Bread making is fun and rewarding. It’s like a couch to 5k; if you keep at it, you will measurably get better every time you get up and do it.

The most important ingredient is time. You can’t rush this. From the moment you start the dough until the moment you slice into your fresh loaf, about 25 hours pass.

milk in a pot that is too small

Starter

This is the life of the bread. It needs care, but not too much. I started with plain flour and water in about a 70/30 ratio. Mix well and wait (days) until it starts rising and forming bubbles. Once a teaspoon of it floats on water, it’s good to use. This will take a week, at least. Once you have the starter, you can either keep it at room temperature or in the fridge. If you intend to bake a lot, say every other day, it’s easier to just keep it at room temp. Either way, the starter needs food in the form of fresh flour, and water. To feed, discard 3/4 of the starter and add flour and water in a 4 to 3 ratio, and mix until well combined. At room temperature you will need to do this daily. If you keep the starter in the fridge, you can get away with feeding it weekly or even less frequently. If kept in the fridge, plan to take it out 6 hours before you intend to start the dough, and feed it right after taking it out of the fridge.

Baking

The ingredients for 1 loaf:

  • 100 grams starter
  • 275 grams filtered or bottled water (no tap)
  • 350 grams good bread flour
  • 10 grams salt

You can double (triple, …) this and make two (three, …) loaves, you just have to divide the dough into multiple balls before the shape.

The steps then. The tricky ones are in bold, look up how people do these steps on Youtube.

  • Take a large bowl and mix starter and water with a whisk until the starter is completely dissolved.
  • Mix in the flour by hand or with a sturdy utensil until you have a sloppy dough, almost a batter.
  • Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic bag and let sit for at least 1h.
  • Sprinkle the salt on the dough and mix it in by hand, agitating the dough as little as possible.
  • Next, every 30 minutes, stretch and fold the dough. Make sure you watch some YouTube videos about this. My advice is to keep a small bowl of water handy to wet your hands between folds, and not to ‘over-wet’ your hands, or the dough will get too wet.
  • As you keep doing the stretch-and-folds, you will notice the dough will become supple and stretchy. You know when you’re done when you can stretch a bit of dough to the point where you can seew through it. For me this usually takes about 2 hours, so 4-5 stretch-and-folds.
  • Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic and put it in the fridge for 12-16 hours.
  • Take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature in about 2 hours.
  • Take the dough out of the bowl and plop it onto a clean, unfloured countertop.
  • Dust the top of the ball of dough lightly.
  • Using your hands or a dough scraper, build tension in the dough. Watch this. (My dough is not quite that hydrated, so I can usually use my hands, but for a higher hydration dough, the sraper becomes indispensable.)
  • Let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes.
  • For the final shape, flip the dough over so the floured side sits on the counter. Then fold the dough into itself, first from the top, then from both sides, finally from the bottom. Pinch gently to make a seam.
  • Gently drop the dough ball into a floured bowl, or use a ‘banneton’ if you have one. Put back in the fridge for another 2h.
  • Preheat your oven to 475 degrees, with a rack just below the middle. Put a Dutch oven in to preheat it as well. Preheat for about 30 minutes to ensure the Dutch oven is heated.
  • Take the dough out of the fridge. Take the Dutch oven out. Carefully place the dough in the Dutch oven, seam down. Working quickly, make a few cuts in the dough with a razor blade. This can be one cross cut, or some parallel cuts.
  • Add about 1 tsp of water to the Dutch oven, next to the bread, then quickly put the lid on and slide into the oven.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, take the lid off, and bake for 10 minutes more.
  • Take the Dutch oven out, dump or lift the bread out and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. You’ll hear the crust crackle as it cools.

Timing

Count back from when you want bread, and take into account the 16 hours slow rise, which you probably want to do overnight. The steps before the slow rise take 4 hours altogether, the steps after take another 4 1/2 hours, excluding baking. I usually bake around 2, so I do the shape at around 10:30am. That means the dough goes into the fridge between 6 and 7 the night before. Counting backwards, that means I need to get started around 2pm the previous day. If I need to build the starter, I can take it out first thing in the morning, feed it and let it activate.

What next?

  • Other flours I started experimenting with 50% whole wheat flour. You need more water (about 30g) to compensate. My latest loaf had a small amount (25g) of whole wheat buckwheat flour, which gives the bread a much darker color and a nice touch of buckwheat flavour.
  • Different shapes Boules, which is what we’re making here, are easy, and the Dutch oven method works well. I’d like to try a Batard (elongated loaf) and perhaps even a sourdough Baguette.

Your feedback

I am new at this. I baked my first loaf a few months ago and have made a total of perhaps 30. I would love to hear about your bread baking techniques and share experiences.