The Five Stages of Bread Effort

  • Do you enjoy reading up on bread science principles?
  • Do you mind remembering to do a quick prep step the night before?
  • Do you dislike doing active work (where you’re kneading or shaping dough constantly, or need to babysit it and check on it every half hour)? Or does this feel nice and meditative to you?
here’s a rough chart of breadmaking recommendations I made, graphed by active effort vs. bread-impatience. disclaimer: I am a relative bread novice — I have been making easy breads since 2010 but only started getting into sourdough one year ago

Level I: I cannot set a timer to save my life

Try flatbreads, skillet breads, or crepes. They don’t require leavening, so you just have to mix them and throw them on a pan or in a toaster oven. They make excellent snack breads.

Skillet flatbread | King Arthur

Level II: I want real bread, but I don’t want to do work in between the dough step and the baking step

Bread Baking For Beginners | The Spruce Eats may be a helpful starter read.

Glorious no-knead Dutch oven bread from Pinch of Yum
pain a l’ancienne | Food52
My pain a l’ancienne modificationsTemperature: Reinhart insists on using ice-cold 32F water to maximize the flavor extraction you get by altering the amylase to yeast activity ratio. This produces an excellent characteristic flavor but also makes the end result very dense. I personally prefer the results I get with refrigerator-temperature water. This comes at a very slight flavor tradeoff, but I think it hugely improves the crumb texture and makes the dough a lot easier to handle.Time: You're supposed to leave this dough in the fridge until it has doubled in size, which will take at least 24 hours. However, I personally prefer the flavor after a full 3 days of fridge time.

Level III: Ok, I can check in on my dough a few times

Focaccia, english muffins, challah, and ciabatta take a few more steps or more active work. Ciabatta takes an additional overnight step.

lovely holey execution of Jason’s Quick Ciabatta — reposted on The Fresh Loaf. higher-hydration dough is rewardingly tender, but more difficult to handle.

Interlude: sourdough starter

So someone gave you a sourdough starter; now what do you do with this magical bread-gateway bubbling with live organisms?

on keeping a tiny sourdough starter | The Perfect Loaf

Gluten-free friends

Gluten-free sourdough is a thing! You will have difficulty obtaining a super-rustic open crumb structure because the strength to maintain that structure comes from gluten formation, but you can definitely make bread, and sourdough discard recipes are a good place to start since they tend to be less texturally opinionated.

gluten free sourdough | gfjules

Level IIIc: I can handle a few more steps

Sourdough bagels take a few more steps than the above — namely, shaping individual bagels, boiling them, and topping them — but are significantly less finicky and hands-on than the classic artisanal country loaf.

one instance from my cheddar-everything-bagel rampage in January (@persimmonevangelist)
Once you make a bread enough times in the same kitchen, your active work investment goes down because you don’t need to babysit it as much to know how it will behave.For example, if you're feeding a pre-ferment for the first time in new conditions, you should probably be inspecting and smelling it every 30-60 minutes to see how it's doing. I know that 75g of my 50:50 sourdough levain will take 3 hours in my kitchen in summer conditions and closer to 6 hours in chilly conditions, so I just wait it out and don't count that as active time.(Yes you could wire up a camera but what's the point if you're not at home to intercept the fermentation process anyways (unless you are doing mass data collection under various flour parameters for some fun reason).)

Level IV: I’m willing to keep a starter and tend my dough for several hours as if it were my child

breadsheet (n.) — a spreadsheet where a baker tracks the parameters of all their baking endeavours, in order to discern patterns and improve future endeavours

  • develop a meticulous understanding of underlying processes & how different ambient factors affect your dough
  • be at home for at least 4–5 hours of the process so you can inspect, fold, and/or shape your dough about every half hour
right to left: my somewhat floundering progression getting back on the high-hydration sourdough train after some months off having an affair with lower-hydration NYC style bagels. I’ve been baking these lighter. the leftmost bread exhibits decent rise and tension, while the two on the right failed to rise well, but still tasted good. @persimmonevangelist

Additional Tartine sourdough debugging references

aaaaaaa I love this person’s scoring patterns so much. Tartine Bread Experiment

Level V: I’m milling my own custom flour blend

*screams* nope not touching this

Collected references



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autotelic polymath with an overwhelming compulsion to reverse engineer things I’ve never tried before