Artisan Breads 1..2..3..      
                Techniques and Tips for your Easy Artisan Loaves
Mixing Your Bread Dough

Simply dumping all the ingredients together and stirring until smooth will
often work, but to achieve consistently good doughs, it pays to follow
the advice listed below.  Lets start at the beginning with some basic
discussion.

A bowl and spoon

All the recipes in this book involve mixing the dough in a bowl.  The
bowl will most always need to be covered at some point so I tend to use
round plastic food storage bowls with lids.  You can just as easily use a
mixing bowl and cover it with a plastic wrap when needed.  For a single
loaf/batch I typically use a 4-5 quart bowl, and for two loaves/double
batches I use a 8 quart bowl.  Sometimes I see people using square
containers to mix and store dough but it seems harder to me to stir the
dough adequately in a square container.

A large wooden spoon is the traditional choice but repeated trips through
the dishwasher tends to crack the spoon.  My favorite spoon is currently
a hard plastic spoon found at a cooking store.  It stirs through heavy
doughs with ease and tolerates frequent dishwashing well.   Some folks
will tell you to avoid stirring sourdough with a metal spoon, but the mild
acid of a sourdough won’t damage a metal spoon so long as the spoon
isn’t left sitting in the sourdough for hours on end.

Measuring Dry Ingredients

Because flour is hard to measure consistently by volume, measuring by
weight can help you avoid mixing up a dough that is too wet or dry.  
Most of the recipes on this site list ingredients both by volume and
weight for those who wish to measure by weight.

Even though measuring by weight can be more accurate, measuring by
volume is a hard habit to break.  If you want to keep measuring by
volume, follow this advice:  Keep your flour in a cannister, don't measure
directly from the flour bag.  To measure, dip a one cup or half cup
measure in the flour, tap once with a table knife, then level the flour off
with the knife.  The weight of flour measured this way should be around
140 grams.  
In making the recipes on this website, this is the
volume measuring technique you should use.

Another way to measure by volume is to sprinkle the flour into a
measuring cup from another cup while holding the cups over the flour
cannister, then leveling off with a knife.  This method will achieve
consistent results also, but in the 115 g/cup range, so don't use this
method for measuring by volume for the recipes in this website.

Even with careful measuring by weight or volume, natural variations in
the moisture level of the flour may necessitate adjusting your amount of
added water or milk.  Typically, you may need to add 1-2 Tbsp/loaf
water or milk in the winter (when flour is more dry) and subtract 1-2
Tbsp/loaf water or milk in the summer from what is recommended in
recipes, no matter how well you measure.

Although my digital scale is right on at 100 g, the accuracy seems to be
progressively impaired the closer the weight gets to 1 g.  So while
measuring out 800 g of flour with a scale might be pretty accurate, you
might want to think hard about weighing ingredients of 10 g or less and  
stick to using a teaspoon or tablespoon for those measurements.

Mixing

To mix up the bread or pastry doughs in this book, all you need are a
bowl and a strong spoon.  Electric mixers are totally unnecessary.  Hand
kneading or stand mixers are used to develop the gluten strands by
kneading the dough.  While many baking authorities try to be helpful by
describing subtle changes in the dough  that guide the amount of stand
mixer kneading, these changes may be difficult for the home baker to
pick up on.   With the recipes in this book, moisture and time allow the
gluten strands to develop to a proper level without kneading.   Lots of
prep and cleanup time is saved by not dragging out the mixer!

Start your mixing by adding dry ingredients to the mixing bowl.  I
always try to add flours, yeast, salt, then other dry ingredients in the
same order;  this routine makes it a bit more difficult to forget a
particular ingredient

When stirring dry and wet ingredients together, the dough will undergo
many changes in a very short period of time.  When first stirring, the
dough may appear to overly wet or dry.  Be patient and keep stirring until
all ingredients are well mixed and the character of the dough seems to
not be constantly changing.  Once this happens, stir vigorously another
15-30 seconds to help activate the gluten.  Most doughs (excluding very
wet doughs such as ciabatta) should try to stick together in a shaggy ball
at the end of stirring.  Dough that just wants to sink to the bottom of the
bowl may be too wet.  Try adding another 2-4 Tbsp of flour and stir
more.  Dough that forms as two or more balls when stirred and/or
dough that fails to incorporate all flour in the bowl is too dry.  Add 1- 2
Tbsp water and stir again.

Its a lot easier to add water to a dough that is too dry than add flour to a
dough that is too wet.  Because of this, initially hold back 2-4 Tbsp of
water or milk when mixing up the dough.  Once the initial stirring is done
and you can be sure the dough looks a bit dry rather than too wet, add
the last 2-4 Tbsp of water or milk and stir.

Important Points to Remember in Mixing the Dough

  • Stir wet and dry ingredients together with a strong spoon until the
    ingredients are well mixed and the character of the dough  seems
    stable. At this point, the dough should form one large shaggy ball
    that mostly holds its shape when the stirring stops.
  • If the dough sinks to the bottom of the bowl when stirred and
    doesn’t form a ball, it’s too wet.
  • If more than one dough ball forms and all the flour is not
    incorporated into the dough, it’s too dry.
  • Once the dough seems well mixed and stable, give it another 15-
    30 vigorous strokes to activate the gluten.


Autolyse?

Autolyse is the technique of mixing flour and water then letting it stand
for 20 minutes prior to adding yeast, salt and other ingredients.  This rest
period helps activate enzymes that enhance the stretching and shaping
ability of the dough.  I don’t usually employ the technique for the recipes
in this web site since I’m not kneading immediately after mixing.  Using
the high moisture levels and the slow rising techniques of this book
typically  achieves the same results.
View Dave's bread mixing video