Hello from a Bread Making Recluse
Hello to everyone here. I am an ordinary person who has always made their own bread, rather than buy it in the store. My uncle taught me when I was young, a long time ago. Very few people know that I make my own bread. Nobody ever asks, "Where do you get bread?"
I never connected with anyone who makes their own bread, other than family. I own a few books on bread making and cooking in general. I have worked on my bread recipes in isolation for a very long time, keeping notes, making adjustments, and trying to improve them. I make a variety of breads with different techniques. The family favorites are a light deli style rye bread and an extra-sour sourdough bread.
For everyday bread, I use a bread machine for convenience. The bread machine makes right-size, right-shaped loaves that fit in the toaster or a fold-top sandwich bag. More important, the bread machine reduces the inconvenient interruptions that come with traditional methods. My goal for bread machine recipes is to come closer to the flavor, texture, and overall quality of artisan breads without sacrificing convenience. I harbor no illusions - none of my bread machine loaves would make the cut at the county fair. It does not matter as long as they taste much better, cost much less, and have no chemical preservatives compared with store bought bread.
A few months ago, I thought about sharing some of my recipes with others by posting them online. I found this website while searching for a suitable place. Honestly, it is the best bread making website I found, but after lurking here for a while and seeing the threads, blogs, recipes, formulas, spreadsheets, terminology and acronyms here, it is clear that I am way out of my league. My recipes look like they came from the mid 20th Century, without grams or percentages or hydrations or a perspective like that. I made them so they work for me, but they would not fit in here. I have decades of bread making experience, but no real knowledge. People drive cars all their lives, but that does not make them expert drivers, or even safe drivers. Half of them are below average drivers. :-(
Why am I bothering to post this? To share that other types of bread makers exist. They may feel overwhelmed when they come here. There is much that is taken for granted and not everyone is prepared to dive into the deep end. I am content to go back and play "mad scientist in the lab" and continue to refine my work as before. In the meantime, I went to the library and checked out two books by Peter Reinhart to get a more modern perspective on bread making.
The primary reason I am here is to register as a member. I may post a question or two in the future. Now I will go back to lurking and learning. Thank you for reading.
This site can be broadly divided into two pieces.
One piece is the forums. Lots of activity there. Forums attract people who get a buzz from sharing their expertise, even if that expertise is more bluster than reality ;) On the Internet everyone can look like an expert by tossing opinions around in an authoritative tone. Keep in mind that the people who express themselves do it because they get a buzz out of it... it doesn't mean they are right or superior or that their answer is any more important. That being said, keeping an open mind means we can all learn from each other. We have a recent new member who is an "intuitive baker" and her bakes are amazing and inspiring.
The second piece is blogs. Blogs are an entirely different vibe which focuses more on appreciation and sometimes tip-sharing. Blogs can get into descriptions of application and experimentation.
You might want to start blogging from the bread machine perspective. There are other bread machine users here, some of whom are quite experienced so don't think using the device makes bread any less amazing or special.
I'm sure some others will chime in to encourage you. The best way to overcome insecurity is to figure out what your goal is for yourself, then purposefully expose yourself to the anxious situation to test your worries. I think you'll find lots of support and encouragement.
And there's no need to respond to or even read posts from people who you find unhelpful, touchy or overbearing. You can focus on whatever uplifts you in achieving the goals that you have for yourself.
As for cups vs grams, well there are lots of people using volumetric measures. It's a matter of which audience you want to connect with, and whether you want to use a language of measurements that connects with a different audience. I laughed at my Japanese wife when she used a scale for everything... but years have passed and I converted to weights and for me it has a lot of benefits.
But the key point here is to set your own goals, find the people who uplift you in those goals, and enjoy making that happen with them. There's no need to feel defensive because there is nothing to defend. You do you, and enjoy the people who celebrate it with you. I think that might be the "bread machine blog". We do get people coming here asking about them regularly.
This site is for bakers of all skill levels (a "big oven"). I returned to baking a couple of years ago after retiring (I actually was a mad scientist in the lab!) and found this site because I had a lot of questions; I still have a lot! You made a good choice in looking at the Peter Reinhart books. He is a great teacher and his books have helped me immensely in improving my breads.
Please do not be intimidated by all the jargon or esoteric discussions of hydration or DDT, TTA, etc. If you can make bread that suits your needs and tastes the way you want it, then that makes you a successful baker. I'm a firm believer in function before form.
I would be very interested in your extra-sour sourdough recipe. I have not had any success so far in capturing that flavor. Don't worry about whether it's in cups and ounces, I am interested in your approach to that style of bread.
I'd love to learn from your experience. Cups and teaspoons welcome!
Extra-sour sourdough is a particular interest.
I agree with happycat that blogging would make a good start.
Convenience is really important to me as well.
How do you think some of these high falutin' folks acquired their experience? We all started out as beginners and need bakers of all skill levels to move us all forward. So please post. Often,it is the simplest and most basic questions that make us all think and learn. I am in awe of all the experience you must have after making years of bread.
With some of this. Many bakers here are very serious about taking notes, carefully refining their process, studying books, translating material into other languages… I admire those people and often benefit from their insights. But for me, baking bread is just a fun hobby. I enjoy trying new things too much to really master anything, and I don’t feel particularly ashamed of it. I treat this site mostly as a source for new recipes, although the more technical discussions can be fun to read too. I bet you will find some inspiration here, even if you don’t want to overhaul your technique or stray too far into the unknown.
I use a bread machine for convenience, but also enjoy making breads in an oven with more traditional methods using my hands or mixer, loaf pans, baking stones, enameled cast iron, a steam pan, etc. My favorite bread making "tool" is a smooth flat granite counter.
Reminder: Experience does not always lead to knowledge or wisdom. You may have driven the route between your home and the grocery store countless times, but that does not make you an expert driver. I have worked on my bread recipes for a long time, but my "experience" may not be worth much here.
First Blog Recipe - Sweet Rye Bread for Bread Machines:
In our family we enjoy a tradition of making Reuben sandwiches for St. Patrick's Day ... on rye bread, of course. First thing yesterday morning, I got out the bread machine and prepared it. Load ingredients, press the start button, done. I started work on the rye bread recipe in 1998. That rye bread is a family favorite, and they want me to stop making changes to it.
I posted the recipe file as my first blog here. Too bad it is a day late, but I wanted a photo of the finished loaf for the blog. Anyway, here it is:
I posted my second blog. It has the recipe to make "extra sour" sourdough bread in bread machines. Please note that this recipe requires a bread machine with a user-programmable cycle.
I hope that I have not set expectations too high. To remind you, this recipe is optimized for convenience; it does not yield "artisan" quality bread. It took many iterations to come up with a recipe that relies only on the starter for leavening but still yields consistent and reliable sourdough bread. There is no added commercial yeast in this recipe. (Here ya' go, @GaryBishop!):
FYI: I took photos of the entire process from start to finish, from refreshing the sourdough starter, through each preparation step, and the final loaf and slices. I posted only a "headline" photo for the blog entry. If someone wants to see the step by step photos, let me know and I will add them.
Don't worry. I use the bread machine for first knead because I have a bad spine and even kneading flatbread for 4 whole minutes is way too long by hand. I did my first flatbread last night. It came out perfect. I have no idea why :D Otherwise I'm still working on making my perfect rye, buying completely random flours, half-idly reading what other people say about them, and then cackling in my tiny kitchen like a modern day Frankenstein figuring out flour blends to create bread to make tuna fish sandwiches with. I got kinda super ragey about the price of bread ever since Enteman's stopped having outlet stores and I couldn't get white bread 4/$5 anymore, and have been baking on and off ever since. ;)
I don't know half of what anyone is talking about here either. I just like looking at the photos. I used to be a radiation oncology researcher doing proteomics and immunohistochemistry and all the language here is strange. Thing is: from that kind of experience, I do know that people are going to use a word-set that I might not know yet, but once I learn it, I will understand what they're talking about and even be able to apply it backwards through my experience to be able to explain what I have done before, to people who know that word-set.
Like if I'm hand kneading and I can see the dough is "ripping" I know vaguely that has something to do with short gluten chains and all of that, but I have no idea what the description-words other people use for that state of the dough. (sometimes I like to bake the dough when it is ripping too, which may be heresy :) but I love the look and the texture of it.) In my own head when I've been baking there aren't any set words or phrases for it that I know, so even as I take my own notes for what I'm doing, I am "missing" words to describe what I'm doing during any specific bake. There's nothing I can write into my own notes to see when I've done something "right" and want to do it right again the next time. It's only stored in my muscle and/or visual memory, without words or explanations, and I have to hope I can remember it. ;)
I don't bother to be overwhelmed because here's the thing -- bread is one of those so beautifully human things, that all humans share. We don't necessarily share the words, terms, scientific-style measurements about them, but we do share the bread. Bread goes back maybe, what. Ten thousand years? There's some man or lady who existed during oil-lamps being bleeding edge technology and she was not going to worry one whit about grams hydrations or percentages. She just *knew* how to make bread. There's a difference between the technology of a process, and the process itself in regards to the human using their hands and materials and "doing the thing". You do not need to be a master in both to make something yummy and beautiful In fact all those hyper-tight measurements removes the art of bread (and by art I mean, the art of being able to gently correct mistakes as one goes through the process, or the ability to just go "psh I don't wanna wait", throw something in the oven, and learn on one's own what the result of that is, etc). When I see see recipes that say "2 to 2 1/2c flour" I know that this is a recipe that you play by ear, you have to "just know" what the dough should feel like etc.
A bunch of words are just the way that humans try to explain sensations to one another. "Do the bread till it feels right" won't cut it. ;) So instead there are tons of terms to be able to explain what needs to be seen or felt normally, into something that can be read.
I might not understand all the words everyone here uses (is there a glossary somewhere?), but as we're all learning to understand bread, I figure I'll pick it up eventually.
I'd be hyped for bread machine recipes. I tend to pull the dough out of the machine and throw it in a breadpan though, as I got tired of fishing the blending hook out of the bottom of the loaf ;) but the bread machine is great when the temp is fluctuating in the house in spring or fall or whatever, it helps keep the times and temps consistent in there. I thought I was to "graduate" from the breadmaker, but when I saw that means just getting a more expensive machine with its own dough hook, I was like "Yeah you know what -- I already have a dough blender." :D I finally shopped for a proper dough-cutter last week and saw I could get a basket and a slicer thing and all that etc for like 6$ more so now I also have a basket I have no idea what to do with. :) I'm not going to worry about being out of anyone's league. It's not like we're all going to be at the bread baking competition next week ;) (... we're not, right? Cause I'm totally not prepared. ;) ) If it tastes good its good. <3
Hello Caldinea! I enjoyed your post. I have been fussing with bread baking for about ten years. I got a little more serious about three years ago, just before my wife announced that 'we are eating too much bread'. I sold my GEM110 mixer, rather than have it sitting around. I do have an old Hobart era KA that handles one loaf well, but I can impress it into service for two loaves, if I feel the need. I was a motor fuel analyst, so some of the vernacular is foreign to me also, but it is good to learn. I got my starter out of the refrigerator for the first time in nearly a month, and added it to about 50% bread flour. It has been growing for three days now. I don't know if that technically makes it starter, or poolish. Perhaps they are the same thing. Anyway, I have about 6-8 cups, and about three or four loaves of bread I want to make, some for us, some to give away. Have a good day, and I hope your new starter goes well.
Please post your rye bread recipe. Even if you don't have weights and measures and percentages, they are working for you, and I, for one, would like to see what you've been up to.
Don't overestimate what others are doing or underestimate what you've been doing!
I posted it above, but here is a link for your convenience:
Sometimes someone in my family will ask me to replicate a bread that they like. Panera Bread is a restaurant chain around here. They made a bread called "Sesame Semolina." It was discontinued from their menu several years ago. I was asked to make a version of it.
Here is a photo of the latest test prototype. The goal is to match the taste and texture of the original Sesame Semolina that they used to sell at Panera Bread. The bread machine version of the recipe happens to be further along than the oven-baked version. This particular loaf has a roughly 50/50 ratio of semolina flour to high-gluten bread flour by volume. (I may think in "volume", but I weigh flour for measuring. Please note that a given volume of semolina flour weighs more than the same volume of bread flour.) Semolina flour is expensive compared with bread flour, so I have been playing with the ratio to keep costs in line. Where I buy them, semolina flour costs $2.84 per pound, and high gluten bread flour costs $0.50 per pound.
Bread recipes take years for me to develop. I am not in the business, the family eats only so much bread, multiple bread recipes are in different stages of work ... and so the next prototype of any given bread does not get baked often. This recipe won't be up to "Version 1.0" for several more years, maybe a decade or more. I will post it when it is ready, but it will be a long wait. Don't ask.
This will be my final post on The Fresh Loaf. As I said in my introduction above, I have many years of experience making my own bread, but no real knowledge.
It was made plain and clear in another thread that sharing my old fashioned experiences and approaches is detrimental to the teaching and help that goes on here at TheFreshLoaf, so I will take my leave of the site. It is time to unplug and go back to "mad scientist in the lab." I have a few recently acquired, books on modern bread making techniques to play with.
My original purpose in joining was to find a home for my rye and sourdough recipes for bread machines. That work is done. They are now in the blogs, available to all.
My appreciation goes out to those who helped me with their terrific advice these past few months. Goodbye and thank you.