The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bread Making Process Handout

Syvwlch's picture

Bread Making Process Handout

As we say in France, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. I am by no means a bread baking expert, but friends, with even less experience than I, have asked me to explain how I bake my bread at home from time to time. Being an engineer and a nerd, I had to diagram out my process flow... and have been encouraged to share the results with a wider audience.

The recipe I use is based on Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible, but I have doubled the amount of whole wheat flour and reduced the amount of yeast, for flavor. If this is not the right place in the forum for this kind of contribution, I apologize for the clutter. :-)

Bread Making For Nerds

asegal0000's picture

I think this is the place for it, as you also shared a variation of the recipe, and shown the steps you took.


As an ex software engineer, I enjoyed your post!!!

janij's picture

That is awesome!


Syvwlch's picture

You are very kind :-)

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I love the flow chart design divided into functional collumns, especially separating the ingredient list, refridgerator and room temp options. A very organized representation and great visual aid!

dmsnyder's picture

I'm not an engineer, and, I may be a geek, but I don't think I'm a nerd. Be that as it may, I think your process flow sheet approach communicates well.

I think I'll try "translating" some of my favorite bread formulas to this format and see how it works.

Thanks, Syvwich!


LindyD's picture

It's a very helpful handout, however, you are advising to mix on a KitchenAid mixer at speed four.  

The KitchenAid manual warns against using any speed higher than two when mixing bread dough.  I believe this applies to even the KitchenAid Pro 600, the heavy duty machine.

You might want to reconsider that speed seven advice lest your friends burn out their mixer motors.  That could be a very expensive loaf of bread!

Syvwlch's picture

Yes, originally since this was a face-to-face class I did point out that this can be hard on the machine. In my experience, with this recipe, the motor does not struggle at all. (It certainly does with a double batch, which also tends to climb out of the bowl). This is also what Beranbaum recommends.

I have, in the past, broken a tooth in the main gear on a KitchenAid, but it was with a very sticky/dense pumpernickel dough in which I had dumped some instant coffee straight in... so I know bad things can happen. :-)

Floydm's picture

That is very nice.  It makes me want to try doing all my recipes as UML sequence diagrams.

Syvwlch's picture

I've always suspected there was a strong geek contingent in the bread community.

UML sequence diagrams were, indeed, the inspiration for this (even if I did take some liberties), and I made this in Visio. :-)

the apprentice's picture
the apprentice

Very nice! Now this I can follow. Thanks for putting this together.

Janknitz's picture

I love the logic of engineers (an engineer taught me how to analyze contracts, which was the only way they ever made sense to me).  Thank you for the flow sheet!

I love Rose Levy Bereanbaum's book, but her charts are so darn confusing--she could have used your help! 

Regarding the KA speed:  Most of RLB's recipes are for only one loaf or two small loafs and she swears that the higher speed won't strain with her recipes.  Nevertheless, I keep my speed at #2 because I'm not willing to take chances with my mixer which is now over 20 years old--and it seems to work just fine at that speed with perhaps just a little extra time for gluten development.   


Syvwlch's picture

I agree with you on the KitchenAid speed. When I do a double batch, the engine really struggles, and to tell the truth, there is often little difference in speed between 2 and 4 in any case, as it can only move the dough around so fast with that big a load.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

For dough, refrigerator and room?  

Syvwlch's picture

Hum... I've only recently started to mess around with the temperature of the rising dough, but with positive results. So I don't really have any actual values for you.

My fridge is set according to the manufacturer's recommendation for preserving food. I set the dough on the bottom shelf, just over the crisper drawers, but mostly because that's where I have room. I think you just want something that will slow the yeast down and give them time to develop some flavor before they consume all the available fuel in the dough.

Room temp is fairly cool (too cold in winter, mid to low 60s), so I have started to do some of the rise in the oven (turned off) with a big salad bowl of hot water next to the dough container. The idea being to turn the oven into a proofing box. It doesn't offer much control of the temperature, but I did get a much better texture that way, which really helped during shaping. The final proof I have continued to do at room temp, because I need to preheat the oven.

As I fiddle with the process, there are many flourishes that get added and that don't appear on this document. Another example is that I now usually do at least three business letter folds, with ten minutes rest between, during the begining of the first rise. I find that this helps gluten development and skin formation.

Dave323's picture

use a home-wrangled "proof box" ...  my microwave. I find I can "control" the tempeerature somewhat by using different sized vessels to hold the boiling water I dump in. For instance, a one-cup Pyrex measuring cup raises the temp in the micro to about 82 degrees Farenheit. If I use a two-cup measure, I can raise it to 89 degrees. Hmmm .... I wonder if I use a two-gallon vessel if I could just rise and  bake the dough with steam? ;)

I love my erzats proof box, I can now make any dough double in size in about an hour.

Syvwlch's picture

... mostly because I was stuck on slow, cool rise for flavor development.

Having recently seen what a proper rise in a more cosy environment does for texture, and since I already get a lot of flavor from holding the sponge and the dough in the fridge at various stages in the process, I think the proof box is here to stay.

Alas, my microwave is too small for that purpose, so I'm stuck with the oven, which means I can do my early rise(s) in the box, but not the actual proofing (again, since the oven needs to pre-heat at some point).

ehanner's picture

I recently baked a SD loaf that had been sitting in the fridge overnight and was baked right out of the fridge. Remove from fridge, slash and into a hot oven. The loaf looked wonderful and had great oven spring. I was happily surprised at how well it turned out. I've been thinking about how well that bake worked out and if I shouldn't try to bake more SD loaves without any warm proofing time. It certainly does simplify the process.

I have been proofing in the cabinet above my refrigerator where it is about 76-82F depending on how hard the compressor is working to keep it cool. In the winter months that's about the only place that is naturally in that temp range. I can fit 2 medium bowls in the smallish cabinet or a couple bannitons in plastic bags. I'm actually only using half of the cabinet due to storage of other kitchen supplies. I can adjust the temperature slightly by opening the door on the cabinet and leaving it ajar if it is too warm. I keep a thermometer in the space so I can be aware what the conditions are.

The other place I use for proofing is the microwave. I boil a cup of water first to establish the warm and humid environment I want and leave the hot water in the oven while the dough rises. This works well but the oven is out of service for any other use for a while.

I try not to use the oven for proofing. I have had some human nature snafu's regarding turning the oven on without first looking to see if there is a plastic proofing bowl in there first. :>) Also, in my oven, the top element comes on when the bake button is activated to help heat the chamber. That means that the broiler coil is hot enough to melt the plastic bags I use to cover the bowls, baskets or pans even if turned on for just a few seconds to warm the oven slightly. You have to be really careful not to melt plastic bags on the coil. Otherwise the first thing you smell when you bake is burning polyethylene.

A few weeks ago someone was talking about doing a large bake in a wood fired oven and he was working out the proofing issue for many loaves. The question is how to turn your kitchen into a production environment for a day. That got me thinking if I could set up a plastic wrapped environment on my counter with a humidifier and heat lamp that would satisfy my needs for a single day or two. My wife has a pretty good sense of humor about these things so long as it doesn't look like permanent installation. I think I'll try my plastic sheeting idea the next time I do a large bake for an event.

If you are just baking a couple loaves at a time, the hot water in an ice chest works great and can be stored in the garage when not in use.


Syvwlch's picture

Yeah, I don't turn the oven on at all, I just let the bowl of hot water warm it up, and it might be smarter on my part to use a big glass or metal bowl instead of a plastic tub in case I get distracted. I do have the habit to check the oven to see if the stone is in or not when I turn it on, but still. Melted plastic is not good eats.

My wife does not have a sense of humor when it comes to setting up weird experiments in the kitchen, especially something that looks like the CDC just set up shop on her counter space... and the top of the fridge is spoken for.

I like the ice chest idea tho, I need to see how big they sell them in the local megamart. I might even cobble together a little electronic contraption to regulate temperature in there if I find the time.

cgmeyer2's picture

this is fantastic! i love flow charts.

thanks, claudia

pmccool's picture

Methinks this would be right in your wheelhouse.


ehanner's picture

There is something visually appealing about your flow chart. It makes me want to understand the recipe. That has to be a good thing, especially for those new to read making.

I have tried to break up my recipe posts into ingredients list and a methods section but sometimes it is hard to include options and have it read well. This would be easier to understand, I think.

In the flow chart, it looks like you are saying that the largest amount of BF is added to the top of the batter ingredients and left unmixed for 1-4 hours (fermenting) before mixing the dough. Is that really what RLB advises in her recipe?


Syvwlch's picture

Yes, that is what she recommends when using a wet pre-ferment. All the water, all the whole wheat or anything else that could stand a good long soak, and enough of the bread flour to get the consistency you like. Whisk with a little yeast & honey, and you're good to ferment under your blanket of bread flour.

I suppose it provides add'l insurance against drying up during long fermentations, but mostly I find it very convenient to measure out the remainder of the flour right after mixing the rest of the batch, and store it in the same bowl.

If you do this in the mixing bowl of your KA, after fermentation you just give the whole thing a couple hand turns with the machine's dough hook to avoid a flour explosion, then a few seconds with the machine on low speed to form a rough dough, then autolyse/rest, add salt, and then knead. Very convenient.

After enough time, the wet stuff will hydrate a little of the dry flour and form a bit of a skin at the boundary, but that skin stays wet and soft under the rest of the flour. If you pre-ferment in the fridge for a loooong time, like 2-3 days (I think I did 4 days once) the pre-ferment will separate out into water and sediment, covered by a wet skin under the blanket of flour. I had no trouble with it, the dough came together fine, and was almost sourdough-like in flavour.

Syvwlch's picture

Yes, I tried with text, I tried with drawings... this was the best I could come up with. It allowed me to separate ingredients, active procedures, waiting periods, oven management.

I'm sure it could stand some improvements, and more involved recipes would be unwieldy, but once I figured out how to make it fit all on one page, I knew I had something with legs.

bassopotamus's picture

She does recomend putting the flour over the pre ferment in the Bread Bible, and frankly, it doesn't make any difference one way or the other. I don't do it any more becuase I'm typically making multiple batches at once and cant' tie up my mixer bowl. Instead, I have a couple 4 quart plastic containers that I stick preferment in, then combine with the flour, salt, and extra yeast to mix later.

Syvwlch's picture

I hold the salt until after the autolyse, and I don't add any yeast after the initial mix on the pre-ferment since the dough rises fine without it, and the less yeast, the slower the fermentation and rise, the more flavor.

In effect, I only put bread flour on top of the pre-ferment.

Janknitz's picture

It's "dinner and a show"--fun to see how the wet sponge seeps through the flour blanket like a volcano in very slow motion.  I make up the pre ferment in an opaque 4 qt container--it's easy enough to whisk up the sponge without a mixer.  Later I transfer the whole thing to the mixer bowl for mixing, autolyse, and kneading.  

ehanner's picture

For home baker size batches, you don't need much of a cooler. In fact the really cheap Styrofoam ones they have in a gas station for a couple bucks work great. They work in the winter with a measuring cup with boiling water to keep it warm and replaced when needed and they work great for retarding outside of the fridge using ice packs. I have one I use for resting smoked pork butts and brisket after they come out of the box, wrapped in foil. Small and simple. I poke an instant read thermometer through the top to tell me when I need to freshen the hot water. Very low tech but effective.