The Bread I Make

February 28, 2020 § Leave a comment

Let’s start this off by saying there are a lot of ways to make bread, and I suppose by “ways to”, I really mean “recipes for” making bread, because really there are a limited number of ways to actually make it.

It all starts with a recipe, and then you can experiment and add your own variance. The recipe I have been following lately starts with:

  • 700g Hard White Wheat Flour (King Arthur’s Orange Bag)
  • 300g Hard Red Wheat Flour (King Arthur’s Red Bag)
  • 1/2C Coarse Wheat Bran*
  • 800g H2O @70F
  • 200g Starter
  • 20g Kosher Salt
  • 1C Seed Mixture

* I mill my own flour from Hard White and Hard Red Wheat Berries, and therefore I get all the Bran I need from that.

The key to this recipe is it is what is called an 80% hydration recipe, as in there are 800g of water to 1000g of flour. There are some reasons I run at this level of hydration:

  1. Working with whole wheat flour this absorbs more water
  2. The Seed Mixture absorbs water
  3. I like a moister finished product

If I didn’t add the seed Mixture, then perhaps I would drop this to 75% ratio. If I changed to King Arthur’s All Purpose (White Bag), or Bread (Blue Bag) I might also drop the ratio. If I change the ratios of the flours, I might adjust the hydration. The Red Wheat will take more water than the White.

What doesn’t change? 200g of starter, and 20g of salt. I suppose you have figured out that this basically produces 2 1kg masses of dough to make two boules. I have never produced anything other than Boules, and so don’t know how many Baguettes this would produce, or if you went to a longer basket, but I suspect 1 kg in a longer narrower basket will be the same.

Why are my measuring systems mixed? The important measurements are in metric because it’s easy to figure out the ratios that way. I always want my flour to add up to 1kg, and I want my water ratio related to that. If you need to add Bran to the recipe, then 1/2 C +/- is fine. The seeds? It’s an amount, and not so much weight related, though you don’t want to add so many that the dough can’t support them.


Since I listed starter, this should be a give away that I am making Sour Dough where I maintain an active sour dough starter. Twenty four hours prior to your bread making exercise you need to prepare your starter. You can wait longer if you have a proofer setting on your oven, but if you are limited to the temperatures of your home, then 24 is needed.

Remove your saved left-over starter from the fridge, and discard all but 1/4 to 1/2 a cup. Some say all you need is 2 TBS. To this add equal parts All Purpose flour, and water. I use 200g of each, which means that when I use 200g in my recipe, I am leftover with 200g to save in the fridge. Cover and put in as warm a place as you can find in your house and it should be ready the next day. In the summer this usually fares better than the winter. I have a proofer setting on my oven, so I usually do this step the night before, and use the starter the next morning.

I said “discard”, but of course you don’t really have to throw it all away. You can give it away for others to make bread. You could take some of it and mix it into a pancake or waffle recipe, and let that ferment over-night for some tasty-assed and light pancakes/waffles. Your choice.


Combine flour, bran and H2O until all the flour is moist. You can use your hands, or put in your mixer. I put it in my mixer, and I use the batter blade to start because my mixture is pretty wet to start with, and the dough hook just doesn’t get it all mixed together quickly. If you work in lower hydration ratios, then you can start with a dough hook.

Cover and let the flour hydrate for at least 20 minutes. This gives the flour time to absorb the water, and it gives the yeast in the starter a chance to awaken and say “Holy Shit! There is a lot of food eat. I need to start dividing so I can get down to consuming.”

Once that 20 minutes has passed, add your seeds and salt, and work the dough. In a mixer with a dough hook run it for at least 5 minutes, maybe as much as 10. We are starting to develop the gluten. If you work it with your hands, work it in the bowl, by reaching down and pulling up from the bottom, the dough, and push into the center. This will help distribute the salt and seeds evenly. Your hand (You only need to use one) are going to get very sticky, but just keep working it. When you are done, use a scraper to free your hand from its casing and return that stuff to the dough. Scrape the sides of the container, and cover and let sit.


This is the part where there can be a wide range of interpretations, but I will stick to what I have been doing lately. I have a proofing setting on my oven, so I cover and place my dough in the oven. If you don’t have a proofing setting (it keeps the oven at 100F which is cooler than most Lowest settings), then again find that warm part of your house, and set it there. Here, it may be important what kind of vessel you proof in. A metal bowl may not hold the heat all that well, and you may benefit from transferring the dough to an oiled wooden bowl. By Oiled I mean use a paper towel and lubricate the bowl with Olive Oil.

When the dough has doubled in size, you are ready for the next step.

One of the variations here is that for higher hydration breads, there are some who work the dough every 15-30 minutes. What that means, is that they would wet their hand, and then reach down the side of the bowl and grab dough from the bottom and pull it up the side and over the top. They would repeat that working their way around the bowl twice, turning the bowl 1/8 of a turn. What is going here? This tends to do two things. 1) it keeps fresh food in contact with the yeasties; and 2) it is said to help develop the gluten better. If you are like me, who starts this in the morning, puts the dough in the proofer and then goes to work, you can’t very well follow this procedure. Doing this, you will never see the dough double in size, so you do it for 3-4 hours and then move to the next step.

Next Step

With your dough doubled in size, or having been worked for 3-4 hours now it is time really work the dough, and help develop the gluten. The goal of this step is working the dough to develop a nice a skin on the dough. Something that will support the structure of the bread.

Turnout the dough onto a floured surface. I use regular all purpose here, but I suppose you could use other varieties. Roll up your shirt sleeves, and begin. I usually start with one hand, but the choice is yours. I reach over the dough and grab the end furthest from me and pull that up and over the dough and then push it into the rest with my palm. I give the dough a quarter turn, and repeat. Over and Over, and Over. Make sure you move the dough around the floured surface to pick up enough of the flour to keep the surface from getting too sticky. You may need to add more flour to your kneading surface.

Work the dough for 5-10 minutes. All this time you should be seeing the skin develop. In recipes with less whole wheat, this skin gets pretty pronounced. In the whole wheat recipes, such as this, less pronounced, but it is there. This is also working air into the dough. After time is up, it is time to divide the dough. Eyeball it as best you can, but if you have a scale, then weigh each and move excess from one dough ball to the other until they are close enough equal in weight.

Now, for each ball, repeat the working a little more. Start by folding the dough along the cut/divided edge into itself, again pulling the dough and folding it up, over and pushing into the rest. Turn the dough and repeat. At some point, fold the entire piece of dough in on itself, and shape into a ball and set aside, while you work the other ball.

When both are done, cover with a towel, and let sit one hour.

After the hour, work each ball again repeating the steps above. Reach over, grab dough and pull up and over and push in. Rotate 1/4 turn Repeat. Again this is developing the skin. At some point pull sections and weave overlapping sections of dough, and then fold the whole thing in on top of itself again and form the ball. With the ball formed there should be a defined bottom, and place that on the counter, and then you do something you will have to google the procedure to see what I mean, but basically you cup your hands over the dough, and pull the dough towards you, rotating the dough as you pull it. The rotational axis for that rotation is perpendicular to the table surface. The table should be grabbing the bottom of the dough and adding tension to the skin.

Second Proofing

This is where the proofing baskets come into play, if you have them. Put your formed dough balls into your proofing baskets upside down. If your baskets are lined with cloth, then you should be fine. You can sprinkle it and spread white rice flour, but that isn’t really necessary. If your baskets are not lined with a linen cloth, then you should “season” your baskets with white rice flour to keep the dough from sticking to the basket.

Cover the baskets, and proof until they are doubled in size. Depending on a proofing setting in oven and your home this could be 2 or more hours more. More if you are relying on room temperature.

Running out of Time?

If you are running out of time, and don’t want to be up all night, then cover baskets and stick into the fridge. This does two things. The first is it slows the fermentation, and gives the lactic acid more time to develop which will lead to a more sour tasting bread. The second is that if you can only bake one loaf at a time, then it allows to stagger the loaves when you remove them from the fridge. Stagger them by an hour, which is the amount of time it takes to bake one loaf and have the oven get back to temperature.

No Proofing Baskets

If you don’t have baskets, then proof on parchment paper, and cover the dough as best you can to keep it from drying out.


Finally the bake!! Assuming you don’t have a wood fired brick oven, the best thing to get a terrific crumb on your Sourdough is to use a cast iron dutch oven, or baking stones. The reason is they concentrate the raditation directly upon the surface of the bread, which is where you want it. In addition, and this is truer for higher hydration ratio breads, it traps the moisture in the vessel keeping the crumb from forming too soon.

I know it sounds a little contradictory, but the first part of the bake is a bring the dough to baking temperature and allowing the dough to expand more before the crumb restricts that growth. Trapping the moisture helps with that. In a commercial oven the baker will mist the oven with extra moisture often.

Place your Dutch oven, or stone into a cold oven, and pre-heat to 500F. That is pretty fuggin hot, so you better have really good mitts, or really good pot holders. I use Dutch ovens, and the pot holders work fine.

When the dutch oven reaches 500F, then turn one boule out onto a piece of parchment paper. Use a razor blade to score expansion slits into the bread. Get creative, but you should have at least one that spans most of the top surface. Using the parchment for support, pick the boule up and transfer it to the open Dutch oven that you safely removed from the oven without burning yourself. Cover, and again carefully place the 500F Dutch oven back into the 500F oven and close the door. Immediately change the temperature to 450F, and set a timer for 22-24 minutes. I err on the longer than 20 minutes for this stage. Don’t forget (it’s easy to) to drop the temperature. If you do not, you will burn the bread.

After the time has expired, open the oven door and remove the lid to the Dutch oven, and close the door. Set the timer for 18 minutes.

After this timer expires, you can make a judgement call on whether your boule needs more time. Generally it’s ready at this point, but I don’t think an extra two minutes will hurt anything. Remove the dutch oven from the oven, and then using something, lift out the boule and place it on a cooling rack.

Place the covered Dutch oven back into the oven, and pre-heat back to 500F and repeat for the second loaf.

Loaves need to cool for at least 30 minutes before you cut into them. With the high hydration ratio, there is a lot of moisture in the bread, and unless you have a decent bread knife, the internal structure will not have “set” enough to support slicing any deeper then end pieces. So be patient.

Seed Mixture

I consulted an acquaintance to find out what seeds he added to his breads, and he sent me this link. Cracked wheat and rye (this is grain milled with a very coarse setting), sunflower, sesame, and flax. It’s called “Super”, and it is pretty super. So I ordered a 5 pound bag, which wasn’t too expensive, but the shipping was almost equivalent to doubling the cost. So I started going to Whole Foods, as they seemed to have the largest selection of bulk everything I could find. As it so happens, they don’t have cracked rye, nor do they even have bulk rye, so I can’t buy some and simply coarse grind it myself. However they do have everything else, and lately I substituted Hemp meat (the meat part of the Hemp nut), and it is fine.

A little bit to say about seeds in a recipe. I have read recipes where they suggest you “hydrate” the seeds. If you do this, you will have to alter your hydration ratio, if you want to maintain the same moisture level in the final dough as this recipe.

For lower hydration ratios, as in the first recipes I followed, 65%, I would hydrate the seeds, if you want to add them, because they will extract too much moisture from the dough.

Hydration Ratios

How hung up should you get about hydration ratios? I would say that all depends. There has been a trend that has led to higher hydration ratios in artisan breads. Let’s be clear, it is not uncommon, to have a 100% hydration ratio. That will be a very wet dough, and it may not hold it’s shape sufficiently to be baked freely in a baking vessel other than a bread pan. Banana bread is a bread with a near 100% hydration.

Higher hydration ratio breads lead to moister final breads. What is right for you? That is what experimentation is for.

Benefits of This Bread

I have heard it argued, that gluten intolerance in many people is really an intolerance to many of the preservatives that go into commercial flours and further into commercial bread production. There is a lot of latitude between the bread described above, and whole wheat, or whole grain bread you find on the shelves of your local super market. For one, the cultures used in this bread are active yeast cultures, that play into the story told about using active yeast cultures in a lot of food. Read that as Kumbucha, and pickled home canning operations that use fermentation to preserve and create complex organisms that our gut likes. That make our gut healthy in ways our gut has never been healthy. I have read that people who have a reaction to gluten, either don’t have a reaction to this bread, or that their reaction is not the same.

Another reason this bread is good for a lot of Gluten resistant folks is because this bread has the entire wheat product in it. What does that mean? Well, we mentioned the bran, but there is also the germ, which means that the heart of the nutrients that make it possible for a wheat berry to sprout and become a wheat stalk is in the germ. That is a lot of vitamins that you don’t find in commercial flour. In some commercial flours, they even grind off the outer hull (bran) and a little berry, so that the resultant flour is whiter. When flour is advertised as “unbleached white” that is the process. All that processing removes valuable nutrients.


First and foremost, my number one go to book on bread is Tartine by Chad Robertson. Chad has researched “wet” (high hydration ratio) sour dough recipes all his professional baking life. If you are ever in San Fran, you must visit his and his wife’s bakery. Phenomenal!

Sure there are a lot of bread books out there. I started with a book loaned to me by a friend, Breads from La Brea Bakeries by Nancy Silverton. There are techniques I still follow from her pages, but the simple white sour dough at 65% hydration, I haven’t made in a couple of years. I migrated to Chad, and never looked back.

Breadtopia is a good online site for supplies. Baskets, stoneware and other accessories are available.
Baking Vessels
Baskets – Coiled Rattan, the largest they have is 8.5″ which will work. I found 9.5 to 10″ is better, but that may depend on what sized baking vessel you actually have.
Covers – I went to CVS or Walgreens and bought shower caps. Perfect!!!
Scoring – Again, go to CVS, or Walgreens and by a package of single blade safety razors. Then go to Starbucks and take some wooden stirrers. Slip a stirrer between the openings in a razor blade and you have a scoring device.
Gloves ? – I have heard these are good.

I also use Pleasant Hill Grain, but I mostly order bulk wheat berries from them. I will also order bulk rye.

Rye Flour

Rye flour has about the same characteristic, other than a lower gluten content, as whole wheat, and can therefore be used 1 for 1. So for the recipe above I could have substituted Rye flour for the Hard Red.


Do you need to mill your own flour? More than likely not. One thing to note is that it is not done for economic reasons. You will actually pay more because, you will need a decent mill, and having grain delivered to your home in bulk isn’t cheap.

I went cheap, $99 and bought the kitchen aide attachment which is engineered as two steel plates. The grind from this is fine enough for bread, but I am still trying to figure out if I can get finer out of it by passing the ground flour through it again. I didn’t think this would make the flour finer, but I did regrind the entire amount on my last bake, and I think it was finer. I had much better activity during proofing than was normal for the flour from this milling device. I am reasoning, that a finer mill, is more surface area, and therefore more fuel for the yeast.

What I wish I bought, and I may still, is the Mock Mill for Kitchen Aide. Mock pretty much sits atop the heap of home milling machines. I have a Kitchen Aide Pro, and so the compatible mill makes sense at $199. Their bread and butter stand-alone device is a $500 counter top mill that is the gold standard in mills. Mock mills fine flour, and submitting it again for further refinement yields finer yet. So getting pastry flour out of these mills is possible.

So, why mill your own? The main reason is freshness. When you buy bulk wheat berries, you are buying the freshest source of flour. Once the berry is milled, it begins to breakdown. That is why preservatives are added to commercial flour.

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