Woohoo! First real Bread Blog post!

Hey there,

If this is your first time to the new blog, you’ll find several entries detailing my journey into the world of sourdough bread as well as info and suggestions on how to start, feed and use your own starter or one give to you.

I’ll also try to keep up to date with my own attempts at getting bread to rise and bake and, hopefully, taste great.

Before we get too far in though, I want to stress right out of the gate that I‘M NO SOURDOUGH (or even plain) BREAD EXPERT. The info I’m posting here is basically stuff I’ve hunted up on the intarweb recently and if you’re brand new at all this too, know that I’m just a small step ahead at best. What i post here may not be the most definitive techniques and methods and may in fact be somewhat off as I’m just trying stuff out and sharing the steps and results, I’m in no way saying “this is the best way to do X”. All I’m really saying is this is the most logical way I’ve seen so far and we’ll see how it works.

Whew! Now that the pressure is off a bit, let’s get started with some info on feeding and maintaining a starter. I’m going to basically pillage the info I’ve already posted on the site but want to make it so there’s a way to discuss the methods (which there wasn’t with the plain web page, ergo why I’m going bloggish).

So I hope you enjoy and find some of the stuff I post useful, don’t hesitate to add your own comments about what I’m adding here and suggest alternatives and point to sources elsewhere on the net for better, different and maybe even completely contradictory stuff. As I say, I’m just plodding along here and learning as I go.

That said, let’s start up!

Round Four: Spotty results

Made another batch today, still with the same recipe (except halved, didn’t need to burn FOUR loaves again) and this time set the oven to around 425 – recipe wants 475 then turned down to 450 once the loaves are in.

Well, even at 425 and reducing to 400, I’m getting some spotty burning as you can see here:

Round Four loaves: spotty but improving

I think part of the problem is this rack was set at the 2nd level down so a little too close to the top where it was likely a bit hotter. Next time I’ll put it right smack in the middle slot.

The loaves are at least getting to the golden stage without turning near black like the last batch did. And the burned spots here are also where the bread had big pockets so these areas had a very thin bit of dough. Not sure how to fix that other than possibly finding out how to shape the dough better and try to not trap air pockets near the surface.

Now other than the oven temp yet needing to be confirmed and hopefully adjusted, I am still having issues with shaping/rising and getting the loaves to bulk up instead of out. And trying to proof them in a way that getting them out of [whatever, couche, banneton] and into the oven doesn’t cause major deflating. So rice flour is on the shopping list.

All in all, still a work in progress to get a first non-problematic sourdough loaf out.

Round Three: Oven goes hellish

So I’ve been pondering if my oven temp was WAYYY off what with recent pale loaves and little oven rise.

I at this very moment have THREE temperature gauges on the oven. The oven’s electronic/digital thermostat (who knows how “electronic” the actual switches to turn the heat on and off are) is set to 475ºF and this is what I want; of course once it’s set to that and the readout say it’s been reached, that’s precisely where it stays, even though we all KNOW oven temps go up and down a decent bit as the coil heats and turns off. I don’t particularly trust this temp gauge but it is what’s controlling the heater so I have to live with it.

However, I’ve also got a separate basic (and brand new) cheapy coil-type oven temp gauge hanging inside the oven and it’s telling me the oven is standing at about 435-450ºF. Finally, I have an electronic temp gauge, the type you stick into food, on a cord plugged into a battery powered digital reader, this one says the oven is hovering in the 513 – 526ºF range.

So now I’m wondering which of these temps, each varying from the other by 25 to 75º (cheapo oven thermometer to digital), I should presume is closer to accurate.

How DOES one measure an oven’s temp and be sure that what you’re getting is in fact true? I stuck the digital’s probe into boiling water, switched it to Celsius and it read exactly 100ºC, as expected. Can it be off by a lot when it gets up into the 450+F area or should I assume if it read water correctly, it is equally accurate at higher and lower temps?

I’m tired of making poopy bread loaves. Although the dogs like it plenty, I’d like to know that I’m doing things right and I can’t tell if anything in the bread making process (recipe, handling, proofing, etc.) is working well if my questionable oven temp will botch everything up whether the loaves themselves are fine or not.

Any one have words of guidance on this? How do you know if your thermometer is actually telling you the truth or a barefaced liar bent on watching you char your goods?

How in heck did they make bread before the invention of the oven thermometer?!?! I bet they used magic.

By the way, I made the bread using the Wild Yeast recipe (mentioned elsewhere) which makes 2kg of dough enough for four decent loaves, and decided to assume the temp was somewhere in between the three different reading, so I turned the oven down a few and hoped for the best. Well, it was closer, probably by a lot, to the higher 500+ temp and the bread kinda burnt. So the oven decided to go from a little too cool to a lot too hot. What the hell??!?

Well, the loaves were way over-browned anyway with some major black parts on the bottom that needed scraping/cutting off. So we ate one loaf in the next couple of hours. Gotta get rid of the evidence, right? The inside was quite yummy, the crumb very nice, the crust, well, rather hard and thick and over-toasted tasting. Sorry, dogs, you don’t get all mistake breads.

And sorry, I took no pics of the burnt offerings.

At least I’ve got the starter issue and the recipe issue under control now so that take two variables out of the “what the heck happened” equation. I still have rising issues to contend with, in that I need proper couche and/or baskets so I can avoid the dough sticking to makeshift towels and deflating badly.

But it’s starting to turn into separate, obvious sections that are now working well or causing problems and not whirling into one big giant “bread fail” mess. So things are certainly improving.

I’d still like to get a decent oven that heats at the temp – or even close to the temp – I set it at. No easy fix for that, unfortunately, short of winning even a small lottery.

Round Two: Still flat

Well, I’m not going to fuss over where the First Batch messed up, just put this in the “trial run” pile and not admit to making a “real” loaf yet.

So now I’m working up a batch of SF Sourdough from Mike’s website now and it’s already much nicer to work with. Sadly, it’s not given in grams, either. But I KNOW what he assumes his cups to be (120g) so that’s a plus.

So I think THIS will be the “official” first run.

(Insert Jeopardy music here…)

Well, the loaves are now out of the oven and here’s the results…

Mike's San Fran sourdough, I kinda botched it.

They are definitely softer (less seriously “chewy” crust, one hopes) and bigger than the previous attempt. Still rather pale and anemic, however.

I had big problems getting them onto the peel (chunk o’ cardboard) as they had stuck quite well to the cotton cloth I had them covered with, even though it was VERY liberally coated in UAP flour. The moisture from the dough obviously got drawn into the cotton and made glue, removing it caused mucho damage to the loaves’ skin and one definitely lost all it’s lovely, long time built inflation. So I have a sort-of good loaf and another flattish loaf.

This time though, I know where the problem originated – the final proofing step – and can remedy that next time by using parchment paper to rise them on and not need to move them off anything. Perhaps put them under an inverted plastic tub instead of laying a cloth on top so there’s plenty of room for them to increase without contacting anything.

The crumb is a lot less dense than the previous loaf, the crust is decidedly less thick and chewy.

There you go, attempt #2 and not exactly awesome. We’ll see what round three does.

My First Batch

After trying multiple times and for long periods to get a starter started, I finally hit on a success. I used SourdoLady’s Pineapple Starter recipe (except I used OJ) and, lo and behold, foaminess overflowing!! Literally. Twice, even. So after cleaning up the goo off the counter for the second time, it was time to bake up my fist loaf of actual sourdough bread. I know, this is a rather immature starter but IT’S ALIVE!!

I had hunted down what looked like probably a good, simple recipe with few ingredients and little chance of messing it up. I used the Sourdough International’s San Fran Sourdough recipe. Pretty simple: 1/2 cup culture (they expect you’re using their San Fran starter) 2 1/2c water, 2 teaspoons salt and 7c flour

After making up the preferment (1 1/2c flour, 1 c water + the 1/2c starter) and letting it proof overnight, you then add the rest of the stuff, holding off 1c flour to knead in. “Mix in and spoon knead remaining flour, one cup at a time, reserving one cup for the floured board. When too stiff to mix by hand, transfer to the floured board and knead in the remaining flour.”

Hmmm… “When too stiff to mix by hand…” Never got to that one. The dough was soppy and runny and gooey. This can’t be right, I thought, but no, follow the instructions, only add the last cup of flour as you knead it. But it was still runny, only a little thicker than thick pancake batter. maybe once it sits for a few hours… Nope, still wet and extremely soft. Then I remembered that Mike, on his site, says several times not to make your dough stiff, it prefers to be wet. Hmmm… This wet? Naw, it is barely handleable. So I did add another cup or two. But still quite soft. Didn’t want to push it any further. So I made my loaves. Soft, squishy loaves. After they’d sat for about an hour, I popped them onto the pre-hearted stone at 375F (again, strange, most recipes say 450 or so).

40 minutes later, this is what I got:


Rather pale crust and not much rise although a fair bit of spread.

However, it’s quite yummy. Yes, I know, you’re supposed to let your hot loaf sit for a while and it’s best a few days later. But come on, first loaf… had to try it!

So next time around, I’m on the hunt for different recipe unless someone has tips. Probably like “Are you SURE you didn’t just add too much water?!?!” Or maybe my “cups” of flour didn’t match theirs; I was going with 120g cups, maybe theirs was closer to 200? It would be nice if all recipes included gram weight.

Also: How do you store your bread? I dread putting it in a plastic bag and losing the crunch of the crust which is quite pronounced. Should I put plastic and a rubber band around just the cut end? What’s the normal way? What did people do 150 years ago when Baggies weren’t as popular?

Anyway, I also wanted to put out a big thanks to MiniOven and Mike Avery for their help while I was getting frusticated trying to get that insanely tricky combination of flour and water to do what it’s supposed to and failing.I can now safely discard the five different attempts at starter and keep the one that’s alive, alive. (I had also decided, a week back, to order Carls which should arrive sometime soon, so I’ll fire that up and then I can do a side by side comparisson test.)