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This is the official blog for my little micro-bakery, Dawg House Bakery that I run out of my home. As I’m not a professionally-trained baker, I originally started this blog as a diary to document things I’ve learned and recipes I’ve developed. But it kind of took on a life of its own with folks from all over the world visiting the site. So welcome!

Helpful Posts

Baguettes

Ciabatta

Sourdough

Ancient Italian Bread

Recipe: Roasted Garlic Ciabatta

It was an Italian bread day! Ciabatta and Pane di Altamura.

The other bread that I love to bake on a regular basis besides baguettes is ciabatta. This is yet another super-simple dough and like baguettes, requires a bit of finesse to get a good result. That good result is a loaf that feels light as a feather when you pick it up and whose crumb is open and airy. With this version, I thought I’d change it up a bit and use a white flour blend but I also added a roasted garlic paste to the mix to give it a bit of a garlic kick.

Formula

Flour100.00%
Water82.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast0.50%
Garlic5.00%

Poolish

AP Flour200g
Water200g
Yeast0.40g

Final Dough

AP Flour369g
Bread Flour185g
Water (warm)421g
Salt15g
Yeast4g
Garlic (peeled)37g
Poolish369g
Total Yield1400g
2 X 700g loaves

Make the Poolish. The night before you mix, make a 400g 100% hydration poolish in an appropriately sized container. Cover tightly with plastic and let it sit overnight on the counter or in a cool, dark place. It should be filled with bubbles by morning and slightly domed on top. Don’t worry if it has collapsed a bit or you see a bit of hooch around the edges. It should be filled with bubbles.

Roast the Garlic. Roast the garlic in a bit of olive oil for 35-40 minutes @ 375ºF. I recommend wrapping the garlic in a small square of foil so it doesn’t dry out and brown too much. Once finished, transfer it to a bowl and mash it up.

For mixing, I highly recommend using a stand mixer if you have one. This is a very wet dough and while you could mix it by hand, you’ll get a more uniform dough consistency with a mixer. And it’s a lot neater!

Mix. Add all the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment. While that’s mixing, loosen the poolish from its container by pouring the water around the edges of the dough mass. Stop the mixer, switch to the dough hook, then pour the poolish/water mixture into the bowl. Start on the slow setting to bring the ingredients together, stopping as necessary to scrape the sides of the bowl and bottom to ensure all the dry ingredients are picked up. Once all the ingredients have come together, add the garlic. Step up the speed on the mixer to medium-low and mix until you achieve a smooth consistency.

Bulk Fermentation: 2 hours @ 70-72℉.

First Fold. After the first 30 minutes, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl.

From here on out, it is critical that you be as gentle as possible with the dough. That’s the key to achieving that airy, open crumb.

Second Fold. After another 30 minutes, pour the dough out onto a generously floured work surface. Gently tug the dough into a rectangle about an inch thick, then starting from a long end, stretch the dough out, then fold it to about 2/3 over the mass. Perform the same on the other side. then repeat this with the now longer sides. Gently roll the dough mass onto the seams, let it sit for about 20 seconds to seal the seams, then transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, seam-side-down. Cover and allow the dough to finish bulk fermentation. It will be ready for scaling when the dough has about doubled from its original size.

Divide and Shape. Gently pour out the dough oil-side-up onto a generously floured work surface, then gently tug it into a rough rectangle of even thickness. Cut the dough into two equal pieces. I like to scale my dough, but it’s not necessary. Gently pull each piece into a long rectangle, then transfer to a well-floured couche or cloth (do not use terry cloth!).

Final Fermentation. Cover the shaped loaves and rest for 30 minutes.

Bake. Bake at 475℉ for 12 minutes with steam. Remove the steaming container, then reduce heat to 425℉ and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust has achieved a rich, golden-brown color.

Recipe: Pane di Altamura (Updated 7/1/2022)

Update 7/1/2022 I’m almost embarassed to say this, but I had the formula ALL WRONG! Though my results have been spectacular, as shown in the pictures above, my hydration has been way too low! The actual final hydration is 90%, not 78% as I originally listed. This changes things significantly – but for the better. The dough is certainly in the realm of “super-wet” but as the flour is whole-grain, it’s a thirsty flour, so it feels like a much lower-hydration flour.

Come to think of it, I always wondered how the dough in the videos I saw was so damn pliable! 🙂 Oh well, live and learn…

Ever since I got Carol Fields’ book, “The Italian Baker,” I’ve been wanting to make this bread. It is a truly ancient bread from the Puglia region of Italy and documented by Horatio as far back as the first century BC. The most notable loaf shape has a bit of a pompadour on the top (not sure about the history behind the shape). But that said, the DOP doesn’t certify the bread by shape, but rather by ingredients and structure (e.g. the crust must be 3 mm thick).

Now truth be told, this recipe is technically NOT true Pane di Altamura because it is a “protected” bread under the Denominazione di Origine Protetta, which specifies that the flour must come from the Puglia region. Plus, the high mineral content water of that area apparently contributes to the distinctive taste of the bread. But even still, I believe we can get pretty close to the original. All I know is that the two loaves I made today are gone. My family ate one loaf, and the family to whom I gave the other loaf demolished the bread! This will definitely be a regular part of my repertoire from here on out!

Durum Flour

I get my durum flour from Azure Standard (and no, this isn’t an affiliate link). This is certified organic and milled using the Unifine method, which creates a finer texture while retaining the nutrients as it uses no water that could leach off the nutrients. Note that you can’t just use any “semolina” flour. Most semolina flour is too coarse to make bread. You have to make sure the grind is extra-fine.

Overall Formula

Durum Wheat Flour100.00%
Water90.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast0.75%
Total Yield192.75%

Biga

Durum Wheat Flour100%
Water96%
Yeast0.2%

Make the Biga. The night before you bake, make a 72% biga. Because I make this bread often, I usually make enough biga for two bakes, using 500g of durum flour. Use room temperature water, then let it rise in a cool place for 6-24 hours. You’ll know the biga is ready when it is nicely domed at the top and is filled with bubbles. If it’s done before you’re ready to bake, just pop it in the fridge. It’ll keep for up to a week.

Final Dough

Flour492g
Water427g
Salt15g
Yeast6g
Biga500g
Total Dough Weight1440g
2 X 720g
Weights are in grams. Note that I factored in a 1% process loss, which is why it’s not a nice round number. You’ll always lose a little during processing.

Initial Mix. Measure out the necessary amount of biga that you’ll need into your mixing bowl. Add all but 50 grams of the water to the biga, then break up the biga. When the water turns milky white, start adding the flour.

Autolyse. Durum is hard wheat, so it benefits from an autolyse. Autolyse for 30-60 minutes (use the longer time in cold weather).

Final Mix. Dissolve the salt into the reserved water and dissolve. Add the yeast to the dough, then lightly incorporate. Finally, add the salt and work it into the dough well all the liquid is absorbed. If using a mixer, mix on low speed.

Knead. Lightly knead the dough in the bowl or turned out onto an unfloured work surface. This is done simply to ensure that all the ingredients are distributed evenly with moderate gluten development. Get the dough to a smooth, even consistency then stop.

Bulk Fermentation. Allow the dough to double, yes, double. This will take up to 3 hours or more with the small amount of yeast that’s used. But that’s a good thing as it helps develop the flavor!

Folding. Fold the dough two to three times at half-hour intervals in the first hour and a half of the bulk rise. Do a windowpane test after the dough relaxes after the second fold to see if you’ll need a third. If you’ve got good extensibility, then the third fold isn’t necessary.

Divide and Pre-Shape. For this recipe, divide the dough into two 720g pieces. Pre-shape into rounds, then bench rest for 45-minutes to an hour to fully relax the dough and let it puff up a little. In warmer weather, this will be shorter – maybe 30 minutes.

Final Shape and Fermentation. As I mentioned, while there is no standard for the shape, traditional Pane di Altamura is best known for its pompadour or high form. Study this video clip to shape the loaves. Of course, that baker makes it look easy. And having made this several times, I’ve finally gotten it down. But it does take practice. Here’s another approach. This is quite a bit easier. The only thing I’d do differently is to press down the fold as the baker does in the first video. This will give a more pronounced shape to the pompadour by steepening the backside of the loaf.

Bake. Bake at 485ºF/250ºC for 50-60 minutes. Use steam for the first 15 minutes to promote oven rise. I’ve never baked this bread in a Dutch oven, but it technically could be done. Start with the lid on for the first 15-20 minutes of the bake, then remove the lid and finish the bake. Note that at least with my oven, baking at full temp like that for that long will burn the bread. So once I remove my steaming containers, I turn the oven down to 425ºF/200ºC to finish the bake. The crust should be dark brown, and little to no black.

Step-By-Step Shaping of a Pane di Altamura Loaf

After updating the post, I decided to add a step-by-step shaping guide. This was just as much for my edification as it was for sharing what I’ve learned.

First, lightly flour your work surface, then gently flatten the pre-shaped dough. Pick it up, and gently toss it between your hands to elongate it into a long oval.
Next, fold one end about 20-25% over the end and gently seal the seam.
Pull the top down about 2/3 and overlap the dough. Use your fingertips to seal the seam.
Pull the bottom up about halfway, then gently rock the roll back and forth then seal the seam.

Gently flatten the log, then bring the two ends to the middle. Make a channel with one hand to seal the seams.

Place both palms together and place them in the channel, then pull the ends apart. Don’t worry if you tear the dough a little. Stretch out until the middle is about 1cm thick. This will help form the crease.
Take the smaller end and fold it over the fat end of the dough. Then press down the fold to create a bit of a crease.
The shaped loaf should have a slightly triangular shape from the side.

In the oven, the loaves will pop up with a steep side and look like the bread erupted on the top. It’s a cool effect!

You can make a much more pronounced pompadour by narrowing the top half and shaping it into a cylinder. I did this to mimic some of the pictures I had seen, but it made cutting the bread a little problematic. So my more practical side took over and I just overlap. As long as I get a triangle cross-section, it’s all good!

The Many Faces of Baguettes

Click on a picture to see its recipe. The baking method described in the recipes may differ from what I discuss here. That’s because those were the ways I baked them initially. But in the last 6 months, I’ve taken to standardizing my flour blend(s) and formulas. I vary the technique to achieve different results.

I’ve been very open that my favorite bread to make is the baguette. But as you can see, I bake several different types. But with just a few minor exceptions, I bake all my baguettes pretty much the same way: 12 minutes with steam @ 475°F, 15 minutes @ 425°F. The only difference is with sourdough baguettes that go both longer on steam (20 minutes) and a little longer – 25 minutes – at 400°F for curing. As for the other types, as you can see from the pictures of some of the batches I’ve baked just in the past few months, they show different crust colors, almost as if they were baked differently. I can guarantee you that they weren’t.

And to drive the point home further, except for the Tartine baguettes, the rest of them obeyed the same, basic formula:

Flour100.00%
Water76.00%
Salt2.00%

So what differs between all the different types of baguettes are the dough development and fermentation techniques employed for each different type. The most significant effect on crust color comes from fermentation. The darker crust baguettes are not the result of longer bake times, but rather the amount of sugar released into the dough due to the longer fermentation times of either the whole dough or preferment.

For instance, the Baguettes a l’Ancienne, Sourdough, Pointage en Bac baguettes all undergo very long and cold bulk fermentation times. This allows more sugar to be released into the dough than can be metabolized by the yeast. Those crusts caramelize nicely and hence have the darkest crusts. The Tartine-Style baguettes are a little lighter as less sugar is released as the combined preferments only account for 28% of the total flour. The Poolish baguettes are fairly close in color to the Tartine-style, but they’re just a bit lighter as the preferment accounts for only 25% of the total flour. And finally, the Baguettes de Tradition are the lightest as very little sugar is released into the dough. This stuff is SO very cool!

To be honest, seeing how dough can be affected by so many different variables never ceases to amaze me and keeps me completely obsessed with dough; pushing me to try different things to see their effect on the finished bread.

As far as baguettes are concerned, I used to think that a baguette was a baguette. And though intuitively and intellectually I knew there were differences, it wasn’t until I started baking different kinds that I really knew just how different they could be – even from the same formula! It’s stuff like this that keeps me baking!

Delayed-Fermentation Baguettes Using Pain à L’Ancienne Technique

When I first started making baguettes, I learned the pointage en bac method of making my baguette dough. To date, this is my most-used method for making baguettes. The slow rise significantly slows the yeast activity and allows the amylase enzymes to break down the starches in the flour and release more sugars into the dough than can be processed by the yeast that would otherwise be converted to alcohol and CO2. Plus it allows the lactobacillus and acetobacillus bacteria to release organic acids into the dough as well. With that method, I start with a dough temperature that is about 76℉-78℉, so when I finally put the dough into the fridge, fermentation has already started then gradually slows as the dough temp equalizes with the fridge temp.

But there is a bread called pain à l’ancienne whose fermentation is retarded at mixing using ice-cold water. Once mixed, the dough is then put into the fridge overnight. The dough is then removed from the fridge in the morning and allowed to come to room temp; thus, delaying fermentation and benefitting from the other microbes not having to compete with the yeast. But the two techniques differ in that with the pointage en bac method, the dough is immediately shaped out of the fridge as opposed to the pain à l’ancienne that is allowed to wake up for a period of time before shaping.

It actually makes a bit of sense to allow the dough to wake up because fermentation was delayed from the start. The cool thing is that when fermentation is allowed to proceed in earnest, the yeast have plenty of sugars on which to feed since the amylase enzymes had time to break down the starches overnight. Plus, the organic acids released into the dough will make it much more extensible. All good!

I did a riff on the pain à l’ancienne technique with my latest batch of baguettes and they turned out fabulous!

Formula

Flour100.00%
Water76.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast (instant)0.38%
Total %178.38%

Final Dough

Kamut Flour (sifted)190g
AP Flour569g
Water (35℉ – 40℉)577g
Salt15g
Yeast3g
1353g
4 X ~335g loaves
As you can see above, I used a blend of sifted Kamut and AP flour. This is a 25% Kamut/75% AP blend.

Mix. Thoroughly mix ALL dry ingredients together until fully combined. For the ice water, I just filled a bowl with ice water then used a strainer when adding it to the dry ingredients. Mix until you have a shaggy mass with no large lumps. Cover the mixing bowl, then place it in the fridge for 30 minutes to maintain the dough temp. After 30 minutes, take the bowl out, then stretch and fold the dough until smooth.

Retard. Return the dough to the fridge and let it sit for at least 8 hours. There will be yeast activity during this time, but it will minimal.

Bulk Fermentation. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to wake up for 1-1 1/2 hr. During this time you still won’t see much expansion of the dough mass, but that’s okay. There’s actually a lot that has happened overnight. All in all, you should see about a 50% expansion of the dough from its original size.

Divide and Preshape. Divide the dough into 335g pieces. Letterfold each piece, then roll up the piece perpendicular to the seams like a jelly roll. Alternatively, you can create rounds. After preshaping, place the piece on a well-floured couche and let the pieces rest for 30 minutes. This is an important step because the dough is still cool at this point and needs time to relax. After that time, if you pick up a piece, it should feel billowy and the dough should give.

Shape. Rather than write down the process, here’s a GREAT shaping method that Martin goes into in detail.

Final Fermentation. This last part is a little tricky in that it really require a bit of feel. But because the dough started out cold, the minimum final fermentation would probably be one hour. But when I baked these today, my kitchen was 72℉ and it took a little over two hours to finish final fermentation. Use the poke test to determine readiness. With this dough, the indentation should remain, but still eventually fill in. If your poke disappears completely, the dough isn’t ready. It’s really critical that you give final fermentation plenty of time as shaping will have degassed the dough slightly. Final fermentation will allow the holes to reform.

Bake. Bake at 475℉ with steam for 12 minutes or until the crust is set and you start seeing color. Remove steam, then finish baking at 425℉ for 15-20 minutes. This bread really benefits from a full bake.

If you’re wondering what the difference between this type of baguette is and a standard baguette, look at the pictures below:

On the left are the baguettes made using the pain à l’ancienne technique and to the right are a recent batch of Baguettes de Tradition. They were both baked in pretty much the same way, at the same temperatures. But notice how the pain à l’ancienne style baguettes are darker. This is because of the carmelization of the sugars that were released into the dough overnight. Baguettes de Tradition, on the other hand, are processed all within a few hours time; not enough time for sugars to be released.

Recipe: 25% Kamut Baguettes With Kamut Poolish

Kamut flour has become a staple in my flour blends. It adds a nuttiness to the flavor of the bread and as it has a different kind of gluten than wheat gluten, provides a softness to the crumb that is very pleasing. You don’t get a really open crumb with Kamut since it is a whole-grain flour, but as it has under 12% protein, you’ll still get some very nice oven spring and expansion.

For baguettes, my flour blend is as follows: 50% AP Flour, 25% Bread Flour, and 25% Kamut. I use half of the Kamut (unsifted) to make a poolish and I sift the other half for the final dough. Let’s get to the recipe!

Formula

Flour100.00%
Water75.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast0.38%
Total %177.38%

Poolish

Kamut Flour (unsifted)105g
Water105g
Yeast @ 0.3%0.31g
Note: This is more than what’s needed just to make sure there’s enough.

Final Dough

Kamut95g
Bread Flour191g
AP Flour381g
Water @ 95°-100°F477g
Salt15g
Yeast (instant)3g
Poolish @ 25% of Total Flour191g
Total Yield1353
4 X 335g loaves
Total Flour763
Total Water572

Make the Poolish. Combine the ingredients and mix well, then cover and set aside, until poolish about doubles. It’ll be ready when it passes the float test. This can take up to 6 hours on cool days. With a Kamut poolish, you won’t see a lot of bubbles on top, but you will see lots of bubbles on the sides and bottom of your container.

You can also make the poolish the day before and stick it in the fridge. This will allow the organic acids to really develop. Not only will you get lots of flavor from this, but it will also add extensibility to the dough.

Mix. In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (yes, even the yeast and salt) and mix well until everything is nicely distributed. Add all but about 50g of water and make a shaggy mass that has no dry ingredients. Cover and rest for 15 minutes, add the reserved water, and work it into the mass. Once all the reserved water has been incorporated, mix until you have no large lumps in the dough.

Bulk Fermentation. About 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Look for about 50-75% expansion (not doubling)

Folding. Fold the dough twice within the first hour.

Divide and Preshape. Scale-out 335g pieces. Shape either into taut balls or roll into jelly rolls, then set aside on a well-floured couche. Rest for 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 500°F

Shape and Final Fermentation. Shape into baguettes and place onto a well-floured couche. Check the loaves at 45 minutes. When you poke test, the hole should fill in slowly.

Bake. Bake with steam at 460°F for 12 minutes. Remove the steaming container, and reduce oven temp to 400°F. Bake for 15-20 minutes to harden the crust and bake out most of the water from the crumb.

Recipe: Roasted Garlic Kamut Ciabatta

Ever since I learned Jeffrey Hamelman’s Roasted Garlic Levain bread, I’ve used roasted garlic in a number of recipes. But up until now, I didn’t think about using it in ciabatta. There is nothing like the smell of garlic roasting in the oven, and when incorporated into the dough and baked, the result is a luxurious and delectable bread that you’ll want to make all the time!

Since I go on long airplane trips several times a year, I’ve learned to bring my own food as opposed to buying the crappy food they now serve – and you have to purchase – on the plane. Tomorrow, my family is traveling to New York City to attend our daughter’s graduation from Fordham University this weekend, so true to form, I made sure to have sandwiches for the trip.

Normally, I make fat baguettes, but this time I wanted to make ciabatta. But to put a twist on it, I thought I’d add roasted garlic and give the bread a little kick. The formula and recipe are below:

Formula

Flour100.00%
Water81.00%
Cream0.80%
Salt2.00%
Yeast1.00%
Olive Oil4.00%
Garlic6.00%
Total Percentage194.80%

Final Dough

Flour
My blend: 30% Kamut Flour, 30% Bread Flour, 40% AP Flour
622g
Warm Water (about 100°F)504g
Cream or Half & Half5g
Salt12g
Yeast6g
Olive Oil25g
Garlic (peeled)37g
Total Yield1,212.00
2 X 600g loaves
(+1% due to process loss)

Process

Because this is such a super-wet dough, I highly recommend using a stand mixer.

Roast the garlic. Weigh out the garlic you need then place the cloves in a square of foil with a little olive oil (don’t worry if you have too much garlic – personally, I usually exceed the required amount by a few grams). Cinch up the foil, the roast at 400°F for 30 minutes. The garlic should be slightly brown and mashable. Transfer to a small bowl, and mash up the garlic with the oil. Don’t worry if there are harder bits. Just break them up.

Mix. If you’re using a flour blend, thoroughly mix the different flour types together first (the mixer paddle is perfect for this). Add the salt and yeast, then continue mixing for several seconds until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

By the way, it’s a myth that salt kills yeast. It doesn’t, at least not at this low concentration, and especially if both are dry. Besides, if salt did kill yeast, once you add salt to a yeasted dough, it shouldn’t rise!

In a separate container, combine all the liquids. Attach the dough hook, then turn on your mixer to slow, then slowly add about 75% of the liquid. Allow the dough to form. Once the dough starts climbing up the hook, slowly add the rest of the liquid until all the ingredients are combined (make sure to use a spatula to get all the oil out of the container). Once the liquid is incorporated, add the roasted garlic. Turn the mixer up to medium-low and mix until the dough is smooth (it’s more like a batter at this stage).

At this stage, you can transfer the dough to a standard mixing bowl or just keep it in the mixer’s bowl.

First Fermentation. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Then using a wet hand, do a series of stretches and folds. The dough at this point will still be quite wet. But using hand like a spoon, scoop under the dough and pull up. Eventually you will feel the dough strengthening a bit.

Second Fermentation. Again, let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Then pour it out onto a well-floured surface. You have to be pretty generous with the flour. Letter fold the dough. Once you’ve finished the pattern, pat the dough down, then letter fold it again. Once you’re done, roll it over onto its seams, then transfer it into a well-oiled bowl.

I’d start preheating my oven at this point – my oven is slow to come to temp, so I start preheating after the first fermentation.

Third Fermentation. Finally, let the dough rest 20 minutes. You should see some expansion of the dough mass with bubbles starting to form on the surface. Pour the dough out oil-side-up onto a well-floured surface. Divide the dough into two pieces. Personally, I eyeball it, but still scale out one of the pieces to 600 grams. At this point, handle the dough gently. You don’t want to degas it too much!

Final Fermentation. Gently tug the two pieces into rectangles, then transfer them to a couche or well-floured dish cloth. Let the loaves rest for 20 minutes.

Bake. Transfer the loaves to a loading board generously covered with cornmeal. Load your oven, then bake the loaves at 460°F with steam for 15 minutes. After that, expel the steam, then finish baking at 400°F for 20 minutes.

If you don’t use a baking stone, you can bake the ciabatta on a regular baking pan.

Baking with Steam

Almost all the recipes I post here say “bake with steam” for X amount of minutes. For commercial bakers that have steam-injected ovens, that’s a no-brainer. But most home ovens don’t have a steam injection function (unless you have a Miele). For those of us who don’t have that, our only alternative is to use a vessel of some sort to hold water that will evaporate in the high temperature of the oven.

I use the bottom tray of my broiler pan as my vessel. Others use a cast-iron skillet. I actually prefer the broiler pan as a cast-iron skillet requires preheating. No matter what you use, it should be able to hold at least 1-2 cups of hot water.

Here’s how I “bake with steam”:

  1. About 3-5 minutes before I place the loaves in the oven, I pour about 1-2 cups of hot water into my pan. This gives the water a bit of time to heat up and creates a steamy environment for when the bread gets loaded.
  2. Immediately after placing the loaves, I splash a few tablespoons of water near the outer rim of the pan to create a cloud of steam to make up for the steam I lost when I loaded my loves.
  3. When the time comes to vent the steam, I simply remove the pan from the oven and then finish baking dry.

Note that to avoid losing too much oven temperature. You have to be real quick because you don’t want to leave the door open too long. Also, some books, like “Flour Water Salt Yeast” will say to use just a single cup of water. That’s never enough for my oven because it has a built-in fan that will quickly evaporate the water. So I almost always use twice as much water as listed in the recipe. You’ll have to experiment with your own oven.

In the words of the great Jacques Pepin, “That’s it!” It’s not perfect. Most ovens like mine are built to naturally vent moisture. When I’m baking, I actually plug the vents using some foil and Gorilla tape. This serves to both retain the steam and helps maintain my oven temp.

Recipe: Easy Ciabatta by Scott Megee of the Artisan Crust

Like many baking enthusiasts, during the pandemic lockdown, I watched A LOT of baking videos to learn different bread baking techniques. I started out watching regular YouTubers. Some are great like Sune, the Foodgeek, but as with any social media platform, the real good stuff takes some searching. So eventually, I found pros like Markus Farbinger, Jeffrey Hamelman, and Chad Robertson (I read the latter two’ book as well). But then I discovered and also followed Scott Megee, Master Baker of Australia and owner/proprietor of The Artisan Crust in Victoria, Australia. And I tried out his easy version of ciabatta.

In short, this bread rocks! Not only is it easy to make, but despite not using a preferment at all, it’s delicious! The trick is using really good olive oil – first cold-pressed is the best. Don’t make the mistake of using “first pressed” or “cold-pressed” olive oil. It has to be “first cold-pressed” as that is the real deal extra virgin olive oil. Of course, there’s lots of chicanery in the olive oil business, so it’s never entirely clear.

For me, I use California extra virgin olive oil produced by the Sciabica family. I originally became familiar with them through the Dominican Sisters. Each year, they have the olives harvested from the grounds of their convent in Mission San Jose, and the Sciabica family presses and processes their olive oil.

As for the Sciabica family olive oil, though I usually purchase 1.5-liter boxes directly from them, in California, you can also find their oil in grocery stores under the “Mission Trail” brand. This is a very nice oil made from olive trees in Northern California. It’s wonderfully fruity with a peppery finish.

Okay, let’s get to the important stuff!

Overall Formula

Flour
AP Flour: 50%
Bread Flour: 25%
Kamut Flour: 25%
100.00%
Water76.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast0.50%
Olive Oil3.00%
Total %181.50%

Final Dough

Flour*
AP Flour: 501g
Kamut Flour: 167g
668g
Water508g
Salt13g
Yeast3g
Olive Oil20g
Total Yield1212g
2 X 600g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp82°F (28°C)
*You can use your own blend or just use AP flour. I wouldn’t recommend 100% high-protein bread flour as it would make the crumb chewy.

Mix: Mix all the dry ingredients together thoroughly. Reserve 20% of the water and combine it with the oil. Then mix the dry ingredients together with 80% of the water. Mix until smooth and you achieve a bit of gluten development. Once the initial mix has come together, slowly add the oil and water mixture and work it into the dough (this is known as bassinage). Mix until smooth, then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the container, then let the dough rest for 45 minutes.

Note: I recommend using a mixer for ciabatta (Hey! The Italians do!), but you can certainly mix the dough by hand.

Process. At this point, it’s a lot easier to learn Scott Megee’s technique by watching his video:

Note that where I started the video, Scott is measuring the temperature of the dough and it reads 23°C. But his recipe actually lists the optimal dough temp to be 28°C.

Bake. Bake with steam for 20 minutes at 450°F. Then finish baking for another 20 minutes without steam. If the crust color seems a little dark after the first 20 minutes, reduce oven temp to 400°F. Internal dough temp should be 200°F to ensure the dough is fully cooked.

Don’t Throw Out Your Old Cheese! Make Fromage Fort!

In addition to having a love for bread, I absolutely LOVE cheese. I usually have four or five varieties of cheese in my fridge. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only one in my family that eats as much cheese as I do, and I can’t eat it all, and thus, it gets old. It used to be that I would just throw out my old cheese, but in the early days of the pandemic lockdown, I learned to make an incredible cheese spread from the venerable chef, Jacques Pepin, called fromage fort or “strong cheese.”

Basically, fromage fort is a mixture of different cheeses that is combined with a little white wine and a little garlic, and optionally, you can add spices if you like. I spike mine with coarse black pepper and hot chili pepper powder to give the spread a little heat kick. It is SO easy to make! Here’s a quick recipe (scale it up as necessary):

Fromage Fort

1/2 lb leftover cheese
1-2 cloves garlic (peeled and crushed)
1/4 cup white wine
1 tsp coarse black pepper
Salt to taste*

*Cheese is salted, so you shouldn’t need it, but add some if you don’t think it’s salty enough.

Cube up the cheese, then add all ingredients to a food processor with the blade attachment installed. Mix for 30 seconds or so until the mixture is smooth. Add white wine in small amounts to get the texture to a really thick batter. Once it’s done, pack the mixture into small jars or containers (I like to use 4-6 oz jars).

All that said, it’s all about taste. I tend to like a lot more garlic in mine. And with the batch I made this morning, part of which is in the picture above, I used a combination of marsala and chardonnay. And because I wanted a bit of heat, I added some hot-hot South Indian chili pepper powder. At least in my mind, there aren’t any rules with fromage fort. Besides, every time I make it, it’s different because I use different cheeses

How Do You Use Fromage Fort?

Lots of different ways! The more common thing is to spread it on slices of bread and crackers. But you can spread it on bread and broil it, and even make grilled cheese sandwiches with it (though I also add a slice of cheese to make it really gooey). I also add it to cream-based sauces to give my sauces a little cheesy edge.

Another thing I love to do with it is to make Croque Monsieur, which is basically the French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. I spread the fromage fort on a large slice of bread, place a slice of ham on top of that, then put a slice of Swiss cheese on top of the ham, and top it with a slice of tomato. I bake this in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Wow!

Trust Your Dough: Part III of Working with High-hydration Dough

As I’ve been sharing in the past few posts, I’ve been experimenting with super-high hydration dough to test the limits of my flour blend. It has been a real learning experience. One big thing is that really wet dough doesn’t respond like lower hydration dough. Whereas a lower hydration dough will come together and it’s easy to create a nice gluten network pretty much immediately, it’s not so with dough above the 85% hydration level. In fact, right after mixing, the dough is somewhat of a gloppy mess. It looks like pancake batter and even feels like it.

For instance, the loaf shown in the picture above was about 90% hydration. I was admittedly a little skeptical about the dough when I first mixed it. And after it had fully fermented, I didn’t even know if it would even shape! But I knew that the gluten strands were forming as I folded the dough. I could feel it. And damn if it didn’t spring up in the oven! VERY COOL!

Yesterday, I decided to push it even further and made a 95% dough out of the same flour blend. Because it was so wet, I decided to do the initial mix in my mixer. I’m so glad I did because after I got all the ingredients incorporated, the dough looked even more like pancake batter! Over the course of six folds over a 3-hour period, I definitely could feel the gluten forming as I folded.

But I have to be honest. Even though I could feel the gluten developing, the dough was still like a super-thick batter. When it came time to preshape and shape the dough, it was incredibly difficult to shape, and the resulting loaves were, let’s say, a little on the flat side. I got oven spring alright, but it was way more out than up. So I think exceeded the hydration limit with that particular flour blend.

But in spite of the difficulty in working with such a wet dough, I resisted the urge to tweak, though I could tell I probably wouldn’t get the most ideal results. And even though I’m fairly experienced as a baker, I had to see it through. I won’t lie. There were a couple of times while I was folding – if you could call it that – where I was tempted to add a bit more flour to the mix. But this was an experiment to test the hydration limits of that flour blend, so I let it go.

But despite the relative flatness of the loaves, I wouldn’t call the experiment a total disaster. The loaves rose up, which meant I could expect a reasonably open crumb, which I got. And quite frankly, the taste of the bread was magnificent. I used whole wheat levain this time around and this particular flour was packed with lactobacillus bacteria, giving the bread a gorgeous tang.

That “tang” means acid, and acid breaks down gluten, which may have been a contributor to the lack of gluten strength. So it’s one thing to consider for future bakes. I will either have to add vital wheat gluten to make sure there’s extra protein and perhaps still drop the hydration level just a smidgen.

As I think about this experiment, I look at all the time I’ve spent learning these past couple of years and it makes me smile. For me at least, the beauty of baking isn’t in the end product. The beauty is in the process and understanding all the variables that go into producing a loaf of bread. Though I’ve experienced failures or setbacks, they’ve all served to teach or reveal to me some subtle nuance. It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion.

Happy baking!