Breadmaking 101 Archives

March 14, 2004

Starter-Starting Sunday: Day One, Fermentation Begins

As you may recall, I spent a good amount of time a few weeks ago reading all about bread in my birthday present of a book "Nancy Silverton's Breads From The La Brea Bakery." The idea of starting a starter--that strange combination of flour, water, and grapes that is the lifeblood of good bread--seemed a daunting task. And the timing was off: starting a starter takes 14 days, and I was leaving for Spring Break.

Well, now I'm back, and I have 14 days up the wazoo. So I said to myself today: "Adam, you wily young lass, why don't you start your starter?"

Since I could think of no reason not to, and since last night's coffee cake left me feeling insecure and shamed, I figured this would be good for my spirits. So I peeled myself away from the computer, into the kitchen, and began the arduous--actually, very easy--process.

Nancy says that later on you can afford to be less cautious, but at this key moment of starter conception everything needs to be pristine (kind of like my conception, I imagine. Except without "How Deep Is Your Love?" playing on the radio). (Don't ask how I know that). So I scrubbed the counters, I scrubbed the floors, I scrubbed my elbows. I cleaned out my newly purchased 1 gallon tupperware tub (home of my future starter) and cleaned the rubber spatula I would use to mix. All set!

Cheesecloth is one of those things I didn't already own. So I ordered it, along with a bread-raising basket and some kind of tarp that'll come in handy later, from King Arthur Flour's website. The whole thing was very reasonable. So I took the cheesecloth out of the package and had Lauren help me cut it in half. Then we cut it in half again. I took two segments and laid them on top of each other. Then I took 2 lbs of black grapes and cut them in half. Nancy says not to wash them because their skin contains natural yeasts that'll benefit the starter. Here is what it looked like pre-bundling:


I did this by tying the opposite corners in tight knots. Here's how my mastery paid off:


Nancy wants 4 cups of lukewarm water that reads 78 degrees on a kitchen instant read thermometer. My thermometer is a candy thermometer and therefore didn't really measure that low (the first prong is 100 degrees). Regardless, the thermometer seemed to suggest that my water was in the neighborhood of 78 degrees:


After adding the four cups of in-the-neighborhood-of-78-degrees water to the tupperware, I prepared the flour. I used King Arthur unbleached white bread flour purhcased yesterday from Whole Foods. I measured out 3 and 3/4 cups.


Then, I mixed everything together with a rubber spatula. It was fun.


Following the directions, I mashed the grapes in their bag over the flour and water. Black/purplish liquid streamed out. Then I dragged it through a few times and pressed it to the bottom. Only thing is, with such a flat container there really wasn't a bottom. But I think we'll be ok.


Nancy's specifics regarding the storage of the starter confused me. Basically, though, she wants it to be stored between 70 and 75 degrees. I felt the best place for this to happen is atop a grill atop my refrigerator. Also, this is the place where it seems least likely that Lauren will say: "What the hell is that?!"


And that's it! Days 2 and 3 require no work, just observation. After Day 3, it should be bubbly and alive. How exciting! I'll take pictures, of course, as we progress. And just think: in two weeks, I'll have bread! Hope I can survive that long. I'm kind of hungry.

March 15, 2004

What's The Frequency, Breadeth: Day 2, The Starter Is Growing!


This morning, the starter was completely separated: one layer of doughy-floury-gook and one layer of purplish-clear liquid. This afternoon, though, everything seemed to be united and little bubbles were forming. This is how it is now. Those bubbles, methinks, are CO2. That can only mean one thing: (cue lightning) (cue Frankenstein music) IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!

March 17, 2004

Tupperware Yeast Infection: Starter, Day 3

Today, Nancy instructs us to lift the lid off the starter and to smell it. Does it smell yeasty? Yes. "It smells like cheese," offers Lauren. And notice the activity! All the many bubbles. I specially loaded this picture so you can click it for an ultra-large image. Be careful though: Monistat doesn't work on computers.


Feed Me Seymour: Starter, Day 4

Today I had to feed my starter. It was a gross experience.

First, I prepared the flour and water that I would add:


Then I opened the lid. Feh! That thing smelled nast-ay!


Nancy was all like: "Ok, feed the starter. Dump in the flour. Dump in the water. Stir with a rubber spatula."

Check. Check. Check.

"Now stick your hand in and swirl around the bag of grapes."

Say wha!

Friends, believe me when I tell you that my hand has never smelled worse. My hand has never been angrier. We are not speaking. (There goes my social life!)

And, I'm not sure if this is bad, but the end result of all this was something very liquidy. Why is it so liquidy?


At least days 5 through 9 require only that I look at it. Thank God! Today's starter work was harrowing.

March 19, 2004

Day 6: Starter Anxiety and an Enterprising Phonecall

My starter is starting to freak me out. Look:


It's separated into two layers: liquid and solid; purple and white. Is this normal?

According to the book, a layer of yellow liquid may appear, but it doesn't sound as drastic as what's happening in my Tupperware.

Being the enterprising person that I am, I decided to do something about it. I decided to call the source of my bread-making anxiety. I decided to call The La Brea Bakery...

Continue reading "Day 6: Starter Anxiety and an Enterprising Phonecall" »

March 23, 2004

Starter Anxiety: The Feeding Begins Tomorrow

Tonight, I thought I'd peruse the pages of the La Brea Bakery Bread book one last time before tomorrow's feeding commences. It seems I have the nomenclature wrong: what I have right now is a culture; what I will have tomorrow is a starter. In any case, I'm feeling rather jittery; like the father-to-be-feels out in the waiting room, his wife huffing and puffing two rooms away. This comparison is not too far off. Nancy writes: "During this time, it's critical that you watch over your starter as a parent watches over a newborn. Don't miss a feeding!"

What I didn't read, before I started all this, was the fine print. Tomorrow I will have to do as follows:

First Feeding:
Add 1 cup water and 1.25 cups unbleached white flour to 2 cups starter.

Ok, no big deal.

Then, 4 to 6 hours later:
Add 2 cups water and 2.25 cups flour to the mix.

Got it. That's not so bad.

Then, 4 to 6 hours later...

Add 4 cups water and 5 CUPS flour.

5 cups of flour! That is a lot of flour! That is a whole bag of flour!

And the thing is, the next day you "pour off all but 2 cups of starter." And do it all again until Day 15. I will be going through bags and bags of flour!

But that's not the worst part. I foolishly read ahead to the actual breadmaking chapter. You think making a starter is hard? Read Nancy's breadmaking specifics:

"Get a reading of the room temperature and the temperature of your flour. These measures will help you determine how hot or cold the water should be. (The water temperature recommended here assumes that the room you're working in is room temperature, 70 to 75 degrees F. You should always double-check this before starting)...For every degree above 73 degrees F, reduce your water temperature one degree. For every degree below 73 degrees F, increase your water temperature one degree."

Perhaps my griping is misplaced: after all, Nancy wants me to have good bread. Fair enough... but good Lord, look how many steps it takes just to get through DAY ONE of the two-day bread making process:

- Planning
- Initial Mixing
- Kneading
- Autolyse: A Moment of Rest
- Salt and the Final Mix
- Fermenting: The First Rise
- Mise En Tourne: Preshaping
- Shaping
- Proofing: Intermediate Rise
- Proofing: Retarding

And that's just Day One!

DAY TWO, when I finally get to make the bread (God, this bread better taste good), there's more:
- Proofing
- Preparing The Oven
- Docking: Cutting The Loaf
- Baking
- and, Cooling.

Nancy cruelly instructs, at the end: "Try to resist cutting into the loaf and eating it before it is cool. The sourdough flavor doesn't fully develop until the bread is cool; the open interior also looks better after you let it set."

Am I done bitching yet? NO!

For I also realized that I'm lacking in several breadmaking tools. I had to go to and order $77.42 worth of equipment and ingredients that includes:
- a Baker's Peel
- Dough-Rising Basket (I already bought one; but I'll need two since these recipes make 2 loaves each)
- Wheat Germ
- Insta-Read Thermometer

Luckily, King Arthur throws in Free Easter Decorations. Now I have to convert to Christianity too!

***Dramatic pause.***

Ok, I feel better now. That was good to vent. Ahhhh. Who's ready to make bread?

Day 10: Feeding The Starter

This morning I woke up bright and early--10:30 am--and clapped my hands together, eager to begin my day.

"Feed me," I heard a voice say from the other room.

"Lauren is that you?" I asked, inquisitively.

"Feed me Seymour, feed me now," the voice continued.

Ah, Lauren left the TV on. "Little Shop of Horrors" on TBS.

In any case, the time had come to feed my starter. I began by peeling the lid off the foul-smelling festering liquid / solid scenario:


I squeezed the bag of grapes dry and emptied it into the trash. I then used a flat whisk and whisked together the liquid and the solid, creating a smoothie like texture. This Smoothie would be perfect for bullemics.

I poured two cups off into a measuring cup:


And, listening to Nancy, I discarded the rest.

"But we're alive!" the starter pleaded.

I turned on the garbage disposal.

Cleaning out the Tupperware, I pourded the 2 cups of Smoothie Starter back in:


I then prepared the starter's food:


(1 cup water; 1.25 cups flour)

I poured it in and stirred:


The starter belched.

I went away to school and when I came back just now, the starter was bubbling and gurgly. It's alive again!

Only 2 more feedings today (one in 15 minutes); 5 more days of feedings; and I'll have bread!

Actually, today's starter work was kind of fun. The apartment REEKS though. Kind of like a cheese-wrapped dead man. After 80 days. You get the idea.

Please No More Starter

Whatever, if I have to suffer you have to suffer too.

Tonight I transferred my starter from a 1 gallon Tupperware container to a 3 gallon Tupperware container because I had to add 5 cups of flour and I was scared it couldn't hold it.

So here's the starter post 5-cups of flour addition. It's starting to look healthier than the purply muck I had before. It's even smelling breadier!



March 27, 2004

The Bread Situation

Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow my starter is ready. Only problem? The King Arthur Breadmaking equipment has yet to arrive. I have one basket, but I need two. And I need wheat germ. And a baker's peel.

So tomorrow morning, when I had originally planned to start the bread making, I have two options:
1) Postpone the breadmaking until the arrival of the equipment; or
2) Halve the recipe; make the loaf; let it rise in the basket I have; borrow baker's peel from Josh and Katy.

Either way, I won't have bread until Monday: it's a two-day process. But this bread is the longest-time-coming-bread ever!

March 28, 2004

Breadmaking: The Morning Session

I don't want to talk about it.

No, really.

I'm emotionally drained.

Here's what happened.

I woke up, I said: "Adam, don't be silly. You've spent two weeks making a starter and it's ready to go and you're not going to go because your equipment hasn't arrived? Hogwash. Just go buy wheat germ, borrow Josh and Katy's bakers peel and don't use a proofing basket for the second loaf."

Sounded like a plan.

I walked down to Whole Foods and bought wheat germ and sea salt.

I came back and opened my starter.


Nancy says you should see lots of activity. There was activity, but not lots.

Nancy says you should stick your hand in and it should feel like bubble wrap. I stuck my hand in. It felt like gooey mush.

Next, prepare your ingredients in the bowl of your electric mixer.

Water; Starter; 7 cups of Flour (a whole lot of flour); and Wheat Germ:



"Mix it on a low speed," says Nancy, "for 5 minutes."


Here's where things went awry. (And now a "rye"--though that would have been infinitely better). I started smelling smoke.

"That's funny," I said, "does bread dough usually smell like smoke?"

And then I looked and saw smoke billowing out the back of my freestanding mixer. The dough was too tough for the hook; it was getting stuck and gears were grinding.

"Help! Help!" I screamed.

Lauren continued reading her homework.

I quickly turned the mixer off and unplugged it.

(This picture shows the smoke billowing out the back. Unfortunately, you can't see any smoke or billowing.)


"Phew," I said. The dough, fortunately, had completed the majority of 5 minutes. I covered it with a cloth--as Nancy suggests--and let it rest for 20 minutes. (This is called autolyst, or something. It's French. It means the resting period where it develops flavor. For me, it was an emotional recouping period. Please, God, don't let my mixer be dead. It cost $300!)

(My mixer still works, but gets incredibly hot and smells like battery acid).

After 20 minutes, I decided--wisely, I'm sure--to knead the rest by hand. Nancy's technique is unusual. No two handed Julia Child warbly voiced kneading. We're talking a one-hand "slam dunk motion," to quote Nancy.

But first, add sea salt to the dough:


Then flour the counter:


Plop the dough down:


Fold it in half:


Then slam dunk it on to the counter:


Do this until, according to Nancy, the dough reaches 76 degrees or after 5 minutes. I stopped at 4 minutes because I was exhausted.

"The dough should feel like a baby's bottom," instructs Nancy. "You should be able to stretch out a tiny piece without breaking it."

I tore off a tiny piece and it broke every time I stretched it. I didn't care.

Now oil a non-metal bowl with vegetable oil and place your dough inside.

I don't have any non-metal bowls. I have Tupperware. That'll do.

I put the dough inside:


Nancy says cover with plastic wrap; I covered with the Tupperware cover. Might it explode?

I'll be at Starbucks crying myself into a stupor. And then I'll return at 4 pm to continue this joyous breadmaking.

Breadmaking: The Afternoon Session

"Bitter was my cup
But no more will I be the mourner
For I've certainly turned the corner
Oh things are looking up
Since [bread] looked up at me!"

- From "Things Are Looking Up" by George and Ira Gershwin

"But she lost control I wouln't take the bait.
I said chill baby baby chill baby baby wait."

- From "Things That Make You Go Hmmm" by C&C Music Factory

Ok, so maybe I overreacted. Breadmaking can be emotional. I came back today and found that my dough had risen, right according to plan.


I plopped it out on the counter:


And I cut it in half:


I slapped each half a few times against the counter to deflate it:


The police came.

"Ma'am," the officer asked the dough, "was he slapping you against the counter?"

"No officer," said the dough, voice trembling. "He wasn't. He loves me."

"Ok," said the officer, exiting as quickly as he came.

I covered the dough with a cloth and let it rest for 20 minutes; according to Nancy's plan.

Then, I followed Nancy's instructions for shaping the dough. You grip underneath it and turn it like you would a steering wheel, until the dough is round and tight.


[The one on the left has been shaped; the one on the right, not yet.]

Then, after shaping the second one, you flour your baskets. If you don't have a basket, you flour a cloth.
I had only one basket, so I did both.

You place the shaped dough in or atop each.


Don't they look pretty?

You cover with Saran Wrap and wait an hour, which is where we're at now. After that, they get plopped in the fridge for retardation (please, no jokes people) which goes from 12 to 24 hours at my discretion. Which means that tomorrow, before my Sexuality class at 3:15, I'll take it out of the fridge and give it the 3 hours of rising time. When I get back, into the oven it will go and I'll have bread!

Here is what I have learned from the process:

1) Cooking on an empty stomach can be a fine thing if the gratification comes within a reaonsable time. So making a pot of tomato sauce from scratch, for example, is perfectly acceptable since you will eat that tomato sauce within the hour. Making two-day bread, however, requires a full stomach because otherwise your hunger will turn you bitter and you will write an angry post about inactive starter, busted electric mixers and the exploitation of migrant workers in Tibet.

2) Don't put the cart before the horse! And to explain this point, I will now tell you a story that I like to call the middle school baseball story. My mom will corroborate this story. In middle school, my friends joined the school baseball team. "Adam," they said, "Join us! We will frolic and be merry!" I came home and begged my mom to let me join.

"Remember soccer?" she answered. "Remember tennis? This isn't going to be another one of those things you say you're interested in, we spend a lot of money, and then you quit, is it?"

"No!" I assured her. "I really want to play!"

So we paid the $X registration fee, and then at Sports Authority we bought a baseball mitt, oil for the baseball mitt, baseballs, kleats and athletic socks. And then, of course, the uniform.

Do you see where this story's going?

First day of practice, we're out on the field and the coach tells us to have a catch. I team up with a youngster I'll call Aggressive Thrower. Aggressive Thrower throws the ball and me, being the efficient athlete that I am, decided to catch it with my shoulder.

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" I yelped and promptly quit the team.

Such is the stuff of my breadbaking. Reading Nancy's book, I immediately--and foolishly--put the cart before the horse, purchasing baskets, baking cloths, a baker's peel, etc. Already my starter is in the fridge, in the process of becoming "dormant." My loaves are on the rise but will they rise to glory? Or will this be my last venture with breadbaking? Man cannot write about bread alone.

Since my morning was so stressful and my afternoon so peaceful, my only reaction can be: "We'll see."

In the wise words of C&C Music Factory:

"Hey ladies
Have you ever had a man
Go away for business, come back with a tan
Comes home late at night from work
You cooked him dinner now you feel like a jerk
Sayin' he didn't have time to eat
And he's not even hungry, he wants to RETREAT?"

Things that make you go hmmm.

March 29, 2004

T-Minus One Hour

The oven is preheating to 500 degrees. The baking stone is in place. The bread is doing it's final rise. The band is playing "We Will Rock You." Lauren is purchasing soup and salad from Whole Foods. [What's funny is as I wrote that, she called my cell to say: "Creole Seafood Gumbo?" I gave the thumbs up.]

Will two weeks of hard breadwork finally pay off? Will this loaf be a loafer or a winner? Tune in to find out on THE AMATEUR GOURMET MAKES SOURDOUGH! [TONIGHT, 6:15 PM, CHECK LOCAL LISTINGS]

April 11, 2004

Is It Dead, Pa?

This morning I decided to remove my starter from the fridge, where it has lain in a state of cyrogenic preservation like Dr. Evil.

Here's what I saw:


Is it dead pa?

Well, hmmm, it looks a little like death:


But we stirred it up, poured out the two cups for the feeding and saw--to our vast delight--bubbles!


That's a very good sign. We shall eat bread again!

April 16, 2004

Back in Business and Ain't It Grand: Makin' Olive Bread

With Passover over, and the shadow of death passed over our apartment (the lamb's blood properly sloshed), the time has come to revive my starter. Last we checked, the starter was sulking and shivering in the fridge; but now it's had three days of feeding and looks beautiful and bubbly:


Today we're making Olive Bread.

It begins with a mistake: I purchased kalamata olives (correct) and green olives in oil (incorrect). The instruction was: "Oil Cured olives" and it wasn't until I got home that I realized that Oil Cured Olives are the wrinkly gross ones. Nancy Silverton wants the olives to fall apart in the bread and color the dough; but alas, that couldn't happen now. So I doubled the kalamata and I'm a better man for it.

Anyway, I woke up at the crack of dawn (10:30 am) and began the arduous process.

I halved the recipe to produce only one loaf and to save my electric mixer from death (as almost happened last time with the extra tough, double dough portion).

So here we are adding some starter to some water:


Then some wheat germ to the flour:


Mixed it up with the dough hook:


Added some salt, then the olives:


Plus some Thyme:


Mixed it all up:


Kneaded by hand:


Put it in an oiled bowl:


Covered in plastic and went to school for four hours. When I returned:


You can really see how it doubled in size.

Then we plop it out on the counter, and shape it into a boule:


Place in a proofing basket:


Let it rise for two hours and then cover in plastic and put in the fridge.

That's where it is now. It will refrigerate until tomorrow when I will slide it into the oven. This process is known as retardation. I prefer to call it mentally challengedardation because I'm not evil. Stay tuned for the finished product.

Olive Bread Gonna Rise Up

Enter Gospel Choir.

"Olive bread gonna rise up
Gonna rise up
Gonna touch the Lord!
Olive bread gonna rise up
Gonna rise up
Gonna touch the Lord!"

Enter White Dude.

"White dude gonna pose for a picture
gonna pose for a picture
and touch the Lord!
White dude gonna pose for a picture
gonna pose for a picture
and touch the Lord!"

White Dude cuts his boule.

"White dude gonna cut his boule
Gonna cut his...

What the hell's a boule?"

"It's shaped bread dough."



"White dude puts the boule in the oven
Puts the boule in the oven
to touch the Lord!"
White dude puts the boule in the oven
gonna make sweet lovin'
and touch the Lord!"





"My children," says THE LORD. "Thank you for your song. I'm truly touched."

"You're welcome Lord."

"But do you have to repeat so much? Can't you vary the lyrics?"

"Sorry Lord."

"Now where's the bread?"

White Dude hands Him the bread.


The Lord cuts a slice.


He takes a bite.

"Not bad!" says The Lord. "Ok, gotta go. Ciao!"

"Olive Bread done rise up
Done rise up
and touched the Lord!
Olive Bread done rise up
done vary the lyrics
and touched the Lord!

November 27, 2006

More Bread Bakers

Who knew that my "Make Bread" post would start a bread-making revolution? In addition to the five people I featured in the first round-up, I've received several more e-mails and pictures from first time bread-bakers eager to try their lot with yeast, flour, water and a hot oven.

Meet Liam:


He made the bread and says, "You were right, it was easy and worked just fine even though I ran out of AP and had to use the WW flour that was in the pantry." He took the picture while on the phone with his wife who was in Chicago at the time. "She was impressed with my bread," he says.

Continue reading "More Bread Bakers" »

December 15, 2006

The Bread Parade

I'm a man of my word and so when I promised in my bread post that if you made bread I would post a picture of your bread on my blog, I wasn't lying. I did two follow-up posts with people and their bread but then the bread pictures kept coming. Fifteen in total: that's fifteen loaves inspired by my initial loaf. I'm so proud! Below you will see a slideshow of all the remaining loaves plus the original loaves that were sent in. At this point, I have to say that if you are inspired to bake bread please do so but this will be the last bread photo post. After all, I think the non-bread bakers might get pretty bored of looking at your bread after a while. So now, without further ado, The Bread Parade!

About Breadmaking 101

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The Amateur Gourmet in the Breadmaking 101 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Blue Food is the previous category.

Bruni Ballads is the next category.

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