A bread making resource you can really sink your teeth into.
July 8, 2015 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Humans have been baking breads successfully for thousands of years. Don't know where to start, or looking for new ideas to try? Although this wonderful resource comes up regularly in ask.mefi, I thought it was high time to be featured on the Blue. Truly belonging to "The Best of the Web": The Fresh Loaf (News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts) forums, handbook, lessons, recipes and more.
posted by spock (37 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
this is so relevant to my interests right now I can't even
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:10 AM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

*adds to favourites*
posted by Happy Dave at 12:17 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

and hey why not, easy tasty super moist bread:

3c + 1c flour
1tsp yeast
1/2c sugar (you can omit this if you go for the usual rise, punch, 2nd rise thing--sugar to feed the yeast)
1tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp coarse black pepper
1 tbsp dried herbs (I like herbes de Provence, whatever you have is good)
~ 1.75c water

mix everything in a bowl except 1c flour. proof in a 170f oven for 20-30 minutes. Remove, knead in the rest of the flour. Add a little more if needed.

Shape your loaf (I go for round) and bake on a floured sheet. If you feel like it, slash the top with a knife and/or scatter some salt over top--smoked Maldon is lovely.

Bake at 375F for 30 minutes, reduce to 325F for another twentyish or until it sounds hollow when tapped,.

Consume hot out of the oven with all the butter and maybe some jam.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:28 AM on July 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

I love making bread, especially since I moved to the Bay area:

How to make genuine Bay Area Sourdough.

Starting the sourdough: Whisk 1/4 cup flour and 3 tablespsoons filtered water in a small bowl. Pour this into a jar, and let it sit for twelve hours.

Twelve hours later, the wife comes in, to find the cats hissing at the bubbling mass that smells like socks and is spilling out over the kitchen table. It is pulsating. She uses tongs to remove it to the trash bin. Sourdough starter is prohibited from the apartment.
posted by happyroach at 12:49 AM on July 9, 2015 [21 favorites]

I'm surprised TFL never made it to the Blue, it really is the best site for bread baking. That makes me wonder if eGullet was ever featured...
posted by destrius at 2:30 AM on July 9, 2015

My son and I have a tradition of making a delicious Pain de campagne. Making bread is a great social activity to do with young kids.
posted by Dagobert at 2:31 AM on July 9, 2015

Frankly they missed out on a big opportunity by not naming the site Loafhacker.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:15 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've successfully made bread but the kind I'd like, some kind of multi-grain, requires so many bags of different grains that are obscure band expensive to acquire in the standard retail locations it just makes no sense. Now if I go off grid, well no web off grid but something edible with sufficient dunking is certainly possible.
posted by sammyo at 5:26 AM on July 9, 2015

I have a real soft spot for The Fresh Loaf, because making their basic bread recipes were what I used to keep me sane during studying for the bar exam. It was perfect, because bread takes a mixture of hands on and hands off time so that I could stop studying, make up the dough, then let it rise while I did some more questions, and so on. Plus, bread is pretty hard to make actually inedible, so there was always something I could eat. I don't make much bread now, because if I have it around the house I will eat it all immediately with lots of butter, but that summer? I needed to make bread.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:33 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't decide if I feel guilty or fortunate. As fascinating as the idea of getting into baking may be, I don't bake because I live within really short walking distance of a wonderful bakery.
posted by The Correspondent on the Continent at 5:36 AM on July 9, 2015

The No Knead Method. Now and forever.
posted by gwint at 6:21 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thank you for posting this! I tried their pita recipe years ago and it blew me away. This reminds me I should try some of the other recipes on the site.
posted by antinomia at 6:23 AM on July 9, 2015

This is my jam.
posted by LegallyBread at 6:24 AM on July 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Thanks for this, spock!

Bagel topping question: I use deep fried garlic, dehydrated onions, salt, caraway seed, sesame seed, and poppy seed. Until recently, i have always applied toppings as soon as the bagels come out of the boiling water. Some other non-baker around here insists that toppings should be applied after the first five minutes in the oven, at the rotate-the-pain point. I must admit there *is* less burning of toppings, but it seems too long to have the bagels out of the oven. Is there a best method?

Also, I recently took some of my bagels to a local shop as a thank-you. It's run by older ladies, one of whom told me she had never in her life eaten a bagel before that morning. I waggled my eyebrows and said, "Well, I'm glad I was your first," to much laughter.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:26 AM on July 9, 2015

I'm just starting on this journey, but also appreciate the "therapeutic" aspect to it (and the much more delicious outcome, compared to your other forms of therapy). I found a Magic Mill III Plus flour mill at a thrift store for $4 and was planning on flipping it on eBay until I started researching "Why mill your own flour" and the differences between whole grain flour and the stuff you get at the local grocery store. I got my Hard Red Spring wheat berries in the bulk section of a local store. (If you are in a remote location, you can try Pleasant Hill Grain or Amazon.) My first attempt was to make the Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread recipe from "Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Bread". I decided to also try a Dutch Crumb crust treatment. All went well, except I over-proofed the breads (in warm Lodge cast iron loaf pans) and so it fell in the oven. Still, the result was edible and even delicious. I was encouraged enough to try again. Also want to try the no-knead method in my dutch oven, but I fear that I will have to use commercial flour for that to be successful (it is the kneading that produces the strong gluten chains that makes the support structure that keep the dough from collapsing when it fills with holes created by carbon dioxide bubbles - and whole grain flour is heavier because it contains the wheat germ and wheat bran.)

I've also just discovered (a super simple) way to make whole grain crackers.

Monkeytoes: I guarantee if you use the search box on TheFreshLoaf you will find good answers in the forums. The people there are very helpful, but don't expect Metafilter rates of speed for replies. Try simply searching "bagel toppings".
posted by spock at 7:25 AM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Dutch Crumb

this looks like it may change my whole life
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:37 AM on July 9, 2015

More Dutch Crunch (AKA "Tiger Bread") for you. You can do this crust treatment on just about any bread you like. Looks awesome and tastes delicious. It has been mentioned a few times on The Fresh Loaf, also. :)

Sorry, calling it "Dutch Crumb" was a typo. It is properly "Dutch Crunch" or "Tiger Bread".
posted by spock at 8:00 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

fffm: I was just really reading your recipe for the first time, and if that works for you keep doing it. However, I'm not sure about your proofing in a 170F oven. Bread yeast DIES at 130-140F and normally you want that to occur in the final baking (not proofing) stage, I believe.
posted by spock at 8:09 AM on July 9, 2015

170F is the lowest my oven will go to, and it's still rising while baking. My guess is that my thermostat is way off and/or it ends up in there between cycles.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:23 AM on July 9, 2015

Gotcha. Hey, as long as it works!
Proofing on top of your stove (while your oven is preheating to baking temperature) should work also. I've got one of these inexpensive infrared temperature guns and they are handy for checking the temperature in different parts of your kitchen (among other things). Also I like the gizmosity.
posted by spock at 8:30 AM on July 9, 2015

sammyo, not sure if this is feasible where you live, but check your area for a food cooperative, or a store that works on that basis. For example, Lincoln, NE has Open Harvest. Coop pricing is waaaay better than "Whole Paycheck" (but who isn't) and odds are you can get all the ingredients you'll need there. I also saw a suggestion that almost every Mormon church has at least one member who procures ingredients like this, and to inquire. (Never tried it, didn't need to, but just another option.)
posted by spock at 8:39 AM on July 9, 2015

Yeah, and when I'm taking the time I'll do that. I knocked up the recipe the other night when I needed that therapeutic bread smell ASAP so futzed about until I came up with something that would rise and bake in the shortest time I could come up with. It's like 90 minutes from dry ingredients to hot fresh bread in my fat gob.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:42 AM on July 9, 2015

I have not heard of this site before but is quite relevant to me. I'm eating a loaf I just took out of the oven. It's a basic recipe, a Bittman one that I add olive oil to. Eating it with organic jam because Smuckers doesn't cut it in this situation. Also, my apartment smells like fresh bread.
posted by riruro at 8:42 AM on July 9, 2015

riruro: that's why I bake bread every time I do private catering. No matter what else I'm cooking, the client's house smells wonderful from the moment I get there.

Hmm I think maybe I need to start a sourdough today.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:50 AM on July 9, 2015

You think baking bread makes you feel good? If you can, try giving it away to people - the looks on their faces, getting (ideally, still warm) bread, are magical.
posted by milnews.ca at 8:54 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've got this very small West Bend "Just for Dinner" bread machine. It fresh bakes a extra small loaf in just 45 minutes and it is way better than any commercially purchased bread (especially warm from the machine). Also great for making the home smell like bread FAST. And that is great, but I've since learned that Bread Flavor Complexity is related to fermentation time (of course, you can also overdo that).

Ken Forkish's wonderful book "Flour Water Salt Yeast" (pg 62) lists (from Least Complex flavors to Most Complex flavors): Same-day breads --> Breads with overnight fermentation or overnight proofing --> Breads made with pre-ferments (otherwise known as "starters", "biga", "poolish", "sponge", or "Pate Fermente" --> Levain (French word for sourdough) Breads (most complex flavor profile).

Your guide to preferments.
posted by spock at 9:39 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting, great resource. I recently made naan for the 1st time The real treat is that you eat it really fresh, though it's okay warmed up again. Making bread is a genuine pleasure, then you get to enjoy eating homemade bread.
posted by theora55 at 12:24 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

According to Facebook's On This Day feature, two years ago today my good friend Amine shared a rather hypnotic video of a Frenchman working his shift in what seems to be a somewhat fancy bakery, remarking "I'm not sure why, but this 10' movie of a guy baking bread reminded me of you."

To be fair, I'm not sure why either: not only I didn't bake bread by then, I was actually one of those people who had decided they were permanently and helplessly unable to make breads, cakes, pies, pasta and sweets.

But the video struck a chord with me (to put it gently), and after watching it about 10× in a row (that's 2h of staring at the same guy kneading copious amounts dough), I ran to Harold McGee's chapter on Breads, which I highlighted in 4 different colours while taking extensive notes. I came up with a series of breads ordered in increasing difficulty / complexity and went to work.

Before anyone gets too excited where this is headed, this is not a story about how I dropped my career in marketing and became a professional baker (though I did consider that, twice), but what I'm here to say is: whatever joy that video communicates, it's real.

I don't expect a professional baker will be as joyful as this guy, not all the time at least, but as an interest baking can be really rewarding in many different ways, from the physical pleasure of mixing and kneading to the scientific indulgence of figuring out experimentally the nooks and cranks of baking, the effects of each ingredient in the end product and the techniques to do at home in small batches stuff that should only be possible to professionals.

If you're feeling rather bored and unchallenged, I highly recommend giving it a go. Start modest with unleavened flatbreads, work your way through recipes one ingredient or technique at a time heading toward some particular recipe you aspire to get right, and test variations whenever possible. By the time you reach the sourdough, the ciabatta and the puff pastry, it won't feel impossible, and you'll be helplessly hooked, a baking geek for life. ♥
posted by rufb at 6:31 PM on July 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Really appreciate your comment, rufb. Never heard of that book, so that is valuable. But that video is amazing. The guy is an pro athlete! I'd love to see an annotated version of that video, which would "caption" the uninitiated (like me) of what we are looking at (the type of breads, etc.). The scoring with serrated knife parts were especially educational.
posted by spock at 7:21 AM on July 12, 2015

Bulgaroktonos: I have a real soft spot for The Fresh Loaf, because making their basic bread recipes were what I used to keep me sane during studying for the bar exam. It was perfect, because bread takes a mixture of hands on and hands off time so that I could stop studying, make up the dough, then let it rise while I did some more questions, and so on.

A super-serious high-level math prof I know did a similar thing while working on math problems in grad school. He'd work through a problem while baking, so he had a nice loaf of bread after a few hours, even if he didn't figure out a solution to the problem.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:11 PM on July 13, 2015

Sourdough SUCCESS (on my first try)! (Does cartwheels)
posted by spock at 7:31 PM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Your link is borked, spock; lemme know what it was supposed to be and I'll fix it up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2015

Sourdough SUCCESS (on my first try)!

posted by MonkeyToes at 12:35 PM on July 19, 2015

Success! My first french sourdough (Pain de Campagne) made from my first whole grain wheat flour starter. (From Ken Forkish's book "Flour Water Salt Yeast").
posted by spock at 7:54 AM on July 22, 2015

Free bonus for anyone reading this thread LATE: 200+ page book on Sourdough from Cultures of Health. (They also have others on Cheesemaking, Kefir making, Yogurt making, and Lacto-Fermentation.)
posted by spock at 10:44 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Damn. That is a sexy loaf.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:15 AM on July 22, 2015

Gorgeous, spock!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:02 AM on July 23, 2015

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