The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hi from Alaska...a newbie with a question

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svirden's picture

Hi from Alaska...a newbie with a question

Hi from Homer!

I've recently lived on a sailboat and expect to do so again. This means I NEED to be a bread baker. My husband bakes lovely bread in the galley oven. I started last winter and have really been enjoying it, though I've thus far limited myself to a wheat bread recipe that we love and prefer for our standard toast and sandwich bread (it's supposedly the Pepperidge Farm recipe). I plan to experiment more with vital wheat gluten and the recipes in a recent Mother Earth News. My goal is to develop a repertoire of a half dozen great breads that:

1) create low mess,

2) require minimal kitchenware and counter space,

3) don't require any refrigerated ingredients,

4) will be resilient enough to proof in a somewhat chillier-than-normal environment and

5) bake in a kerosene oven with no thermostat.

Before I ask my question of the moment, I'll just say that this wheat recipe has turned out fabulous every time, even with my confusion: The recipe makes three loaves and calls for 4 cups each of white and wheat flour. After mixing, it says "When the dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured board (about 1 Tbsp per cup of flour in the recipe). Turn the dough several times to make it easier to handle. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 10-15 min before kneading."

Here's my problem. Following the recipe exactly, the dough is far too wet and sticky to handle much at all while kneading. The instructions indicate that I knead on a surface with appx 8 Tbsp of flour. HA! I must heavily flour-and-knead, flour-and-knead, for ages while I incorporate (probably) another TWO CUPS of flour, and all the rolly bits from my hands and fingers, before the dough becomes "smooth and elastic" prior to the first proof. Am I doing something wrong? Is there any reason why I can't just add one more cup to the recipe so the dough isn't so unwieldy?

Thanks, and looking forward to learning from all of you...


ps: also interested in your pressure cooker bread recipes and/or easy flatbreads, chappattis and naans that I can make in a cast-iron skillet.

neoncoyote's picture

Hello -

What are the chances that two bakers from Alaska join this forum in the same week? We lived in Kenai for 8 years before moving to Sitka. Greetings from a slightly warmer area of the state :)

I'm relatively new at this "hobby", and I'm certain the best answer(s) to your question lie with bakers who have observed the effects of experimenting with hydration levels. That said, have you tried reducing the amount of water, rather than adding 2 cups of flour in the kneading process?

My experience tells me that very little about bread baking involves low theory, maybe, but in actuality, even when I've formed a loaf with what I think is very little mess and after cleaning up, I continue to find dustings of flour in odd places whenever the light hits the counter at a certain time of the morning. If you find ways to contain this, please do share!


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, -s.

Welcome to TFL!

It's hard to advise you without seeing the recipe with which you are working. That said, my number one recommendation would be to get a scale and switch to measuring ingredients by weight rather than volume. That's the only way to really know the proportions of flour and water, especially, that work for you.

Second piece of advice: To minimize mess, learn how to do most of the kneading (gluten development) in the bowl rather than on a board. Learn about this technique and about stretch and fold.

Third piece of advice: Consider making European-style hearth breads. They are generally made with just flour, water, salt and yeast (or sourdough starter). Other ingredients like coarse or whole grains and seeds can be added. None of these require refrigeration. If you really want to make breads with enrichments like eggs and milk, consider using the dried versions. They work well. They don't require refrigeration, although that does increase their shelf life.

I can't speak to the special challenges of on-board baking, having no experience, but I hope these suggestions give you some things to consider.

Happy baking!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and add to the above very good suggestions. 

Before mixing ingredients, lightly oil your bowl.  If the recipe wants you to add so much flour, I don't see how you can go wrong by adding an extra cup of flour with the rest and mix to make a shaggy dough.  Let it sit covered 30 minutes before you start working the dough.   In the bowl... with your hands... edges into the middle until you're happy with it.  Pull a dough edge up and fold or flop it over, work around the entire edge of the bowl a few times before flipping it over and letting it bulk rise.  

Should you end up with unwanted larger crumb bubbles in the baked loaves, go back to the mixing stage.  Include not 8 but 6 cups of flour and then mix until the flour is wet, let stand 10 minutes.   Mix (while it is sloshy) until it is very smooth beating in lots of air under the dough.  Then add the 2 cups (to make 8 total) and the one extra to avoid all that kneading.  Cover and let stand 30 min before kneading or folding in the bowl. 

Letting the dough sit and absorb moisture gives you a big jump on gluten development and you will see you saved yourself some work and mess as the dough works itself.  Check out: In need of a kneading board

We do have a few sailors around.  In your use of the site search function, check out: Seawater Sourdough Wheat Bread.  Never know when you have to ration fresh water!



breadinquito's picture

Welcome to the family (or if you prefer..."to the boat")! if you mention you don't want a mess, I answer you with "mise en place"! It involves putting every weighed ingredient of your bread into many bowls and then, mixing them together...if you google a bit, you' ll find a post I published 3 days ago called " mise en place and bakery" where I tell about the experience while making a 3 days long lasting panettone dough...Feel free to write my for any question, trick or just to share your breads! I ' ll be deligthed! Cheers from Quito and a Happy New 2010! Paolo

ehanner's picture

There are some great tips in this thread so far, especially from Dsnyder. The one thing no one has touched on and is very important to understand is temperature control. You have to be a hearty sort to live on a boat anywhere. The cold waters of Northern climates present a special challenge to a baker. Regardless of whether you use commercial yeast in dry form or a natural levain (sourdough) yeast,  the activity of the yeast is directly tied to temperature. You have to find a spot on the boat that stays in the 70's for fermenting and proofing the dough. On a vessel without an engine for primary power source, you might have to get creative. For example: You could use a medium sized cooler as your proof box. Warm the interior with boiling water in a container and replace the hot water when needed. OR, use a cooler to moderate the heat in the engine room. The insulation will protect the dough from extremes in either direction. You might want to get some large zip lock bags to put the dough in while it is fermenting and proofing. The sealed bag will help to keep the diesel fumes out of the bread. The better job you do controlling temperature, the better your yeast will perform. At 65F things are very slow activity wise. At 70 or 74F life is good for yeast. So, get yourself a couple instant read thermometers or better yet a IR Raytech type thermometer and learn where your warm spots are.


ehanner's picture

You asked about flat breads. Here is a link to a pita recipe and method I have used that works well and is delicious. I don't use the honey usually. There is an internal link to a second method that bakes on a wire rack above the broiler pan that is great without a stone. The hotter the better which would be good for a kero oven.

You mentioned Naan. Here is a link to baking Naan that I have used and works well, is easy to do on board and again, delicious. Look for the link to the recipes including Naan. This is a great resource. If you are using a well seasoned cast iron pan for frying, I would recommend getting another one for flat breads due to the high heat needed for flat breads. You might damage the seasoning layer.

Hope this helps.


CeraMom's picture

I'm going to hazard a guess that living on a boat is rather damp, which might increase your needs for flour. Several of  the breads I've made have been so wet and shaggy that I was tempted to add extra flour cup after cup. Instead, I sprinkled the dough mass, flipped, sprinkled, over and over... then went to tend a crying baby. After a 15 minute rest, the dough was much easier to handle.

yozzause's picture

What could be better, i think the suggestion about reducing some of your water intended for the dough is very good, i always hold a little in reserve, if the formula calls for 1.5 lires i measure the ammount and hold back a small proportion and add it as soon as i see it is going to be required.On another note I have used sea water in bread making, i was told it is about the right amount of salinity and have had some great results especially in areas that are pristine and the water is crystal clear (shark bay western australia) could be handy if water carrying capacity is restricted, dont forget to leave out the salt though. I got a home brew kit for CHRISTMAS so will be able to test sea water with the hydrometer to see what the specific gravity is of the local seawater and water for bread making with 2% salt addition.
Because of the remote location of Shark bay we have to carry all of our provisions in and fresh water is quite precious so for cooking/baking being able to use sea water was great I think it added to the taste of the bread too.
regards Yozza

RebelWithoutASauce's picture

As CeraMom mentioned, giving your dough a fifteen minute rest period (autolyse) can really help things. When I knead I usually start out with a wet dough. I flour it, knead it crazily for 2-5 minutes, then shape it into a ball and give it a 15-20 minute rest. I use this time to clean out and oil my bowl to get it ready to ferment the dough in.

When I come back the dough is always less sticky and with five more minutes of kneading it is ready to go!


Also, other posters noted that the cold is going to make a big difference. I live in New England and keep my apartment at about 61 degrees F. It takes a long time if I don't use a slightly warm oven but bread can rise in such conditions. I use a yeast culture rather than commercial yeast however, so the conditions in my apartment have selected for a more cold-active yeast.



tananaBrian's picture

Hi and welcome from another Alaskan.  We just moved to Anchorage ...from Fairbanks.  As far as your wet dough goes, I wouldn't recommend judging it as too wet until at least after the first rising/folding.  Especially with an autolyse (that first shaggy rest that people have mentioned), you'd be amazed at how well the dough develops during that first (and second) rise.  You may find that once it has made it through one slow rise and folding, that the dough is suddenly much easier to handle, smoother, far less sticky.



mredwood's picture

I baked a lot when I lived in Alaska. I didn't know about temperatures, and truly didn't know what I was doing. Most of what I made tasted ok but never really rose. I had a 20 qt hobart and would mix up dough before we went to work. I would bake when we got home & finished shoveling. Our house never ever got hot. 70° was hot to us. One day we came home and dough had risen up and over and down the counter and down the side of the cupboard and on to the floor. There was a lot of dough. My daughter had turned up the heat when she came home from school. When she left she turned it down again. The house was cool but the dough tattled on her.

Doughs do rise in the cool but it takes much longer. Flatbreads and Flavors has many recipes that are delicious, you may just forget about oven baking. Folks have given many good suggestions, I won't repeat. A very large stainless steel bowl is the neatest thing I have found to work with in a small space.

Have fun.