The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Do you bake by feel or recipe?

  • Pin It
HPoirot's picture
HPoirot

Do you bake by feel or recipe?

Just the other day i was watching a video of a baker making bread.

He mentioned that due to the differences in temperature, humidity, flour absorption etc, the same recipe will give you different 'true' hydration every time you bake.

That is why he no longer measures anything, and instead adds water till the exact consistency he desires and proceeds from there.

Personally, at this point, i still prefer to scale everything, but which method do you guys do?

I'm not trying to start a discussion on which method is better, just curious how many people get to that stage.

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

I don't even measure the yeast and I don't weigh anything either; I go by the feel of it.  I don't really use recipes any more either, or if I do, they're simply for ideas.

tchism's picture
tchism

I scale everything as well but I have added a bit more water at times because the dough didn't feel right.

 

PetraR's picture
PetraR

I do scale everything but sometimes I might add more or less of the weight Water and / or flour as I know by now what my dough should feel like.

To me it is important to weigh out Ingredients when it comes to baking.

That is why I think it is so important not to use a Stand Mixer for at least the first 20-30 breads, so that you get to know what a dough should feel like and how it changes during the process from mixing by Hand to the time where it is time for baking.

 

MichaelLily's picture
MichaelLily

I make my Tartine country loaf with 85% hydration (white flour, 10% WW).  At this level it is always wet enough.  I adjust bulk fermentation time to achieve the desired consistency.

AZ Chuck's picture
AZ Chuck

I'm with Paddyt I start with the water, that determines the size loaf I want. Add flour until I have a sticky mess and let it sit for at lest an hour. Then I add salt and yeast or sourdough. Then add flour a little at a time until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Some times I kneed it, some times I don't  Let it sit for 10 to 16 hours, then shape the dough. 

Felila's picture
Felila

Too poor for a scale, so I measure and then add flour or water to my biga until the dough is just right. I feel the dough and also observe how it behaves during machine-kneading. 

ghazi's picture
ghazi

tend to go more by feel and can wing a lot more, when it comes down to it what your are trying to create is a sticky mess that needs a good knead to make tight and springy, unsing no extra flour if possible. Then properly fermented to enhance crumb structure and lightness. I think being quick and less touching of the dough creates a superior bread. The of course the shaping of a tight dough, when risen properly just looks so good and holds it shape asking to be put into an oven to stretch one last time. To me, there is something so special about a well shaped risen loaf, when you do get it right its great to be able to replicate again. This is where scales come into help. Ultimately the dough just feels right to touch

A bit of both is always good

PetraR's picture
PetraR

For me weighing out the Ingredients is a must, depending on temperature and humidity on the day of baking I need to use less Water/ Flour or more of both than I usually have in my formula.

Feeling the Dough to me is a must too and not going by the Clock and let the Dough do it's thing in it's own time.

Not one baking day is like another.

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Always Scale. Minuscule adjustments can be made as required. I used to be on the "feel" side. Luckily I cured myself of that bad habit...,

Wild-Yeast

PetraR's picture
PetraR

Using the Scales is a MUST in baking, for bread but even more for Cakes and such like.

I weigh all my Ingredients out prior to baking so that I can concentrate on what I am doing without runing through the kitchen like a headless chicken. * done that a few times, did not like it *

One needs to Adjust the Ingredients by feel I think depending on the temperature in the kitchen and the humidity.

 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

In my kitchen,located in a different location,in different weather ,using different flour , from different grain source and different mill,etc,etc.....the recipe (even scaled) is a guide. It is just a closer guide than a volumetric recipe (cups and teaspoons). I find that if I weigh the ingredients and the author has an excellent description of the dough characteristics and technique used, I can re-create the product.I can't do it without that description because I know how to tweak to get to that.  I usually find that there is always some tweaking needed.

For me, weighing helps to scale up and down and probably it is necessary in a production environment but the doughs produced are still tested along the way and sometimes additional ingredients are added. The trick is to minimize that by having a recipe that gets a dough into an acceptable range of characteristics.

I also encourage people to convert a recipe from cups to grams using THEIR flour, Their measuring cups and Their technique. My daughter and I did a side-by-side on that and found we are significantly different. Her cup was consistently much different from mine in weight.I helped her finalize a bread recipe from a grandmother in law and while I did some work at my house, we did the final tweaking at hers. It was an eye-opening experience and I know I will hear from people about "a gram is a gram" but this is MY experience. I have also found this to be the case on all these lists of ingredient weights. They don't "translate" so I never count on the first try on even a precisely weighed out recipe.

So to me-a recipe-even very carefully measured- is a guideline to use along with my experience and familiarity with ingredients and technique in achieving the outcome I wanrt in a loaf. This highlights why apprenticeship was the method of choice in passing along all the specialized knowledge.

 

printemps2014's picture
printemps2014

Perhaps this baker has been doing it for so long he can eyeball his measurements fairly accurately without even realizing it? There needs to be some consideration for how your ingredients are interacting, as a change in flour type, humidity, etc. can cause changes to your dough, but baking is much more of a science than cooking. I can get a decent bread out of just winging it, but it pales in comparison to what I can achieve when I pay close attention to my percentages. I think it's one of those, you have to know the rules well before you can begin to bend/break them.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

:)

AZ Chuck's picture
AZ Chuck

I treat it more of am art then science. nothing wrong with science but art is more fun.If the bread comes out a little strange, I just give it a new name. I have a lot of "Rimrock surprise" bread. It is just what turns your crank.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

If you want to recreate something, you need to measure it. (Science)

If you want to create something, you can do it by feel. (Art)

Just as AZ Chuck suggests....

Even if you are "recreating" something,  you may find that the measurements must change when you start using a different batch of flour, so hopefully, by the time  you get through your first batch of flour, you know what it is supposed to feel like, and when you go on to the second batch you can make adjustments as necessary.

In the e-book, "Simple Sourdough", by Mark Shepard, the author provides a method for making "the best bread in the world" and it requires a bit of science and a bit of art, when it instructs, "stir most of the remaining flour into the sponge, a cup or so at a time.  Stop when  you can stick your fingers a little ways into the dough and pull them back clean."

I have never made the bread, primarily because he never tells you how much starter to use, simply saying, "use all the starter you made" :)

WoodenSpoon's picture
WoodenSpoon

create a formula for myself based on what I want to make and what characteristics I want it to have, then follow that formula to a t. I make note of what works and what doesn't, and keep track of any adjustments to the formula I have to make based on feel. then I apply what I learned to the next bake. I could totally wing it every time and come out with reliably serviceable bread but then what would I of learned? and how could I expect to apply it in any consistent manner.  

mixinator's picture
mixinator

Everything is carefully measured. If I don't measure carefully, the hydration is usually wrong. I get more consistent results by measuring. I also generally don't have to make adjustments on the fly.

Flour and salt: volume measures (cups, teaspoons)

Water and starter: scale weight

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

Till I'm familiar and know what's going on. Then I can alter and create my own. In a recipe ingredients can be for taste or for chemistry. Till you've learned what's what you'll either create flops or something else by mistake not knowing why or how. Baking is science. 

 

 

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

This baker isn't just guessing. He's experienced enough to know by feel. Essentially he's getting to the same place but by a different route. Should everything be equal then one can measure exactly and produce the same result. But there are variants when baking bread like temperature of the room, even the flour if stored differently etc. He knows how a dough should feel so he adds water and flour till it feels right. If you weigh everything and it's still a bit off due to an unforseen factor then add water or flour till its correct. 

HPoirot's picture
HPoirot

Working under the assumption that given the exact same conditions, with the exact same amounts of ingredients and proportions, all doughs should look and feel the same.

Doesn't that mean that if i'm used to doing a dough that's of a certain hydration (eg 75%), and were experienced enough to tell by sight and feel when there's enough water, if i suddenly did a 65% bread my instincts would serve me wrong?

Would i need to get experienced in all sorts of hydrations? That sounds a little like a stage only professional bakers get to.

CobblestoneBaker's picture
CobblestoneBaker

It is critical to scale your ingredients, with experience you can double-check and make small adjustments (eg. water temp, flour hydration rate, etc.) but in order to get consistent results each and every time even the most experienced bakers use scales, thermometers, and timers. Develop the "feel" for it, but a digital scale is more accurate than even the most accurate by-hand measurements.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

But exact weights may be less significant than proper hydration, which may be better achieved through feel than by weighing the water since how the flour absorbs the water may differ from flour to flour or season to season. 

Just pointing out that as good as a scale is, it may not be enough. 

gerhard's picture
gerhard

I weigh everything but measure water by volume and always withhold a little because it is easier and less of a mess to add more water than to add flour.

Gerhard