Tips from our Pros!
By: Isabella Tioseco, Bread Sous Chef & Caroline Brugo, Bread Supervisor
Congratulations! You’ve wandered into the world of bread baking.
You’re embarking on a journey that requires patience and an understanding that your first loaf might not turn out exactly like you’d expect. That’s okay, just like gluten, you are strong and up for the challenge!
Baking bread can be therapeutic as much as it is challenging; you just have to stick with it. We’ve compiled some tips and resources from our Menlo Park, CA Bread Team for all of you.
(Refer to the ‘Resources’ section for more elaborate explanations)
Can’t find any flour? Ask your local bakery!
- Flour and yeast can be hard to come by. Activate your community resources!
- Local bakeries are opening their inventory of flour and yeast to the public. Some advertise it, but you might need to ask others through a phone call or email.
Having an even harder time finding any yeast? Start a starter!
- Commercial yeast is just one of the many ways you can leaven your bread at home. Sourdough starters require just flour, water, and time to start. Yeast from the air/environment are naturally occurring and will generate the activity needed for leavening. You just need to be patient with starting your own.
- Starting off your starter with whole grain flours gives the yeast and bacteria a ton of food to jumpstart the process. You can start a starter with just all-purpose or bread flour, but it may take a little bit longer.
You can also make lots of things beyond bread with your starter! Cakes, cookies, pancakes, etc. Search the hashtag #sourdoughdiscard for inspiration.
Time & Temperature
- These two factors are important in all aspects of the food world. Get yourself a timer or use the one built into your phone. Yeast thrives in a warm and wet environment. Too cold, the dough will ferment much slower. Too hot, the dough will rapidly ferment and won’t allow enough time for the dough to get strength and proper flavor.
You Do Not Need a Mixer
- For those of you who have a mixer: awesome! However, this is not necessary. Handmixing and folding are simple ways to achieve strength in a dough. Personally, we think that mixing dough with your hands is essential in feeling and understanding the personality of your dough. Your hands are also your built-in temperature gauges for whether your dough is too cold or too hot.
No-knead breads also exist! Simply mix and let the magic happen.
You technically don’t need a scale, but it is recommended.
- Recipes using volume measurements (cups, teaspoons etc.) certainly exist, however, in the baking world, a more accurate and precise way of measuring comes from using metric measurements (grams, ounces, pounds, etc.). You’ll also have less dishes! If you’re serious about venturing into the bread world, invest in a good scale. We recommend this one: Escali Scale for under $30
Above all, be patient.
- Baking bread takes time, practice, and a lot of trial and error. You’ll likely see photos of bread crumb cross sections strewn across your Facebook and Instagram feeds. However, I always tell folks to fall in love with the process and don’t make having an open crumb your first priority. Flavor and texture rule this land! If your bread doesn’t look like what you see online, who cares! You’re learning!
We could discuss bread for hours, but truth be told, there are already lots of great resources that exist! We just highlighted some important things to consider. Here are some of those resources:
Books and Videos
- Bread Baking for Beginners is a great book by Alchemy Bread’s own Bonnie O’Hara of Modesto, California. She offers great foundational information for starting bread from scratch.
- Sourdough Culture Elaboration – San Francisco Baking Institute – this video explains how to cultivate a sourdough culture cogently.
- Sourdough Starter Recipe– King Arthur Flour
- Naturally Leavened Sourdough Bread Recipe- King Arthur Flour
- Mark Bittman’s No Knead Bread
- No Fuss Focaccia- King Arthur Flour
Flour and Tools Resources
- Best Tools for Making Sourdough Bread- EATER
- Most of these tools are recommended if you are serious about it.
- A bread that requires very little tools is focaccia! You just need a bowl, sheet pan and an oven.
- Grinder Finder Flour Directory
- Their website says it best: “All the entries in this list sell or produce wheat berries, other grains, or flour and milled products from local farms. Some of them are museums with working historic grist mills, many of them are farms. Many of them grow heirloom grains, or other grains as well as common wheat (T. aestivum) and are only available in a select number of stores local to them, or to local wholesale customers, but many will take online orders and ship products to home bakers.”
- Central Milling Flour Store
- Central Milling Flour in Petaluma, CA is the flour we use at our café. They offer flours in multiple sizes from 5 lbs to 50 lbs and can ship nationwide however, shipping prices vary. You also might have to sign up for their mailing list. Flour is very popular these days so you might have to check their website!