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!

Please share this article if you enjoyed it! Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread or like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook for more baking ideas.

Bread Baking: Tips for Success

Does baking with yeast intimidate you a little? Do you have no idea where to begin? I started baking at such a young age that it was more fun for me than scary. The best advice I can give is just try it! Start simple and choose a recipe with a few basic ingredients and go from there. I’ve compiled some of my bread baking tips for beginners to help you get started.

  1. Instant yeast: Do yourself a favor and pick up some instant yeast. Instant yeast has a finer texture and can be mixed directly into dry ingredients, no “activation” required.  It works so well and helps your bread rise quickly. If you only have active dry yeast, you can still use it. Just make sure to “proof” it with a little water and sugar. Put your yeast in a small bowl with some of the liquid from the recipe (often warm water) and a little bit of sugar or honey. The sugar helps activate the yeast. Wait about 5 minutes for the mixture to foam. You will notice bubbles forming and a beautiful yeasty smell…that is your clue that it’s working! You can do this same process with instant yeast…but you don’t have to. Save yourself the 5 minutes and pick up some instant.
  1. Water or liquid temperature: When I first started baking, I would stress a little about the water temperature and “killing” my yeast. Now I know by feel a good temperature for water. Put your hand under the water. If it feels warm enough for a baby or toddler’s bath…that is the temperature you want. More technically, water at 81-100 degrees F is the best temperature for your yeast to start the fermentation process. If your water reaches 120-140 degrees F or higher…that can kill your yeast. That’s a pretty big temperature range, so don’t worry about it too much and just make sure your water is warm…not hot!
  1. Kneading dough: I grew up in a kitchen without a Kitchenaid mixer (I’m pretty sure my parents still have their old hand mixer that’s over 30 years old) or a Bosch machine. Basically all that was available to knead bread was my two hands! Once you combine the ingredients (I like to put my liquid in first, then add the yeast, sugar, salt and flour at the end), go ahead and mix them together. If you are using your hands to knead the dough, don’t be afraid to go to town pushing, folding and turning the dough as you knead. Keep some extra flour on hand to incorporate in as needed. I like to push down with the palm of my hand and then fold the dough back over the top. This is activating the gluten in the dough to help hold it together. You’ll want to knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes. Using a mixer you will knead for around 3-5 minutes. Your dough should form a nice ball, still slightly tacky but not sticky.
  1. Rising: I always put about a Tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a bowl and transfer my dough to that bowl as it rises. This helps it not stick to the sides. Also be aware of the temperature of your kitchen. In the winter I like to leave our fireplace on to help the heat rise in our house. Cover your bowl of dough and put it under a light or near some heat source if possible to help the rise time.
  1. Start simple: If you were learning to crochet something, you wouldn’t start with the most difficult pattern. The same goes for bread baking. Start simple. Choose a recipe with only a few ingredients and learn the process. Yeast is predictable. Learn how it works and enjoy the process. You can do this!!! Message me if you have any questions and I’m happy to help you troubleshoot. Check out my recipe for easy white dinner rolls to get you started.