Bread bakers! What are your methods and your secrets?

I think I finally [finally!] got some sourdough starter .... well, started! My 'batards' are in the oven now. The directions had me fire up the oven ONE HOUR before baking and with a cast iron skillet in it to boot. In the next paragraph of the recipe, I found out I was supposed to put ice cubes in those skillets after I slid the loaves off the peel. Now I was vaguely aware that some breads (baguettes?) get misted during bake-time but the ice-cubes-in-hot-skillet seemed ingenious to me. So, what are your bread baking methods or secrets? Thanks! And, what else do you make with your sourdough or levain? Crackers?



Solene January 3, 2017
Hi! :)

I made a tutorial recently to make homemade bread (you can eat it with sweet food as well as any kind of meal):

I hope it can help you! :)
Shuna L. August 23, 2012
The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard. Best bread book ever. In every respect.
Sadassa_Ulna August 23, 2012
Thank you Shuna, I will look for it!
fiveandspice August 23, 2012
YES! To refrigeration and a slow rise. It unlocks more nutrients as well. I'm in love with my starter and have been using it for almost everything I bake in place of yeast - all sorts of breads, pizza, flatbread, pretzels. I've also been adding a little starter to quickbreads, crepes, pancakes, and so on for the lovely tangy flavor.
Sadassa_Ulna August 23, 2012
fiveandspice I was just reading your reply to savorthis' thread about your pre-baking method and emailed it to myself. I have been following Dan Leader's "Local Breads" which has been really helpful and I look forward to reading Bread Science as recommended by Sarah Reinertsen. Are you using a liquid-ey starter or a "stiff levain?" I think I might try some pretzels, thanks for the tips!
fiveandspice August 23, 2012
I use a stiff one because that's what I was taught to use. (It's so funny, but I was actually given the starter and taught about it by our department's statistician. He's a closet bread baker!)
Sadassa_Ulna August 23, 2012
Thank you everyone for all the helpful information. I didn't realize shaping was so important. And I will definitely try the pre-proof refrigeration technique. I have a lot to learn, and a lot of levain in my fridge for practice.
boulangere August 23, 2012
Yes, Melusine, it genuinely does. You can read about ratios here:
Enjoy your travels!
RobertaJ August 23, 2012
Cast iron or "scrap" heavy roasting pan on the bottom shelf (not the floor of the oven) and boiling water *carefully* poured in after the loaves go in. Baking on a stone. Using cornmeal on the peel to ease the move from peel to hot stone. Preheat stone, oven, and water pan for at least an hour at the baking temperature. Don't over handle the dough in the shaping, or let it rise too much. Try to get the top "layer" of the dough very tight and taut after shaping; you want sort of a skin. Be fearless when slashing.
Melusine August 22, 2012
Mistakes I've made: Too many helpers, like too much non- and diastatic malt powder; same effect as too much leavening in a cake. Careless shaping. Wrong sized pans. Too slack of a dough for baguettes and the like.
Things I've learned: Use an instant read thermometer to check the loaves -- my favorite whole grain bread is done at 195F; I believe Julia Child recommended 203F for Euro-type breads. Buy the best bread flour you can. Use the autolyse technique for leaner loaves. Bagels and pretzel-like breads are soooo much better after a night in the fridge before boiling/baking. Well, most breads are. Using a scale for rolls or bagels makes the finished product look more professional, and they all bake at the same time.
The Friend has perfected sour dough for pizzas -- he does the whole pineapple juice starter thing, and the crust comes out as thin and crackly as one could hope. Just wish I liked sour dough better than I do.
Question for Boulangere: I'm headed back overseas, where HG flour is scarce, and shipping costs are high. Does adding vital wheat gluten to regular flour really approximate a good HG flour?
boulangere August 22, 2012
Thank you, sdb, for passing on the cast iron skillet tip. Boiling water works best because you want steam the instant the bread goes into the oven, and ice cubes are as far from steam as you can possibly get.
Cannizzo August 22, 2012
Thank you to sdbrngo good tip I have to try that sounds good makes sence
sdebrango August 22, 2012
I am not an expert but boulangere is and I have used her method and made this recipe many times and it is perfection she instructs to put a skillet (cast iron) at the bottom of the oven and add boiling water. I can attest to the perfection of these loaves. Crisp crust and tender on the inside.
Reiney August 22, 2012
The misting yields the chewy-crackly crust that is desirable in most breads.

A few keys:
- the longer the resting time, the better (to a point), between mixing the dough & first proofing. Time = flavour as the yeast slowly feeds. Retard it in the fridge overnight or even 2 nights before bringing to room temp and starting the proofing process.
- learning how to shape is critical - particularly the concept of stretching the dough to form a taut surface. My chef instructor used to say "you want the yeast to fill a shape, not create a shape" and with a tight structure it will be a nice, neat loaf. Start this process from the first shaping into a ball to do the first proof.
- Old doughs can be good flavour in a new bread (e.g. leftover uncooked pizza dough). It acts as a biga - just break it up and toss it into the dough as it's mixing.
- If you really want to geek out, check out the book "Bread Science"
Sadassa_Ulna August 23, 2012
Thanks for the book recommendation Sarah, geeking out is something I tend to do too often. I will find this book.
bigpan August 22, 2012
My secret is to buy unique breads from a great baker, then make a great compound butter for it.
Something about professionals with time tested recipes and ovens that cannot be duplicated at home.
As "foodies" we don't have to do everything from scratch at home.
Sam1148 August 22, 2012
I use a Emile Henry large Tagine for my rustic loafs.
You shouldn't put water in it tho.

I heat it up with the lid and put in the bread. Then put the lid on...The moisture from the bread is trapped in the high dome lid, which steams it for the first bits of cooking.
After a few mins, take off the lid and let the loaf finish baking to brown.
It's almost like a mini-oven inside your oven.

It's perfect for no-kneed breads. It's made of clay and the clay process they use makes it safe to use on stove top for tagines, roasts, stews etc.
The only draw back is that is kinda large with lid and storage is a problem.
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