The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

new bread baker

Dot's picture

new bread baker

- well, that's not actually true.  I have been baking bread intermittently over the years with limited success in producing a good loaf.  I haven't baked bread for over 2 years due to arthritic wrists (I always kneaded by hand), now I have a stand mixer so I am ready to try again.  

I have been reading well known Bread Books and perusing this site and have become totally confused as there is so much contradictory information out there.  I have lots of questions to ask and I know there are a lot of knowledgeable and helpful people here so I hope I get some feedback.

I know virtually nothing about baking bread as all I ever did was copy a recipe from a book or magazine.  I now realize this isn't a good way to start.

During my initial experimenting, I have found that all flours weigh differently, not just the type of flour but the brand and one is most likely using a different brand than that in the recipe so you are starting off using more or less than is in the recipe.  Most North Americans use cups rather than scales.  Being originally from U.K. I have always used scales. Looking through my bread books and TFL, I checked the recipes where both cup and gram measurements were used and found there is quite a discrepancy in the conversion of cups to grams from one baker to another due, no doubt, to how one fills the cup. 

I know there are a lot more factors that affect the outcome of the bread but I think I should start by producing my own recipe so, how to I begin?  I would like to start off making a basic wholewheat or part wholewheat sandwich loaf (flour, water, yeast, salt and maybe a little sweetener) then hopefully going on to greater things!  If I start with the flour weight, how do I work out the percentage of the othe ingredients? I've read about bakers' % but don't know much about it.  Is this the way to go?

I believe it is helpful to soak wholewheat flour in the water before adding the other ingredients.  How much of the water and for how long the soak.

I would really appreciate someone answering these basic questions and also welcome any criticisms about the way I am going about things and pointing me in the right direction if I am not.

PastryPaul's picture

Creating you own formula probably should not be your first thing. Pick a formula from a known source. Hold off on sour dough until later. I would suggest Hammelman's baguette with poolish as a good start. It yields a dough that can be used for just about anything from toast to baguettes to pizza.

You are quite right about the weight (mass) of flours. In the trade we get spec sheets that often have specific gravity so that we can accurately calculate the average weight. (my AP is 128g per cup of 237ml) Not so for grocery brands. Also, even if you knew the exact weight, you still wouldn't know what the author intended. Many authors specify what they mean by a "cup." Zoe Francois specifies a cup of AP as 140 grams. Most authors do not so specify. If that info is available, use it, otherwise, I usually use 125g per cup and adjust as needed.

Another complication is that many formulae are written as if a cup were 250ml. That would add about 5% to its mass.

I have never soaked whole wheat flour, prefering to soak my yeast instead, but I don't see how that would hurt you in any significant way.

If you are going to get serious about baking, and tweeking formulae, you should really master bakers' percentages. It's much easier to say, "Add 27% old cheddar for cheese bread, 28% mixed olives for olive bread" than to recalculate the whole formula.

One last thing. As you go about experimenting your way through all this, keep a notebook or journal. It will help you avoid duplicating previous errors.


jannrn's picture

I too have Arthritis as well as Fibromyalgia, so I let my bread machine do the kneading for me. It doesn't hurt my wrists AND it does a better job than I could! Sometimes I do a little extra just so I get the right feeling to it, but you might consider giving it a shot!

Welcome back to baking!


cranbo's picture

Hi Dot

If you want to create your own formulas, you should definitely learn about how baker's percentage works. There are lots of posts on TFL that talk about this, so I won't dive in here.  

As Paul suggested, using known, proven formulas is a good starting point for developing your own. 

As for general amounts of ingredients in the majority of breads, here is a very rough guide for a wide range of breads, expressed where the weight of the flour = 100% and all others are a percentage of the flour weight:  

  • Flour: 100%
  • Liquids (water, milk, etc): 55-85% 
  • Fats and/or proteins (butter, oil, egg yolk, etc): 0-20% 
  • Sugars (sugar, honey, etc.) : 0-20% 
  • Salt: 1.5-2.2%
  • Commercial yeast (instant, active dry, compressed cake): 0.25-3%
  • Sourdough starter: 10-40%

If you were to develop a formula at the midrange of these percentages, with careful attention to technique you should be able to make delicious bread. At minimum, you will always need flour, liquid, and leavening (most would say salt should be included too); everything else may or may not be required, based on the bread style you are trying to create. Specific bread styles emphasize the extremes of certain ingredients (bagels have very little liquid, focaccia has a lot, etc.). 

richkaimd's picture

I recommend acknowledging that what you're hoping to learn has been taught for many years in schools, resulting in lots of experts writing a bunch of really good text books. Trying to learn from TFL can be done, but what you want to do can be done more quickly and efficiently by reading and working your way through a text book written for just the task you've placed in front of you. I recommend choosing a text that best suits you. Here are two: DiMuzio's Bread Baking and Hamelman's Bread. The DiMuzio text is short, concise and full of exercises. Hamelman's is much more thorough, detailed, and,in my experience, not meant for beginners. Many public libraries have both. Both are available used at Alibris online. DiMuzio's is easily found used for about $20.

After you've worked your way through either, you'll easily be able to tell good advice on this website.

Dot's picture

Thank you all for your helpful suggestions. I will continue to read and learn!  As it is  minus 15C here today, I won't be going out so will stay tucked up with my bread books, with music in the background and a nice cup of green tea.  I may even try at making my first loaf tomorrow whether or not I have gleaned any more knowledge.

Once again, 'Thank you'.  Your help is much appreciated.