Easy Bread baking for busy people
Here’s my way of bread baking for busy people. From someone with minimal baking experience and a busy job. If I can do it, then can you.
If there is one thing this year that changed my life in a lasting way, it was to bake my own bread. And while I am a decent cook, I am a rubbish baker. Home Office is no option in my job and my hours increased rather than decreased. Yet I mastered the art of making natural sourdough bread despite working 50+ hours a week away from home and being totally unable to keep to a baking schedule whatsoever.
The secret? A good sturdy sourdough starter, refrigeration, and consistency in the flour I use. At the end, I show you a recipe for a super healthy bread without flour or sourdough (or yeast, for that matter)
The Sourdough starter
I received mine from a colleague when I enquired at work (the only contacts I had in the deep of the German winter lockdown), along with basic instructions how to feed and assurance that it’s almost impossible to kill it. As I set about feeding the starter in a jam jar, I learned quickly that I could kill it by over-watering the starter.
So now I have a regular feeding schedule. I try to use the flour I use for the bread, but not always. I always make sure I use equal parts of water and flour, also called 100% hydration starter, so the scales always come out at feeding time.
Most of the week, the starters live in the fridge in a sealed jam jar. The day before I want to start my bread, I take it out and feed it. One feed is usually enough to get it active. Rarely it takes two feeds over 24 hours at room temperature. Once I have taken enough starter out, I either put the rest straight back in the fridge, or if it is very little, I re-feed a small amount then it goes straight back int he fridge for up to another 10 days until the next feed. At some point I divided my original starter and turned one into whole rye+wholewhat, the other into 550Wheat+wholewheat. I think a wholewheat starter would serve both types of bread I make, but I like to keep a spare if one goes off.
I use only organic flour. Supermarkets here in Germany are pretty good at supplying a small variety of organic flour, so do drug stores. I almost never need to go to an organic supermarket in the city to stock up. These are my flour types I use.
Type 550 White Wheat Flour
Also known as all-purpose flour, this relatively “white” flour is good for white bread, pizza, rolls, buns, cakes and pretty much anything in your home. I am a big fan of this flout because it is so versatile.
Type 630 White Spelt Flour
I never liked spelt in commercial bread, but when the shop ran out of wheat flour, I had to substitute ans was astounded what a greatr all purpose white flour this is. Like wheat flour, has a high gluten content, so it adds great structure to doughs when used sparingly.
Whole Wheat flour
My favourite flour when it comes to good dough behaviour. It consistently raises a starter and a dough, but the finished bread looks a bit grey on the inside. It is sometimes also known as Type 1600
Whole Rye Flour
Also known as “pumpernickel flour” this makes a nice dense brown-ish loaf. It has issues with rising on its own. It works best with a small amount of wheat or spelt flour ratehr than on its own.
Bread baking for busy people -What you need
Not a lot. But essential are
- Kitchen Scales
- large enough deep bowl for preparing dough and proving. I use a Pyrex mixing bowl
- Clean kitchen towels for proving. I used some Eastern German top notch half linen towels from my grandma and later made a proving cloth from a remnant of IKEA linen.
- space in the refrigerator
- An oven that can do 250Celsius.
- A surface to prepare the loaf and a dough scraper are nice to haves but not essential
You need a nice bubbly starter, or one that has bubbled overnight and is on the way down is fine, too. I used the water bowl trick at the beginning, throw a piece of starter in a cup of water, if it floats, its fine. Now I just stick a spoon in – if it’s fluffy and airy, it will be fine.
So my ratio of flour to water to starter is 100:80:20 (80% hydration dough). And do not skip on weighing everything out carefully. My go-to for a medium-to-large sized load are 600g flour, 480g water, 90g starter and 10g salt.
So, starting with the dry ingredient, I combine my flours in my mixing bowl, then weigh out the starter and add it, then add the water. I mix everything with a spoon – white fliur mixes much easier, rye flour can be hard work. Then I add the salt on top then let it stand a bit. Something between 20min and if I forget, an hour.
Especially for white bread, it is good to fold the dough a few times. So I do that, pinching a bit of dough , pulling it up, fold over the top. Repeat twenty times and if you can, do the same thing again after 20-30minutes. Then it is usually time for me to either go to work or to bed, so I cover the bowl with a towel, and into the fridge it goes, for 6-36 hours depending on my schedule. White dough is a bit more fickle, I probably would not let that stand past 24hours.
So by doing the first rise in the fridge or some other cool place I managed to free myself from the sometimes rigorous rising schedules where you have to watch your dough carefully. Likewise, I keep the second prove totally short and it has not made any bad impact on the taste of look of my loaf. You may have noticed that I have done away with a preferment altogether, shaving a whole day off dough preparation – I just add the bubbly starter to what will become my final dough.
When I am almost ready to bake, I take the bowl out. If I can let it come to room temperature for about an hour, fine, if not, it will still work. I knock the dough into a loaf my doing a series of repeated stretches and folds on my floured board. White flour dough is quite nice and stretchy by now and should ball up nicely, rye is more like a sticky mess – a dough scraper helps here.
Then I transfer my loaf onto a floured kitchen towel and let it rest for 30-60min. Meanwhile I preheat my oven and the baking “pot” – it should be at least 200C, 250 is better. I used a tiny cast iron casserole at first and have since upgraded to a Le Creuset 4.2 l cast iron pot which will cope with the temperature nicely but can also get skanky fast if you do not meticulously clean up every remnant. I then put a piece of baking paper on top of the bowl turn my dough ball over and quickly transfer into the pre-heated pot.
Scoring – nah. I used to but now prefer the natural look and I don’t have time usually. Pot goes in oven containing dough, lid shut closely. After 35min, I take off the lid and turn down to 200C, but sometimes I forget it, which results in a darker, crispier crust. After a further 35min, oven goes off, door on tilt and I let the loaf cool down slowly for at least an hour in the oven. Again, if I bake two loaves, I skip this, too, but let the loaf cool slowly outside the pot, wrapped in a couple linen towels.
The bread bakes this way keeps for at least a week, wrapped in a linen cloth in a bread bin. It also freezes nicely.
My white bread is no pure white but resembles a country loaf.
Two variations: Using the 600g flour basic measurement, I started out with 400-500g 550 wheat flour and 100-200g whole wheat flour. This one can be a diva sometimes, especially if you let it rise at room temperature. Sometimes it would not rise consistently int eh oven, sometimes I got huge air bubbles on top of the loaf. All perfectly edible tasty loaves but no lookers. Adding at least 200g wholewheat to 400g 550 seems to assure good stability and a decent rise. The crumb, due to the wholewheat, will have a slightly greyish colour.
This Friday I noticed I had run out of wholewheat flour, so I thought, well, there’s another white flour in the cupboard, and that’s spelt. So I did 400g 550 flour +200g Type 630 Spelt. The resulting bread is perhaps my best white bread yet – crusty outside, owed to baking at 250C the whole time, tasty-looking off-white centre with a good consistent crumb.
The best and most consistent results are with 400g whole rye flour, 100g wholewheat and 100g Type 630 Spelt. You can push up to 500g whole rye, and although you still get a good crumb, it is a little denser and may not rise supremely well.
I also detailed the dough preparation and baking in my first baking post, when I had just started out using the most basic equipment here.
Can’t be bothered with sourdough?
Well. You could still make a super healthy bread, consisting of sprouted rye, oats and seeds! I was inspired to try this one after reading the Life-Changing Loaf blog post, where you can find great and easy instructions to make a flourless bread with minimal effort.
Of course, I did not have all the ingredients in the house, and I had just purchased these organic rye grains for my bread experiments, so I quickly sprouted the rye, blitzed some of it with a stick blender and made a loaf that seriously competes with hipster-earth mother-organic bakeries, for probably a tenth of the price. So the flour-free way of making this comes from the Life-changing loaf approach, the sprouting is a technique you find in Ezekiel bread. Mashing the two up results in a brilliant healthy loaf. You roughly need 12hours to soak the rye, plus 1-2 days of sprouting, mixing the dough then fridge rest (2-30 hours) then bake for about 1hour 20min. You find the detailed recipe here.
The result is a pretty heavy bread which keeps well in the bread bin or fridge , too. Due to the sprouted grains, it is relatively easy to digest, too. Altthouhg I do throw a spoon of rye flour and a spoon of sourdough starter in, you can get by without completely.
What to read
Honestly? Almost nothing. Trial and error. My first loaf was a chewy mess, but I still ate it and it tasted great. I had a few flat loaves while trying, all perfectly edible. The thing with bread is, you learn quickly a you handle it, then perhaps go back to a blog post or video with a specific issue, then try again.
At the time my baking adventure started, pretty all decent bread books were sold out… I searched a few blog posts, watched a few Youtube videos, all freely available on the ‘net.
For the dark no-flour bread, this My New Roots post has the best instructions and I am forever indebted to this post for making a heavy healthy bread from grains.
For sourdough, I came across Instagram stories then a full post from a jeweller who makes beautifully decorated breads.
Later, I bought the book from Tartine Bakery. Although the pictures are gorgeous, I found the instructions too fussy for my schedule, and their method of starter-preferment-final dough was far too time consuming for me. so I only use it as inspiration for further forays into baked goods and on how to learn to fold the dough.
The Small Print
Not much here. I paid for everything, didn’t receive discounts from any suppliers featuring their products here. If you don’t want to buy an expensive cast iron pot from the famous French or US manufacturer, you can look for a pretty good cast-iron pot at a famous Swedish furniture retailer. My colleague has used them for years. Failing that, a lidded Pyrex dish or earthenware lidded cooking brick work fine, too – you often find decent cast iron pots or cooking bricks at car boot sales.
I have no special interest in monetizing this. Why am I writing it then? Well, like I found bread enlightenment, I hope some of you read this, bake this, and never go back to shop bought bread!
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