My mom makes fantastic bread, and I remember the moment I first asked her for the recipe. Actually, I remember her expression when I asked exactly what the proportions of the ingredients were. A little smile was forming on the corners of her mouth when she said, “I don’t really know.” Since we’re no strangers to humor in all its forms, I thought she was pulling my leg.
Me – “No really Ma, how do you make your bread, I want to try something different.” At the time, I was making a lot of no-knead bread….add the yeast, water and salt to the flour, quickly mix…you’re done. It worked, but the end result wasn’t as good as I knew it could be, so I asked Mom for some guidance.
“I really don’t know,” she repeated, as she looked at me with increasing seriousness…..or maybe she couldn’t believe I was that thick.
Me – “Well how do you get your bread like that?”
Ma – “I work it until it looks right,” was her reply “it’s all by eye.”
Me – “But that’s not good enough Mom, I need numbers, quantities..stuff like that.”
Ma – “Well, I guess a base would be 3 cups flour, 1.5 cups water, 1/4 tsp yeast, and a pinch of salt.”
NOW I had something to work with. A lot of what I’ve done with stone masonry was not learned in a class, it was trial and error…intuition and past experience. That ratio was familiar…3:1 is the common mix for sand & mortar in masonry work.
I could do this, it’s like mixing mortar! Except you don’t bake it. Or eat it. Which reminds me, my dentist in CT used to say what nice teeth I have. That mine weren’t worn out like all the other masons he worked on. Worn out teeth? Are they taste testing the mortar or stones? I had this visual of a bunch of guys standing around the mixer with tasting spoons, commenting on the different subtleties and textures of the mortar….smiling at each other with stubbly, worn out, horse-like teeth. But I digress…
I started experimenting with the basic 3:1 flour/water ratio in the following recipe, and it’s become my current go-to bread and pizza dough recipe. Now, instead of using instant dry yeast, I’m using a wild sourdough starter that was sent to me from a forum friend that lives in Oregon. I’m no sourdough expert, but the starter makes the bread soooo much better. If you don’t have a starter, you can use active dry yeast instead. In a future post I’ll show you how to make your own starter.
While there is no kneading in the process, my method does involve a bit of stretch and fold…but not too much. Someday, I’ll develop and refine my technique further, but for now my bread is pretty good. Hopefully, you’ll think so too.
Remember that even small changes in workflow, temperature and time yield different results, so try and keep track of the differences so you can keep what you like and change what you don’t. All the measurements are volumetric, which to serious bakers, is sacrilegious. True, using weight and percentages will yield a consistency that’s hard to achieve with volume. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make great bread without a scale. My mom is proof of that…her bread is awesome!
The first step is to gather your mixing bowls and utensils. I like glass or plastic for the one that will be for mixing and bulk fermenting. The second bowl can be glass, plastic or stainless, and that’s used to mix the water, starter and salt. You also need measuring cups and spoons, a fork, and a butter knife. Now let’s make some bread!
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 3/4 cups of cool water
- 1/3 cup sourdough starter ( or 1/8 tsp instant dry yeast)
- 1 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- Measure out 3 level cups of flour and put them in the plastic or glass bowl.
- Measure out 1 cup of cool tap water and put it in the second bowl. Refill the measuring cup to about 1/2-3/4 cup of cool water and set it aside.
- Measure out 1/3 cup starter (or 1/8 tsp instant dry yeast) and pour it into the water. Important: this is what ferments your dough. At normal room temperature 1/3 cup is good for our fermentation time. But, if it's cooler or warmer, you will have to adjust the starter amount accordingly...warm=less cool=more. In general though I've been using 1/3 cup and it's good. If you are using dry yeast instead of starter, add that to the water
- Take the measuring cup with the remaining water, and use it to rinse the 1/3 starter cup, then pour it into the bowl. You want all of that startery goodness in your dough.
- Add the kosher salt.
- Take your fork and whisk all the wet ingredients together until starter (or yeast) is dissolved and the top is frothy.
- Pour your wet mix into the flour.
- Use a butter knife to mix the dough until it is well hydrated and the gluten starts developing. You'll know it's right when the dough starts sticking to the sides of the bowl. Timing wise, I'd guess around 5 minutes, but as Mom would say, "I'm not sure, I mix until it looks right."
- Once you get the right consistency, cover the bowl tightly with cling wrap or press and seal so no air gets in - this prevents a hard skin from developing over the surface of your dough.
- Store the covered dough in a cool place for at least 12-14 hours or until it has doubled.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured surface.
- Pinch a handful of the dough and stretch it away from the mass. Fold that into the center and press down gently to stick it. Continuing stretching and folding in different directions until you've formed a ball.
- Once you have a firm dough ball, gently pick it up and flip it over onto the floured surface. Now, working in a circular rotation and tucking the edges of the ball under at the same time, form the loaf into a nice round shape. You are now ready for final fermentation or Proofing.
- One easy way to proof your dough is to line whatever pan you are baking the bread in with parchment paper before placing the dough ball in it. Then cover it loosely and let it rise for an hour or two before baking.
- I recently started using a brotform, which is a cane basket used for proofing. If you are using a Brotform for proofing, be sure to flour it well before adding your dough, then cover loosely and allow it to rise 1-2 hours.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (F.) Yet again, you can play around with this. I've gone to 450 and even 475 depending on how the dough is. Wetter dough will respond better to higher heat. Start at 400, and experiment with what works the best for you.
- If baking in your wood fired oven, use an IR gun to check the temperature before baking. In my experience the best time to bake bread in a WFO is the next day after you've fired it the night before, when the temperature is between 400 and 450 degrees F.
- If using a bread pan, slash the top of the loaf a few times and then place in the oven and bake for about 45- 55 minutes.
- If you used a Brotform to proof your dough, turn the basket over a sheet tray lined with parchment to release the dough. Then blow off any excess flour, slash it, and bake the same as above.
- Check the bread at 45 minutes and look for the desired color. Generally, a deep caramel color is a good indicator that the bread is done. Most of the time this bread doesn't need more than 55 minutes.
- When your bread is done, remove the loaf and place it on a cool surface. The parchment paper prevents any sticking, and helps make a nice crusty exterior to the bottom of the bread.
- Let the bread cool for at least 15-20 minutes before slicing, then break out the KerryGold butter and have at it.
I definitely still have a lot to learn about bread! I’m no expert baker, but this method is easy and produces a great loaf of bread every time.
We’ll explore more techniques and styles down the road, and if you have something you’d like to share be sure to join our forum! There’s a dedicated bread section, and you’re more than welcome to share pictures and techniques. Just don’t ask my Mom how she does it. Trust me, she doesn’t know.
Don’t forget to enter our Blackstone 1575 Outdoor Oven Giveaway this month for your chance to win this awesome prize and be the envy of all your neighbors!