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Joe Wagner's Bread Machine Research

Dear Linda,

Thanks for a terrific product. My very first loaf came out superbly. Its flavor, texture, and aroma couldn't have been surpassed.

I followed your excellently-written instructions almost to the letter. The only changes I made were:

1) I used only distilled water in activating the starter. That was a precaution against contaminating it with
extraneous flavors. (Our tap water here "tastes funny".)

2) I made my bread in a "1 1/2 pound" bread machine, according to your instructions except for one thing.
I left the pan in the machine throughout the procedure instead of removing it after each mixing stage &
covering it with plastic wrap.

I did bake the bread in a conventional oven, though.

Anyway, I saw no reason to move the bread pan in and out of the machine until I was ready to bake -- and
my resulting loaves show that no harm resulted...

Sincerely, Joe Wagner


Dear Linda,

Thanks for your swift reply ! You may use any of my input any way you like. I'm glad to contribute to "sourdough science".

Next loaf I'll try your "spring water" recommendation instead of the distilled water--though it's hard for me to imagine a better flavor to the bread than I've already achieved.

My daughter-in-law Rachel (a former resident of San Francisco) had been nagging me ever since I bought my "bread machine" to bake her some SF sourdough bread. (That's why I contacted you.) Rachel got the first loaf, and she's ecstatic. She says the flavor and texture are JUST RIGHT.

Sincerely, Joe

Dear Linda,

One more suggestion: I've found that it's advisable to make a few knife-slash holes in the top surface of the sourdough in a bread-machine pan, before putting it in the oven.

I won't insult your professional experience by explaining why.

Merry Christmas ! Joe Wagner


Dear Linda,

I'm glad to help. Tell ya what I'm gonna do. I've been making bread in a machine for about 4 years now, and have a pretty good "feel" for the procedures.

However, bread machines come in a variety of types, and about 3 sizes. Your recipe -- the one I've been using with great success -- is just right for my "1 1/2 pound" machine. But it's too much for my daughter- in-law's "1-pounder".

Therefore, in the interests of "sourdough science" when I delivered to her "today's daily bread", I borrowed her machine. I'll work out the proportions of starter, water, and flour for that -- and test it in the next day or two.

Afterwards I'll e-mail you the results. (If they work ! If not, I'll try again until I get it right.)

Sincerely, Joe

Dear Linda,

It's me again. So far I've baked three "1-pound" loaves in my daughter-in-law's bread machine. All of them have great taste and texture, plus the usual mouth-watering SF sourdough aroma.

I've made each loaf to a slightly different recipe, though. I'm not satisfied that I've come up with optimum times and ingredient quantities yet. Anorher loaf is in process now, and I'll keep at this work until I get it RIGHT.

Incidentally, here in southeast Alabama the altitude is about 800 feet. The last few days the local humidity has ranged from 40% to 100%. (It's raining now.) My kitchen temperature holds pretty steady between
73 and 75 degrees. (I mention all this because I've been told factors such as these influence bread-making.)

By Monday I ought to be able to e-mail you an optimum recipe for SF sourdough bread in a 1-pound machine.

Sincerely, Joe

Dear Linda,

Success ! (I'm not actually awesome, though. Just competent.)

First, here's the recipe. Some remarks will follow...

San Francisco Sourdough Bread for a "1-pound" Bread Machine


1/3 cup cold starter
3 cups white bread flour
almost 1 cup spring water
3/4 teaspoon salt

1. Place starter and 1/3 cup spring water in bread pan. Add 1/2 cup flour & manually blend with "bread stick"* until no dry flour remains. Mix with machine until mixture is smooth & uniform -- 5 to 10 minutes. (Assist blending by stirring into the corners of the bread pan with the "bread stick".) Let stand in machine for 4 hours.

2. Add 1/3 cup spring water and 1 cup flour. Manually blend with "bread stick" as in Step 1; then mix with machine again until smooth & uniform: 5 to 10 minutes. (Assist with "bread stick" as needed.) Let stand in machine for 4 hours.

3. Dissolve the salt in 1/4 cup spring water and add it to the pan; then the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour. Use the "bread stick" again to moisten all the flour before turning machine on. Let the machine knead the dough until it forms a smooth, slightly tacky ball. Assist the blending with the "bread stick", scraping down the side walls of the pan and adding the scraped-off dough to the ball.

(If the dough still seems wet and "pasty" after a few minutes of kneading, sprinkle on another tablespoon of flour -- turning the machine off first to avoid spraying flour around.

(If the dough seems dry and crumbly after about 5 minutes of kneading, add a tablespoon of water and continue mixing until a smooth, just slightly tacky ball of dough is formed.)

Let stand in the machine for 4 hours, or until the top of the risen dough is close to the top
edge of the bread pan.

4. Remove the pan from the machine. With a small knife, "stab" the top of the dough several times, an inch or so apart and about an inch deep. Also stab any bubbles that appear while doing this.

Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

5. Remove the hot bread pan from the oven with "oven mittens", and immediately shake the loaf out onto
a rack. Allow it to cool at least an hour before slicing.

* The "bread stick" is a wooden dowel -- NEVER use any metal utensils inside a bread machine pan, not even
a spoon ! -- about 1/4" diameter and 9 inches long. Keep it in a cup of water between steps, then clean
and dry it, ready for use in the next loaf.

Linda's Comment—you could use a chopstick for this 'bread stick."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

OK, now for the "remarks". As I wrote earlier, ALL of the sourdough bread I made in the 1-pound machine came out just fine for flavor, texture, and aroma. Evidently your sourdough starter mix is exceedingly flexible & adaptable.

However, the reasons I kept trying were (first) that in the final stage of dough kneading I invariably had to "tweak" the amounts of flour and water; and (second) it seemed to me that the processing time could be shortened a lot.

You see, in all the several "1 1/2-pound" loaves of San Francisco sourdough bread I've baked, I followed your recipe exactly. That, as you know, takes about 24 hours from start to finish.

The only way I could conveniently bake sourdough bread was to begin around 11 AM; then start the second stage just before midnight. Doing that allowed me to sleep during the following 8-hour "activating period"....

While doing my experimental bread-making in the "one-pound" machine, I noticed that almost all the mixing action occurred in the circular area "swept" by the machine's rotary mixing blade. The corners of the pan remained nearly inert. (This was easily noticed, because the pattern of surface bubbles in the bread pan corners hardly changed while the mixing blade swept by, around and around and around...

Therefore I came up with my "bread stick" idea. And by manually mixing the "corner areas" (plus scraping down the bread pan sides) with my "bread stick", I managed to speed up the breadmaking process a LOT.

In fact, right now I'm trying a similar set of experiments on my "1 1/2 pound" machine. My hope is to shorten the total processing time to 16 hours (or even less).

More information later...

Sincerely, Joe


Dear Linda,

I neglected to mention in my previous e-mail that:

(1) I've baked another "1-pound" loaf of SF sourdough bread, to verify that I had the "final recipe" right; &

(1 1/2) Slices from the resulting loaf are JUST RIGHT to fit in a standard electric toaster; also

(2) I'd been dissatisfied with plastic measuring cups, and found a scrumptious set of stainless steel cups
at Wal*Mart last week. They look like miniature saucepans, and have molded rubber handles that
make using them extremely convenient. I forget the price, but I'm sure it was low. (They were made in
China, like just about everything else Wal*Mart sells...)

Sincerely, Joe

Dear Linda,

It's nice to be appreciated -- but kind of scary too. As a professional design engineer, I'm more used to a gruff "Thanks" when I accomplish something useful; then an assignment to solve some new problem.

Anyway, I did succeed in my attempt to shorten the processing time for a 1 1/2 pound loaf. That "bread stick" blending helps a lot in speeding up the action !

Briefly, I used your bread machine recipe, but added the "corner mixing" action I described earlier. Then I let each stage stand for 5 hours before proceeding with the next step.

I began a little after 11 AM yesterday, and shook the finished loaf out of its pan before midnight. Like all my other attempts, the flavor and aroma are great. The texture differs slightly, though. There seem to be few large holes. The "gas bubbles" are rather uniform in my bread anyway, but the latest loaf seems exceptionally so.

Again, this loaf provides toaster-size slices. (All my earlier loaves that used the "24-hour cycle" produced tall loaves. To toast slices from those, we had to cut them in half.)

One more "helpful hint". I found it impossible to completely dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a quarter-cup of water at 73 degrees. I'd say that at least a fourth of the salt lay on the bottom of my measuring cup as sediment.

Therefore I heated the stainless steel measuring cup (really a quarter-cup) over my stove burner JUST ENOUGH to dissolve the salt as I stirred the solution.

I figured that even if the water temperature exceeded 85 degrees (I didn't think to measure it with your thermometer) the amount of heat that it would transfer to the dough-in- process would be negligible.Oh, on the "bread stick". Birch dowels are available at craft stores everywhere, and at Home Improvement Centers too.

Sincerely, NON-awesome Joe

Dear Linda,

Hey, I like your gruff reply ! Keep up the good work.

Anyway, this is my Mission Accomplished report.

The weather here has dried up a lot over the last few days, and yesterday I made another 1 1/2-pound "test loaf", using the 5-5-5-hour process. Humidity was under 50%; kitchen temperature 74 degrees F.

Once again, the loaf came out great. My only "deviation" was to do the "stabbing-down" after 4 hours of the final step. (Otherwise the top of the dough would have flattened out on the underside of my bread machine id.
Remember that in all my experimental processing in both the bread machines, I've never removed the pan from the machine until I was ready to put it in the preheated oven.)

...Having confirmed that my "16-hour" sourdough bread process works consistently, I probably won't have anything important to notify you about after this.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Great Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Patriotic President's Day, and a Marvelous Valentine's Day as well !

Sincerely, Joe

Dear Linda,I didn't think I'd have anything further to contribute in the way of data in the field of sourdough bread-making in a machine. But I was mistaken. During the holidays I've baked 8 or 9 more loaves (hard to keep track any more) and found:

1. Exact timing seems far from critical. Because of doing"this" & "that" (and taking naps) during my bread-making sessions, my processing times occasionally varied considerably. That made no difference to the "end product". I never shortened the interval timing: my minimum "step time" remained 5 hours. But running a couple of hours over that had no effect that I could detect

I shouldn't have been surprised. The "Forty-niners" who baked the first San Francisco sourdough bread lacked just about everything in the way of precision equipment. Yet their bread became world-famous...

2. The finished weight of sourdough loaves baked in my"1 1/2-pound" bread machine pan varied in actual weight from 27.8 to 28.6 ounces. (1 1/2 lbs is, of course, 24 ounces.)

3. The bread I've made from your "starter" and recipe seems resistant to molds. I've made quite a lot of other types of bread in my machine over the previous 3 years or so, and after about 5 days of breadbox storage (wrapped in plastic, of course) any of it that's left over had to be thrown away because of mold formation.

I've "time tested" two loaves of your SF Sourdough bread; one for about a week, and the other for ten days (and still counting). No trace of mold has appeared.

...One reason I've been baking so much bread lately is that my daughter-in-law has put her sister on my case too. I shudder to think of what will happen after her mother returns here to Alabama after her holiday visit to her sons who still live in California...

Sincerely, Joe

Dear Linda,

Will this "learning curve" never end?

In an effort to discover some way of baking SF sourdough bread in one of my machines, I perused their manuals in detail. From those it appears impossible to use the machines' own bake cycle for sourdough.

That's because no way is provided for turning on the heat cycle without going through all the preceding stages. And none of the "programs" built into the bread machines provides anywhere nearly the "wait times" that SF sourdough needs.

So much for that. However, from its manual I found to my astonishment that my "1 1/2-pound" GE machine is supposedly a 2-pounder !

That would explain why the sourdough bread I bake in that machine's pan comes out around 28 ounces. Yet it FAILS to explain why nearly all the other bread I've made in the GE machine, using a "1 1/2-pound" recipe, came out just right. (A few loaves have even "lifted the lid", from higher-than-usual rising...)

...As for mold : I've left the heel of one loaf of SF sourdough in my bread box, to see how long (if ever) it would take to develop mold. Answer: eleven days at an average kitchen temperature of 73 degrees F.

That's almost double the time it took mold to form on any of my other home-baked bread.

Sincerely, Joe

...On breadmaking. The "machine" handbooks I have (three) are quite vague about the capacity numbers. They all agree that the "pound ratings" are purely nominal. But they're reticent as to just WHAT they're related to -- if anything.

FYI, here are the internal dimensions of the two bread machine pans I have. The GE 1 1/2 (?) pound machine pan is 5" X 7", with 1-inch radiused corners; 5" deep. I figure its volumetric capacity is 165 cubic inches.

This is JUST RIGHT for your recipe. Using your procedures exactly, except for not removing the bread pan from the machine between mixing cycles, I get perfect loaves.

Depending on how deeply I stab the top of the dough just before putting it into the oven, I get "toaster size" slices (using many deep stabs) or (with shallow stabs) tall slices that need to be cut in half crossways to fit into a toaster. Wait a minute -- I have a partly-sliced "tall loaf" in my breadbox right now. I'll go measure its height.... Wow ! 7 inches tall at the "roof peak". (This loaf shows the "typical" large gas bubbles of sourdough bread. The loaves I stab deeply don't display those.)

As for the Oster machine, its pan is 5 1/2" square inside, with 3/4" corner radii, and a depth of 4 1/2 inches. I figure that provides 130 cubic inches of net capacity.

...Working out these numbers has me truly confused, Linda.

Mathematically, the volume relationships between the two pans only make sense if the Oster is a 1 1/2-pounder, and the GE, as their handbook claims, has a "2-pound capacity".

But I sure haven't found it so in practice !

One time, a couple of years ago, I tried making raisin bread in my GE machine. I used a 2-pound recipe provided in the GE handbook, expecting that to work all right, via producing a denser loaf.

Not so at all ! The dough rose way over the top edge of the pan and oozed down into the interior. I caught that before the heat cycle began (thank goodness !).

I made raisin bread a couple more times after that, using the same recipe. (Its yeast quantity is for the amount in a standard Red Star packet.) But I didn't bake in the bread machine pan !  Instead, I separated the dough into two equal portions and put those into standard bread pans for oven baking.

Also, I've often made bread in the GE machine from KrustEaze pre-measured bread machine packages. Those state on the box that they're for 1 1/2-pound bread machines. And the loaves I baked came out just right, too.

Going by the "physical evidence", then: I've gotta conclude that my GE is actually a 1 1/2-pounder, and the Oster's a 1-lb machine.

Dear Linda,

When I provided the bread pan dimensions in my previous e-mail, I was thinking too much like an engineer, and not enough like a baker.

Here's a better (I think) way of determining what size breadmaker one owns. Take the pan out of the machine and, one cupful at a time, fill it to the brim.

If it holds 12 cups, it's a "1 1/2-pound" pan. If it holds only 8 cups, it's a "1-pounder".

The earlier information I sent (dimensions & volume) are accurate -- but probably not of much value to "the average sourdough bread baker". (Assuming there is such a person.)

Sincerely, Joe

Dear Linda,

Thank you ! (Not gruffly, either.) As I opened the front door to admit southeast Alabama's balmy air (and perhaps a few insects for my "house lizard" to ingest), to what did my wondering eyes appear, but a miniature box bringing gifts of good cheer...

OK, OK already. But I really was astonished to receive your gifts!   (Linda's note:  I sent him a small token of my appreciation for all that he has contributed to my web site!!!)  I'd been tempted earlier to order one of the glass jars from your web site -- Your jar seems esthetically suitable for use with the age-old "technology" of sourdough breadmaking.  (I did some Google searching into the history of sourdough, and found to my surprise that it goes back some 3000 years !
It's said that sourdough bread fed the Roman Legions that conquered so much of the "civilized world" and built the Roman Empire.....)

...I well remember the U.S.-made equivalents of the glass jar you sent. And its rubber sealing ring reminded me of some- thing I hadn't thought about for decades. Since both my grandmothers did lots of "home canning" in my boyhood days, those red rubber rings (new and used) were always available around the house. (We threw away nothing potentially useful during the Depression Years.)

Those rubber rings made marvelous toys!

A typical pastime was initiated by screwing a half-dozen cup hooks into the end of an apple crate. We'd prop up the crate with a couple of books under the "hook end" -- then kneel a few feet away and toss the rubber rings, competing for the greatest number (out of ten or a dozen) we could snag onto a hook.

I also used to play a version of horseshoes with those rings, using wooden clothespins clamped upright onto the edges of shoe boxes for the "posts"... That was almost 75 years ago -- evidently I needn't worry about Alzheimer's just yet.


...On mold. That's a spore-borne organism, like yeast -- but UNlike yeast in its effect on bread. Supposedly these tiny airborne spores are everywhere around us. Each time we unwrap a loaf to slice it, a mold spore (or hundreds of 'em) COULD deposit out of the kitchen air onto the exposed bread surface & go to work building up a population.

The "preservatives" in store-bought bread supposedly suppress that activity. Or slows it down. But back when my wife was living, and we bought bread at the store, it would often go moldy in as little as 3 days. (Of course, I'm not sure how she handled the bread. She might have left the wrapper open a lot longer than I do--say if she got a phone call during sandwich-making time...)

Still, I feel sure that despite its utter lack of anything other than flour, water, salt, and San Francisco Wild Yeast culture, bread made from your recipe is highly mold-resistant.

..BTW, I also like the mini-utility knife you sent ! I use knives a lot in my miscellaneous activities, and that little pocket-size item will see a good bit of usage ere long...

(Haven't used the towel yet.)

Sincerely, Joe


Dear Linda,

Thanks for asking ! Sure, you may use my contributions any way you want. No problem -- and I DO appreciate your non-inclusion of my e-mail address. E-mail is neat, quick, inexpensive, and sometimes WAY TOO CONVENIENT.  A comment I recently made in one of my magazine columns --I've been writing for model aviation magazines since 1946 -- brought in almost 300 e-mail requests for more information.