needed.
  • When ready to serve, plate the soup in 4 wide soup bowls, top with the croutons, sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.


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