The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Still in the wrapper

LostHighway's picture

Still in the wrapper

Hi, I'm new here and have yet to actually bake bread although I've done a fair amount of dessert baking.  I use a non-convection LG gas oven and much of the rest of of out paraphernalia is listed in my profile.  I expect to get a better thermometer soon as we just have a cheap dial "instant read" right now which is really inadequate for coffee and tea as well as bread.  If I get serious about bread baking it sounds like a stone or stones might be the next purchase after a better thermometer.  How large a stone is too large?  The IDs of our oven are approximately 18.5" deep, 24.5" wide and 18" tall.

My tastes in bread tend to run to what I perceive to be the extremes of the continuum; baguettes and brioche at one end and very chewy/dense whole grain loaves at the other.  I'd be shocked if I were to start baking more than a couple loaves every week or two but much remains to be discovered. 

Any advice is welcome but suggestions for a good basic recipe to use to develop experience and technique would be great.  I'd also be grateful for advice on thermometers and stones.

One other bit of possibly germane information, our house tends to be cool and very dry in the winter (drafty old farmhouse in a moderately cold winter climate) and humid but still not extremely warm in the summer (even in July and August overnight lows in coastal Maine tend to be in the upper 50s or low 60s/15C and highs here are rarely above 85F/29C)




clazar123's picture

You gave yourself some very good advice! Make some bread every week, make 1 kind until you "know" that bread and its ingredients and be sensitive to your environment because part of bread is a living thing that will also be sensitive to its surroundings. Yeast gets sleepy when its cold and VERY active when its warm. Flour may need more or less water, depending on the humidity so you have to become familiar with the flour, how your dough feels and how fast it absorbs water. All gained by the experience of baking often.

I had to UNlearn a lot about breadmaking before I learned about it. My mother was the youngest of a prolific breadbaker but never learned much as the last of 12 in line.  These days we know a LOT more about what is happening in a dough so we can work on developing those characterisitcs.

Did you know that if you mix flour and water, gluten will develop on its own? A lot of mixing and kneading may not be necessary and yet that is one piece of advice we see everywhere-knead til your arms fall off or the mixer explodes. It is the reason why gentle stretch and folding works to make a fine loaf of bread. It is what made wheat a miracle grain when it was first used for bread.

You will get a LOT of advice on how to make bread because it is a product that can make itself. The trick is to make the loaf come out how you want it too-fluffy,dense,dry,crusty,no crust,etc and then be able to replicate that time and again. That is what you need to learn and that comes with practice, documentation, changing, learning ingredients and different handling techniques. ALso, you need to realize that making white bread, whole wheat bread and rye use very different methods and handling. Each is a specialty unto itself.

Start simple-AP unbleached flour (a good brand name), water, yeast, salt and a little oil (optional but improves keeping).Now make it every week.  Using weights rather than volume helps with replication but is not totally necessary. A scale can be bought for about $25. Wait on the stone until later. I use a cookie sheet with a little cornmeal on it.

Most importantly, have delicious fun! 


dabrownman's picture

You have come to the right place if you want to learn about bread.

Happy Baking.

richkaimd's picture

Because what I know I learned from decades of trying to learn bread baking, starting over 40 years ago, I can say this:  you can speed up the process by learning from a textbook for students of bread baking.  Such a book, and I'm not talking about a bread cookbook here, is designed for one such as I was when I started.  I was eager to make bread but had no particular knowledge and could learn from reading.  These days there are good text books with varying levels of detail.   All having the goal of teaching the knowledge and skills taking the student from the foundations up to levels of improvement that are fairly impressive in a reasonably short period of time.  Consider this:  bakers go to baking SCHOOL where they learn from studying text books, do steadily more complicated exercises, answer questions (at the end of the chapter, when given), and do improve their learning using a variety of technologies available at the time (films, watching hands-on professors working, etc.)  

I suggest these steps:  look at some texts, maybe finding them in a local library, and decide which is more your style; studying and practice (a lot of practice) in the order given by reading the text from the first page on; practice some more; watch videos (lots of which are linkable from this website; and, if possible, find somewhere locally where you might watch a practiced baker in action (a local school with a course, for example).  Don't be in a hurry.  Give yourself a year to learn.  Every step of the way will be fascinating and worth your while.

Here are two very different texts:  DiMuzio's Bread Baking and Hamelman's Bread.  If your library doesn't have them, they're available used.  Try Alibris or Powell's Books as a start.  The DiMuzio text is, I think, a better place to start as it's far less comprehensive than the Hamelman.  But I know people who loved the Hamelman for this purpose.

The movements of dough are a kind of choreography which cannot be learned well through a text book.  That's why watching the videos and getting first person experience with one more knowledgeable than yourself is a good idea.

Oh, and practice a lot (or did I say that?).  Don't be surprised if those who eat even your early tries love it.  You will slowly get to know all the things you wish you'd done in a particular loaf and go on to more and more improvement.