The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Recipe bound?

pjkobulnicky's picture

Recipe bound?

I have a copy of an old New Yorker cartoon where one woman is speaking to another woman about the speaker's  husband who is cooking in the background. The woman says that "he's a pretty good cook even if he is recipe bound".

I'm just wondering if there are many of you out there who are like me and do most of your bread baking from principles and not from recipes.  Most of the common breads I make now are created from basic principles and not from specific recipes.  I usually think of the kind of crumb I want and what that means in hydration rates, how long I have to make it and therefore how long of a fermentation I can give it, whether it has heavy stuff in it (I love breads with dried fruits and nuts but no sugar) and therefore how powerful the rise has to be ... and stuff like that. I'll use a recipe when I am trying a new technique or trying to perfect a technique but once I have the specifi technique down, I most often just adapt off of it.

So, for example,  a few days ago I wanted to make a special fruit and nut  bread to send to a friend. I settled on one with dried cranberries, some of my candied orange peel I had in the freezer and walnuts (about 7 oz. of the mix per 1 lb of raw dough). I wanted the dough to have good fermented flavor so I made a biga to start using a wee bit of yeast. I knew it eventually had to push up a lot of fruit and nuts so I knew I would add an extra teaspoon of yeast when I mixed the final dough. I also knew, for flavor and gluten development that I would autolyse the remaining flour with the remaining water. I always make my fruit and nut breads "rustic" so a wee bit of rye and whole wheat as well as a couple of T of wheat germ to increase nuttiness. Finally, to support a relatively high fruit and nut weight I new that I needed a relatively tight crumb ... I used 66% hydration. It turned out great.  But my wife wanted to know what the recipe was and shook her head when I told her I just figured it out.

So ... anyone else out there just winging it?



b_elgar's picture

Good on ya!

I bake most of my breads that way, usually sourdough-based. I go in knowing what sort of bread I want to end up with and adjust my starter/biga/poolish, water, flours and grains to achieve it.


AnnieT's picture

You are both much braver than me! Strictly by the recipe, with the book open on the counter, dashing back and forth to check each ingredient. Hmmmmmmm. What does that tell you about me? Maybe that I'm a timid old lady who hasn't been baking bread long enough to dispense with the safety net - yet. Good on you indeed, and maybe one day I will take the plunge, A.

dmsnyder's picture

My habit is to stick pretty closely to a recipe when making a bread for the first time. After a few more bakes, I will vary proportions to try for a slightly different flavor, substitute some ingredients, change timings, adjust salt to my own taste, etc.  

I'm still trying lots of breads for the first time, so I guess I'm largely "recipe bound."


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to the very core... It's almost a sickness... I cannot stray...

Mini O


Thegreenbaker's picture

When I am trying a new recipe, I stick to a degree. After a few more goes at it, and once I get it right, I will have a go by myself..sometimes with great results, and sometimes with baaaaaad catastropic results. lol.

I am not yet at the stage where I think of the crumb I want and make it according to my knowledge. If I get open big holed crumb, I celebrate with a bottle of wine! If I get a simple sandwich loaf crumb, I thank the gods that I no longer make crumbly, dense, pancakes.

I cook though with out a recipe, unless I see something I like.....

So far, my best results (minus the latest poolish bagguettes and ciabbat from BBA) have been my treacle loaf and oat loaf. Both the best breads I have made until yesterday.  Both my own concoctions :)

I cant wait for the time when I can just throw it together with the knowledge and experience in my head! wow!




browndog's picture

thrown together breadsliced

Last night at 8 pm I remembered that we were out of bread. These loaves were made by combining maybe 4 cups of ap flour, one of spelt, about 8 oz of leftover pizza dough, an egg, some maple syrup and a slosh of oil. Hydration: easy to handle.

They were out of the oven at 12:25 am this morning, tasty and tender, ready for toast and sandwiches.

This was my standard baking routine (usually earlier in the day, however) until I got interested in learning about artisan/sourdough. For those breads I too cling to the recipes, especially because I am not yet confident with capricious sour- or wetter doughs.

Like greenbaker, I don't consider what sort of texture or crumb I want to create, but often throw together sandwich breads on a whim or according to what's in the cupboard. Relaxing and fun--and reassuring if I've been struggling with lean breads.

ehanner's picture

I guess I would be in the Browndog and Greenbaker camp also. When I see an interesting bread I read about it and think how the technique varies from what I normally do with those ingredients. I do seem to do a lot of re-creation baking, reverse engineering of something I enjoyed in the past. For those times I follow the formula strictly.

I'm sort of proud of the fact that I now have enough baking skills to wing it and produce good bread without having to resort to a recipe. I have a repertoire of maybe 6 breads I make all the time from memory. For me it's more understanding the process to arrive where I want to be. Knowing and understanding how bakers percentage and hydration effects the outcome has been key in my learning curve.

In fairness, when I discovered TFL, I was just trying to find a way to make bread without the bread machine I had been using for a year or so. This community has turned out to be great for me in that I have learned the basics and am confident enough to wing it in my comfort zone.


leemid's picture

When it comes to bread, I usually stick to a recipe as I try it for the first time or two, then vary it as much as I want until I get the result I want. Then I stick to it like some kind of manic fixation. Every week when I make my 'daily' bread, I don't vary by a gram from the recipe I have created by my thoughtful and thoughtless changes.

That's my story,


Ramona's picture

I will follow close, but not all of a recipe for a new bread, but I have always cooked and baked by mostly just putting things together.  What I do sometimes is gather a couple of recipes that are on the same topic and then pick and choose ingredients that I want to use to achieve my desired result.  I do some measuring, but not all.  I don't know if anyone here has seen the new cartoon called "Ratatouille," but my children were laughing at me throughout it, because that is how I am in the kitchen.  I use all my senses to create.  I love food and enjoy making it, probably more than I do eating it.  My family and I are health conscious (we jokingly call ourselves foodsnobs), so I have to change recipes also, to what our specific diet is like.  My husband will from time to time ask me if I can make the same item again.   Sometimes I can, sometimes, I get close, but it's always tasty, so to me that is what matters.  It is a challenge to try and recreate a dish that is made with some ingredients that I don't use and yet achieve the same results.  Most of the time I can, but not always.  I do canning and I really don't like it.  I do it for necessity.  But because it is so regimental about sticking to the recipes, I just don't enjoy it and have to really push myself to do it. 

Thegreenbaker's picture

I am quite si9milar Ramona. Well, when cooking food. I will try a recipe, and then if it is good (usually needs adjusting to my particular tastes-I'm vegetarian and eat whole wheat, grains, dont cook with salt and if I do, I use tiny amounts, dont cook with granulated sugar etc etc) I will make it into a green baker special. ;)

My favorite cooking ingredients (at the moment) are barley, Organic Tamari, Vegemite (believe it or not-adds a meaty flavour to lentil shapards pie) and spices of all sorts. 

It is funny to read someone similar to me as my hubby while he appreciates it, is a True english man, likes his meat, pastry, potatoes, cheese and ale. :S

Odd combination we are ;)



KipperCat's picture

When it comes to cooking, I'm very comfortable winging it. I understand the flavors and techniques well enough that it's 2nd nature to cook this way, and I nearly always am happy with the results. But I've been cooking all my life, and only baking bread for a year or so. For bread, I'd be much better off sticking to a tried and true recipe! If I take a lot of time thinking through a designed-by-me bread before I make it, my experiments may come out OK, but I've had some real bad flops as well.

Rosalie's picture

I'm sort of recipe bound. I don't feel the confidence to go off by myself, but I always deviate somehow from the recipe. There's always an ingredient I don't have or don't want to use.   Or maybe there's an ingredient I want to work in.  And I now routinely make small loaves (to freeze) because it's just one of me to eat all of that bread.  But, meanwhile, I study the recipe closely and make objective substitutions.

Let's face it.  I'm a left brain person, not an artist, not the type to wing it, and kinda timid.