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Corona Baking I: Bread

I admit I’ve been struggling to find the best way to be useful during this, er…extended baking break we’ve all got in front of us. The johnnycakes were fun, and a good example of what can be done without yeast (or even much flour) in the pantry. We’ll be doing more of that kind of simple stuff in the weeks ahead I think. However in the meantime I’ve been hearing from more than a few readers who are facing shortages of this-or-that, who may have butter but no eggs, flour but no baking powder, oil but no sugar. The mind boggles trying to anticipate all the various scenarios. I’d like to cover them all, but by the time I do even a few of them the store shelves will be full again.

So my though it this. There are a lot of very simple recipes on the site. Something for just about any one in any predicament, provided they have at least a little flour on-hand and maybe some leavening. How about I start a list of some of those, sort of a Joe-recommended set of entry points for the aspiring corona baker? Seems like a good idea to me.

Flatbreads are some of the world’s easiest breads, which makes sense since they were the first. Breads I mean. Ever. We already did johnnycakes below, but there’s a whole wide, flat world to explore here. Arepas are great should you have some hominy around. If not, the supermarket must. Does anyone actually hoard hominy? See what I’m sayin’! Even simpler are crackers, which you can make with yeast, a starter or chemical leaveners. The same goes for pita bread. Got yeast? You can make naan or lavash. No leavening at all? The matzoh is your ticket. In the mood to griddle? English muffins are a lot of fun and surprisingly simple to make if you have some rings, or can find a way to improvise some .

Risen breads generally elicit fear among beginners, especially if flour is in short supply. But it’s pretty hard to mess up pain à l’ancienne or even focaccia. If you have a little experience with baking, are looking for a project, but still don’t want to take too many chances, pretzels are a good time. And why not Lucy Cats? They’re oddly easy to make and flat-out gorgeous to look at. So what if it isn’t Christmas! And when it comes to bang for the time-and-ingredient buck, you can do no better than melon pan.

So there’s a starter list for bread. Any one else with suggestions for bread bakers who are short on experience but long on time, by all means weigh in! Back with dessert and pastry ideas in coming posts!

12 thoughts on “Corona Baking I: Bread”

  1. Love the Hokaida Milk Bread, Rise my breads in a warm oven ( no drafts)
    Speaking of dessert Ideas what are your thoughts on Zuger Kirschtorte ? Someone in FB land mentioned it today.I was thinking of trying it but instead of the Cherry Kirsch substitute Vodka and Grape sourpuss ( liqueur) . Have a great day

    1. That is one serious torte you’re setting out to make there, Krash. I approve. Zuger Kirschtorte doesn’t get the love it deserves, probably because there’s no chocolate in it. But spongecake, meringue and buttercream are welcome in my kitchen any day. I’d try to source the kirsch though if I were you. Stone fruits and almonds have complimentary flavors that make a Zuger torte sing.



      1. Twas a sad little cake that was happily enjoyed . I now understand about the Kirsch and almond. Many lessons learned, such as I need a bigger piping bag and more practice with sponge cake and folding in the whites. Can you suggest one of your recipes I can practice with that on. Thank You and stay safe …Krash

        1. Hey Krash!

          Folding? Try making some diplomat cream and using it to fill a bee sting cake! Talk about happy enjoyment…

          But get yourself a larger-than-usual spatula from a restaurant store to minimize your strokes. Here’s my tutorial on the subject (under Techniques).

          Have some fun and stay safe yourself! Cheers,

          – Joe

  2. Thanks to you, I’ve got my starter bubbling away and I think it’s about ready to use for bread—I was thinking just the basic no-knead style. I’ve made it countless times with yeast! But I just don’t quite understand the basic principle about bulking the starter up to bake with. You see, I have…rather a lot of children…(9!) so it always seems like a terrible waste to make any recipe with only a couple loaves of bread for the 11 of us. I like to do at least 4 loaves at a time! So, how to get my starter big enough to make a big batch of bread? And still have some left for tomorrow and the next day and so on?

    1. Hey Marilyn!

      So you’re adapting a yeast recipe to use a starter instead? That can be done. I can even help. Shoot me over the recipe (or point me to it online) and I’ll rewrite it for use with a starter. Starter breads generally turn out denser than breads made with commercial yeast, but there’s more flavor also. I’ll look for your reply.



      1. Yes! That’s my plan. I have this cast-iron oven (easier for me than the Dutch oven I used to use) and my recipe is basically this one—I usually do double the amount and get 3 loaves or several short baguettes.
        I keep thinking if I get good at it I can start working other flours in, like whole wheat or rye, but I know that’s trickier.
        Really, though, I’d be happy to try any sort of big-batch bread made from starter! We love sourdough flavor. (And luckily, I’m not actually out of commercial yeast yet—this just seemed an ideal time to try and figure out starter! 🙂 I’m excited to try using my discard in pancakes and so forth too, but again, I’m not grasping how to get enough starter to do Big Batches of those!)
        Thank you so much for your help!

        1. Hi Marilyn!

          First, you can increase any bread recipe by any amount without consequences. Double it, triple it, increase it by one and a half times, you name it. It will function the same.

          The general rule for converting yeast doughs to starter doughs is to make the starter a maximum of 1/3 of your total dough weight. A poolish-type starter is a 50-50 mix of flour and water by weight. Looking at your recipe, you’ve got 900 grams of combined flour and water there, so we’re going to replace a third of that with starter, or about 300 grams. So the recipe will look something like this:

          330 grams flour
          330 grams active starter
          10 grams salt
          210 grams water

          That should work just fine as a formula, just mix it all together at once. I’ll say that if your starter is active and bubbly (which it should be) your rising time will be more like 4-6 hours, not 12-18. You’ll need to keep an eye on it. Also make sure you’re feeding your starter a 50-50 mix or flour and water (by weight) as you build it up, that’s also key to getting the right dough texture. That said, if the dough seems very wet or very dry, it’s OK to mix in a little extra flour or water to get it into a workable zone.

          I’d suggest starting with a small batch to see how it goes, then increase it as you build up your confidence. Let me know how it goes!



        2. Oh, and growing a starter is a simple thing to do. If you have one going in the fridge, you want to leave some there for future batches. I like to grow mine in two stages if it’s been dormant for even a few days.

          So let’s say you want 600 grams of starter. I’d take 150 grams or so of starter out of the “mother” starter, which is the one you’ve grown and that will live permanently in the fridge. I’d feed that with a mixture of 75 grams water and 75 grams flour, bringing the starter to a total weight of 300 grams. I’ll let that rise about 4 hours until it’s very bubbly, then feed it again, this time with a mixture of 150 grams water and 150 flour, bringing the starter to a total weight of 600 grams. Let it rise 3-4 hours, until it’s very bubbly and you’re ready to make your bread dough.

          Does that make sense?

          Remember that any time you deplete your “mother”, you need to replace what you took away, so that you always have some when you need it. You don’t need to double the amount of a mother whenever you deplete it, since it’s more or less dormant in the refrigerator. Just replace what you took away with a fresh 50-50 mix of water and flour, stir it in, and let it bubble quietly in the cold until next time.

          Here I should also say that you can grow starter from very tiny amounts. There have been times when I’ve used up virtually all the mother starter I had in the fridge. But since there were still a few scrapings left on the walls of the container, I was able to build it back up again easily. I added a few teaspoons of flour and water, stirred it, let it rise, did the same again, let it rise, and so on until I had my regular amount left.

          Sorta miraculous, no? No wonder medieval monks simply called starter “God is good”!

          Let me know if you have any more questions!


  3. Came back to tell you I made the best sourdough bread I’ve ever made last week. THANK you! I have been learning so much from all your other posts too—I love your clear explanations of how to feed and increase the mother starter.

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