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!
I recently had a conversation at a party with a friend and fellow home baker who started our conversation by saying, “Oh, I never make yeasted bread. It’s just too simple and it tastes so bland.” Then after wolfing down several pieces of baguette that I had brought to the party she remarked, “This bread has a slightly sour tang to it. What kind of sourdough starter did you use?”
Willing myself to not roll my eyes, I smiled and said, “That’s a yeasted loaf. No sourdough. In fact, I didn’t even use a poolish.” I SO wanted to be snarky. But I behaved myself, and instead took a more conciliatory stance: “On the surface, sure, a straight dough is very simple to make. But there are lots of things you can do to completely transform it.”
Of course, she asked, “How?” So I spent the next several minutes – actually, it was more like an hour in total – discussing different ways I’ve learned to affect the flavor of my bread. But while some things I’ll share below are specific to yeasted bread, there are a couple of nuggets that could be used for any bread that you make. Note that though they’re numbered, the tips aren’t in any particular order.
1. Move beyond white flour
Like many, my first real bread book was “Flour Water Salt Yeast” by Ken Forkish. There was a section in the book where he talked about finding a flour to call your own. I was just starting out making no-knead bread at the time, so I didn’t pay too much attention to that section. I just wanted to learn the technique. But literally within a month, I was starting to get bored of making white bread. So I started experimenting with different blends of flour. Here are a few blends that I use:
I use this for my sourdough baguettes. As with Sourdough #1, the levain is made from whole wheat.
NOTE: All flour I use is certified organic
While fermentation will certainly drive flavor, I’ve found that the most significant impact on bread flavor comes from the flour blend that’s used. If you do create a blend, keep in mind that your processing technique may change as different flour has different protein content or, in the case of Kamut or rye, will not create gluten, or at least a protein that contributes to the dough structure. It may take you a couple or a few times baking with the blend before you get it down.
Note above that I list 25% Kamut or Rye. This is because both of these flours behave similarly in that they contribute very little if any to the dough structure. But they dd some incredible taste to the bread! Kamut adds a
2. Play With Hydration
Hydration affects the texture and density of the bread. And while texture and density aren’t flavors, they can affect our perception of flavors. For instance, a heavy, dense bread concentrates flavors, while an airy, light crumb tends to have much subtler, more delicate flavors. With the bread I make, I try to strike a balance between flavor concentration and texture. The crumb of my boules and batards isn’t super-open, but it’s still light and airy – it just doesn’t have a lot of big holes. To achieve consistent results, I’ve had to play with the hydration. But as a rule of thumb, the more whole-grain flour I use, the more water I’ll add. For instance, the hydration for Baguette 1 is 76%, while the hydration for Baguette 3 is about 80% (these are a challenge to shape).
3. Retard Bulk Fermentation
People who make sourdough are well-versed in long, slow fermentation and the flavors it can impart as the bacteria in the flour (and in the air) get a chance to release organic acids into the dough, and the enzymes have time to break down starches and convert them to sugar. We can do the same with yeasted dough. For instance, with my Pointage en Bac baguettes, I start bulk fermentation at room temp, then slow it down in a fridge that’s set to about 39℉ – 42℉. This doesn’t completely stop yeast fermentation, but it significantly slows it down to allow the enzymes and bacteria to better compete for resources.
Lately, I’ve been really getting into the Pain a l’Ancienne technique of delaying fermentation from the get-go for my baguettes. This involves using ice water at mixing to prevent the yeast from metabolizing. I then further retard in the fridge set at 36℉ for up to 48 hours. Yeast fermentation is allowed to occur only after this long rest in the fridge. This makes for an absolutely complex-tasting bread!
4. Retard Final Fermentation
While retarding final fermentation follows the same basic principles as retarding bulk fermentation, it’s a little trickier because we’re using commercial yeast. Commercial yeast has been literally bred to be fast-acting and resilient, even in harsh environments.1 So timing when you place your dough into your fridge is critical. I’ve found that as a rule of thumb to always place my loaves in the fridge once the dough has expanded about 50%. It takes a while for the dough to equalize to the cold environment, so you have to have enough runway to account for the yeast activity while the dough cools. I’ve found that if I let it get past that point, my dough will be overproofed when it comes out of the fridge. So now, if by chance I let it get past that point, I just let it finish and bake the bread.
That caveat aside, once the dough equalizes, you mitigate the competition from the yeast and the bacteria and enzymes can do their thing. Pizzaiolo’s know this technique very well, with some letting their pizza dough undergo cold fermentation for up to five days!
5. Salt Stress Yeast
When yeast is placed into a saline environment, it undergoes what is called osmotic shock. During this period, the fungus ceases fermentation while it builds up protection against water from being leached from its cells. Once that protection has been built, the yeast then can go about its business converting sugars into gas and it also becomes impervious to later osmotic events.
I now only use salt-stressed yeast when I’m making dough for Baguettes a l’Ancienne or other bread where I want to delay bulk fermentation simply because once I remove the dough from the fridge, I don’t want the yeast to undergo osmotic shock. I want it to start producing gas bubbles ASAP. The thing about pre-stressing the yeast is that it produces glycerol. An increased presence of glycerol has been shown to increase fermentation activity and also increase the gas-retention abilities in the dough.2 Gas is flavor!
6. Be Gentle With Your Dough
As of late, I’ve been doing my best to handle my dough in a much more gentle fashion. After a couple of batches where the bread turned out a little dense, I realized that the loaves were turning out that way because of how I handled the dough. I was degassing it by being too rough. So I made a conscious decision to handle the dough in a much gentler fashion. For instance, look at the ciabatta in the picture above. With that batch, I did my best to be gentle with the dough and the results, as you can see above, pretty much speak for themselves.
When you see a professional baker manipulating dough, it looks as if they’re throwing it around. But I realized that they’re just going fast because they’ve done it thousands of times. I started picking up speed myself as I got used to the particular tasks, but I realized that I also increased the physical pressure I was placing on the dough. By being aware of how I was manipulating the dough, I’ve greatly improved the texture and density of my crumb. And as with hydration, texture, and density affect flavor.
7. Experiment with Different Sourdough Cultures
A sourdough culture has the potential to affect the flavor of the bread in a variety of ways. The more starter you use, the more the grain of the culture affects the flavor. The less you use, the rising will be slower and flavor development will come predominantly from the bacteria in the final dough. But where the culture originates from can also play a factor as the combination of yeast and bacteria differs from region to region.
For instance, when I cultivate a culture from my immediate vicinity, the resultant bread isn’t very sour and the rising action is moderate. On the other hand, when I’ve made cultures from longan fruit, those microbes go crazy. The rising action is much higher and the microbes impart both sweet and sour flavors, though the sweetness could very well be coming from the fruit juice itself. If I make a starter from an original San Francisco sourdough culture, the bread has the distinctive San Francisco sourdough tang. Contrast that with a starter from Eastern Europe that has a very sour flavor.
By the way, if you’re interested in cultivating international cultures, look no further than Sourdoughs International. They have a collection of dry starters from all over the world and even have an Egyptian culture from antiquity that was captured from an unearthed ancient bakery at the foot of the Giza pyramids. It’s on the way to me as I write this!
But even if you don’t experiment with different starters, varying the amount of starter you use will affect the flavor of your bread. Note, that your rising times may vary wildly if you do this, so you’ll have to eyeball how your dough rises. And also note that the more starter you use will not necessarily make your rising go faster. In fact, the higher acidity may very well slow down fermentation. As always, use your senses – especially your sight and touch – to monitor your dough’s progress.
The one thing that really excites me about using different starters is that all of them vary in their microbe density. Some starters, such as the Giza starter I mentioned, seem to have a high density of bacteria, so the bread comes out particularly sour. On the other hand, one of my Italian starters is much more balanced and I’ve trained it to favor the yeast and other microbes in the starter that release esters, giving it a slight banana-like aroma (that’s actually frickin’ amazing, btw).
8. Use a Levain AND a Poolish
In my ever-popular Tartine Bread Baguettes post, I shared how Chad Robertson uses both a poolish and a levain to ferment his baguettes. I’ve used this technique for different kinds of loaves other than baguettes, and I love it! The levain adds the sour component to the flavor profile, while the poolish provides a nuttiness, plus a much more powerful rising action than the levain due to the commercial yeast. I’ve found this technique to be ideal for lower-hydration dough. It can get a little crazy with high-hydration dough as things will happen a lot faster, but it’s still manageable.
At least for me, using this technique almost invariably produces a chewy crumb. And that is an awesome thing because the chewiness gives you time to savor all the toothsome goodness that the preferments bring to the bread. Combining this technique with different blends of flour makes for an incredibly complex flavor profile. In the picture immediately above, I used a blend of 10% Rye, 40% High-extraction, and 50% Organic, Unbleached AP Flour. It was a powerful combination!
9. Vary Your Bake Times
Out of all the different techniques, this has the potential of really messing up your bread if you’re not attentive. If you read or participate in bread-baking forums, you’ll occasionally see references to the Maillard Reaction. Put simply, this is the browning process when heat is applied to food and how it affects taste. With respect to bread, as the crust browns, it opens up a whole new world of flavor. The nuttiness you get from a baguette or other crusty bread is due to the Maillard reaction.
There is a thing in artisan bread circles to bake the crust to a really deep color – or at least part of it. For instance, take a look at the loaves below:
Some folks might look at these loaves and say I burned them, but they tasted anything but burnt. In fact, those loaves were absolutely packed with flavor! There is a real depth and complexity in the flavor of bread when it is baked long enough to get this dark. I’ve literally baked hundreds of loaves, so I know just how long to bake them to achieve this effect. But I will admit that it took several burnt loaves before I got my own technique down. Even if you lengthen your bake time, there’s no guarantee you will actually like it. But give it a try.
To achieve this, bake at your normal temp. For most folks, this is going to be at 250ºC/475ºF. Lengthen your initial time at that temperature by 5-10 minutes to start with. Then once you get to the desired darkness, immediately reduce the heat in your oven so cooking continues, but browning doesn’t. For me, that’s 425ºF.
10. Vary Your Salt
Salt is one of those universal flavor components used in pretty much every food. And varying it can sometimes have dramatic effects on your bread. I typically use 1.5% or 2% salt in my bread, and never go beyond 2% with sourdough as salt attenuates the yeast action and really slows things down with natural yeast.
And no, contrary to popular belief, salt does NOT kill yeast. In order for it to kill yeast, it has to be in a super-high concentration. I don’t know how this myth originated, but it’s wrong. Do a search on “salt stressed yeast” and you will find peer-reviewed research papers on the subject and yeast’s tolerance to salt. Sorry, but science rules here…
With yeasted bread, it is possible to up your salt to 3-5%. If you salt-stress the yeast before mixing, you can go up to some crazy saltiness. But I’ve found that beyond 3%, the bread is too salty. See the section above “Salt Stress Yeast.”
On the other extreme is using no salt. Tuscan bread is saltless and it is insipid. The popular story behind this is that apparently, back in the Middle Ages, salt was heavily taxed, so the Tuscans chose to use it sparingly and stopped putting it in their bread (by the way, no one really knows the true story). To this day, bread in Tuscany is saltless. But they make up for it by making rich and flavorful sauces meant for dipping bread into.
Personally, I’ve made Tuscan bread and sorry, I’ll be sticking with adding a bit of salt to my dough…
All the techniques I shared above focused entirely on producing flavor in the dough naturally. But you can use additives such as roasted garlic, herbs, nuts, dried fruit, etc. I don’t consider doing that cheating, but additives could hide what could be rather insipid bread without it. So my advice with using additives is to not start using them until you can produce great-tasting bread that can stand on its own.
The low-hanging fruit to produce more flavorful bread is to experiment with different flour blends. For me, once I started doing that, it changed the game entirely for me. Using whole grain pretty much forced me to up my hydration. But then that got me thinking about modifications to the fermentation process. What a rabbit hole! But stuff like this gets me out of bed every morning. There’s always something to tweak!
1Money, Nicholas P., The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization Oxford University Press, 2018
2Elham Aslankoohi, Mohammad Naser Rezaei, Yannick Vervoort, Christophe M. Courtin, Kevin J. Verstrepen, Glycerol Production by Fermenting Yeast Cells Is Essential for Optimal Bread Dough Fermentation, Plos One March 2015
During the pandemic lockdown, I discovered just how wonderful KamutTM flour was. But now, for some reason, it has become a little scarce. So I started searching for different kinds of flour to replace the Kamut, and I discovered dark rye flour. Yeah, yeah, there are lots of folks who’ve been baking with rye for a long time, but truth be told, I kind of stayed away from it because of that traditional rye bread taste. Little did I know that that particular bitter, almost nutmeg-like taste comes from the caraway seed that’s often added to traditional rye bread dough.
Plus, up until I started baking with it, my primary experience with rye bread was that marbled rye that you get with Reuben sandwiches. But after doing a bit of research on rye flour and baking with it regularly, I was soon corrected, and I have to say that I absolutely LOVE baking with rye flour!
Part of the reason why I love it so much is that it behaves very much like Kamut flour in that doesn’t form gluten. Like Kamut, the proteins that are formed when water is added to the flour don’t at all contribute to the structure of the dough. So you either have to be super, super-gentle with the dough, or use a smaller percentage, just as I’m using with these baguettes.
But even at this lower percentage of 25% (technically 12.5% rye flour to the total flour), the flavor that the rye flour contributes is incredible. Plus, being whole-grain flour, it contributes a nice textural element that contrasts nicely with the white flour.
My advice is to make the poolish the night before you mix the dough, giving it at least 10-12 hours to ferment. Whole-grain flour has lots of great bacteria that will produce organic acids that will add to the overall flavor profile of the bread.
The very first bread recipe I ever learned was a whole-wheat sourdough recipe made from an offshoot of an original San Francisco sourdough starter that I got from the TA of my freshman Microbiology class in college over 40 years ago. Along with the starter, he included a recipe. And while the recipe had times listed, he stressed to all of us who got the starter that the times he listed were only approximate and he gave us telltales as to when to move on to the next phase. That was the only bread recipe I used for many years and I got pretty good at recognizing and feeling what was happening with the dough.
You see – and I know this sounds a little strange – the dough will speak to you if you’ll only listen. Unfortunately, so many folks, especially newbies to baking bread, follow recipes literally. If a recipe says to fold the dough 6 times over three hours, they’ll do it. If it says bulk fermentation will two hours, they’ll start pre-shaping it at two hours. In either of these cases, under the right circumstances, they’ll produce nice loaves. But then they’ll scratch their heads wondering why their next batches didn’t turn out the same.
As Jonathan of Proof Bread said in one of his videos, “…the dough will let you know what’s going on with it.” And it’s true. The dough will indeed let you know, but in a way, you kind of have to know its language. Luckily, its language is limited to a few words. I’m going to put a humorous spin on it.
“Look, I’m strong enough already…”
Of course, we’re talking about dough strength and gluten development here. When you’re folding your dough, or even using a mixer, your dough will tell you when it has had enough. Even with high-hydration dough, you’ll start feeling a bit of resistance from the dough; where you no longer can stretch it to the extent that you were able to a couple of sessions ago. A good telltale is how long the dough takes to relax and hit the sides of your container. If it’s a fairly slow rate and the mass generally holds its shape – like minutes – chances are it’s strong enough. You’ve built enough strength into the dough so now let bulk fermentation finish.
But what about all those recipes like the Tartine Country Loaf and its various spin-offs that say to fold the dough six times over three hours? Well, just as with rising times, how much or how little you fold your dough to build strength is dependent on a lot of different factors. That said, probably the most important factor is the flour or flour blend you use as water absorption properties vary from flour to flour, which in turn affect both the rate and the quality of gluten formation. For instance, with the flour blends I use, I’ve never done the full six folds when following the Tartine process – even if I take hydration over 80%! My flour forms gluten pretty quickly and my folding builds strength quickly.
As I write this, I’m baking two 1-kilo loaves of 75% Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour / 25% Azure Standard Dark Rye Flour hydrated at about 81%. The bread flour forms up gluten so efficiently that even at this high hydration, I only had to fold the dough twice last night! If I used my normal Azure Standard High Extraction flour, I’d have to fold it at least 4 times as it is not nearly as good at forming gluten due to the bran particulates in the flour even though it has almost 15% protein content. See what I’m getting at?
“Feed me! Feed me!”
Let’s make one thing really clear: Your starter is part of your dough. In fact, it’s the first part of your dough. Lots of books and articles have been written about feeding your sourdough starter, but I thought I’d take a different tack on the subject and demystify it a bit. No, I’m not going to suggest a different feeding method or schedule, but bear in mind that your starter will speak to you as well and if you’re listening, you may very well change your schedule.
One of the things I often hear people talk about is the lack of activity in their starter, and I see many comments similar to this: “I’m not sure what’s happening with my starter. It’s not very active and I’ve been feeding it every 12 hours!”
There are three main factors that affect activity in a starter (not in any particular order): 1) The density of the yeast in the starter matrix, 2) The amount of acidity in your starter, and 3) the ambient temperature. You can directly affect temperature. but you have to do a bit of finagling of the starter to affect items 1) and 2), and that is through feeding.
Generally, what you hear with regards to feeding your starter is you do it to get it active enough to use for baking. But as with dough strength, you can’t be a fundamentalist about the schedule. For instance, many starter instructions say to feed your starter every twelve hours, and people will do it religiously and then wonder why their starter never bubbles up much. The probable cause for this is that the starter’s not ready to be fed and instead of increasing the density of the yeast in the starter, they’re actually decreasing it.
The starter will tell you when it’s ready to be fed. Look for telltales such as doubling in volume (usually the peak), or if there is a noticeable “ring” around the top of the starter where the starter has peaked and then receded. Or if you’re using a fairly liquid starter, look for a proliferation of bubbles on the top surface. This is the starter telling you it’s ready to be fed.
Yeast: “You’re on MY time…”
I recently ordered a couple of different starters from Sourdoughs International and yesterday (9/17/2022), I finally got the time to activate their Giza starter that was propagated from yeast captured from an ancient bakery unearthed at the foot of the Great Pyramid. This was part of a National Geographic project. Check out the link to find out more about the starter.
Anyway, I activated it yesterday and went to feed it this morning after letting it sit in a warm environment for 24 hours. To my utter amazement, the starter was not just bubbly, but even a bit frothy! That was totally unexpected. Before I activated the starter, I made sure to completely sterilize my container to ensure that the microbes in the starter were the predominant organisms. Well apparently, they’re not only the dominant organisms, they’re incredibly active! Then about an hour after discarding and feeding the starter, I noticed how much it was expanding. At this rate, I think it will peak after just four hours!
The activation instructions mentioned that I shouldn’t expect much activity after 24 hours and the starter shouldn’t be ready for baking for 4 to 5 days. But at this rate, I’ll probably be ready to make some dough tomorrow!
The point of this is that yeast operates on its own schedule. We can read and follow instructions all we want. But if the yeast is ready, it’s ready. On the flip side, some yeast is slower on the uptake and takes longer to get going. For instance, my original starter that I have been nurturing for the last couple of years has always been a little lazy at the start of fermentation. I’ve tried rebuilding it and refreshing it, but it still just operates on its own schedule. It has actually been ideal for long fermentation periods, and as it is pretty sensitive to a cold environment when I retard the final fermentation, there’s lots of flavor development.
With this new Giza starter, I’m going to have to work out a new baking schedule since it is so active. I reached out to Sourdoughs International to inquire about the incredible activity of the culture, and they confirmed that it is very active. This is just SO cool!
Sometimes I just want some basic bread; something I don’t have to work too hard at. But by the same token, I don’t want to make just plain, white bread because that’s just boring. As I wrote in a previous article, there are lots of ways to make bread more flavorful. But my primary way of accomplishing that is to use various blends of flour.
In this case, I’m using a blend of 50% Fine-ground whole grain semolina and 50% bread flour. The bread flour I’m using is Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour. This is a wonderful flour that has a nice, high protein content of 13.7%. This is one of my favorite flours to use in conjunction with whole-grain flour as the higher protein content ensures that I can build plenty of structure in the dough. The semolina flour adds sweetness and corn-like flavor and a gorgeous, natural yellow color to the crumb that looks like an egg was added to the dough.
The best thing about this bread is that it is absolutely straightforward and easy to make! So without further ado, let’s get into the recipe.
Flour (50% Fine-Ground Semolina, 50% Bread Flour)
The following recipe will make 2 1-kilo loaves:
Fine-ground, Whole-grain Semolina Flour
Note: The recipe makes 1% more than the 2 kilos to account for possible loss during processing.
If you really want to make things easy on yourself, do your mixing in a mixer, especially if you opt to use a delayed fermentation.
Mix. Combine all the dry ingredients and mix well enough so there’s even distribution. Add all the water and mix until smooth with moderate gluten development.
(optional) This recipe really lends itself to delayed fermentation. If you want to do that, use ice water to mix your dough. As recommended above, use a mixer and mix at medium-low for a few minutes to get gluten development started. Once the dough starts climbing up your hook, you will have mixed and kneaded it enough. Then put the dough in the fridge for up to 24 hours. The rest of the process is the same as below once you remove the dough from the fridge.
Bulk Fermentation. How long bulk fermentation will take depends on the ambient temperature of your kitchen. But it should generally take 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. However, if you delayed fermentation, count on at least a few hours to allow the yeast to wake up. The dough will have finished bulk fermenting when it has expanded almost 35-40% of its original size.
Folding. You only need to fold this dough once, 30 minutes after mixing. If you did a delayed fermentation, there’s no need to fold.
Divide and Shape. Divide the dough into two 1-kilo pieces. Shape the loaves as you would batards, but roll them out into logs. I use 14″ bannetons for proofing but you could also just proof the loaves on a well-floured couche. Alternatively, you could just place the loaves on a large baking sheet that is covered with parchment paper. You’ll both proof and bake on the sheet.
Final Fermentation. As with bulk fermentation, final fermentation will vary based on the ambient temp of your kitchen. The loaves will be ready when they pass the poke test.
Bake. Bake at 425°F with steam for 20 minutes. Remove the steaming container after 20 minutes then bake at 400°F for 20-30 minutes to cure the loaves and reduce moisture in the crumb.
Because semolina is whole-grain flour, don’t expect large holes to form. But that’s okay. Your loaves will spring and have a wonderfully soft crumb!
To be clear, this wasn’t an experiment to see if I could bake bread on my Traeger. I knew I could bake with my Traeger based on making some great pizza and flatbread with it. This was more of a let’s see how it’ll taste exercise. TLDR; If you don’t want to read any further, not only can you bake a damn nice loaf on your Traeger, it doesn’t taste smoky at all – almost as if the bread came out of a wood-fired oven!
To be completely honest, the primary reason I decided to use my Traeger to bake my latest batch of bread was simply that during the pandemic lockdown I totally over-worked my ovens and they developed a couple of small cracks on the bottom and don’t hold their temperature. I actually found a way to patch the holes and not have to buy ovens, but until the sealant has fully cured, the ovens are unusable. So… I set up my Traeger to be a wood-fired oven! See the picture below.
The results have been pretty incredible thus far! I baked four 1-kilo loaves in the Traeger over the weekend and as you can see from the pictures at the top, the results have been amazing! The oven spring was incredible; much more than what I was expecting.
As for the loaves, those were made with 40% whole grain flour (15% whole wheat (from the starter), 25% whole grain rye), and 60% high-extraction flour. Hydration was about 80% which was probably pushing it as rye doesn’t form gluten. But I was still able to develop good structure and dough strength.
Speaking of rye, wow! Those were my first-ever loaves that used rye flour. Not sure why I never baked with rye previously. The interesting thing about using rye flour was that it was similar to using Kamut flour. While Kamut does form gluten, it is not like the gluten formed with regular wheat flour. It’s a little gelatinous. I noticed a similar texture with the rye flour so I naturally worked the dough as gently as I work a dough that has Kamut.
All that said, if you’d like to try baking with your own smoker/grill, here are a few tips:
You really need to use a baking stone! The heat comes up from the bottom, so using a baking sheet will only serve to burn the bottom of your loaf.
Set the temperature of your smoker to its highest temp to warm up the stone, then bake at around 450°F.
To generate steam, you can use a small cast iron skillet (I use that when making pizza as my pizza stone is a lot smaller than my big baking stone), or do what I did and make a boat out of foil.
Do not open the smoker once you put the bread in there! I know, typically you remove the steaming container, but this is like cooking in a hearth oven. Just let the oven do its thing.
Note that even with setting the controls to 450°F, your smoker will probably not come to full temp. That’s okay. Most smokers work via convection to maintain even heat throughout the chamber, so baking at a lower temp is okay – I imagine it’s almost like baking in a hearth oven that is starting to cool.
With the cooler temperature, the bread will take at least an hour to finish baking. But check the internal temperature after 30 minutes with an instant-read thermometer. Your crumb should be at least 195°-200°F.
Surprisingly enough, I’m not going to provide a recipe here but talk purely about a technique I’ve been using to bake the last few batches of my baguettes. The technique has totally changed my approach to baking baguettes, let alone baking straight dough with yeast. Based on the Pain a l’Ancienne technique of using ice water at mixing time to inhibit yeast activity, the technique employs temperature to affect the dough, providing yet another means to develop flavor.
Those who bake sourdough are familiar with retarding fermentation for flavor development. But that typically occurs during final fermentation after the yeast has mostly finished its job of expanding the dough. Contrast this with the Pain a l’Ancienne technique where the yeast doesn’t get a chance to metabolize all that much from the get-go, allowing the amylase enzymes to break down the starches into sugars and letting the bacteria do their thing in producing organic acids and other by-products.
With the delayed fermentation technique, we mix with ice water; that’s right. Ice water.
The end result is that lots of sugars are released into the dough – more than the yeast can metabolize – and the result is a relatively darker crust due to the sugars caramelizing and a much more rich flavor from the organic acids released by the bacteria! So here’s the technique…
I highly recommend using a mixer for this technique. This will serve two purposes:
It will take a lot less time than mixing by hand and doesn’t give the dough a chance to warm up significantly.
It allows you to get some good gluten development before you put the dough into the fridge.
First off, mix all the dry ingredients together with the paddle attachment.
Make ice water and make sure you make enough that will meet your recipe’s requirements.
Attach the dough hook, then add all the ice water needed for your recipe to the bowl.
Starting with the slowest speed, start bringing all the ingredients together. Once the dough starts to come together, stop the mixer, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing until there are no dry ingredients. In some cases, you may have to scrape the bottom of the bowl and flip the dough to make sure you get everything.
Turn the mixer up another notch to work the dough. Let it run for at least two minutes or until the dough starts climbing up the hook. That should give you plenty of gluten development to start with.
Transfer the dough to a sealable container. I put my dough in a glass mixing bowl that I then place in a jumbo Ziploc bag.
Put the dough in the fridge for 8 to 24 hours. It will probably rise just a tiny bit, but nothing significant.
Remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to almost double. This can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours.
Divide and preshape. Bench rest for 20-30 minutes until the dough has relaxed enough to be shaped.
Shape the dough into your desired shape and final ferment. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours depending on the hydration and your ambient temp. My baguettes this morning took only 45 minutes for final fermentation. Poke test the dough for readiness.
Bake as normal.
Though I listed a bunch of steps, the process isn’t all that complicated. But the results are astonishing. This process is a keeper!
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.
Warm Water (~95°F)
1400g 2 X 700g loaves
Make the Poolish. The night before, make a 400g 100% hydration poolish. Cover tightly with plastic and let it sit overnight on the counter. By morning, it should be filled with bubbles and slightly domed on top. Don’t worry if it has collapsed or you see a bit of hooch around the edges.
I highly recommend using a mixer. This is a very wet dough and while you could mix it by hand, you’ll get a more uniform consistency with a mixer.
Roast the Garlic. You can do this at any time. Just have it ready for when you mix. I use peeled garlic drizzled with olive oil then loosely wrap it in foil. I roast the garlic at 375℉ for 30-35 minutes to where it’s fork-tender. After roasting, transfer to the garlic to a bowl and mash it well.
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, then add the poolish-water mixture to the bowl. Switch to the dough hook and mix at low speed until the dough (it’s more like batter) starts coming together. Stop the mixer again and add the roasted garlic mash. At this point, mix at medium-low until smooth and the dough starts climbing up the hook a bit.
At this point, you can transfer the dough to another bowl (I like to use a glass mixing bowl going forward) or just let it rest in the bowl for 45 minutes.
Bulk Fermentation. About 2 hours at 70℉ ambient temp.
First Fold. After 45 minutes, fold the dough in the bowl. Make sure you stretch the dough adequately enough to feel the tension building in the dough. After several folds, rest for 45 minutes.
Second Fold. Generously flour your work surface (and I mean generously), then pour the dough out. With closed fingers, work your hands under the dough and shape it into a rough rectangle less than an inch thick throughout the mass. To make it easier to understand, the long side should be the East-West side. Take one of the long sides, stretch it out away from the sheet, then fold it back over almost to the end. Gently pat the dough down, then repeat with the opposite end. Do the same for the North and South sides. When you do the North-South side, you may notice that the dough fights you a little. This is a good thing! It means the gluten strands are aligning and you’ve built strength in the dough. Gently roll the dough mass onto the seams and let it rest for several seconds to seal.
Transfer the dough seam-side-down to a well-oiled bowl. You can use the same mixing bowl, but this time, you need to oil it down. Cover the bowl and let the dough double in volume. At around 70℉, this will take about 30-45 minutes.
Divide and “Shape.” At this point, I personally like to scale my dough, but you can eyeball it as well. As with the second fold above, transfer the dough seam-side-up onto a generously floured surface. Work the mass into a rectangle with even thickness, then cut the dough in half. With ciabatta, there’s really no shaping. What I like to do is take a piece, gently work it into a slightly long rectangle, then transfer it to a generously-floured couche. Once on the couche, I’ll tug it into the final rectangle shape I want.
Final Fermentation. This can take as little as 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes depending on your ambient temperature and yeast activity. The purpose of this step isn’t for more expansion, but to let the dough relax before baking to ensure that the bubbles will expand in the oven.
Bake. Bake at 475℉ with steam for 12 minutes. Remove steam/steaming container, then bake for 12-15 minutes at 425℉.
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!
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.
Durum Wheat Flour
Durum Wheat Flour
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.
Total Dough Weight
1440g 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.
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!
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:
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!
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!
Kamut Flour (sifted)
Water (35℉ – 40℉)
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.