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I bought the book several weeks ago and am working on figuring out issues that I am having. My oven takes longer than 15 minutes to come to temperature, I'll try lowering the temp more. I also think that I'm waiting too long to make the bread with the jump starter, I think that I'll make the jump starter in a graduated jar so I can tell how much it has risen better. I do have one question that I haven't seen mentioned before, When I feed my starter (I'm using Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat flour) I need to add a fair amount more water than called for to keep it at spoonable consistency, maybe 50gr flour to 58-60gr water. Any thoughts or suggestions?

The bread I have made so far tastes delicious, but doesn't rise enough. And I now have a Lodge 2Qt pot.

Thanks in advance,

Greg

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I have been baking with this method for a year and a half with mostly good results, but my last two loaves have come out very flat and dense, without altering my usual method. I'm attempting the superstarter to see if my starter needs reviving, but find the language in the book confusing. Here's what I'm doing based on the description in the book: I took my jar of starter out of the fridge, fed it 50 grams each of ww flour and water, and am leaving it on the counter for 3 hours. Then I will make the jumpstarter as usual, feed my starter again, place it back in the fridge and proceed with the process. Does this sound correct? Is there something else you would recommend?

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The book at top of page 63 says 7 grams of salt. But then in the comments in right hand column, it says “a gram of salt more or less is what we recommend” . Should i use all 7 grams of salt or only approximately 1 gram?

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When I put my loaf in the cold oven and set the temp to 475 and bake for 30 minutes, do I start timing immediately or after the oven gets to 475?? Help!

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author

Hi and Happy Summer to All!

So glad to see folks are baking bread even in warm weather. I do a sandwich loaf about every 5-6 days, which is nice for summer since the oven only needs to be at 350 and doesn't require opening and shutting. In fact, tomorrow's loaf will mark my 317th bake. Time flies when you're rising dough!

After responding to a couple questions in this thread today, I'm reposting the troubleshooting questions so they're updated and handy. I also check the Substack email regularly so feel free to drop a line there. Here goes:

ABOUT THE POT, 100% WHEAT FLOUR, AND PROCESS:

--Are you using a 2-quart pot or something larger and fitting it with a foil ring as described in Chapter 2? The size of the pot is important or your dough will spread before it rises in the cold oven.

--If you don't know the size pot, just use a liquid measuring cup to fill it to the brim with water, keeping track of how much it takes, remembering there's 4 cups in a quart.

--What flour are you using? Did you read Chapter 2 about the challenges of working with specialty flours? Some whole wheat varieties simply aren't suited for bread so for beginners having problems we suggest a few 100% whole wheat flours we've worked with over the years. This choice impacts the starter of course, meaning that if you're feeding your starter a flour that can't absorb much water, it's going to ferment and develop differently than one that can.

--Einkorn is often being sold as a substitute for 100% whole wheat flour. And though it's an ancient grain, it's quite different than the wheats we use for leavened breads today. It's best to treat it like rye, barley, or other whole-grain additions described in the Bittman Bread variations and Mark's Rye and its variations. (There's more on working with non-wheat flours in Chapter 2.)

--Do your starter and jumpstarter look bubbly and active like the photos in the book? Be sure to read the big section called All About Feeding Your Starter. It's important that you remove what you need to make the jumpstarter to begin your bake BEFORE feeding. Otherwise, if you feed the starter then remove some for the bake, the action is delayed and "diluted."

--Is your starter living in the fridge all the time except when you pull it out to bake and feed it? Leaving it at room temperature for too long can cause it to ferment quickly and if you're not feeding it every day then it won't be active when you need it. Keeping it refrigerated slows the fermentation down drastically so you don't need to discard anything and feed it more than every week or 10 days.

--How long in the 8-to-12 hour range are you letting your jumpstarter ferment before starting the dough? At about what temperature is your kitchen? How does your jumpstarter compare to the photos in the book right before you mix the dough? A sluggish or struggling starter or a hot or cold room will require that you pay a little more attention to the activity of the jumpstarter during that first fermentation window so you learn how your process is progressing under your unique conditions. There's some detail about our experiences testing in "Time, Temperature, and Measurements" on page 54.

--The question of how much water to add during folds to develop strength and elasticity depends on many factors--mostly flour choice but also fermentation activity--and is crucial to getting rise. We discuss dough development in other places besides the recipe itself---the conversation called "Is Wetter Better?" and also in the section on Reading Your Dough. We've also layered details into the sidenotes next to all the steps in Chapter 3 and the captions that accompany the folding photos. It's a lot to digest and our hope is that with each loaf you dive a little deeper. (You're probably already doing this but just in case.)

--How long does it take your oven to come to 485? A couple readers have written that their oven takes way longer than 15 minutes to heat, so the dough is settling and baking before benefitting from oven lift. If that's the case, we're suggesting you give the oven a head start--whatever it takes over 15 minutes--so you're putting the cold covered pot with the dough in a partially heated oven.

--The crumb: We want your photos to look like the ones in the book. The Beginner Bread will have a more open crumb than the whole grain loaves and sweets, but the interior of the whole grain bakes should be light and springy, even if not as full of holes as foods made with white flours.

BAKING AT HIGH ALTITUDE:

Baking at High Altitude

From How to Bake Everything by Mark Bittman

Every increase in elevation brings a decrease in air pressure, which affects all the chemical processes that happen during baking. Leavenings take effect more quickly, as does evaporation in the dry climate, which can lead to dry texture and concentrated sweetness. Families who have been living in the mountains for years have already discovered, through trial and error, the best ways to adjust.

Newcomers to high altitudes must be patient and experiment to discover what works best at their elevation and specific conditions. But here are some general tips:

--Assume that yeast-raised batters and doughs will rise faster than at sea level. To compensate, decrease yeast by about one-quarter, refrigerate the dough to slow its rise, or punch it down and give it a second rise.

--Over 3,000 feet, increase baking temperatures by 25°F.

--Over 3,000 feet, reduce chemical leavening by about 1/8 teaspoon for every 1 teaspoon called for; increase liquid in baked goods by 2 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup called for.

--Reduce the amount of sugar by about 2 tablespoons per 1 cup.

--For every 1,000-foot increase in altitude above 3,000 feet, increase baking temperatures by an additional 15°F; reduce leavening by an additional 1/8 teaspoon per 1 teaspoon; increase liquid by an additional 1 tablespoon per 1 cup; and reduce sugar by an additional 1 tablespoon per 1 cup.

QUESTIONS ABOUT USING RYE:

So we suggest you start with all whole wheat, then separate some established starter out and start feeding it rye. (Other flours with even less gluten are even more challenging.) Then see what you think.

Hydration is about the same but will vary among rye varieties. There are photos and notes about adjusting the hydration of starters in that same section described above.

Another idea is to try some of the variations after the main Bittman Bread recipe. And check out Mark’s Rye and the Travel Bread recipes. The dough itself will hold all kinds of different flours in moderate quantities.

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It would be very helpful if you included the expected dimensions of the regular and large Bittman loaves.

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I made the first whole grain loaf and it turned out so well! The second loaf I made was the one with molasses, rye and cornmeal and it turned out flat and dense. for the second loaf I made the jumpstarter then put it in the fridge overnight to work with my timing. in the morning it was active and noisily bubbling. I let it warm up for an hour then proceeded with the recipe (adding unsalted sunflower seeds), but the dough was wet, sticky and unworkable. Thinking it would improve during the rests and folds, I just plowed forward but it remained wet and difficult with no nice gluten 'bounce'. I baked it anyway and the taste is great but ended up slicing it thin and making crisps out of it as it was useless as bread. Any hints? Should I have added flour? I used water on my hands and it never pooled or turned milky. help!

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Big Bittman bread notes:

I bought the Emile Henry large covered ceramic bread loaf pan to make Big Bittman bread (the 2x recipe) in a loaf shape, and it works beautifully at 475 degrees for the initial temp instead of 485 degrees (your oven may vary). King Arthur catalogue carries it as "Glazed Long Covered Baker" and Amazon has it as "Emile Henry Italian Bread Baker/Pullman Loaf" but I bought it at a Didricks; it's $140-$150 (!) and don't drop it since it's ceramic (but if you do drop it, it might not break your toe like an iron pan would). It makes a 13.4" long loaf with slices of 5"wide x 3-4" high (see my user pix). Emile Henry also makes a cute smaller loaf pan that's around $100. I make Big raisin walnut loaf by adding 100g soaked raisins, 100g chopped walnuts, and 1/4 cup maple (or date) syrup along with the salt to the Big 2x recipe. We can't stop eating it.

I got better at figuring out best oven temperature (after first using a metal pan that overheated and made the crusts too hard, and then Kerri helping me) by measuring the temp of the interior of the bread after the first 30 minutes when you take the top off -- I think it should be around (Kerri should correct me)around ?140 F at this point, and if it's higher then the baking temp is too high and you should shorten the rest of the bake, and next time lower the oven temp to get a longer steaming time without overheating. I now get thin chewable and addictively good tasting crusts by knowing how my pan is heating the bread.

Re starter peak: The Big Bittman (2x) loaf uses 200g of starter, and I feed 100g water and 100g flour to 135g of remaining starter every week. My starter is just past peak after a week with this ratio, which is ideal for use, and it gives me the flexibility to use it later than 7 days if I need to. When I made regular size Bittman bread, I used 100g of starter in bread, and fed 50g water and 50g flour to 235g of remaining starter per week, and the starter reached peak after 3 days, and after a week was fully deflated and hungry (it still worked, but with less oomph). So you may want to make it more clear in the book (if it's not) that switching to Big Bittman can change the schedule; and taking out more starter and feeding a higher ratio of food to the remaining starter is useful if starter is peaking too soon or if you want to stretch the schedule to longer than a week.

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Apr 8, 2022Liked by Kerri Conan

1. I tried modifying the book's "rich bread" brioche recipe to make challah, by switching around amounts and ingredients to more closely match my yeast ww challah recipe, and it made a delicious, slightly sweet and rich loaf bread -- despite the dough texture being frighteningly sticky and wet (I think I got the liquid proportion wrong by putting in whole eggs instead of egg yolks). But, it didn't look and taste like challah: the dough was too wet to hold a braided shape, and the sourdough flavor was too strong for the saffron and egginess to come through. I could try a dryer dough to fix the shape, but I don't think there's a solution to the flavor problem. I was impressed that making random changes resulted in a very nice bread anyway.

2. I recommend mixing in Trader Joe's "Italian Style Soffrito" seasoning to the dough for variety. It has bits of dried onion, garlic, tomato, chili, and herbs, very aromatic!

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I have been baking the bread in the book and it turns out beautifully. I was wondering if you have experience with super-sprouted whole wheat flour and how it compares with regular whole wheat flour in terms of nutrition and behavior. Thank you.

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I bought the book for a friend who wanted to find a go-to weekly whole wheat sourdough bread recipe. She and I have been doing sourdough bread bake-offs throughout the pandemic, from miles and countries apart. A skilled baker, she created bricks from the Bittman Bread whole wheat recipe 5 times. I was embarrassed each time because I gave her the book, thinking it was her answer. Read Amazon reviews. Many people are creating bricks from that recipe.

After some discussion, we decided to try again, with a different approach. Our analysis was that the levain was overproofed using the recipe guidelines. So today we built the levain in tall (750 ml) mason jars. And marked them, to know when the levain had doubled. In my case, it was 3.5 hours. In hers, it was 6 hours. We proceeded with the rest of the recipe once our levains had doubled. We produced beautifully risen, tasty loaves. Finally!

Rather than timelines, or noting active bubbling, the description of which is vague, I think the recipe would be more helpful if it described the amount of rise for the levain. Which is difficult to see when the levain is splayed out in a large bowl.

You’ve provided lots of questions to people having difficulties with this recipe, but you’ve not really provided answers. In particular, you’ve not explained how overproofing can happen, even before 8 hours. So what else should one look for to know their levain is ready? Please address this, so more people can succeed with this recipe. In my case, a levain that doubled in 3.5 hours would be collapsed if I waited 8 hours (let alone 12 hours) to use it. Resulting in a brick when the dough was baked. No one wants to bake a sourdough brick. So please give more guidance, rather than questions.

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I have the same question as Evelyn. My bread is already dark when I take the lid off the dutch oven. Almost too dark. I didn't do the final bake directly on the rack because it seemed like it would just burn. My oven temp seems correct, and I'm using a lodge cast iron dutch oven. It's a 3-quart, so I use the foil ring method to make it 6-7 in inside. I'm not sure how/where to adjust to avoid the bread getting too dark before being uncovered.

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author

Hi Everyone, Checking into this thread today to see if there are any unresolved questions. The biggest challenges seem to be among people using specialty bulk flours ground from heirloom varieties or einkorn, which is an ancient wheat that's actually more closely characteristic of rye. Thank you for suggesting a video. Will take it under advisement. In the meantime, so they're handy, here are some questions that I've posted along the way to help you all identify what variables are impacting your bakes:

--Are you using a 2-quart pot or something larger and fitting it with a foil ring as described in Chapter 2? The size of the pot is important or your dough will spread before it rises in the cold oven.

--If you don't know the size pot, just use a liquid measuring cup to fill it to the brim with water, keeping track of how much it takes, remembering there's 4 cups in a quart.

--What flour are you using? Did you read Chapter 2 about the challenges of working with specialty flours? Some whole wheat varieties simply aren't suited for bread so for beginners having problems we suggest a few 100% whole wheat flours we've worked with over the years. This choice impacts the starter of course, meaning that if you're feeding your starter a flour that can't absorb much water, it's going to ferment and develop differently than one that can.

--Einkorn is often being sold as a substitute for 100% whole wheat flour. And though it's an ancient grain, it's quite different than the wheats we use for leavened breads today. It's best to treat it like rye, barley, or other whole-grain additions described in the Bittman Bread variations and Mark's Rye and its variations. (There's more on working with non-wheat flours in Chapter 2.)

--Do your starter and jumpstarter look bubbly and active like the photos in the book? Be sure to read the big section called All About Feeding Your Starter. It's important that you remove what you need to make the jumpstarter to begin your bake BEFORE feeding. Otherwise, if you feed the starter then remove some for the bake, the action is delayed and "diluted."

--How long in the 8-to-12 hour range are you letting your jumpstarter ferment before starting the dough? At about what temperature is your kitchen? How does your jumpstarter compare to the photos in the book right before you mix the dough? A sluggish or struggling starter or a hot or cold room will require that you pay a little more attention to the activity of the jumpstarter during that first fermentation window so you learn how your process is progressing under your unique conditions.

--The question of how much water to add during folds to develop strength and elasticity depends on many factors--mostly flour choice but also fermentation activity--and is crucial to getting rise. We discuss dough development in other places besides the recipe itself---the conversation called "Is Wetter Better?" and also in the section on Reading Your Dough. We've also layered details into the sidenotes next to all the steps in Chapter 3 and the captions that accompany the folding photos. It's a lot to digest and our hope is that with each loaf you dive a little deeper. (You're probably already doing this but just in case.)

--How long does it take your oven to come to 485? A couple readers have written that their oven takes way longer than 15 minutes to heat, so the dough is settling and baking before benefitting from oven lift. If that's the case, we're suggesting you give the oven a head start--whatever it takes over 15 minutes--so you're putting the cold covered pot with the dough in a partially heated oven.

--The crumb: We want your photos to look like the ones in the book. The Beginner Bread will have a more open crumb than the whole grain loaves and sweets, but the interior of the whole grain bakes should be light and springy, even if not as full of holes as foods made with white flours. If you're not there already, you will be soon!

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Bought the book and love it. People had to make bread in the days before packaged yeast, refrigerators, highly milled flour, and gas/electric ovens. This is probably how they did it. I am having the same issue with dense bread, and tunnels. A video of how both of you do the folds, how the dough looks and acts at various steps, and the finger poke test for proofing would be helpful.

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I have baked around 5 loaves so far and I love the taste of this bread, so thanks!!!

But I have questions: I'm using Bob's Red Mill ww flour. I'm baking in a thin enamelled metal covered pot/dutch oven (dark with white speckles)

1. I find the crust is too thick and hard; it's hard to cut and bite into. When I take the cover off after 30 minutes, the crust is already dark. Do you have suggestions for a softer crust? Is the metal pot a problem? Should I take the cover off sooner? Or should I coat the dough with milk or egg?

2. If you use the convection setting on the oven (I haven't yet) how does that change the timing and temperature setting?

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How does baking the Bittman bread in a domestic steam oven (Gaggenau) alter the process? I’m very interested in buying the book but just wondering if the Dutch oven is needed in a steam oven

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