hello new year, sayonara old dough / by Josey Baker

boy oh boy, it's going to be a great year, ya know what i mean? i mean, it's gotta be a great year, and you have to have that attitude, otherwise you're just effed. and being effed is not the way you wanna be. (don't get all sexy on me now, you know what i mean.) (okay get a little sexy on me now... oh baby baby...)

speaking of babies - look at this frikkin kid!!! i am one proud papa.

the other day Cassady had his first bite of bread. it was also the first time that he fed himself. he liked it. he liked it so much that any time i tried to take the piece of bread away he let out a very high-pitched shriek until he had the bread back in his hand and mouth. that's my boy.

enough about this 'isn't my kid so cute' stuff, time for some nerdy stuff...

i've been getting a lot of e-mails from folks about our 'old dough' method that i discussed in a talk at Google last Fall. what is the 'old dough method,' you ask? just like it sounds - you can save a portion of your bread dough from Monday and mix it in to Tuesday's dough and voila, you don't need any extra yeast or sourdough or anything, as your old dough provides the new dough with everything it needs in order to become yummy bread. (if you wanna read more about old dough and other methods, check out the King Arthur website, a wonderful reference.)

when i started baking i did what most sourdough bakers do - maintain a sourdough culture, feed it regularly, use it to mix a pre-ferment which you then mix into your dough, etc. this is what most bakers do, and with good reason - it allows you control over every phase of the process, thereby allowing you to achieve your desired characteristics of sourdough culture and pre-ferment and dough... but it sure is a pain in the ass. 

so one day, must have been in the fall of 2013, we decided to hold back some of our whole wheat dough, stick it in the fridge, and then mix it in to the next day's dough. after a few days of trial and error we were making incredible bread with our old dough, and we didn't look back. until fall of 2015...

we'd been employing the old dough method for about two years, and we loved it. it's ridiculously simple and elegant. it alleviates you from the extra time and effort required to maintain a sourdough culture and mix pre-ferments and this is good news for us bakers because, come on, we spend all day toting around 50 lb bags of grain and 30 lb tubs of dough and blah blah blah, it's hard physical work and if we can find ways to increase our efficiency/cut out unnecessary steps, by god we are going to do it. however, it's a bit cavalier, a bit wild, a bit imprecise, at least how we did it, and this led to some problems over time...

ask any baker what the single hardest thing about baking is, and chances are they will list consistency in the top three. baking good bread isn't that hard; baking great bread is pretty tough; baking great bread everyday? whole grain sourdough bread, and milling the flour yourself?? it's very challenging work, even for the most experienced bakers. and it's part of what we love about baking, that it never ceases to challenge and reward. 

so our old dough method was leading to some pretty inconsistent bread quality, especially since we made the switch to a new crop of wheat. and so we took a big step back and said, 'what the heck are we doing wrong???' and once we did that, we knew the old dough method had to go. why? basically because it didn't allow us enough control over that phase of the process. for sourdough bread, your sourdough culture is your starting point - if you don't start off with this in exactly the right place, it's a real uphill battle from then on. while old dough had worked really well most of the time, we realized that we needed to really focus in on this phase and make sure that our sourdough had the precise characteristics we were looking for, and in order to do this, we had to mix it afresh, everyday. while convenient, the old dough method can be too limiting to consistently get the results you're after. not to knock it - there are plenty of bakers and bakeries out there that employ it to make delicious bread. it just didn't work for us, at least, not anymore. 


so we're back where we started - we have a sourdough culture that we feed twice a day, we use this to mix an overnight seed which we use to mix our pre-ferment, and then we mix that into the dough. is it more work than the old dough? absolutely. does it make better bread? sometimes. does it make better bread more consistently? we'll let you be the judge of that.

hope your new year is off to a great start. if it isn't, you might wanna let go of your old dough. ;)

<3 j