Easy Overnight Brioche

Buttery, soft, crispy exterior with a super soft middle, brioche is eating bread that tastes like a croissant…with a lot less work. It is a rich, decadent bread that is perfect for toasting, slathering with jam or eating plain. I was accustomed to picking up a loaf of grocery store brioche to make french toast for my family on special occasions, but with this recipe, those grocery store brioche days are in my past. With just a little planning and the work of a stand mixer, you can have some amazing loaves of bread and will never go back to the grocery store stuff again. Promise!

Use a stand mixer

A little disclaimer: This recipe really needs the use of a stand mixer. Brioche dough is very, very soft and unlike other dough that you may have worked with before. I would not try to hand-knead this dough. It kneads for a very long time as it incorporates all the butter. My hands are also usually warm and warm hands trying to incorporate butter will end in a melty mess. Do yourself a favor and pull out a stand mixer.

Brioche Dough is Unique

The first time I ever mixed up a batch of brioche, I was a bit overconfident. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this dough was definitely different than dough I had worked with in the past. I thought I had ruined the dough because it was so sticky, wet and taking forever to incorporate the butter. I now know that this is the normal process of brioche and the refrigeration process helps to solve all of those issues.

Why Should I Refrigerate Brioche Dough?

After mixing the brioche dough for a long time…at least 5 minutes before adding the butter and then 15-20 minutes as you incorporate all the butter (yes, please use a mixer for this dough!), the dough will turn shiny and be sticky. Transfer the wet dough to a large bowl. You may think, “this can’t be right!” but it is! Cover the dough with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge overnight (or up to 8 hours). While in the fridge the cold air helps solidify the butter and makes the dough more workable in the morning. The dough should be left in the fridge for 8 hours or up to 2 days. This long refrigeration time not only makes the dough easier to handle and shape but improves the flavor. Win-win!

How to Shape Brioche

Once you pull your dough out of the refrigerator, cut the dough into two loaves and then decide how to shape your bread. Add a little bit of flour (not more than a Tablespoon) to the countertop and place the cold dough on top. Work the flour in a bit and shape it. Some of my favorite shapes for brioche are pictured below:

Alternate balls of bread in a loaf pan

Cut into three pieces, roll into three long strips and braid

Fill with cinnamon sugar (or other filling), roll up cinnamon-roll style, cut and twist

Make 6-8 buns out of one loaf of dough, shape into balls and flatten with hand

I do have a very good brioche burger bun recipe on my blog already, but I often will make burger buns out of whatever brioche dough I am making. In the case of this recipe, instead of shaping another loaf, I shape 6-8 buns out of the dough even if we won’t be using them immediately. If I’m going to take the time to make brioche, I may as well make some extra buns! The buns freeze so well, toast up beautifully and are ready to pull out anytime we decide to throw some burgers on the grill.

Brioche Has a Longer Shelf Life

Due to the high amounts of egg and butter, brioche has a bit of a longer shelf life than traditional bread. After a few days if we have brioche left over, I like to slice the remaining loaf and freeze it. When we want a piece, we will pull a slice out and toast it. We also use leftover brioche to make amazing french toast if the bread has been left out for a few days without being eaten. I usually have to reserve a loaf specifically for french toast because it doesn’t happen very often that we have leftover brioche. 

A Little Planning for a Big Payoff

Brioche takes more of a time investment than a traditional loaf of bread. I don’t find it difficult, just something to plan around. This recipe makes two loaves of bread. If you’re going to take the time, you might as well get two loaves out of it! I will often double this recipe for my Kitchen Aid Mixer (affiliate link, though if you are in the market for one I would make sure and check Costco before purchasing from Amazon: they have great deals!) and make four loaves. This gives me enough dough to shape some of my brioche into burger buns, some into loaves of plain brioche and gives one or two loaves of cinnamon swirl brioche. I always end up sharing a loaf too.

Easy Overnight Brioche

Yield: Two loaves of brioche

Time: 40 minute mix/knead, Overnight refrigeration (8 hours to 2 days), 20 minute shape, 3 hour rise, 45 minute bake

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup milk, warmed
  • 2 Tablespoons instant yeast
  • 6 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 5 ½ – 6 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup (20 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)

Directions:

Day 1 (Evening)

  1. Warm the milk in the microwave (be sure that it is warm – not hot, or it will kill the yeast). 
  2. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the warm milk, instant yeast and sugar. Check to make sure the yeast is activating. It will look a little bubbly and smell yeasty within a minute or two.
  3. Add the salt and eggs. Stir to combine. 
  4. With the dough hook running, begin adding the flour a cup at a time into the mixer. Depending on the size of your eggs, you will need a little more or less flour. The dough should be a little sticky and clear the sides of the mixing bowl. Mix well until all the flour is incorporated. Knead for 5 minutes.
  5. While the mixer is kneading, cut the butter into chunks. 
  6. Add the butter a cube at a time into the mixer, trying to place the butter right near the dough hook in the center of the bowl.
  7. Once all the butter has been added, knead the dough for 15-20 minutes. 
  8. As the dough kneads, the butter will incorporate into the dough and the dough will become glossy and smooth. It will also be sticky and a little wet looking. 
  9. After a long kneading process, transfer the dough to a large bowl (with enough room for the dough to double in size in the fridge). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge overnight or at least 8 hours to rise. You can leave the dough in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Day 2 (Morning)

  1. When ready to shape your brioche, pull the dough out of the fridge. Lightly flour a hard surface and turn the brioche dough out onto the floured surface.
  2. Cut the dough in half and set one half to the side for the second loaf.
  3. Line two loaf pans (my favorite here, affiliate link) with parchment paper.
  4. Shape the brioche as desired.
  5. Cover the loaves and let rise in a warm place (not hot or the butter in the dough will melt). I like to choose a window or place the dough under a light to rise. Let brioche rise for about 3 hours until puffed up.
  6. Once the brioche has just about doubled in size, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  7. In a small bowl, crack an egg. Add a teaspoon of water and whip together with a fork. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash lightly over the brioche.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. After 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 30-35 minutes. Check on the brioche in the middle of baking. If it is browning too quickly, cover the tops of the loaves with a piece of foil to prevent further browning.
  9. Allow the loaves to cool before slicing into them. Enjoy!

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Baking Tip: How to Line a Pan with Parchment Paper

Do you use parchment paper? Parchment paper has upped my baking game immensely. It helps create the perfect bottoms for cookies. Parchment paper is invaluable when making sourdough bread. It makes clean-up a breeze and can get you the best looking bars/brownies you’ve ever baked. If you haven’t started using parchment paper, now is the time.

I buy parchment paper in bulk at Costco

Why should you use parchment paper?

Parchment paper allows for easy clean up

Parchment paper has the unique quality of being non-stick (it is NOT wax paper) which means that rarely do you have to grease a sheet pan or bread pan if you cover the pan with parchment paper before baking. Sometimes dark pans can leave the bottoms of your cookies very dark. Parchment paper helps provide your baked goods with an even bake. One of the worst things that has happened to me as a baker is mixing up a delicious batter, baking it and watching it fall apart when I turn it out because it’s stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is where parchment paper saves the day. That little extra step of lining a pan is worth the peace of mind and the perfect bake. 

Lining Baking Sheets and Loaf Pans

I almost always line my sheet pans with parchment paper when baking cookies on them. A simple sheet with a little bit of overhang is fine, though I do like to cut it down if it’s hanging over the edges too much.

For a loaf pan, with a stickier batter, like this banana bread or the lemon blueberry bread that is pictured, I will often drape the parchment paper over the sides. I spray the paper and let it hang over the sides of my non-stick bread pan (affiliate link). This makes it simple to pull the bread out of the pan (you may need to run a knife along any edges that are not touching the parchment paper) without it sticking to the bottom.

How to: Make a parchment sling

I use parchment slings when I bake bar cookies or brownies in an 8 by 8 or 9 by 13 pan. I also use parchment slings for any quickbreads (banana bread, for example), and I line my sheet and cake pans with parchment paper when baking cookies and cakes, though those don’t require a sling. A parchment sling is a tiny extra step that will save you clean up time and give your bar cookies a five star rating.

  1. Set the parchment paper on top of the pan. Allow for an inch or two of overhang on each side.

2. In each corner of the parchment paper, make a cut from the edge of the paper to the edge of the pan, as pictured below. Remove the small corner squares that result from the cuts.

3. Press down on the parchment paper with your hand in the center.

4. Readjust the parchment paper as needed and fill with the batter of your favorite bar cookie, brownies or treat.

I hope this tutorial encourages you for your next bake. It’s never too late to up your game a little in the kitchen and parchment paper does just that! The recipe for those gooey chocolate chip cookie bars is coming soon. Promise!

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Dehydrating Sourdough starter: Long-Term Storage

I love baking in general but sourdough has a special place in my heart. I have spent countless hours researching, experimenting and baking with sourdough starter. Sourdough is a labor of love and I still have a spark of joy every time I take the top off my dutch oven and see the “oven spring” in a beautiful loaf of bread. 

What do you do when you need to take a break from your sourdough “baby?”

Because keeping sourdough alive is such a process, (tips for maintaining your sourdough starter here), it can be a little disheartening to leave your “sourdough baby” when you have a vacation or you just want to take a little break from the daily or weekly feeding process. In the past, after months of successful baking, I have let my starter die because I didn’t know how to travel with it or store it properly when I needed a break from the daily feeding process (when I had my babies, job changes or moves, etc…). 

This year I feel a particularly special connection to my sourdough starter. We’ve been through a lot together…COVID-19, my son’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis, “unintentional homeschooling,” and starting up this blog. We have baked a lot of good loaves of bread together. When I decided to travel across the country to visit family post-quarantine, I didn’t want to leave my sourdough starter behind. I knew I had to find a way to travel with it that didn’t have me stopping at gas stations every morning to feed my starter or having it confiscated at airport security for it being a “liquid.”

Long-Term or Short-Term Sourdough Starter Storage

Sourdough starter can be kept in your fridge with a weekly feeding and honestly it can usually keep in the fridge for up to a month or longer if you really “forget about it” (though I wouldn’t recommend it!). The best way I’ve found to travel with sourdough starter or to store it if you just need a little break from a weekly feeding is to dehydrate your starter. Once the starter has been dehydrated and placed in an air-tight container, you can store the starter in a cool, dry, dark location for many months…even years.

How to Dehydrate Sourdough Starter

  1. If you have been feeding your starter at room temperature daily: Feed it like normal and wait until the starter barely doubles in size (usually 4-6 hours) and is very bubbly.
  2. If you have been feeding your starter weekly in the fridge: Feed your starter like normal and leave it on the counter. After 12 hours, feed it again and wait 12 hours at room temperature. Feed it for the third time and wait (usually 4-6 hours) until it is very bubbly.
  3. Once the starter is very bubbly (usually 4-6 hours after feeding), line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an offset spatula (affiliate link), spread the bubbly sourdough starter very thinly onto the piece of parchment paper.
  1. 4. Let the starter air dry for up to 24 hours. If after 24 hours the starter is not dry, try setting it in your oven with the oven light on. Make sure your oven is turned OFF. Turning the oven on will kill your starter. Leaving just the oven light on with the starter inside and the door closed will give off enough heat to help dry out the starter. Alternatively you can leave it out at room temperature to dry for another few hours.
  1. 5. Once the starter is completely dry, break it up into little pieces and place in an airtight container. Store in a dark, cool place for many months or up to a few years (Full disclosure: I haven’t stored my starter for years, but everything I’ve researched has shown that with proper storage a dehydrated starter will store for a long time).

Travel. Take a Break. Mail some to a Friend.

Once your starter is dehydrated and stored, go ahead and feel the freedom of traveling…or just not being tied to the feeding process. Sometimes you need a little break. Bring a little starter with you if you want to bake for family/friends you are visiting, or keep it in your pantry if you want a little break. You could even mail some to a friend who wants to make their own sourdough bread but can’t seem to figure out how to get a starter going. If you need tips for creating your own starter, check them out here. Once you are ready to bake with your starter again, start the re-hydration process. This will take about 2 days (48ish hours) to get your starter nice and bubbly, and is very dependent on temperature and climate, so plan accordingly.

Dehydrated starter ready to re-hydrate (or store in an airtight container).

How to Re-hydrate your Sourdough Starter

Note: If you are in a new-to-you area and don’t know the properties of tap water (some tap water has small amounts of chlorine in it, which is not good for sourdough), feed your dehydrated starter with distilled or bottled water

First Hour

Choose a jar to rehydrate your starter in. Place the dehydrated starter into the new jar. Using distilled water (or water from a water bottle), cover the dehydrated starter with water. The water should just cover the dehydrated starter.

1-4 Hours

Stir the starter every hour for about four hours. Every time you stir the starter, notice how the sourdough is breaking down and the mixture is turning cloudy. After about four hours, the starter should be dissolved in the water. If it’s not dissolved, give it a little more time and keep stirring. Proceed once the starter is completely dissolved.

4-16 hours (or overnight)

Spoon about 1/4 cup of flour into the dissolved sourdough and mix to combine. Add more flour if the mixture is soupy. It should be the consistency of a thick batter. If needed, add 1-2 Tablespoons of water to keep the mixture the consistency of a very thick batter. Let the mixture sit overnight or about 12 hours.

16-28 hours Stir, Feed and let sit for 12 hours 

Check on the mixture. Look for bubbles, activity and maybe even some hooch (a thin, sour smelling liquid on the surface of the starter). If the starter has bubbles and looks active, feed* it. If it doesn’t look very active, let it sit in a warm place for a little bit longer.

*To feed the starter, discard 3/4 of the starter. Add 1/3-1/2 cup flour to the jar with the 1/4 cup starter remaining. Add a few Tablespoons of water and mix to combine to a thick batter consistency.

28-40 hours Stir, Feed and let sit overnight (12 hours)

Stir down the starter, pour off any hooch and feed the starter. Mark your jar and watch as the starter rises and falls.

40-52 hours Stir, Feed and let sit for 12 hours

If the starter hasn’t doubled in size yet, repeat the feeding process. Feed the starter. Mark the jar and watch for it to become bubbly and rise.

Ready to use Again

Once your starter is rising and falling predictably, it is ready to use! Location, ambient temperature, environment etc… will determine how quickly this process or re-hydrating works but your starter should be rising and falling within 48-72 hours.  

Ready to bake with! One bowl of leaven and continuing to feed my starter.

From this point, you are just a few simple ingredients away from some very, very good bread that won’t take you a week or more to make your own starter! If you are looking for some good sourdough bread recipes, check out some of my favorites here, here and here.

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Tips and Tricks: Kneading Dough

I grew up in a house with no stand mixer. I inherited a bread machine from my grandma as a teenager and began making my loaves of bread in the bread machine…every Sunday. After a few years I graduated to kneading dough by hand and spent many hours kneading balls of dough or pizza, cheese bread or plain old delicious white bread. I loved the feel of the dough, the quiet and therapeutic process of working with a few simple ingredients and forming it into something beautiful and delicious.

Stand Mixer vs. kneading by Hand

I remember the first time I saw a stand mixer and couldn’t believe how amazing it was. I was in awe of all the things it could do. It wasn’t a practical investment at the time, moving from apartment to apartment as a college student, but as soon as I got married, I knew a stand mixer was in my future. As a newlywed we put a lot of our wedding gift cards toward a brand new KitchenAid mixer and I had no regrets about that purchase at all. It lasted me many years.

Now, I have a couple of mixers. My trusty KitchenAid that I love using for smaller batches and my Bosch mixer that I love for the big batches of bread I typically make every other week. I love them both for different reasons…but that is a post in and of itself! You don’t need a mixer to make great bread for most recipes. Your trusty hands will do just fine if you don’t have a mixer. It may take a little extra time and I don’t often use my hands anymore to knead bread because of the time it saves me to use a mixer, but don’t let not having one keep you from making bread. Kneading dough by hand usually takes about twice as long as with a mixer. 

How do you know when to stop kneading bread?

One of the difficult things when you start making bread is figuring out when to stop kneading the bread. Most recipes say to knead for 5-10 minutes. Is that really true? How can I be sure that my bread is ready to rise? Here are three tips that will help you determine when your bread is done kneading and ready to go for its bulk rise (first rise):

After kneading your bread for about 5 minutes, check for these things:

Check the sides of your mixing bowl

Does your dough pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl? If it pulls away from the sides of the bowl, you may not need to add more flour. Continue kneading your dough and watch to see if the dough keeps clearing the sides of the bowl. If it starts sticking to the sides again add a little more flour a few Tablespoons at a time. If the dough is sticking to the bottom of the mixer but not to the sides, that is okay. If you are kneading by hand, instead of flouring your work surface, try using a little bit of oil. This will help with the stickiness of the dough and you won’t be incorporating so much flour into the dough which results in a tougher loaf.

Roll the dough into a ball

After kneading the dough for about five minutes, pinch off a piece of dough. Using your fingers, roll it up into a ball. If it rolls easily into a ball, you have added enough flour. Don’t add more. It is okay if some of the other dough sticks to your fingers at this point. The dough itself may still be a little sticky but if it can roll into a nice ball shape, you don’t need any more flour.

Use the windowpane test

The last test may be one of the most beneficial to gluten development. The windowpane test will tell you if you have activated the gluten thoroughly in the kneading process. To check for readiness, grab a golf-ball sized piece of dough. Stretch the dough with your fingers until the dough becomes translucent and you can see light through it…like a windowpane. If you can stretch the dough without breaking it, the dough is ready to rest and rise for the first rise. If the bread tears a lot, it is not ready and needs to be kneaded some more. Try the test again after a few more minutes of kneading. It is important to note that all dough will tear eventually. If you are using a whole wheat flour or flour other than all-purpose or white bread flour, the dough will tear more easily due to the wheat germ in the flour and this test may not be as accurate.

And there you have it, three ways to check if your dough is ready for a bulk rise. Kneading the dough is a crucial step to how well your loaf of bread is going to come together. It is worth the extra few minutes to make sure that the process is correct so you end up with a beautiful loaf of bread instead of one you take to feed to the ducks (except I’ve heard ducks shouldn’t eat bread…so don’t do that either!). 

I hope these little tips help you on your way to making a delicious loaf of home-made bread. If you are looking for a few great beginner recipes, check here and here.

Note: It is also possible to over-knead dough, though it is unlikely if you are following these signs of readiness for dough.

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Sourdough Discard: Crispy Crackers

When I started my sourdough journey many years ago, I initially thought, “What do I do with all this waste?” I felt like I was constantly feeding and then throwing out a lot of the discard every day. I didn’t realize at the time that discard is actually pretty amazing in its own right and can be used in a variety of recipes. This is especially nice right now when we are doing our best to use up every little bit of flour we can.

I keep my discard in a Tupperware in my fridge. Remember to stir it before using it.

I keep one (sometimes two) Tupperware in my fridge and every time I feed my sourdough starter I “discard” about 80 percent of it into my Tupperware. If I’m feeding my starter once a week and keeping it in the fridge I don’t end up with very much discard. If I’m feeding my starter daily, the discard really piles up and I have plenty to use in special “discard” recipes. 

I’ve been experimenting with different recipes for “discard” crackers for the past month and this recipe turned out even better than I anticipated. When I set them out for my family to try all of my kids said, “Mom, these are AMAZING!” And that is high praise coming from some pretty picky eight-year-olds. The wonderful thing about this recipe is how adaptable it is to what you have in your pantry. You can add in your favorite herbs or choose to sweeten them up with a little cinnamon and sugar. We like them with our favorite cheese baked in too. These crackers are thin, crispy, light and have the perfect tang that sets these apart from your regular crackers.

So I’m here to tell you don’t throw away that discard! This recipe is so simple, so delicious and can be made today. You will want to keep a sourdough starter going just so you can make these crackers…they are that good! My kids devoured them.

Yield: 1 half sheet pan of crackers

Time: 10 minute mix, 40 minute bake

Ingredients: Pick one of the recipes below

Herb Seasoned Discard Crackers

  • ½ cup sourdough discard (about 135 grams)
  • 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour (about 25 grams)
  • 2 Tablespoons (about 25 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon “everything but the Bagel” seasoning (or dried herbs)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Sugar Discard Crackers

  • ½ cup sourdough discard (about 135 grams)
  • 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour (about 25 grams)
  • 2 Tablespoons (about 25 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon white sugar, plus another 1 Tablespoon for sprinkling on top
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Cheesy Discard Crackers

  • ½ cup sourdough discard (about 135 grams)
  • 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour (about 25 grams)
  • 2 Tablespoons (about 25 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon grated Asiago cheese (or other hard, strong-flavored cheese)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Front to back: Herb seasoned, Asiago, Cinnamon Sugar crackers

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a half sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper.
  2. Stir down your sourdough discard (if there is any “hooch” on the top, pour it off). 
  3. In a small bowl stir together 135 grams sourdough discard, 2 Tablespoons of flour and 2 Tablespoons of melted butter. 
  4. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and your seasoning of choice. Mix together with a spatula. The dough will resemble a thick batter.
  5. Pour the batter into the middle of the parchment paper. Using an offset spatula or a butter knife, spread the batter very evenly and thinly to cover the parchment paper.
  6. If you are making the cinnamon-sugar crackers sprinkle the top with 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon.
  7. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 300 degrees. Check your crackers around the 30 minute mark to make sure they are not getting too brown. Oven temperatures do vary, so your crackers may need a little less or a little more time. I find 40 minutes to be perfect in my oven.
  8. Let the crackers cool for 10 minutes and then break into pieces. If you want them a little more flavorful, sprinkle a little extra salt on top. Enjoy! If you have any leftovers, store in an airtight container for a few days.

Recipe Notes: If you use salted butter, leave out the salt in the recipe. We love the “Everything But the Bagel Seasoning” in place of dried herbs in the Herb Seasoned Discard Crackers. If you want to “cut” the crackers into squares, pull the pan out after 10 minutes of baking. Use a pizza cutter to cut into shapes and then continue baking. 

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No Knead, Rustic Sourdough

I am the type of person who likes to do things really, really well the first time. I always want the best of the best and I like to “shoot for the stars.” This can be a good quality but it also has its downsides. Sometimes I won’t try if I don’t think I can do it well enough. Sometimes I bypass the “easy” and “beginner” recipes for the more complicated ones and miss out on some really great bread. 

This is the case with today’s recipe. In some ways I wish I had learned to make this recipe when I first learned about sourdough because it would have been helpful to understand some basics before trying to wrap my mind around “more advanced” techniques. I also love how simple this bread is and that you can keep the dough in your fridge for up to two days before baking. Fresh-baked bread on demand?! Sign me up!

This recipe is the perfect rustic sourdough bread for anyone looking to learn the simple basics of sourdough. It will produce an addictive, crunchy crust and a yummy middle. It doesn’t take much active time, just a lot of “hands off” time and you can have a delicious loaf of bread with no commercial yeast. This bread is no-knead and even the newest bakers can make it and treat their families and loved ones to some of the best bread right out of your home oven. Basically, it’s the perfect starter recipe. If you are new to sourdough, this recipe is for you! If you are looking for a more advanced recipe, I have my favorite one here.

If you are a sourdough beginner, it’s important to understand a couple basics. People will often use different terms when talking about the rising agent in sourdough. You will see recipes on the internet or in cookbooks that talk about starter and leaven (levain in French). The makeup of these is basically the same…flour, water and natural yeast/bacteria. The purpose of them is different. 

A sourdough starter can be thought of as the “mother” (maybe you have heard of the term “mother yeast?). You keep the “mother” at the same level, re-feeding it weekly by getting rid of the discard and adding flour and water to the “mother” starter. Anytime you want to make bread, you take a portion of the “mother” and create leaven with it (the offspring of the mother). The leaven is the yeast that is actually used in the bread. It is an offshoot of the “mother yeast.” The process of building the leaven looks the same as the starter. Take a small amount of the sourdough starter (“mother”), add flour and water as dictated by the recipe and allow it to rise and ferment over the course of a few hours or overnight. This is a new leaven. The leaven is what you will use when you make your loaf of bread.

Said another way, your leaven is “built” using a small portion of your starter. In all my sourdough recipes, I keep my “mother” starter separate from my leaven. I always build a leaven (using the starter) for the recipe. Clear as mud?! Comment if you have questions and I am happy to clarify.

The dutch oven I’ve used for 8 years still going strong

One more important note about this recipe and about artisan sourdough bread is that you will need a dutch oven. A dutch oven helps trap the steam which gives your loaf of bread a beautiful “oven spring” and rise. If you don’t have a dutch oven and want to try this anyway, you may not get the same results. However, you can try baking it on a pizza stone. Throw in a few handfuls of ice cubes at the bottom of your oven right before you close the oven door to bake your loaf. This will generate some steam and give you some crust and rise. I do highly recommend investing in a dutch oven if you can and are planning to  make this bread. It is worth it. The caramelized crust and delicious flavor with a hint of sourdough are perfect when paired with some soft butter or a dollop of jam.

To see the recipe start to finish on IGTV click here.

Yield: 1 loaf of rustic sourdough bread

Time: 5 minute mix, 8 hour rise, 10 minute mix, 15 hour rise, 10 minute shape, 40 minute bake This recipe only takes about 25 minutes active time. The rest is rising time.

Ingredients:

Leaven (mix the morning of or the night before)

  • 50 grams sourdough starter
  • 200 grams (about 1 cup) water
  • 200 grams (about 2 cups) flour, all purpose or bread flour

Dough

  • 230 grams leaven
  • 400 grams (1 ¾ cup) room temperature water
  • 600 grams (5 cups) flour, all purpose or bread flour 
  • 12 grams (2 teaspoons) of salt 

Instructions:

  1. In the morning mix your leaven. To a bowl or large jar add 50 grams of starter, 200 grams of water and 200 grams of flour. Mix together. Cover and let sit at room temperature for a few hours until the mixture has doubled in size. Once the leaven has doubled in size it is ready to use. At this point you can do the float test to see if it is ready to use. Drop a small piece of the leaven in a glass of water. If it floats, it is ready. If not, leave it to sit a little longer. If you decided to mix your leaven the night before, let it sit out covered on the counter overnight. In this case you don’t need to worry about the float test.
  2. Mix 230 grams of ripe leaven (you will have some leftover), room temperature water, flour and salt in a bowl using a wooden spoon. The dough will look “shaggy” but will come together. 
  3. Cover the bowl and let it sit for an hour. After an hour, uncover the bowl and do a series of three “fold-and-turns”. To do this, pick up the underside of the dough and fold it on top of itself, turning the bowl after each fold and picking up a different section of the dough to fold and turn.
  4. Cover the bowl again and let it rest for another hour. Notice how the dough is coming together. It doesn’t feel shaggy anymore. For the second time, do the series of three folds.
  5. Cover the bowl again and let it rest for its third and final hour. Repeat the series of three folds.
  6. Now cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and put it in the refrigerator to rest overnight. The dough can stay in the refrigerator for 8 to 48 hours.
  7. The next morning (or whenever you are ready to bake your bread), put a dutch oven into your oven with the lid on and set the oven to 500 degrees. Preheat the dutch oven by leaving it in the oven for 50 minutes.
  8. Immediately after setting the dutch oven to preheat, pull out a piece of parchment paper. Take your dough out of the fridge and shape into a round ball. Do not punch down the dough, just lightly form with the palms of your hands. It should be fairly easy to work with because it is cold. 
  9. When your dutch oven has preheated for 50 minutes, score the top of your bread with a bread lame, sharp knife or razor.
  10. Take the dutch oven out of the oven. Warning: This is a VERY HOT dutch oven. Keep those oven mitts on and be very careful not to burn yourself. Take the top off the dutch oven and place the dough and parchment paper into the dutch oven. Place the top back on the dutch oven and close the oven door.
  11. Immediately decrease the baking time to 450 degrees and bake for 20 minutes.
  12. After 20 minutes, take the top off the dutch oven and continue baking for 20 more minutes. This will produce the crisp crust you are looking for.
  13. Pull your bread out of the oven. Wait (if you can) to cut into it until your bread has cooled. Enjoy!

Please share this recipe if you enjoyed it! Post a photo and tag me @amybakesbread so I can see your bake 🙂

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread or like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook for more baking ideas.

Sourdough Series: Maintaining Your Starter

Okay, so you’ve made or acquired a sourdough starter. “Now what?! Do I really have to keep feeding it forever??!! What do I do with it now? Help!!” These are thoughts that many of us have when we are new to baking with sourdough. I hope to set your mind at ease and answer a few sourdough starter questions for a sourdough “newbie.”

Feeding Your Starter

If you keep feeding your starter at the same time every day, it will be active, happy and ready to bake when you are. The proportion I like best is:

  • 30 grams starter
  • 100 grams flour (you can use all purpose, or a 50/50 blend of whole wheat and white – it’s your personal preference, but it is best to include at least some white flour in the blend)
  • 100 grams water, room temperature
A happy, active starter that is regularly doubling in size

Start by stirring it down. Usually by the time 24 hours is up and my starter is ready to be fed, it looks a little more runny than it does right after feeding. This is because the bacteria/yeast is hungry again and wants to feed on fresh flour. Discard all but 30 grams of your starter. To the 30 grams, add 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour. If you do not have a kitchen scale, do yourself a favor and get one now. Almost all sourdough recipes use the metric system to measure all the ingredients, so a scale that can display metric units is ideal. If you don’t have one yet, you can take about 2-3 Tablespoons of starter and add 1 cup of flour and ½ cup water to the starter for feeding. 

Mark the top level of your starter (I use a rubber band to do this) and then watch as it rises throughout the day and falls. Feed it again 24 hours later. Choose a time when you are reasonably confident you will be able to feed your starter daily. I like feeding it either in the morning or the evening, pick whatever works best for you. If you are off by a couple of hours, it’s okay. Just feed the starter when you can.

I like to feed my starter every 24 hours because it fits better into the rhythm of my life. There are times when you may want to increase the daily feedings to two or three times a day, for example if you are trying to revive a starter or want to bake a lot of sourdough bread in a day. If you feed your starter twice a day (once in the morning and once at night), your starter will become more active and learn to rise and fall every 12 hours, doubling or tripling in size while rising. If you feed your starter 3 times a day (every 6-8 hours) it will be even more active.

But, Amy”, you say…“Do I really have to feed this starter daily for the rest of my life??!!” The answer is, “No!” One of the beautiful things about modern technology and baking is that we can use the refrigerator to our advantage. 

Refrigerating Starter

Refrigerating sourdough starter significantly slows down the fermentation process, which means you only have to feed it weekly. This is really nice for a home-baker who doesn’t make sourdough bread every day. You may only want to make bread once every week or two or even once a month. Many home-bakers who keep sourdough in their fridge keep it in a crock in the back of their fridge. Others use a covered mason jar or small tupperware. It doesn’t really matter what you use. What matters is that you continue feeding your starter regularly – once a week. 

When you are doing a maintenance feed to a refrigerated starter, pull it out of the fridge. Often the starter will have some liquid on the top that smells strong. This is called “hooch.” You can stir that back in to your starter if you want a strong-tasting sourdough. Alternatively (and what I recommend) is to get rid of the hooch by pouring it into the sink (when the starter has been kept refrigerated, the hooch should easily pour off while the starter will remain in the container). Once the hooch is poured off, stir down your starter. In your jar mix the following (the proportion is the same as above):

  • 30 grams of the stirred down starter (discard the rest of the starter)
  • 100 grams water, room temperature
  • 100 grams flour

Cover your starter and let it sit on the counter for 1-4 hours. Then put it back in the fridge for another week or until you are ready to use it. If you continue this process feeding it weekly, you will always have the key to sourdough bread at your fingertips. You can watch this process here.

When you want to bake with a refrigerated starter, pull your starter out of the fridge a day or two before you need to mix your leaven. Feed your starter twice that day (once in the morning and once in the evening). This will help revive your starter and re-activate the yeast back to its robust self. If you don’t do this your bread may not rise as well.

If you end up forgetting about your starter in the back of the fridge for awhile, don’t panic. Lift the lid and check it out. It may be possible to revive your starter. Pull back any dark discard/skin and look at the starter underneath it. Get rid of the gray/dark colored part and use the starter at the bottom (that is not discolored) to feed and try to revive. You may want to feed it two or three times a day to try and revive a starter that has been sitting in the fridge for a month or two without feeding.

Discard: The nitty gritty

What’s the deal with the discard? Discard is actually a pretty beautiful by-product of sourdough. It is the part of the starter that you don’t feed and that you can throw away, but I wouldn’t. Once you have a strong, active and healthy sourdough starter, the “discard” or the part of the starter that you get rid of every time you feed the starter can be stored in the refrigerator. I keep a tupperware in my fridge specifically for my sourdough discard. Every time I go to feed my starter, I take out the 30 grams I need to feed. Then I pour all of my unused starter into my discard tupperware and put it back in the fridge. I continue adding discard to this same tupperware throughout my week of baking with sourdough.

Store your discard in the fridge

I use the discard to bake with. Typically discard is used in a specific “discard recipe.” You can “google” discard recipes or check out some that I have on my blog. Discard is often found in recipes for pancakes, waffles, muffins, scones, white bread, biscuits, banana bread, homemade pasta, etc… Sourdough discard enhances the flavor of recipes. It does not act as the rising agent in the recipes but instead adds some acidity and can keep your baked goods very tender. So don’t throw away your discard. Keep it in your fridge and bake with it. I feel comfortable using my discard for up to about 2 weeks in the fridge.

Time to Make Bread

So now that my starter is active and I’m feeding it regularly, how do I actually use it in a recipe? That’s a great question and it kind of depends on the recipe itself. Typically you want to choose a recipe that is written for sourdough bread and starter. These recipes are formulated to the measurements needed for leaven instead of commercial yeast. I wouldn’t take a recipe for commercial yeast and sub in leaven…it most likely won’t work well. Almost every sourdough recipe is going to have you build a leaven before making the actual bread. This is an extra step that you wouldn’t necessarily take when baking with commercial yeast. 

To build your leaven you usually take a small amount of your sourdough starter and add flour and water to it in a separate bowl. The required amounts depend on the recipe. Often you will mix your leaven the night before you mix your bread. Sometimes you can mix your leaven the day of (it depends on the recipe). The leaven is kept separate from your starter, even though the process of creating leaven is very similar to feeding starter.

After you have mixed your leaven you will need to wait until it is ready to use for your recipe. To test for the readiness of your leaven you can perform the float test. The float test tells you if there is enough carbon dioxide to raise bread. Usually your leaven will pass the float test when it reaches its peak height (doubled in size).

Float test: Fill a clear cup with some room temperature water. Take a little drop of your leaven and plop it in the cup. If it floats, you are ready to proceed with the recipe. If it sinks, give it a bit more time and test again in another hour. However, leaven that has risen too much will not float. You can still use this leaven, but your bread may end up with more “sour” notes (not necessarily bad). You can watch an example of the float test here.

After your leaven passes the float test, you are ready to mix the dough for your sourdough bread. 

This beauty is worth the wait!

Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

Basic Country White Bread (the crispy crust sourdough bread that dreams are made of)

Sourdough Sandwich Bread (soft, white sandwich bread that has a beautiful flavor and crumb)

I hope that this was a helpful introduction to maintaining a sourdough starter. You can do this! If you can’t find commercial yeast right now, you can still make your own home-made bread. Make your own sourdough starter using my guide, or find someone who will share some of theirs with you. If you are local to Kentucky, I’m happy to give you some 🙂

One more note: Sourdough will take longer to rise than traditional commercial yeast. This is normal. Be prepared for long rise times with the reward of delicious bread.

Please share this post if you enjoyed it. If you need help with your sourdough starter, send me a message on Facebook or Instagram.

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread or like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook for more baking fun with kids and delicious recipes.

Sourdough: Tools

Sourdough bread is science and it is art. It is bread that takes 2-3 days to make a loaf and has only four ingredients: flour, water, salt and leaven (which is made from flour and water). It is the oldest form of bread and has been made for centuries before the invention of commercialized yeast, which sped up the bread baking process. Sourdough also offers awesome health benefits due to the long fermentation process. The amount of time and skill it takes to create loaves of sourdough is the reason these loaves of bread are more expensive. You most likely cannot find this kind of bread in a traditional grocery store but rather in an artisan bakery. It is also the most delicious bread you will eat, in my opinion. Once you make it, it’s hard to go back to any other kind of bread, so proceed with caution! With that said, there is no traditional kneading involved and the process is not very difficult if you follow the steps. 

I will be posting my favorite basic recipe soon, but before I do, I wanted to give a run down on the supplies you will need (or at least the recommended supplies) to make this outstanding bread. You may think this is a long list. Some of these things are optional, but some of them make a huge difference to your loaf of bread. If you are going to spend the time to culture yeast and create a beautiful dough, it only makes sense to invest in tools to help get the rest of the job done. For me, personally, I didn’t invest in all of these at one time. They are not all necessary immediately but if you choose to make baking sourdough a habit, you will want to own these tools.

Some of the supplies you’ll want for a perfect loaf of sourdough
  1. A Digital Scale: Artisan bakers scale all of their recipes based on ratios and the percentage  of the total flour in the recipe. This is called a Baker’s percentage. Percentages are much easier to work with using the metric system and basing recipes on 1000 grams (or 1 kg) of flour. Recipes can be easily scaled down or up based on these percentages. Also, people scoop flour differently and so it can be difficult to give precise measurements in cups. Do yourself a favor and grab a digital scale. I bet you will find other awesome uses for it in your kitchen other than weighing ingredients for bread. I bought mine from Costco but this one from Amazon looks similar (or search digital scales and read the reviews–make sure it uses the metric system–grams).
  2. A Sourdough Starter: You can check out how to make a starter on my Instagram IGTV or check out this blog post for a printout to follow. Alternatively you can purchase one from Amazon or my recommendation, King Arthur Flour.
  3. Mixing Bowl: You will need a big wide bowl for mixing your bread.
  4. Danish dough whisk: This is not a necessity, but wow is this tool awesome! I used to get globs of dough all over my fingers when mixing my sourdough together by hand. This tool quickly and easily incorporates all the flour and water together and I don’t lose any of my bread dough down the drain because I can’t get it off my fingers. It is also very easy to clean. I bought this one and love it.
  5. Mixing bowl or Plastic Container (for bulk rise): You will need another large bowl or plastic container for your bread to rise. You will be stretching and folding the dough during this rise time so you need a bowl in which your dough will be able to double in size. For many years I used a large mixing bowl I had at home. I recently bought some large plastic tubs that have measurements written on the side. This is very handy for seeing exactly how much my dough has risen and I love them. I highly recommend them, though they are not completely necessary if you have two big bowls. I like this one for large batches of dough (it’s a fairly large container, in case you lack storage space). This one is good for smaller batches and just barely fits a double batch of my sourdough bread once risen.
  6. Rubber Dough Scraper: I like having this tool to help shape my dough, scrape the edges of my bowls, etc… I don’t think it is completely necessary, though, it makes the process a little easier. This is the one I have. It is very pliable and flexible.
  7. Bench Knife: I love my bench knife. I use it to separate dough all the time…and not just sourdough. You can use a big knife instead, though I do think a bench knife is worth investing in. This one is similar to the one I have. I bought mine at the King Arthur Flour flagship store if you want to look online there.
  8. Dutch Oven: This is a must have in my opinion. For sourdough bread to get the dark, crispy crust and beautiful oven spring it is known for, it needs to have two things: plenty of steam in an enclosed place AND high heat that doesn’t fluctuate. A simple dutch oven will solve this issue for a home-baker. I have an inexpensive one and it works great (it will get discolored on the bottom from baking all that bread at high heat but it’s held up for many years).
  9. 2 bread proofing baskets (or mixing bowls): In my early days of sourdough baking I used mixing bowls. I found small bowls with a bit of a wider opening worked best. Now I’ve invested in some bread proofing baskets which I love. If you are planning to make sourdough often, they are worth it. You can try different shapes of bread proofing baskets. I tend to stick with round shapes because my dutch oven is round. Mine look like these.
  10. Kitchen Towels: You will be lining your bread baskets (or bowls) with a kitchen towel to set your bread in the night before baking. I like to use thinner towels, but it’s up to you. I’ve even used paper towel before and it’s worked okay in a pinch.
  11. Rice flour/whole wheat flour: I mix together a blend of rice flour and whole wheat flour and keep it in a little bag. When it’s time to flour my bowls (before placing the dough in them) I use this blend. This is not critical, just my preference. I wouldn’t make a special trip to the grocery store for it but I would use it if I had it on hand or add it to my grocery list.
  12. Plastic wrap: I cover my rising bowls with this so the bread doesn’t develop a hard crust in the fridge. This is optional.
  13. Parchment paper: I use parchment paper all the time while baking. When I turn my bread out to score it, I do it on a piece of parchment, which makes it very easy to lift and put into my dutch oven when I am ready to bake.
  14. Bread lame: I love a bread lame for scoring my sourdough loaves. You can make many amazing designs which is part of the fun of baking the perfect loaf! If you don’t have a bread lame you can use a very sharp knife OR a razor blade. I bought this one and like it.
  15. Hot pads: You will be baking your bread at very hot temperatures and handling your dutch oven up to 500 degrees. Make sure you have really good hot pads to deal with the high heat produced by your oven.

And that’s about it! It is quite the list, but many of these things are optional or you can use a different kitchen appliance if you are just starting out. Check through your kitchen and make note of what you will need to purchase and what you have before we make a loaf of sourdough together. I can’t wait to see your bakes!

Please share this post if you enjoyed it!

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread or like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook for more baking ideas.

Preparing to Stay Home

Hey all! This has been a crazy couple of weeks, especially with the spread of the coronavirus that has everyone on pins and needles. I feel like everyone in the media and social media are saying contradictory things at times and it can be hard to figure out what to do in these uncertain times. Here in Kentucky, we have seen the closure of churches, canceling of many events, and we are being asked to limit our travel. My husband and I just cancelled an international trip to Morocco. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to go when all of this is over. 

For me what it all boils down to is that I need to be prepared – to have my kids home with me full time for awhile. Prepared with activities for them to do so we don’t all go crazy. Prepared mentally for the next few months to come. We need to be prepared to help our communities by staying home as much as possible and giving our amazing doctors, nurses and medical staff the ability to treat those affected. 

One thing that really resonated with me as a mom was this question posed on Facebook: 

“If you are going to be staying home for 2-3 weeks, what can you do now to prepare to make an awesome staycation at home with your kids really fun and memorable?” 

So, I’ve compiled a list of fun things that we can do as a family but also that my kids can do by themselves. I want my kids to continue learning even when they are not in school. A little bit of planning on my part can help that to happen. Even though my kids’ school has not yet cancelled, I am anticipating a closure to happen soon (and if that doesn’t happen I will have lots of ideas for summer activities already!). Below is a list I’ve compiled of fun, mostly screen-free activities that kids can do at the drop of a hat.

I want to make this time memorable for my kids (and bearable for me), while also helping our community and doing our part. I’d love to add your suggestions to this post and keep it updated it so we can all benefit when we are told, “There’s nothing to do!!! I’m so BORED!” 

Here are some ideas:

  • Build with Legos/Magna-tiles
  • Build a fort with blankets
  • Draw a picture
  • Play a board game
  • Write and illustrate a “book” or comic
  • Paint a picture/watercolor/finger paint
  • Sidewalk chalk with a water bottle (to spray it)
  • Use a paintbrush and water to “paint” outside
  • Plant a garden/start seeds for the garden and keep a seed journal
  • Make hand sanitizer
  • Family movie night (during the day with popcorn)
  • Read a book
  • Audiobooks, audiobooks, audiobooks–check out Overdrive from your local library or pay for an audible subscription, etc…
  • FaceTime a friend or family member
  • Photo scavenger hunt around the house or outside in nature
  • Have a dance party
  • Start a rock collection
  • Blow bubbles
  • Catch a bug in a jar
  • Ride your bike
  • Make cookies
  • Create something out of recycled material
  • Obstacle course
  • Learn to sew or crochet (thank you YouTube!)
  • Set up a tent and a “campfire,” make smores
  • Charades
  • Dominoes
  • Origami
  • Write a letter to a friend, relative or someone who needs it.
  • Go for a walk and search for things you see in nature. Write them down (10-15 things).
  • Collect leaves and make some leaf rubbings with paper and crayons.
  • Old magazines—make a collage
  • Play soccer with your siblings.
  • Play outside on the playset.
  • Make a homemade board game
  • Learn to type on the computer–We’ll be trying out this website
  • Learn a foreign language–any suggestions for something online for this?
  • Learn a new song to play on the piano or practice an instrument
  • Build the tallest tower you can
  • Math workbooks or math word problems
  • Make a necklace out of yarn/beads/macaroni
  • Pick wildflowers and press them into a book or make a bookmark
  • Research your favorite animal and make a presentation about it to your family
  • Play tag outside with siblings
  • Ask mom for some jobs you can do around the house to earn money.
  • Sweep the floors, vacuum or clean a bathroom
  • Make a video and learn to use video editing computer software (iMovie)
  • Make a track for marbles out of recycled materials
  • Do some puzzles (set up a folding table if you need to)
  • Pull out all your arts and crafts, cotton balls, toothpicks, q-tips, glue and create something 
  • Rubber band bracelets/friendship bracelets
  • Painters tape on floor and make a track for cars, indoor hopscotch…use your imagination
  • Card games…lots of them!
  • Karaoke
  • Watch a birds nest being built, and document it with pictures
  • Workbooks
  • Practice juggling or yo-yos
  • Clean your room
  • Perler beads
  • Photography tutorial online and practice taking pictures of family or nature
  • Set up a rice table or sensory bin for kids to play in

Easter-Specific Ideas

  • Dye Easter Eggs
  • Create an Easter Egg hunt for your siblings
  • “Egg” a neighbor’s house with nice messages of support, love, inspiring quotes or scriptures (if you want)–hang them from a tree
  • Make some delicious Easter bread from different countries (I’ll be posting new recipes every week!)
  • Make an Easter nativity or order this one and this Easter book ideas for kids or adults to go along with it.
  • Easter character drawings, readings, devotionals

What are some of your ideas? I’d love to continuously update this list. You can also find the word document here to print out and put on your fridge–easy access for the kids!

Please share this post if you enjoyed it! Post a photo and tag me @amybakesbread so I can see it.

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread or like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook for more ideas.

FLOUR: An Overview

Let’s talk about flour…the wheat variety! The other day I was chatting with some friends about the different types of flour you can buy and they seemed floored that there even existed anything other than the typical “all purpose” and “whole wheat.” I’ll admit, it can be super confusing, especially with all of the different choices and packaging out there. Did you know that farmers in the U.S. produce over 1.9 billion bushels of wheat every year? So let’s break it down:

The science behind wheat

Wheat comes from a wheat plant which produces wheat berries. A wheat berry looks like a small kernel (think about the size of a kernel of corn) and is divided into three parts bran, germ and endosperm.

  • Bran– This is the fiber and the shell of the wheat berry. When broken down it creates tiny jagged shards that give milled wheat a brown color. It makes up about 13% of the wheat berry and contains most of the mineral content of the kernel.
  • Germ– A small part of the inside of a wheat berry which contains all the fat, protein, vitamins and flavor and makes up about 3% of the wheat berry.
  • Endosperm– This makes up the majority of the wheat berry, about 84%. It is composed of starch and protein. If the label on your bag does not say “whole wheat”, your flour will be made up of only the endosperm. It is light in color and mild in flavor.

The milling process

Wheat berries can also be purchased and ground at home…with a manual or electric wheat grinder.

When the wheat berries arrive at the mill, moisture is typically added to toughen the bran and soften the endosperm, making it easier to separate the two. The berries are then ground and sifted multiple times and the resulting flours are separated. At this point, flour made from the endosperm goes through an enriching and/or bleaching process (which gives it a bright white color and results in some flavor loss). Whole wheat flour is created by mixing the ground bran, endosperm and germ.

The role of Gluten and Enzymes in Wheat and the Bread Making Process

The holes in the bread are from the gas captured by the strands of gluten.

Wheat flour produces excellent bread primarily because of the proteins that produce gluten. Wheat produces a larger amount of gluten than rye, spelt, barley and many other flours you may have heard of. This allows it to hold more gas and produce a light and airy bread. Another important part are the enzymes in wheat. They break down the complex sugars in the endosperm into simple sugars that yeast love to feed on. Yeast multiply and produce gases that are then captured by the gluten strands, which is what allows bread to rise–pretty cool, right?!!

Different Types of Wheat Grown in the U.S.

The United States grows six main types of wheat. Below is a quick summary of these and their best uses. 

Hard red wheat– Hard red wheat has both spring and winter varieties:

  1. Hard red winter: accounts for 40% of total U.S. wheat production and is used mainly in making bread flour. It is planted in the fall and harvested in the summer of the next year. It has around 10-13% protein content and is primarily used for bread baking.
  2. Hard red spring: accounts for 20% of total U.S. wheat production and is grown in the Northern plains. It has a shorter crop season and is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. It has high protein content, 12-15% and blends well with other lower-protein wheat. It is used in bread baking ie: artisan breads, bagels, pizza crust, etc… 

Hard white wheat (both spring and winter varieties)- This wheat is primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest but also a few other northern states. It accounts for 10-15 % of wheat grown in the U.S. It has a mild flavor, a high protein content and is used for whole wheat breads, some noodles, crackers, cereals, etc… The protein content is 10-14%.

Soft red wheat- This is the wheat I buy from our local mill in Kentucky. It accounts for 15-20% of the wheat grown in the U.S. and is grown in more humid states, along the Mississippi River and other eastern states. It has a lower protein content at 8.5-10%, which means it can have trouble holding the structure of a loaf of bread and is perfect for flat breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, pancakes, quick breads and pastries.

Soft white wheat- This wheat makes up 10 % of US wheat production and is grown primarily in Pacific Northwest (also a few places in Montana). It is used in pastries, biscuits, crackers, snack foods, Asian noodles and bakery products. The protein content is 8.5-10%.

Durum wheat- This is a very hard wheat. It’s grown in the Northern Plains and desert areas of Arizona and California and makes up 3-5% of total U.S. wheat production. Semolina is another name for the flour that is made from durum wheat. It has a high gluten content (12-15%) and is used primarily for pasta. The gluten that forms when durum wheat flour is mixed with liquids is not elastic like other wheat flours, so it is often used in combination with other flours.

What do protein percentages have to do with it?

The amount of protein in flour helps determine if the flour would be good for baking breads or better for batters/cakes/pastries. You will often hear of higher percentage flours called “hard flour” or “strong flour” and lower percentages of protein referred to as “soft flour.” The protein in the flour; gliadin and glutenin, turn into gluten when liquid is added. Higher protein flour produces more gluten strands which trap the carbon dioxide, creating the beautiful bread dough. The gluten also provides enough structure to hold a loaf of bread as it rises. Lower protein flours, or “soft” flours don’t create as much gluten when the proteins are mixed with liquid, and are not as good for baking bread.

Are you still with me?! That was a whole lot of background information to get to this main question! 

What does this mean for me at the grocery store? What are the different types of flour?

All Purpose Flour- This is the flour I’m sure most of us are familiar with at the grocery store. All purpose flour is a blended wheat flour composed of hard and soft wheats. It can range in protein content but is basically a good flour for all baking purposes. Often all purpose flours have been bleached and are composed of only the endosperm, which means they are not as nutritious as a whole wheat flour. I always have all purpose flour on hand because it can be used for almost anything.

Whole Wheat Flour: Whole wheat flour has all of the nutrients from the wheat berries; bran, germ, and endosperm. Look carefully at the types of whole wheat flour listed above to decide which one to choose. Many people like the flavor of white whole wheat flour (mild) while others prefer a heartier red whole wheat flour. Always choose a hard whole wheat for your yeast breads or mix some of the flours together with a high protein percentage. For pastries and quick breads choose a whole wheat flour with a lower protein percentage. 

A little visual on some of the types of flours.

Whole wheat flour is the most nutrient-rich flour available and often the least processed. Whole wheat flour can go rancid if left on the shelf too long because of the germ in the flour. Keep your whole wheat flour in the freezer to keep it fresh if you don’t think you will use it up within a month. I used to grind my own wheat berries and I would always freeze my extra flour.

One more note: once milled, the bran in the whole wheat flour has sharp edges that cut the strands of gluten which form in the dough. This is why whole grain bread can be more dense and shorter than bread made with white flour. To help compensate for this, you can add more water or some vital wheat gluten to give the finished loaf more chew and spring.

Bread Flour– Bread flour has a protein content around 13%, which helps create more gluten and more rise. It can come in white and whole wheat varieties, and dough made of bread flour holds together well. You do not want to use bread flour in baked goods that you want to be light and airy.

Cake Flour- This is a very delicate white flour with a low protein content (usually 7-8%). It is usually bleached and can make a very fine-textured crumb and a good rise in cakes and sometimes cookies. To make your own cake flour you can substitute 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in every cup of all purpose flour and sift them together before using.

Self-Rising Flour– This is a combination of all purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Many people like to use this for biscuits, though I prefer to make my own (1 cup of all purpose flour, 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt). 

And there you have it…probably more information than you wanted to know about flour! I hope this helps you figure out what flour will work best for your recipes. If you really want the freshest of the fresh flour, find a local mill or grind your own wheat berries. In my opinion there’s nothing better than freshly milled flour, other than freshly baked bread of course!

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