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Tassajara Yeasted Bread

From the book The Tassajara Bread Book by
Yield 2 loaves

Culinate editor’s note: This is the ur-recipe in Espe Brown’s classic breadmaking book.


3 cups lukewarm water (85 to 105 degrees)
Tbsp. dry yeast (2 packages)
¼ cup sweetening (honey, molasses, or brown sugar)
1 cup dry milk (optional)
4 cups whole-wheat flour (substitute 1 or more cups unbleached white flour if desired)
4 tsp. salt
cup oil or butter or margarine
3 cups additional whole-wheat flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour for kneading


  1. In a large ceramic bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Stir in the sweetening and the dry milk (optional). Stir in the 4 cups of whole-wheat flour to form a thick batter. Beat well with a spoon (100 strokes).
  2. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes.
  3. Fold in the salt and the oil, then fold in the additional 3 cups of flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Knead on a floured board for about 10 minutes, using the additional 1 cup flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board. Stop when the dough is smooth.
  4. Let the dough rise for 50 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in size. Punch it down.
  5. Let the dough rise for another 40 to 50 minutes, or until doubled in size. Shape the dough into loaves and place in 2 oiled loaf pans or a single heavy oiled baking dish. Let rise for 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash (a egg beaten with a few tablespoons of water or milk) and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until golden brown. Remove from the pans and let cool before slicing.


You can replace part of the water with milk.

If you like a lighter bread (and quicker risings), use an additional package of yeast.

This content is from the book The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown.

There are 10 comments on this item
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40% recommend this recipe
1. by Patchouli Owl on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:47 AM PST

I have been making this bread for years. It’s the best bread I have ever had! I increase the yeast to 3 packets and the honey to 1/2 cup. It takes a while to make, but it’s worth it!

2. by Linda on Aug 21, 2011 at 3:25 PM PDT

I too have made this bread for years. It is a wonderfully dense loaf that toasts beautifully and it almost like cake when you eat it!

3. by Dave K on Dec 25, 2011 at 10:07 AM PST

There is a step that you left out - punching down the dough and letting it rise a second time. I followed this recipe because I hadn’t baked in decades, and couldn’t find my copy of the Tassajara Bread Book. It wasn’t until the loaves were in the oven that I remembered that step. The bread came out way too dense, and without much flavor. Please fix the recipe to more closely reflect the original, and repost.

Thank you.

4. by Caroline Cummins on Dec 26, 2011 at 12:26 PM PST

Dave K -- Yes, the first rise and punchdown step was skipped by mistake here. We’ve fixed it now.

5. by anonymous on Mar 31, 2013 at 12:05 PM PDT

I’m not certain who taught my mother to make bread with a sponge, but she was making it this way 25-30 years before Tassajara book came out. She ground the flour fresh each week and used only whole wheat. I still bake it white was a no-no. She never precisely measured more than the amount of water or milk and yeast. I make it the way she did although I’ve made some changes and improvements.

Personally, I don’t like the taste of milk in anything, so I use plain water. You can reduce the oil, honey, and yeast a bit if you like or need to keep costs down. I use 1 Tbsp yeast for 3 loaves. The honey feeds the yeast and the oil makes it moist. I have successfully made it with no oil other than for oiling the rising bowl/kettle and the pans, which I also dust with flour, but it’s a tad drier with less honey and oil. I like a little. Be careful not to add too much flour if you don’t add oil.

I do a second rise on the sponge. I often fold nuts into the sponge before the second rise because it softens them a bit. If you wanted to add herbs this would be the best time. Ma always said, never ‘cut’ this sponge. It contains the developing gluten which holds it all together. A second rise will give you a better slicing loaf. I also add 1 ½ tsp. lemon juice per loaf when I add the oil and salt.

I never measure flour because flour can have so many variables in terms of moisture content due to seasonal moisture, storage and type of grinding - stone being the best in terms of maintaining the quality and nutrition of the grain. If you tire out doing 100 strokes, try a bit less flour next time. It should be as thick as you can beat, not soupy or thin like pancake dough. I vary the types of flour, whole wheat being dominant. White flour is not necessary to make a good loaf! I use little, if any white flour, but do prefer a heavier loaf because that’s what I’ve been eating since I learned to chew. I add any combination of flours: at least 50% whole wheat, plus whole spelt, barley, rice, millet, white wheat, fife etc. If you wanted to add cooked grains such as left-over oatmeal or cereal, quinoa, or rice, between sponge rises is the time to do it. Make sure they are warm or at least room temperature or the rise will slow or stop.

The clock is only a guide or reminder to check the rises, or ‘proofs’. I let the sponge double, and the kneaded dough double. After the final dough has risen, I lay it out to rest 10-15 minutes, covering it with the used plastic wrap or damp towel. I no longer work the dough to get the air bubbles out the way my mother did. - Read below- Usually 10-15 max, 5 minutes if the dough is warm, light and airy. It will rise in the oven.

Tricks I’ve learned over the years: The trick to prevent the top crust from coming off is to have a very hot oven when you put the loaves in. I use well preheated oven @500F to start. I reduce to 350F after 5-7 minutes. My oven is 55-60 min. total. Another common problem is the side splitting away from the top. That’s from working the loaves too much. I resolved this by not rolling or folding the loaves - I push them into shape. Since I started doing the rest period I’ve had far fewer “leaky jam holes”. I bake 3 loaves at a time and lay the dough out as wide as the loaf pans next to each other, not in one round heap. I partially cut and partially tear into sections, then slap the loaves into shape rather than folding or rolling. I press the dough hard into the pans. Any large air bubbles usually surface and I pinch them off. Walnuts are currently my favorite additive. I add 2 cups per 3 loaves chopped by hand. Unless you like a hard crunch, almonds are better soaked first. Sunflower and other seeds are always a good fit. Flax should be fresh ground if you want to get the benefits of its Omega 3 fatty acids. Whole, they are good fiber but don’t digest. Technically, Hemp nuts or seeds shouldn’t be heated more than 325F max. If you start with a hot oven and reduce to 300 or 325, don’t forget to adjust your time. Knock on the loaf if you want to know it’s done.

Biggest tip. Keep at it. Each batch will improve as you learn the nuances of your flours, oven and weather. Yes, weather makes a difference… sometime a lot. Plan your days to be patient: times when you can be home busy with other things like laundry, sewing, bookkeeping or cleaning. Don’t rush it. I always plan for 6 hours. If done in 5 it’s a bonus. If longer (very rare) the pleasure is all the more appreciated when I cut off the heel and spread honey or jam on it. Once you get it, you won’t want to buy store bread. Just look at all that added gluten and chemicals your body isn’t having to deal with by making your own. Personally, I cannot say it’s cheaper but have not bought one loaf or package of anything for a full two years. I plan to bake 4 days before I run out. That way if I get diverted, I can bake on that last day. It slices best the day after. I bag it in 5-6 slice bags and freeze it. Slices pop off easily and it’s like having fresh bread all the time. Enjoy.

6. by Doug Krell on May 6, 2013 at 6:39 AM PDT

What happens if I add the salt and the oil before the first rise?

7. by Caroline Cummins on May 7, 2013 at 10:32 AM PDT

Doug: You’ll get more loft from your yeast in that initial rise if you hold off on the salt till later, as salt can slow down (or even kill off) yeast. But you do want the salt for flavor. And yeasted bread dough with no salt at all can rise excessively, giving you big holes in the finished product.

8. by anonymous on Jun 15, 2013 at 8:47 PM PDT

What about how to treat the pans prior to baking? Is there a recommendation?

9. by Caroline Cummins on Jun 19, 2013 at 1:37 PM PDT

Anonymous: The recipe doesn’t give any instructions on how to prepare the pans for baking. But in the lengthy introductory section of the book titled “Detailed Instructions for Making Tassajara Yeasted Bread” — 17 pages, including illustrations — the pans are oiled. We’ve corrected the recipe steps above to include this reminder.

10. by anonymous on Jun 20, 2013 at 1:22 AM PDT

I lightly oil and dust with flour shaking it on with a fine mesh strainer. Loaves usually pop right out of my stainless steel pans, however I often run a butter knife around the outside just to be sure.

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