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The 4 T's

“All that bread needs is time and warmth”………

Elizabeth David quotes from many historical sources on the subject of home-made bread. One of her references is to baking in a London home in the 1890`s, in which the maid Emma quotes her mother as saying “All that bread needs is time and warmth.”

This is the essential truth, it should be the motto (in Latin) on the crest of the home-bakers league, but of course unstated is a list of equipment and ingredients and techniques and tricks and practices which enable the great truth to be manifest.

Writing for the home baker seems easy from this end. Everything has worked in the recipe under my conditions and all’s well. However I occasionally receive letters which earn my sympathy because for no apparent reason the recipe just didn’t work.

This man seems to have tried everything. He stayed up all, night hollow-eyed, hovering, peering at an unsatisfactory result. The forensics start…there are seemingly limited reasons?

This fellow was attempting to make the overnight sandwich bread outlined in a previous post. Quite a few have liked this loaf, but his would simply not rise the next day after the overnight sponge….or eventually did, hours later. Could it be sabotage even, as he seemed to have got the rest correct? I await the results from my suggestion.

I suspect that his yeast is either old and tired (always check the “use-by” especially on dried yeast), or he is using a brand of yeast which is such a hot-house-flower that it simply cannot last the distance.

I've had this before, some of the highly selected sugar-junkie yeasts are unable to maintain the fermentation over extended periods and just fade away, or very slowly morph so that it eventually adapts to fermenting flour, not the white sugar it was raised on, and starts to rise somewhat meekly several hours later. This why I recommend the organic yeast from Shipton Mill, as it is made responsibly and performs superbly.

But there could be many other reasons, often not apparent to me doing a CSI!...the baking detective! This is where a simple framework can help the home-baker eliminate the basic causes of less-than-satisfactory bread.

My approach is to use the four “T`s”… Time, Temperature, Texture and Transcendence. We don’t need the even slightly large Hadron collider, these terrestrial immortals rule the realm of baking. The four T`s intertwine helix-like until the loaf is born.

Transcendence of course applies in all cases and is the absolute excuse/reason really. It covers all which cannot be attributed to the definitives . As an actual practice (transcendental) it is stepping “outside the square” for a more integrated view which co-ordinates the variables. Ive also called it “making bread with grace” which is not meant to be pious, be so if you wish, but is an actual technique to successful baking.

Time is the master…probably, hence the initial quote from Emma. This can apply to everything from the length of fermentation either as a bulk dough or in the tin/banneton…simply waiting can sometimes work…or the dough wasn’t kneaded for long enough resulting in a less-satisfactory final texture…or the dough wasn’t given time to rest between moves, also resulting in a closer final texture…or the dough was exposed to too-warm-a-temperature for too long, reducing chances of a further rise…which also demonstrates the inter-twining of the vital criteria.

Temperature can cause too-fast or too slow a ferment…both of which can cause faults in bread, and in householders with only “this” much time to bake bread!

From ambient temperature (mid winters day) to proving temperature( the electric blanket was on high and the dough was pre-cooked)….or baking temperature can be too low or too high, the latter causing the loaf to leap in the oven and perhaps burst un-attractively, or be sour damp and heavy…yum!….which feeds back to the dough not being proofed long enough (Time) .

Texture faults, for example the dough being too soft/wet/sticky/hard initiate further problems such as a crusty loaf spreading during baking, or actually rapidly degrading…. not rising because it is too stiff/hard and simply cant expand, resulting in small hard breads. There goes your valuable Time! If you had been making crackers, the harder dough would be ideal.

Dough needs to softer than harder in nearly every case. Dough being put in tins can be quite a bit softer than that for a free-standing crusty cob loaf, which must hold some shape and not flatten-out.

It goes on at quite some detailed length … for a professional baker and the obsessed amateur. For those of you who just want to get good bread on the table regularly, there is a core of strategies and practices which can be a catechism. Before we launch into that, an example of the vortex of inter-reactions of the four noble baking truths.

The most remarkable bread, incidentally very fashionable, sourdough bread is available in the USA. It has a cavernous interior of translucent domes of residual gluten and dough….taking fashionably holey to the edge. You do not really put anything ON this bread, or one wears it! This is to eat with food and sop up juices. It is just a puffed-up crust really!

The technique involved is to use very high gluten, strong bread wheats to make a very soft soft soft dough which is very difficult to handle in a conventional sense. The home-baker would have no traction with this texture, it requires skilled hands and would be deemed too sticky or too soft.

The dough is fermented, moulded, rested many times and then finally moulded to be placed in bannetton and into a coolroom to be retarded. The fermentation proceeds under very low temperatures slowly…but surely. Alternatively the bulk dough itself can be retarded with cold and later re-animated …“bread needs warmth”? …well yes it does, to rise again and be baked.

The process goes beyond most of the conventional exhortations to the home baker, showing that these parameters can be artfully manipulated. Time and temperature govern the process outlined, however the internal texture, a result of the type of wheat and the extreme hydration, is just as crucial…as is the transcendant view that it could be done at all.

Tips / Strategies

In response to some of the great suggestions from our face book page, and emails received. There are other suggestions for which I am most grateful, and I will definitely follow-up in subsequent months.

These are “baking community agreed “ basic tips for baking bread at home.…within the “4T” framework.


Warm the flour on a tray in the oven before baking. Nothing slows down a ferment like cold flour!

Warm the bread tins before placing the dough in them.

Keep the tins and dough warm. 25°C is a good medium.

Try to maintain even temperature during the rising periods.

Warm/tepid water should be used in the dough, again 25°C is a golden mean….this is just warm on the bare underside of the wrist. Of course if you are in Australia/Spain and it is 40°C, do not put warm water in the dough…in which case put cold water in the dough!

Dissolve the salt in hot water for better effect.

Pre-heat the oven and ensure it is hot enough, usually 230°C.

Better to over-bake bread…under-baked is un-wholesome.

The bread (as dough or in the tin) can always be put in a plastic bag and refrigerated to be baked another time if necessary.

Sourdough requires a slightly higher baking temperature than yeast bread. In this way, the softer texture containing numerous bubbles can leap expand and become desirably holey with a burnished well-developed crust.


Most of us don’t have enough, which is a major fault in bread making.

It usually takes about 10 minutes of actual Time to make a loaf, the rest is waiting. A well-constructed schedule can take the angst out of bread baking. For example, the loaf could rise while you sleep or are while at work or taking the children somewhere. The previous “Easiest bread” post addresses this.

If you simply don’t have Time, but want bread, invest in a bread-maker. These are a revolutionary tool to free you from the tyranny of bad bread, and of Time!

Take the time to purchase good flour, this is a key to good bread and less failures. Shipton Mill excels at producing specialist flours for the home-baker.

Be prepared to wait for the bread…it may take a little longer to rise than predicted, but baking too soon results in poor texture and burst loaves.

Leaving the bread to rise for too long on its final rise, especially if it has had a prior long ferment can cause a crumbly texture and the loaf may sink when baked. This can also be caused by flour which is too soft for bread-making.

Baker/writer Dan Lepard has an informative view on time. He says: “ after shaping, bake the loaf when it has risen by a half to two-thirds, not double. Forget about the times given, just follow these visual guides and you'll be fine.” The “visual guides” are of paramount importance. experience will help you to recognise them and bread-making becomes a familiar spirit.


Always err on the side of the softer dough. Too hard a dough will take longer to rise, will have a close texture and will bake-out as “hard”.

The dough for a crusty yeast bread needs to have a slightly firmer texture than for a tinned loaf. The firmer texture allows the loaf to stand and not flow. The support of a tin enables a softer texture which produces a softer sandwich-style bread.

Generally,sourdough requires a softer, almost sticky textured dough, whereas yeast bread needs to be firmer, and definitely not with the slightly sticky edge which characterises sourdough-dough. This helps develop the holey-grail style of crusty sourdough. The exception is when making yeasted ciabatta-style, which benefits from a very soft dough.

The texture of sourdough leaven, when initially refreshed, should be quite firm as opposed to liquid. If the leaven is more liquid texture, it sours faster. Put differently, the hydration should be about 60%.

If you use very strong bread flour, the bread may have a tough/chewy texture. In this case, strong flours require more time, and may require more water than the recipe specifies. These strong flours absorb more water than softer flours, and so more Time needs to be expended in kneading to develop a suitable texture.

The use of a fat such as butter or virgin olive/sesame /rape oil can produce a soft texture when using hard/strong flours.

Good luck!

The list is long and sometimes vexing for the home baker. It is clear that the major parameters inter-react significantly. Time as in experience is the major factor really, but nevertheless I hope these simple guidelines will help the first-time baker to achieve some early success and confidence.