The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Questions from newbies

tropicalelder's picture

Questions from newbies

Hello All,

We're new bread makers and have realized some successes over the past couple of months in creating the perfect sourdoughs.

We have made some great French bread -- light sourdough flavor -- but only recently have been able to kick it up. Our solution was to go from 2 to 4 rises in cooler environments.  Actually, the first 2 rises were retarded by 6-8 hours in the fridge. Anyway, it worked incredible.  [I had intended to take some pictures, but "poof" that loaf was gone. We're still licking our fingers.]

My question concerns the exactness of the bread recipes.

1.  All of the recipes that we have read have very precise recipes. We've found that each loaf we make is indistinguishable from others except for notable changes. How precise should we hold to the recipes (as novices)?

2. Our original starter and processes are based on volumetric amounts (e.g. cups) and most of the recipes here are in weights (e.g. grams). What is/are the advantages?

We really want to master the art of sourdough bread making and appreciate any comments or assistance.

aka John

tracker914's picture

I've been baking bread for about a year now with ups and downs, the last 3 months nothing but sourdough, but thats part of the fun, that said.

I use to use cups, teaspoons,etc to measure out all my items. It wasnt until I went to a scale and started to use grams that I started to get consistancy. As silly as it sounds now and a bit embarrasing, I didnt realize that there were dry cup measuring devices and wet cups(go figure). So for me it really gave me a way to acheive consistancy from batch to batch. I typically dont fool around with a recipe until I'm happy with the original, I try to use it as a base line.


breadforfun's picture


In my limited experience (I have been a serious home baker for about 2-1/2 years), if you want to make the exact same bread every time, then following a formula accurately will help you do that.  It is not the only thing you need to control, though.  There are so many variables in bread making, it is nearly impossible to recreate the exact conditions each time, especially at home.  The variables include temperature, humidity, the batch of flour used, etc.  If you operate a bakery, you have a better chance of controlling all these variables, but at home, not so much.  I myself keep notes on each bake, and I measure each ingredient down to the gram and will post a formula that way.  However, I believe that there is lots of leeway in the formula, and your result may not be exactly what the author intended.  But so what.  It will often produce a tasty loaf of bread. 

One exception to this is ingredient substitution.  Flours from different grains will ferment differently.  Even a whole grain such as whole wheat will ferment faster than a white wheat flour.  When the formula lists multiple grains, then modifying it will cause a change in how you handle the dough.  For example, I like to incorporate spelt flour into some sourdough breads because I like the flavor.  Spelt ferments particularly quickly, so my fermentation times are shortened so that the loaf doesn't overproof.  I'm pretty much self-taught, and I don't know if there is any scientific method of quantifying the change, so my advice is to make lots of bread and learn by experience.  The advice often given on TFL is that you need to learn to "read the dough" rather than scrupulously follow a formula.

As to weighing versus volumetric measure, it is just more reproducible.  For example, a teaspoon of table salt will weigh more than a teaspoon of kosher salt.  Finely milled flours may weigh more than coarsely milled ones.  Using weights simply equalizes these differences.

Hope this helps.



tropicalelder's picture

Angelo & Brad,

Thank you for your comments. They make perfect sense. I suppose I should continue with the course that I'm on -- i.e. the process that was provided with the starter kit that we obtained -- as it provides lots of opportunities to experiement and understand the various steps. Then, when we are comfortable with the results, we can switch over to the by-weight (versus by-volume) measures.

Lots to learn and it is all good. 

I do feel good about allowing things to take their time so as to maximize the sour. In addition to longer rise times, the starter itself is probably growing stronger as it is taking less time to develop the sponge. 

Again, thanks for responding. I'll keep you posted.


HeidiH's picture

The classic "newbie" bread recipes are full of pitfalls that easily lead to the creation of bricks and doorstops -- at least for me they did.   Soak your yeast in water that's too warm and you'll kill it.  Measuring flour by cups is notoriously inaccurate and then the vague "add flour until" instructions usually left me with heavy, dry loaves.  I had no idea if I was kneading to much or too little and I found all that kneading boring.  I know others love to knead but it just ain't my thing.

A precise recipe with measurement by weight is incredibly newbie-friendly.  No more guessing and wondering about too much or too little flour.  Instant yeast doesn't need to be soaked or fed a teaspoon of sugar.   Let it rise on the counter.  If you are comfy in your house the bread is likely to be, too. Using a method like stretch-fold-wait allows the dough to develop on its own finally showing me what a beautiful, silky dough looks and feels like. 

Learning baker's percentages, how different ingredients react, and  what your personal preferences are then sets you free to stand in front of a bowl and play with ingredients to make lots of different kinds of bread.

For me, a basic supermarket bread-flour bread of 600g bread flour, 9 g salt (1.5%), 9 g instant yeast (1.5%), 420g water (70%) given three stretch-and folds at 45 minute intervals followed by a 20 minute final proof, cooked in a 375F oven for 1 hour give us a perfectly function-adequate loaf of bread better than anything store-bought.  Some will sniff at so cool an oven but we like golden, chewy crusts.

I rarely make exactly that bread.  In fact, the reason I'm on TFL right  now is to get inspiration for today's loaf.  Should I use pizzeria 00 flour and make extra dough to have pizza tonight?  Maybe something with semolina in it.  I made a marble rye to take to a friend yesterday in exchange for her pizzelles, should I make rye for us today?  Maybe I should make something dense and seedy.  Rosemary olive bread?  Whole wheat is always a fav for hubby.  Decisions, decisions.   Maybe someone will be talking about something on TFL that will inspire me ...

Do have fun with the bread making but switch to measuring by weight ASAP and you will be a happy camper.


tropicalelder's picture

. . . for your thoughtful and clear comments. All of them make perfect sense.  There is clearly a lot to learn and it's a rewardable process in that we get to experience the products all along the way.  We've decided to divert some attention to pursuing the weight-based formulae, while maintining our interest in volume-based formula. (There are too many recipes that are based on the latter, which we want to try. It would be nice if there were a comprehensive cheat-sheet (single page) of volume-weight comparisons that we could print out and leave in the kitchen.

We are looking forward to speeding up the processes to try more bread products.

Again, many many thanks for your response.

HeidiH's picture

Although weight-volume equivalences work okay for some ingredients, sadly, they really don't work at all for flour -- which, of course, is the main ingredient in bread.