The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

bread perfection

rolls's picture

bread perfection

hi all i just wanted to ask, if you could begin with just one recipe to perfect your skills and knowledge in bread making, what would it  be? im talking bout one of those recipes that you would do over and over till u could do it in ur sleep and results in delicious bread that u always come back to. i think you all know what im talking about. anyways thanks in advance for any feedback, appreciate it!!

LindyD's picture

Jeffrey Hamelman's Vermont sourdough.

But here I call it North Woods sourdough.  I bake it just about weekly, but always have the book in front of me.  

beeman1's picture

Reinhart's Whole wheat sandwhich bread followed by his sour rye.

gavinc's picture

I bake two loaves of this bread every weekend and it's always a consistent result when I apply all I've learned.

Jeffrey Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough.  LindyD - I call it Rosebud Sourdough where I live...:-)


meryl's picture

Nancy Silverton basically shares your dilemma. She says to learn how to make her basic Country White bread, then the rest of her recipes will be easier.  So generally speaking, learn a basic recipe.

I don't believe in this but it's a popular and sound idea.


rolls's picture

thats funny you don't believe in it as in your like me all over the place with your recipes and always trying something new then you forget that when you made it you thought it was worth repeating? (if that makes sense) country white bread sounds nice. to be honest i prefer white bread but keep saying will try whole grain breads for the family.

thanks all, if i make a loaf till it always comes out the same (consisten results) does that mean ive got it? i want to put into practice all that ive learned from this site. for instance, using a poolish, autolyse (haven't tried that yet), stretch n fold etc. does it really make a difference to the end outcome?

i used to make quick doughs using the processor. i picked this up from carol field i have a few of her books including 'nonna's kitchen' where she says that in italy they never use strong flour to make those country breads.

i don't have the books that have been mentioned above. what i do have are:

  • village baker
  • bread bible (rosy. b.)
  • italian baker carol fields
  • foccacia (n a few others)
  • cordon bleu (my first bread book though i was too intimidated to try anything till a few years later)
  • artisan bread in five minutes a day
  • easy no knead book (carol bates)
  • and other miscellaneous bread n baking books

so you can see i'd feel a bit guilty adding to that list but i have thought of borrowing peter reinhart from the library. any other suggestions?

is anyone familiar with the books ive mentioned, any classics i should be trying?

thanks that was a bit long i think but hopefully someone was bothered to read it!

bmoo's picture

Figures, your list of books and the ones I started with have essentially no over lap!  FWIW, I'd say pick a recipe and use it to figure out all these techniques and by experience see which ones make what kind of difference in your breads.

I started my quest for better results with the version of Artison Bread in 5 Minutes  Day that was published in the NY Times.  I think they called the recipe Simple Crusty Bread or something like that.  This bread was a huge improvement over the food processor bread I'd been making.  It had better, more open crumb and better flavor.  It really was a revelation.

You could use that recipe as a base, but try using the techniques talked about here to improve it.  It's really not that far different from the Pain Rustique in Hammelman that I just posted about.

IIRC during my quest for better bread one of the first changes I made was to use Times recipe but reduce the yeast to 2 or 3 tsp.  It still worked fine, but I needed more like 5 hours for the rise.  I also used the french fold technique on that dough.  From that I learned that folding did give the dough a different feel during shaping.  It didn't sag as much when I let it rest before baking.  However, folding seemd to affect my confidence more than the actual bread.

The thing that made the biggest change in my bread was using a poolish.  The bread I posted used a 100% hydration poolish, meaning you use the same amount of flour and water by weight.  It also used 1/2 of the flour in the poolish so it's a high amount of pre-feremented flour in the recipe.  The difference that the poolish made was incredible.  The bread was easier to work, it held its shape better and most important both the texture and taste of the bread was a huge improvement over the Times version of 5 minutes a day bread I had started making.

One problem you might have with using the 5 minutes a day bread as your base recipe is that it's a pretty high hydration recipe.  When I converted the Times version to weight rather than volume I figured it was 2 lbs of flour to 3 cups of water meaning it's 75% hydration.  That's more like a ciabatta recipe.  You might want to cut the water by 3 ounce so that the recipe is 65%, which I've read is standard for French bread.  Or reduce the water by 2 ounces giving 68% hydration, which is somewhat slack but much easier to work than the original 5 minutes a day recipe in my experience.

Oh, and one last idea.  If you like white bread but want to use more whole grains you might try the 20% germ flour idea from Lederer's book.  He suggests using 1 Tblsp of wheat germ for each cup of flour.  It really adds a nice taste boost to the bread.  You could do that with any white bread recipe.

rolls's picture

thanks for taking the time to explain. cleared up a lot of things for me.