When I start reading bread recipes, I was intimidated by all the special tools baking required. A peel? Sounds like something that should be on an orange. A lame? Rude.
As it turns out, baking bread requires little more than flour, water, and salt. Plus all the fancy stuff can be replaced by things you probably already have in your kitchen.
Now that your starter is bubbling away and you’ve learned how to write a recipe, let’s rest and take a day to practice some Baker’s Math. The answers and detailed explanations are at the bottom, so print out the worksheet, grab a pencil and a calculator, and see what you can figure out.
Inspired by practice problems from the Wild Yeast blog.
1. Convert each recipe to mass
A. Focaccia with 550 g Flour
10 % Olive oil
1 % Salt
Last post, we talked about all about the science of starters. While you’re nurturing your culture, let’s take some time to talk about all the recipes you’re going to tackle once you’ve for a healthy starter going. Ladies and germs (or, I should say, lacto-bacteria), may I present: Baker’s Math.
If you’re a math person, get ready to learn a new kind of percentages that just might drive you crazy at first. If you hate math, consider this a chance to finally master something that wrecked your GPA in high school.
Recipes for bread (and beyond) are often written in “Baker’s Math,” “Baker’s Percentage,” or “Flour Weight.” While it initially looks baffling, it’s actually a great way to convert recipes between English and Metric mass systems (ounces and grams) and increase or reduce the amount of bread you’re making.
To bake sourdough bread, you’ll need a starter. You can get one from a friend or relative, buy one online, or you can grow your own.
Growing your starter
A 100% hydration starter contains equal parts of water and flour. When you’re ready to bake with it, it’ll create a light loaf with a familiar, tangy sourdough flavor.
If you’ve ever had store-bought sourdough bread, you’re probably used to a very particular flavor: tangy, pungent, in a word… sour. While this kind of San Francisco sourdough is famous for its bite, sourdough bread can taste as mild as a simple loaf of pain au levain. The wide range of flavors comes from the fact that “sourdough” doesn’t refer to a particular style of loaf so much as a way of leavening it. While modern store-bought loaves of bread are made with single species of commercial yeast, S. cerevisiae, sourdough breads rely on a process called lacto-fermentation to create a crisp, flavorful loaf.
To really understand what makes sourdough bread special, let’s take a quick look at the regular stuff: baked goods made with commercial yeast. Called baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast, instant dry yeast, or active dry yeast, strains of S. cerevisiae are in all kinds of foods. Fermenting everything from wine to doughnuts, commercial yeast is convenient, predictable, and simple to use. Dry yeast can be stored at room temperature for months, making it easy to bake whenever the spirit moves ya. After adding water, the yeast instantly starts to grow and multiply. And because all commercial yeast belongs to the same species, we can take a pretty good guess about how it’s going to act in a dough.
With so many good reasons to use commercial yeast, why go to the trouble of messing with sourdough? It can taken a dozen more hours to rise, requires weekly maintenance, and can sometimes leave you with disappointing results. But when it works – and that is often! – making sourdough satisfies your palate, gut, and ego.
I have a confession to make: I love graham crackers. I adore the soft crunch of a fresh cracker and savor every soggy bite after dipping it in a glass of milk. I savor its honey sweetness. I like the humility of a cookie that calls itself a cracker. I appreciate how its perforations make it easier to share. Most of all, I love the history of the graham cracker.