The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

no measure bread !!!!

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impecunious1's picture
impecunious1

no measure bread !!!!

I have been baking bread without the use of a food scale ( the scoop and dump method ). I noticed that if I followed a recipe exactly I would normally end up with a dry dough. But my intrest is in learning to make really good bread and I read TFL about hydration percentages of the dough, then I learned about the S&F kneading technique, and my problem was that every batch of dough, using the same recipe, would come out feeling of different hydrations. 

Now to the point of the title, "No Measure Bread". Today I used the same recipe, but only measured the water and yeast. The flour i used the cup to get the flour from the bag to the bowl (with the water in it ) then I stirred, added a little dough, stirred... etc. Until I reached a consistency that I thought would work for the S&F method. Turns out I was right. The dough came out great.

Then I thought, " I wonder if anyone makes bread, not by weighing out the ingredients, just eyeball it." It doesnt seem like it would be hard to do unless you get into a complicated recipe with more than just the four basic ingredients. Maybe we need a challenge where bakers would try a chosen recipe, not given in weight, and not allowed to weigh any of the ingredients, then see the result.  ???

Watcha think?

PastryPaul's picture
PastryPaul

But only to a certain extent. Variations in ambient humidity will cause you to use more or less water to achieve a given consistency. But we ain't talking gallons of difference. One day you may need to use 3 liters of water. On another day, it'll take 3.1L. I prefer to weigh the flour and adjust the liquid to fit what I need. 

It's a matter of listening to what the dough needs.

That challenge would be wierd. What if we blindfolded them, and set the ovens to fluctuate at random too?

Cheers

 

impecunious1's picture
impecunious1

And then they have to be barefoot and then cover the floor with set mousetraps.

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

were going to say barefoot and cover the floor in broken glass  :-o 

Earlier Anthony Hopkins was saying bakers are crazy, or nuts -  so I bet barefoot with broken glass wouldn't faze bakers much.

swtgran's picture
swtgran

Often, Amish bread recipes do not give flour amounts.

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

"English" books which are dating back to the 1800s.  At that time they were cooking with wood and had to do most everything by feel. Pretty similar to what I did in the 50s, math without a calculator, gasp !   :)

anna

 

 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I have several types of bread I have made so often I just dump the ingredients in the bowl and adjust as I go. I have one in the bowl now- autolysing. I had a preferment that went a little too long so I "refreshed" it,waited several hours and I'm making a loaf of sourdough for tomorrow. I'll mix it up and retard it overnight for further sourness and bake it off tomorrow. One of the hazards of not following a recipe is that you can forget to add some ingredients. Salt is the one I usually forget but today I almost forgot the yeast! (Not the sourdough loaf but a WW I made earlier today)

Some of my best loaves have been something I dreamed up. I decide the flavor and texture profile and know enough about bread to get close, these days. One is still eluding me and that is Pan de Cristal. Someday I will get there.

Sometimes recipes are formulas and sometimes they are guidelines. Have delicious fun!

Boron Elgar's picture
Boron Elgar

I do not use recipes or measuring in my bread baking. Granted, I am a home baker only, but I make up to 10-11 lbs of dough at a time using an Electrolux for basic mixing. I have been baking for a long time and  have gotten to the point at which I  am fortunate in knowing  how to achieve the hydration and dough consistency to create the crusts and crumbs I seek.

Do I get inspired by and get ideas from reading other peoples recipes? You bet I do. I read this forum daily. I collect bread baking books, I visit bakeries in all my travels and I experiment all the time. I ahve a fridge full of bubbling sourdough starters, love fresh yeast, too, and have a freezer full of different flours, grains and add-ins. This is a fun hobby for me.

I have measuring devices at the ready - I have cups and spoons and scales, but I just do not use them for making up bread doughs. I do use them when making pastry or cakes.

The drawbacks I have encountered with this technique are two-fold - I have at times been told flat out that such endeavors cannot be done with good results and that measurement is necessary to achieve quality bread. I'm still alive after that sort of criticism and it really doesn't bother me any more. I no longer feel any urge to defend myself from that. I'm too busy giving bread to others.  What bothers me, though,  is that it can be difficult to share a bread idea with other posters, either here or on other forums, because my dough making is done by sight and touch. I do my best to teach by example and am always willing to demonstate to anyone who wants to learn, but it ain't easy in writing!

My advice to any who bake bread is that recipes should be used as a guide. Not only can they be flawed due to editing or downright error, but one's own kitchen temps, techniques and flours can put quite a bit of variability into even the simplest recipe.  The longer one enjoys this delightful hobby of ours, the better one gets at recognizing every characteristic of the dough from intial combination of flour and water, though ferment, shaping, proofing and baking. Get to know these characteristics well enough and you, too, can have a bit of fun and close the cook book once in awhile, if it suits you.

Boron

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I go "whole hog" with the ingredients and end up with Frankenstein bread.

I tried to rif on a beer bread recipe a few weeks ago; added too much boiled potato; had to correct with nearly 2x the flour.

It was bread, but it wasn't edible bread–and the pain of wasting several bottles of beer was almost too much to bare.

-

I maintain my white starter this way. I know what 100% looks like after 10 years of maintaining it, so I don't weigh the flour/water. 

I do weigh when I have to build to a specific hydration, though.

ssorllih's picture
ssorllih

If you mix and knead entirely by hand you learn how the same recipe "feels". If it is too dry you add a bit of water and too slack you add a small handful of flour. I doubt that you or I can make a new recipe by guess and by god and repeat it next week. But I can make basic bread by feel.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

It's the restraint I have an issue with.

Maybe limit myself to the 4 food groups: flour, water, yeast, salt?

That would probably work.

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

Give me 2 cups of water and a 1/8 palm full of yeast, 1/4 palm ful of salt.... I'll add flour as needed.  Timing the cold-rise  timing and  the warm fermentation .  I'll produce  first class bread every time.  My trick is geting the flavor profile I desire.  That can be done in many ways.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

I use a scale to weigh all of the ingredients in all of the recipes that I bake.  Final adjustments at the end of the initial mix are all done by feel and without a scale.  Could good bread be made without a scale?  Absolutely positively yes and many people do it all the time.  If you are comfortable without weighing then by all means proceed accordingly.

Happy Baking,       Jeff

PastryPaul's picture
PastryPaul

Sure you can just wing a bread recipe, and that would probably be fine for home use. However, professionally, each type of bread must be the same today, next week, next month, and next year. Imagine going to your favorite restaurant and your favorite meal is substantially different every time. Not the way to go.

Consistency can only be achieved via a formula and the experience to adjust to environment

Cheers

Boron Elgar's picture
Boron Elgar

It it not just consistency that is necessary, but consistencey with huge volume and within a strict timeframe. That can make the difference that makes weighing a nesessity.

When I make my foccaacia or rye or French or brioche or Anadama, etc, without use of weighing, I have no trouble with consistency from bake to bake, but I never deal with more than 11 lbs of dough AND I have no timetable to which I must keep.

My fun trick is asking friends to bring me a loaf of something they like, and I will try to duplicate it for them without a recipe. Again, this is a very specific "skill" (truly, I hesitate to use that word) that I have worked at over the years. It isn't just the bread I am after, it is creating and mastering the process that can achieve it.

 

Boron

clazar123's picture
clazar123

"What bothers me, though,  is that it can be difficult to share a bread idea with other posters, either here or on other forums, because my dough making is done by sight and touch. I do my best to teach by example and am always willing to demonstate to anyone who wants to learn, but it ain't easy in writing!"

          AND

"However, professionally, each type of bread must be the same today, next week, next month, and next year."

This is the crux of the matter. One baker can probably get a pretty consistent loaf for home use, time after time, and these days a failure does not mean going hungry until a good loaf is produced. It is easy to share how to make bread when the apprentice is standing next to you so they can discover how to measure ingredients using their own hand capacity and what the dough feels and looks like using ALL their senses.

Baking in quantity and for consistency is another matter. The written formula is necessary and the experience of the baker is crucial to do the fine adjustments to accomodate the differences in ingredients and environment at that moment in time. 

So sometimes a recipe is a formula and sometimes it is a guideline. All recipes (even tried and true, minutely weighed formulas) need a tweak each time,somewhere along the line. That is where skill and familiarity come in. The trick is to know what tweak will work and what will spell disaster.

Bake with love and fun-they are the best ingredients!

ssorllih's picture
ssorllih

I make baking powder biscuits without measuring. It is a matter of working fat and flour together until it"feels" right and then adding milk until it "feels" right. If I were to give my recipe I would just slow down and measure/weigh everything.

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

The rest is done by feel.  I don't even measure yeast, I just dump it into my hand, figure it's about the right amount and add it to the flour.  I add handfuls of oat bran to two of my sourdough mixture, same with the powdered milk, and take it from there.  Cookbooks and recipes are, to me, idea books and I seldom follow anything to the letter.  Good bread.

wally's picture
wally

Professional bakers weigh every thing.  Every time.  If you want the same results, you need the same input.

Improvisation in jazz works because the musicians are so, so skilled at playing the notes as written.

It's no different in baking.

Larry

ssorllih's picture
ssorllih

one thing to remember weights and measures are standarized but somewhat arbitrary in their origins. Bread is made with a measure of flour and some yeast and some salt and about 5/8 ths of a measure of water/liquid. You may use a precise scale to measure out pounds or kilograms or drams or british stones but you can't get away from the ratios. We all know that the amount of yeast we use determines the time it take to leaven a batch of bread. the amount of salt is a matter of taste and bread makes without salt.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and to do that, I have to measure the flour (and any other ingredient that requires a little salt.)   My kitchen notebook is full of scraps of paper and notes on my own recipes.  I'm a notorious dumper but I do it with the bowl on the scales, tare is my best friend.  When I add and ingredient, a glanze at the scale and a quick moment to jot down the amount is quick & easy, tare and continue my fun.   The calculator comes in handy to figure the salt and it is a great relief to get that right 99.9% of the time.  If I repeat the recipe, I can.  I can go back and fill in the notes with more detail while it is fresh in my memory.

I think that before I used scales, I tended to stick to one or two dough hydrations because I knew they were right; always the same or similar consistency.  By using scales and trying other ideas (recipes) playing with high and low hydration that I previously never had the guts to mix up before, the dough-feel-world to my hands got bigger.   I learned that not all doughs feel the same or act the same and that they can change dramatically during the fermenting process.  I learned what made them different and how to work with them and talk about them.   That comes down to measurements be it in ingredients, time or temperature.   It is comforting to know we can share information and ideas and still have lots of room for creativity.

Baking bread can be as complicated as one makes it.  It is full of chemical reactions and physical interactions.  Fun stuff.

Comparing a bake using just flour, water, salt, and leavening is something we all have been doing since Floyd opened TFL  years ago.  I just had my TFL birthday, 6 years!   My how time flies!

Mini Oven

wild mountain bakery's picture
wild mountain bakery

I run my bakery this way, from bread down to scones and cookies.  We measure the wet ingredients, then the flour by feel.

 

Karen

Colin2's picture
Colin2

Like PaddyL, salt is the only thing I can't eyeball properly.  Yeast makes more of itself, so you can start with an arbitrarily small amount of yeast (even a few grains) and just let the dough take its course.

It's fun just winging it: start a little yeast in water, see what bits of flour you need to use up, and decide as you go along how much hydration you feel like.  Of course there's no telling when the thing will be ready.

I baked like this for years, actually.  The trouble was I ended up, after a while, making pretty much the same loaf each time. What's good about forcing myself to follow a recipe and specific method is it gets me out of ruts and trying new things.

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

I never measure anything anymore for my weekly breads -- my sourdough starter needn't be exact, and the bread will rise when it rises. The salt is to taste, and the flour-water ratio is by feel. Every loaf is a little different, a bit more or less rye or seeds or ww or bran, but the variation is welcome, and, well, I'm too lazy to measure and pull out recipes, much of the time. Works for home baking, once you know how the dough should feel.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I amazed so many people don't measure.

Other than starter maintenance, I measure everything down to the gram, especially now that I use the BBGA format.

I'm haunted by a Medjool date loaf I made a few years ago. It was an unbelievably good bread, but I didn't measure ingredients when making it. I spent the next 6 weeks trying to reproduce it and failed. ;(

I've measured everything since.

impecunious1's picture
impecunious1

I was also surprised, yet I find that in many trades once you become skilled at something and become familiar with what your doing it becomes natural to "feel" out what your working with. I can see where a professional baker, who deals with many different recipes would want to weigh out everything for consistant results, but I bet after so many years of doing so the baker would be so familiar with his/her recipes that they could produce the same breads without having to weigh the ingredients. But this was just an idea that to my surprise has spurred quite a response from many people.

proth5's picture
proth5

hear  "the voice in my head" (I have very good "sound memory", so don't call the doctors. Yet.) laughing about people saying that you can't make good bread unless you measure down to the gram. (I hear other remarks on the subject, too, but I won't repeat them here.)

Scales and bakers percentages are tools - no more.  The real skills are in the senses of the baker.  I can tell by sight that I have just about the right amount of flour for the formula I bake most often.  Same with the salt, truth be told, or the yeast or the water.  I am slowly training my hands to know when I have divided certain quantities of dough.  I can also tell if the water is right by seeing how the dough acts in the very early stages of mixing.  I wish I could do a better job of tasting the salt in the dough after I do the initial mix (something to strive for...) The trick is to pay attention (using all of your senses) rather than just throwing ingredients around.  Even if you are improvising.

That being said - how is one to learn?  A scale is a great backup.  Maybe I'm not at my best.  The scale will tell me if I've gotten the flour right until my head clears.  And I've spent years and years and years mixing bread to get my skills to the point that they are now (of course, years ago we used measuring cups because that was all that most home bakers had access to - so we did have to pay closer attention.) 

Since I have such enthusiasm for the BBGA standard (because I think I may have some small skill in formula development and it is a great tool for that) folks would expect me to be doctrinaire about weighing ingredients, but I'm not.  I'll draw a somewhat obscure analogy.  I do handspinning (you know, take wool, make yarn...) and I have a wonderful castle wheel ( a certain type of "flyer wheel") that was custom made for me by my father.  You know the kind - Sleeping Beauty - the treadle to power the wheel - the "automatic" winding onto the bobbin (look it up in your favorite search engine.) People look at the thread I spin and assume that the wheel makes the quality.  But I can spin the exact same thread with a simple handspindle - just a stick and a whorl - or with only my hands and my thigh.  Oh, I can spin faster on the castle wheel because it is a more powerful tool.  I do not need to stop as often to manage the thread or keep the thing spinning.  But the skill - the real skill  - rests with me.  The choice of a tool does not change that.  I think of this from time to time.

Happy Weighing!