General notes on yeast breads

Rather than clutter up the individual recipes with general bread procedures, brand names, etc., I thought I’d put them all the general notes, procedures, and FAQs on one page. See my page on Dutch oven bread baking for details on my current baking procedures.

My typical bread ingredients list

  • King Arthur unbleached general purpose flour
  • King Arthur whole wheat flour
  • Hodgson’s Mill organic rye flour
  • King Arthur active dry yeast, or
  • Fleischmann’s active dry yeast, in the jar
  • La Baleine fine sea salt
  • Morton’s course Kosher salt
  • Heineken lager beer
  • Heinz white vinegar
  • King Arthur sourdough starter

My equipment and tools

  • Dacor 36″ 6-burner range, liquid propane
  • KitchenAid KSM90H mixer
  • Bread stone (sometimes, but I usually do the Dutch oven method)
  • Calphalon 8.5 quart covered metal pot
  • Parchment paper for baking, proofed to 450“F
  • Pyrex 9.5 pie plates for rising bread in boule or round shapes
  • 3-loaf baguette pan
  • Pam vegetable oil spray
  • Several kitchen timers
  • Stainless steel mixing bowls for first rise of the dough
  • Shaker containers for flour and corn meal. Recycled Parmesan cheese shaker containers are ideal for flour shakers.
  • Stretch-Tite and Freeze-Tite plastic wraps


I primarily use all-purpose flour for my bread, pizza, and other yeast baking projects. I used to use bread flour routinely, but I found that the all-purpose flours produce a lighter bread that I like better these days.

Yeast These days I use active-dry yeast purchased from King Arthur. I also sometimes use Fleischmann’s active dry jar yeast, stored in the refrigerator. Both yeast brands produce sweet, neutral “bready” flavor notes, and make a great starting point for a yeast bread. It’s much more economical to buy yeast in the jar, and both brands are very reliable. I’ve never had a failure to get a strong active culture, even with slightly out-of-date yeast.

Sourdough starter

King Arthur sells an excellent starter, with a very clean, neutral flavor and nice acidity. I keep it alive in the refrigerator between baking sessions, and mine has run for months without problems reviving it. I generally store only about 2 cups of sourdough starter, and use the refrigerated culture to start fresh batches on the evening before I do my bread baking. If I’m not baking for more than a 3 week stretch I revive the starter as below, then save 2 cups of the revived starter batch and put it back in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic quart container that is about half full of starter.

Activate the refrigerated starter for baking by mixing it with two cups of general purpose flour and two cups of warm water (about 90°F) at least a day before you plan to bake. Scale the recipe up accordingly both in time and volume if you are making larger batches of dough and need a lot of sourdough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside in a place without cold drafts. I do this the evening before I start baking, so the starter has at least 10 hours to ferment at room temperature.

In recipes that call for 4 cups of bread flour I’ll often substitute 2 cups of starter for one of the cups of flour. Since the starter is very wet (it’s 50% water) you’ll have to adjust the total liquid amounts in the recipe to compensate, but using this technique you can add extra flavor to almost any yeast bread recipe by substituting starter for some of the flour.

Why the vinegar and beer in my recipes?

Although I respect artisan bakers who fuss with their starter cultures and bigas for days before baking, I don’t always have the time to do all that freelance biochemistry.

Traditional bread starters (sourdoughs, bigas, pooliches) give you two nice advantages:

  • Complex flavor: A blend of different yeast strains allowed to ferment over time will give you much more complex yeast flavors than you’d get with an average home bread recipe using only regular active dry yeast.
  • An acidic tanginess: In addition to regular yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), sour starters also contain lactobacilli of various strains that produce the lactic acid that gives sourdough it’s sour flavor. Most artisan breads have some sour flavor notes to add complex character, even if the bread isn’t labeled “sourdough.”

Using lager beer instead of water, and adding a small shot of vinegar to the recipe is a quick way to introduce starter flavor characteristics to your bread recipes. Even if you prefer to drink dark ales and stouts, stick with lager beers for bread baking, as the cold-process bottom-of-the-tank yeast fermentation of lager beers produces yeast flavor notes that are more traditionally “bready.” If you are feeling adventurous, some of the more gamey Belgian lager beers make great breads, with very pronounced yeasty flavors from the beer.

%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this: