Bread making is a craft and as artisans (yes, even as a home baker, you are an artisan), we like to hone our formulas to the best of our capabilities, always using the ingredients that help us get as close as possible to the results we are after. Add to this the excitement that comes with finding a new flour and it’s no surprise that in many home kitchens, there is a pantry filled with half-empty bags of flours sitting unused, slowly approaching their expiration dates.
When you see that happening, it’s time to relax the artisan mentality just a little bit and bake a mystery – or as Daniel Stevens calls it in The River Cottage Bread Handbook, the “Empty-the-shelf” – bread, mixing those bags of old flour with some bread flour and getting all playful with your recipes.
In this article, I will share some ideas and overall tips to help you get started experimenting with whatever flour you’ll find in your kitchen. Then, I will share an example recipe from my own shelf emptying operation. You can use it for inspiration – but in the end, this is a time for self-expression. Have fun, experiment, explore, and make room for more flour!
Let’s get started.
Here are eight tips for baking your bag end bread. That’s important: they are tips, not rules. So, feel free to break any of them. Just remember: when making a bag end bread, you have nothing to lose. That means this is the perfect time to test your assumptions without worrying too much about failure.
1. Play with 50% of the flour, using bread flour for the other half
When planning the formula for your bag end bread, start with the basic bread formula, leaving 50% of the flour as plain white flour (bread or all-purpose). This way, you can mix the other 50% very confidently using almost any ingredients you have at hand.
For example, the French 50% rye bread, Pain de Meteil (see our Autumn 2014 issue for a recipe and more information) is very nice to handle and shape despite the hight amount of rye.
2. Get creative with the other 50%
As an overall rule of thumb, it’s OK to mix the other 50% using any bag ends you might find in your pantry – as long as they are flour.
Remember, however, that if you use flours low in gluten, such as rye or barley, or even gluten free flours like buckwheat, that will affect the bread’s gluten structure, leading to a denser loaf. Adjust the flours according to taste: If you like denser, heartier breads, there is no reason why you can’t go even higher than 50%. On the other hand, if a dense loaf is not for you, use lighter flours as much as possible…
3. Adjust water
Often, the bag ends are wholegrain flours – at least in my pantry – which means they take more water than your regular white flour. Increase the hydration accordingly, going by feel.
For example, when making the bread presented in the recipe below, I started with a 75% hydration (see our article on bakers’ math if you are not familiar with the term), adding a little water while mixing the dough. In the end, I ended up with a 80% hydration.
4. Make a porridge
An easy way to use oats and flours low in gluten is to cook them into a porridge. This works also as a way to dispose of that left-over porridge from breakfast – and while at it, a small amount of mashed potato works very well too.
5. Soak the grains
Another way to use oats and grains is to soak them overnight before mixing them into the dough.
Here’s a formula from Bread Bar None for a bag end bread using a soaker.
6. Add Spices and Sweeteners
Many wholegrain bread recipes include sweeteners such as honey. If that’s something you like, go ahead and mix some to match the flours you are using. Another way to look at this is to see the bag end bread as an opportunity to get rid of some unused sweeteners – this happened to me earlier this week when I noticed a honey container had a hole in the bottom and needed to be used.
The same applies to spices – for example, caraway seeds are a common combination with rye.
7. Shape the dough into buns
Buns are often more forgiving than other types of breads, so if your dough doesn’t feel quite right after all the bag ends in it, don’t give up: just use it to make some buns and you’ll be fine. Easy buns can be made by scooping wet dough into muffin tins.
8. It’s still bread
Finally, there’s nothing mysterious about bag end bread.
It’s bread, just made in a more relaxed manner, using whatever flours you find in your closet. So, all the same basics still apply from the steps of making bread to the techniques for making your good bread great.
So, take a look at your flour shelf, pick the flours that are closest to their expiration date, and make some bread. For inspiration, here’s an example of a bread I made this weekend:
A Formula: Buckwheat and Rye Bag End Bread
This weekend, when I went through my flour shelf, I found a bag end of some organic buckwheat flour, a little whole wheat flour that I had sifted some time ago, removing a part of the bran, rye flour and a fresh package of organic all-purpose wheat flour.
Here’s how I used them.
The formula is presented as an interactive BreadStorm formula. By default, you’ll see it as bakers’ percentages; click on “g” to see the recipe in grams. I baked two round loaves using a total of 1000 grams of flour but you can adjust the formula to any weight you like.
The night before mixing the dough
- Prepare the levain by mixing the flour, water and ripe sourdough starter. Roughly 10 hours later (depending on your levain’s activity), the levain is bubbly and pillowy, ready to be used in bread making.
- Mix your flours in a bowl. In this recipe, I used buckwheat flour together with a flour mix made by sifting different wholemeal wheat flours, and a little rye. Feel free to replace them with any flours you want to get rid of – just make sure to keep the bread flour at 50%. This way, your bread will hold together even if you use low-gluten flours like rye or even gluten-free ones such as buckwheat.
- Add the water and the levain and mix until no dry lumps of flour remain. Depending on the flours you use, you might need to adjust the amount of water: start with a smaller percentage and add more as needed. Using the flour mix from this recipe, the dough should be a little sticky, similar to a 50% rye bread.
- Flip the dough to your work surface and work the dough for a couple of minutes (optional, but I still like to do this). Then, return the dough into the bowl and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- Add the salt and mix thoroughly. Work the dough for a couple of minutes.
- Leave the dough to rest for 2 to 2.5 hours at room temperature, doing a stretch and fold every 30 minutes.
- Shape two round loaves and place them into proving baskets to rest until ready to be baked. This will be in a couple of hours at room temperature, or more if you cool the dough to slow down the fermentation.
- Pre-heat the oven to 250°C (482°F) with your baking stone or dutch oven inside it. If you don’t have a baking stone or a dutch oven, heat a baking pan instead. When the oven is heated, put the bread in and lower the temperature to 230°C. If you use a dutch oven, like I like to do, bake the bread first with the lid on for 25 minutes and then another 25 minutes uncovered so that a dark, delicious crust gets to form.
- Cool on a wire rack and enjoy.
The bread has a lovely, slightly sweet taste of buckwheat, strong enough but not too strong. Not a bad outcome, considering that the only reason I had bought buckwheat flour was to experiment with some gluten free breads…
Now it’s your turn: go explore your kitchen and see what flours you’ll find. Experiment, save some cash and make room for new flours both in your pantry and in your mind.
Also, please share your results and tips! What kinds of breads have you come up with when rescuing old flour from your pantry?