Help me invent my own bread recipes!
December 6, 2010 3:38 PM   Subscribe

I'll go ahead and call myself an experienced breadmaker. Now, I want to invent my own recipes. What should I keep in mind?

After a couple years of honing my craft, I've gotten good at making bread. I'm no virtuoso, but I can pretty reliably bake some tasty bread. White bread, nan, pita, English muffins, cinnamon rolls, bagels, pita, etc. I also finally have a healthy and vigorous sourdough starter (after a few failed attempts!). I've gotten to the point where I'd love to start experimenting, and before I just dive in, I thought I'd query AskMe's awesome breadmaking denizens! Are there some essential ratios/ingredient combos/definite no-nos/etc that I should be aware of?

For reference: assume a fairly complete set of baking tools, a knowledge of what dough is supposed to feel and smell like, a fair amount of time on my hands, and a very open mind about what ingredients can go in/on bread and what shape it can be in.

posted by ORthey to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know the cookbook entitled Ratios?
posted by carmicha at 3:51 PM on December 6, 2010

Response by poster: No, I don't! But it looks awesome, thanks!
posted by ORthey at 4:22 PM on December 6, 2010

Olive bread. Mmmmmmm
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:49 PM on December 6, 2010

Best answer: Experimenting with bread is very enjoyable.

Use baker's percentages. If you know what your hydration percentage is (and your salt percentage), you pretty much know the recipe and can start to experiment. You can make dough in a pretty wide range of hydration (~60%-90%) and your results will be very different.

Keep notes. You will want to be able to go back and replicate whatever you did last time when you made that one loaf you really liked.

Try different flours. You can do a lot of experimenting just by switching flours and mixing different flours (more or less protein, whole wheat vs white, rye and other grains, higher or lower ash contents).

Try different starter culture conditions. Hydration, temperature, feeding schedule, leaven use - these can all change the flavour your culture gives the bread. On the same note, experiment with retarding loaves in the fridge for more flavour.

Try different kneading techniques. I highly recommend giving the dough turns as an alternative to kneading before fermentation, but there are a lot of variations (adding salt and water after kneading, etc.)

Try different baking techniques. You can use a dutch oven or a pizza stone and a clay pot to achieve better crust and oven spring.

Experiment with add-ins. You can mix pretty much anything into your dough.

The most important tools for me are my scale (of course), bench scraper, infrared thermometer (for oven, etc temperatures), linen/wicker couches, and pizza stone & clay pot.

Bread books that I've found useful: Tartine Bread (has a very complete set of instructions to make a very nice country loaf), The Bread Builders (which is mostly about ovens, but still very informative), Ratio (which is not just about bread, but is nice because it makes things really simple). If you like lots of recipes for different types of bread, The Bread Baker's Apprentice is popular, but I don't find it very engaging.

I'd highly recommend starting with Tartine Bread and then experimenting based on their basic bread recipe.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.
posted by ssg at 4:57 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

I don't mean this in a flippant way at all: you should invent recipes that people will want to eat; imagine a setting (brunch, dinner, cocktails, hardy lunch) then think of what kind of bread people would like to eat in that situation.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:01 PM on December 6, 2010

Best answer: My only rules of thumb are (1) the wetter the dough, the less yeast you need, the crunchier the crust will be and the quicker it will rise (2) the less yeast you use, the longer you should rise it for and (3) the less white flour and more other stuff (wholemeal, grains, olives, nuts, etc) in the dough, the less it will rise.
posted by lollusc at 5:05 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's important to understand the way various ingredients interact and the effect they have on the final result. For example, in highly enriched breads (such as brioche) the fat is worked in at the end of kneading; otherwise it coats the flour and interferes with gluten development. Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is an excellent resource for information on both the chemical and biological reactions happening during the bread making process

One hard and fast rule pertaining to rye breads. Rye flour is susceptible to an enzymatic reaction during baking that causes the resulting loaf to come out gummy. To avoid this "starch attack", as it's sometimes called, make sure the majority of the rye flour in the recipe is prefermented in a sourdough culture.

I'll second ssg's recommendations of Tartine and Bread Builders, and add Jeffery Hamelman's Bread, which has a great deal of info on both ingredients and techniques. Hamelman is more encyclopedic than the other two, but I find both Tartine and Bread Builders inspiring reading.

When I started developing recipes I set up a spreadsheet so I could tweak the percentages and track changes easily. It also makes it easy to compare other peoples recipes both to your own and to each other. MeMail me if you'd like to see an example.
posted by clockwork at 5:21 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd also recommend Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible as a good resource. Tons of recipes, but also a wonderful introductory chapter on the principles behind it all and how to experiment.
posted by bluejayway at 10:18 AM on December 7, 2010

I would recommend Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. It falls between traditional and newer no-knead breads in terms of techniques, but also has lots of suggestions on how to tweak recipes.
posted by O9scar at 11:15 AM on December 7, 2010

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