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Hello Bread Heads!

I was digging around my email package and found a folder of forgotten emails that I'd never replied to. Some dating back to 2013! As I used to joke, you'll get a reply from me in 10 minutes... or never. Well, almost never. I'm going to whittle down on these ancient emails. Not all 148 of them in this newsletter, but over a period of months.

The followup on the big bang theory and the sourdough pizza dough projects are not forgotten! The first sourdough pizza bake turned out great, but I'd used bread flour to make the dough instead of high gluten flour, so another bake is called for. It was embarrassing since I had the tub of high gluten flour out and available!

Back in 2013 Gordon told me his wife was no longer able to eat dairy and wondered what to substitute for the butter called for in a few recipes at One question that comes up is why his wife can not tolerate dairy. A number of people who have problems with dairy can tolerate butter. It's a question for your health care professional.

We talk about the impact of oils on dough on the oil page at sourdoughhome,com, in general oils improve the flavor and keeping qualities of breads, while solid oils like butter also improve the crumb structure of bread. What is important here is the state of the oil when incorporated into the dough. If you melt butter, it is a liquid oil. While any oil would probably do as far as flavor and keeping qualities go, if you have to substitute oils a solid oil would be best. This suggests that lard or coconut oil would be best. The proviso on the coconut oil is the dough temperature. Coconut oil melts at a very low temperature, about 76F/24C. If your dough will get warmer than that before you bake it, lard or even palm oil might be better choices. Palm oil melts at 95F/35C; Palm Kernel oil melts at much lower temperatures and would not be recommended. What about butter you ask? Depending on the fat content, it varies from 90 to 95F or 32 to 35C.

I am relieved the rest of the questions are MUCH more recent!

In June, 2016 Amir asked, "I have a question about your Black Canyon/San Francisco Style Sourdough. I live in a pretty hot and dry climate. I am better off doing the long rise in the fridge? Is it going to over proof if i leave it out on my counter? Do rise times need to be adjusted if I put it in the fridge?"

In general, it helps to keep dough covered in all but the most humid environments. I like to use shower caps or processing caps that I purchase at a beauty supply store. They are reusable, and cheap enough that you can discard them if they get soiled. With the elastic, you can put them on a bread pan and tent them so they don't touch the dough.

There are a number of controls on rise speed. You can use more or less starter to speed up or slow the rise. A slower rise will lead to a more sour bread. While you can put it into the fridge, most fridges are really too cold to raise bread in. We talk about retarding dough in this article. As your experience grows you'll see how to adjust recipes to make them work for you in your environment. Remember, fridges, wine coolers, and freezers are very dry environments, so make sure you protect the dough!

In September, 2017 Bill asked - This question may be elementary but it is serious for me. I have tried unsuccessfully to bake sourdough bread for a long time and finally decided to ask for help. My bread always turns out the same -- heavy and dense. How do you get lighter bread with big mouse holes ? I have made many kinds of starters using different kinds of flour and Carl's dried starter as well while using different liquids. The starters look good, smell good and the bread dough rises very well. In addition I have used various additives suggested on some baking sites to no avail. The results are always the same. I bake better door stops than bread. Can you help?

I call this chasing the Big Holey Grail and if there was a simple answer, I'd happily give it to you. Once you have a good starter, half the battle is won, but the other half isn't easy. You might look at this video on Youtube The guy who put the video together, Trevor Wilson, also sells a book on open crumb mastery available online at

And that's it for this time, even though I have a depressing number of ....ahhh... well aged emails to reply to.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, even if you didn't read Trevor's book!

1 thought on “2020-03-08 From The Mailbag – Mike’s (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips”

  1. I hate to say it but I’ve given up on the search for the Holey Grail; I have Trevor’s 300page e-book and tried many times. I’ve come to the belief that you either have it or you don’t, like musicianship (or math!). I’ve come close but no where near the Instagrammable master pieces
    of others. No one who eats my bread is complaining about the lack of large holes though but it is a technical skill I would like to perform at least once or twice in my lifetime.

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