My experiences

On this page I write about my baking experiences and the equipment I use. Since everything changes constantly, this page will change too.

My experiences for now are about:
  • Sourdough starter
  • Good looking bread
  • This is what I found and helped me
 Sourdough Starter
Before I started to bake my own bread I had no idea how delicious sourdough bread was. Searching the web on how to make sourdough was discouraging in the beginning. I found a lot pages on how to make a starter, but it looked very difficult and there were many warnings. The other pages were full of chemical explanations, at the end of these pages you almost felt like a chemist.

So for a while I went on with the yeast. But, I wanted to experience it by myself. And, the sourdough breads looked so good. I searched for more information. This time I was luckier. I found a clear written page on how to make a starter from scratch. I did exactly what they said and it smelt awful. After throwing away a few buckets of the starter, I found the pineapple juice solution by Peter Reinhart. Arden translated it in Dutch. It worked! and after a few days I had my first starter and was ready to make sourdough bread. I keep some in the freezer and only once I needed to take a pack and start to feed it for a few days before I was back baking sourdough breads.

If you’re looking for another way, see Wild Yeast. She has a lot of experience with sourdough and is sharing her knowledge with us.

How do I do it?
I keep the container in the refrigerator, when I don't use it for the next days. When I need it I refresh it and use it.
I keep it in the kitchen, stand-bye, when I want to use it. I refresh it once a day. In summer, when it's more than 30 C in the house, I try to keep it more in the refrigerator and take it out a few hours before I want to use it. Sometimes it works and sometimes I need an extra feeding.

How do I refresh?
I keep the starter in a plastic container with a lit. I think glass is better, but I have no big glass container. I trow everything out except 10 grams. Pour 50 grams of water into the container and stir it figerously. Also cleaning the sides of the bowl. Add 50 grams of flour and stir it till there is no more dry flour. I always place the container on the same place.
I keep 10 grams of starter and add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour. Normaly this is enough for a medium size loaf. The day before I bake I have a look at the recipe and whenever I need more, I prepare more starter. I also have baked bread using the 'old' starter and this works too.
We love Susan’s Norwich Sourdough and Chad's Tartine and.... and .... There are more sourdough breads to bake. And if you like yeast have a try with Maggi's Tortano, also delicious.

When is it ready to use?
Pour some roomtemperature water in a bowl and drop a spoon of starter into the bowl. When it floats it's ready, when it sinks you need more time.

Do you want to know more?
Look on websites of people who have a lot of experience with sourdough bread. Use their recipes and try. Want to know even more, send them an email. And, just work with it. Watch it and you see how it grows. Warm temperatures effect the starter. Watch it and learn. And sometimes it doesn't work. You think the starter has died, no bubbles or your bread didn't rise. Have a look at the website of the sourdough starter doctor, maybe he can help
Good looking bread
I am happy with the looks of my breads, but they don’t have the nice crumb color of the originals made by Susan's. Seeing myself as a constant apprentice in life, I like to learn and experiment. So, I wrote her a question about this. Her answer is: ‘Connie, the crumb color comes from 1) using unbleached flour, 2) using coarsely ground whole rye flour, and 3) avoiding over mixing, which breaks down pigments (and these also contribute flavor, so you really don’t want to break them down!)’.

1. Now there are a few things I can change in my next bread. I looked at my flour. At the beginning I used ‘high protein flour’. Now I use All purpose and still don’t know, but assume it is bleached flour. I will work with what I have and accept the consequences. Sometimes I mix the high protein flour with all-purpose flour.
2. The rye I use is from Germany, so that’s good quality. I have found rye flour and pumpernickel. I will try to ground the pumpernickel a bit by myself.
3. And then there is the mixing and the importance of windowpane. Till now, all the breads I have baked needed a medium-windowpane. If you are not sure, don’t mix too long. Take a bit of dough and gently pull it with your thumbs till it is thin in the center. Hold it in the air and what do you see? When you see bits of thicker dough and bits of looking trough like a window; it is medium. When I learn more, I will tell more. Till now, explore the web on ‘windowpane’, there are pictures and videos.
What helps is to mix the dough by hand. You won't mix it too long. Try baking Tartine Bread and mix it by hand. Because it is wet and sticky you mix it for a short time.
4. And here comes the important thing for me; folding. Folding helps the gluten to get strenght. When the dough is moist you can strech it and pull it gently and fold it back, like an enveloppe. You fold the dough back on itself. You will see and feel the diverence when you fold a sticky and wet dough four times or so. It will change into smooth dough.

This is what I found about shaping and other things, it helped me
The Back Home Bakery

Ceramic pan
Proofing basket, handmade
Scoring with a lame

Ceramic pan
This is our latest investment in baking bread. On the market in Chiang Mai we found this ceramic pan for 2 euro. I was looking for a cast iron pan, but we couldn't find one. When I tried the pan with a Tartine countrybread the result was amazing. The dough sticked on the parchment paper and I had to force it into the pan. But, the bread came out beautiful and tasteful.   

Proofing basket, handmade
We bought two proofing baskets on an artisan market in Chiang Rai. We showed the man at the stand a photo and a week later he had them made for us. The baskets are handmade from rattan and have no nails. The ones he made for us are round and have a diameter of 11 inch. But we’re sure he can make other models and sizes. 

Score with my own lame
I made my own lame. It looks so easy to make, and I did. I used a piece of bamboo from our garden; we live in Thailand. And bought a thin razor blade. It works great and is cheap.

It does help to steam

This is how we steam. I say "we", because my sollution is a bit too heavy and hot to handle by my self. So, Peter, my husband, needs to assist with the pots. We made an eye bolt on the biggest and heaviest pot, it helps. We just bought a marble tile and it works great. You can see the loaves spring in the oven. Flat bread, because of a wet dough, will rise.  

The other option Susan mentioned, is steaming with Lava Rocks. We found stones, not yet the lava stones. But dark stones that keep a lot of heat. I have used them already and they produce steam.

When I started to bake bread, I soon discovered my bread tasted ok, but didn't look as beautiful as the ones on the sites I visited. Those breads looked really crunchy and mine didn't.

Thanks to Wild Yeast Susan for showing me a way, that was affordable and possible here in Thailand. Since that day, my bread looks better. This one is baked with steam. I like the real Artisan Bread, especially the sourdough ones, like this one I baked.