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gaaarp

Starting a Starter - Sourdough 101, a Tutorial

(The following started as a blog, but I've had enough questions and comments about it that I thought I'd repost it as a forum entry so it would be easier to find.  Of course, if Floyd wants to add it to Lessons, that would be OK, too.)


Like many people, I found TFL in my quest to learn how to make sourdough.  I had a starter going and was sure I had killed it.  The advice I found here gave me the knowledge and confidence to make a starter that I've been using for months now, with ever-better results.


Although there is a wealth of information here, there was no one source that detailed the method I used, which was based on Reinhart's "barm" in BBA.  Now that I have succeeded in making several starters, I've been thinking about making a video tutorial to walk through the process step-by-step, day-by-day.  My own experience and that of others here has taught me one thing:  sourdough starters don't read baking books, so they don't know how they are "supposed" to behave.  I could have been spared the angst, the wasted time, and of course, pounds of precious flour, if only I had known what to expect and what to look for. 


I don't have the technical part of video-making worked out yet, so I have decided to do a tutorial blog.  This will be a real test, as I am trying out a modified starter that I haven't made before.  It's still based on Peter's starter, but I have altered the amounts, and possibly the times, to suit my own fancy.  If all goes well, I will end up with a more reasonable (i.e., much smaller) amount of starter, and I will get there with much less wasted flour.


So here goes:


Day 1: 


Ingredients:  1/3 cup rye flour and 1/4 cup water


For the flour, I use stone-ground rye.  Nothing special, just what I got from the grocery store.  My water is tap water run through a filter.  Before I had a filter on my sink, I used bottled drinking water.


Mix the flour and water in a bowl.  It will be thick and pasty, kind of like the oatmeal that's left in the pot if you don't come down for breakfast on time. 


Day 1 - thick and pasty


Once all the flour is mixed in, put it in a pint-sized or larger container and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave it out on the counter. 


Day 1 - ready to rest


And that's it for today.


 


Day 2:


Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water


There should be little, if any, change in the culture from yesterday.  Again, I'm not really particular about the flour.  I would just recommend staying away from bleached flour.  I am using AP flour for this batch.


Mix the flour, water, and all of the starter from yesterday in a bowl.  It will still be thick but a little wetter than yesterday. 


Day 2 - still thick, but not quite as gooey


Put it back in the container (no need to wash it), press it down as level as you can get it, and mark the top of the culture with a piece of tape on the outside of the container. 


Day 2 - nighty night


Put the plastic wrap back on top, and you're finished.


 


Day 3:


Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water


Around Day 3 or 4, something happens that puts terror in the heart of the amateur sourdough maker:  they get a whiff of their starter.  When you check your starter on Day 3, you may notice a strange, and not at all pleasant, odor.  And unless you know better (which you will now), you'll swear something is drastically wrong.  In fact, I would venture to guess that that smell has been the ruin of more amateur sourdough growers than anything else.  It's an acrid, sour, almost rotten smell, and it's perfectly normal.  And rest assured, your new baby sourdough starter will soon outgrow it.  So, take heart, and press on.


You may also notice that your starter has begun to come to life.  It probably won't grow a lot, maybe 50%, but you will start to see bubbles, like these:


It is ALIVE!!!!!


Regardless of the amount of growth, stir down your starter, throw out about half (no need to measure, just eyeball it), and mix the rest with today's flour and water.  You will get a slightly more doughy-looking mass:


Is is soup yet?


Once it's well mixed, put it back in the container (still no need to wash), pat it down, and move your tape to again mark the top of the starter.  From this point forward, keep your starter at a moderate room temperature, 70-72 degrees F.  Lower is OK (it will just grow more slowly); but don't keep it at a higher temperature, or you will encourage the growth of the bacterial beasties at the expense of the yeasty beasties.


Let 'er rise


Put the plastic wrap back on the container, and take the rest of the evening off.  You worked hard today.


 


Day 4:


Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water


And now, a word about measurements.  If you bake regularly, or even if you've just been nosing around baking sites for a while, you are no doubt aware that the ingredients in most artisan bread recipes are listed by weight rather than volume.  I measure by weight for my baking and for maintaining my sourdough starter. 


You might wonder why, then, am I using volume measurements here?  Two reasons: first, I have tried to make this starter as simple to follow as possible -- no special tools, no monkeying around with the scales, just a couple of measuring cups and a bowl.  And, when it comes to starting a starter, the measurements aren't as critical as when you actually go to bake with it.  So for now, we're just using measuring cups. 


Today is another one of those days where novice sourdough starter makers often lose heart.  Your starter is now coming to life, and like most living things, it kind of has a mind of its own.  Up until now, we followed the clock, making our additions every 24 hours.  Now, we will be letting the starter dictate the timeframe. 


Before you do your Day 4 additions, you want to make sure your starter has at least doubled.  If it doubles in less than 24 hours, you should still wait until the 24 hour mark.  If it takes more than 24 hours, be patient.  Let it double.  It may take another 12 or 24 hours, or it may take longer.  Again, be patient.  It will double.  Just give it time.


If your starter hasn't doubled after 48 hours, you can boost it with a shot of rye flour.  Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of rye flour and a bit of water (try to keep the hydration level about where it was) and mix it up.  Then wait for it to double before proceeding with the Day 4 additions. 


Eventually, you'll end up with a nice, bubbly starter:


Day 4 - rising to the occassion


You can see that mine more than doubled.  But I still waited for 24 hours.  Once it doubles, throw out half of the starter, then mix the rest with the flour and water, and back into the bowl it goes:


Day 4 - Edwina, back in bowl


Replace the tape and plastic wrap.  Then wait for it to double.   It could take as little as 4 hours, or it may take more than 24 hours.  This time, you can move on to Day 5 at any point after doubling.  It's OK if you let it more than double; it's also OK to move on right when it hits the double mark.  So, hurry up and wait.


 


Day 5:


Ingredients:  3/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/2 cup water


Once your starter has at least doubled, it's time for the final mix.


Day 5 - alive and kicking


Combine flour, water, and 1/4 cup starter in a bowl and mix well.  Transfer to a clean container with room for the starter to at least double.


Day 5 - final mix


OK, one last time, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter until it gets nice and bubbly.  Don't worry so much about how much it grows, just so that it's bubbly looking.  This will probably take around 6 hours, but, again, don't stress about the time.  Let the starter tell you when it's ready.


Day 5 - Congratulations, it's a bouncing baby starter!


When your starter gets bubbly, pat yourself on the back:  you are now the proud parent of a bouncing baby starter!  Put a lid or other cover on your container and put it in the refrigerator.  Let it chill overnight, and you can begin using it the next day.


Day 6 and beyond:


By today, your starter is ready to use.  The flavor will continue to develop over the next several weeks to month, so don't be disappointed if your first few loaves aren't sour enough for you.  I would still recommend beginning to bake with it right away, especially if you have never made sourdough bread before.  That way, you can hone your skills while your starter develops its flavor.


Feeding your sourdough:  If you keep your sourdough in the fridge, you only have to feed it about once a week.  And you can minimize your discards by keeping only what you need and feeding it when you want to bake with it.  I recommend a 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour) feeding, which means each feeding includes an equal amount, by weight, of starter, water, and flour. 


Start by weighing your starter, subtracting the weight of your container.  Then add an equal amount of water and flour directly to the container.  So, for example, if you have 100 grams of starter, you would add 100 grams each of water and flour.  I generally add the water and flour at the same time, although some people recommend adding the water first and whisking to dissolve the starter before adding the flour. 


If you feed your starter right out of the fridge, as I do, warm your water to lukewarm (90 - 100 degrees F).  After you mix in the water and flour, leave it out on the counter for a few hours, then put it back in the refrigerator.  It's best if you feed your starter a few days before you intend to bake with it.


To illustrate, here is an example of my feeding routine, starting with the Day 5 starter and assuming that I finished making the starter on Friday night:



  • Saturday morning, I take out what I need to bake bread (2/3 cup using my normal sourdough bread recipe) and return the rest of the starter to the refrigetator.

  • Wednesday of the next week, I get out the starter, weigh it, and add equal amounts of flour and water in a 1:1:1 ratio, as outlined above.  My goal here is to build up as much starter as I need to make bread on the weekend, and enough left over for my next build.  It's OK if I have more than I need to bake with.  If I don't think I'll have enough after a 1:1:1 build, I will increase my ratio of flour and water, maybe to 1:2:2 or 1:1.5:1.5.  In that case, I will let it sit out until it almost doubles before returning it to the fridge, which might take a bit longer, as I'm using less starter relative to flour and water.

  • Friday night or Saturday morning, I again take out what I need to bake with and return the rest to the fridge, to be fed again mid-week.


This is just an example of how I keep my starter.  You can feed yours more often if you bake more than I do.  It's also OK to let it go more than a week between feedings.  If you do that, though, you might want to feed it a few times before you bake with it.


So, that's it.  Hopefully I've unravelled some of the mystery of sourdough starters and given you the confidence to try one yourself.  Good luck, and let me know how it works out for you!

Pain de Provence

pain de provence

It is getting to be harvest season in my part of the world, and that means herbs are cheap and plentiful. Now is a great time to try baking an herb bread.

You can bake wonderful herb breads with whatever you have on hand: rosemary, dill, basil, thyme, mint, chives, you name it. I happen to have an excess of Herbes De Provence on hand, a mixture of savory, thyme, fennel, and lavender that you can find in most specialty grocery stores or order online.

I used my standard poolish french bread as the base for this, then added the liqueur and herbs recommended by Bernard Clayton in his recipe for Pain de Provence in his Complete Book of Breads. Feel free to experiment and use a different dough as the base.

pain de provence

Pain De Provence

Makes 1 large loaf

Poolish:
1 cup bread or all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

Dough:
All of the poolish
2 cups bread or all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup Herbes de Provence
1 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup liqueur such as Beauchant, Grand Marnier, or orange Curaçao
1/4-1/2 cup water, as necessary

The night before baking, make the poolish by mixing together 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of water, and 1/2 teaspoon of yeast to make a batter. Cover the container with plastic wrap and set aside for 8 to 16 hours until you are ready to make the final dough.

To make the dough, combine the remaining flour with the remaining yeast, salt, and herbs. Add the poolish, the liqueur, and 1/4 cup of the additional water. Mix the ingredients, and, if necessary, add more water or flour until the proper consistency is reached (tacky but not so sticky that the dough sticks to your hands).

Knead by hand for 10 to 15 minutes or in a mixer for 5 to 10 minutes. Place the dough in a well-greased bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside to rise until doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes. Remove it from the bowl and gently degas it, then return it to the bowl, cover it, and allow it to double in size again.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into a ball or long loaf. Cover the loaf with a damp towel and allow it to rise again until doubled in size, which takes between 60 and 90 more minutes.

While the loaf is in its final rise, preheat the oven and baking stone, if you are using one, to 450. I also preheat a brownie pan into which I pour a cup of hot water just after placing the loaf in the oven. This creates steam in the oven which increases the crunchiness of the crust.

Just prior to placing the loaf in the oven, score the top of it with a sharp knife or razor blade.

Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 450, then rotate it 180 degrees and reduce the oven temperature to 375 and baked it another 25 minutes. The internal temperature of the loaf should be in the ball park of 200 degrees when you remove it from the oven.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least a half an hour before serving, if you can resist.

pain de provence

I couldn't.

Cinnamon Rolls

There must be a hundred different cinnamon roll recipes, from the French pain aux raisin to the British Chelsea buns to Philadelphia style sticky buns to the Midwest American truck stop cinnamon rolls that are as big as your head.

Here is the recipe I grew up with and still bake most often.

Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 12 rolls
Dough:
16 oz all-purpose flour
10 oz warm milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Filling:
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup choppped walnuts or pecans

Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Make the dough by combining all of the ingredients and kneading until smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. If it is too moist add a handful of extra flour. Place the dough in a bowl, cover the bowl, and set aside to rise until it has doubled in size (roughly an hour).

While I'm waiting for the dough to rise, I like to plump the raisins by pouring very hot water on them and letting them sit in the water for 15 minutes before draining them. This keeps them moister when you bake them, but this step isn't necessary if you are short on time.

Sometimes I prepare my filling as you'll see below: by combining the softened butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar in a bowl so they can be spread together. Again, this isn't necessary: you can simply spread the butter and sprinkle the sugar and spices as best as you can by hand. It is up to you.

When the dough is risen, roll it out on a floured surface.

Cinnamon Rolls

Spread the filling on the risen dough.

Cinnamon Rolls

Also sprinkle the raisins on top.

Roll the dough up, trying as best as you can to prevent the filling form spilling out. Slice the roll into 12 even pieces.

Cinnamon Rolls

A tip from the Department of Slow Learners: I have no idea why it took me 25 years to figure out this trick, but it did. In the past, when I needed to slice something like this into 12 even pieces, I would eyeball it and then start carving one slice at a time off the end. Inevitably as I reached the final couple of slices I'd have either too much or too little left, so the final couple rolls are never the same size as the rest.

The trick I learned is to first slice the roll into two even pieces. Then slice slice each of these pieces into two even pieces, so you have four pieces total. Each of those pieces only needs to be cut twice more for you to have twelve pieces. Eyeballing how to cut a small piece of dough into three even pieces is much easier than eyeballing a twelfth of a large piece of dough.

Cinnamon Rolls

Moving on....

Now that your roll is cut into twelve even pieces, place those pieces in a baking pan.

Cinnamon Rolls

Cover the pan and let the buns rise for another 45 minutes to an hour until they've roughly doubled in size.

Cinnamon Rolls

Bake them at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes. Be careful about oven positioning and overbaking: because there is quite a bit of sugar in the filling it is quite easy to burn the bottom of the rolls. I find that the second rack from the top works best in my oven, and I try to pull them out as soon as they look baked.

Cinnamon Rolls

Let the rolls cool for 20 minutes or so before glazing them. The glaze will thicken as it cools, but if it is extremely runny feel free to add some additional powdered sugar to thicken it up.

Cinnamon Rolls

There is it.

Cinnamon Rolls

I'd be interested in hearing about other people's favorite Cinnamon Roll recipes/techniques. Please share your recipes, ideas, and photos.

Baked Potato Bread

This weekend I found myself staring out the window at the abundant chives growing in my garden. What could I possibly do with them, I wondered, except eat them on baked potatoes? And how many baked potatoes can I eat before I never want to see another spud again?

Then it occurred to me that I've made potato bread before, so why not add chives to potato bread? And, heck, while I'm at it, why not throw in some other tater toppings like sour cream and bacon and have a full-on Baked Potato Bread?

By the time I had second thoughts about it, all of the ingredients were mixed together. But, you know what? It turned out excellent, the perfect accompaniment to a pot of corn chowder on a rainy day.

The full recipe is below.
Freestyle Baking

As I have written about time and time again, I think the real fun in baking comes once you have mastered the basics and understand how adding different ingredients in different proportions will change the character of your loaf.

Whether I am making up a recipe or checking out a new recipe in a cookbook, my point of reference is always the loaf I introduced in lesson 1, which is 3 cups flour, 1 + a little cups of water, 2 teaspoons yeast, 2 teaspoons salt. If I read a recipe and it has more water than, say, a cup and a quarter of water per three cups of flour I know it is going to a slack dough; more fats (butter, milk): a softer loaf; contains sugars: a sweet loaf; and so on.

When thinking up this recipe, I took the lesson one recipe, substituted potatoes for about 20 percent of the flour, substituted sour cream for about 50% of the water, and added the chives and bacon and bacon fat. It sounded easy enough, though I made some adjustments as I started baking, as you'll see below.

Potato Bread

I don't believe that I've every posted about a potato bread on this site, so a little introduction is in order.

Replacing between 10 and 30 percent of your flour with mashed potatoes results in a wonderful soft, moist loaf of bread. Potato flakes or potato starch can be used, as well, but leftover mashed potatoes work great even if they have some butter or milk or salt in them.

Do be careful, though: potatoes are considerably lower in gluten than wheat, so add too much potato and you will end with a dense, moist loaf, probably too much like a baked potato for anyone's liking. I find 1/2 cup potatoes to around 3 cups flour to be plenty.

In this recipe I used a couple of small red potatoes that we had steamed up as a side dish for dinner the night before. All I did was mash them up with a fork and mix them into the flour. I left the skins on before mashing them because I find the little red flakes speckling the loaf to be quite attractive.

Bacon isn't to everyone's liking, either for dietary or religious reasons. I see no reason why this recipe wouldn't be good even if you excluded it, but if it something you are able to indulge in I suggest you do. I definitely think it improved the flavor and consistency (and appearance, for that matter) of the loaf.

Enough blabbing. On to the recipe!

Baked Potato Bread

Makes 2 small (one pound) loaves or one large loaf

1/2 cup mashed potatoes
3 to 4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (I'll explain the ambiguity below)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cooked bacon
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

To begin, chop up two or three slices of bacon and fry them up. Remove them from the heat.

Mix the mashed potatoes, yeast, salt, and 2 cups of the flour together in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. If you have active dry yeast and want to substitute, read this. Add the sour cream, water, chives, and bacon and mix together until all ingredients are combined. I also mixed in the bacon fat, which there was about a tablespoon of in the pan, because it improves the flavor of the loaf.

At this point you'll have a very wet, sticky mess, probably more of a batter than a dough. Add additional flour a handful (1/8 cup) at a time and mix or knead it in.

(I lost track of exactly how much extra flour I added, but it seems like it was around 9 or 10 hands full. I added 4 or 5 hands full and mixed them in while the dough was still in the bowl, then I poured the dough out onto a well-floured cutting board and added more, kneading it with my hands which I repeatedly dipped in flour to keep the dough from sticking to them. After 5 or 10 minutes of this I ended up with something that was still quite sticky, but was definitely in the realm of a dough and not a batter: it could be formed into a ball and generally held its shape.)

Once you have combined the ingredients well and gotten the balance of flour and water to a level that seems acceptable, return the dough to a well-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 90 minutes at room temperature or until it has doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape the loaf or loaves. Notice how moist and gummy my dough was when I cut it to shape it into two loaves:

One probably could add more flour and make an acceptable loaf of bread with a drier dough, but I've been finding that I get better results the wetter I am able to leave it. But this really is an art, not a science, so use your own best judgement.

At this point you need to shape the loaves, cover them loosely and let them rise until they double in size again, about 45 minutes. You could put them in greased baking pans and let them rise and bake them in those. I wanted round loaves, so I put them in a couple of couche lined baskets:

Professional bakers use these kinds of baskets, which are very nice but completely out of my price range. I found two small baskets at Goodwill for 49 cents each and have found that they help keep the shape of my rounds very well.

The baking couche I got from a neighbor who works in bakery. It works very well, but you can fake the same thing with a well floured kitchen towel (the linen kind, not a fuzzy one).

As you can see in the picture above, I placed the baskets on a table, the couche over the baskets, and the dough in the floured couche in the baskets. I wrapped the edges of the couche around the balls of dough and let them rise. When they had risen I simply unwrapped the loaves and shook them out of the couche onto my peel (which I dust with semolina flour) and threw them into the oven.

While the loaves are rising again, preheat the oven to 425. If you have a baking stone, be sure to put it in early to heat.

When they have doubled in size (as I said before, about 45 minutes after shaping), put the loaves in the oven to bake. I baked them at 425 for 5 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350 and baked them another half an hour. The loaves are done when the internal temperature reaches the 185 to 195 degree range (as read with an instant-read thermometer) or when they are nice and brown on the outside and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. For me this took about 35 minutes.

And there we have it. The bread was wonderful while still warm with a pot of soup, but I actually think I preferred it the next day cold. With the bacon fat and sour cream, there was plenty of fat in the bread so it didn't need to be buttered; just plain it was rich and moist enough.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Ficelles made with Anis Bouabsa's baguette formula

 

 

  • Flour500 gms Giusto's Baker's Choice
  • Water375 gms
  • Yeast1/4 tsp Instant
  • Salt10 gms
  1. Mix flour and water and autolyse for 20 minutes.
  2. Add yeast and mix by folding dough in the bowl.
  3. Add salt and mix by folding dough in the bowl.
  4. Mix dough by folding and stretching in the bowl for 20 strokes. Repeat this 3 more times at 20 minute intervals.
  5. Refrigerate dough, covered tightly, for 21 hours.
  6. Divide into 4 equal parts and preshape gently for baguettes.
  7. Allow preshaped pieces to rest, covered with plastic, for 1 hour.
  8. Shape into ficelles (short, thin baguettes).
  9. Proof en couche or on parchment paper dusted with semolina for 45 minutes.
  10. Pre-heat oven to 500F with baking stone in middle rack and a cast iron skillet and a metal loaf pan on the lowest rack. Preheat 45 minutes or longer before baking.
  11. 3-5 minutes before baking, place a handful of ice cubes in the loaf pan. Shut the oven door. Bring water to a boil.
  12. Transfer the ficelles to a peel and load them onto the baking stone. Pour one cup of boiling water into the skillet. Close the oven door.
  13. Turn the oven down to 480F.
  14. After 10 minutes, remove the loaf pan and the skillet from the oven.
  15. Continue baking for another 10-15 minutes until the loaves are nicely colored, the crust is hard all around and the bottom gives a hollow sound when tapped. Internal temperature should be at least 205F.
  16. Cool on a rack completely before slicing.
Anis Bouabsa is a young Parisian boulanger who won the prize for the best baguettes in Paris in 2008. He gave Janedo, a French home baker extraordinaire and a member of TFL, his formula, and Jane shared it with us. He uses a technique of a long, cold fermentation which has been used, with variations, by a number of contemporary French bakers.In addition to producing wonderfully flavored bread, it also permits the home baker to make bread using two blocks of about 2-3 hours rather than requiring longer time blocks. For example, I mixed the dough yesterday evening after dinner. I took it out of the refrigerator at about 4:30 pm this afternoon, and we ate it with dinner at 7:30 pm.These ficelles sang loudly coming out of the oven. I cooled them for only 20-30 minutes. The crust was very crunchy, and the crumb had a sweetness that would make one think there was sugar in the dough. Very yummy.Variations on Bouabsa's formula, adding 100 gms of sourdough starter and substituting 10% rye or whole wheat flour for an equal amount of white flour, make a delicious pain de campagne, which has become a favorite bread of several of us.This is described in my blog entries under "Pain de Campagne" and "San Joaquin Sourdough."Enjoy!David

 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Eye opening techniques

I know when I first started baking I nodded dutifully when I was told to knead until the dough will pass the window pain test. If you can't stretch a piece until it is translucent and you can see light through it, knead some more. This advice is found through out the industry help and how to books and is considered to be a core understanding by many. Far be it for me who is a lowly novice in terms of time in the flour bin to question the conventional wisdom, however. There are a few misconceptions that have become accepted as gospel that I believe hinder the new baker and for that matter any baker who wants to truly understand what their potential is in the kitchen. The techniques I address here are not my ideas or content. These things were presented to me by others here on the forum in pieces over the last few years and together represent the basis of my capability today.


The first bit of advice I have is to stop what ever you are doing and watch this video. If you're like me it will take a few times to get the hang of what the poster is doing. This is Richard Bertinet doing a demo for Gourmet magazine. He is making a sweet dough but it doesn't matter. The technique is key. When I learned this move and method of handling dough, my results instantly went from unpredictable to reliable. 10 or maybe 15 seconds with your hands in the dough and that's it, you're done. No more kneading is required. You might do a couple folds every 20-30 minutes during the primary ferment. This will work with sourdough or yeasted recipes and white or whole wheat with the caveat that WW will need a fold or two during the ferment. Once I learned to do the French Fold, I have rarely used my mixer. When you understand how the dough is supposed to feel with your own fingers it is much easier to produce a dough that will perform to your expectations.


Further EDIT: A regular contributor to this forum has produced some really terrific video training aids that can be seen HERE. Mark Sinclair is the owner of The Back Home Bakery in Kalispell Montana. He is remarkably clear in the message he sends about how to handle several dough types and shaping.
Mark demonstrates how easily you can mix, stretch and fold and shape dough. His style is easy to follow and well done. I highly recommend you take a look at these instructional videos. He just posted a new video on shaping a high hydration baguette that is excellent. Many of his recipes are search-able here or if you email him he will probably send them to you. His bakery products are beautiful and the photography is inspirational.


Mark now has 2 DVD's for sale that take you from end to end with 3 different breads and another on technique. There are lots of places to get information on how bake good breads. Marks Video's are reasonable and very helpful to the new baker.


There is another video that should be included is the Julia Child/Daniel Forester baguette demonstration. This is a 2 part video that shows how to put together french bread dough by hand and uses the frisage method. Frisage is something that once seen, always understood. You can read about it repeatedly but it won't make sense until you see it in action. See it http://www.pbs.org/juliachild/free/baguette.html here.


Added by Edit: A great video is now available that I think is the essence of dough handling and shows how easy it is to mix dough without a mixer. If you can chew gum you can make great bread using Richard Bertinet's video HERE.


Secondly, Da Crumb Bum posted a concept that goes against all the common wisdom concerning pre heating your oven and using a stone for a thermal battery. Who hasn't thought that to get good rustic bread one must bake on a pizza stone or a tile surface? There are some instances where a stone and preheat is required like pizza and bread sticks but for the greatest majority of your baking, no stone or preheat is required. A link to the original post is http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/1843/no-knead-preheat#comment-12597 . Most are skeptical this will work at first but trust me on this, you won't believe it until you see it with your own eyes. It is expensive to maintain 450F in a steel box both in terms of wasting money and by wasting the energy and resources of our planet. The minimal effect that preheating has on the crust is absolutely not worth the additional energy.


I share these thoughts and techniques as a way of thanking the many posters who have helped me to become at least a competent home artisan baker. The host of The Fresh Loaf (floydm) is top on the list with his lessons and frequent examples of solid baking. Hundreds of community members, posters, are here to answer your question or help with an issue. This is a great site because of the members. Don't be afraid to jump in, we are just like family.


ADDED EDIT:
It's been a while since I made this post and I wanted to come back and add a few things now that I have some experience under my belt.
1.) I still almost never use the mixer. A brief hand mix to break up the dry clumps of flour followed by a 30-60 minute rest and stretch and fold or French folding as per the top video will develop the gluten just fine. Stretch and fold every 30-60 minutes for the duration of the bulk ferments. Time will be your friend here. Be patient. If you use a very small amount of starter for inoculation or yeast, you slow down the bulk ferment. If you increase the hydration slightly, you will find you can fold every 40-60 minutes for about 4 hours. The dough will be perfectly satin smooth and will easily windowpane.


2.) Instead of starting from a cold oven, I now am starting the oven when the dough looks ready and the proof is about done. The dough is proofing on parchment, covered with a floured towel or a moist tea towel. When it looks like the proof is done, turn on the oven. My electric will go to 450 in 7 minutes. Slide the dough in, steam for a great crust. I rotate after 20 minutes.


3.) I think many people over ferment and over proof. Try fermenting for 60 minutes at 78F, shape and proofing for 45-60 minutes. Remember, the warmer it is where your dough ferments, the faster the dough will rise. Temperature matters.


4.) Make your slashes deeper than a 1/4 inch. You might be better to go back and retrace your initial slashes to make them just a little deeper. Be modest in the pattern. Remember what the purpose is of slashing.

5.) Not so much a technique but a suggestion. Adopt a basic formula that you can make in your sleep. Nothing fancy, a basic yeast or sourdough bread your family likes and work from that. You will be surprised at how many different types of bread you can make using your basic master formula by adding one or two ingredients or changing the handling slightly.
Have fun and learn at your own pace. The collective knowledge at The Fresh Loaf is being plugged into your own private baking school.


Eric


"It's not you he wags his tail for, but, your bread".

Flax Seed Wheat Bread

flax seed wheat bread

I finally got my copy of Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf, a book that the Brits on this site have been recommending to me for a while. Occasionally imported copies will show up on Amazon for a reasonable price, but I found it cheaper to order a copy from a bookseller in Ipswich via Abebooks. It is a splendid book, with great photos, easy to follow instructions, and excellent recipes; well worth the cost of admission for a baking fanatic. His website is also worth checking out.

Of the recipes I've baked so far, the Linseed and Wheat Bread has been my favorite. The first loaf I baked we ate in under an hour. I was forced to bake it again the next day. The horror.

The recipe I'm posting below is based on his Linseed and Wheat Bread. I modified it some to match the ingredients I had on hand and my personal taste.

Flax Seed Wheat Bread
makes 1 one pound loaf

200g bread flour
50g whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
100g flax seeds
2 teaspoons malt powder
150 grams water
1 teaspoon instant yeast

Combine the flours, salt, seeds, malt, and yeast in a bowl. Stir in the water and mix until thoroughly combined. This dough is not a terribly moist one: it should be slightly tacky but not sticky. When shaped into a ball it should easily hold its shape.

The seed and bran from the whole wheat prevent a high level of gluten development in this dough, so extensive kneading is not necessary.

Once all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined, place the ball of dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for an hour to an hour and a half.

Shape the dough into 1 large or two small loaves, cover the loaves with plastic, and give them another hour to rise. In the meantime, preheat the oven and baking stone to 425 degrees.

Brush the top of the loaves with water, score the loaves, and place them in the oven. Bake them at 425 for 20 minutes, rotate them 180 degrees, then bake them another 20 to 25 minutes. When done, they will be nicely browned on the outside, make a hollow sound when tapped upon, and register approximately 205 degrees in the center when measured with an instant read thermometer.

flax seed wheat bread

These loaves remind me of yams.

flax seed wheat bread

Related Recipe: Five Seed French Bread

Pretzels

pretzel shapingThe other day I was reading Jeffrey Hamelman's recent book Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes when I came across his pretzel recipe. His recipe requires a pate fermente overnight, a long fermentation, and a bath in a solution of water and lye, which means rubber gloves and goggles are required.

"Rubber gloves and goggles and caustic fluids to make a batch of pretzels?!? You've got to be kidding me," I thought.

The next day I found myself flipping through another baking book when I stumbled across another pretzel recipe. No caustic bath. No preferment. Not even an initial fermentation: simply mix everything together, shape the pretzels, and bake them; beginning to end, under an hour.

So which is it? Is it necessary to make the preferment and use lye to make decent pretzels at home? Do you even need to ferment the dough to make passable pretzels, or can you just jam them into the oven?

Find out below.

By the way, the other baking book I was looking at was Breaking Bread with Father Dominic 2. Not a bad little book. I gather that it is out of print, but if you see a cheap used copy at the local bookstore it might be worth picking up.

I didn't follow his recipe exactly, but it provided a nice balance to Hamelman's recipe.

The Experiment

There was no way I was going to try the lye bath at home. Maybe to make world class, authentic German pretzels that is necessary, but for a half dozen pretzels at home? Forget about it.

I decided to try make pretzels with an initial fermentation and without. I also tried boiling them briefly in water, egg washing them, and just baking them dry. If any of those methods could produce something reasonably like the soft pretzels I've had before I'd be happy.

The Recipe

I buy my yeast in a jar so that I can measure out as much or as little as I want (well, that and it is cheaper when you bake as often as I do). If you are using yeast from a packet, you can either use half a packet or double the recipe and use an entire packet (at least the packets they sell in the grocery stores in the US... international bakers will have to do their own conversion).

If you are using instant (AKA Rapid Rise or Bread Machine) yeast, you can just mix the yeast in with the rest of the dry ingredients before adding the warm milk and it'll activate fine. If you are using active dry yeast, mix it into the warm milk along with the malt powder (or brown sugar) and give it 5 to 10 minutes to activate before incorporating it into the dry ingredients.

Pretzels

Makes 6 large pretzels
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon malt powder or brown sugar
2-3 cups all-purpose unbleached or bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees, which is 1 minute in my microwave)

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix together until it forms a ball. I start with 2 cups of the flour and mix it together until it forms something like a thick batter, then add more flour a handful at a time until it'll form a nice ball that I can knead by hand.

Either use an electric mixer to mix the dough for 5 minutes or remove it from the bowl and knead it by hand for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough begins to get smooth and satiny.

If you are going to ferment the dough (more information on whether this set is necessary below), return the ball of dough to a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately an hour.

If you fermented it, degas the dough gently before moving on to the next step.

Before shaping, start preheating the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each one into a short log, cover with a towel, and let the dough relax for 5 to 10 minutes. After it has relaxed you should be able to roll it out and stretch again fairly easily.

pretzel logs

After taking this photo, I let them relax again and then gave each a third roll and stretch session before they were as long and thin as I wanted (about 15 inches long and about as big around as my index finger). They'll nearly double in width while baking, so it is ok to roll them out quite thin.

pretzel shaping

Shaping pretzels is simple, once you get a hang of it. Place a rope of dough on the work surface in front of you. Take each end in a hand, loop the dough away from you, and bring the ends back toward your stomach, crossing them about an inch above the rope. Apply a little bit of pressure to make the loops stick together, but not too much because you don't want then to flatten out.

Pretzels don't appear to need to rise again before baking, so you just need to figure out how you want to prep them for the oven. Here are the options I tried:

To boil them: If you want to boil them, bring a pot of water to a boil. Dunk each of the pretzels into the boiling water for 5 seconds, then place them onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt (I use the kosher stuff that is easy to find at the grocery store) or other toppings.

pretzel shaping

I used a pair of spatulas to hold the pretzel in place while holding it under water.

To eggwash them: Simply place them on a baking sheet, brush them gently with an egg that has been whisked, then sprinkle with coarse salt or other toppings.

To bake them (mostly) dry: Sprinkle or spritz them with a little bit of water so that the toppings will stick, then sprinkle with coarse salt or other toppings.

Place the baking sheets into the oven. It took around 15 minutes for my pretzels to get golden and brown. Remove from the oven and eat immediately.

Results

pretzels done

We definitely thought the boiled pretzels (on the left) were better than the pretzels that had just been spritzed with water (on the right). The spritzed ones were dry and had a slightly french bread like crust. Crust like that is good on french bread but not so good on soft pretzels.

I liked the boiled pretzels more than the eggwashed pretzels, my wife preferred the eggwashed pretzels better. The eggwashed ones rose considerably more in the oven than the boiled ones, so they were quite soft and fluffy. The boiled ones were still soft, but they were a little denser and chewier.

Truthfully, I couldn't tell the difference between the batch that I let ferment for an hour and the batch I baked immediately. If I were tasting them side by side with no toppings I probably could detect a slight difference. But at least when I eat soft pretzels they are a medium for other flavors (salt and mustard), either method produces an adequate pretzel.

pretzel alone

And the lye bath? At least for the home baker I can say with confidence that you can skip it.

Defender of the lye bath? Or have any other insight into proper pretzel making? Please comment!

Kaiser Rolls

Kaiser rolls are great for picnics, sandwiches, and other summertime meals. The hardest part about making them is shaping them. If you want them to be perfect, order yourself a kaiser roll stamp. Or you can roll out the dough out and knot it the way Peter Reinhart suggests in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Below I'll show you the technique I've found easiest.

The recipe I'm using is a cross between Bernard Clayton's recipe and Peter Reinhart's recipe. Peter's recipe uses a pre-ferment, the one I've listed below does not. You can adjust this recipe to use a pre-ferment quite easily: simply throw in some old dough if you want to use a pate fermentee. Or pull out a cup of the flour and 1/2 a cup of the water and 1/4 teaspoon of the yeast, mix them together, and let them sit out in a covered bowl overnight to create a poolish. Either technique will result in a more flavorful roll, but if you are going to be making sandwiches slathered in mustard or a sharp cheese, something likely to overwhelm the flavor of the bread, the extra work is probably not warranted.

Kaiser Rolls
Makes 8-12 rolls, depending on how large you like them
3 1/2-4 cups (1 lb.) bread or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon malt powder
1 tablespoon shortening, butter, or oil
1 egg
1 egg white
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) water

Combine 3 cups of the flour and the other dry ingredients in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the water, eggs, and shortening. Knead by hand for approximately 10 minutes or 5-7 minutes in a mixer, adding more flour by the handful as necessary. The dough should still be tacky but not terribly wet. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour. Allow it to rise a second time for an hour before shaping. To shape the rolls, divide the dough into smaller pieces (if you are particular, use a scale to get them the same size). Roll the pieces of dough into balls and cover them with a damp kitchen towel so they can relax for 5 minutes.

To shape them, first I press them out into flat disks on a well floured surface (Clayton suggests using rye flour, though any type of flour will do). I let them rest, covered, another 5 minutes. Then I stretch the dough a bit thinner again and fold pieces up into the center.

Finally I press down in the center to seal it up tight.

I place them face down on a sheet pan covered with poppy seeds while they are rising for the final hour.

One could just as well let them rise face up and then spritz them with water and sprinkle the poppy seeds on, but doing it this way prevents the seals from splitting while they rise.

Preheat the oven to 450 during the final rise. Just before placing them in the oven, flip the rolls upright. You want to have steam in the oven when you bake them, so use whatever technique you prefer: squirting them with water, squirting the oven sides with water, pouring boiling water in a preheated cast-iron pan or a cookie sheet. These rolls take around 20 to 25 minutes to bake. I suggest rotating the pan once 10 minutes into it so they'll brown evenly.

Related Recipe: Potato Rosemary Rolls.

Better Banana Bread

Well, maybe not a better banana bread, but different banana bread: cakier, creamier, moister. I, personally, think I prefer this loaf to the previous banana bread recipe I posted, but my wife makes the point that this recipe produces a much more delicate bread than the previous one does. For a quiet cup of tea on a lazy summer afternoon, this is the one. For a picnic at the zoo with a rambunctious three year old, the previous one is the way to go: it'll survive the transport in the car and backpack much better.

Recipe below.

This is, in fact, the same recipe as before with a cup of vanilla yogurt added. The yogurt made the dough moister, so in response I needed to add more flour. Since I was adding more flour, I decided to try using some whole wheat flour. It turned out well.

So if there is a lesson to be learned here, it isn't that this is the greatest banana bread in the world. It is to make each recipe your own. Bake often and do not be afraid to experiment. If you don't screw up a recipe from time-to-time you probably aren't baking enough!

Better Banana Bread
Makes 1 huge loaf or 3 small loaves

Preheat the oven to 350.

In one bowl, combine:

1/2 stick (4-5 tablespoons) butter, softened
2 eggs
2 or 3 very ripe bananas
1 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
2/3 cup sugar

Use a potato masher, fork, or spoon to squish the banana and mix the ingredients together. It is alright for there to be small (1 centimeter) chunks of banana in the batter, but you want most of the banana to be reduced to mush.

In another bowl, combine:

1 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix until the ingredients are blended together.

If you like, stir in additional ingredients here, such as chopped walnuts or pecans, dried cherries or apricots, or chocolate chips. A handful (about a half a cup) is about right.

Pour the dough into greased baking pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Small loaves take around 30 minutes, a normal-sized loaf takes around 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven. This bread is great warm, but it is excellent cold too.

After they have cooled for 5 or 10 minutes the loaves can be removed from the pan to cool. Once they are cool they can be individually wrapped and frozen.

Enjoy!

Related Recipe: 10 Minute Banana Bread.

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