Handy Conversions!

I have a fundamental problem when I bake. It happens every time. What is it?

I bake for two.

Or three. AJ eats a lot. Either way, I don’t have a family of five to feed. I don’t have kids who try to eat me out of house and home. I don’t have the metabolism to eat 3 pumpkin muffins for breakfast with a gallon of milk on the side, thanks. That would be my boyfriend.

So I like to make half of a standard recipe size. Six muffins is plenty (unless, of course, we run into the problem mentioned above). A 1.5 lb loaf is enough. A mini pie is just right.

Wait did I just say mini pie? Yes. I did. Most recently, a pumpkin mini pie. It is perfect for two people, two nights. They call them “personal pies,” but I disagree. I’d turn into a balloon if I ate a whole one!

The problem I run into is cutting the measurements in half. Some things aren’t intuitive, like cutting a tablespoon in half. No matter how hard I look, I can never seem to find the 1/2 T measuring spoon in my house. I’m pretty sure they exist… So here I’ve compiled a handy chart of measurement conversions! I know you can buy the little chart magnets at BB&B, but this is free and less to look at. Bookmark!

Most commonly used:

1 cup = 8 fluid ounces = 16 Tbsp
1/4 cup = 4 Tbsp
1/3 cup = 5 Tbsp + 1 tsp
1 tbsp = 3 tsp
1 lb = 16 ounces
1 oz = 28.3 grams

1 cup flour = 4.5 ounces
1 Tbsp fresh herbs = 1 tsp dried

I will keep adding to this list as I come across conversions that aren’t quite as easy (I’m guessing I can skip over the “how many half-cups in a cup”-type conversions, right?).

Do you have any conversions that you think should be on here? I’d love to add them!


Breadmaking 104 – Bakers’ Percentages

Cinnamon Raisen Bread!


So many people ask, “What’s up with these bakers’ percentages?? How does one loaf of bread make 175%?!”

So, I’ve come to tell you all about these bakers’ percentages. Let’s do this backwards. I’m going to tell you the summary first, and the reasons why after. It’s like a scientific paper! What is that called again? Oh yeah. The ABSTRACT! I feel like I should start all of my posts with an abstract….

Anyway! Here is my abstract: Bakers’ Percentages are the best things ever!

I guess that doesn’t help much, does it? Maybe I should reconsider my biology major…

Let’s start with Hydration.

The hydration of a bread recipe is the ratio of water to flour. For example, if you are using 10 oz flour and you add 6 oz water, you have a 6:10 liquid to flour ratio, or 60%. Typical hydration ranges from as low as 45% to as high as 80%! This is a huge, drastic difference. The first is very stiff and will be fairly dense when baked. The second is very wet, will be more difficult to work with, and will yield a light, airy loaf. Standard levels are as follows:

45-55% – These are your bagels, pretzels, and crackers. The dough is stiff and almost hard feeling. It isn’t sticky at all and doesn’t like to be stretched too much because it will rip.

55-68% – These are your sandwich breads, sweet breads, dinner rolls, and buns (of the cinnamon sort!). The dough is moderately sticky and a bit more flexible. The enriched doughs (ones that use fat in them, such as butter or oil) generally fall into this category and result in a softer crust.

68% and up – These are your “holey” breads – most are free-form (don’t use a loaf pan) and are not enriched. The dough is very sticky and loose and can be difficult to work with. But don’t be scared! Working with these doughs can actually be a pleasure and open you up to types of bread you never thought you would be able to make!

Now that we understand hydration, we can move onto the Bakers’ Percentages. The total percentage of a bread can help you see how much stuff is going into the bread. The higher the percentage, the more stuff. I know that seems vague, but it’s the best way I can think of to describe it.

The total amount of flour used in the recipe is 100%. Always. If you use a 100% sourdough starter (I’ll post about sourdoughs later), then half of the weight of the starter used is also calculated into the weight of the flour.

Any other ingredients are weighed and calculated as a stuff-to-flour ratio. So if you use 10 oz flour and 2 oz seeds, the you have 20% seeds. So your bakers’ percent is now at 120%. Add in the water (let’s say you have a 60% hydration dough), and you’re at 180%. If you got crazy and added some applesauce, you might be up above 200%.

Back to the stuff. So the less amount of stuff you have in your recipe (such as a recipe that calls for just flour, water, yeast, and salt – like french bread!), you will have around a 160% recipe, depending on what hydration you used. The more stuff you use will hike up the percentage.

Percentages are also useful because they give you the ability to see the fat content of your dough. Doughs without any added fat will be very crusty and light. Enriched breads generally have up to 12% fat, lending a heavier bread with softer crust. Anything above that falls into the dessert bread category, in my opinion (think brioche and cinnamon buns! mmmmm).

The final and most useful application of bakers percentages is the ability to make whatever size loaf you want. As long as you know the percentages of flour-to-stuff, you can re-size that recipe to be perfect for you. For example, say you have a recipe that makes a 2-lb loaf, but you only have an 8×4 loaf pan (perfect for a 1.5 lb loaf). Well, simply use 3/4 of the flour you would have needed and recalculate the rest of the ingredients using your handy percentages! It may seem confusing at first, but definitely gets easier and helps a TON in the long run.

The only thing about using Bakers’ Percentages is that weighing ingredients is absolutely necessary. This requires you to buy (or pull out from storage) a good, accurate scale. I use the Salter Maxview Scale and I love it. It works every time and I don’t have to worry about how hard I packed my flour that day. And it really eliminates a lot of dishes that would have gotten dirty if I had needed to measure them all out! In other words, get yo’self a scale! You’ll thank me some day, I promise!

Question of the day: What’s your favorite kind of bread? Do you make it, or should I work on posting a recipe for it?

Breadmaking 103B – Steps to the Process

French bread with homemade blueberry jam. It doesn't get any better 🙂

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post Breadmaking 103A – Steps to the Process. In that post we covered the first three steps of breadmaking: Preparation, Mixing, and Kneading. Today we will continue our journey toward your first loaf (or a better loaf!), beginning with rising.

Rising – the first fermentation:

Up until now, the yeast we mixed into our dough hasn’t really had any role. It has all been about the flour and gluten and how you coerced it into being dough. Now, though, it is the yeast’s turn. The point of letting dough rise is to give the yeast time to feed off of the sugars in the dough and metabolize it, producing carbon dioxide as a by-product. When the carbon dioxide starts to accumulate, it creates air pockets. Thousands of little air pockets = rising dough! This helps explain why kneading is so important – if the gluten doesn’t stretch out, the dough won’t be very strong, and it won’t be able to hold in all the CO2 being produced! It all comes together so nicely 🙂

Where your dough rises is very important. Temperature affects yeast activity greatly – a cold environment will slow it down a LOT. Conversely, a warm or hot environment will speed up the fermentation. This may be useful if you only have a limited amount of time or aren’t comfortable using a cold fermentation, but you do sacrifice a bit of flavor. Cold fermentation is a technique used by many artisan bakers to create a depth of flavor otherwise impossible. The presence of a draft is also important – any moving air across the surface of the dough will create a skin that 1) won’t let the dough rise properly and 2) won’t bake well. Finding a draft-free location is key.

I like to let my dough rise in an oiled bowl, for a couple of reasons, the first being that it keeps it out of any draft. I cover the top with plastic wrap and rest assured that it won’t develop a skin. Oiling the bowl keeps the dough from sticking and makes life a lot easier when it is time to shape your dough for the final fermentation.

The goal with rising is to let your dough double in size. With practice, you will be able to tell when your dough is risen enough. There are a few tricks, though. You can place a small amount of dough in a measuring cup and wait for it to double (i.e. a half cup becomes a cup, a cup becomes 2 cups, etc). You can also place the whole amount of dough in a tall clear pitcher and mark the initial height.


This step is one that many bakers (including myself) struggle with. It is very difficult to nail down the techniques. Again, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart is a very useful tool for this.

Turn your dough out onto an oiled counter (I’m not a big fan of using flour as a stickiness-preventive) and separate into appropriate size using scissors or a dough scraper. Don’t just pull it apart – you’ll end up just tearing the nice structure you’ve worked so hard to build. If your recipe says “makes two 1.5 lb loaves,” separate the dough in two. If your recipe makes one loaf, no need to separate. Now, time to shape.

The goal with shaping is to create surface tension across the loaf. No matter what shape you make, you want to get the top as tight as possible without breaking the dough. The easiest way to shape a loaf is into a boule (or ball). Simply pull the sides of the loaf under to the bottom, rotate, and repeat. It should only take about 30 seconds to shape. Don’t overdo the shaping – you don’t want to hurt the dough!

In the near future, I will do a whole post on the shaping of loaves. It is very important and something that can’t be covered in an introductory post.

Proofing – the second fermentation:

Proofing is similar to rising in that the yeast is metabolizing sugars. When you shaped the dough, you moved it around enough to expose the yeast to new areas, and thus new sugars. This second fermentation is important for developing the flavor of your bread. Additionally, and just as importantly, proofing brings your loaf back up to size for baking. If we did not proof our dough, we would end up with dense hockey pucks for our sandwiches, and that’s not fun at all. Again, you want to allow your dough enough proofing time to double in size.

Catching your dough at the right time is critical. Underproofing may cause the dough to rapidly expand in the oven, creating “tumors” of sorts in your dough. Overproofing will cause your dough to deflate in the oven. Like I’ve said before, you will get good at the timing with practice.


While this step seems obvious, there are many important factors. Following the recipe and using an oven thermometer can help take a lot of the guess work out of baking. The best way to know if a loaf is done is to take the internal temperature – it should read 185-190F for soft-crusted loaves, and 200-205F for hard-crusted (non-enriched) loaves. The crust should be golden and sound hollow when tapped.


The cooling phase is just as important as the baking phase!!! I can’t emphasize this enough. The bread will continue to bake internally after you take it out of the oven. If you let it cool 10 minutes and then cut into it, it will most likely be gummy and tough. Let the bread cool for at least an hour, preferably two, before eating.

Always cool on a cooling rack. Never leave pan-loaves in the pan, as they will develop a soggy crust. The cooling rack allows air to pass under and around the loaf, keeping the crust from getting soggy and quickening the time it takes for the bread to cool down.

There are exceptions to the cooling rule – some breads are okay to eat straight out of the oven, such as dinner rolls or hamburger buns. But, if you are unsure, let the bread cool down completely before eating.

That’s it! Of course, there is still A LOT more to learn about making bread, but these are the basic steps. I’ll begin posting recipes soon – I wanted to get a good tutorial base up before I threw you all into the world of bread. Start preparing – bread is on the way!

Breadmaking 103A – Steps to the Process

My boyfriend's favorite sandwich bread - Honey Whole Wheat. Other than sourdough, he never wants anything else!

Welcome back! You’re almost ready to bake some bread. You now understand what bread is (not a stupid question!) and you have all the things you need to start making bread. The last thing we need to do is understand a bit about the process. Bread isn’t one of those spur-of-the-moment type things you can do just on a whim. For the first couple of times, making bread will require a decent chunk of time. While you can go out and do things during the rising or proofing, many novice breadmakers like to sit in the kitchen and watch the bread rise. Let me tell you – it’s not very exciting. But, anticipation can make anything exciting, so watch away!

There are 12 accepted steps to the process of breadmaking. Peter Reinhart goes through them very thoroughly in his book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I highly recommend. Here I’ve written a quick overview of the first few steps:

Step 1: Preparation

This step is actually extremely important. If you just jump into things without preparing first, you will often find yourself in a bit of a bind – missing ingredients, out of time, or out of (oven) space! It is very important to read the recipe twice before starting – the first time to get familiar with the process, and the second to really think about the timing. Make sure you don’t have to run off somewhere when it’s time to put your bread in the oven.

The next thing you want to do is check your ingredients and make sure you have enough on hand. Half of the amount just sin’t going to do, unless you scale the whole recipe back by 50%.

Lastly, make sure you have all your tools on hand.

Step 2: Mixing

Once you’re all prepped and ready to go, it’s time to start mixing! The goal of mixing is not to get a really uniform and smooth dough, but simply to get all the ingredients wet. Put your dry ingredients in the bowl first and combine. Don’t put the salt right on top of the yeast – it will kill it. Instead, put them on opposite sides of the bowl and mix into the flour. Then, add all your wet ingredients (or follow specific instructions in your recipe).

The best tools for mixing are your hands. They work better than any whisk out there and honestly require a lot less work to operate. Simply use one hand to mix, and the other to turn the bowl. Rotate your hand and the bowl in opposite directions until all the dry and wet ingredients are incorporated and you have a very shaggy dough.

If you don’t want to get your hands doughy, then mixers also do a fine job, and a danish dough whisk is your next best bet as far as hand tools go.

Step 3: Kneading

There are a few methods for kneading bread dough. I recommend you experiment with all of them and see what works best for you. Depending on the hydration of the dough (that is, the flour to water ratio), different recipes will yield different-feeling dough. Some may be very sticky and wet, while some may be seemingly tough and hard (as I often find with whole wheat). Follow the instructions in your recipe to get the desired consistency.This usually takes about 8-12 minutes when kneading by hand. It may take a bit longer your first few times until you get the hang of it.

The point of kneading is to get all the gluten that was all coiled up in little particles of flour to loosen up and stretch out. In well-made bread you can often see strands of gluten extending out into the holes created when the dough rises. You can test for gluten development using the windowpane test (I will post on this later).

The first method of kneading is the classic “Fold-and-Push.” Fold your dough in half and push down and away from you. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Use your dough scraper every 7-8 kneads to get all the dough off the counter and back into your ball. Continue until the dough reaches the right consistency, as specified by your recipe. The windowpane test is a good way to know if your dough is “ready.”

The next method is what I call the “Slap-and-Fold” technique. You lift your dough off the counter, slap the bottom part down, and fold the top part over, all in one smooth motion. Turn the dough a quarter dough a quarter turn and repeat. Again, use the dough scraper every few kneads to reincorporate any run-away dough and continue until the desired consistency is reached. This technique is a little harder to visualize, so here’s a video!

The third method is the Stretch and Fold method (they’re all starting to sound the same, huh?). This still requires the use of one of the above techniques, but to a lesser degree. You knead for about half of the time, and then put it in a bowl to rest. Periodically throughout the rising time, you put your dough back on the counter top, stretch it out, and fold it in half. You do this a couple of times, and then let it continue rising. This technique is cool because you can actually see the consistency of the dough change right before your eyes.

Lastly, there is the “No-Knead” method of breadmaking. While this isn’t really a kneading technique, I feel that this is the best place to talk about it. Though this technique does require a lot less time and effort, I don’t prefer it. I find that the consistency and the flavor really just don’t match up to the traditional method. What you do is basically use a very high hydration (i.e. lots of water), a ton of yeast, and a long refrigeration time – I think the dough lasts up to a week. You just mix it all together, let it rise for two hours, and then refrigerate it until you are ready to use. Sounds intriguing, right? Go ahead and give it a try. If it works for you, awesome! You’ll save yourself a whole lot of time.

Now, kneading dough, whatever method you choose, takes some practice. You probably won’t be very good at it the first time, nor the next. I spent a lot of time trying to understand how a shaggy, ugly, sticky mess turns into a pretty ball of dough. But don’t get discouraged! You will get the hang of it in no time.

Holy moly. I had more to say about this than I thought! I’ll continue this topic in a later post.

Question of the day: What is your favorite way to knead your dough?

For me, it depends on the day. On long days that I get home late from work or school, I take the easy way out and just throw it in my mixer. When I need to get some aggression out, I go with the slap and fold! It’s perfectly noisy and requires a good amount of physical effort 🙂 And when I need to relax or be quiet, the fold and push is definitely the best option.

Have a wonderful Tuesday!

How to Dry Fresh Herbs

Homework’s got me tied down today, but I just wanted to share a link to a blog post that popped up on my Reader this morning.

Yeah yeah yeah I’m getting to the homework!

Anyway, the post is from the bakers over at King Arthur Flour. If you aren’t familiar with this site/company/amazingness, get familiar. Their flours are the best, their products outstanding, and their recipes and advice always spot-on. If I’m ever stuck between a pot and a hard place (ha.ha.) I find my self perusing their site to find a solution.

This post is about drying herbs from your garden for use throughout the year. Their solution? The microwave! I never would have guessed.

Like I said, I don’t really have time to try it out this morning. They said you’re supposed to nuke ’em for about a minute….

Oh heck. I just can’t resist!

Just grab a few sprigs from your garden and place them in the microwave on top of a paper towel. Different herb times will vary, so start with intervals of 20 seconds until you get it figured out. My basil took about 2 minutes to dry out with two 8-inch sprigs in there.

When they are dry, let them cool for a few seconds, and then rub the leaves off. They should come off very easily. Crumble any big chunks, and you’re done!

Now that that chemistry is all done (wait… microwaves… I think that’s physics), I’ll be getting back to my real chemistry homework. Have a good Sunday!

Breadmaking 102 – What You Will Need

Above is the end of a loaf of Anadama bread I made. It uses cornmeal, giving it a bit of a crunchy texture and that pretty yellow hue.

This is the followup from Breadmaking 101. If you didn’t catch it, please see my Introduction to Bread here!

Breadmaking 102: Here we go!

I’m sure you’ve searched the internet for how to get started breadmaking.

I’m sure you’ve been blown away by the amount of stuff you seem to need to buy to get it done.

Don’t worry! You can make bread at home using just the stuff you have at home. It is a little more difficult and it does take a bit more time, but is a heck of a lot better than spending all your life savings buying a new KitchenAid just to do the kneading.

Well, maybe not. You know you wanted a KitchenAid anyway.

I’ve compiled a list of things that you need to have just to get the job done, as well as a list of things you might will want to buy in a couple months. I told you this bread thing is addicting!

The Basics

You’ll need a large bowl. Not because the ingredients take up all that room, but it is sometimes very helpful to mix all the ingredients with your hands. A whisk will be too wimpy and a spoon too cumbersome. Get ready to get messy!

PAM or some other type of spray oil. This stuff is invaluable when dealing with sticky bread dough.

Measuring cups for both dry and wet ingredients.

A loaf pan or cookie sheet or pizza stone. Basically, just something to bake your bread in/on.

An oven thermometer. You would be shocked to see how far your oven’s actual temperature deviates from what it says it is. You can get a cheap (like $7 cheap) oven thermometer from the grocery store.

A cooling rack. Bread will get soggy if left to cool in the loaf pan. Setting it on a cutting board is better, but isn’t great. It doesn’t need to be fancy – these will do.

Your ingredients. Make sure you have everything on hand!

And of course, your Ovenmitts!

Beyond the Basics

A scale. This is really the only way you can get accurate measurements. A cup of flour is truly 4.5 oz, but can range anywhere from 3-7 oz! That’s a huge margin or error, and can greatly change the results of your bread. An ounce of flour is always an ounce of flour, no matter how hard you pack it.  I use the Salter Maxview Scale and I love it. The first one I bought (a Sharper Image one) stopped working an hour after I took it out of the box. I recommend spending around $50 retail for a decent one.

A clear rising bucket. These are awesome to really be able to tell when your dough has doubled.

A Danish Dough Whisk is really handy to have around. They are just about the only tool besides your hands or a mixer that will effectively mix dough.

A dough scraper. This one from KAF is super cheap and makes life a whole lot easier.

A mixer. It makes the mixing and kneading part of breadmaking MUCH easier. My boyfriend bought a KitchenAid Pro 600 for me for our anniversary. Let’s just say he gets to stick around for a while 🙂 Anyway, it is good to get used to working the dough with your hands first so you get a good feel for what kneading actually does and how it transforms the dough. After you’ve gotten good at that, move on up to the mixer!

An instant-read thermometer. I still haven’t bought myself one of these, but it’s definitely on my wish list (wink wink!). I’m using a meat thermometer that takes quite a while to read and isn’t nearly as accurate, but helps avoid under-baked bread nonetheless.

A high-quality baking stone. As you get more into baking bread, it will become apparent that you need a good baking stone. Many loaves cannot be made in loaf pans, and a cookie sheet isn’t the best. I got mine here, and it is amazing. You can order different sizes, shapes, and depths so it will fit perfectly in your oven. I have never once burned the bottom of my dough since I got this thing. Plus, pizza always comes out perfect and crisp!

Now let’s get baking! Soon to come will be the third installment of my Breadmaking series. We will discuss the process of breadmaking and how to get started on your first loaf!

Is there a specific type of loaf you would like me to post about? There is a good place to start (ie, not with a whole-wheat sourdough), but if you want me to start off with something you’ve been wanting to make then let me know!

Breadmaking 101 – An Introduction to Bread

I was going to post one of my favorite bread recipes today when started thinking about how I got into bread making. Let me tell you – it wasn’t easy. I did a little research, found a whole wheat sourdough recipe, and dove right in. Sounds like a good plan, right?

Wrong! It took me quite a few complete fails, numerous “just alrights,” and many “almost there’s” before I was able to make a loaf I was satisfied with. It was definitely a journey, but an addictive one. I would constantly think about how I could improve my loaves, what kind I could try next, how to make my sourdough taste sour. I bought books and tools and ingredients. I spent hours on end reading recipes, tips, and advice. I made loaf after loaf after loaf, and finally, after all my efforts, I made something I was pleased with. It was nowhere near perfect. I could still think of many things I could change to make it better. But it had good flavor, good texture, and was something I was proud of.

I’ve come a long way since then. I never buy any bread at the store anymore because I love the stuff I make at home. I consistently make bread that I am happy about, and I feel proud every time I eat my PB&J.

Just for reference, I eat PB&J almost every day.

I understand the ingredients – what they do, how they react with other ingredients, how they will affect the flavor. I’ve made – many times – a sourdough bread that my boyfriend calls home about (no, I’m not joking!). And I LOVE making bread. It takes a while, sometimes up to two days, but it is totally worth it.

So, I thought I’d share my two cents with you on beginning the process of bread making. Get ready to have some fun!

What is bread?

Before you go on judging me, remember what your elementary school teachers always told you – No question is a stupid question! There are so many different types of bread that it can be difficult to get them all straight.

In my opinion (correct me if I’m wrong!), Bread is something you bake in which the main ingredients are flour and water, uses some sort of leavening ingredient, and holds its shape when sliced.

There are three types of breads: Quick Breads, Commercially Yeasted Breads, and Wild Yeast Breads.

Quick Breads

These breads are generally made in less than 2 hours. You mix all the ingredients into a batter, pour it into a pan, and bake immediately. They use ingredients other than yeast as leavening, such as baking powder, baking soda, egg whites, or a combination. You often see these around the holidays as gifts. Some examples include:

Banana bread
Cranberry bread
Lemon & Poppy Seed bread
Zucchini bread (or even better, Chocolate Zucchini Bread!)
Pumpkin bread
Blueberry bread…

The list goes on and on! Breads of this type have some sort of additional flavor attached with them. You won’t find just a water & flour quick bread – I personally think that would be kind of gross…

Commercially Yeasted Breads

These breads can take anywhere from 4-8 or more hours to make, though the vast majority of this time is down time. They involve the use of yeast, kneading, rising (usually more than once), and baking. Commercially yeasted breads are more of your everyday breads. Some examples include:

Most Sandwhich breads (white, whole wheat, rye, etc.)
French breads
Italian breads
Pizza bread

As with the quick breads, there is a ton of variety here. You can put all sorts of things in yeasted breads to create the exact loaf you want. But, there is a lot to learn here! So many things, such as the hydration, fermentation times, types of flour(s) used, enrichments, etc, can effect the outcome of your bread. (I will post on these later!) While your first loaf of yeasted bread can be very intimidating, it gets much much easier with time. Soon you’ll have it down to a routine and will make all your bread at home! 🙂

Wild Yeast Breads

These are more commonly known as “sourdough” breads. These breads do not use any additional yeast in their formulas and depend on a natural form of yeast (the “wild yeast”) that is kept alive in a “starter.” These starters are made using just flour and water (and sometimes juice to keep the bad bacteria from killing it). Yeast is a naturally occurring organism that is everywhere. It is in your kitchen, on your clothes, on the plants outside. By growing it in a starter, you are able to maintain a concentration high enough to leaven your bread. It takes some time for the sour taste to develop, so it could be weeks or even months before your loaves begin to taste sour. But don’t despair! They will be sour at some point in time!

While many a new breadmaker wants to start with sourdough, I do not recommend it. Just the growing of the starter can be endlessly frustrating. They are very easy to maintain once established, but can be difficult to get going. That being said, the satisfaction you can get from your first really sour loaf is quite high. I highly recommend making sourdough bread once you get the hang of the commercially yeasted breads.

I’m so excited to help you begin your journey of breadmaking! It is such a fun and rewarding (and healthy!) thing to do. I will continue posting about all the little steps that are part of the process, so look forward to more soon!

Continue on to Breadmaking 102 – What You Will Need!