The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Novice recipe question

rockaday's picture

Novice recipe question

I'm a novice bread-maker: I've made three loaves, two with grocery-store yeast, and now I've got my sourdough starter going well and I made one loaf with that. The grocery-store yeast loaves had terrific texture but a bland, uninteresting flavor.  The starter loaf was a little on the flat side but had a great crust and the flavor was amazing.

Now that I've got my starter going, it seems like a straightforward way to make bread would be to combine my flour, water, starter, and salt, maybe knead or fold it, let it rise overnight, shape it, and bake.

But that's not the process I see in the recipes I read. Most of them have multiple phases. For example, the starter might be mixed with a fraction of the flour/water and rise overnight, and then more flour and water would be added the next day. And for many there's a "final proof" phase before baking.

I guess my main question is why all the ingredients can't just be combined from the start -- what's the difference?

And secondarily I'm just trying to get a better handle on the purposes of the different phases or processes -- what does each one accomplish?


barryvabeach's picture

You certainly can combine your flour water, starter and salt and let it rise overnight, then shape and bake.   When you see recipes that say mix the starter and flour and water the day before, that is because the person may be keeping a small amount of starter - sometimes called a mother, in the fridge, and the refresh of a portion of that is to have some fresh starter to use for the loaf the next morning.

In general ,  bulk ferment,  the stage after you have kneaded, is to develop flavor.  You could skip this and just go to shaping and final proof, which is called the direct method.   Many of us instead use the bulk ferment to develop flavor, then degas, which redistributes the yeast so it got get additional food, then shape and let final proof before putting in the oven.   

Colin2's picture

Posts like this one:  helped me a lot to understand this.  Debra Wink is an especially insightful commenter and it's worth searching for her contributions.

As far as I understand it, with sourdough you're fermenting two different microorganisms at the same time: lactobacilli which give you the great flavor, and yeast.  They thrive under different conditions, and if the lactobacilli overdo it, life gets hard for the yeast.   So what you're seeing are a lot of ways to control the fermentation process to keep the mix of the two microorganisms right.

By contrast if you're just using commercial yeast, then it's exactly as you describe: mix, ferment, bake.  There's a whole lot more flexibility in the schedule and less that can go wrong. 

You can get a little of the best of both worlds by pre-fermenting with commercial yeast, which is what I do these days, but it's not the same as a good sourdough.

rockaday's picture

Thanks for the responses! Gave me some more things to look up/at. I'll keep reading and experimenting.

If you're up for an additional question: I just started overnight bulk fermentation of a loaf, planning to shape and try final proof tomorrow. I haven't yet bought a banneton and I don't have rice flour (I'll look into getting both but won't have them for this loaf). I think I have a decent shape ceramic bowl, and am thinking of trying it with whole wheat flour on a dry cloth. Any other suggestions for a poor man's banneton?

barryvabeach's picture

Dry cloth should work, but you don't want something that the dough will stick too, so the smoother the better, and dust it with semolina , or if you don't have that,  whole wheat.   Rice flour is the bomb , though, so try to pick some up. 

idaveindy's picture

I have a banneton that did not come with a liner (that fits). When I use this banneton, I use a tight-weave tea-towel or flour-sack kind of towel.   Almost as smooth as a pillow case or a bed sheet.  I haven't tried it, but I think an old pillow case might work. 

Rice flour or a 50/50 blend of rice and wheat flour works best for me. But any wheat flour, even whole wheat can work in a pinch.  I'm current using a 50/50 blend of brown rice flour and AP wheat flour.

I bake in a dutch oven, and I try to match the banneton diameter to the dutch oven diameter, -- top of the banneton diameter,  to bottom of the dutch oven diameter.  And work the formula so the proofed dough just reaches the top of the banneton.

Bon chance, amigo.

dbazuin's picture

I am recently start using a bee wax cloth. 
That is also a great solution. 

I use it to cover the bowl when autolyse and the cover the banneton in the fridge. 

rockaday's picture

Given what I had on hand I ended up selecting a tightly woven microfiber kitchen towel with ww flour. I think it came out pretty well!

Benito's picture

That looks amazing, you should be super happy with that.