Bread Sourdough loaf blog_2

Photo by Donna

Have been on a sourdough binge since the purple cabbage post (waffles last Sunday, bread, pictured above, by dinnertime) and loving Carri‘s ratio of 1 part starter : 1 part water : 2 parts flour with 1% salt by weight, though I back off by about 20% on the water because it’s been so humid.  I usually make a dough that’s between 30 and 40 ounces total weight.

I’ve noticed various differences in the loaves and because I’ve put up the BLT From Scratch Challenge, I thought I should go over the 5 key steps of making bread, whether you’re using sourdough or commercial yeast.

Mixing/Kneading:Mix or knead the dough to the point that it can be stretched to translucency. This ensures that it will adequately trap the gas being released.  Not mixing enough will fail to develop the gluten that makes it elastic; overmixing can break up the gluten network.  Mixing flour, water, salt and yeast is the first pleasure of making bread–I like my hands in the dough and always finish the kneading by hand (I’m not a fan of the no-knead bread—it diminishes both fun and flavor; but then again, I have a mixer to do most of the labor).

The First Rise:Sometimes called fermentation, allowing the yeast to create gas and flavor, and good elasticity in the dough, but not so much that it becomes slack from over rising.  It should roughly double in size, and it should not spring back when you poke it with your finger.

Shaping:After it’s risen, knead it again to force out as much gas as possible and redistribute the yeast. Let it relax a little so the gluten doesn’t work against you, then shape it as you wish, into a baguette, into a boule. Make it as tight as possible.

The Second Rise:The second rise allows the yeast to get back into action, aerating the dough into the shape and interior structure.  It should take about an hour at room temperature.  In my opinion this is the most important step.  You can also refrigerate it for up to 24 hours to develop more flavor.  If you do, let it warm up a bit at room temperature for an hour or so.

Baking:Start it in a very hot oven.  You can turn the oven down if you think it’s making the crust too dark. I cook my bread till the interior is about 200 degrees.

That’s really all there is too it.  There is of course more in Ratio, but these are the basics.

One last thing though.  Jim Lahey, via Mark Bittman, introduced baking a boule in a Dutch oven.  This is a fantastic idea.  Moisture released while it bakes remains trapped in the the pot, resulting in a fantastic crust.  Highly recommend this if you’re making a bread for your BLT.  Highly recommend anytime you’re making bread.

Great bread at home is not a mystery or a science, it’s simple a matter of recognizing the key steps above and paying attention to them.


49 Wonderful responses to “Bread Baking Basics”

  • carri

    Great Post, Michael! I was wondering how your soudough trials had been going…I can see you’ve got it down! I can think of no other additions other than the fact that you can refridgerate the dough right after mixing, too, for the first rise. Then let come to room temp, form the loaves, and so on…Thanks again for all the bread fun!

  • Steve Kalt

    Looks like you’ve come a ways from the bread I saw coming out of Thomas’s oven in Clevelend. That photo is beautiful.

  • Pierino

    I really like the dutch oven idea. I’ve done something very similar for an Italian loaf baked in a cast iron cocotte. It too produced a lovely crust.

  • Diane

    I’ve been on a pita bread kick lately – they are so much fun to watch “puff” and are way tastier than the store-bought variety. And WAY cheaper to make at home. I am very excited to try your sourdough starter technique!

  • elizabeth

    Gorgeous photo! Bread baking was one of my favorite pastimes when I was between jobs, because no matter how successful I was or wasn’t in job hunting that day, at least I had a gorgeous loaf of focaccia to serve at dinner.

  • Lamar

    For home cooks, I’d reccomend using an oven preheated with a pizza stone in it, or even putting two baking sheets together and letting them preheat, then sliding the bread in over them with a paddle.

    If you’re concerned about sticking, and don’t want to dust with cornmeal, just cut a piece of baking paper to slightly bigger than your loaf, and place your loaf on that paper as soon as you have formed it. Let it rise on the paper, and slide the whole thing into the oven. Remove the paper almost immdediately after baking.

    I actually would reccomend this method even if you are using a convection oven. Of course, if you own a deck or brick oven, you’re already getting the effect.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Very nice loaf Michael. Great oven-spring. Great bread is like great beer … just a very few simple ingredients put together with great skill.


  • mary

    or go to Blackbird Baking Company. Eastsiders can go to On the Rise.

  • Wilma de Soto

    Fantastic photo once again.

    Making bread at home may not be a mystery, but science it is.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Donna do u have a website which features all your pics not just these? I could look at your pictures all day long there is so much depth to them

  • Natalie Sztern

    Like I could frame the above one and hang it in my kitchen…(i won’t tho cause of copyr…etc)(i am very careful of that…)

  • Rhonda

    I just have one note:

    When making boule, a la Jim Lahey, the lovely and talented Jaden from Steamy Kitchen taught me to put parchment paper on the bottom of the dutch oven when cooking bread.

    This works beautifully!

  • Allen

    Another inspiration to take my starter out of the refrigerator, feed it and make some bread, pizza and pancakes this weekend during our cool spell in the N.W. If you’re ever in the bay area be sure and seek out bread from a place called Semifreddis, multiple locations around Berkeley. Best darn bread anywhere, and good people making it that will gladly give you tips and recomend reference material to read.

  • Egaeus

    “Great bread at home is not a mystery or a science, it’s simple a matter of recognizing the key steps above and paying attention to them.”

    Oh, I disagree. Okay, not really, but if you add the difficulty of “you can’t use gluten,” then it does become a mystery and a science.

    There is no true substitute for gluten. Xanthan gum, guar gum, eggs, methylcellulose, etc. can all trap gas, but they don’t stretch. I’d love to be able to make a loaf like that.

    Sometimes your blog is torture. 🙂

  • joyciel

    that looks so good… I love making bread, seriously, I thought it was really daunting at first but after you make it once, it just comes naturally.

  • Richard

    I’ve made the lean dough in ratio several times. If you’d like to see the results, visit my blog.

    If you don’t preheat the dutch oven, you can put the dough in while it’s cold and the dough won’t stick. If you preheat the dutch oven, it will need a small amount of lube.

  • Deb

    How does the La Cloche compare to the dutch oven? Has anyone done a comparison?

  • Samuel Fromartz

    Very nice bread!

    But I would note Lahey did not come up with the dutch oven trick — it’s been around for awhile and Elizabeth David in her famous “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” talks about how the English used to bake in overturned flower pots, with coals piled outside. She recommends putting the flower pot in the oven, though haven’t tried it yet.

    You can also put the dough in the refrigerater for the first rise, after about 1 hour with sourdough. Shape the loaves when the dough comes out.

    And if you’re up for it, try my baguette recipe that has just a hint of sourdough.

  • Pat Goodwin

    Picture and bread are beautiful! I’ve been making yeast-risen doughs for many years and have tried spraying oven, stone tiles, dutch ovens, pan of water in oven, etc., etc. The no-knead recipe makes great bread and does well in ceramic casseroles, steel or aluminum or cast iron dutch ovens or stone ware cloche type. Regular process bread dough the same – the crust texture is incredible with either dough when baked in a covered container (just make sure handle/knob ovenproof). I usually preheat the container before adding the dough unless making sandwich loaf or rolls and never had any stick.

    A longer rise, (less yeast, rest in refrigerator, whatever it takes), I believe, is the key to enhanced flavor with bread dough whether organic or nonorganic bread flour, whole wheat, all purpose or with added seeds and nuts or butter or eggs or all of the above. When bread is so easy to make and so satisfying to bake and to eat when homemade, don’t understand those who consider themselves good cooks but not willing to try.

  • luis

    oh, nice try Michael.. real bread doesn’t look like that!. It’s wax or plastic…hmmm.. right?
    I find no knead to add flavor to the bread… shows you how badly my bread program is hurting.
    I know blame it on ” EL NINO “. Sure has messed up our weather down here in paradise. Hey next time I will throw in a slice of whatever veggie is rotting in the pantry. But the kneading is the challenge. Machine or no machine Bob del Grosso is right. there are a lot folks out there with gadgets they don’t know how to use.

  • Norwegian gal

    It has always amazed me to see that Americans find making bread to be something complicated. I lived in the States for a year, and people were extremely impressed that I was able to make bread without using a recipe.

    Norwegians are on average no better cooks than Americans, and lots of Norwegians wouldn’t dream of making tomato soup or lasagna from scratch. But make bread we all do. Without recipes. After all, there is no mystery to it, and even ratios are not needed. One just adds enough liquid to obtain the right sticky consistency.

  • S. Woody

    I cannot imagine a yeast bread without kneading, but there are a number of yeastless breads, such as the Irish Soda breads, that call for no kneading at all.

    Going on a tangent, what are your thoughts about the whole gluten-free fad that has spread nationwide? By and large, it strikes me as another case of Americans deciding they have to be afraid of their food (and reveling in that fear)… but there was one lady at the store who was quite genuine, and indeed had serious problems digesting gluten. While she agreed that her doctor was right, in her case, and that she feels healthier now, she also lamented how much she missed the wheat-based foods. “They say it’s just as good, but it just doesn’t taste the same!” she sighed. I think I’ve had one other customer, whose kids have been taken off gluten, where the prescription has been genuine, but that doesn’t explain the masses of other people who are insisting that gluten is bad for everyone else as well. Nor does it explain why the makers of Rice and Corn Chex are now proudly proclaiming their products as gluten-free on the boxes – what the bloody hell is up with that?

  • marlene

    the dutch oven bread from Ratio, is probably my favourite recipe in the whole book. It’s my go to bread in the summer at the cottage when I don’t want to mess with stones and steam and things.

  • chef4cook

    When I first read Nancy Silverton’s account of making her starter (this was quite a few years ago now)she described using grapes in cheesecloth, slightly smashed and I remember thinking, “How interesting is that”. I will be trying carri’s method soon.

  • chef4cook

    Oh, I almost forgot. to reference marlene’s post above I have a pizza stone at home that I bake all my bread on and it works magnificently!

  • Fuji Mama

    What a gorgeous picture! Baking bread in a dutch oven is my all-time favorite method–I just love that crust that it develops without losing the wonderful interior texture and flavor.

  • carri

    S. Woody, you have truly addressed a hot button topic with the whole gluten free thing. I wouldn’t say it’s a fad, exactly, but they are finding gluten as an allergen (or it is a ‘poison’ to people who have celiac disease) more often than ever before. Is it from the way we’ve gotten higher wheat crop yields through the magic of modern chemestry? Or is it a scourge of our diets that is just now being diagnosed? (could it be we weren’t meant to eat wheat?) As a bakery owner in a town full of groovy people (some with gluten intolerance…it’s true) We face this issue more and more all the time. I’m amazed that someone with a severe wheat allergy would even walk into a bakery, but they do…

  • Kanani

    Thank you for this post!! I’m so excited. This morning I’m waiting for my new convection range for my 72 year old kitchen. One of the things I’m going to do is bake bread (after figuring out how to use it!)
    One book I remember as having loads of bread info was (the old) Laurel’s Kitchen. I think I tossed it because other than the bread, it was horribly sexist.

  • Kanani

    …a serious problems digesting gluten.

    I guess my question is…why do Americans have limited knowledge of different kinds of flours and how to use them?

    There’s an array, and I think it’s quite exciting to be able to experiment with them!!

  • Chris at Lost Arts Kitchen

    I do my “no knead” sourdough in a round, covered Corningware casserole dish. We keep our cast iron Dutch oven in the basement and I got tired of carrying it upstairs. The covered casserole dish works great. I appreciate the tip about lining the dish with parchment paper and will try that.

    Just smoked our first bacon yesterday! Tomatoes are going gangbusters and lettuce hasn’t bolted yet. I bake tomorrow and will send in my submission for the Scratch BLT Challenge!

  • bibliochef

    I am a big fan and did not know you had a typepad blog! Just re-reading one of your books -=- and having a fantasy of heading to the CIA as an academic to learn about academics in a new environment as I am obsessed with food. . . but that is not my profession. . .

  • Carol Peterman

    Just got my red cabbage starter going tonight, and because I just watched the Joe Ortiz episode of Baking w/Julia, I am trying his method using some cumin. I have had great results with the Dutch oven baking method – spectacular crust.

  • Lauren

    Hi Michael, Do you have any advice about tools to use at home for scoring breads? Also, I think that Dutch oven idea is really fantastic, I think when I try it I will finish off the last five minutes of the bake with the lid off (once the crust is developed) to dry out excess moisture – which we have in abundance here in New York City.

  • ruhlman

    lauren, i use a sharp knive or a straight razor to score bread. and I leave the top off for at least fifteen to thirty minutes to brown crust.

  • Jen

    After 48 hour I sure do have a starter. I am so, so excited!!! I am going to attempt to replicate your “boule” tomorrow with the dutch oven suggestion. Wish me luck.

    Would you mind sharing the recipe for waffles? I’d absolutely love to make sourdough waffles!!!

  • Red Ribbon Bakeshop

    I found your blog very interesting.I love reading blogs/articles that tells about cooking,baking tips,baking cookies,pies,cakes etc.I like that brown-crusty bread,perfect for my hot chocolate!
    Thank you for sharing those information.
    Keep on posting!


  • Toluca Gourmet

    I tried the starter with the cabbage leaves and it worked amazingly well. In fact it’s only been about 36 hours and it’s reached the brim of the good sized bowl I am using.
    Tomorrow I will work up a loaf using MR’s ratio recipe and try his dutch oven technique.
    The last loaf I tried was one of Shirley Corriher’s recipes. This seems much easier. And has the satisfaction of being all from scratch!

  • nintendo dsi r4

    This is the time that we have to eat fresh food.For that we have to make breads at home and eat it at the time of breakfast.For eating fresh bread we have to make it at home and this blog is on that.