The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Getting Lost in the Process

aptk's picture

Getting Lost in the Process

Before I say anything that's going to totally appall some people and actually offend other people, I want you all to know that I really love this site, and seeing all your creations and reading about your experiences has inspired me to try many new delicious things. Thank you all!

I want to talk about the recipes and the methods used to turn flour into bread. And I really don't care whether you call it a recipe, a formula, or a percentage. What I care about is whether or not it will hold some butter without making a mess. And I also don't care if you measure by volume or weigh each ingredient to the micro gram with a digital scale. I personally use the measurements "some", "a little", "a little more" and "a couple handfuls". But's that just me.

I am fully aware that there's a world of different flours, yeasts and other ingredients available. I don't know what kind of wheat my generic white flour is made of. I don't care if the yeast came out of a packet, off of a block or was harvested wild in field of rye. I care if the yeast I have will make my bread rise.

And it doesn't matter to me if you knead it, slap it, or fold it so long as it gets to the consistency you need it to be.

And it really doesn't matter to me if it rises in a warm spot or a cold spot so long as it rises. I also don't care if it's in a bowl, a basket, or a pan, or wrapped in linen. And shape away to your hearts content. Baguettes, batards, boules, loaves, rolls, flat, tall, round, square, scored, washed, sprayed, sprinkled, or dusted. Remember, my main goal is to have a tasty product which will hold butter without making a mess.

And when it comes to baking, it doesn't matter to me if it's a commercial professional grade oven, wood fired, electric, gas, indoors or outdoors, if it gets hot enough to bake your bread in somewhere between twenty minutes and two hours, I'm good with it. And it's immaterial to me whether you cook it in a pan, on a stone, with some steam, with some lava rocks, if it's baking, you've done good!

I have a friend who bakes and follows recipes to the letter. The EXACT letter. He will call you to ask the specific farm the grain for the flour came from. He will want to know what the ambient humidity in his kitchen needs to be. He's going to want to know what the temperature of the stone needs to be and exactly how much steam he needs to generate.

He's got an awesome set up, if there's anything in the oven his kitchen resembles an intensive care unit in a state of the art hospital. He can hook up to eight probes into whatever is baking and measure external and internal temperatures, pressures and humidities. He can tell you that in his oven the back left top corner is seven tenths of a degree warmer than the space in front of the window in the oven door. Amazing things to know, but if it doesn't taste good or hold butter without making a mess, I'm really not interested.

Me: It smells like your bread will soon be done.

Him: No, it's not. The recipe said to bake for one hour and 15 minutes. It's only been 45 minutes, it's not done.

Later, while peering in over door...

Me: Hey, this bread, is really, really getting dark.

Him: No, it's not done, there's still 15 minutes to go.

Ten minutes later

Me: It smells like your bread is burning.

Him: I'll take it out in 5 more minutes.

So in five minutes he gets out to the kitchen, and spends 20 minutes removing probes so that he can open the door and removes a blackened, smoky loaf and announces that this recipe is no good because the bread has been overcooked!

My whole point is that sometimes we can get so caught up in the details that we lose sight of the loaf. So when a newbie asks what's the most important thing you need to start making your own bread, I'm going to say:

Some flour, yeast, water and a little bit of salt...


hanseata's picture

I know some people whose kitchens are equipped with the most expensive appliances. But the food they prepare (if they use those appliances at all) is bland and tasteless. Also, many restaurants praise their wood fired ovens - the oven doesn't make the quality of the pizza, the baker's experience does it.

Though I do weigh my ingredients, and though my kitchen timer reminds me to check the progress, I go by feel (dough) and finger poke test (proof). I would never slavishly follow the baking times specified in a recipe - I take them as guide lines, nothing more. My kitchen environment is different, my oven is different, and my ingredients might be a bit different, too.

Your poor friend must find many disappointing recipes!




dsadowsk's picture

Some people start out following a recipe fairly exactly because they're working in an unfamiliar area and feel free to depart from it as they get secure. And some never feel comfortable enough to depart.

Some never follow a recipe very closely, even the first time, either because they have a sufficient level of expertise that they know how they want to adapt the recipe right away, or simply because they are the type of person who never follows a recipe closely.

Some are just starting out with breadmaking, and the best they can do is to assess the dough with their brain rather than their hands and eyes. And some of us (myself included) learn very slowly, so that the transition to intuitive understanding and easy familiarity takes a very long time.

I don't judge people for their own style of learning and the security blankets they use, though if they insist that others have to do things they way they do, that's a different story.

aptk's picture

And that's why bread making can be (and in my opinion, most often is) a rewarding experience. There are thousands of ways to do it and most of the time you have a fairly good eating experience!

This particular friend does indeed find more disappointing recipes than not, But it's different strokes for different folks. I know that not everyone has the love of butter like I do, and I didn't intend to judge. I shall preface my future blogs with a warning about being tongue-in-cheek, heavily sarcastic, and dark humor.

So tomorrow my plan is to make some Navaho Fry bread, because what can be more fun than a perfect batch of bread dough and a really big pot of extremely hot oil??? In the meantime, bake on, you guys are awesome!

Ford's picture

Listen to your bread; it is telling you when it has risen enough and when it has baked enough.  The yeast (starter) may be more active one day than the next, the temperature of the room may be warmer or colder than before, the oven temperature may be off, etc.  Accurate measurements go a long way toward giving reproducible results, so don't be too critical of those.


annie the chef's picture
annie the chef

It's okay if you don't bake for a living :)


aptk's picture

has it's own personality, some days she's happy, some days not so much!

And I'm more of a if you're going to be in the kitchen you might as well be having fun kind of person. I don't bake bread for a living, so my results don't have to be spot on every day or every batch. I make breads for my family and friends and occasionally I even bake a salt free, sugar free, corn meal peanut butter loaf filled with oily black sunflower seeds for the birds!

I really do own measuring cups and even some measuring spoons. And despite this tongue in cheek look at life in the great northland and in my kitchen in particular, I do read and generally follow instructions. I know what works for me and what my family prefers so that's generally the direction I lean. And I do it with joy in my heart, a smile on my face and a sense of humor on my mind.

Happy baking to you all