Guide to My Bread Posts

A number of people have expressed interest recently in my experience making bread. I’m happy to talk about it, but I also refer them to my posts here. There are enough of those posts now that I wind up rewriting the same little email about how to get started. Rather than writing the same email over and over, here is a slightly more polished version. [Added 30 July 2018: I have often said that baking bread is what has helped me survive the current political scene; here is a fleshed-out version of that thought, suggesting that it can also help you survive the on-line world that we are consumed by.] Continue reading “Guide to My Bread Posts”

Make awesome waffles (or pancakes) with that extra sourdough starter

We love this waffle recipe. A visitor from Germany said these waffles were the best she’d ever had, and I think of Europeans as knowing their waffles. Don’t tell people how healthy they are, just serve them and tell them later (or not). This is adapted (i.e. mostly copied) from this recipe, but it is doubled and it generally serves 4. When I make one-and-a-half of this recipe (triple the original), it makes exactly 10 waffles on my 8″ Belgian waffle maker. I haven’t tried making pancakes with it, but it’s supposed to work. Continue reading “Make awesome waffles (or pancakes) with that extra sourdough starter”

Ack! I’m not ready to use my sourdough starter!

OK, so someone (maybe me!) gave you some sourdough starter and it is sitting in your fridge. You might want to use it someday… like maybe soon… or maybe not… to make bread. In the meantime, you don’t want it to die. (If you do want it to die, that is OK. Just throw it out.) You also don’t want to wade through that long post about natural leavening. Well, you have come to the right place. Continue reading “Ack! I’m not ready to use my sourdough starter!”

Bread-Making Equipment (with occasional remarks on technique, and a couple of edits, 3 years later)

Compared to photography, or opera, or boating, bread-making is a pretty inexpensive hobby. Nevertheless, there is a somewhat dizzying array of implements available to help (and sometimes hinder) you, all available in a vast range of prices.  Many of the implements have fancy French names, and come to think of it, if you figure it on a per-fancy-French-name basis, bread-making must be about the cheapest hobby there is.

This post describes the equipment I have settled on at the moment as most helpful for me, with some comments. Continue reading “Bread-Making Equipment (with occasional remarks on technique, and a couple of edits, 3 years later)”

Making Bread with Natural Leavening (Sourdough Starter) Needn’t Be Complex or Time-Consuming

OK, let’s get a few things out of the way.  I don’t really like to call bread made with natural leavening “sourdough” because a lot of people immediately turn off, saying, “I don’t like sourdough bread.”  Naturally leavened bread doesn’t necessarily taste sour. The phrase “naturally leavened” is a little leaden and pedantic, so I instead favor the French word “levain,” which sounds pretentious and, uh, pedantic. Oh well, “You pays your money and you takes your choice,” as they say.  “Starter” works pretty well when it’s not ambiguous.

Here are the top six reasons why I bake bread using natural leavening, in rough order of importance:

1. It tastes better.

2. It tastes better.

3. It tastes better.

4. It stays fresh longer.

5. It is healthier (lower glycemic index).

It seems amazing and delightful to me that the only store-bought ingredients in my bread are flour and salt. The water comes from the tap and the yeast comes from the starter, and ever-renewable resource.

Continue reading “Making Bread with Natural Leavening (Sourdough Starter) Needn’t Be Complex or Time-Consuming”

Helpful Books on Bread Baking

tl;dr (that’s internet for “executive summary”): If you want to make really good bread with minimal effort, go for Jim Lahey. If you want the next step after that, so you can make great bread with a bit more effort, go for Ken Forkish.

This post discusses some of the bread books I’ve used, and the pluses and minuses I’ve found. I hope it’s of interest to you, and if you decide to buy any of them I hope you’ll use the links here, because Amazon says they will give me a small kickback.
Continue reading “Helpful Books on Bread Baking”

Making Really Good Bread is Really Easy!

OK,  I have been meaning to do this post for almost a year now. In April 2016, I organized a workshop, and had dinner with four out-of-town colleagues afterwards. They asked if I was happy with how it went; I said that I was very happy with the workshop, but I mentioned that I was also happy because the previous week I had finally managed to make a loaf of bread that I was truly pleased with. All four were quite interested, and I thought I should put together a post about it.

I decided to do a demonstration using only equipment that most people have in their kitchens. So  I made some videos, but I got distracted and then let it sit until now. Continue reading “Making Really Good Bread is Really Easy!”

OK, how big is a tablespoon, REALLY?

One of the handiest cooking factoids in our crazy US measurement system is that there are 4 tablespoons in a quarter cup.  If you are doubling a recipe for a sauce that calls for 2 tablespoons of flour, don’t measure 4 tablespoons, just measure 1/4 cup and you’re all set.

So I was a little surprised when I was looking at a source I consider reliable (Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, p. 87) to see “Mix 3 tablespoons (30 grams) lukewarm water…”  Now, “everyone knows” that a tablespoon is 15 ml, and 1 ml of water weighs a gram, so 3 tablespoons of water should be 45 grams.  OK, precision is overrated in cooking, but it is more important in baking, and this is a 50% difference (45 being 50% more than 30), and that is actually significant.

1 tablespoon “=” 15 ml

Continue reading “OK, how big is a tablespoon, REALLY?”

If I’d known baking bread was so easy…

Added later: I never completed this post, but it lets me know when I first got involved in no-knead baking. Lots more posts on bread later.

My aunt was a great, adventuresome cook (and author of the carefully-historically-researched, critically well-received Little House on the Prairie Cookbook).  When I was around 8 years old, she taught me how to make bread.  Maybe five years after that, at Christmastime, I made bread for friends and dropped it at their house (for a number of years after that, I was known to some grandparents only as “the boy who made the bread”).  It was a great project for a kid to spend a day doing: combine the ingredients, let it rise, knead, rise more, punch down, etc etc. Most people I know don’t have that much time on their hands.

My wife has been a Mark Bittman fan for some time and I was interested when she pointed out his no-knead bread recipe.  I looked at it and noticed that you need to bake the bread in an enameled Le Creuset-style dish.  I didn’t have one and wasn’t keen to invest that much to find out whether I like something or not.  But I think it was looking through the comments to that article that I was eventually led to “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”