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Homemade bread

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Ok...ok. So I'm a little late to the party.

I've never really got into baking before. But the last two weeks I've been making my own bread. I've just been so underwhelmed at almost everything I buy at the stores. In the past two weeks I've made a ricotta bread and a couple of milk breads (I think that's what they were called)

Well...I'm hooked! I still won't be baking bread every single day. But I can see baking bread a couple of times a week. My next task will be to follow the French bread instructions at The Fresh Loaf.

Does anyone have suggestions for a newbie? I do Have a Kitchen stand mixture and a large Cuisinart, but I'm not opposed to kneading the dough as I have been. Especially if that may help me learn and feel something I knead to know.

post #2 of 22
Danger, Will Robinson, Danger. Bread making can become an obsession.:look:

Plus, when you do get heavily into it, you'll be learning a whole new language.

Let me recommend that you get a copy of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It's the best book I know of to help you learn what bread making is all about.

For years, when I baked bread, I slavishly followed recipes, without a clue what I was doing. BBA changed all that. Been baking seriously, now, about two years with increased confidence. I figure, given another 20 years or so, I'll be able to call myself a baker.

As you get more into it you'll find a scale is indispensible. I don't want to open the weight vs volume argument, because, for the home baker, it's a silly discussion. But once you start weighing stuff you'll never go back.

Another tip: Start buying yeast in bulk. Those little envelopes tend to get expensive. You can store the yeast in either the fridge or freezer with no ill effects. And I'd recommend using instant yeast instead of the dry active.

Hand kneading has several advantages, not the least of which is that it's theraputic. But it also teaches you what dough is supposed to feel like. Once you've developed that feel (and it doesn't really take long), and learn a few tricks like windowpaning, no bread formula will be intimidating.

Even so, there's nothing wrong with using a stand mixer. If you do, cut the suggested kneading time in half.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #3 of 22
Dan -

what KYHeirloomer said; in spades.

however I will open the weight vs volume issue for the home baker because it is important and it is not a silly thing - the 'thing' is called consistency. one week you do X and it works, next week you do X and it doesn't work. hmmmm, could be a reason.....

you'll find threads here where an expert chides a people because just a few points difference in hydration makes a world of difference. a bit later the same expert tells some poor soul asking how much does a cup of flour weight that it makes no difference - 5, 10, 15% difference is not an issue.
over in the pros section you'll find bakers tossing their min. resolution 5 gram scales for 1 gram resolution scales - gosh, apparently "accuracy" may actually "count" to a body that really does bake.

also, find a bread flour your like, stick to it. they control their standards - switching brands at every corner is not conducive to "consistent"

yeast: amen. I buy yeast only by the jar; keep it in the freezer - lasts until it's gone - forget about expiration dates - well, plus/minus a couple years....anyway.

ref kitchen stand mixer: more specifics needed. got dough hook? paddles don't git it; needum' dough hook & big motor... otherwise, it's a arm-saver...

outside of "air conditioning season" I bake once-twice a week, one to four loaves depending on recipe and which neighbor needs to loaf a bit more. I've done simple - ie no-knead stuff - to fifty gazillion step french recipes, to Joy of Cooking plain white bread.
if it's got a crust, I'll eat it; if I like the crust, I wanna bake it . . .
post #4 of 22
I agree 100%:roll:
I've always loved to bake, but only occasionally baked bread.....until recently, when I became interested in sourdough. I am hooked! I love the feel of the dough and do indeed find it therapeutic. I've got a ways to go before I bake the "perfect" loaf, but I'm turning out some pretty tasty bread, biscuits, pancakes and pizza crust. My neighbor laughed that everytime she sees me I'm covered in flour :D
post #5 of 22
I couldn't agree more with KYHeirloomer and Dillbert. The only other thought I have is to stick with a few formulas at first and get really comfortable with them. IMO, you will develope a better sense of what the dough for that formula should feel like during every stage of production. Later as you start to expand your repretoire(sp?) you will have abetter understanding of the differences in each product type.

Also once you get a formula and its production down pat you will be amazed at how little time you really need to spend on baking your own bread.
post #6 of 22
Some thoughts,

I think you meant to say you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer... If so, generally no hurry to replace it with "something better." If you hit its limitations and need the next size up, or decide you want a Cuisinart or DeLonghi -- plenty of time to discuss it then. The exception comes when you plan on acquiring a lot of the attachments. You've got to decide on a brand then, because they don't swap out.

FWIW, KA has a new, spiral dough-hook which is better than the old "C" shape. Look into replacing yours if it's the old type.

Your Cuisinart food processor may or may not be of of a lot of use to you in baking. I hardly ever use mine.for breads. It puts too much heat into the dough. amd too much stress on flour glutens for most kneading purposes.

Most professional bread baking reicpes are based on a specific notation which involves the weight of the addition, expressed as a percentage, compared to the weight of the flour expressed as 100%. So, if you're going to be baking in professional quantities, you really need a scale. If not ... well a scale in the kitchen is a good thing and I'm not going to discourage you from buying one. Besides it's becoming increasingly common for home size, two-loaf recipes to be written by weight -- especially on hardcore sites like The Fresh Loaf. (Great site! Isn't it?).

On the other hand, you don't need to stop baking until Santa (or whomever) brings yours. A scale is by no means necessary to bake excellent bread; nor, for that matter are fantastically accurate measuring cups or even great care in using them. What is necessary is that you develop a sense of what the dough should look and feel like at any given stage of its development.

For most break baking the only really critical measurement is the yeast -- you have to have a good idea of how much flour you're using so you can get the yeast amount in the ballpark. But ... you know what? If you short the yeast a little, you can make up for it by allowing more rise time and your too-little amount of yeast will reproduce itself into exactly the right size colony.

The lesson being the more you understand and control the process, the better able you are to play with it and make recipes your own -- rather than near imitations of other peoples' baking. I cannot overemphasize the importance of not only using your senses, but trusting them more than the scale, the cup, or the watch. Believe me, people were baking great bread long before digital scales were invented.

Speaking of yeast you can buy small commercial amounts of SAF and Fermipan instant yeast, vacuum packed in about 8 oz packs for far less than you can in jars at the supermarket. These professional yeasts are the most consistent and the cheapest. In fact, they're so cheap you can waste half the bag and still come out several dollars ahead. Pack it in tupperware and keep in the fridge or freezer, it will last quite a long time. BUT... you'll want to play with other kinds as well. and why not.

As to always using the same kind of flour -- not a bad idea if you always want the same bread. Otherwise, not such a big deal. OTOH, always use very good flour. It does make a difference.

Just guessing that the "French bread" recipe at the Fresh Loaf interesting you is a pain sur poolish. IIRC, the recipe also calls for autolysis and limited kneading. It's a great bread to learn to bake. The trick with these breads is more in forming freehand loaves than anything else.

You can get away without using a stone, or ripping apart your oven to get it to steam for awhile. But if you're serious about artisanal crusts, you'll want a bakers stone or a cloche pretty soon. You don't have to set the steamer pan on the oven floor -- even though it works better, it will eventually warp the oven floor (learn from my mistake). Bottom rack is fine for the pan.

I have a recipe for similar, poolish based, pain de campagne (French country bread), which has a little more going on in some ways. It's a bit more technical through the kneading, more time consuming, a bit more forgiving in the baking, and overall a more rewarding bread to eat. I'd be very interested in having someone enthusiastic but not too experienced give the recipe a try to see how the instructions function. For various reasons, I don't want to post it. If (and only if) you're interested, shoot me a PM with your email, I'll send it to you as a PDF. It may take a couple of days though, as my schedule is hectic and uncertain for the near term. Let me make it clear, that if you try it you'll be doing me a favor, and not the other way around.

Also I wrote a poolish type bread, that does well in loaf pans already posted here: Search for "pumpernickel." You might also enjoy the olive bread (ricotta based) and "onion dill bread" (cottage cheese) recipes I wrote and posted on Chef Talk.

Good luck,
post #7 of 22

All In Good Time

Dan, hidden in BDL's post is a basic message: While there are products that make the job easier and more efficient, you should grow into them.

Take the matter of a baking stone, for instance. Do you need one? Absolutely not. Does it help you become a better baker? Absolutely! What the stone does is regulate the oven temperature so it stays more consistent, instead of constantly cycling on and off.

Similarly, does steaming have significant effects on the crust? You betcha. But if you're not quite ready for steaming, so what? Do without. Or spray instead of using a pan to see what happens. All sorts of room to experiment. But even without steaming, you'll make bread that's exponentially better than what you are buying.

While on the subject of crusts, what you coat them with can produce serious differences in the final look and texture of the crust. In Ultimate Bread, another book I highly recommend, there's a wonderful photo spread showing the differences achieved from seven different glazes---ranging from milk, to honey, to a cornstarch slurry.

>yeast: amen. I buy yeast only by the jar; keep it in the freezer <

Certainly a better way to go than those little envelopes. But still too expensive, IMO. I buy yeast by the pound, which seems to be the best balance of cost and supply.

I also buy my flours in 25 pound bags (flours can also be frozen for longer term storage). And whole grain flours should at least be refrigerated). But I'm fortunate in that Wisenberger Mills is a mere 40 minutes away, and I periodically make the drive and stock up.

>Also once you get a fornula and its production down pat you will be amazed at how little time you really need to spend on baking your own bread.<

There are two issues here that might confuse a beginner.

First, notice the use of the word formula. Serious bread makers work from forumulas (BDL aluded to that as well) based on percentages of ingredients against the weight of flour. Most of the other ingredients are inconsequential; the key ratio is hydration. But that's the real reason behind using a scale. All that talk about how moist or dry the flour is is really irrelevent. But, when you're working on a formula (which, btw, is what commercial bakers and serious artisans do) you cannot do the math when you've started with cups of flour.

The second issue is time. While there is a lot of elapsed time from start to finish (some breads take as long as three days), 99% of it is wait time. Which means it doesn't really count, because you can schedule other things between stages.

There's also a psychological element to the question of time. If you told me, a couple of years back, that I'd spend even two, let alone three days makeing a loaf of bread I'd have laughed in your face. Now I'm self-amazed when I use a formula or recipe that lets me go start to finish in one day.

What I'm saying is that the way you view time changes over time.

But the be-all and end all was phrased perfectly by BDL: "The lesson being the more you understand and control the process, the better able you are to play with it."
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
I apologies for not responding sooner. My wife and I put our three kids to bed last night and I plunked down in bed just to lay down for a quick second. Next thing I knew it was morning:rolleyes:

What great information! Thanks go to everyone. I'll give it a more careful read and get back with some questions/comments when I get home.

thanks! (I think this is gonna be fun)
post #9 of 22
Thread Starter 

I appreciate all the comments. Like I said, I've never baked much before. But the results I'm getting already taste so promising.

I do have a kitchen scale and use it when the recipe gives the measurements. (I'll usually measure the flour out and then sift)

I ordered the The Bread Baker's Apprentice thru the ChefTalk Amazon link.

I have noticed that the little packages of yeast are going awfully quick! I'll look into the brands mentioned and also see what my local stores carry.

I've also noticed that my all purpose flour and bread flour are going fast as well. I wondered if different brands of flour taste/perform different. My local stores carry King Arthur, which is what I've been using.

I've got so much to learn about the basics of bread. I do plan to knead my dough by hand to get a feel for things. After that I'll buy the spiral hook for my Kitchen Aid mixer (with the old C-type hook).

I have a large square stone that normally sits on the bottom rack of my electric oven (open element on the bottom). What size pan do I need for a steamer pan?

The bread pans I have are pretty cheap and I haven't used them yet (everything has been free form).


post #10 of 22
Dan, the steamer pan size is pretty much irrelevent. It's so purpose is to provide a humid environment. It's an attemp (one of several techniques) to replicate commercial ovens which have steam injectors.

Most authorities recommend using a cast iron pan for this. I've always been afraid i would warp or crack cast iron, so use an old sheet-metal roasting pan. But I spray as oftenas I use the pan.

As to the weight of flour, you'll get a range of answers depending on who you ask. The authorities I trust seem to average 4.5 ounces per cup, so that's the conversion figure I use. It's not all that crucial, because you'll be adding flour or water as the dough tells you to. But you gotta start somewhere.

I used to use King Arthur bread flour almost exclusively, until realizing that Wisenburger was so close. The only problem I had with it was not being able to buy it in large quantities. As you're discovering, those four and five pound sacks empty out pretty quick. Baking is again coming into its own, and if enough people request it perhaps the supermarkets will again start stocking 25 pound bags.

BTW, when you start buying yeast in bulk: The envelopes of dry active contain 2 1/2 teaspoons. If you switch to instant (aka rapid rise, bread machine, fast rising and probably two or three others) you can cut that back to 2 teaspoons. The envelopes say you can substitute 1 envelope active dry to 1 envelope rapid rise. But it's not necessary to do so, and, in some cases, you could be over yeasting.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
ok...I'm still going thru ALOT of flour! I've yet to find a local source for flour in any decent quantities. So far...without a doubt...BDL's bread has turned out the best. Great crust, nice form...tender tasty inside. I think I'm starting to get a better feel for the dough.

I've been making a few other breads from The Bread Baker's Apprentice cookbook. Today I'm making Challah, I picked this because it is a "one day bread". I've been noticing that most of the breads take two days,which isn't a problem. But I hate to buy store bought bread for those surprise meals.

One last thought. Between my new hobby of making bread I also started to try different butters. I figured the two would go together like...well. Like bread and butter. My thought on this...I need to go on a diet!:blush:

post #12 of 22
Thread Starter 
ok...the Challah is baking in the oven. I made a triple braid...and I have to say that this is silly. It looks so cool! I enjoy cooking and I do love food. But baking bread gives me such a silly since of accomplishment, I just have to laugh at myself.

I'm not one to take a bunch of pictures, which leads me to think that RPMcMurphy should start baking bread. Could you imagine the pictures he would have :lol:

thanks again all!
post #13 of 22
Yes, bread baking is a VERY slippery slope. I just started baking bread in February, and I just purchased my third pound of Instant Yeast. That's a lot of bread, but I must say that I give a lot away to my elderly customers, as well as bake sales and events at my church (17 loaves for the last bake sale). I bake a lot of no-knead breads, and have a small collection of clay bakers just for these high hydration breads.

I still need a few more posts before I can post some links for you as well as pictures of different breads I make.

Keep on having fun, and remember, you can always eat your mistakes!:roll:

Always in search of the perfect loaf of bread.
Always in search of the perfect loaf of bread.
post #14 of 22
You're right, Dan, Peter Reinhart has very few one-day breads. But that's because his whole schtick is delayed fermentation. And that takes time.

With a little more time in grade you'll find ways of shortening the projects. For instance, his pate fermente freezes very well. So you could make a big batch, divide it into loaf-sized amounts, and always have some on hand.

Many of his recipes, too, can produce a good loaf of bread without the long wait. That is, start the preferments in the morning, and use them in the afternoon of the same day. You have to decide for yourself whether or not waiting overnight makes a better bread.

In one case I shaved an entire day off one of his recipes. It's for the Pane Siciliano, which is a three-day affair. I used the entire recipe to make a single large loaf, and baked it the second day, after letting the shaped loaf proof. To my taste it actually came out better than when I've made it over the full three days.

But---and this is the point---when I was as far along as you are now, I would never have considered modifying a bread recipe. But in a relatively fast period, I've developed the confidence to do so. And so will you.

Keep at it!
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #15 of 22
>ok...I'm still going thru ALOT of flour! I've yet to find a local source for flour in any decent quantities.<

Dan, most of the smaller mills do mail order. You might check whether the shipping costs combined with the bulk prices work out better for you. If so, buy at least the bread flour in 25 pound bags, and maybe the AP as well, if you're still going through a lot of it. The same sources usually have bulk yeast as well.

King Arthur and Weisenberger have web sites. I believe Nora Mills does too, been awhile since I checked. But if you google "grist mills" you'll get all sorts of hits.

King Arthur, btw, has some great flour storage containers. I use the large (10 pound capacity) for my working supply of bread flour, and the small (5 pound capacity) for everything else. I've one each for cornmeal, rye, whole wheat, and AP flour. Semolina, is stored in a 1/2 gallon canning jar.

But I'm about to change, cuz I use both whole wheat and semolina more and more. So, I'll get another 10-pounder for the whole wheat, and convert it's container to semolina.

What I do is store my main supply of each flour in the freezer, using that to top off the containers as necessary. Soon as I top off a container with the last of the frozen supply I know I need to get more, and it goes on a list. Periodically I make a trip to Weisenberger and restock.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #16 of 22
How did the challah work for you? Inquiring minds want to know.

post #17 of 22
Inquiring minds want to know.


Try this. Next time you buy a bunch of celery, wrap it in aluminum foil and put into your fridge in vege bin. It will stay crisp and fresh for at least 2 weeks maybe more. Foil seems to have a reaction with it> I am now trying to figure just what it is.
post #18 of 22
One problem I ran into with using my Kitchen aid 600 "profession". I used it alot in my baking and have pretty much ruined the motor. (this after changing internal gears twice; shoulda learned the first time).

Home machines are not built to knead dough regularly, so I only use them for cake batters and cookies now.

<sigh> maybe someday I can afford to buy a small and true "professional" model.

besides, kneading by hand is fun... kinda like gardening is fun to get your fingers dirty.

One hint though, I find it exponentially easier to knead dough using latex gloves. the dough does not stick to your fingers at all, no matter how sticky it is...sure it sticks to everything else...but not me.

Chile today, Hot Tamale!
Chile today, Hot Tamale!
post #19 of 22
Thread Starter 
KYH, I found one store near me that has 25lb bags of AP flour and bread flour. I'll just have to get some containers for them. I'll check out the King Arthur containers.

You keep your flour in the freezer? I may have to look into getting a stand-up freezer:crazy: This is getting out of hand ;) Of course...the freezer could be used for meat as well...and I have an appointment to visit a farm that raises Berkshire pigs tomorrow. It's sounding like a freezer will certainly get it's use.

I made a batch of poolish and I figured I could use the extra for two or three more recipes during the week. Can I freeze this? What's the best way to store it in the refrigerator and in the freezer?

thanks KYH!

BDL...thanks again for the recipe! Did you receive the e-mail I sent you?

The Challah turned out pretty darn good! I did a three braid Challah and it really looked (and tasted) quite impressive. I'm really having alot of fun learning how to cook different breads.

The only thing I made so far that didn't turn out has been Lavash crackers. I think I could have rolled the dough thinner...but it still seemed like something was off. I'll have to try again :bounce:

Hi WheresTheGrub :) Since starting this bread making affair I haven't been using my Kitchen_aid. I wanted to get a feel for the changes that the dough goes thru. Today, while making some poolish baguettes, I used it. I actually preferred doing it by hand. I had a difficult time judging when to add more flour. It just seemed more natural to sweep some flour into the dough while I knead it by hand.

Thanks for your advice!

thanks all!
post #20 of 22
>You keep your flour in the freezer?<

Absolutely Dan. At least my big inventories. That is, if I was starting from scratch with, say, bread flour, I'd buy a 25 pound bag. Ten pounds go into my working container, the rest into the freezer. I leave it in it's original packaging, and put that in a plastic bag.

Flour should be at room temperature when you use it, though. Which is why my working inventory stays out, in those KA containers.

>I made a batch of poolish and I figured I could use the extra for two or three more recipes during the week. Can I freeze this?<

You can, but......here's what Reinhart has to say:

"Poolish, a wet sponge, is easy to make and is best when made fresh each time you need it. It will, however, also be good for up to three days in the refrigerator, and it too can be frozen if you choose to do so."

I think it's indicative that with his Pate Fermente and Biga forumlas he concludes by specifying three days in the fridge or three months in the freezer, but with his Poolish he merely specifies three days in the fridge.

I don't know about the best way of freezing/refigerating. What I do is merely put the preferment in a plastic zipper bag and pop it in the fridge overnight. Personally I haven't frozen preferments, but would probably divide them into loaf-sized portions and freeze in indiviual plastic bags. The question is, how long to defrost, and whether to do it in the fridge or at room temperature. Reinhart doesn't specify.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #21 of 22
You can freeze poolish, either by freezing the whole thing as a lump in a plastic bag; or, by spreading it very thin on a silpat, covering with cling wrap, freezing, then breaking into little pieces and storing.

Defrost by letting it come to room temperature. Ideally, you'll feed it some flour and water as soon as possible (that's where the little pieces make the process easier), to make sure that it's healthy and active before making -- but that adds a few hours to the process so you might as well have just done it the night before in the usual way.

If you keep a poolish going for a few days in most places, it will eventually become a sourdough starter as some subset of heartier yeast species take over the colony.

Starters, poolish and bigas are the darndest things. Most of the time they do what's expected, but they're colonies of living organisms. Life being what it is, sometimes interesteing and/or frustrating stuff happens.

post #22 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks again all!

I ended up using the poolish for another couple of loaves, but I'll keep in mind that you can freeze it.

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