Artisan Bread (Loaf No. 7)

Since my last post, I received the book Bread Science in the mail, and I’ve baked two loaves of sourdough.

Loaf No. 6 was crap.  I didn’t bother taking any photos of it.

Loaf No. 7 was perfect in my eyes and in my mouth.

My sourdough starter and hot loaf (no. 7) just from the oven

The day that I received the book, I devoured it.  I was a bit disappointed with it.  There’s a lot of science but half of it doesn’t translate through to actually baking at home.  On the other hand, I was able to read between the lines and figure out what I’ve been doing wrong.  So, all in all, the book helped in spite of its holes.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

As I wrote in the previous post, my first mistake was not using a flour with a high enough protein content.  This I learned before I got the book.

My doughs have been too dry.  I tend to add flour during the kneading process to make it non-sticky.  Sourdoughs seem more sticky than other doughs I’ve worked with.  Water and salt are needed to make the gluten form.  In looking at the photos in the book, the author’s dough was pretty wet looking.  She wrote about sometimes needing a dough scraper to get the dough off of the board.

The “window” test is where you stretch the dough into a thin membrane and can see light through it.  I’ve known about the window test, but never successfully got a window.  Between the low protein flour and the dough being too dry, the window would always break.

Today I left a lot more moisture in the dough and kneaded it while it was sticking to everything.  I don’t know how much of difference this makes, but the author doesn’t add the salt until the kneading stage.  Today I did that as well.  And I got a good window!

One thing I’ve always lacked is “oven spring”.  This is when the dough expands in the oven.  Mine has never expanded.  It always stayed the same size as when it went into the oven.  I’ve tried steam and other remedies to no avail.  I think the primary reasons are what I’ve mentioned before.

One thing I learned from Loaf No. 6, is that the author’s oven temperature is way too high for 8300 feet elevation, even with steaming.

For Loaf No. 7, I had a large roasting pan sitting on the bottom of the oven, with about 1/4 inch of water in it.  I also spritzed the dough with water from a spray bottle before sticking it into the oven.  To get oven spring, you need to keep that outer layer of dough soft enough so it can expand.  This all happens in the first 10-15 minutes of baking.  Water, water, water! It’s the elevation because water evaporates so easily.

After 15 minutes I pulled the roasting pan out and let the bread continue baking another 20 minutes (total of 35 minutes for the boule).  My oven was at 375. I checked the internal temperature of the bread at 30 minutes and it was 170.  It should be around 180 or higher.  So, I let it go another 5 minutes.

At this elevation, water boils at 190.  I’m thinking if internal temperature of the bread is over 190, the bread is overcooked and dried out.

Good texture, good flavor, thin but very crispy crust.


This bread is so good, there’s nothing I need to improve.  And now that I have much better handle on the dough moisture while kneading,  it will be much easier to make in the future.

Sourdough bread takes a long time, but not much work.  I let it ferment for about 6 hours after kneading, punching down once.  Then let it rise for two hours once it was in the pie pan.   This sourdough starter seems to make more alcohol than CO2.  That was probably good because the dough kept moist during all that time.

Edited to add:  I just realized that Loaf No. 7 is actually Loaf No. 6.  I counted wrong.  But I’m not changing it.  Seven is lucky after all.


One of the few things I like about the Whole Foods Market,  is their sourdough bread.  They bake it right there in the store.  It’s almost as good as what you can get in San Francisco.  And some batches are superb.

I stopped by after work to pick up a few things and on an impulse decided to ask a bakery worker if they sell their sourdough starter.  Really, much to my surprise he said yes.  He packaged up a dollop of dough for 99 cents and off I went.

About 8 years ago, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to get my own starter going.  And I did get it going and made dozens of loaves over a couple of month’s time.  It eventually turned a shade of green and I discarded it.  It’s hard work to keep sourdough alive and well.  It requires regular feeding like any other creature.  And warmth.

Once I was home with my dollop of starter, I realized I didn’t have anything to keep it in.  Even though I keep buying large canning jars, there’s never enough.  After transferring my oatmeal into a plastic container, had a 2 quart jar that I could use.

I’ve taken the starter and added some flour and water, stirred, and placed it into the jar.  I covered the jar with several layers of paper towels and secured them with a rubberband.  Cheesecloth would be better, but I don’t have any.  I put the jar in a semi-warm place.  Ideally it should be in the lower 80’s, but it’s in the mid-70’s.

With any luck, I might have enough to make bread sometime this Thanksgiving weekend.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.



In its basic form, bread is very simple:  water, flour, yeast and a little salt.  Perhaps that’s why I like baking my own bread, it’s so simple but so nuanced. Beer, which contains similar ingredients comes to mind, too.

I’ve been making my own bread since the invention of the bread machine, ten or fifteen years ago.  I had made bread prior to that, but I wasn’t a fan of the kneading process and the whole process seemed too complicated.  The bread machine taught me a lot of things.  I think the main thing it taught me was there is nothing critical about making bread. Cookbooks always made bread sound more like a chemistry experiment with tightly controlled parameters.  Granted the bread machine does keep track of time and temperature, but that’s just because it can. Bread has been made for many centuries without timers and thermometers. The other thing the bread machine taught me is that fresh bread dough, since it was easy to make, makes a huge difference in things like pizza or cinnamon rolls, and lately I use bread dough in place of pastry dough in fruit cobblers.

But with time, the bread machine’s program kept getting in the way.  It was either kneading too much or too little.  Sometimes I wanted a longer rise time.  There was no way to control these things.  While I still have a bread machine, lately I prefer my food processor and its dough blade for kneading and the old fashioned approach of using bowls and bread pans (depending on the dough sometimes I’ll bake it directly on my pizza stone). With the food processor, I can easily control how much kneading the dough needs and kneading only takes a few minutes at most.

It’s Alive!

I used to think yeast was finicky.  Nah.  It’s simple and not very demanding.  Once reanimated from its powder form, it will live as long as doesn’t get too hot and has something to eat.  Once, I had a sourdough starter I kept alive for nearly 8 months.  And the only reason it didn’t last longer was some other yeast or bacteria started living with it, which didn’t make very good tasting bread.

When the bread is rising, the yeast are busy making baby yeast, eating, belching and making alcohol. This process gives bread its flavor.  I’ve learned not to rush this process.  But it does require some babysitting.  The yeast don’t have legs and once they eat the food in their immediate area, they starve and die unless you “punch down” the bread and redistribute the yeast.  I think what makes bread smell so good while baking is the evaporation of the alcohol made by the yeast.  With the long winters here, I look forward to turning on the oven to warm the house and making a fresh loaf of bread.

My town used to have a bakery that made fresh bread daily.  That was until eating carbs became bad.  I’m here to say that carbs are not bad.  The problem is American’s eat too many carbs, too much junk, too many processed foods.  If you remove the junk and the processed foods, there is plenty of room for bread.  Maybe one day when I’m done being an engineer, I’ll open a bakery/pinball arcade/record store/teahouse.  Hmm… with the exeption of pinball, it sounds like my home.