Bassinage Is Really the Way to Go

The more I use the bassinage method, the more convinced I am that it’s the way to go with building great dough structure. For those that are unfamiliar with bassinage, it’s a process of adding water to the dough during bulk fermentation – bathing the dough as the word translates from French.

Mind you, what you’re doing is actually holding back a bit of the total water during mixing to promote the formation of gluten. While it requires water to form gluten, it forms more readily in a relatively drier environment. For the loaves above, my final hydration was 75%. But I only hydrated the initial dough to 70%, reserving that small amount of water to be added once I built up the gluten. I added the rest of the water – less than 40g – during my first fold about 10-15 minutes after mixing.

What is apparently happening with bassinage is your initial mix allows gluten strands to form (as I stated gluten forms more readily in lower hydrations which is why low hydration dough is stiffer). Then when you add more water later to get to your final hydration, some of that water combines with stray flour to form more gluten and some water molecules get trapped in between gluten strands. So conceivably, you’re going to get better oven spring because of the trapped water.

The effect of holding back some of the water was pretty incredible. If you look at the loaves in the picture above, they look like they absolutely exploded. But see how sharply the extreme ends of the loaves rise up and how the loaves haven’t filled the basket to the edges? I believe that is a function of dough strength that I built up in before bassinage and the loaves holding their shape after shaping, not rising action.

Before I started using the bassinage technique, my dough would fill the baskets to the edges, then rise above the rim. But by employing the bassinage technique, I was able to build lots of strength in the dough first, then get it to its final hydration. I’ll tell you, that dough was absolutely magnificent to work with!

When I made baguettes this past weekend, I used the Baguette de Tradition method, which is a same-day, 76% hydration dough. I applied the bassinage technique when making this dough, and thank goodness I did! Truth be told, I actually slightly over-proofed the shaped loaves as it was a pretty hot day. But if you look at the picture to right, they puffed up rather nicely in spite of being a little over-proofed. I owe that to the strength I built into the dough before getting to my final hydration. There was enough strength left in it that the loaves maintained their structure.

When I put the loaves in the oven, I was worried they’d come out flat. But when I pulled them out of the oven, I was SO jazzed. They came out nice and puffy!

As I mentioned in a previous article, I actually stumbled upon this technique before I even found out that it’s actually a formal technique and had been using it for months before I heard Jonathan at Proof Bread on YouTube talk about it. For me, it really is the way to go!

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