Our Newsletter
Did you know Mike sends out a newsletter (almost) every week? It's filled with news about bread or whatever Mike is excited about this time. It's "Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips"!

Mike's Bread Blog, 2019

A change of plans. For some time all my blog content has been going into "Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips" when they should have been going here. So, now, we're changing that. Our tips, hopefully more weekly than not, will be here. The newsletter will continue, largely with teasers pointing to ths current blog page. And with that out of the way, let the blog times roll!

2019-08-12 A No Discard Way Of Feeding Starter!

Sourdough starter can be a real pain. If it isn't healthy, you can't make good bread. Feeding it every day seems like a total waste of time and flour if you're not going to bake any time soon. And then, there are the discards.

The discards? Yeah. Many sourdough web sites and other people encourage you to feed your sourdough starter twice a day, and before you feed it, discard half the starter and then feed it.

Many people ask "WHY?" Understandably, they feel that the starter is food and it is wasteful, and perhaps a sin, to discard food. The reason for discarding is actually to reduce the amount of waste. If you double the size of your starter twice a day, which is a rather skimpy feeding of your starter, in 10 days you'll go from a teaspoon of starter to a swimming pool full. Geometric progressions are SO much fun when they are working for you, not so much when you have to pay for them. Some people will set aside the discarded starter, perhaps storing it in the fridge for other uses. And you can make some neat things with discarded starter. Pancakes, waffles, Lavash crackers, Blueberry Sourdough muffins, Carrot Pineapple Sourdough Cupcakes, and even sourdough pasta. I'll post the pasta recipe in the next few weeks as it needs some explanation. There are many more recipes for discarded starter at the King Arthur web site as well.

While I've been having fun with sourdough discard lately, overall I'd rather avoid the question. Historically, it hadn't been a problem for me as I refrigerated my starter. However, about a year ago I decided to keep my starter at room temperature to see if it was happier. Spoiler alert - it wasn't much happier, and I was much less happy!

As a result, I've gone back to the older method I used, which I'll lay out here. In my older method, I had two goals:

  1. To minimize how much I have to baby and pamper my starter while minimizing discard, and
  2. making sure I have a healthy starter when I'm ready to bake.
Come along for the ride here!
2019-09-04 Discarded Starter Waffles

Other matters have grabbed my attention of late, as a result, this will be a short post. Sorry about that!

This is another recipe from the rec.food.sourdough faqs. Last time, it was pancakes, this time it's waffles.A sourdough waffle with syrup melting some butter!

I really don't know whether I like pancakes or waffles more - probably whatever is in front of me! Both are a moment of joy on the breakfast table and a cause for celebration. Whether I'm served pancakes, waffles or French toast, I'm happy! Hmmm..... you can make French toast with sourdough bread (our Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Bread is especially good for this! I'll have to post that recipe soon!), but can you make the batter with sourdough? I feel a new kitchen adventure coming on! And now, as someone said last week, without further time wasting ado, let's make some waffles! You can see the rest of this post, in the August 4th blog entry.

2019-07-28 Discarded Pancakes (No, don't discard the pancakes, make them with discarded starter!) And some more discussion of starter handling too!

There are so many life or death decisions and opinions that surround sourdough. And, to paraphrase Mick Jagger, "You can't be a man if you don't feed your starter the same way as me!" For years, I kept my starter in the fridge and fed it up for three days before I made bread. This worked really well, and was nice in that I had little to no excess, or discarded, sourdough starter.

However, that left some questions. Is my starter maturing, the way one that stayed at room temperature and was fed twice a day would? Is it making as good a bread as a starter kept at room temperature and fed twice a day? Do I have the patience to feed my starter twice a day, even though I'm not baking this week? So, I decided to keep my starter at room temperature and feed it twice a day. I worked with spreadsheets to keep the bare minimum I needed to feed up for my next bake with just a smidge left over. But, life intruded, as it so often does. My mother and father are getting older and are physically frail, so emergencies come up and bakes that were scheduled just don't happen. So, I'd feed the starter. And when the amount became unmanageable, I'd discard most of it.

Since I abhor food - and money - waste - I didn't actually discard the starter, I saved it in an 8 quart container in the fridge. However, last week I was reaching a critical point. It was time to DO something with the starter before it took over the fridge (Please, NOT the frig).

This has convined me to go back to keeping a starter at 65% hydration in the fridge and feeding it up for three days before a bake. Less wastage! And I don't see any quality differences. If you downloaded my sourdough feedup calculator, use the "Professor Calvel" feeding regimen to make about 500 grams of thick starter for the fridge. It will keep with no further attention for several months.

Sadly, my doctor put me on a no-fiber diet for the next week so there isn't much I can eat in the house since we just don't do low fiber, and there won't be until after the next grocery store run. The Lavash crackers we recently made and I am SO fond of are WAY out of the question, as are all the whole wheat breads I made last week. So, I've been having more white flour ciabattas in my diet, but we're talking breakfast here! What else can we do for breakfast?A plate piled high with sourdough pancakes! Well, I gave it away in the headline, didn't I? Pancakes made with white flour will fit into my demented doctor's no-fiber diet. And sourdough makes them better!

Sometimes, when you have a number of problems, they can be used to solve each other! So, sourdough pancakes - they taste great, they use up some of the starter, and they are low in fiber. To see the parts of the discussion I cut out, and the sourdough pancake recipe, you might go to the July 28th blog entry.

2019-07-21 I Have SO many Kneads!

Friend of the blog Tre' asked another insightful (OK, bothersome) question. "What is the best work surface for a baker? And, oh, yeah, what changes between a home baker and a commercial bakery?" You ask a lot of questions for someone from Oklahoma!

Tre' probably wanted a nice and easy answer, but there's just one thing, we never, ever, do, and that's give nice and easy answers! Just this time, we'll start out easy, and then we'll get into details! (With apologies to Tina Turner.)

Having gone down the work surface rabbit hole a few times the good news is you can make any surface work. The bad news is no matter what you'll select, you'll probably have buyers remorse and be envious of people with other work surfaces. It's also worth noting that if you ask 4 bakers, you'll get at least 5 answers. And that no matter what you select, and no matter how happy you are with it, someone will tell you that you could have made a better choice.... or that they don't see how you could have possibly made a worse choice. To get FAR more information than you ever wanted on this subject, you might head over to the blog entry!

2019-07-14 Why Won't My Dough Rise, or, What Have I Done Wrong THIS Time?

Bad habits. We all have them. And, somehow, we have less trouble recognizing them in other people than in ourselves. So there I am in the left lane of the highway and this bozo is in front of me with his left turn indicator flashing. "REALLY? You're in the left lane, where do you think you're going?" I grumble futilely. This sad state of affairs continues for a few miles. And to make matters worse, I keep hearing this annoying, "Tick Tick Tick" noise. I look around the car, hoping I can find the source of the annoyance and then I see ... yeah, you guessed it, my left turn indicator is on.

Little bothers me as much as getting emailed questions that are answered on the web site. Not even a, "I saw you said this and that on the something page, but I have a slightly deeper question...." I grumble to myself, "Hey, we've got a search bar on the web page, why won't you use it?"

I've been seeing a considerable number of questions about "why won't my dough rise?" Sadly, there are SO many reasons this could happen that it can't be answered within the attention span of a Facebook post.  As I started to write a blog post and "Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips" newsletter post about this, I stumbled upon a web page I had written quite some time ago. I should have just searched for the topic, using the search tool. *sigh* Yeah, I did that!

Life goes on. Anyway, rather than reinvent the troubleshooting guide, I'll just post a link to it.

There are, of course, other goodies in the full blog post.

2019-07-07 - Another look at the delicate matter.... Or, Everything you know is STILL wrong!

Last week, we looked at an analysis of two starters. The two starters were especially interesting in that David Auerbach, a Facebook, sourdough, and canine loving friend, had given a friend of his a sample of his starter twenty years ago. His friend had taken care of and used the starter for all those years. Both David and his friend submitted their starter to The Sourdough Project, a project at The Public Science Lab.

The two starters were amazingly similar with over 94% of the yeast and 99% of the bacteria being the same, despite 20 years of separation. This left me with questions about what it all meant, and I have pondered the matter for the past week. There is some risk of confirmation bias (or seeing what I want to see in the data), and I hope you'll write me about your conclusions. The rest of this week's post is here.

2019-06-30 - Another delicate matter.... Or, Everything you know is wrong!
Or, is it?

This one has taken a while to get done. It was started with the intention of releasing it on June 6th. Things happened, and then the scope of the article expanded, so I did some other things. Finally, I have it pretty much ready to release on an unsuspecting world.

There are so many myths floating around sourdough, and some of the more interesting ones are put out there by people with good credentials. But, more research moves the boundaries of our knowkendge. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what this bit of research shows, but I will be watching it closely.

Do you think you know what's in your sourdough starter? No, not at the "it's lactobacillus san fransicus" level, just at the "how many critters do you think are running around in your starter" level. And, do you have a handle on what happens when a starter moves away from home, so to speak. I look into that at some depth in this week's blog post. Let me know what you think!

2019-06-23 Lavash Crackers! WOWSERS! Almost 20 years in the making! Lavash crackers check SO many boxes for us! Delicious! Crunchy! A way to use up excess starter! A way to use spent grain! Just a win-win-win-win kind of deal. Check out the recipe page for more information!
2019-06-23 - The Detmolder Three Step! No, not the Texas Two Step, that's something else again The week before last we talked about rehabilitation. My dad is doing better, I hope your starter is also. Last time we talked about the Five Percent Solution, or the Five Percent Kick. It is a very workable way to jump start a slow starter. However, the five percent kick isn't very sophisticated. It gives the starter a heck of a lot of food all at once and the starter gorges itself. Sadly, this tends to benefit the yeast more than the bacteria and should, at least in theory, lead to milder breads. For more sophistication, and more balance, we're heading across the ocean to Detmold Germany, the former home of Bundesanstalt fuer Getreide, Kartoffel und Fettforschung (BAGKF), the German Federal Institute for Grain, Potato and Fat Research.

They developed a number of ways to revitalize a sourdough starter. In this article, we'll talk about the Detmolder Three Stage (sorry, the three step was an attempt at humor) Process. It consists of three stages, which together are designed to build a balanced healthy sourdough starter. It is intended for rye flour, where its benefits help make better rye breads, but it is also very useful for wheat starters as well. Just click here to see more about the Detmolder Three Stage process.

2019-06-11 - The Five Percent Solution

My dad has been in a physical rehabilitation center to try to get him in better shape. And that made me think of other rehabilitations.... of course, I mean rehabilitating an ailing starter. My view is that if you take care of your starter, that is to say, feed it regularly, this discussion isn't necessary. But as the saying goes, "stuff happens". If you are looking for a more in-depth discussion, look at our "reviving starters" page.

We'll present two different ways to revive a sluggish starter, one this week, and one next week. This week, we'll talk about the 5% solution. This is how Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread handled starter in class. I like this approach because it is very simple and it works. Like me, Blair feeds her starters twice a day, and uses what some call a 2:1:1 feeding regimen. That is, she feeds the starter enough to double it in size with each feeding. Or, to 100 grams of starter, she'd add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour. This keeps your starter going, and it should double in size between feedings. But, if you want a real fire breathing rip-snorting container bursting starter, do what Blair does.

To find out what Blair does, please check out the blog for June 11, 2019

2019-05-26 - A Message of Mantras and Memes!

Years ago my son was taking martial arts classes, and he was doing pretty well. He learned the katas (training exercises) and it was a joy to watch him. He did light sparring with the kids in his dojo and did quite well. And then, one day, the sensei's (teachers) arranged to have their students (I almost typed "kids") meet and spar with the students from another dojo (school) to see how they'd do against strangers.

It was embarrassing. It was humiliating. My son went down in epic flames against a student who shouldn't have been able to touch him, much less best him. Thinking about his epic fail, his sensei, Chuck, told my son, "You tensed up and didn't breathe. And that made you tense more, and then you made stupid mistakes. Remember to breathe!"

That last part of that advice has become somewhat of a mantra in our house. "Remember to breathe!" Incidentally, that advice has served him, and us, in good stead. Maybe breathing won't solve the problems you are facing, but not breathing will certainly make them worse. To see the rest of this inspiring tome, click here.

2019-05-19 - The Epi Dysfunction - is it water? Or is it not? Can I stay, or should I go now?

Two weeks ago, I did the unthinkable. I left the newsletter at a cliffhanger. And then I compounded that sin by posting an unrelated article the next week. Let's see if we can bring this ship into port today.

To summarize, after we moved from the mountains of Colorado to the lowlands of Texas, I had trouble making bread. The dough would slump. With lots of work, the dough could stiffen up, but as soon as we stopped sweet talking it, as soon as we stopped whispering sweet nothings in its ear, as soon as we stopped stroking it's fragile ego, it would slump. Boules? No way! Batards? Not on our watch! Baguettes? No, they also went to slump city. Pan breads? Yeah, but - the surface of the dough was not well developed. It was like I'd developed an epi dysfunction!

What changed when we moved? While altitude can be frustrating, that is usually for people who go from low to high altitudes. I've baked at low altitudes in the past - I have baked successfully in Austin, Beaumont, Dallas, Galveston, Houston, Huntsville, Pasadena (Tx) and San Francisco in the past.

Was it a matter of skill? I'm the same baker as before, and we ran a bakery that made darned good products, so it isn't a lack of skill. Or is it? To see the rest of this exciting saga, click here.

2019-05-12 - An apology and a long post about bagels!

Saturday May 11 (yesterday), we had a BagelMania class. This is one of my favorite classes, and may be my favorite food event, second only to Thanksgiving - it revolves around bagels and a bagel party with a host of flavored cream cheeses. If you've never made flavored cream cheese, you should! Easy, cheaper and WAY better than the stuff in the grocery store. We're thinking of doing a video on the topic for The New Burgundians, another of our food focused web sites.

After class, we send students home with dough that they should retard overnight, and then finish off the next morning by boiling and baking. Only.... Larry, one of our students, reported it just didn't work right for him. The dough didn't rise and the bagels didn't float in the boil. That's not good! Click to read more....

2019-05-05 - In Which Mike Battles Classic Epi Dysfunction

When we moved from Colorado to Texas, my bread making success ratio plummeted. I'd knead the dough, I'd shape the dough, and instead of standing tall and proud, it slumped. The only real option for many breads was to make them in bread pans. While I have nothing against bread pans, I also want to make baguettes, batards, boules, epis and even a fougasse or two.

But, no matter how I teased the dough, it wouldn't stand up for me. I was looking, I often joked, for dough Viagra. And that just wasn't happening.

So, we began a multi year search for what the heck was going on with our dough. Click to read more....

2019-04-26 - Where Does Bread Flavor Come From? Peter Reinhart tells us that the oven only contributes about 10% of the bread's flavor. There are some issues with that idea. First, how you measure flavor? And, we sure spend a lot of time obsessing over ovens. My view is a poorly used oven can detract much more than that when someone under bakes a loaf. So, where's the base line for the 10% number? Still, some flavor does come from the caramelization of the crust. Other people say that 90% of bread's flavor is in the crust. Again, how do you measure flavor? Click to read more....