The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


kshaunfield's picture

Hello all,


Maybe the forum is a better place for this, but I wanted to introduce myself and ramble a bit.  I am a new sourdough baker (and currently have no interest in yeast breads) with about 10 loaves under my belt.  In addition to being a lover of sourdough, I am also a stay-at-home dad with a 4 month old daughter, an avid cook, home-brewer, urban gardener, beekeeper, and chicken-raiser and love cycling, hiking and backpacking.  Also, I love to learn and tend to throw myself into new hobbies.


I got into baking after reading Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood and aquiring a culture (his Finland culture).  After a few bakes, with few real successes (dense crumbs, the second half of the loaves mostly went to the chickens), I discovered The Fresh Loaf and my education really began.  Firstly, thank you to this community of passionate bakers with a willingness to share.  I think my initial lack of success was due to poor kneading technique, over-proofing and perhaps using mostly all-purpose flour.  My last few loaves have been quite successful and I think (based on a slightly educated guess) it's related to limiting my bulk fermentation to about 6 hrs, incorporating about 50% bread flour and improving gluten development in the dough via autolysing and doing several stretcch and folds during fermentation.  Needless-to-say, I'm eager to broaden my experience and continue developing my techniques.  As I'm still a beginning baker I realize I have MUCH to learn and am hoping for a few suggestions.


First of all, I'd love to know what experienced bakers would suggest regarding equipment.  So far, I have only the very, very basics: some measuring cups, large pyrex mixing bowls, some counter space or large wooden cutting boards, and a couple of baking sheets.  I'm the type that likes to keep things simple and have neither the space or funds for significant equipment (aka a mixer), but I wonder if a few basic things like a dough whisk, dough cutter/scraper and scale would be my best initial investments?  It definitely seems to me that a scale is necessary to truly get consistent results and be able to precisely control hydration (not to mention it seems experienced bakers here only list their recipes by weight).  What are your favorite or indispensible tools?


My second question regards techniques.  I started following Ed Wood's advice (all-purpose flour, not preheating oven, I even put together a proofing box to control temperature - I've barely used it).  I realize now that the suggestions he provides in Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker's Handbook, are neither typical nor particularly extensive.  He seems to imply that temperature is the primary driver of sourdough flavor, higher temperature favoring bacteria and sourness, potentially at the expense of leaving ability.  However, from some of my subsequent reading on TFL and elsewhere, it seems the picture is much more complicated and that the sourness of sourdough is multifaceted (lactic and acetic), and can be influenced by the hydration of the starter (cooler and drier favors the yeast?), temperature, length of different proofs, even how long after the baked bread cools that it is sliced (so the flavor continues to mature even after baking?).  Many questions, I know.  Regardless, as I embraced the broader world of sourdough baking suggestions I seem to have had more success, though I don't yet have enough experience to fully understand why.  So what technique or change in process first propelled your sourdough to the next level?  Also, there seem to be many valuable books that could enhance my understanding and baking, what would you recommend?


In regards to my loaves, I'm still perfecting my basic loaf: a 1.5-2lb white (or mostly white) sourdough batard.  Here's my basic process, I'm willing to tweak it and am open to criticism and suggestions.  My current process involves thoroughly mixing by hand, letting autolyse for 30 minutes to an hour, adding the salt and the last cup of flour, a short maybe 10 minute kneading (I'm still not very good), then rest in a covered bowl and do a stretch and fold about once an hour for 4 hrs allowing a total of 5-6 hrs bulk ferment, then removing from bowl, letting rest for 30 minutes, shaping (which I still need practice at), allowing to ferment (covered) an additional 3 hrs, brushing crust with melted butter, slashing, placing in a 450 - 475F preheated oven, spritzing oven with a spray bottle 3 times at 5 minute intervals in the first 10 minutes, turning loaf once, removing from the oven after about 40 minutes and allowing to cool overnight on a wire rack.  The result is a pretty decent loaf: crispy-chewy golden brown crust with some blistering, moderately open and moist crumb, not particularly complex or sour but delicious.  I'm pretty happy with the result (its as good as anything I can buy locally), but would ultimately like to be able to increase the sourness, get a more complex overall flavor, get a consistently attractive bubbled/blistered golden brown crust, reliably achieve a more open crumb, and hit the shape I'm going for (my last 3 "good" loaves were all rather wet doughs and despite my shaping attempts were slightly flattened, maybe 2-1/2" high).


Sorry for the lengthy post.  Thanks again to the entire TFL community for sharing your skills and wisdom, particularly the imformative posts of dmsnyder and txfarmer (and many others I have yet to discover).  I look forward to hearing from anyone willing to give me guidance on where to go from here!





P.S. - Equipment-wise a scale is probably on top of the list, then I'll try my hand at some of the amazing recipes on TFL like dmsnyder's San Joaquin Sourdough or  txfarmer's 36+ hr Baguettes

TastefulLee's picture

Kitchenaid Artisan Mixer Problems with Kneading

June 12, 2012 - 7:12am -- TastefulLee

Hi. I have owned a Kitchenaid Artisan Stand Mixer with a twisting lock bowl for about 3 years. I have used it successfully for soft doughs such as cookies, and general mixing purposes.

Since I began making bread about 7 months ago I have tried to use the dough hook for several different recipes of several different hydration levels, and every time I have the same problem - once the dough starts to come together it the adjustable arm (the one the dough hook is inserted into) begins to float wildly about, even though I have the switch in the locked position.

MNBäcker's picture

Roll your own oats

December 21, 2011 - 9:21pm -- MNBäcker

Hi, gang.

So, I am thinking about getting something that would allow me to roll oats here at home. I've poked around a little bit, but am not sure what "toy" to get. I probably wouldn't roll a whole lot at once, and wouldn't be opposed to crank 'em out by hand.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.


curvesarein's picture

Well I decided to do something good for our health. Something I did 25 years ago and before when my young family was growing. I used to grind my own wheat and make my own bread from whole wheat grain. Everything we ate was fresh and full of nutrition and fiber. Then I married the Italian (half Irish too) and he wanted white bread or Irish soda bread etc. Not gonna touch the brown stuff. So I sold all my equipment to buy a stove! Big mistake. But seemed the thing to do at the time. Make the hubby happy! I wanted a new stove too! So now 25 years later I made a new investment in our health and bought a new model Bosch Universal Plus mixer with 800 watts of power and the ability to knead 4 loaves of bread in 10 minutes. Then I was on the search for the recipe from 30 years ago! Happy I found the website The Fresh Loaf and Old Wooden Spoon gave me the recipe I used back then ( that gave away our age right away!) My first day in the kitchen was like  the I Love Lucy show. Now I don't like to be on camera but this would have won me enough money to pay for my equipment for sure! Did I say it was an investment, not just a purchase.   Here is what I purchased after much research and past experience.     Nutrimill Grain Mill Nutri Mill Grainmill Flour Grinder   Now the first day was quite interesting, all seemed easy enough so I skimmed the directions on the equipment. I set up the Nutrimill to grind my wheat. Obviously I didn't have it quite locked in right as flour started shooting out the side, but one quick stop and we got that under control. Not too much mess to clean up. Then on to proofing the yeast. A little honey, warm water and yeast. It starts to bubble so I know it's working. Yay! Next is to start filling the mixer with water, flour, salt and honey, then I turn to find the yeast. It is starting to bubble forth like champagne out of the cup ! So I add that and proceed to add more flour until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. (that's how you tell it's ready)    Now my first mixer had 2 speeds, this has 4. I think I must have put it on speed 3. Somewhere someone said I should remove the outer rim of the bowl at this stage.     Now I never did that with the old one. But I figured why not, so removed it.    Then turned my back on the machine and went to the sink. I turned around and dough was breaking off and flying around my kitchen, I kid you not! Splat in the dining room, splat on the counter, splat on the kitchen floor. I put that rim on as fast as I could blink an eye. All went well after that and we got some beautiful tasty bread. Next baking day went smoothly with great results, (cinnamon bread) everyone wants to buy it. Not happening, that executive decision was made the first day. I'm not 25 anymore! I used to make 15 loaves a day, babysit and deliver the bread. $1.50 a loaf in the 80's. Now today was my 3rd day baking. I had to grind 20 lbs of wheat into flour that I sold for $4.00 for each 5 lbs. That took a while. Then I had some left over and decided to start a second batch of four loaves of bread. Needed to grind more flour.    Rule # 2 , don't overfill the hopper or turn your back on it. I'm always trying to multi-task. I turned around and the stove side of my kitchen looked like the first snow of winter!    I'm having to learn lots of patience with this new process, but the rewards are warm soft whole wheat loaves of bread. Guess what the Italian is eating willingly now? At lunch he waited for me to slice bread to make his sandwich. The little white rolls nearby were crying! The pictures tell the rest! I hear there really is an episode of I love Lucy baking bread! Gotta get that one from Netflix. Linda McErlean   "Until one has loved an animal, part of their soul remains un-awakened."    

Barefoot-Baker's picture

Rolls or Sandwiches

September 10, 2010 - 9:45am -- Barefoot-Baker

When I make French bread I like to shape some of the dough into rolls (petit gras batards) to use for Hoagies. They're very good, but there is one problem with them: When you bite into the sandwich, the filling tends to try and escape out the sides. I was thinking that a cavity in the rolls would provide space for the filling, and minimize this effect.

maurdel's picture

opinions on whether this will work for bread

January 7, 2010 - 8:34pm -- maurdel

What do you all think about this "Cast Iron Grill Humidifier"?

The description seems to say that it is just two cast iron boxes with holey lids.  So is it anything? or not anything?

Sometimes in warmer months I will try to bake out on the grill. It is sometimes quite successful, and sometimes not so much. Does anyone believe this might help in baking bread?

pmccool's picture

For those who are keeping score, I moved from the USA to South Africa in late October to work on a project being managed by my employer.  After spending a week in a hotel and a month in a temporary apartment, my wife and I moved into a leased house on December 1.  We're feeling fairly settled now and can find our way to several different supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and the like.  It's a different landscape, and I'm not just talking topography.  Still, we're learning to navigate our way around without creating unnecessary hazard to ourselves or others.

Part of the learning process involves getting acquainted with new players in familiar roles.  In the case of bread, this includes different flours, a new starter, a different oven, and a different elevation (approximately 4200 feet above sea level, give or take a kopje).  None of these are especially difficult to cope with, but the collective effect has me slightly off kilter.

Prior to this weekend, I had baked bread three times, with results ranging from dismal to passable.  

This weekend saw some improvement, with plenty of room for additional improvement.  I baked a pain de campagne from Clayton's Complete Book of Breads, a honey oat sandwich loaf and scones from KAF's Whole Grain Baking book, and Mark Sinclair's version of Portugese Sweet Bread (in hamburger bun form).

The pain de campagne calls for a yeasted "starter"; I used my own sourdough starter to build the levain.  I'm beginning to wonder if there is something about the whole wheat flour that I'm using (Snowflake brand Brown Bread Flour at 12.5% protein, if memory serves).  My impression is that it tends to absorb less water than other whole wheat flours that I have used, which produces a stickier dough.  By sticky, I mean almost rye-like stickiness.  The grind is a bit coarser than I have seen in other flours, so it may be that I need to go with extended autolysis to give it enough time to absorb moisture.  And I may need to dial back on water content, too.  The closest thing to AP flour that I've located so far is something labeled cake flour, at 10% protein content.  The initial dough was quite sticky after mixing (did I mention stickiness earlier?), so I gave it a series of stretch and folds during the bulk ferment that lasted about 5 hours.  Temperatures in the house ranged from the low 70'sF in the morning up to about 80F yesterday afternoon.  I shaped the dough into two batards, achieving a good gluten cloak, and set them to rise in a parchment "couche".  When they had expanded about 60-70% in size, I preheated the oven and baking stone, along with the steam pan, then poured in about a cup of boiling water.  I slashed each loaf and jockeyed it as gently as possible onto the stone, using a baking sheet for a peel.  Oven spring was modest, with the slashes opening partially.  The loaves colored up nicely, indicating that the yeast hadn't run through all available food.  I haven't cut into either loaf yet to know how the crumb turned out.

Things went quite well with the honey oat sandwich loaves, but for two glitches.  One was that I had intended to make each with a cinnamon swirl but failed to remember that until I was pulling them out of the oven.  The other is that both loaves were over proofed and partially collapsed during baking, even though they did not come close to reaching the volume ("one and a half inches above the pan rim") recommended in the directions.  Eish!  At least they taste good.

This morning's scones also tasted wonderful, but failed to rise as much as they should have.  Maybe the oven runs a bit cooler than the controls would suggest.  Then again, its geared for Celsius and I'm not.  I think I'll pick up an oven thermometer or two while we are back in the States over the holidays.  Then we can find out if it is a calibration issue, or operator error. 

The Portugese Sweet Bread was everything that I wanted it to be, though.  Texture, color, flavor, rise, everything worked just right.  If only I could figure out why!  My track record so far would suggest that it is more of a fluke than an exercise in skill.  Right now, I'm just happy to have had a bake go the way I wanted.

The experimenting and learning will continue.  I will keep trying various flours and methods until I get to where I can produce consistently good results. 

Oh, and if anyone can tell me where to look for rye flour, I'll be grateful.



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