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It’s not just mixing dough – breadmaking tips for beginners

100% Spelt Sourdough Loaf

100% Spelt Sourdough Loaf

If you read my In My Kitchen post earlier this month you’ll know that I’ve begun baking 100% spelt sourdough bread. It’s been a very rewarding bread baking month, especially after a frustrating 6 months in 2014 trying to achieve loaves exactly like those now coming out of my oven. I give full credit to the starter gifted to me by super sourdough baker Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. Celia mailed me some flakes of dried wheat flour starter which I have successfully converted to spelt.

I’m not going to post a recipe for the “best sourdough bread ever”, you can visit Sarah @ Say! Little Hen for the formula I use, however, as handling a bowlful of dough can itself have challenges, what I am going to contribute is a bunch of tips I wish I had been able to find in the one place when I was muddling my way through my first bread baking sessions.

Before going any further I should say that I’m not the kind of cook who has single function pieces of equipment in my kitchen, but I have made an exception for bread baking. My aim was to make sourdough spelt flour bread that looked as if it had been bought from an artisan baker, bread that would not compromise my diet…I’ll get there.

Bread baking paraphernalia

Bread baking paraphernalia

Firstly I recommend a set of electronic scales, I couldn’t function in the kitchen without them, I use them every day, and they certainly help with accurate measurement of starter, flour, salt and water.

After only a bake or two I decided I needed some proving baskets, bannettons. Through eBay I bought a pack for two baguettes and a set of two oval shapes bannettons of different sizes . Romantic visions of Parisian bakers raising dough for baguettes in folds of heavy unbleached linen influenced me to choose baskets with linen liners. I know a linen tea towel would do the same job, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. The liners were included in the price.

It’s true my baked loaves proved in the lined baskets don’t bear the distinctive marks of the bannetton, but the upside is that I’ve had no issues tipping the risen dough onto a sheet of baking paper. They have consistently released cleanly, aided by a dusting of rice flour applied to the linen. Rice flour dusted into baking tins and moulds of various materials will ensure the easy release of any bread dough. Semolina has the same properties if you are wheat tolerant.

It’s taken me quite a while to master slashing the surface of ready to bake bread dough. The dough when proved is full of air. It’s stretchy and beneath the surface, sticky. The blade can easily get bogged and tear the loaf. I’ve found that a serrated edged knife works best, something like a steak knife with a slick of oil on the blade works best for me on loaves and for bread rolls snipping with scissors is the simplest.  After a struggle with loaves spreading I read that the slash should be made with the blade held at a 45 degree angle to the surface of the dough. That tip definitely helped my loaves retain their shape, and to quote Celia, you need to “slash with panache.”

For most bakers, bread with a thin crunchy crust is the difference between success and mediocrity.  I’ve tried three methods. In order of good to best-

  1. Heat a tray in the bottom of the oven as you preheat for baking. When you put the loafing the oven, add 10 ice cubes to the tray. it will introduce a small amount of steam to the oven which will help the crust to crisp.
  2. Heat the tray as above, but add 1 litre of boiling water from the kettle to the tray for a steamier baking environment and crisper result.
  3. Invest in a large enamel covered roasting pan to bake your loaves in. There is no need to preheat it, simply add your proved loaf on a sheet of baking paper, put on the lid and bake the loaf for 20 minutes at 230C before removing the lid and reducing the heat to your normal bread baking temperature. Enamelware is light to handle, it will heat quickly and contain the steam given off by the loaf as it bakes, ensuring a thin crunchy crust.

I felt quite anxious about my kneading, stretching, folding and shaping technique initially. Many published sourdough bakers describe the process in an intimidating way. They use technical language, not words that relate to cooking. I have decided to ignore those books for now, I’m treating the bread making process as food preparation. I’m using my senses, letting them judge the kneading and proving time, because I know my dough needs to be smooth, elastic and resilient when poked. I know the fermentations needs to slow before baking, I know the loaf needs to be shaped so the outside surface is taut. I’m in charge here!

And speaking of shaping, I have always found flattening the dough into an oblong and rolling it very tightly Swiss roll style the best method of shaping. It’s simple and it’s foolproof.

We love the crunch and flavour of toasted sesame seeds on the outside of a crusty loaf of bread. The only way you can make seeds stick to you bread crust is misting the surface of the proved dough lightly with water before sprinkling on the seeds and baking the loaf. I bought a cheap pump spray bottle for $2.80 for this job. It works perfectly.

There is a lot of pedantic information out there about activating your sourdough starter in preparation to bake. The starter determines the real success of your loaf and it needs to be fed to get it going. One feed may make it bubbly and vigorous but if it needs two or even three feeds before it’s ready then that’s what you need to do. I find my spelt starter is much much better if I give it three feeds. That may be the nature of spelt flour. I begin with 160g stored starter then feed it 1/4 cup each spelt flour and water. After a couple of hours I repeat this step, then after another few hours I feed it with 1 cup each flour and water. The starter is super vigorous after following this regime.

The frustrations of baking sourdough bread with 100% spelt flour are now behind me. I believe the starter I used initially, the activation instructions and the proportion recommended were to blame.

Whether you choose to use commercial yeast or sourdough for breadmaking, just remember it is not a mystical art. It’s simply adding a controlled quantity of ferment to your flour, a quantity to raise the dough so it doubles in bulk. The kneading process is to stretch the gluten and warm the dough. The remainder is just aesthetics.

 

cut loaf showing open texture of spelt sourdough bread

open texture of spelt sourdough bread

 

About ladyredspecs

I live in sunny Brisbane, Australia. My love of good food drives me as a cook, a reader, a traveller, an artist and but mostly as an eater. I cooked professionally for many years but have no formal training. Simply guided by a love of eating good food, respect for ingredients and an abhorrence of artificial additives, I cook instinctively applying the technical know how acquired by experience. I hope you enjoy what I share Sandra AKA ladyredspecs

31 comments on “It’s not just mixing dough – breadmaking tips for beginners

  1. chefceaser
    February 29, 2016

    Reblogged this on Chef Ceaser.

    Like

  2. Pingback: 100% Sourdough Spelt Bread made simple | Please Pass the Recipe

  3. Thank you for this wonderful and educational post.

    Like

  4. Sarah @ Say Little Hen
    February 8, 2016

    What a brilliant post Sandra! Bread making intimidates so many people and I wish more bloggers would write simple posts like this – it would have relaxed me a lot as a beginner.
    I learnt to approach bread making with simplicity after reading Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes A Day. It’s full of yeasted recipes but I’ve taken the relaxed and every-day approach that book had to bread making and applied it to sourdough baking.

    Bread making is so enjoyable, and even when you’re experienced we’re all bound to have loaves that fail, as it is at the end of the day simply cooking and not every dish turns out perfect 100% of the time. But achieving a delicious loaf isn’t hard, I really love encouraging people to give it a go.

    I think I’ll be pinning this post and steering people to it next time I’m asked about whether baking bread is hard or not!

    Sarah xx

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      February 8, 2016

      Seems likes comments are making it hard for both of us. Thanks for your kind words, I wish I had a simple no nonsense guide to get me started but anyway I’m really going from strength to strength, the overnight loaf is the best ever. I’ll pop a photo in an email direct

      Like

  5. Wonderful suggestions and tips, thank you.

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    • ladyredspecs
      February 8, 2016

      You’re welcome. I’m just trying an overnight rise for the first time.

      Like

  6. ChgoJohn
    February 2, 2016

    A very thorough and informative post, Sandra Anyone who has started down the sourdough path can identify with the issues you’ve covered here. From slashing the loaves with a bread knife to adding ice cubes to a tray in the oven, I’ve been there. My loaves still aren’t where I’d like them to be but to do that I’d need to bake more of them. I’m not really doing much of that right now, though. Even so, I’ll be sure to check back here before I put my next loaf into the oven. Thanks!

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      February 2, 2016

      Thanks John, there is still lots to learn but I seem to be constantly looking for the answers to question about sourdough bread online, just wish all the info was in the one place.

      Like

  7. The Hungry Mum
    January 30, 2016

    such a comprehensive list – perfect for a novice bread baker like myself. Your loaf looks perfect.

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    • ladyredspecs
      January 31, 2016

      Thanks Belle, each loaf gets better as the starter ripens,

      Like

  8. Nancy |Plus Ate Six
    January 29, 2016

    What do you do with the leftover starter once you’ve fed it 3 times? There must be loads of it left after you’ve used it for making a loaf? I guess some goes back into the fridge for the next loaf but do you through the rest away? There is so much great information here – thank you!

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 29, 2016

      Well the bread recipe I’m using has almost the same amount of starter as flour,the high proportion is in compensation for the weight of the spelt flour and the low level of gluten. I think that is the difference between airy spelt bread and bricks!

      Like

  9. EllaDee
    January 29, 2016

    Good tips, which may prove very useful for my beginner’s process. At the moment I’m working with white sourdough starter -Polly daughter of Celia’s Priscilla, who loves to be fed- white Wallaby baker’s flour, and the opposite methodology! High hydration, little working, no slashing, and proving & baking in a Romertopf. The result is tender sourdough with a thin crispy crust, just how the G.O. prefers bread. My next stage is to use Spelt which I’ve done successfully with yeast bread baking, and where your tips will come into play.

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 29, 2016

      Thanks Ella, I’ve kept the white starter going as insurance but have a spelt starter as well which needs to be fed a few extra times to get it going. If you are going to go down the 100% spelt path I encourage you to look at Sarah’s recipe and method. You’ll find proportions and method different to those recommended for wheat. My mistake when I tried in 2014 was thinking that wheat and spelt were interchangeable. They are very different. Good luck

      Like

  10. Lisa @ cheergerm
    January 29, 2016

    That looks fantastic and 100% spelt! Great, plain speaking tips and I will keep this post up my sleeve for the (hopeful) days I give it a shot. The lovely Francesca sent me some starter, I just need to, well, start!

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 29, 2016

      It’s incredibly satisfying baking your own bread. I just have to remind myself that it’s just bread and not get too anxious about the details. Take the plunge Cheery, start…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Gretchen
    January 28, 2016

    I’m so happy you’ve mastered spelt sourdough! I just made my first loaf with half spelt and loved the flavor. The loaf was rather ugly though. I overcompensated with extra water, a little too much. After baking sourdough for over a year I think I’m finally ready to admit I would benefit from a bannnetton or two or three! And so I continue to experiment with spelt, more so for flavor and increased fiver than dietary restrictions. Thanks for all the tips, I’ll be sure to use them.

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 29, 2016

      The biggest difference I’ve found between wheat and spelt is that the dough won’t stand multiple risings because of the lower gluten level. It’s so warm here right now I’m looking for ways to prolong the fermentation. I stressed too much about the details at first, it really inhibited me. Who cares what the loaf looks like as long as it tastes good

      Like

  12. Francesca
    January 28, 2016

    Great to know that your bread, converted to Spelt, is working so well. I have sent some starter to my friend, and she is about to bake her first loaf this weekend ( non speltified) just to get the hang of it. Then she will start making the spelt starter, and bread, and will be following your advice keenly. Thank you Sandra for assisting her.
    A question here- what starter do you use before refreshing with spelt and water? Is it left over spelt starter that you tuck away each time or white bakers flour starter ( alla Celia)? As you know, I make bread twice a week- sometimes I use a Rommertopf ( bakes like the falconware enamel roaster) and sometimes I just whack the loaves into the oven. I always put the Ilve on 250C to pre-warm, then drop it to 230 when I put the bread in, as there is always a little heat loss at this point. If baking on trays, I spray with water. The best implement for slashing is a serrated bread knife, I have found.

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 28, 2016

      I’m using spelt starter saved from the previous bake. I still have the wheat in reserve as insurance. While the spelt is much more sluggish to get started than the wheat, after 3 feeds it’s as good, if not better. I’m about to retire the wheat to the dehydrator. I think it’s only use now would be baking loaves to give away. I’m spraying every loaf to stick seeds to the surface. I’m following Sarah instructions to preheat to 225c and bake at that temp for 20 minutes before reducing the temp to 190 for the remainder of the bake. I’m very happy to help Rachel, in fact she inspired me to write the post. Following the Fodmap diet can be frustrating. It’s easy to get caught out…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. ardysez
    January 28, 2016

    Bravo, Sandra! I’m not sure I have the patience for the learning curve. It does look very nice though. It’s so hot here today I can hardly move, perhaps in the winter I will feel inspired 🙂

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 28, 2016

      Very oppressive here too Ardys, i definitely won’t be putting the oven on! Being able to eat delicious bread has made the journey worthwhile.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Debi @ My Kitchen Witch
    January 28, 2016

    Very excited that you have mastered 100% spelt sourdough! I also found that my serrated bread knife was the best for slashing – due to trial and error. The covered casserole method works well for me and I agree, go with your instincts when folding-stretching and knowing when the dough is ready to prove. And, your loaf definitely looks professional!

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 28, 2016

      I feel quite a sense of achievement Deb, but I did have issues to work through, hence the post

      Like

  15. Leah
    January 28, 2016

    Cutting some of your sourdough as we speak to toast and make thin croutons for our salad tonight. xxx

    Like

  16. StefanGourmet
    January 28, 2016

    Your bread looks beautiful Sandra, and this post contains a wealth of tips. I am not completely satisfied with my sourdough bread yet, so I’ll definitely study your post in detail when I’m going to experiment again.

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      January 28, 2016

      I think it’s easy to get distracted by recipe book instructions. There are too many variables at play, flour, water, starter, climate to take them as a gospel that applies to your scenario.

      Liked by 1 person

      • StefanGourmet
        January 29, 2016

        Not to mention recipe books that tell you what your dough should be like, but not what you should do if it’s not like it should be…

        Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2016 by in Baking, bread, FODMAP diet, Food and tagged , , , .
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