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baking bread

I've been baking my own bread for about a year now. most recipes have turned out very nicely, but I'm having the hardest time getting a sourdough loaf to turn out! I made the starter on my own--although I know they are commercially available, it feels like cheating. The starter seems very active and I'm quite proud of it. But the loaves of bread just aren't turning out.

My questions: Do you make your own bread? What types of breads are your favorites? Do you have any favorite recipes? And, if you have any experience baking sour doughs, do you have any advice you can give me?
Capturing your own local wild yeast can be very cool. It's probably not the best way to get started in sourdoughs though. I would buy a starter culture and learn how to properly feed and care for it and use it. Once you understand how it acts then try to capture a local variety. You'll save yourself a lot of frustration that way by eliminating a variable.

You do have to be very careful to not cross contaminate sourdough starter with commercial bread baking yeast.

I have Ed Wood's Classic Sourdoughs book and 4 of his Sourdough International cultures that he collected from around the world.

You can get a starter collected from the 1847 Oregon Trail for a very small donation.

The main trick to getting it to work out is to keep it active with regular feedings and timing when you put it into the oven to coincide with it 's peak activity.

It takes practice. The warm home made sourdough pretzels are to die for.

Good Luck and Have Fun.
I think I've got the starter--really. I've been feeding at regular intervals for a few weeks now. I know when it rises and falls back down, and the smells... I guess maybe if I've really screwed something up, that's why the bread didn't rise. But it was weird because the dough rose at all the right times before I put it in the oven.
After thinking some more about your question, I have to admit my attempts at large loafs of sourdough bread do not really turn out as expected. I gave up on making large loafs. I make pretzels, large bread sticks, bagels, pancakes and small loafs.

One problem I had was that if the dough rises on a flat surface it doesn't just rise up, it actually spreads out because it's not contained.

So, I bought several 6" x 3" x 2"tall mini loaf pans. One batch of dough split 4 times will fill 8 mini loaf pans. Then as it proofs it will rise proportionaly. I freeze the unused baked finished mini loaves. One loaf is usually plenty for two people at a meal.

But, getting one large loaf is elusive for me too, so far.

I'm tempted to try an experiment. After the sourdough culture is split and put back to bed then work in commercial bread yeast from the grocery store to get the higher rise out of it hopefully without killing the sourdough or contaminating the culture.

Maybe someone else here will actually have the answer for us.
Does it smell bad?
I like the smell! Sometimes like apples, sometimes like beer. Sometimes pretty humid and sour, but not in a bad way. I thought maybe the problem with this last batch had to do with the flour. The recipe called for whole wheat bread flour--what i used was just straight up, very dense whole wheat flour. I'm going to try a different recipe this weekend, it calls for white bread flour.

How long have you been baking bread? I'd like to try the pretzels--care to share a recipe?
That Classic Sourdoughs book I referred to has a chapter with pros and cons of different kinds of flour. For me it boiled down to stay with unbleached all purpose flour.

I do use rye flour with a rye sourdough culture. But other than than that I stay with unbleached all purpose. I think BREAD flour has either baking soda or commercial yeast mixed in with it already.

Go ahead and try the bread flour. I'm interested in hearing if it affects the taste.

I got my first culture about 4 years ago.

A pretzel is basically a bread stick that is dipped in boiling water with baking soda dissolved in it. I use one of those big wire mesh ladle things like is used in Chinese cooking to dip the pretzels one at a time. Just a couple of seconds is enough. Put them on a wire rack or cloth towel to drain. Sprinkle with course salt (I like to also add caraway seeds to the dough and sprinkled on top). Once they are well drained bake in preheated oven at 425' for 30-40 minutes or until browned.
I tried rye for the culture, but had much better luck with the wheat, and now I have a wheat starter. It's better anyway because rye is much more expensive and difficult to get my hands on.

I'll let you know how it goes--I hope to try again this weekend. Unfortunately, because I work full time, I'm only able to make the sourdough recipes on the weekends, because there's so much maintenance needed, with the rising and the kneading and the rising and the kneading.

Other than that, I've been using the no-knead recipe from Jim Lahey's My Bread book to make a pretty simple loaf for my family to consume during the week. Sometimes I make this bread three times a week or more.
I've been baking bread regularly for 5 years, I do a batch of 4 loaves every twelve to fourteen days for my own personal consumption. My recipe came from the Tassajara Bread Book, a very basic no frills recipe. It's half unbleached white and half whole wheat, and using yeast purchased in a small jar instead of the stuff in the foil packets. I keep the yeast in the freezer and can get approximately six to eight batches of bread from one jar.

If i didn't enjoy the kneading part, I would probably use a bread machine to save time and effort. The manual process from start to finish takes about 5 hours. If you would like the recipe, let me know, I'll post it up here.

I've done sourdough in the past, but wasn't very good at keeping it going and couldn't seem to get a nice texture to the bread, it was too dense for my liking.
I finally made a good batch of sourdough this weekend!!! It looks fabulous and it's not too dense--the flavor is amazing!! I'm so excited.
TurtleShell wrote:
I finally made a good batch of sourdough this weekend!!! It looks fabulous and it's not too dense--the flavor is amazing!! I'm so excited.
So what do you do when you get a perfect batch like this to get it exactly the same perfect batch the next time round? Did you get a good starter sample from the perfect batch? Or was there something you discovered that you had not done before? Smile
I really can't figure out what went right this time, other than I used a lighter flour. Last time, I used whole wheat flour, which may have been why the recipe failed. The starter is the same starter as before.

I will not consider myself able to make sourdough until I can replicate the process at least one or two more times--it may have been just a happy accident.
TurtleShell wrote:
I really can't figure out what went right this time, other than I used a lighter flour. Last time, I used whole wheat flour, which may have been why the recipe failed. The starter is the same starter as before.
I think it is the lighter flour as well. I can't recall that I've ever had whole wheat sourdough bread yet. The really good ones I had had a very light texture and must be the lighter flour. Will watch this space for your progress on the repeats. Very Happy
Yes, I thought it was strange too--the whole wheat sourdough recipe. But it came from the book that gave me the recipe for the starter, and since the starter seemed to be working out so well, I thought the recipe for the bread would likely be good too.
Sifting the flour may help aerate/lighten it up too.
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