The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Muffin Man's blog

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Muffin Man

    Well, I've completed a couple of weeks without the mixer.  It has been an interesting and informative time.  I have a very nice Kitehcn-Aid which my son gave me for Christmas about 4 years ago.  It was a refurbished machine which works fine and had given no trouble all this time.  Based upon the experience of others, I decided to mix by hand so I could get to know my dough better and to develop a sensibility to its needs.  This is not something you can get from a book, and failure is your best teacher.  Analyzing what went wrong with a bread leads inevitably to better and better bread.  As someone wise once pointed out: "you don't learn anyhing from success".  For very wet doughs or large volumes, the mixer becomes indispensable, but for someone like me who does mostly mufins (which the mixer teds to overmix) and challah variants, I am much happier doing it 'by hand'.  If you disagree, that's fine.  This works for me; I never claimed it would be right for you.  There are many paths to bread success, and each must choose his own.  Adios for now.

Muffin Man's picture
Muffin Man

I decided (for some strange reason which eludes me now) to formulate a list of tools in order of utility.  This is what I came up with:


1. Scale, Measuring Spoons, and Mixing Bowls

         Absolute necessity.  You cannot make bread without them.  A scale because while 6 oz is always 6 oz, a cup of flour may vary considerably in weight.  Spoons because most home digital scales are not accurate at tiny amounts.  Bowls for the obvious reason.

2. Plastic Bowl Scraper

         An absolute must.  Helpful for manipulating dough and unbeatable for bowl cleanup.

3. Bench Knife

         Tops for dividing dough and work surface cleanup.

4. Peel (Lg and/or Small) and/or Baking sheets

         Very handy for putting loaves in the oven (either) and for removing them (peel).  You want half sheets unless you have a commercial oven.

5. Parchment Paper (flat)

         Great for hearth loaves.  Reuseable if not scorched. I avoid the rolls sold in stores as they want to curl up in use.  Go online for half sheet size - they're worth it.

6. Baking Stone and Steam Pan

         Terrific for hearth baking.  I use a cast iron chicken fryer (deep skillet) containing lava rocks for more surface area as a steam pan, located just below the stone.

7. Storage containers

         The major enemy if most ingredients is air.

8. Access to refrigerator and freezer

         for retardation, starter storage, and long term storage.

9. Workbench

         OK, you can do without one, but I wouldn't want to.


         I have a nice Kitchen Aid, but find that its need is overrated unless you are into very stiff (or very loose) doughs or are doing volume production.  Likewise, the light I an electric oven is all the proofer you really need.  Any bowl with a towel and flour can serve as a banneton.


While not everyone will agree (maybe no one), this might serve as a start for a dialog on tool utility.


Muffin Man's picture
Muffin Man

     When I started baking a few years ago, I was a strict adherent to recipes.  I still do not deviate much as results are then unpredictable.  One area in which I do deviate is in the amount of flour.  I measure (weigh, if possible) all other ingredients, but since flour is the largest single component, and the one most affected by outside influences (humidity, temperature), I find that adding flour by the cup (less as the dough comes together) gives me a much better finished product.  I am not advocating that new bakers do this, but as you see the results differ from batch to batch of a given recipe, you will develop a feel for when the dough has incorporated all of the flour necessary for a great loaf.  This has probably been obvious to everyone else, but I am in the slow learner class.

     As a home baker, I cast envious eyes at the professional's proofing box and its reliable second rise.  I have taken a suggestion I found online and modified it to work for me.  I acquired two clear plastic storage bins (Wally World) a couple of feet deep.  I marked the lower one where the bottom of the other fell and filled the lower one with hot water to the mark.  The second is placed in the first one and breads to be proofed are placed in the (dry) bin.  I also use quarter sheet baking pans for rolls and such.  One goes on the bottom and a wire cooling rack suports another.  This setup will maintain a 78 - 80 degree temperature for up to 45 minutes.  Tme loaves in the top nay be misted and/or rotated as needed and the water may be changed in the lower one if a longer proof is needed.

Muffin Man's picture
Muffin Man

  I recently rewatched an old King Arthur baking DVD and thought, well, why not try it.  It was revelatory.  I had gone over to weighing everything (a la Peter Reinhart) and using my Kitchen Aid (a Christmas present four years ago from my son).  In the vid, Michael Dubinski measured all but the flour (OK, so he used cups).  He brought the mixture from liquid to dough manually, adding only as much flour as was needed.  i tried this and rediscovered why I started baking some 5 years ago (I'm an old, slow learner).  What joy, watching ingredients transform into a dough before my eyes.  In a production environment, machinery is necessary for survival.  At home, it is pure joy to watch the dough develop, ferment with only the warmth provided by sunlight and the moisture in the air (not a problem in Florida), being shaped and proofed (again by the warm air found here) and finally baked into a delicious bread.  I look forward to as many years as I am given to baking continually.

Muffin Man's picture
Muffin Man

I was in Portland nearly three years ago to attend the birth of my second grandson (first child for my son).  I had not been baking very long and I knew that Portland was a 'Bread' town.  My son took me to the Pearl where I purchased several breads, including a Walnut Bread.  We took the purchases back to the apartment and tried them all.  I liked the Walnut Bread, but felt that, with a little work, I could produce a loaf that tasted that good.  I'm truthfully not sure of the origin of this recipe, but I have adjusted it over the years based upon suggestions from my best taste-tester (and wife).  I really love the flavors present in this bread, but it will not satisfy a craving for a nice Pain Ordinaire.  Final rant: I feel that one of the most overlooked, and better if the recipe collections, is "Baking Illustrated" by the fine folks at "Cook's Illustrated" magazine.  The really neat feature of this book is that they try many variations on each recipe to see what really produces the best (subjective) flavor.  Variations are discussed so you can grasp what differences  minor variations make.  Anyway, on with the recipe.  Regretably, I have no pics - my son has the camera.

Craisin-Walnut Bread                      


50/50 Flour                                             6.5 oz                 

Instant Yeast                           ½ tsp         .125 oz                 

Room Temp Water                  ¾ cup         6 oz                          


         Combine flour and yeast in a medium bowl.  Add water and stir until the consistency of a thick batter.  Continue stirring for about 100 strokes or until the strands of gluten come off the spoon when pressed against the side of the bowl.  Scrape down the sides, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm place until bubbly and increased in volume.

Final Dough

Active Dry Yeast                     1 tsp                  .25 oz                     

Room Temp Water                  1 ½ cup              12 oz                 

Buttermilk                             1 ½ cup              12 oz                 

Honey                                   2 Tbsp               0.5 oz           

Demerarra Sugar                   2 Tbsp                6.25

50/50 Flour                                                 24 - 30 oz        

Salt                                       1 Tbsp             .75 oz                 

 Craisins                                                        12 oz                 

Walnuts                                                        10 oz                 


         Bring the poolish to the work area.  It should be soupy, bubbly, and puffy and should have a wheaty aroma.  Scrape it into the mixer bowl, adding the water and yeast.  Break up the poolish with the paddle attachment and stir until it loosens and the mixture foams slightly.  Add the sugar, buttermilk, and honey; stirring until well combined. 

Add flour (24 oz), stirring until well combined, then switch to the dough hook and add the salt and just enough of the remaining flour to make a thick mass that is difficult to stir. 

         Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead, adding more flour for 10 minutes.  Gradually knead in craisins and continue kneading until the dough is soft and smooth, 15 to 17 minutes total.  The dough is ready when a small amount pulled out from the mass springs back quickly.


         Flatten the dough into a rectangle about ½ to ¾ inch thick.  Spread some walnuts, to cover, over the middle third of the rectangle, pressing lightly to hold them in place, and fold the right side over the walnuts.  Repeat on the folded portion and fold the remaining piece over the walnuts.  Again flatten the dough as before and repeat until all walnuts are incorporated.

         Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest on a lightly floured surface while you scrape, clean, and oil a large bowl.  The dough temp should be 78.  Place the dough in the bowl, upper surface down and turn once to cover (smooth side is now up).  Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment until doubled in bulk.  The dough has risen enough when a finger poked ½ inch into the dough leaves an indentation.

         Degas the dough in the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface and divide into four equal pieces.  Flatten each piece firmly with your hand and shape each piece into a tight round ball, sealing the seam.  Place the loaves on a floured peel, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to proof in a warm place until increased in bulk about 1 ½ times.  Preheat the oven to 450.

         Slip the loaves onto the baking stone, score them and add boiling water to steam pan.  Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the loaves begin to color.  Reduce the heat to 400 and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the loaves are a rich caramel color and the crust is firm.  Test for doneness by thumping the bottom of the loaf and listen for a hollow sound.  If not ready, bake for another 5 minutes and retest.  Cool fully on a wire rack


Good luck.  I'd like to hear from anyone who tries this.


  I am constantly amazed that a little flour, water, yeast, salt, time and temperature may be varied to produce an almost endless variety of great tasting breads.




Muffin Man's picture
Muffin Man

   A of years ago, I was browsing in Barnes and Noble, looking for nothing in particular, when I came upon Daniel Leader's "Bread alone".  It looked interesting as it was more than just a collection of recipes.  I bought it and was hooked by bread.  I read and consumed the book and, since there sere as yet no other books by him, I expanded my horizons to include, again in no particular order, Maggie Glezer, Peter Reinhart (I'm eagerly awaiting his newest), Nancy silverton, Jeffrey Hammelman, Carol Field, Beth Hensperger, Joe Ortiz, Laurel Robertson, Ruth Levy Barenbaum, and the good folks at King Arthur.  I have learned from each and enjoyed their different perspectives and approaches.  To thhink that simple wheat, yeast, and water could produce so many different and delightful flavors - it bogglesd the mind.  I have learned to make a variety of tasty breads and have a side business going at work supplying muffins to my coworkers.  Since their support aids and abets y hobby, I charge, basically, only my costs.  A very gracious friend, a retired graphic artist made me the caricature which I use on all of my recipes and as a part of my signature block  I felt I had arrived when my wife ceded the pantry to me and got me a small freezer in which I may keep flours not yet used and various berries for my muffins.  On a recent visit from our daughter, i realized how focused (my wife says obsessed) I have become when she took our grandkids into the kitchen and rearranged grandpa's pantry.  i love them anyway and rearranged things back the way they should be.  I feel that I could come into the kitchen and make biscuits without turning on a light - yeah, I'm that organized.  But only with my baking... the rest of my life is as disorganized as anyone else.  Thank you for reading.  In the immortal words fo the Governor of California: I'll be back.

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