Buying flour in the bay area?  There are lots of options.  I’m new here and still trying to find the best flour for the best price.  The main expense of my bread habit is flour.  I use about 25# a month.  I’m willing to shell out top dollar for the best quality, but I’m also interested in value for money.  Knowing where and how to buy can make a big difference.  Here is a quick rundown on the brands I have tried and what I’ve been paying.  I have a strong preference for flour that is stone ground and organic.  All the brands listed below have many options.

  • Bob’s Red Mill is available in area Whole Foods stores and other high end grocers.  Bob’s flour is great and I love the stone ground options, but I haven’t found any way to get it in bulk or at a discount.  The cheapest I have found is a 5lb bag for about 4$ at Le Beau in Nob Hill. 
  • Giusto’s is another good brand.  In the East Bay you can find it in bulk departments at Berkeley Bowl and The Natural Grocery Company for just over 1$ a pound.  If you can get hold of their catalog, it is worth special ordering Giusto’s because they have an amazing variety of flours, and you can ensure freshness.  You also save a few bucks.  I ordered a 50# bag of organic ultimate performer from Berkeley Bowl for about 43$.  The downside to that is that it is not much savings for so much quantity.
  • Central Milling is yet another high quality option.  The Cheeseboard Co-Op in Berkeley will sell you a 50# bag for about 35$, but as they will tell you it is even cheaper to buy it at Costco.  There you can buy 20# of Central Milling organic all purpose flour for 11$!  50 cents a pound!

These photos represent the last of my Giusto’s flour.  I will be using Central Milling flour in my next bake.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  The protein content of Giusto’s ultimate performer is much higher than Central Milling’s all purpose.  It will be interesting to see how that plays into my bread.

72% hydration 100g buckwheat, 400g white, 240g preferment.  Everything went smoothly until I forgot to dust the peel.  I know!

This is an all white 72% hydration batch.  The flour is Giustos Ultimate Performer and it is so strong that I think it demands a higher hydration.  That is my explanation for the slightly dense crumb.  The dough was just too strong.  Or perhaps a larger ratio of starter could have helped the gluten to break down more.

I used my calculator on this recipe, and I’ve figured a feature that I am missing.  After you set the ratio of all the ingredients, you should be able to lock it and then scale up the overall weight of the dough.  It should be simple to make that happen.  I know a couple people have actually used the calculator.  Any feedback on it would be appreciated.

I Made a Hydration Calculator

No more mental math when I follow a recipe.  Now when my starter is at 100% and the recipe calls for 60%.  I don’t have to worry.  I can figure out how to make adjustments to end up at the correct final hydration. Calculator

People have an innate hunger for the new and novel, but repetition has its rewards.  The complexity of baking a sourdough loaf is one activity that lends itself well to repetition.  Through many attempts at the same recipe you can see how slight variations in timing, temperature, and handling can lead to wildly different outcomes.  Repetition introduces subtle increases of physical and mental economy.  For example, noticing that measuring dry ingredients before wet ones prevents flour from sticking to your measuring bowl.  Measuring starter before water means you can use the water to dissolve those small bits of starter that stuck.  There is an entire universe of little things to think about that are only revealed to a mind experiencing something repeated.  These pictures are some of my repetitions of the House Miche.

Perfection seems possible through repetition.  Alas, many attempts later perfection is still out of reach.  Always just out of reach.

Have you ever listened to Red Garland play Soul Junction?  I’ve always thought if I could play that one song on the piano I wouldn’t need anything else.  I’d play it every day, and even after 100 years those chords would be as beautiful as sunrise to me.  

I’ve been working on my sourdough with that same mentality.  If I can just make a perfect sourdough loaf I won’t need to be able to bake anything else.  Even if I bake every day for 100 years, the textures, smells, and anticipation of fresh sourdough will be as beautiful as sunrise.

I’ve just named my starter Red.  Take it away Red.

I’ve been up on that high hydration ledge for a long time and it is finally time to come down.  There is so much to learn about breads with hydration above 80%.  Handling techniques, shaping, and the surprise of watching a wet flat blob lift itself up off the hot stone and take shape. I definately recommend spending some time out on that ledge yourself.  

The recipe that talked me down was Shiao-Ping’s House Miche.  I really admire Shiao-Ping’s bread.  If you haven’t already, go have a look at her blog.  So many different kinds of bread.  She is fearless and very talented.  I am reproducing her formula here, so I can refer to it later, but if you want to make this please follow her well written directions.

  • 230 g starter at 60% hydration
  • 100 g whole wheat flour
  • 400 g white bread flour
  • 378 g water
  • 12 g salt

Total dough weight 1120 g; overall dough hydration 72%.

My kitchen is pretty cool this time of year and I under proofed a bit.  I think the crumb might have been more open, and the loaf wasn’t as beautifully symmetric as Shiao-Ping’s but the real test is in the taste, and this loaf was delightful.

There is a wonderful bakery in Lawrence, Ks. called Wheatfields, and my idea of what good bread is was forged there.  One of their best loaves is the kalamata olive loaf.  The briny rich taste of kalamata olives really goes well with good sourdough.  Here is a recipe from my first attempt:
750g giustos unbleached organic white ultimate performer
150g bob’s red mill whole wheat
250g starter made with bob’s red mill whole wheat
730g water
200g kalamata olives
20g kosher salt
That is an 80% hydration dough.  3 hour bulk fermentation. 3 hour proofing, then retarded 9 hours in the refrigerator.  Baked at 450.  The result is the lightest, moistest and most flavorful loaf I’ve ever made.  I think about 1 or 2 hundred more grams of kalamatas would have improved it, but as it stands it wants nothing for flavor.

There is a wonderful bakery in Lawrence, Ks. called Wheatfields, and my idea of what good bread is was forged there.  One of their best loaves is the kalamata olive loaf.  The briny rich taste of kalamata olives really goes well with good sourdough.  Here is a recipe from my first attempt:

  • 750g giustos unbleached organic white ultimate performer
  • 150g bob’s red mill whole wheat
  • 250g starter made with bob’s red mill whole wheat
  • 730g water
  • 200g kalamata olives
  • 20g kosher salt

That is an 80% hydration dough.  3 hour bulk fermentation. 3 hour proofing, then retarded 9 hours in the refrigerator.  Baked at 450.  The result is the lightest, moistest and most flavorful loaf I’ve ever made.  I think about 1 or 2 hundred more grams of kalamatas would have improved it, but as it stands it wants nothing for flavor.

I had a scare with this boule; it nearly went half baked.  What happened was, my preheated oven shut itself off just as the boule slid off the peel.  Disaster!  Panic!  I felt like Marty McFly in Back to the Future.  His time machine stops working right before the lightning is going to strike the clock tower.  Without the oven there would be no love at first sight, no hearty crust, and they would miss the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.  I cranked knobs, pounded buttons and jumped up and down.  Nothing.  Despair.  Then, just like in the movies, at the last possible moment everything worked beautifully.

These loaves that nearly gave me a heart attack are otherwise pretty healthy.  30% wholemeal.  70% white.  Leavened with sourdough.  3 hours bulk fermentation and proofed for 3 hours.  Final step was to retard 7 hours in the fridge.  Baked at 450.  All flours are from Bob’s Red Mill.