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

Grandma Dawn's picture
Grandma Dawn

Several years ago I embarked on research and development of fun shaped buns.   The doughs I use are:  whole wheat, sweet roll, cheese, oatmeal, and caraway rye.  For the eyes I use currants, raisins, olive slices, a date slice filled with a craisin.   For fins and feet I sometimes roll out and cut pieces, other times I make a ball and cut toes in.  I use an egg white for the glaze and for some designs sprinkle with sesame seeds. 

Here are the tools I use: 

Dough cutter to divide the loaf, rolling pin, two scissors, bamboo skewer, chopstick, exacto knife, miscellaneous cookie cutters, and individual cue cards.

After the dough has risen the first time, I cut it into the number of wedges according to the number of buns I am making that day.  I found that working with wedges helped immensely to get the proportions correct for each bun.  I made a cue card for each design to show me how many pieces each design required and how to best cut the wedge to get the pieces.  I also added helpful notes from previous attempts. 

I like to make several different designs in one session.  That's where the cue cards come in handy.  Since you are working with a living organism working quickly is necessary.  I found it best to make a mix of easy and difficult designs so as to fit within the time frame I had.  I kept all pieces covered with lightly oiled clear wrap so as to prevent a crust from forming.  I found that making the bodies first then adding the smaller pieces worked the best.  I would shape the body, press it down to secure it on the pan then move on to the next body.  I would then start adding the smaller pieces, then the eyes and slash in details.  The bamboo skewer blunt end is used to make indents in the dough for the eyes and noses.  The chopstick is good for larger designs and also for cupping the ears of the bear.  The scissors are for the hedgehog and cat. 

 The cookie cutters are for the fish, grape cluster, and rose. 

Right up until the time they go in the oven I continue to check on them and push the dried fruit in, etc. if they start to fall out of the rising dough. 

At first I thought I had to pinch the pieces together but found that simply tucking them under slightly held them together just fine.

Just before baking I continue to make small adjustments, redefine slashes if necessary, then brush on the egg white.  If any egg white pools in the eyes I dab off the excess with a corner of a paper towel.

My failure rate is very small.  It seems that with a little diligence the eyes stay put and the pieces stick together.



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.


ArtisanGeek's picture

By trade, I'm a .NET web programmer....who happens to be a former professional artisan baker. I decided to create a tool to make life a little easier. I have seen many questions posted here in regards to volume, weight, and baker's percentage in bread formulas. The tool I have created allows you to convert a "recipe" where the quantities are expressed in volume  to a formula where the quantities are expressed in grams, along with the baker's percentage of each ingredient. This is a database driven tool. I have added the most common bread ingredients and the most common volume measurements (US, Metric, and UK). Once the baker's percentage is calculated, you have a total weight and total baker's percentage you can work with to create any batch size. Right now, the tool resides on my home testing server. I will be moving it to one of my hosted websites in the future. For now, just go to and click the link for the tool. Keep in mind, this server is in my home so I can't guarantee it will be up all the time. I will be creating another tool soon (where weights are known) for creating formulas for breads with up to three preferments.

Baker's Percentage Tool

ehanner's picture

Ultimate Slashing Tool

May 1, 2008 - 7:15am -- ehanner

 Upon seeing the posts questioning how to store your razor blades, I thought I would share my discovery with you all. I used to use a single edge razor and a sharpened paring knife and I even bought a lame from KA and tried the double edge razor on a coffee stirrer stick. All of those devices will slash your dough some of the time without getting snagged or tearing the surface. Some recommend the blade be wet or oiled or floured to help glide the blade without sticking. None of those devices will work reliably all the time or on any type of dough, even over proofed fragile dough.

Uberkermit's picture

Bread formula utility for Excel

June 27, 2007 - 7:34am -- Uberkermit

I put together an Excel workbook for working with bread formulas. Although there are other similar tools on this site, this one has some nice additional features. Let's say you have a formula for a sourdough bread, but you want to make a couple changes. First, you want to add 10% spelt flour, you want to up the hydration from 65% to 68%, change the salt form 1.8 to 2%, reduce the dough yield from 3.5 pounds to 3.0 pounds, and increase the percent of pre-fermented flour from 15-20%.

Breadbaker70's picture

Slashing a loaf of very loose bread dough can be quite an experience. I've found a way that works on even very soft dough, without deforming or tearing the loaf. This sounds rediculous, but it works. 

An electric knife will cut the most slack dough without deforming the loaf. It takes practice, don't press down or you'll cut your loaf to the bottom. The knife blade doesn't even get dirty. No dough sticks to it and if you don't have one, you should be able to get a low cost knife for $5.00 at a Big Lots or other discount store. Give it a try.

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