The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The learning curve is steep, but my understanding has reached a plateau.

JOHN01473's picture

The learning curve is steep, but my understanding has reached a plateau.

1, I guess that when the penny finally drops and you understand something that's a good thing, the fact that its two years later makes me a slow learner. I have been struggling to make a sourdough that I am satisfied with and today I got another big step closer to that end. It was not perfect, but I know what to do better next time, so that's good for me. The two-year-old penny drop was my baking mentor showed me about testing to see if the dough is proved enough. It is this revelation that was good today. I had clearly never understood what he told me. In a recent post from "dabrownman", he explained this simple test. I think it's so vital that I wanted to pass it on.

"Jamb your index finger in the dough up to the first knuckle and see how the hole rebounds.

If it rebounds quickly it needs more time.

If it rebounds slowly - time for the oven

If it doesn't you are over proofed a lot".

Well when I did this I was taken back to what my baking mentor told me two years ago - kerching! - the penny dropped. He told me to wet my middle finger and dip it into flour then prod the loaf up to the knuckle and how does it bounce back.

Well today's loaves passed the prodding test for proofing they were baked and I got some oven spring. I have to say I in the past I would have left them a lot longer and that's how I was getting soggy crumb and no oven spring.

2, I also discovered that my oven tells lies. The internal thermometer I put inside the oven - it tells me that the 250c on the dial outside is actually 220c inside the oven. So today I baked the loaves until I got the internal temp to 96 C or 205 F in the middle of the loaf. In the past I baked at 220c, the thermometer tells me that it is really 210c). I never tested the internal temperature, but I suppose I know now.

3, I had too much dough @ 2lbs for my small pans and not really enough for my larger pans. If I had thought, what I should have done was correctly fill the smaller pans to half full. Next time I will get this right.

4, I also learned what effect starter hydration makes. I made one loaf with starter @ 66% hydration and another with starter @ 90% hydration. The 90% hydration had more oven spring, a better crust and better crumb and most importantly a better taste than the 66%.

5, the recipe I use originally calls for 100g of starter @100% hydration. In the past I have baked it at what I now know is 60% hydration starter. This 90% shows me the difference. Today I took 10g of starter @ 60% hydration and fed it 30g of flour and 30g of water. After 4 1/2 hours it doubled in size. The second feed was 45g of flour and 48g of water, this gives me 163g of starter @ 100%. When that has doubled I will make up my sponge to mature overnight to bulk up and bake tomorrow.

Sorry, I realise I have rambled on here, but I learned a lot today - gives me real heart to carry on.


Cat and Mouse


dabrownman's picture

apprentice is so cute ...and sleepy too.

JOHN01473's picture

yes - she was just checking her emails.

Hope you have a great Christmas and happy new year.  

Janetcook's picture

Love the picture :-)

Sounds like you have come a long way.  I am so glad you are finding out to find the 'happy medium' for your loaves.  You certainly have been working hard.  

I know one of the major things I learned here on TFL was how to 'fix' problems I was having.  In all of my previous years baking (20) I had no clue why loaves sometimes worked and other times they were a flop.   Now I have a much better idea and I love it.  

I have only been doing this a couple of years now and it has taken me all this time too so I don't think you are a slow learner at all.  :-)

Thanks for the wonderful update!

Take Care,


JOHN01473's picture

Yesterday's bake went well.

thought there may have been an alien in this one or a big air bubble.

but to my surprise it was neither alien or air bubble - just nice crumb-crust and taste.

the lovely SD returns.

I plan to sort the oven out - probably on for a new element and thermostat.
All the advice you, dabrownman and the other TFLrs gave me has been superb.
My bread family is growing.

take care



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

prooved longer before baking.  Also are you keeping the skin of the loaf moist while it is rising?

dabrownman's picture

I would have found one, cut out the explosive bread portion crumb and stuffed him in there for a great Fresh Lofian picture that the community would never forget!

Happy New Year John and good baking to you and your apprentice in 2013!

isand66's picture

John. it's great to see you are progressing so quick with your baking.  Once you start the journey if you keep with it, you will be surprised how quickly you catch on and it becomes second nature.

Love the photo of your of my five just finished helping me eat my cereal before going to watch some squirrels in the backyard.

Happy holidays to you and your family.



JOHN01473's picture

Thanks Ian,

certainly been rewarding to get the bread we love.
looking at your Ricotta Cheese Potato Sourdough Miche reminded me that Hambleton Bakery
- winner of Britain's Best Bakery 2012 used mashed potato to feed their Beer Barm starter.
so i will have to save some Mashed Potatoes with Skins and give your recipe a try.

all the best to you and yours for the holidays.
cheers- John
The Baking Bear.

EvaB's picture

with any type of bread baking, is to ask if the oven temp is correct to the dialed temp, I have three oven thermometers, and constantly check the oven. I had a problem with the oven being 25 degrees low, I have gas oven, and use Farenheit although I can set it for Celsius, its just foreign to me even after the 35plus years of it being offical. So my fix was simple, turn the oven up the 25 degrees. Found out the problem was the bottom of the oven which is totally removable had warped the one and only time I had run the self clean cycle (never did that again) and had came loose from the slots at the back that have little tabs that slide into them, so one corner had dropped, this apparently changed the oven capacity and allowed heat to escape into the space below the oven so the oven temp was low. DH spent 15 minutes with his head in the oven putting the floor back in right, and the 25 degrees difference was no more, what it says on the dial is what you get!  So I always say check the oven temp first!