July 23, 2009

Improved Basic Bread Dough


What, again with the bread? Yes, because I'm obsessed by the memory of a flavor.

I have this taste memory of bread from the bakery in Rettigheim--it's too small to be located on any but the most detailed maps of Germany--and I want bread like that again. I want a crust that resists the bite without shattering, a somewhat dense bread that isn't really heavy, with moist chewiness but not too much of it. I want the flavor of good wheat, a hint of the sweetness of oats, and just a bit of the sharp bite of rye. I want a bread that, with a glass of wine, makes a meal, and with some cheese, fruit, and nuts, makes a feast. I want a bread that olive oil wants to marry, that marmalade dreams of. In short, I want a bread that I can eat for the rest of my life and be satisfied, even if I never have any other variations on the theme.

There are many good books out there about bread baking, like The Bread Baker's Apprentice. If you want to get serious about bread baking, buy it, it's a great book. I read it, and tried a few things from it, but it involves more work than I really want for my everyday bread. I'm just not that serious about bread baking.

Honestly, I'm most happy with the simplicity of the basic bread recipe in Ratio:  20 ounces of flour, 12 ounces of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of yeast. If you haven't yet purchased a copy of Ratio yet you really need to get one.

What I've finally settled on--okay, maybe it isn't final, but it's close--is 1½ ounces of rye flour, 1 ounce of oat flour, and 17½ ounces of unbleached white flour, all from Bob's Red Mill. I use a heaping teaspoon of Bob's Red Mill Active Dry Yeast to compensate for the heaviness of the oat flour. I also add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and about a teaspoon of honey to feed the yeast; I don't measure either of these ingredients.

I proceed as in the standard bread dough recipe in Ratio and my previous post; usually I'll do this when I start making dinner. Once the bread is kneaded and has risen for about an hour (and the dinner dishes are done), I put it into the refrigerator to continue rising overnight. The next morning I punch it down, shape it, and let it rise until nearly doubled in size. Then I score and bake it.

The resulting bread is moist, fairly dense without being heavy, has a nice crust that doesn't shatter, and a really good flavor. It would be better if I had the patience to make a sourdough starter, but I don't. I wonder if adding a small amount of semolina will improve it?


  1. I heard about this book but wasn't sure how good it would be. Saw a review online and the recipes were really basic. I will have to check it out again. I love baking bread but struggle with some really complicated ones so this could be a good reference!

  2. If you mean Ratio the recipes are really basic--merely suggestions for additions to the basic dough. On the other hand, serious bread bakers or those who want to be should really consider Bread Baker's Apprentice. There's nothing basic about it!

  3. Bread is one of my favourite foods too. As I don't have the kneading machine, I knead it by hands. I love the hard thick crust so I let it bake longer. I also use a lot of wheat bran (I mix regular flour with bran), I guess more than the ratio in a normal wheat berry is. Then I add corn flour, rye flour, polenta (yes, with semolina it's fine too, just a bit more crumbly), flax or other seeds, olive oil or butter,... I keep inventing. I'd love to try your version of bread..must ask someone for the kneading machine:)

  4. Kneading by hand will produce an excellent bread and gives you a good upper body workout at the same time, so a stand mixer really isn't needed. I haven't tried corn flour, but I sometimes add semolina and wheat berries.

  5. And yes, I did it 2 days ago! i made the bread using your technique. for the dough i used 3 cups wholegrain flour, 1 cup water, yeast and salt (i forgot about sugar but the result was fantastic anyway). i kneaded it, let it rise ->put it in fridge overnight, covered with a towel ->took it out, kneaded, let rise, kneaded, let rise on a baking sheet in a warm oven ->baked it (i formed 2 baguettes) for 30 min at 180°C. excellent! so fluffy, light, chewy, heaven! i apologized the yeast bacteria for putting them in cold place but they surprised me immensely, the dough doubled, almost tripled overnight! thanks again for sharing, i'm definitely going to make it again.

  6. [...] then kneaded &let it rise several times the following day (the procedure is similar to this one), baked it at 180°C for 30 [...]