The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

No Recipe Experiment

jcope's picture

No Recipe Experiment

For me, making bread has always involved careful measurements and mixing and temperature management.  My fascination with the process comes and goes, as does my enthusiasm.  While I did get pretty good at it and streamlined it where I could, still it could take an hour to get it all done.

But I've noticed that the starter really doesn't care if everything is just right, measured to the hundredth of a gram.  In fact, it seems that temperature and hydration are really the the make-or-break factors.

i've already taken scales out of the starter feeding process.  I just put in enough flour and water to reach a reasonable consistency and be done with it.  It's working great, and it's quick enough to do that I don't feel like it's a chore.

I'm going to try to do the same with bread... No more measuring.  I think I can judge by feel when I've reached the hydration I want.  Judging the starter amount should be relatively easy.  Salt might be more of a challenge.  I "threw together" my first loaf tonight.  I'll bake it tomorrow.  Fingers crossed.

clazar123's picture

If you hadn't done all the weighing,measuring and observing you would not be able to graduate to this level. You really have to know your ingredients, techniques and starter characteristics to be able to put them together in this way. Some of my best loaves have been made this way.

The only problems I have encountered are:1. Replication when I hit a home run. and 2. Sharing the recipe with another baker. I have taken to developing a recipe with all the weights and measures and then making it often enough to be able to wing it. Actually there is a third issue I encountered and that is when I'm making a panned bread, I usually follow the recipe as I want to be able to fit the pan.

Doing this gives you an idea of why measuring in cups is more appealing. I can throw together a recipe much faster scooping out 3 cups of flour, a scoop of starter and enough liquid to make the dough consistency I like.

As far as starter maintenance, I have never measured anything. I discard (usually saved for other things), stir the remaining starter into water, add flour to a thick pancake batter. Done. After it has risen,into the refrig. I bake weekly in good weeks but often it is every 1-2 months now. Starter gets refreshed every few weeks whether I bake or not. Sometimes it goes a month. It takes a few feedings then but has never let me down.

Have fun.

jcope's picture


I agree replication is a concern, but so far I'm getting pretty consistent (and satisfactory) results.  The only real problem for me right now is getting the salt right.  I had one rather bland loaf come out, which I fixed by toasting it and putting butter and jam on it.

The procedure right now each evening is to drop the daily excess starter into a bowl, put in a few heavy pinches of salt, roughly 6 or 8 times as much water as starter, and then what seems like enough flour (white, rye and home-milled hard white), mix it up, add in some flour or water as needed to get the hydration right, cover it and keep it at 52F until about 24hirs later when I shape it and bake it.  This part I timed at 8 minutes.  I spend 20 minutes or a little more in the kitchen each day making bread.

Maybe I'll go back to doing some basic measurements, like you mentioned with cups, so I have to hunt less for the right mix and so the salt doesn't vary as much.  But I've proven to myself that I can eyeball it and get results just as good as if I measure it all out precisely.  The results vary a little bit, but the time savings makes it a no-brainer, so to speak.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

has always brought me back to using the scales.  Tasting the dough and spitting it out is the next best thing to scales.  

There are ways to go about retracing your steps should you want to.  One is to mark the weight of your mixing bowl on the bowl itself or on a card taped inside a cupboard.  Measure water before you mix, put one liter of water in a pitcher, use what you desire and note how much you used after making the dough.  Same with the flours, weigh them before and after using them.  When you know the flour weights, it's easy to figure the salt weight.  Even if you know only the water weight used, it is easy enough to weigh the whole bowl of dough and subtract the water and the weight of the bowl to get the flour weight.  Let your creative juices flow, then figure the weights later for flour, then salt.   It may help you fine tune your "eyeballing."

jcope's picture

Update on this...  I'm happy to report it's turning out great...  I now can bake most days of the week, when I'm at home in the evenings.  It takes maybe 20 minutes to prepare to bake at the same time I'm feeding the starter and mixing the dough for the next day.  If I won't be able to or don't feel like it, I just put the starter in the fridge until I'm ready to use it again.

It's not really "no recipe".  Instead I've just taken the scales out of the process and am measuring flour, salt and water by volume but in very predictable ways.  All the quantities derived from careful weighing in the past.  

I found going with absolutely no standard measures was costing me time and hurting the results.  I'd find I'd put in too much or not enough flour and I'd have to adjust and mix more.  It's hard to work in more flour once the dough has formed.  And, like you said, Mini, salt is the hardest one to guess at.  It really needs to be right to get the best flavor.

It took a little courage to go this way, because I was in the habit of really measuring things out precisely.  I can always go back to that if I need to re-baseline my recipe or develop another.  This has been fun, and now we're eating better daily bread than I can find to buy anywhere.  Not to mention it's less expensive and actually less time consuming than going and buying it would be.

phaz's picture

I find the problem with a set recipe is this - what works for one, probably won't work for everyone - and that's why I never used one - for anything. If everything is exactly the same for everyone, specific numbers are ok (boring but ok). Unfortunately that's more the exception than the rule. A scale will help to flatten the learning curve and is recommended when starting. I've never used one, but I like to fly by the seat of my pants (I have worn out a few pairs of pants). Enjoy!