Get Baking and Share the Loaves

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San Francisco baker Josey Baker, who is the best example of nominative determinism I know of, was in Los Angeles this week to share his enthusiasm for whole grain sourdough bread.

Enthusiasm is an understatement. Baker always has a big smile on his face and spent hours, at a bake-off and book signing at LA’s new mill Grist & Toll, answering questions and sharing his knowledge. Baker’s love for bread making is infectious. Catch that infection and you’ll go down a very deep and geeky vortex of hydration ratios and cold proofing sessions.

At a panel discussion on Monday, moderated by KCRW’s Evan Kleiman, Baker announced that he’s working on an Einkorn baguette, the bread geek equivalent of proposing a new route up K2 sans oxygen. At both events he dropped a lot of advice for home bakers that I thought I’d share:

  • The refrigerator is your friend. Do a long proof in the refrigerator. This deepens flavor, allows flexibility in your baking schedule and can help a hearth loaf hold its shape in the oven.
  • Are you beginner? Make your bread in a loaf pan. It’s a lot more forgiving than trying to shape a boule.
  • Use a tip sensitive thermometer to determine if your rye bread is done. Baker didn’t discuss the exact temp, but I shoot for 210°F. For wheat loaves let color be your guide–you want just short of burnt. Baker said that most beginning bakers don’t bake long enough.
  • To keep dough from sticking to your countertop use water instead of flour. Wet your hands too. This way you also won’t be incorporating more flour into your dough.
  • Whole wheat soaks up a lot of water. Your hydration ratio could hit 100% or more. Wet dough like this can be tough to handle which is why Baker’s recipes in the book are around 80%. As you get more experienced you can start working with more water in the dough.
  • Baker said that he often gives a loaf of whole wheat sourdough to people who come in his bakery and say that they can’t eat bread. He says they come back and say, “Holy s***, I can eat this bread!”

To pick up the basics of home baking I can’t say enough good things about Baker’s book, Josey Baker Bread. Baker’s previous job was in science education which makes him the perfect person to write a baking cookbook. The book is laid out to teach you all that you need to know about bread sequentially. You go from a simple yeasted bread up almost to the Einkorn baguette level.

As Josey Baker says, get baking and share the loaves!

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10 Comments

  1. Did Mr. Baker happen to say how long, after proofing in the refrigerator, one should let the dough sit at room temperature before baking?

    • No. But I go straight from the fridge into the oven. You don’t need to let the dough come to room temp.

  2. After years of reading cookbooks and being intimidated by the science-textbook-like instructions, I stumbled on Tartine Bread and have been baking sourdough ever since. Robertson’s latest book focuses on “wholegrain” bread that still has a lot of white flour in it. (I DO sometimes use white flour because a local mill has resurrected a local wheat variety that was used in pre-industrial Lancaster Co. PA. Hurray!) But I have had excellent results with 100% spelt. I know spelt isn’t supposed to have great gluten strength but I have gotten consistently nice rises. I also go straight from the fridge to the oven.

    • Hey Rebecca–glad to hear about your spelt experiments and your finding local wheat! I was also disappointed with Robertson’s latest book (the recipes also don’t seem to work well). And, like you, I’ve had good luck with Robertson’s first bread book.

  3. THANK YOU to Root Simple for introducing me to the “Josey Baker Bread” book!

    I have been baking beautiful yeast-raised bread for years and years, but sourdough was my downfall. I tried every recipe I could find, every technique, piles of books, all to no avail. My starter was very strong, doubling and tripling with ease, but it just couldn’t rise a loaf of bread.

    Ever the optimist, I bought the Josey Baker book on your blog’s recommendation and WOW! From the first loaf I had amazing success – with the very same starter that failed to work with other recipes.

    I owe my new-found bread baking joy all to you guys!

    • You are welcome. Josey Baker is a really nice guy too. He spent hours at the book signing event at Grist and Toll mill answering questions, hanging out, tasting and troubleshooting people’s bread. Then he climbed way up on some shelves, perched on a bag of grain and gave an entertaining talk about how he started baking bread.

  4. Hi Mr. H.,

    I notice that Baker uses whole wheat instead of white flour for his sourdough starter. Do you happen to know why? How do such starters differ?

    Thank you!

    • Josey said that he finds whole wheat starters to be more active. I keep a small amount of white starter on hand and use a tablespoon of it to build a whole wheat starter the night before I make my dough.

    • Thank you for that. I tried it last night and there was “hooch” forming in about 2 hours! It does seem more active. (I began a white starter last week before getting Baker’s book yesterday. I have never baked a loaf though.)

      And when you say build a whole wheat starter the night before making dough, that is basically a “pre-ferment,” right? In other words you have already built up and now maintain two starters (wheat and white)? Do you use the white just because you have already had it on hand?

    • Hi Kyle, I use the white because I have it around and usually want to get rid of it. And I call it a “build” just because pre-ferment is a confusing term with multiple meanings. I’m just “building” from one tablespoon of starter to the amount I need to bake with–usually around 100 to 200 grams. Good luck with your baking!

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