The Bread I Make

February 28, 2020 § 4 Comments

Republishing this with some updates.

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.

Starter

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.

Process

When I first wrote this, I was using the kitchen aide miller attachment in my mixer, and because of this, my milled flour was not nearly as fine as the flour you get when you open a bag purchased from your local market. In fact it wasn’t even close. It was like very fine grit, but it wasn’t like flour. The result of this, is I had issues with gluten development, which I had not really worked through. I am still not really sure what needs to be done using that “flour” to get decent bread, but I decided an experiment was needed. Since my main ingredient was hard white wheat, and I possessed a bag of King Arthur Orange which is milled hard white wheat, I would use the KA instead of my own, and got through the steps. I only had to do it once, and really I knew about 2 hours into the process that my results would be vastly different. Spend some time, and use google to sample some videos. For example, Pro Home Cooks has some bread videos, where you can see clearly what the consistency of the dough with decent gluten development looks like, and that is what I got when I used the KA flour. I only had to play this game once. The next day I ordered the Mock Mill Lino 100, and when it was delivered, I milled Hard White Wheat that was equivalent to, and behaved the same as the KA milled wheat. It isn’t a cheap mill, but it is a very very nice mill. After purchasing, and posting an IG review of my new mill Paul LeBeau, a partner in Mock Mill, reached out to me, to inform me that an assumption I made about the Mock Mill 100, was wrong, and that it too can mill very fine flour. For me, that model was out of stock, and the Lino was in stock, and I wanted my mill NOW, so that is the mill I bought. So, if you read my piece once before, I am editing it to reflect my updated practices.

Combine water and starter in one bowl, and stir to dissolve the starter in the water, and then add to the flour, bran and mixture 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. This is called the autolyse stage where the flour primarily hydrates by absorbing the water. If you mix by hand, you can feel that it is simply wet flour, but the flour doesn’t get super sticky yet. That is one of the reasons that the dough hook is less effective at higher hydration rations.

Cover and let the flour hydrate for at least 15-20 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 time 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) may get pretty sticky, but just keep working it. If it is all wheat flour, that stickiness should be tolerable. When you start adding other flours, rye for example, that contain less gluten forming proteins, then it will get very sticky. 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. A note here, is that if you use you hand, you should feel a significant difference between the initial wetting of the flour, and now. 20 minutes does a lot.

Proofing

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.

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.

Every time you work the dough, it should be obvious that the texture of the dough is changing each time. It is becoming more elastic. The dough is becoming more aerated, and lighter. The key to the folding is not to push that air out of the dough. It is simply to grab the dough from the bottom, and pull it over the top. Doing it you can almost feel that it is adding tension to the dough as the gluten develops. There is no need to push the pulled over dough down into the ball. Simply rest it on top. Do this four or five times turning the bowl 90 degrees each time.

Every time you do this, the dough will be stretchier, lighter, and more aerated.

At some point leave the dough alone and let it go through it’s bulk rise. In the proofing oven, this won’t take long, at room temperature, another couple of hours.

A note about the proofing temps. If you are proofing at room temperature, which I think would be independent of summer, winter, as in winter we heat to 68-70F and in Summer we cool to 70-72F, that temperature is a lot cooler than the 100F in my oven set to proof. This means that my times for proofing are a lot faster. So, at room temperature, working the dough for a couple of hours, every 15 minutes, and then letting it bulk rise for 3-4 hours means this part of the process can take 5-6 hours, or more. This does depend on catching your SD starter at the right point in its re-development. For the rest of this presentation, when I start the next phase, I will NOT use the proofing oven any longer, and so those times will be unaltered.

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

Next Step

I am changing up this step, from my Kitchen Aid mill, where I needed to work/knead the dough a lot, but now, this part of the process has become a lot simpler.

Turnout the dough onto a lightly to possibly not floured surface. The bench scraper is going to be your friend here if you have one, and the key is you do not want to introduce too much flour to the dough. In fact, with the bench scraper, you can get by without additional dough, but maybe it depends on the surface. My counter top is stone, so I started going flourless here. In any case just enough to keep it from sticking to the surface. I use regular all purpose here, but I suppose you could use other varieties.

Empty the dough onto your work surface. If that surface is floured consider the floured portion to be the “outside” or the “top” for now. Divide your dough into two equal portions. Use a scale if you must, but get them as equal as you can. For each half, the exposed cut is non-floured, if your surface was floured, but either way, you want to grab the dough and stretch it out so that the cut side is facing up, and open the dough a bit here. The gluten should be developed enough now so you should be able to do this without ripping the dough. The dough is going to rectangularish after the cut, so stretch out the long side to make the dough about 10-12″ wide, and stretch top and bottom to about 15-20″ if possible. It doesn’t have to be that stretched.

Now, take the bottom 1/3 of the dough closest to you, and lift and fold it over the next 1/3 leaving a 1/3 at the top. Take the right 1/3 of the dough and fold it towards the left over the next 1/3, again leaving 1/3 on the left exposed. Repeat for the left over the right, except you will pull this over the entire 1/3 package. Now take the top 1/3 and bring it towards the bottom. This doesn’t have to come all the way to the bottom, but when you are done it should still be taller than it is wide. Now take the dough closest to you and, depending on how much dough you have, either roll it onto itself, or simply fold it up and over the top, and position the dough ball so that this seam is table side down. Here is where the bench scraper works really well, and if you didn’t use any flour, it works even better. Use the bench scraper in your dominant hand and work your way around the dough ball shaping the dough into a ball. The angle between the scraper and the table is a low angle, and every time you shove it under the dough, it grabs some of the dough and builds tension. Keep rotating the dough ball and go around the dough ball multiple times. You should see the tension develop. Put this dough ball aside, and repeat with the other dough until both are ready to sit.

When both are done, cover with a towel or plastic, and let the dough sit for 20 minutes or so to rest. This will relax the dough.

After the rest, you will need to go through the folding process again, just like the last time. Use the bench scraper to invert the dough ball, and stretch the dough out again, and repeat the folds. When it comes to shaping, then if boule is your desired shape then repeat the whole bench scraper routing for adding tension, and you can finish it off with your hands cupping the dough ball and pulling the dough across the counter surface, while rotating the ball. You can find videos on You-Tube that show people doing this. It just adds tension to the dough ball.

If you are doing some other bread shape, oval say, or baguettes (I am not discussing baguettes any further), then continue to use your bench scraper and concentrate on shaping into oval shape. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

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 so the bottom of the dough ball is facing up. If your baskets are lined with cloth, then you should be fine. You should liberally sprinkle white rice flour, to keep the dough from sticking to the linen. The wetter the dough, the more likely this is to occur. 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. Over time there develops a buildup of flour, that does a great job of keeping the dough from adhering to the basket walls.

Cover the baskets, and proof until they are doubled in size. I don’t do this in the oven any longer, as it happens too quickly, and really you do want to drag it out a bit so richer sour dough flavors develop.

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. In fact, I would recommend proofing on parchment paper, inside your dutch oven(s). If you only have one, then it is hard to proof two dough balls. Anyway, the DO will contain the dough, and it wont simply flatten out. It will lead to a better shaped boule after the cooking is complete.

Baking

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. This results in the “Oven Spring” where the dough can expand quite a lot. Trapping the moisture helps with that. In a commercial oven the baker will mist the oven with extra moisture often, or they have hydration trays in the oven that are heated to the full temperature of the oven, and then water is added to them.

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.

Note, if you used your DO as your proofing basket, then simply leave it in the DO, and pre-heat the DO as already stated, except you can score your dough before you start pre-heating. When the oven reaches 500F, then turn the temperature down to 450, and follow the timing below.

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. The key here is that the total amount of time the bread is in the oven is about 40 minutes. So that could 20/20, 23/17, 25/15, or even 30/10. Experiement!

After the initial time has expired, open the oven door and remove the lid to the Dutch oven, and close the door. Set the timer for your second amount. Usually 17-18 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. It is really the color you are looking to get right. If you smell anything like “burning”, then that isn’t right, and that is too long, but if you followed the directions, that won’t be your issue. A dark copper color is the goal. 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 if you only have one DO.

Loaves need to cool for at least 30-45 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.

Resources

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 much 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. Rye flour recipes can be up to 1 to 1 against the wheat flour. because of the lack of gluten in rye, you are working the wheat for all the gluten development, but it will be a much stickier dough.

Milling

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.

I stated earlier in this re-post that I have purchased a very fine counter top mill from Mock, and it really is worth the money if you can afford it. I am pretty sure that Mock Mills kitchen aide will give very good results, so I don’t want you to think you need to spend $500 on a fine flour mill. But DO NOT buy the Kitchen Aid Mill. It is not adequate.

COVID 19

I am going to add another section here that wasn’t here before that addresses my observations since we implemented social distancing and followed stay at home orders. I started baking bread two years ago, and along the way I picked up some converts. I always made two loaves, and I always gave one of the loaves away, whether that was to a friend, or I simply brought it to work where it has factored into a feeding frenzy until the loaf is gone. Some times it doesn’t take more than an hour. I gave a few people samples of my starter so they could experiment with the process, and that was the main inspiration for this page.

So, now along comes COVID 19, and everyone is stuck in their home with a lot of time on their hands, even if they are working from home. This has resulted in an explosion of interest in baking bread, and specifically sour dough bread. The flour shelves at your local market emptied, and all the major online providers of supplies are out-of-stock on many of the basic needs. Re-stocking may not occur until June of July in some places. I see my Instagram feed filled with more and more bread making posts as more and more experiment. Once you have this bread, there is no going back.

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