The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Bittman's Bread

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

Bittman's Bread

Bittman claims to have an easy technique for getting good oven spring and open crumb with 100% whole wheat dough.  The formulas are no-knead with folds and a starter (he doesn't like to call it sourdough, I think because the whole wheat starter isn't as sour/acid tasting as that for white flour).  

An unusual aspect of his method is:

  • Proofing in the pot/dutch oven that you'll bake in
  • Proofing 10-20 minutes only
  • Starting the bake in a cold oven; Bittman repeatedly writes "That's not a typo"

Another quirk is that the instructions for making a starter begin with pate fermantee from a white flour dough.  Before the starter is ready to use, it will have had 3 feedings with 100% whole wheat flour, so it won't be more that 25% white flour for the first loaf and less and less as you go on.  

The book includes recipes/directions for a lot of things I would like to make, include 100% WW empanadas and berry tortes, pizza and rolls, rye bread and baguettes.  He doesn't like rye starters, preferring the WW starter and rye flour in the dough, with two levels of rye. 

When I get some practice I'll post results.  Please let me know what you think of the book, especially after trying it out.   

Petek's picture
Petek

I ordered this book last night. Expect to receive it tomorrow (11/28). Will post again after trying it out.

Petek's picture
Petek

Received Bittman Bread and began making the initial loaf. The purpose of the first loaf is to create a starter for subsequent loaves and to practice Bittman's techniques. All of my steps so far may be found in the Look Inside feature in the preceding Amazon link. I've attached photos of the finished loaf. The "cold oven start" method worked fine. Luckily, I already owned the pot that Bittman recommends (a Lodge 2-quart dutch oven). I used a portion of the dough to create a whole wheat starter to use in subsequent recipes. Will post again after making the whole wheat loaf.

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

Wow, Petek, that looks great.  My starter based on the pate fermentee pluse whole wheat flour looks OK, but nowhere near as bubbly as in photos.  I am hoping that's because the photos were taken after the starter warmed up for a while.  

I mixed Bittman's "jumpstarter" ie levain last night; it looks OK if not hugely bubbly.  I'll mix the dough in a liitle while at the 9 hr mark.  

I used a good stainless steel 2 qt saucepan for the beginner bread; my cast iron dutch oven is way too big.  I hope to get a better result this time.

happycat's picture
happycat

So if proofing in a cold dutch oven, then proofing continues in the cold oven heating it all up.

And if proofing in the container, no worry about deflating during transfer I guess.

Looking forward to your experience.

wildcat's picture
wildcat

I have been proofing in a 2 quart Lodge Dutch oven and starting the bake in a cold oven for years (10+). The cold start I got from somewhere in the sourdough internet community. I evolved on my own to the 2 quart oven because the 4 and 5 quart ovens were heavy and difficult for me to maneuver safely when hot. 

This method has worked reliably for me. I differ from him in that I use an inverted saucier pan for a lid, which gives the bread more space to rise and allows me to bake larger loaves than he does.

naturaleigh's picture
naturaleigh

Hi Wildcat!  I've been intrigued about the cold start method for a while now, and now this post has sort of got me curious again.  Sorry if this seems like a silly question, but I'm assuming you are proofing at room temp in the DO rather than in a fridge?  I'm trying to figure out (if I go forward with experimenting from my 'standard' recipe) how to tweak times on method if the final proof is all at room temp since my current method involves an overnight cold retard in the fridge with bake in the early AM straight from the fridge into a preheated DO at high temp. 

Also, are the sides of your loaves impacted in any way as far as shape since they a proofing inside the DO, presumably taking on the shape of the DO (which is by this method a substitute for a banneton...kind of)?

I know there are several links for cold start baking on this site but it is sometimes easier to just get a quick answer this way rather than sifting through scores of links to find what you need.  Thanks in advance!

wildcat's picture
wildcat

I do proof at room temperature, mainly because I prefer the milder flavor profile. I did try an overnight retard in the frig, but I let the dough come to room temperature before putting it in the oven, mainly because I didn't want to change the bake time. I don't see any reason why you couldn't go straight into the oven from the frig but you'd need to play around with the bake time.

The lower part of my bread reached the sides of the Dutch oven, but the sides still curved as they rose from the oven spring, if that makes sense. They looked like normal batards, i.e. the bread wasn't shaped like the Dutch oven.  Bittman has photos in his book.

wildcat's picture
wildcat

Whoops, boules not batards 

Petek's picture
Petek

@wildcat,

Do you line the DO with parchment paper (ala Bittman)? I sometimes go "commando" using a preheated DO and never had a release problem. I'm thinking that the parchment might be needed to prevent sticking if you don't preheat.

wildcat's picture
wildcat

No, I don't use parchment paper. I make a lubricant by adding some liquid lecithan to canola oil. Nothing sticks to that.

suave's picture
suave

I've read and used Bittman's books.  They are not for purists, but he's got his spit together.

Kuiper11's picture
Kuiper11

I'm pretty new to bread baking and have had most success with King Arthur's Vermont Sourdough recipe. I've bought a few books including Tartine Bread, Flour Salt Water Yeast and now the Bittman book. With one of the Bittman recipes I've noticed the parchment sticks to the finished loaf and is really hard to peel out of there. It gets really flaky.

run4bread's picture
run4bread

Hi, I had a terrible time with parchment sticking that coincided with using new parchment rounds from King Arthur. I called them and they said to spray with veg oil one side of the parchment, the side that contacts the bread. That worked. But seemed wrong, I never had to do it before. They said there was no change to their parchment.  

So I looked at my combi pan. The sheen was gone. I seasoned it and it's better now. But I'm still playing it cautiously because the sticking was so awful. 

Be especially careful with higher hydration loaves. 

joe_n's picture
joe_n

You could try cutting slits in the corners of your paper so that  the paper will slide under in the places where it needs to conform to the shape you want.  So for a round loaf cut slits from the circumference inward radially but leave the inner circle intact. For rectangular  shapes, cut at the corners, but leave the inner rectangular base intact.

Petek's picture
Petek

Try this to prevent parchment from sticking to your loaf: Crumple the paper, unfold it, then place in the baking container. I learned this technique on the Fresh loaf. It helps the parchment to conform to the shape of the baking vessel.

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

That sounds like a great tip, sticking or not.  I get lines in the loaves where the parchment does not conform nicely to the pot.  

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

I mede the starter and baked my first Bittman bread; the starter and the bread used atta flour (whole wheat)  from an Indian grocery.  I have used atta more or less successfully with yeasted 100% whole wheat breads at 85 or 95% hydration with a poolish and overnight retarded bulk fermentation.

I never got the Bittman dough to stiffen up; it went into the pot to proof/bake like a thick batter.  Even so, I got a slightly more open crumb and about the same volume as I had with commercial yeast and conventional technique.   And it smelled great while baking.

Next time I'll do more folds after adding the salt and during each of the 4 folding intervals.   I'm tempted to try 10 minutes of Rubaud's method for mixing high hydration doughs in order to promote the gluten development.  And maybe the starter will be more effective after a its feeding a few more days in the fridge.  

Petek's picture
Petek

After having made two of the recipes from Bittman Bread and browsing through the book, here are my impressions:

Bittman Bread is an excellent choice for someone who wishes to begin making whole grain loaves. The instructions are clear and the photos are helpful. The resulting loaves are airy and light (although not as much as loaves made from refined flours). A new baker might have to buy a pot suitable to make some of these loaves.

An experienced whole grain baker will not find much new here. The "stretch-and-fold" technique (not really "no-knead") is a useful tool. The resulting loaves, however, are no better than those achieved from using the techniques given in such books as The Tassajara Bread Book, The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book or Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads.

As mentioned earlier in this thread, Bittman is not a purist about the definition of a sourdough starter (he uses commercial yeast to make one). He also discourages use of iodized salt and glass bread pans, without supplying a rationale*. That being said, the result is what matters. Bittman's breads are first rate.

*Correction: Bittman states that iodized salt can taste metallic.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Petek,  I am on the fence on this one.  I have purchased a number of books, and checked others out from the library, and a number of times felt I did not gain much. I am a big fan of Bread, I have Peter Reinhart's books on Whole Grain and Bread Revolution, and have read the rest of his books, own the Flour Lab, and Vanessa Kimbell's Sourdough School, and have read  FWSY ( not a favorite of mine ), and some others, and lately I am considering Bitman or Laurel Kitchen.  I bake with 100% home milled wheat and always use a starter, so the Bitman approach  ( I read the introduction on the Google Books link above) really sounded good, but am concerned that as you say, that i won't find much new.  If it was up to you, would you go with Laurel's or Bittman or pass on both?   Thanks

Petek's picture
Petek

I might not be the best person to advise you which book to buy. I own all the books mentioned above, plus 70 or so other bread books ("never met a bread book I didn't like"). Most of Laurel's recipes use commercial yeast. The book has a section about creating and using a starter called "desem," but I've never used it. On the other hand, Laurel has many more whole grain recipes than Bittman. I've made many of them and they are rock-solid. Laurel is slightly out-of-date, but you can use the techniques in Reinhart's Whole Grains to modernize her recipes. If you know how to convert commercial yeast recipes to starter, then I would go with Laurel. Otherwise, I'd pass on Bittman. Reinhart has everything you need to make delicious whole grain breads. HTH.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Thanks,  I might pass on both.  The intro to the Bittman book sounded great, I especially liked his observation that once you are used to whole wheat, breads baked with regular flour taste empty  ( I have described it as tasting like cotton candy ).  I generally find that I don't need more than one or two recipes, i am usually looking for info on process, etc. 

alcophile's picture
alcophile

+1 on Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. I have this and Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, but I didn't have a lot of success with whole grains until I got WGB.

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

I've got these books:

  • CIA Baking and Pastry textbook
  • Bread, by Hamelman
  • The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Reinhart

I have been baking whole wheat bread with increasing %'s of whole wheat flour using commercial yeast formulas adapted from these as well as miscellaneous websites and videos.and a KAF whole grain baking class.   Here's my list Bread Formulas.   None of these books go up to 100% WW, so those adaptations are from websites on atta flour and the Bread Code.

I have been using commercial yeast for a long time; sourdough as described in the books above just seemed too complicated, too many more variables to get right.  I had been willing to sacrifice flavor and open crumb for simplicity (the excellent as the enemy of the good).  

I read Bittman's recent article and listened to his podcast; his book was focused on 100% WW with a simplified sourdough process, so what the hell.  And he does include pizza dough and empanadas, inter alia.

After working with the Bittman process a couple of times and going back to the other books, I figured out that Bittman;s jumpstarter is the levain build.  He describes his starter as liquid, but my version with 100% hydration and thirsty atta flour seems a little stiffer.  I think Reinhart talks about liquid, regular, and stiff starters; Bittman's seems closest to the regular one.

I am autolysing my 2nd Bittman bread now, trying to add less water than the first time to produce a dough rather than a batter.  And I'll do two of the 4 folds and put the dough in the fridge overnight.   

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Thanks for the link, it looks like you did a lot of work to create that.  I don't vary the recipe very much, since i am normally just going with a lean bread, but it is interesting to see the variation in hydration between recipes.  

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

ut I didn't have a lot of success with whole grains until I got WGB.

When I first got WGB,  I used it quite a bit, now I find I very rarely use his epoxy method.  In part, because I am almost exclusively using a starter, and while he includes that in his book, it is not really focused on it,  IMO.  

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Bittman is one of the big names, so I'll add him to my watch list for discounted Kindle editions.

I'm a WW fan, so I'll probably get this if the Kindle edition goes on sale for $4 or less.

--

Just FYI, Chad Robertson's WW book "Tartine Book No. 3", in Kindle format, is currently $3.99, which is a great deal.

JimT47's picture
JimT47

I'm new here, and new to WW baking and starter vs yeast.  Just baked my first Bittman WW loaf.  Good* flavor, tight crumb, crispy crust, but…small.  The dough and then the finished bread did not fill the Lodge DO…see photos below.   I’m in NH at 1200’ elevation, if that matters.  I kept my starter, jumpstarter and dough in the oven at 80° (proofing mode) between each step. Any thoughts? 

 

Jim

* Flavor good, but strong.  Used KAF WW.  Thoughts on adding molasses or honey?

 

 

 

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

I got results similar to yours for 3 tries at Bittman Bread.  I watched some non-Bittman videos (mainly The Bread Code YouTube Channel); my Bittman starter looked nothing like the videos - I had a few bubbles here and there but no doubling.

So I tossed all my starter into the discard container and started from scratch using information from Bread and Basil Sourdough Starter.  The new one looks a lot better.  I'll try Bittman again after 7-14 days of feeding the new starter.

Bread & Basil Sourdough had a recipe for lemon poppy-seed muffins with sourdough discard, which came out pretty well (I am off sugar for health reasons, so they came out like lemon-scented whole wheat muffins, which was fine).  

coneileipi's picture
coneileipi

I have just eaten my third loaf of Bittman's 100% whole wheat bread, and I am enthusiastic. I began by first baking the beginner loaf and making the starter. I was looking for a way to make a simple 100% whole wheat sourdough loaf that is not a brick, and this works. I am using Bob's Red Mill whole wheat flour. My next iteration will be Kerri's Sandwich Loaf on page 117. This loaf is made in a loaf pan and is baked at 350 degrees starting in a cold oven. I hope this works because I have a friend who wants to try this bread, but her oven will not heat above 400 degrees (electronic malfunction and no repairs during the pandemic).

I solved my sticking parchment problem by crumpling and greasing the paper before lining the Dutch oven. Thanks for the suggestions!

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

I tossed my Bittman started into the discard container and started a new onw using a more traditional method and wild yeast.  It seemed to be a lot more active.

I tried another Bittman Bread  with it (using the superstarter method) and still no luck.  Tasty but small and closed crumb.  It has been chilly here, maybe that plus the retarded fermentation overnight in the fridge between the 2nd and 3rd folds never allowed the yeast to get active,   

I'll give Bittman one more try with the whole process at room temp to see if that makes a difference.  

coneileipi's picture
coneileipi

I am glad that you started this thread, and sorry that it is not working out for you. I just followed the instructions in Bittman's Bread, making the starter loaf with King Arthur all-purpose flour and SAF Red yeast. For subsequent loaves I followed Bittman's instructions using Bob's Red Mill whole wheat flour. I usually make whole grain rye with rye starter, but I didn't want to take a chance on the rye weighing down the wheat. I love my rye, but I was looking for a lighter wheat loaf, and I got that with the Bittman bread.

BTW I have made two batches of the Crumby cookies at the end of the book, one as written and the other adapted for vegans. I thought that both versions were delicious, but neither version went over well with family, even the vegan. 

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

Maybe I was too credulous about the refrigerate anytime, or I didn't give things enough time to warm up. I have a hunch that I am over- or under-hydrating because this flour is very thirsty.    I am going to try again in a couple of days with no refrigeration, and the levain build overnight at room temp.  Anmd maybe I'll do some serious kneading when I add the salt. 

caryn's picture
caryn

I read with interest your using an overnight rise with the Bittman Bread formula because my main-stay method over many years has been to proof my sourdough breads in a bread basket (banneton) overnight for baking the next morning. I normally will bake them cold into a preheated oven and cast iron pot. These almost always work well with lots of oven spring. So I didn’t know what would happen if one modified his formula to do the same. You may have saved me the trouble of trying that experiment, but maybe it would be useful to see what would happen if you let the dough come to room temperature in the morning before baking. I might try this is no one else has.

As an experienced sourdough bread baker, I have mixed feelings about the book. I don’t own it. I borrowed it from the library because I was intrigued with the 100% whole wheat sourdough approach.  I did not create a starter from scratch, using some of my starter that I keep in the freezer and “feeding” it with whole wheat flour only. My first two loaves came out a little denser than I am used to, but maybe it was just due to the 100% whole grain aspect. Their sizes seemed a bit silly to me: a loaf weighing about 600 grams. Also, my dough seemed thicker than I thought it should be and next time I may add additional water. The cornmeal rye bread was really delicious and will double that formula next time.

I made the sandwich loaf. The formula was just the basic bread formula scaled up to 50% more and baked in a loaf pan at a lower temperature. At first I was ready to toss this loaf because it looked rather dense and not that interesting, but upon tasting it, especially toasted, I came around and feel that maybe the Bittman Bread technique could be tweaked to produce some very decent 100% whole grain breads.

As far as purchasing this book, I am not sure the book is worth the price for about 24 recipes. (The book is about 240 pages.) I may summarize the recipes for myself and experiment more with this technique.

 

vermagic's picture
vermagic

I didn't see anything about refrigeration during the actual process (unless you are opting to slow it down for schedule reasons - which they talk about in the book).  Perhaps try not refrigerating anything - make the Jumpstarter the evening before just leave it near a heater overnight.. and then wait 12 hours to make the actual dough.  Then it's just wait for an hour, add salt, and do the 4 folds 30 min apart - leave it all at room temp.  Worked like a charm for me.  I think your cold situation may be impacting things.  The only thing you refrigerate is the starter.  I like the fact that you can use the starter right out of the fridge to make the jumpstarter.  The 12 hour sit allows it to warm up enough to do it's thing.

vermagic's picture
vermagic

I made the starter loaf, then my first "real" loaf a few days later.  It came out perfectly.  The bread is moist, airy and has a good crust and crumb.  Truly unlike any other whole wheat bread I've had.  The flavor is perfect.  Looking forward to trying some local fresher flours.  I used KABC WW flour and it worked great.  Sprinkled some flor da sal from Portugal on the top for a bit of crunchy salt.  You can eat this bread with butter or cheese and it's a meal.  I even ate a plain slice - it's that good.  I'm close to putting my 2nd loaf in the oven - with nigella, sesame and sunflower seeds + some Montreal Steak Seasoning which is basically a slaty dried garlic and pepper spice mix.  I think "everything" spice would work well in this bread.  The rise comes from a good starter plus a series of folding (easy) then rest etc.  Can't wait to experiment with more seeds/grains and later try some other recipes like pizza, cookies etc.. that are in the book.  The book is well laid out with easy to follow instructions and tips.

JimT47's picture
JimT47

As you can see, my results are still (see post 12/10) not like the plump loaves the Bittman book shows.  This latest attempt was barely 2 1/2" high, and really dense crumb.  I have to say my dough, after folds and all, is still very wet, amorphous, no real skin.  Not batter but not "dough" as I have always known it, somewhere in between.

 

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

I'm getting the same result as JimT47. Virtually no oven spring, despite using Bittman's superstarter - feedingf the starter a few hours before mixing the levain ("jumpstarter") so that the starter is doubled. when you mix it in.  Keeping everything out of the fridge and adding more dough strength at each stage (eg, kneading after the autolyse), and of course switching from atta to King Arthur WW helped a very little.  

I am really dubious of the short proof and cold start in the oven but Bittman is absolutely sure of it - don't even consider changing it, he writes.  And others here say it works for them.  

The only things left to change for me are putting the levain and dough in the oven on the proofer setting (73 F) rather than the countertop (high 60's F) and preheating the oven before baking.  If that doesn't work, I'll try more conventional methods.  And if that doesn't work, it's back to yeast (although I will miss the discard pancakes, muffins, and roti).  

caryn's picture
caryn

My advice to you is that you shouldn’t give up. If you have watched The Bread Code on YouTube, he has so many tips that are useful. I agree with you that Bittman’s “simplistic “ technique is not fail-safe. There are many variables that impact sourdough baking including ambient temperature. If your room is only 60 °F, then the starter and the dough that you mix will not work as well. Natural yeast (sourdough or levain) development is a function of time and temperature, a concept that Bittman doesn’t even address. It might be helpful to keep your starter and then dough in a warmer spot and make sure that the dough tests done (using the finger test) before baking. Also, since you own  Hamellman’ “Bread,” you might want to try his whole wheat levain which is 50% whole wheat. I have made that many times using the overnight retardation. I have often made that bread with the addition of toasted walnuts (about 180g) and it is really nice.

Also, I have seen other recipes that bake starting in a cold oven. I would guess that that should not be a problem; the problem might be that the dough was under-proofed due to the cool temp of your room.

I think the most important factor for sourdough baking is that you have a good starter. So, I encourage you to keep trying. I also will keep trying to tweak Bittman’s technique to see if it is really worthwhile. 

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

Thanks for the suggestions.  Room temp here in usually sunny San Diego has been ~68-69℉;  I am going to try to use the oven proofer setting (~73℉) instead of the countertop to see if that encourages the wild yeasts enough.  

Here is a yeasted bread - 60% atta flour (!), 20% rye, and 20% high gluten flour Atta + Rye + High Gluten that came out pretty well.  I want to get to 100% whole grain for health reasons and

  • Hamelman says that sourdough is better for rye (which I love) because the acid inhibits the starch attack of the rye flour.  
  • Bittman says that the slower natural yeasts work better with whole grains than commercial yeast

So we'll see if the oven proofer setting does the trick.  

 

JimT47's picture
JimT47

Thanks for your feedback Louis.  I too have been using the super-starter method and my oven for all steps, keeping temp at about 75 because countertop is in mid-60’s. Oh, and the starter looks great right out of the fridge, then expands beautifully in the 4-5 hours after feeding, making for a healthy super-starter.   I leave the super-started jump-starter in the oven overnight, and make my dough next morning at about the 10-12 hour point that Bittman & Conan recommend.  Follow all their instructions thereafter.

I think I am simply not getting the water right, but too much (my guess) or too little?  My dough remains shaggy and floppy throughout the autolyze, the seasoning and the folds.  It tears easily when I go to fold it.  And when I shape it I’m really just gathering a loose mass and plopping it into the DO.  AT 1200’ elevation, with outside temperatures in the 30’s and lower winter humidity I’ve not tried reducing the water content, but absent any better ideas, I’ll try that next.

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

Try watching Bread Code 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough and apply some of his dough strengthening techniques after you mix the dough (ie, in Bittman after adding the salt and before the 1st fold).  I kneaded the dough until it looked and felt more like the dough in the video.  

Also, I think Bittman exaggerates the amount of water you have to work in.  I stopped spritzing the bench and I shook off any extra water on my hands before folding and got dough that looked and felt a lot more like the dough in the video, ie, elastic and extensible dough rather than thick batter.  

Assuming that the cold start baking is not bogus, about the only thing left to try is using the oven proofer setting (~73°F) instead of room temp (which is currently ~68-69℉; chilly for Southern California)

JimT47's picture
JimT47

Thanks Louis…I will watch the video and try your suggestions.

caryn's picture
caryn

I just want to express my enthusiasm for the Bread Code. He has done so many experiments with sourdough and has developed a number of charts to make sourdough bread baking really understandable.  I trust him more than Bittman who seems to take a glib approach to whole grain sourdough baking.  Maybe by incorporating Henrick’s ideas with the Bittman approach, we can approach a best method for making 100% whole wheat sourdough. One idea of Henrick’s is to put some of the dough in a narrow diameter tube or jar to observe the rise of the dough, though I am not sure what the target rise increase would be using the Bittman technique. It would at least be something to use to judge bread outcomes with various rising height percentages before baking.

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

Gluten Tag!  The Bread Code guy doesn't mention his name often nor is it obvious at his YouTube channel.

I don't remember where but somewhere else I got the tip about taking a small piece of dough before final shaping and putting it in a small jar  with marks to show how much it had risen during the final proof.  This works pretty well with yeasted breads and generally agrees with the poke test.  On a Bread Code video someone says "aliquot" which is a chemistry term for a small sample taken off a bigger batch for testing.  

One unusual aspect of the Bittman technique is that his proofing time is 15-20 minutes (rarely more than 15 min he writes) after the 4th fold.  Conventional bread, yeasted or sourdough, usually proofs at room temp for 1-2 hrs after final shaping.  The poke test and the resulting baked bread appear to show that my Bittman breads have not been underproofed.even if they have not expanded much after the 4th fold.

I used the oven proofer for the dough once I started the folds.  Maybe to get an active enough levain I need to use the proofer rather than a cool room all the way through, from feeding the starter to fermenting the levain to the autolyse and holding the dough during bulk fermentation and then proofing.  

And I ho-pe I don't need twice daily 1:5:5 feedings of the starter for two days before making the bread. 

caryn's picture
caryn

The thing is that I followed Bittman’s technique pretty much to the letter, keeping all steps at about 72°F and my results were rather dense ( not a brick- sill quite tasty), so maybe I do need to evaluate my starter by feeding it. I may run this as a test the next time I try one of his breads. I agree I would not want to feed 1:5:5 over 2 days either unless I determine that it is necessary!

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

I have been trying to bake 100% whole wheat Bittman bread for several weeks with no success.  My last (in both senses) attempt included King Arthur whole wheat flour, sourdough starter that doubled just before mixing the levain ("jumpstarter"), all room temp time in the oven on the proofer setting ~77 F., lots of strength-adding folds after mixing the dough before the autolyse, after adding the salt, and during each of the 4 folds. 

I used no water on the board and not too much water on my hands in order to make what seemed like an elastic and extensible dough.  Here are photos of my proof-o-meter just before I put the dough & dutch oven in the oven  Proof-o-meter and Bittman Bread  The bread is barely higher than the thickness of the cutting board and the crumb is closed.  

The dough and looked and felt OK before baking and it appeared to proof adequately.  But I got virtually no oven spring.

I suppose that I could try preheating the oven, but Bittman says don't even consider it, and other recipes also suggest cold starts.

Maybe I'll try some of the 50% whole wheat sour.  dough formulas from "Bread" or the recipe from The Bread Code 100% whole wheat sourdough video.

At least the discard pancakes and muffins and roti were good. 

 

mariana's picture
mariana

I got the same results. My tiny dense loaf came out being only 6" in diameter and 2"tall. It lost 20%of its weight during baking prescribed in the book. It looks exactly like in the book: small, dense, with tiny pores.

I guess that is the kind of bread Bittman likes to eat: chewy, rubbery, with tough, completely undeveloped gluten and hard, thick, burnt crust. It requires a lot of strength to cut through. I guess that is why he uses an electric knife. More like a chainsaw is needed! He shows it in his book: the loaf he holds in his hands.

 

the same loaf is shown being sliced:

I don't see anything revolutionary in this approach to bread baking at home in the last hundred years as he claims in his book and his Instagram. Rather looks like return to a very primitive, childlike kind of handling bread. Including inventing his own names for the steps of starter refreshment and preferments. Refresh one time and it's a jumpstarter. Twice? Superstarter. Three times? Frankenstarter!

There is a huge amount of variability built-in there (any flour goes for as long as it is "wheat", any temperature of ingredients and fermentation, any yeast or any starter, any length of fermentation) which of course will give different results to different people. The only things he insists on is the super short proof/rest of shaped loaves before baking and cold oven. And no kneading, must be no kneading! These are like sacred points for him, I do not understand why. 

I think most people expect something else from that book and feel disappointed. He likes hard bread with chewy crumb and closed pores  and he describes how to bake such bread. It doesn't rise spectacularly when it ferments or in the oven. So he honestly teaches how to bake exactly the bread shown in his pictures and he honestly says that you will never buy something like that from a store or a bakery. Never. 

These are samples of his crumb from the book, notice how his small loaf is 2" tall and 8" wide: 

I got nearly identical crumb and the slice shape in my small loaf:

Even his all-purpose of bread flour yeasted bread has the same type of crumb:

So we, as his readers should not expect anything different. 

caryn's picture
caryn

I have to say that I agree with both of you, Mariana and Louis. I have been making sourdough breads for many years and it does seem like this method is really a step backwards. It would be nice if such a method that is relatively easy would yield good results. I did get one pretty good loaf so far using his formula using rye, cornmeal and molasses. Perhaps the added sweetener helped with the rise.  It is puzzling that Bittman who has written some seemingly reliable cookbooks over the years could have developed one so flawed. Obviously if his technique was so good, we would not be having this conversation.

Another criticism of the book that I have as well is that all of the breads at the beginning of the book are really all the same formula. The first at least half of the book could be summarized in just a few pages.

As I suggested before, it would be insightful for you to try the methods and formulas of Hamelman and The Bread Code before giving up on sourdough whole grain baking. I also question the necessity for bread to be 100% whole grain to be healthy. If your bread contains some whole grain and your diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, I am not sure it is that important. That said, I think it is an interesting challenge to achieve it, and The Bread Code guy seems to think his 100% whole wheat is among his best.

All of this said, and I have just mixed Bittman’s overnight starter to try out the recipe for rolls, which is just the same basic dough shaped as rolls. I can critique them tomorrow. At least in my opinion, the brick-like loaves that I have made were at least flavorful, especially when toasted. So the testing continues! 

 

caryn's picture
caryn

So I again tested the Bittman method with his rolls that I made to use as buns for sandwiches. First, the baking took far longer than the 25-30 minutes as specified in the recipe to reach 205°F. I think the dough rose enough, but I was honestly underwhelmed with the taste. I don’t think it is worth the trouble when the outcome is not very exciting. I have not felt that with any of the sourdough breads that I have made in the past. Since I still have the book from the library, I may still try some of the other options in the book where there may be more inclusions to make the bread more interesting.

 

mariana's picture
mariana

Thanks for the update and the pictures, Caryn! 

My husband disliked the taste of Bittman bread so much that he discarded it when I was not looking! No more Bittman bread for us then. I do like the ideas for breads and variations in the book though, just not his revolutionary method of working with the wheat flour based dough or baking it in a tiny, terribly rusted cast iron pot.

I did try the recipe for the sourdough starter that Mr.Bittman published in his book and on his website bittmanproject.com after I found out that it was originally from Daniel Leader who is a great baker and bakery owner and therefore the recipe can be trusted. Bittman wrote in one of his NYT articles that he found that starter recipe in Leader's book "Bread Alone" published in 1993, nearly thirty years ago. I have that Leader's book and it explained the recipe fully, so I tested it.

The sourdough culture (i.e. the chef, which Bittman calls "starter") was ready for baking with it in 2 1/2 days at 80F and had an absolutely divine aroma and taste. I used whole wheat all-purpose flour, FiveRoses brand, for it, nothing exotic.

I loved it! Highly recommended for the beginners, the recipe is indeed very easy and effortless.

caryn's picture
caryn

Mariana- I also own that book and know that Daniel Leader is a well accomplished baker. I also own a second book of his, “Local Breads Sourdough and Wholegrain Recipes From Europe’s Best Artisan Bakers.”  You have now inspired me to re-visit these books for ideas. I think the Bittman formula mostly results in mediocre bread if you just follow the basic dough. Again, I did like the cornmeal molasses variation and may play with that one again. I do understand your husband’s reaction; I get it!  I also think that sometimes baking with 100% whole grain is not worth the compromise in texture which is more easily obtained by using a mix of whole grains and white flour.

 

Gadjowheaty's picture
Gadjowheaty

I second for a renewed commitment to Daniel Leader's books.  I used to bake through them a lot.  I have way too many books.  I've yet to bake through Calvel, or Hamelman - two I consider foundational.  I'll never get there.

 

coneileipi's picture
coneileipi

I have had good results with Kerri's Sandwich Loaf. In fact, my spouse requested that I make this for his daily bread. I followed the Bittman method exactly as written. Then I tried the Enriched Sandwich Bread, and it was an epic fail. Next I tried the Bittman bread variation with seeds: 50 g total of caraway, fennel, and sesame seeds. It came out well, pretty enough to give as a birthday present. I use a Brod and Taylor proofing box set at 70 degrees, and I do all stretching, folding, and shaping in a large bowl as demonstrated by Kerri in the book.

I appreciate Mark Bittman's enthusiasm, and I like working with and eating the small loaves the recipes make. Clearly he is on a mission to get people to make and eat 100% whole wheat bread for a healthy diet. It is also clear from this thread that there are experienced bread bakers not having success with his methods, and that does not bode well for his target audience, folks new to making whole wheat sourdough breads. Maybe version 2.0 will be a step closer.

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

I'm just glad that I'm not the only one having difficulties with it.  But some people are obviously successful.  It's possible that my starter just didn't have enough oomph.   I'm trying to create a rye starter, maybe I'll have better luck. 

caryn's picture
caryn

I think that a method that is not reliable is not a good one. I think Bittman in his desire to simplify misses explaining the variables that may come into play when using the method, like types of wheat, time , temperature and strength of starter. I can see if one has not had much experience with sourdough baking, his book would be very frustrating. I do encourage anyone to view The Bread Code on YouTube for really good insights on sourdough baking.

joshualouis's picture
joshualouis

So, today/yesterday was my first run of doing the "Bittman Bread" (I skipped straight to this step without trying his starter method and just used mine.)  My weekly loaf is a whole grain sourdough, so this isn't entirely new territory to me.  (I mill my own flour with my Komo as well.)    

My alterations were doing a 500g of flour loaf instead of 300 (and scaling the recipe accordingly) and baking in my 5 qt lodge combo cooker.  

It's a delicious bread and the dough was lovely -- although I don't think I generally incorporate as much water during folds as Bittman so I think it could've upped the hydration.  The dough spread a bit when proofing in the pan and I think could've used a second shaping (or perhaps my initial shaping just wasn't enough to preserve the surface tension), so the shape could've been better.   My other note would be it was my first time ever trying the cold oven method and I'm curious to work on that a bit more -- it took my oven the whole first half hour to get to the desired temperature. 

 

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Welcome to TFL, Joshua! 

And that's a nice looking loaf and crumb, especially for 100% home-milled grain!

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

That loaf looks great.  I am trying to create a rye starter to see if I can get more lift.   And maybe a bigger loaf and more conventional technique will work better than Bittman.

caryn's picture
caryn

Joshua- It was instructive to learn of your success with the Bittman method, given that some of us have not had such good results. My take on this is perhaps your initial starter was stronger than some of ours. I also used my own starter which is has always been reliable for me and converted it to the 100% style that Bittman uses. Perhaps that diminished the starter’s strength. You also said that it took quite a while for your oven to reach the target temperature and that may have been in your favor, giving the dough more time to proof before the yeast cells are killed by the bake. Maybe if the oven is faster to preheat, it might be necessary to proof the dough longer at  room temperature before putting it in the oven. Seeing your  fine results only encourages me to keep working with his method. 

 

joshualouis's picture
joshualouis

Thanks for the comments everyone!

I've tried this a second time now and am pretty happy with the results.  I made a conscientious effort to add more water while I folded to get more of the "Bittman experience" so to speak.   I did add a short bench step (and replaced 17% of the flour with Kamut for some fun.)  

 

 

I do think my crust isn't as crisp from this method, likely not exposed to as high a heat as long as I am used to.  I'll probably keep tinkering but overall I'm happy with how the dough handles AND I really enjoy the flavor.  It's a good percentage of pre-ferment IMO!

 

Ann Bakes's picture
Ann Bakes

Thank you for this thread. I was reading it as I baked my first 100% WW Bittman loaf. It seemed to go ok for me, though I haven’t tasted it yet. I’m a bit cynical that I would choose 100% WW over a blend, but I want to keep an open mind.  I would post a photo, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Help!

 

Mumin's picture
Mumin

Reading the comments, I have to wonder whether the problem is in the recipe or my execution.  I made my first loaf a couple of days ago.  The dough was never elastic.  It broke rather than stretching.  After all the admonitions to wet my hands while folding the bread, I was surprised to find that the dough was not at all sticky. When I mixed the dough it never looked "shaggy."  It held together, was easy to shape into a ball, and never stuck to my hands, the spatula or the bowl.  I tried adding more water this time around but still no stickiness.

The only whole wheat flour available just before new years was King Arthur white whole wheat.  KA says that the only difference is the color, now the wholeness of the wheat.  Could this make a difference?  I ordered a scale, which should arrive tomorrow, so I have been using his volume conversions.  Is the recipe sensitive enough that this would make a difference?  Could my starter not have started enough?  I noticed that after only 2 days in the fridge the starter had a darker brown top layer.  Same with the "jumpstarter" this morning that I mixed last night.  Does anyone have any advice?  At this point I am tempted to just go back to white-flour, instant-yeast, no-knead bread with seeds, which has worked without fail for me for years. 

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

You may be surprised by how much difference measuring by weight vs volume makes.  

I had no success with Bittmanś method, certainly worse than I got using commercial yeast. I am going to try to use some more conventional sourdough techniques because sourdough is said by Hamelman to be much better suited for rye breads,and I love rye.

In the meantime, you could try some of the whole wheat formulas here  Bread Formulas with commercial yeast fort asty an healthy whole grain breads.

coneileipi's picture
coneileipi

I recommend Stanley Ginsberg's The Rye Baker. This was my introduction to sourdough baking, and I followed his instructions to make my rye starter. I have successfully made several of the recipes from the book, and my go-to everyday German rye is the Ammerland Black Bread. It's formula looks similar to Bittman's Travel Bread, and I look forward in the next week or two to a side-by-side taste test.

caryn's picture
caryn

For those interested in sourdough ryes, I just got this through the Breadtopia newsletter. It is free to see the blog on Breadtopia’s site. I believe that the recipes on this site are reliable and include some very well done instructional videos. Here’s a link to the bread:

https://breadtopia.com/tourte-de-seigle-100-rye-bread/

I have not made it yet, but it looks extremely interesting.

jblpsyched's picture
jblpsyched

I'm late to this thread and have a lot to add after spending the past 1-2 weeks reading Bittman's book, making starter, and trying his method for producing whole wheat sourdough. I'll keep this short at first and elaborate if/when/as needed. I agree with the prevailing sentiment that his recipe is flawed--despite his confidence and certainty in it. I am a moderately experienced bread baker, certainly no expert, but this is my first attempt at using starter rather than yeast.

When I used Bittman's recipe with 100% KA WW flour it didn't rise much, tasted fine, but in my wife's words it was 'too dense for everyday use.' Similar result to many others here and elsewhere. I made it again using KA W/WW flour and it turned out much better--good/normal oven rise, good crust/crumb/taste.

I concluded that the density of 100% WW flour is too much for Bittman's approach so rather than trying it again I found an alternative recipe on YouTube (by a young guy who calls himself The Regular Chef). I followed his recipe very carefully, made detailed notes, and got much better results than with Bittman. In other words, making sourdough bread with 100% WW flour is doable for regular folks like me (non experts).

The difference between Bittman's approach and the other one I used by The Regular Chef is...time. For example, my levain/jumpstarter took a full 24 hours to double in size (vs. 8-12 hours w/Bittman). My autolyse period using The Regular Chef approach was 7.5 hours (mostly because I was at work that morning)--I don't think that length of time is required but I suspect that 30-60 minutes is too short.

The Regular Chef approach calls for a total of 6 folds (vs. Bittman's 4 folds), with 25 mins rest in b/t each one; so in effect that's an extra 1+ hour to build dough structure. Finally, and I suspect most importantly, The Regular Chef approach recommends 6-9 hours of proofing (in the fridge) before final shaping and baking. I probably proofed my loaves for 10 hours in the fridge (overnight).

I am a very early riser so I got up this morning at 4:00am, preheated the oven to 500F w/the dutch oven inside, baked the loaves one at a time in the dutch oven (20 mins covered, 10 mins uncovered for each), and the results were, as stated above, much improved over my attempt at using Bittman's approach.

Personally I doubt that using a cold oven vs. preheated is a huge variable (despite Bittman's certainty), and I think the additional folds/resting time are of minor significance. I think the much longer time that I spent waiting for my (Bittman) starter-levain to double in size + autolyse + proofing (especially proofing) were the key to successfully using 100% WW flour to create really nice (and pretty) sourdough bread. Cheers!

caryn's picture
caryn

Thank you so much for this. I think what you described is probably similar to the approach that The Bread Code guy (also on YouTube) takes. It really makes sense that more time might solve many of the problems some of us have had with Bittman’s method. I will check out The Regular Chef as well