Frequently Asked Questions


Can bulk fermentation be stalled by putting in the fridge, then bringing it out later to finish? I would still want to final shape and put into bannetons for an additional cold retard for 12-18 hours.

Yes, it can. Fermentation is combination of bulk fermentation and cold proofing. Cold proofing doesn’t stop fermentation, it simply slows it down. That’s why it’s often referred to as ‘retardation’. Philipe Gosselin’s method of baking Pain à l’Ancienne requires the dough to undertake the total fermentation in a cold environment (4⁰C). Simply stall your fermentation, then bring the dough back to room or ambient temperature and continue until the fermentation is at the desirable % increase and then continue as normal.

When I take my dough out of the refrigerator to bake – do I need to allow it to reach room temperature?

Once it’s been through the bulk fermentation stage and also had a period of cold proofing, it’s ready to be baked. You can bake it straight from the refrigerator. It does not need to be at room temperature. You can either bake it from a cold start or in a preheated oven – depending on the approach you’re taking.

How do I use my refrigerator to help me schedule my bakes?

Your refrigerator slows down the fermentation of your sourdough. Sowing it down, even for a short time (3hr) can enhance taste and also firms up the dough ready for baking. You can extend this time – 12hrs, 16hrs is usual. 24hrs and 36hrs are not uncommon. 48hrs is also possible, if a little eextreme. You can also use the refrigerator to slow down bulk fermentation if you cannot be around for the whole session – emergency appointments, shopping to be done, etc. Using the refrigerator means you can batch prepare and schedule bakes to suit your own routines.

Why do some recipes use a fed starter while others use an unfed starter? Does it make a difference other than flour to water ratios?

Most sourdough formulae ask for a fed starter in order that the bacteria cells are at their peak when producing sourdough. Unfed starter is often referred to as ‘discard’. Thsi can add wondeful taste and texture to bread but often needs the support of a little commercial yeast.

Why should you save some starter?

You never really need that much starter once your starter is established. You can keep as little as 5gms if you’re baking daily. Feed, wait and use. Alternatively, if you want, you can keep a ‘motherlode’ and draw down from it as much as you need to feed for a bake, remembering to replenish and re-feed the motherlode of a regular basis. If you keep your starter out of the refrigerator, you’ll need to feed it daily or at least, every other day – so you’ll have to use or dispense with some on a regular basis. If you chill it, your options are greater. You can also freeze it as an ‘insurance policy’. It will last 12 months in the freezer. Simply thaw and feed when required. Or you can dry it by smearing it across parchment paper and leaving it in a cool room for a couple of days. Then flake it and put it in a jar. It’ll keep like that for a long time. Remember – you can bake with discard – or feed the garden.

What is an altus?

An altus is a Jewish method and the heart of a good Jewish rye bread. It’s old rye bread, ground up and soaked in water, pressed and kept in the refrigerator. It’s used rather like a poolish or a pate fermentee as the starter for a rye loaf. Basically, you saturate the old dough, wring it out and then use if.


What types of bread can be frozen as dough and which need to be baked or parbaked?

Buns, pizza dough, dinner rolls – all this can be frozen as dough. It must then be thawed out, shaped and allowed to proof before baking. Par-baked bread is usually baked to about 76 – 80% of finish and then quickly blast chilled and frozen.

How can I substitute wholewheat flour for strong flour to make my bread healthier?

You can substitute wholewheat flour for a portion of strong white flour without it significantly affecting the recipe and outcome. However, I would trial it at a 80:20, 70:30, 60:40 strong white to wholewheat until you find a balance that you enjoy. For every 120 gms of wholewheat add an additional 2 or 3 teaspoons of water.

Why do some recipes use a fed starter while others use an unfed starter? Does it make a difference other than flour to water ratios?

Most sourdough formulae ask for a fed starter in order that the bacteria cells are at their peak when producing sourdough. Unfed starter is often referred to as ‘discard’. This can add wondeful taste and texture to bread but often needs the support of a little commercial yeast.

I made a preferment of rye flour, water (75 degree F), yeast.  14 hours later it does not seem to have grown and barely any bubbles.  Why?   Yeast tested and it is active.

For a start, rye flour is a tough old flour and takes a lot longer to ‘get going’. It’s low in protein. 75F / 23C is fine. A preferment with even a little amount of yeast should have acted in this time. It may have risen within this time, the yeast consumed as much of the rye as it could and fell back. It may be that the rye flour would have benefits from a little more yeast (there’s no indication here of how much you added).

Is there an app that recommends the amount of yeast to add to a dough that factors in the time for fermentation (cold and room temp) and the temperature of the room and refrigerator?

Yes. Pizzapp+ (PlayStore and App Store) offers this facility


Do you really need fancy name brand gadgets to bake bread?

No. However, on your Breadmaking Journey, you’re likely to gather what you need. But, in the meantime, a plastic scraper will do as a bench scraper, a razor for a lame, a kitchen bowl and a banneton can be formed from anything that is well floured or lined with a well floured cloth. A pilloe case makes a good baguette couche. However, a decent set of scales is as useful for breadmaking as it is in the kitchen. As for a Dutch Oven, a large metal bowl inverted over a pizza stone or a baking tray makes for a perfect cloche.

What is the list of “must-haves” to bake bread?

A mixing bowl, a sharp blade, a set of scales, a plastic scraper, a jug, a roll of plastic wrap, a spatula, a spoon or chopstick, a watch, a pencil and paper, a baking tray and a metal bowl to cover it, a cheap garden mister, a tea towel and a bowl in which to rest the dough while its second proofing….have I forgotten anything?

What would be appropriate substitutes for fat, sugar and salt?

Fat: butter, lard, vegetable shortening, olive oil, canola oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, any fruits that contain pectin (applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed prunes, pumpkin puree), Greek or other yoghurts, Kefir, ricotta, cottage cheese, ground flaxseed.

Sugar: Maple syrup, granulated sugar, caster sugar, Demerara sugar, honey, Agave, molasses, fruit concentrates

Iodised salt: Kosher salt, Guerande salt, sea salt, herb salt (Heramare)

What are the dough consistencies of the various types of bread?

Scaling up recipes – do I scale up yeast or sourdough starter in the same proportions?

There is an excellent Recipe resizer here:

As far as sourdough goes – it is a formula. If you have 500 gms of flour then your starter is a % of that 500 gms. If you have 25kg of flour the % stays the same. The amount of starter will increase in line with the percentage. This is where an understanding of Baker’s Percentages comes in useful. With yeasted breads, if you were doubling the dough, then it’s not necessary to absolutely double the yeast, you can cut back by about 10% on the doubled quantity. However, remember that if you are batch baking – doubling the quanyity will increase the temperature of the dough and speed up the fermentation time.

Do I need a Dutch Oven?

No. Let’s start simple and work upwards:

I’ve baked yeasted breads in large tin cans – just remember to grease them well. I also baked 150 loaves in terracotta plant pots for a wedding. You can utilise a metal sheet and a metal bowl that would act as a ‘lid’ or cover. You can use a terracotta dish and dome – or, when the dish breaks, use a Pyrex flan dish and recycle the dome, or a flan dish and a metal bowl. If you don’t have a metal sheet, a pizza stone is fine. Failing that, a baking tray. Yeasted breads cook wonderfully in cake tins – mind you, they can look rather strange as they take on the shape of the tin. Enamel roasters are great – they heat up quickly and cool down equally quickly. They sell then as round or oval roasters. Then there’s Pyrex casseroles – the original Pyrex will bake to 245C – but don’t buy the new Corning versions with the blue tinge, they shatter. Then your usual casseroles – oven proof. After that comes the heavy cast iron casseroles – Le Crueset and the lookalikes. And finally, if you win the Lottery, you can buy a Lodge or a Challenger pan.

Is there a  preferred oil to be used in bread when called for in recipe or when greasing  the fermentation bowl?

No, not really It depends on your own habits. Years ago, it would have been butter or margarine. When I trained, we used a food oil – of a very dubious colour. Today, we use olive oil, canola oil, rapeseed and sunflower oils. I also use ‘Pancoating’ (aerosol) for those ‘awkward corners’ on infrequently used containers.

I added cold, refrigerated milk, or water, instead of room temperature, how will this affect my bread?

I would add COLD milk or water to recipes that call for LONG fermentation. Room temperature or tepid milk / water activates the yeast so much more quickly

Is it better to mix in seeds at the beginning of mixing ingredients or should the dough be flattened and then sprinkle on the seeds?

Both methods work for me. I usually add the seeds in yeasted breads more or less at the start. However, with sourdough, I would laminate as one of the last processes before bulk fermentation and add them at that stage.

I use a stand mixer and can’t quite get a handle on kneading. How might over or under kneading affect the outcome of my bread?

Recipes often call for stand mixers to run for 7 or 8 minutes to produce a soft silky dough. That’s the point where you need to stop the machine. Over-kneaded bread can produce a tough dough that’s hard to work and can produce chewy bread. Under-kneaded dough feels dense when you take it from the mixer.

Why isn’t Autolyzing used for all recipes?

The jury’s out on Autolysing. However, there can be nothing at all wrong with allowing the dough and water time to fully hydrate – this is essentially what autolysing is for. Even half an hour is worth the wait.

Can any recipe be adapted to a different baking vessel than stated?  i.e. boule to a tin, or tin to individual buns for example?

Absolutely. Shaping is entirely u to the individual. However, if you are going to all the trouble of producing a typical French baguette or a flatbread in a traditional style, it would seem to be a little odd to make it in a tin. But, given a standard dough – you can produce it in a tin can, a cake tin, a roaster, dutch oven…it’s up to you. There will be some doughs whereby the texture can be affected – e.g. ciabatta – but experimenting can be fun.

Can you give me some quick, almost random, tips?

Here are a few from BC20 Baker Joan:

  • Putting your dough in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking makes scoring easier and firms up the dough
  • Dust the top of a sticky loaf with flour before putting it into the banneton – flour is your friend and rice flour is your very best friend.
  • Dough and water do not mix. Wet hands make dough handling easier
  • Wash bowls out with cold water first. It lifts the dough. Don;t let it into the waste – it can block drains
  • Your fridge is your friend – use it to stall fermentation while you pop out or unexpected visitors call
  • The longer you cold proof – the greater the flavour
  • Water on your razor blade or lame will stop the dough snagging
  • Dry flour helps to lift sticky dough off your hands and fingers
  • Temperature is as important an ingredient as any – watch the dough, not the clock
  • Don’t let your water mister come in contact with your oven door – it might cause it to crack
  • A garden mister is a great tool on your work bench

What do additives such as Ginger powder, Lecithin, Vital Wheat Gluten, Vitamin C powder, Vinegar and others do for bread? When should one use them and in what amounts?

Let’s take them in turn:

Ginger Powder : Powdered ginger is a dough enhancer for yeasted breads. it kicks the yeast into gear, shortens fermentation time and also prolongs the life of your bread. Try ¼ tsp per 500 gms of flour. Remember there is no need to mix your dough enhancers, choose your favourite for your bake, if you’re going to add it at all.

Lecithin : Lecithin is a blend of glycerophospholipids including phosphatidylcholinephosphatidylethanolaminephosphatidylinositolphosphatidylserine, and phosphatidic acid.[There, I bet you feel better for knowing that. It’s a natural preservative and also increases the volume in bread, so increasing the aeration and softens the crust, hence its commercial application. if you’re using it at home, then 0.2% per bake is more than sufficient.

Vital Wheat Gluten: VWG is made from gluten, the protein in wheat. It is used to increase the protein and gluten content in low protein flours such as All-purpose (US) or plain (UK) flours. adding a small amount (10 – 15gms per 500gms flour) can create the effect of using a higher protein content flour and, therefore, help to develop a stronger gluten network.

Vitamin C powder : Ascorbic Acid. It is used in yeasted breads to give the yeast a bit of ‘oommph’! Using ½ tsp per 500 gms flour can help the yeast to really pick up a gear and develop boost. Consequently, the bread develops volume and lift.

Vinegar: Vinegar is an acid. It helps to break down the starches and proteins in bread resulting in a good rise, moist crumb and an airy texture. Use white vinegar only – or cider vinegar – and use at a proportion of 1 tablespoon to 300 gms of flour.

What’s diastatic and non-diastatic malt?

OK – let’s start with the Malt. Malt is made from barley. If it’s allowed to sprout, then dried and ground into a fine powder, it becomes diastatic or non-diastatic malt. So, what’s the difference? Well, diastatic malt powder still has the enzyme in place. As a result, it’s often used to boost yeast activity. This can lead to a faster rise. However, use too much and your bread will become gummy and develop a strange taste. This is mainly because it darkens the bread and adds a sweetness. Non-diastatic malt powder has an inactive enzyme. It adds colour and sweetness but won’t improve the action of the yeast. When it’s used, it’s purely for flavour.

If you’re adding diastatic malt to your bread…be very careful. Don’t add more than 0.1% or 0.2% of the total flour weight. That’s more than enough.

What are Brotgewürz?

Brotgewûrz are bread spices. A lot of dark breads in Austria, Germany (particularly in the South), Switzerland and South Tyrol are made with Brotgewürz (bread spices) which are both great for the taste of the bread and also really good for your digestive system.

Recipe for an Austrian bread spice blend

The basic seeds and spices used are caraway seeds, anise, fennel and coriander seeds.

Bread spice ingredients for a 1 kg loaf of bread

  • 2½ tsp of caraway seeds
  • 2 tsp of fennel
  • 1 tsp of anise
  • ½ tsp of coriander seeds

You can also experiment with small quantities of allspice, fenugreek, sweet trefoil, celery seeds and cardamom – or just use one of these ingredients for your bread e.g. just caraway seeds or just coriander seeds. The taste of your bread will be very different depending on your bread spice choice.

Put everything together into a coffee & spice grinder or just use a pestle and mortar to crack and crush the seeds.

The finer you crush or grind the spices, the subtler the taste.  You can use all of the spices whole if you like.

How do I braid or plait bread dough?

For 2 strand plaits / braids – watch this useful video:

For 3,4,5,6,7,8 strand braid / plaits – here’s a much more detailed video:

Have you a list of useful tips and general guidance?

Yes, I like the Chain Baker’s list ‘Principles of Baking’ – As the age-old saying goes ‘why buy a dog and bark yourself?’ it’s here:

How much dough in a Banneton?

This might help:

What do ‘W’ numbers mean in flour and how do flours compare in name?