The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Newbie Artisan Bread Maker

tamraclove's picture

Newbie Artisan Bread Maker


I've just joined this group and have spent the past several hours reading through the forums - what an amazing bunch!  I'm excited that I've found you all, and I know you'll be able to help me get started.

First, a bit of history, then my questions:

I've been baking bread at home for the past several years.  Mostly "Betty Crocker" recipes, which have served me pretty well.  The bread is tasty, and my husband doesn't seem to think that I should change a thing.  However, in my quest to become a better baker, I've recently branched into sourdough - using a yeast-based starter.  After more research, I've started a wild-yeast starter - hoping to switch to that one fully once it's ready.

My goal is to produce 100% whole grain sourdough breads with few added ingredients.  From browsing the forums, I've gathered that this type of bread is more "dinner" style bread, and that sandwich bread needs ingredients like white flour and dairy to be light enough to stuff with sandwich goodies.  I'm ok with that.  I'll try that type too.

I've also just been reading up on stretch and fold (which is a bread-new concept to me!) 

So... here are my questions:

I need a good recipe to start with.   A basic, simple, preferably whole grain sourdough recipe that I can learn on.  I have read that WW breads are a bit tricky for beginners because of the sharp grains (is this right?) but I'd rather jump right in with a few flops.  It can't be worse than the sunken-topped bread with pores so open that honey leaks through that I've been feeding my poor husband for months now! (In my own defence, it does taste good and its moist... :-p)

After I get a handle on a basic loaf, I think I'll feel more confident in trying other, already posted recipes.  When my hands know how to stretch and fold, how tight WW bread needs to be formed - stuff like that.

Oh... I don't have scales.  I know, I know... I've just read the heated debate about them.  I'm now instantly aligned with half the members of this group, and the other half will tell me that scales should be my first purchase.  I can't make that purchase right now, so volume measurments would be appreciated. 

Am I totally off base here?  Am I asking the impossible?  Do I need to start with plain white bread with eggs, milk and honey to get a good idea of what bread should be??  I hope not...

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.  I look forward to your responses!! 

tamraclove's picture

But on the subject of scales, how would one go about finding a good one?  What are the range requirements, etc?

ClimbHi's picture

I'm also a relatively new bread baker, and I'd heartily recommend you get yoursel a copy of Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. I got mine at the library and liked it so much I bought my own copy. (I already had several of his previous books and didn't want to buy another, but I couldn't pass this one up.) He goes into the subject a lot deeper than just recipes, and once you understand the workings of flour, yeast and bacteria, you can branch off on your own and experiment.

I tried to make my own starter, but the first attempt, after starting off strong, flopped. So, I followed some advice I got from a sourdough web page and bought a starter from King Arthur. It's been working fine for months now.

I was reluctant to switch from measuring to weighing, but it really makes breadmaking SOOO much easier to weigh. It avoids things getting lost in the translation. If you get serious about breadmaking, you'll find that "recipes" are in baker's percentages where the amount of liquid is stated as a function of the weight of the flour. And, once you get the hang of it, it's way easier to measure your ingredients using that process. You don't need a fancy scale -- you can get ones that'll be fine for $25 or $30. Get one that's digital, and can reset to 0. That way, you can measure in any container and reset after each ingredient is added.

As for whole grain breads, I prefer the crumb of naturally leavened white flour, but recognize the benefits of whole grain -- so I have started experimenting with WW breads. My starter is white flour, so my WW breads are really "transitional", since I use the white starter as leavening. I uses WW flour, with some oatmeal and a few sunflour seeds for the dough. They rise well, have nice oven spring, and a find crumb. They would work fine for sandwich bread.


sphealey's picture

After doing some research on home digital scales I found that there are exactly two manufacturers of load cells and other digital scale innards in the world, and that essentially every scale below the $500 US range comes from the cheaper of those two manufacturers. So you need only consider features, asthetics, and durability of the outside case.

Personally I have had excellent experience with the myWeigh. I have an i5000 which has an accuracy of 1 g and a range of 1g-5000g. There are times, esp when weighing salt, that I it would be nice to have 0.5 g or 0.1 g accuracy, but overall my thinking that the 5000g capacity would be the most useful turned out to be correct - I can measure 3 kg of dough in a 2000 g ceramic bowl with no worries.

If you are in the US you might want to look at Old Will Knott Scale Company on-line; they seem to have a good variety to choose from.


tamraclove's picture

Unfortunately, I'm presently living in the UK - but since everything is metric here, as long as I can put my hands on a digital scale, I should be ok, eh?

sphealey's picture

Every digital scale I have seen above the $20 US mark (that's about 5 pence at current exchange rates - ha ha) switches between metric and US ANSI units at the push of a button. Which can be handy for converting recipes: measure out 4.5 oz, change to grams, and note down the number.

I have not seen any with true UK units though. Perhaps the ones sold there do have those units. In fact, let us know if they do: I wouldn't mind acquiring one that does.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

After we sold the bakery and all the scales in it, I had to get a new set of scales.  So, I thought I'd get a set of DigiWeigh scales instead of the slightly more expensive My Weigh scales I'd been using.


The DigiWeigh scales were never stable, the weight drifted, and then they died.


I went back to My Weigh.  There's more to scales than the sensor.  The sensor is necessary, but not sufficient, to assure one of quality.


I've also had good lick with Ol'Will Knot.



edh's picture

I have a Salter that is only accurate to 2 grams and it drives me nuts! I don't think the 1 g ones cost much more, and I'd heartily recommend it. I weigh everything, but usually have to guess at a volume measure for yeast. It's a little thing, but annoying.

For wholegrain sourdough recipes, I'd suggest getting Peter Reinhart's Whole Grains book. I asked the local library to get it for me on inter-library loan (we have a very small library with a limited budget, sort of like my own!). I later received a copy as a gift, and it's changed my relationship with whole grains! For a sandwich type loaf, check out Dolf's oatmeal bread that's featured on the front page; excellent flavor and very well written instructions, including volume measures.


Darkstar's picture


Am I totally off base here? Am I asking the impossible? Do I need to start with plain white bread with eggs, milk and honey to get a good idea of what bread should be?? I hope not...

I for one would say no. No you don't NEED to start off making enriched breads, or white flour only breads. The important part is to start with a seed of knowledge and a whole bunch of 'willing to try'. It sounds like you've got that so good for you. After starting out my time here wanting to make most all the recipes I thought looked good in the recipies area I came to a realization; I was making OK bread but I wasn't understanding why I had successes and why some loaves flopped. It wasn't until I took a mental step back and found a recipe I liked that I could make consistantly and use as a baseline for experimentation that my loaves improved. It's amazing all the little things you do when making dough (machine mix v.s. autolyse v.s. hand mixing and kneading, a little extra water or flour, even addition of a 1/4 cup of wheat flour to a white loaf) that manifest as big changes in a finished loaf of bread. Likewise you can use the recipe you know backwards and forwards to test out different techniques or ingredients.

My point here is find something you like and learn to make it. If the first attempt flops, try again. Seek help on the forums here (but be prepared to detail what you all really makes a difference when troubleshooting anothers' baking). There are no shortage of helpful people here all with very different prefrences and knowledge levels. It sounds like you want to go whole wheat to me so I'd check out JMonkey's blog or BWraith's. Sourdough....there's a whole sourdough side to the forum but spend time reading posts about those wild yeasts. SourdoLady is one of many great resources for sourdough bread on the site. Also check out Floyd's lessons, there is a sourdough lesson section that should help build your knowledge.

Oh... I don't have scales. I know, I know... I've just read the heated debate about them. I'm now instantly aligned with half the members of this group, and the other half will tell me that scales should be my first purchase.

You don't NEED a scale to make good bread. You DO need a scale to make precicely consistant bread. There are plenty of people on this site that bake by feel; nothing wrong with that. Feel is important and is one component of baking (and an important one...I measure by weight BUT I adjust by feel).


Ok...too much verbiage too early in the morning. I hope my $.02 has helped you a little. Please treat it as just that. I am by no means an expert, just a guy who really likes to bake bread. I'm sure another few helpful people will chime in and address some of your questions.

Welcome to The Fresh Loaf!



MaryinHammondsport's picture

I just purchased a new scale. It's an Escali Primo, which cost $24 in the USA. It appears to be very accurate when measuring small amounts such as 1 or 2 grams, it's responsive (no long wait while it reacts), it's easily set to 0 (tare), the display shows amounts in pounds and ounces, just ounces, and grams, and the display is more easily read than my previous one. However, the thing that did it for me when I was looking for a new scale was that the area at the front where the display and all the buttons are is covered completely by a sheet of tough malleable plastic. There is no way flour is going to get in there and gum things up, which is what happened to my previous scale.

I think this scale is a real bargain, and would recommend it. It's available from various Web retailers -- just search for "Escali Primo" to read up on it. I also agree completely that you CAN bake bread without a scale. No question -- people have done it for centuries. However, if you are just learning and want to be able to reproduce a success or avoid reproducing a flop, a scale is essential.

Another helper that hasn't been mentioned here is a baking notebook. It's really helpful to jot down what you did each time you bake, and then a few comments on what made the loaf better or not quite what you were aiming for.

Additionally, I completely agree that picking one recipe and baking it enough times to get it down pat before moving on to something else is excellent advice. I have one sourdough bread that I have been tweaking for a couple of months, and will continue to work with. Jumping all over the map doesn't get me anywhere, and I suspect it is that way with anyone.


tamraclove's picture

Wow, you guys are great (and fast on the comments!)  These are exaclty the kind of comments I was hoping to receive!!  Thanks so much for dedicating your time (and first cup of coffee!) to helping me out!

Marni's picture


I also measure by volume.  I happen to like the surprise of the loaf being a bit different sometimes.  It is only slightly different and I know my favorite breads well enough by look and feel to reproduce them almost exactly when I'd like to.  That goes together with Mary's comment about becoming familiar with one particular recipe- a very good idea.  I must issue the disclaimer that I don't own and have not tried scales, but plan to try them soon.  I may be offering a different opinion in the future, but I'm happy with how things are now.

Enjoy your baking adventure and good luck!


tamraclove's picture

Here is a link to my very first success at sourdough!!

 Thanks to all of you for your help!  I'm sure I'll have more questions for the next loaf!

Soundman's picture

I'm always a little late on these threads, but I wanted to put in a good word for a scale that works really well. I'm not sure this will work for you, tamraclove, over the pond in the UK, but for any U.S. bakers, King Arthur has a Salter scale they call "Salter Electronic Kitchen Scale" which is good to the gram.

KA says it tested best in their kitchen. It's a little expensive at $59.95, but if that price won't stop you, I recommend it highly. It's very accurate, and it has the nice feature where you can set whatever is already on the scale to 0 and continue weighing more ingredients. Of course it goes easily between metric and US pounds and ounces.

I couldn't locate it anywhere else on the web when I went looking to do a comparison shop. Bottom line, KA is selling an excellent Salter baker's scale.