Here’s my recipe for a great-tasting bread that I love to make. I normally use local honey to add a slight sweetness, but if I don’t have it on hand, I replace it with an equal weight of brown sugar. I provide different hydration ratios to reflect the types of breads you can make. The 90% is excellent for making pan loaves. I use the 85% for making boules and batards, and use the 75% for hard rolls and buns.
All numbers are in grams.
Whole Wheat Flour*
Provided three hydration levels for water: 90%, 85%, 75%.
*Use fine or extra-fine grind of whole wheat flour. I myself prefer to use white whole wheat flour.
**Gluten = Vital Wheat Gluten. This is optional, but really helps in gluten development and oven spring. You can usually find this at a grocery store. My local Lucky carries Bob’s Red Mill brand.
As I mentioned in my article on moving to whole wheat flour, things take longer and you have to do more when you use whole wheat flour. This mainly has to do with the slow moisture absorbance and thus slower gluten development. I also discovered that it’s better to do all the fermentation and proofing with a colder dough, so having room in your fridge is important – or in my case, I got a mini fridge to act as a retarder.
Mix flour, vital wheat gluten until well-incorporated. If using brown sugar, add it at this step. Add water and honey and mix into a shaggy dough then let rest for at least a half-hour.
After the dough has autolysed sprinkle salt and yeast evenly over the top of the dough, then mix thoroughly. Work the dough until smooth.
If you used a stand mixer to mix, transfer to a large bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes; otherwise, just let it rest.
Every half-hour for the next two hours, fold the dough. You may not have to do this many. After folding check the strength of the dough by doing the windowpane test to see if it has enough strength. In my warm kitchen, I only had to do three folds.
After your last fold, allow the dough to rise for at least a half hour or until it has expanded about 30% to 40% of its original size.
Cover your bowl with plastic wrap or transfer to a container and place it in your fridge. If you used plastic wrap, make sure air can escape.
“Day 2” can be the next day or up to a week out. The longer you let it sit, the more flavor will develop.
Remove the container from the fridge and allow it to warm to near room temperature (~2 hours).
After bench resting, divide the dough and do your final shaping, either into a boule or batard. If I’m making loaf bread, I shape using the batard method.
If you do the full 1000 gram recipe, divide the dough into three or four. The three-quarter recipe can be made into two large loaves, and the half recipe is great for single, large loaf.
Once shaped, place in proofing baskets or well-greased pan loaf pans. If you don’t have proofing baskets, use a lightly-oiled bowl that’s dusted with flour.
Chill the dough for two hours in your fridge.
A hour before baking, heat your oven to 475o, making sure your baking stone or Dutch oven are also in the oven to warm up.
Remove proofed dough from containers and slash/score. No need to let it come to room temperature.
If using a Dutch oven, place dough in oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, then bake for 10 more minutes or until crust is the desired color.
If using a baking stone and a metal pan for steam, place the loaf on the stone, and pour a cup of hot water into the pan. Remove the pan after 20 minutes, then continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the crust is the desired color.
Allow the bread to cool completely before cutting! I used to disregard this, but if you don’t allow it to cool, the interior will get gummy. Not good.
At the end of my Afternoon Batard recipe, I added a section on using whole wheat flour. I didn’t write it just to satisfy readers’ curiosity. For health and dietary reasons – and to be completely transparent, a strong suggestion from my doctor – I have had to start using whole wheat flour in my bread – at least 50% of my flour is whole wheat flour.
I have to admit that it has been a rather frustrating experience making the transition to whole wheat flour. Up to this point, I’ve invested hours – almost daily – in becoming proficient in making bread with white bread flour. And then having to make an abrupt turn; well, it wasn’t smooth and I really felt like I was going all the way back to square one. The transition is akin to a painter who has mastered watercolor moving to acrylic or oil painting. The basic principles of color and shading are similar, but the change in medium forces adjustments to the technique.
Luckily for me, bread making has become a bit of an obsession so I wasn’t going to be deterred from this setback. Also, just within a few tries of making a few different types of loaves, I started to get a feel for it. Here’s what I’ve learned thus far (and mind you I’m still learning but these things have gotten my bread back “normal”):
The grind of the wheat flour – no matter what kind you use – is critical. I started out using course-ground wheat flour. It tasted okay, but the texture was way too gritty, and the crumb was really, really closed, even if I used a 90%+ hydration and used a gluten helper such as vital wheat gluten or psyllium fiber. Fine or extra-fine grind is the best.
As for the type of wheat flour, I absolutely love working with white whole wheat flour. It tastes much sweeter than red whole wheat. I’ve only made one batch using this flour, but I’m hooked! The taste and texture of the bread instantly hooked me! The loaves I just made used absolutely zero added sugar (which many whole wheat recipes include). The white whole wheat has a sweetness to it that doesn’t need fortification.
With any wheat flour dough, everything takes longer or you do things more. You have to do the initial knead longer. The amount of folding doubles at the very least (this first batch, I folded it 6 times before I got the right tension in the dough). Fermentation takes longer as well – at least a 3-4 hour bulk at room temperature, though I got better results with a slow, overnight fermentation (I baked half my dough the first day, then baked the second loaf the next morning).
I found that even more so than with white flour, shaping a loaf and creating surface tension with whole wheat dough is even more critical. Furthermore, final proofing takes quite a bit longer. Even with my early attempts, I didn’t proof my loaves long enough and they sprung up way too fast! You want oven spring, but you want it to be slow and gradual.
For instance, this morning, I shaped and proofed my second loaf fresh out of the refrigerator. When I’ve done a slow ferment with white bread, after an hour and half, the dough would be ready. But with this whole wheat loaf? After an hour and a half, it still needs another half hour to proof – at least (I’m proofing it while I write this). Even my loaf yesterday (shown above) – I barely proofed it enough. After it was finished baking, I realized I probably should’ve proofed it longer.
So as I said in my afternoon batard recipe, going to whole wheat makes the process at the very least, an all day affair. But to be realistic, it’s better as a two-day affair. Mind you, those days don’t have to be consecutive. The thing about cold fermentation is that you can let it go for a few days. Given that, my process will be mixing and doing the initial knead the first day, then putting the dough in the fridge for at least 18-24 hours. So I’ll mix in the morning the first day, and when I want to make a loaf, I’ll grab a piece out of the fridge then shape, proof and bake on the next.
Every bread recipe, even the ones I’ve written, list times for various activities. Knead for ten minutes, two hours to bulk ferment, an hour to proof, etc. etc. But you have to bear in mind that the recipes were written according to specific conditions in the author’s kitchen.
When I read Ken Forkish’s book, “Flour Water Salt Yeast,” he was good at pointing out that even though he listed times for certain activities, the times were based on HIS kitchen and its ambient temperature. He warned that things will happen slower or faster depending on someone’s kitchen conditions.
For instance, I remember the first time I made a poolish. I let it sit out overnight as instructed. And when I made bread the next morning, it came out flat. What I didn’t account for was that it was a really warm night and the yeast and bacteria were completely exhausted. The bread tasted fine, but I ended up turning it into croutons.
This evening, I made a biga. But since it’s still the height of summer and I don’t run my air conditioner at night, the ambient temperature of my kitchen will probably be around 75-78 degrees. So my biga will probably be ready to use in 10 hours as opposed to 12-14 hours as Ken lists in his recipe. Given that, I mixed my biga at 9:30 PM. But more importantly, I’ll have to determine how “done” it is based on its appearance: It should have at least doubled or tripled in size and should be pockmarked with bubbles. We’ll see.
And that’s the point: With bread making, you have to go by sight and feel. If you use time for anything, use it for making a check on how things are going. And before I forget, if your kitchen is warm, your bread will proof quickly. We had a heat wave a couple of weeks ago and though I turned on my air conditioner, it was still over 80 degrees in my kitchen. I had rolled out baguettes and at that temp, they were proofed in less than 20 minutes, even though the recipe I was following said to proof for an hour!
So ignore the clock and listed times when you bake. Go by what you see and feel.
This originally appeared at the end of my afternoon batard recipe, but after reading through it again, I decided that it deserved its own entry.
Conventional wisdom states that bread made with a pre-ferment like a poolish, biga, or levain is much more complex in flavor. It is. I’ve made bread with all the pre-ferments and I can attest to that. But complexity doesn’t necessarily mean bread made from pre-ferments is better, which tends to be the equivocation of complexity. I’ve tasted and made plenty of loaves with “complex” flavors that simply weren’t all that good in terms of texture or appearance. They may have tasted fine, but they were only okay when taken as a whole.
In my bread making journey, I’ve learned that making great bread is less a function of the leavening agent, and almost entirely a function of technique and understanding the ingredients with which I’m working and just as important, how the ingredients respond to my kitchen environment at the time I’m making bread.
For instance, because I like a slower to moderate fermentation rate, I adjust the amount of yeast depending on the temperature of my kitchen. In summer months, I tend to use a slightly smaller amount of yeast and cooler water. In colder months, I use a little more yeast and warmer water (by the way, it’s still a small amount and varies by a gram or so).
And to be clear, I almost always use roughly half the yeast than a recipe normally calls for (unless they suggest already using a small amount – like 2-3 grams) because I want the yeast to be helper, rather than relying on it entirely for fermentation. In my recipe, as opposed to a 1 or 2 hour rise, I promote 3 to 4 hours – or even an overnight rise in the fridge.
This allows the natural airborne bacteria to also come into play. It may be a relatively short time compared to doing a days-long fermentation, but even taking just this shorter amount of time has a huge effect on flavor development.
And then there’s the type of flour I use. Not all brands and types of flour are the same. Protein content differs, which affects the gluten network. Fineness differs which has an effect on texture. Absorption differs which will affect with the hydration ratio.
For instance, my flour of choice is King Arthur Special Patent flour. Though they say it’s best use for buns and enriched bread (brioche, etc.), I love it for making loaves. But it has a lower water absorption rate than the standard KA bread flour. So I usually take the hydration ratio down one or two percent from recipes that I see. If a recipe calls for 78% hydration, I’ll use a 75% or 76% ratio.
Furthermore, with the flour I use, I found that I have to work it a bit more to achieve the proper structure where it won’t collapse during proofing. And speaking of working the dough, that’s another technique that is absolutely critical to success. And the thing about working the dough is that while the mechanics can easily be taught, it really requires feeling the dough. So even though I do the initial mix in my stand mixer, I knead and/or fold my dough entirely by hand.
I guess the point is this: I always question whatever is the convention. It’s not to be purposefully contrary. It’s just that I want to push beyond the limits of the convention if it’s possible. I may discover that the convention is the way to go in my discovery process, but at least I’ll have discovered for myself what the limits are.
This is probably why I’ve resisted regularly using a levain. Everyone’s doing it, especially in this lockdown. They love their sourdough bread. I like sourdough, but I don’t want it to be the only kind of bread that I make. I’m looking for a complexity of flavors in my bread and perfecting my technique. That may very well lead to me using a levain, but I’m making great bread right now without it.
As I shared with my cousin today when she asked me if I was making sourdough, “Not really, though I’m using poolish and biga pre-ferments and doing extended bulk fermentation. But not sourdough. Everyone is doing sourdough these days. And you know me, if everyone’s doing something, I’m gonna do something else.”
That something else has led me down a rabbit hole of different techniques that I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered if I just made one kind of bread and stuck to a single recipe. It has made research different factors that affect the process like water temperature and fermentation rates; when and when not to autolyse. It pushed me to learn how to shape different kinds of loaves and how to create tension on the surface of my bread.
Had I just stuck with the recipes and techniques – however incredibly valuable they are – from Ken Forkish’s insanely great book, “Flour Water Salt Yeast,” I’d still be baking my bread in a Dutch oven! I still use a Dutch oven from time to time, especially for baking high-hydration doughs that benefit from a confined space. But I wanted to make batards and baguettes and full loaves and sandwich breads. It meant breaking with the convention.
I know, that’s a no-shit-Sherlock statement. Obviously, you can’t make bread without it. But there’s more to that statement than just the ingredient itself.
For dietary concerns, I’ve recently started incorporating more whole grain into my dough and I’m really looking to eventually move entirely to whole grain bread. I’ve made some loaves with nominal success with varying blends of bread and whole wheat flour. I’m blending mainly because of the crumb. 100% whole wheat dough, unless it’s worked for a long time or up above 90% hydration, just doesn’t rise that much – even with helpers like vital wheat gluten or psyllium fiber. Those provide a little help with oven spring and rising, but you just won’t get that wide crumb.
Enter white whole wheat flour.
From what I’ve been able to gather in my research, white whole wheat flour will get me that wide crumb. Granted, I still have to ferment it a long time and work it more than regular bread flour, but it apparently works great. Furthermore, by law, whole grain flour cannot have any GMOs in it and that’s a big concern for me and actually, a big reason why I’m moving to whole grain flour (or making sure I’m using flour produced by a company that ensures their flour is non-GMO certified, like King Arthur).
Given that, I’ve spent the last few days researching different brands.
And this is where I’ve gotten into a bit of a conundrum. Brands like King Arthur or Bob’s Mill tend to be a bit pricey – even with free shipping with Amazon Prime. Others, like Stafford County Flour Mills Hudson Cream Whole Wheat flour, are exceptionally reasonably priced, but shipping is expensive. For instance, a 50-pound bag of their Hudson Cream Whole Wheat is only $12.60 direct. But shipping is $48! See what I mean? Now that’s comparably priced to King Arthur with “free” shipping from Amazon, so I don’t feel too bad about the total price.
On the other hand, I found a great flour called Kansas Diamond White Whole Wheat flour. It has gotten great reviews. But it is produced by Archer Daniels Midland, which is a HUGE agriculture conglomerate on the scale of ConAgra – get the picture? No, I’m not looking at them as the evil empire, but for me at least, I think it’s important to support independent producers; especially independent farms and farmers of which there are fewer and fewer as time passes.
And speaking of Amazon… as of late, I’ve really been doing my best to NOT buy from Amazon. We’ve all heard the tales of their business practices and how they treat their employees, and let’s face it: Jeff Bezos is a wealth-hoarder. I have some serious issues giving my financial support to someone who has so much, but shares so little.
Circling back to the title of this post, I am of the conviction that it’s important to know where your ingredients come from – or at least as much can be known. And I think it’s essential to provide direct support for the small, independent businesses that are quickly being gobbled up by the big corporate machine. Small businesses and the people who work and run them are the salt of the earth. For this writer at least, I want to make sure my life is seasoned with them!
I’m not sure why this is, but it seems that people equate making artisan bread with sourdough. I’ve shown several people pictures of the some of the loaves I’ve made and to a person they ask if they were sourdough loaves. What? Is making sourdough some kind of rite of passage?
To tell you the truth, while I like sourdough bread, my personal preference in taste is for yeasty, non-sourdough bread. Both traditional French and Italian loaves are not sourdoughs. They’re yeasty with an expansive crumb and have crisp crusts. But still, many people who have been following my posts still ask if I’m going to make sourdough. I answer that eventually, I’ll get around to it, but I’m not in a big rush.
But to be completely honest, even though my tastes run to the non-sourdough variety of bread, I have been completely immersed in developing my technique. Like any good cook, I’ve totally focused on my mise-en-place and working out my moves.
I don’t want to just bake different types of loaves or work with different dough hydration rates. I want to make a consistent product. That takes doing things repeatedly and developing my sense of all the ingredients and implements I need to get me to a high level of consistency – mise-en-place.
I don’t have any aspirations of being a professional bread baker, but when it comes to cooking, what I do aspire to be is a great craftsman. This is why I’ve geeked out on bread making. For me, it’s not enough to be able to say I know how to bake bread. I have to KNOW how to bake bread; that is, I have to have developed the craft so that on any given day and in any given environment, I can produce loaves of the same quality. For me, when I learn to cook something, I need to get to the point where the process becomes intuitive.
Take grilling meat, for example. I’m known in my local community as the guy who cooks whole pigs over coals. I’ve been doing it for over 40 years, having learned how to do it from my father when I was teenager. I’ve done it so much that I instinctively know what to do given the size of the pig, the temperature of my pit, the ambient temperature of the day, etc.. In other words, I can roast a pig with my freakin’ eyes closed, and I’m not bragging when I say that. It’s just a matter of fact.
I’m not there yet with baking bread. I’m getting there, that’s for sure. But there are so many things that I still need to learn before I can confidently say that I’ve attained a level of expertise. And because of that, I’m in no rush to make sourdough bread.
Since I’ve started to finally get this whole artisan baking thing down, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I feel are the essential tools you need to successfully bake quality bread at home. These aren’t in any particular order of importance; to me, they’re all equally important.
My first month of baking, I used recipes based completely on volume (cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons). But real recipes always listed things by weight; specifically, in grams. The reason is because to a baker, everything is measured by percentages in weight, based on the flour. This makes it easy to scale a recipe up and down if you know the percentages. For instance, if a recipe calls for a 72% hydration, you know that the weight of the water divided by the amount of flour will be 0.72. So if the recipe calls for 1000 grams of flour and is 72% hydration, you know you’ll need 720 grams of water.
I normally take 1000 gram recipes down to 800 grams because that works better with my KitchenAid stand mixer. But I could easily go up from there as well. Get the picture?
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a digital scale. My 22-lb. capacity scale costed me $15, and it works great. It’s not as precise as a professional kitchen scale, but for my purposes it works.
I have a few of these, but I normally just use one scraper that I originally used for taping drywall. It has a flat edge on one side and a curved edge on the other. I love it because I can bend it to fit the curvature of any bowl that I use.
Even before I got a digital scale, this was a tool I knew that I could not be without. I can scrape dough off the sides of my bowls, I can scrape my bench, I can collect bench flour. I even use it for folding my high hydration dough so I don’t get too much dough on my working hand.
I actually got mine for free as a promo item from a sewer blockage company – go figure – but it works incredibly well!
Bakers Lame (pr. “lahm”)
To score loaves, a lame is indispensable. Basically, it’s a razor blade in a handle and can be curved or straight. Personally, I made my own curved lame from a wire hanger and a BiC pen. 🙂 And for my straight lame, I actually use a straight-razor because it works great for scoring.
You could use a super sharp knife, but it has to be razor sharp. You also could use a razor blade all by itself, but you risk cutting yourself.
This is not absolutely essential, but since I got mine, it has become something I can’t live without. I originally got it for proofing baguettes, but I use it for proofing all my long loaves, and I also use it to cover my bowl during bulk ferment. Very versatile.
It sounds obvious, right? You’d be surprised how many resumes I’ve seen that list experience that people just don’t have. For instance, awhile back you may have heard the news about former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson lying on his resume about having a degree in Computer Science. This was back in 2012. At the time, there was a lot of outrage over this, and without a doubt, I shared the same views as many over this scandal. But after reading about it, and Yahoo’s initial “sheepish-grin-non-chalant-we’re-looking-into-it-wink-wink” response, I have to say that Thompson’s lying is indicative of a huge problem in our society, and that is the win-at-any-cost attitude that seems to pervade all levels of our society; even in education.
Following that news, there were major stories of cheating and lying in education. In addition to the Yahoo scandal, there was a student who got caught cheating in an honors class at Sierra High School recently. But the worst of it was his attorney father suing the school to get him admitted back into the program so it wouldn’t ruin his chances to get into an Ivy League school.
Are some people so morally corrupt and lacking in integrity that they’d even consider condoning this behavior? Apparently so. I listened to a panel discussion on NPR about this topic and a person called in and totally shocked me by admitting to cheating with other students in high school honors classes to get into the best colleges. They even maintained their lack of moral fiber and justified their cheating by saying that “it had to be done to get into quality universities.”
In my professional career as a software engineer and engineering manager, I’ve literally seen thousands of resumes. And I’ve gotten to the point where if I see that someone’s experience seems too good to be true it probably is too good to be true and I throw their resume in the waste bin.
But still, some slip through the cracks – and they even get hired. I once approved the hiring of an engineer who just happened to be the friend of a colleague. They vouched for him so naturally, I leaned heavily on their feedback. His resume looked great as well. He claimed that he was a manager at PayPal and when I asked him about this experience he looked me in the eye and talked about what he did (looking back, I realize that he cleverly answered my questions without really answering definitively – my bad for not catching it).
In any case, little did we know that once he was hired, he was in completely over his head. He knew very little about software engineering and had very little knowledge of UI languages (he was hired as a UI Engineer). And worse yet, he had an extremely toxic personality and loved to play politics. Needless to say, a few months into his employment, measures were taken to terminate him but he quit before he could get fired.
As a hiring manager, that experience sensitized me to what people put on their resumes and even more so, what I put on mine. And I’m not alone in this. Several other managers that I know have started putting extra scrutiny on resumes. So beware.
I’ve always been an innovator. Though I can create things independently, I’m much better at tweaking and improving an existing process. And I’m not boasting when I say that I’ve had a successful career in software development being an innovator. Call it a quirk of my personality; it’s just who I am.
When I picked up bread making a few months ago, within a week of playing around with recipes from Ken Forkish’s excellent book “Flour Water Salt Yeast,” (FWSY) I started experimenting with different variables in the bread making process. One of those things was what I kind of felt was breaking free of the Dutch oven.
While I loved all the content in FWSY, just a few times into making some of Ken’s bread recipes, I started feeling confined. I didn’t want to just make boules. I wanted to make buns and baguettes. I wanted to make pan bread and batards. But with a Dutch oven, I had one shape and one shape only: The shape of my Dutch oven. It felt incredibly limiting even though I was still learning.
So I started using a baking stone to bake all my bread; actually, two of them as I have a double-deck oven. That opened up a whole new world to me and literally forced me to learn about working dough and forming the gluten network structure. It forced me to learn how to properly shape all kinds of dough to create surface tension. It forced me to learn how to use steam to get a great oven spring.
Once I stopped using a Dutch oven, I had a few epic fails, mostly with collapsing loaves that would come out fairly dense. I’m smiling as I write this because they were ugly loaves! I’m a lot better with shaping now, though I realize I still have a ways to go. But in spite of that, I have a sense of freedom now that I’m not using a single baking medium.
Which leads me to the title of this post…
I was recently on an online forum where people share their bread making techniques and their finished products. Ninety percent of the folks shared their boules, which made me immediately think that they used a Dutch oven. I’ll be honest: When I read how they were making their bread, I immediately thought they kind of cheated.
I know. It makes no sense. These loaves were legit! Great crust, great crumb, and I imagine, great-tasting as well. But having graduated beyond the Dutch oven, I couldn’t help but feel that they were limiting themselves to just that style of bread. I immediately felt ashamed for thinking that, which is why I’m writing this post – kind of as an apology for being a bit condescending.
The plain fact of the matter is that I have completely geeked out on home-based bread making. I spend hours every day researching different techniques and adapting them to my home kitchen. I want to learn how to make all types of different bread. I want to experiment with different hydration rates and different flours. And the funny thing is that I can’t even eat 95% of the bread I make because I have high blood pressure! 🙂
So I realize that my journey is completely different from others. And to avoid ever descending into sanctimonious behavior, I’m going to share my journey in this blog.
This bread is meant to be made in an afternoon (or less than half a day). And while using a pre-ferment like a poolish or a levain will certainly have more complexity in flavor, this is an absolutely delicious bread that stands on its own!
The following will make two loaves about a pound and a half each. Note, I do all the mixing with a stand mixer. You can do all of this by hand if you want. I use a mixer up-front because I know I’ll get consistent results. This is a 70% hydration dough. It’ll be a little tacky but not floppy, and as you work it, it will become smooth and really strong.
15 grams (~1 tbls)
3 grams (scant 3/4 tspn)
This is a 70% hydration ratio if you’re curious
A couple of important points:
Alternatively, you can replace 200 grams of the bread flour with fine or extra-fine grind whole wheat flour. But if you do that, up the water to 584 grams to make a 73% hydration dough – the wheat flour needs some extra water. Also, up the autolyse time from 20 to 45 minutes.
The amount of flour indicated is optimized for a 5-qt. stand mixer bowl. Other recipes call for 1000 grams, but I found that the standard KitchenAid dough hook will make the dough climb into the mechanism, and you’ll get machine oil in your dough – not good.
Note also that I use instant yeast. If you’re going to use active dry yeast, wake it up in a couple of tablespoons of 105-108 degree water. But bear in mind that you’ll need to remove that amount from the water measurement above. With instant yeast, you’ll just dump it into the dough.
You’ll notice that this recipe uses a significantly smaller amount of yeast than other recipes you might see. This is to ensure a nice, moderate yeast development. Don’t worry, you’ll distribute the yeast throughout the process by folding!
Dough Temperature Is Important!
Most online recipes will list water temps at 105-108 degrees to wake up the yeast, and that’s fine to wake up active dry yeast in a couple of tablespoons of water as mentioned above. But it’s too high if you use instant yeast, and at that temperature, your dough will go crazy and rise way too fast. This will affect the flavor and your finished product will be a little bland.
The prevailing wisdom is that your dough temperature should be only 75-80 degrees when working it. To figure that out, you need to measure the temperature of your flour (I use a digital thermometer), then you can use the table below to get near the proper temp (it doesn’t have to be exact):
Hydrate the Dough
Mixing the flour and water first activates enzymes and releases sugars in the flour that help with fermentation and also start activating the gluten in the dough. Also, especially with high hydration doughs, it gives the flour a chance to absorb water up-front. This process is called autolyse (pr. ahto-lees).
Place the flour into your mixing bowl. Attach your dough hook to your mixer. Set the mixer to its slowest speed, then slowly add the water. Mix until the flour and water are incorporated (it’ll be lumpy). You can help the mix by occasionally stopping the mixer and scrape the sides down with a silicon spatula. Once fully incorporated, let the flour-water mix rest for at least 20 minutes.
You can also mix by hand, which some may prefer. I like to use a mixer for this first step because I get a more consistent and faster mix.
Start the Fermentation and Initial Folds ~ First Hour
Evenly sprinkle the salt and yeast over the top of the dough, then slowly incorporate them at the lowest speed setting on your mixer (you may have to do the occasional scrape down of the sides). Once the salt and yeast are incorporated, dump the dough onto your board or counter. Do not flour the surface as you will mess up the ratio!
Knead the dough for 6 minutes. You can refer to this video for proper kneading technique:
In the video above, Jack said to knead the dough for 10-12 minutes. But after initial kneading, we’re going to fold the dough a couple of times (or a few times) over the course of the first hour, so we don’t need to do the full 10 minutes. Just make sure you work out the lumps!
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, fold the dough. Here’s a great video on how to properly fold dough:
My preferred method of folding is in a bowl, but I use my hand instead of a scraper or spatula as in the video. It allows me to feel the dough better. No matter what method you use, be careful to not tear the dough.
Rest the dough for 50 minutes, then fold again. Once you’re done folding, invert the dough to rest on the folds.
TIP: At this point, the dough should feel smooth and luxurious in your hands. I love when it gets to this point!
Fermentation ~ Hour 2
After letting the dough rest and ferment for an hour, do one more fold and again invert the dough to rest on the folds and let it sit for another hour.
TIP: If you replaced a 1/4 of the bread flour with whole wheat flour, I’d recommend doing a fold after a half-hour after your first fold, then do the final fold a half-hour after that.
Maybe… This final step can take an hour or it may require more time. What we’re looking for is that the dough ball has expanded in size (around 50%) with plenty of bubbles on the surface (not popped, mind you). But with dough fermentation, there are so many variables that affect how fast a dough rises from ambient room temperature and dough temperature or how much yeast you used that it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact time. But in general, the final fermentation should take 1 1/2 to 2 hours after the final fold if the ambient temperature of your room is around 70- to 75-degrees.
TIP: When I have the time, I use a scant 1/2 teaspoon of yeast to let the yeast develop slowly. I also do a couple of more folds than are called for in this recipe. I also use this small amount of yeast if my kitchen is really warm.
That said, check the dough after an hour. If it doesn’t show much activity, don’t panic. As long as you smell a sourness and perhaps a bit of alcohol, it’s all good. You can help the dough along at this point by doing one more fold. But this time, be extremely gentle with the dough and do not tear it! Once you do this last fold, your dough should really expand and become jiggly. Just be patient!
TIP: For goodness’ sake, don’t fret about the time! 🙂 Fermentation is not something that can be bound by time. I do a lot of vegetable fermentation (specifically hot peppers, and it sometimes takes several weeks to get the peppers where I like them – especially in cool weather). Take note that published recipes are written to address an average of conditions. Use your eyes and your hands. Don’t just blindly follow a recipe’s time table!
The reason we’re going 3-4 hours for fermentation is to allow the bacteria to do some work as well as the yeast. This is why I use a small amount of yeast. It gives airborne bacteria and naturally occurring yeast to play a role, however minor, in the fermentation process and flavor development.
Shape the Dough
I learned to shape a batard by watching the following YouTube video (actually I watched a bunch of them, but I prefer Jack’s method of pre-shaping and shaping). Check it out:
NOTE: You can certainly divide into fourths, as in the video, but this recipe is optimized for two medium-sized loaves.
Before you start shaping, turn your oven on to 475 degrees. If you have a pizza or baking stone, make sure it’s in the oven on the middle rack. And on the lowest rack, place a metal baking pan (you’ll be adding a cup of water later to create steam for the first 10-15 minutes of the bake – I’ll explain later).
Once shaped, sprinkle flour on the top of each loaf.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a peel or the bottom of an inverted cookie sheet if you don’t have a peel. Cover each loaf with a clean towel or paper towel.
TIP: You can also proof in a proofing basket, but it’s not mandatory. If you’ve created enough tension on the surface of your dough while shaping, it will stand on its own just fine and not collapse during the final proof.
In warm weather, your proof may not take long. At the height of summer as we are in right now in California, my loaves have been fully proofed in just 20 minutes, which is why I don’t provide a specific time. But, it’s easy to determine if your dough’s ready using the finger-dent test.
If you push your finger into the dough about a 1/2″, and it springs back immediately, leaving a very small indentation, it’s not ready. But if the dough springs back slowly and the indentation stays even after a few seconds, it’s ready. I realize that this isn’t very exact – it’s a real feel kind of thing. But to me, that’s one of the beauties of mastering bread making – and I’m not a master by any means, but I do love the uncertainty.
Scoring the Loaf
Scoring your loaf gives it that artisan look, but it also ensures that you’ll be letting out steam from the bread in a controlled fashion and prevent huge bubbles forming under your crust or eruptions in odd places on your loaf. Here’s a great video showing different scoring patterns and techniques:
In general, with long loaves like batards and baguettes, cuts should be made fairly parallel to the long axis of the loaf. With boules, you’re pretty free to do what you want. This article explains the hows and whys of scoring a little more in-depth than the video.
Time to Bake!
Before you place the loaf in the oven, heat up some water (it can be hot tap water). Fill a glass or container with about a cup and set it near the oven.
Now, get your loaf, and slide it onto the baking stone. Before you close the door, carefully pour the cup of hot water into the metal baking pan. This will create steam which will help the oven spring.
Set your timer for 20 minutes. Once it goes off, remove the parchment paper and rotate your loaf 180-degrees to ensure even baking. Also, remove the water pan if there’s still water in it. Bake for 10-15 minutes more: 10 minutes if you want a golden crust, 15 if you want a darker crust. Personally, I like the darker crust, and will sometimes even bake 17-20 minutes longer to get to a darker crust color.
A dark crust ensures that the Maillard reaction occurs, which happens at high heat, causing the amino acids and sugars to interact. It’s what gives carmelized foods their distinct taste. It’s not burned, it’s caramelized and to me at least, it’s the sign of well-baked bread. In my finished loaves, I want to see three colors on the crust: Brown, Yellow, and White.
Finally, remove your loaf and place it on a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 45 minutes before cutting.
That’s it! I know this was a rather lengthy article, but if you follow these steps, you’ll make a great straight dough bread time after time!
Want to Use Whole Wheat Flour?
If you want to use whole wheat flour, I recommend starting with half whole wheat and half bread flour with this recipe. You may not get all the benefits of a 100% whole wheat, but you’ll get more nutrition than a pure white bread. Given that, unfortunately, this turns the process into a bit of an all day affair – you just start in the morning instead of the afternoon and most of the time’s spent waiting anyway, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Given a 50-50 ratio white to whole wheat flour, keep these things in mind:
Increase the hydration up to 77-80% (640 grams of water) instead of 560 grams. Wheat flour absorbs more water than white.
Increase autolyse to at least an hour to allow the whole wheat flour to absorb the water. Some folks autolyse for hours anyway, but in keeping with doing this in a day, you don’t have to go so long.
Because this is higher hydration dough, I don’t recommend kneading after mixing. Instead, do at least 4 or more folds in the first two hours. You’ll know you’ve done enough folds when the dough has good tension and it doesn’t collapse much after folding. You can also do the windowpane test to check your dough’s doneness.
Alternatively, you can avoid doing all the folding and popping your dough into a container and let it ferment in the fridge for 24 hours or even up to 5 days. This slower fermentation really develops flavor!