Better Bread

Better Bread

Ok, know your skills – bakers percentages and dough handling. Know how to prepare and use leaven.

Then, put a known amount of fresh, stone-ground flour on the bench or in your dough trough. Make a well in the center, and put the leaven in the well. With one hand pour a gentile stream of water into the well/leaven, while mixing with the other hand.  Keep pouring and mixing until all the flour is mixed into a stiff dough. Your hand will tell you when the hydration is correct. Knead for a couple of minutes. Cover and let autolyze between half an hour and 3 hours, depending on the temperature.  When it has doubled in volume, knead for 3 or 4 minutes with wet hands, and cover and let rest.  Do three stretch and  folds, adding salt (per baker’s percentage) on the third stretch, then knead with wet hands until smooth, elastic, and it is no longer sticky. It needs to pass the window- pane test. do more kneading or more stretch and folds until it does pass the window-pane test. Bulk ferment, pre-shape, shape, do final rise, slash, and bake.  I bake on a stone in an electric oven.

I have put a whole lot of water in the dough. In a hot (electric) oven the water in the dough will fill the oven with steam. If I add more water to the oven, I am just cooling the oven. Why heat my oven to 450F, and then cool it to 212F by tossing in some water, or worse – tossing in ice?? No, I just heat my oven to to 400F. For a big batch of bread, I put some extra metal in the oven to provide more thermal inertia and deliver more heat to the loaves.  

With white flour or commercial whole wheat, I do baker’s percentages, boom, boom, boom!  With fresh stone ground flour, I have to let the feel of the dough on my hand boss the hydration. And, I must let the dough, and let my eye boss the schedule – even when that means preheating the oven a bit early, so the oven is at the right temperature when the dough is ready to bake.

It has taken me 3-years of experimentation and milling/ baking hundreds of pounds of wheat, rye and spelt to learn how to make better breads than I could make with commercial flour.