The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

It ain't' rocket science.

leemid51's picture

It ain't' rocket science.

It is science, but no rockets. Unless, of course, you haven't gotten off the ground. Then everyone who has looks like they're flying rockets.

I've been making bread since forever. I actually taught the Egyptians the process ;-)

No, really, I've been either watching my mother or making bread myself on and off for at least 60 years. I've been making sourdough for twenty-ish years. The rewarding and fulfilling part of this is that I get to eat really good bread all the time. In addition to that, all of my friends think I'm the bread king. The accolades are nice but at the end of the day it's my own satisfaction that matters. After all these years I can now create completely new formulas (formulae?) like my latest coconut bread made for a friend, or go sideways with an old formula to try something new. 

So why do I sound so braggadocious? Because this post is my promise to those who are just starting, or restarting, or just struggling for what ever reason, you can do this. Remember, it doesn't require rockets. If you just keep trying, and by that I mean you need to make bread on a regular and consistent schedule, it will come. After years of making yeasted bread successfully I wanted to make that legendary and mystical sourdough stuff. So I did my research, long before this great site appeared, so in some ways it should now be easier, and gave up making a scratch starter when I found a source for a free one that had a good reputation, got said starter, and started making bread. Of COURSE the beginning attempts were horrific. It's a different world working with flour and acids. 

I made my formula, made adjustments, made it again, twice a week for 4 - 6 months before it got good. So there's nothing to boast about concerning my learning speed. If it was edible, I ate it. If it was more than I could eat I gave it away, and that's a key part of this process for me. And if it wasn't edible I chucked it. Eventually I got to the point where even my screwups made good bread. Maybe not great bread but better than that stuff in the stores.

Why is it important to give bread away? Tonight I'm borrowing a free dump-trailer from a friend I give bread to, to haul free soil given to me by a friend I give bread to, to increase the value of my property. I haven't even started to calculate how much value is involved in this little transaction, but it's more than the cost of a few loaves of bread.

Anyway, this last weekend I made my signature sourdough. I almost always make two batches of two loaves. I had prepared two portions of starter and when I began assembling the doughs, I discovered I had too little of white bread flour. So rather than throwing one starter out, I made a half-and-half white/wheat. I know wheat takes more moisture than white so I adjusted the hydration level on the fly from 75% to 79% and followed my standard process. After overnight cold retardation, I let it rise to room temp, portioned and baked.


The picture above is the whole wheat result. I'm not a photographer, the picture was just taken with my phone, but it turned out better than the intended turned out. The example below is the original formula. It's a little under developed but it will eat just fine. I'm not entering it in any contest. 

I think the whole wheat loaves are a little under developed too. Here's that crumb:

Personally, I don't like a crumb that is so open you can't make a sandwich to take to work because everything inside will fall out, but I like it a little more open than this.

I love making bread, or baking in general, and love eating the products of my efforts even more. I also love teaching people how to do it. That's the reason for this post: to encourage you stugglers. If you persist in your efforts, post your results, give your bread away so you can make more, study and learn, eventually it will be easy and even your 'failures' will delight you and your friends. Occasionally you might post some good looking images of what your pain and suffering taught you how to make. It won't take 60 years either.

One other encouragement: it's not rocket science and it's not religion. You don't have to believe everything you read. I almost never throw away starter. I feed mine once a week or two. I can hear the masses inhaling, aghast. Sometimes I go too long and have to resurrect it after three months of inactivity. It takes a whole day. You don't have to make only sourdough. A really superb yeasted bread is satisfying too. When I don't have two days to make SD, I make WW sandwich bread. It takes 4 hours. The only down side to all of this is I can't eat store-bought bread anymore. So if I have time I make SD, if I have less time I make WW. If I have no time, I go without. And that sucks.


pmccool's picture

We all start as novices and work toward competency.  Perfection is a great white whale, of sorts.  We occasionally get a loaf that lets us know it is possible but we mostly keep working on the incremental gains.  

Thanks for the reminder, Lee, that the process isn’t all that hard and that practice makes better. 


Va's picture

I'm so new the warranty is still good, and this perspective is very welcome. Effort plus persistence yields reward. Give it away, it comes back to you. Edible but imperfect is still better than off the store shelf. It won't take 60 years either.

I'm a pie/cake/biscuit/cookie baker with zero yeast bread experience, seduced by the siren call of sourdough. Starting from where I am, it all looks equal parts daunting and alluring. Thanks for keeping it real. 


prof_fr's picture

Please may  have the recipe for your loaves pictured today.



leemid51's picture

Sure, here goes.

600 grams bread flour, about 12% protein

450 grams water

1 tbsp salt, I forget how much that weighs. My scale doesn't do little amounts like that very well.

400 grams starter

I mix the water into the flour and autolyse for an hour, then turn it out on a floured surface. Mix in salt and starter, kneading to incorporate. I started doing an odd thing quite by accident years ago. I mixed up the flour paste, looked at the starter and wondered how I would mix that blob in. Then it occurred to me that I could stretch it over the paste to keep it from drying out. Of course I cover the bowl with plastic wrap so it really wasn't necessary. What I found is that when it's time to add the salt, I turned the whole mess out on the counter and the starter was under the impossible to handle paste where it prevented a nasty mess on the counter. I stretched it out like a pizza dough and sprinkled on the salt, folded it in, kneaded it for 10 - 15 seconds, and put it in my proofing bucket. Life was so easy!

I knead again every 45 minutes to an hour (stretch and fold if you prefer) for a minute or less, just because I like kneading, generally three times. So after about 3 hours I refrigerate it over night. I'm never particular about the amount of time. Sometimes its 8 - 10 hours, sometimes 18. Then I take it out of the fridge and let it come up to room temp.

I portion it (in halves), form loaves and let it final proof for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. I bake it on a steel slab because steel is as much better than stone as stone is better than cookie sheets. I bake at 450F for 25 minutes.