Recipe: Roasted Garlic Kamut Ciabatta

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

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

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


Olive Oil4.00%
Total Percentage194.80%

Final Dough

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baking with Steam

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

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

Here’s how I “bake with steam”:

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

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

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

Recipe: Easy Ciabatta by Scott Megee of the Artisan Crust

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

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

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

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

Okay, let’s get to the important stuff!

Overall Formula

AP Flour: 50%
Bread Flour: 25%
Kamut Flour: 25%
Olive Oil3.00%
Total %181.50%

Final Dough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fromage Fort

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

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

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

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

How Do You Use Fromage Fort?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy baking!

Easy-Peasy Zatar-Flavored Yeast Loaf

I was at a retreat this past weekend and on Saturday afternoon, I happened to pass by the cafeteria kitchen to see a big 20-quart mixing bowl almost spilling over with proofing dough! It smelled absolutely wonderful! I was drawn to the bowl and chatted it up with one of the cooks, sharing with her that baking bread is one of my life’s passions. I never got the chance to speak with the head cook, but I’m going to be contacting them to see if I could volunteer in the kitchen to bake bread for retreat attendees in the future. So cool!

In any case, the loaves they produced were straight-forward yeasted loaves, probably about 1.5 kilo each. And though they didn’t have an open crumb, the crumb was still nice and airy. Much like a quickly risen, yeasted loaf. And that got me thinking: Sometimes it’s just nice to make an uncomplicated yeasted loaf. It’s so easy to get caught up in sourdough this and sourdough that that I miss the real point of making bread and that is to feed people! So, inspired by those simple loaves, I resolved to bake a loaf like that for my family when I got home.

But instead of making a simple loaf, I thought I’d give it a little pizzazz and add a bit of that wonderful Middle Eastern herb mixture, zatar. I only added just enough to add a real subtle flavor, but just that little bit has a HUGE impact on the taste. Let’s get to the recipe!

Overall Formula

First I started out with my basic baguette formula, but instead of my normal 0.38% yeast, I went to 1% yeast…

Total %178.00%

Final Dough

It doesn’t take much…
Yield1 X 1500g loaf
*I didn’t factor the Zatar into the overal formula because I just measured out a couple of grams (honestly 2 teaspoons) of the mixture and added it to the flour. As for the yield, if you add everything up, it’ll come to 1516g, but I always add a fudge factor to account for loss during processing.

To be completely transparent, I actually used three flours for my dough in this recipe: 50% High-extraction bread flour, 30% Kamut flour, and 20% AP Flour. They were measured as follows:

High-extraction bread flour426g
Kamut flour255g
AP flour170g

Mix. Combine all the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the water and mix thoroughly until there are no dry ingredients left. Work the dough until it starts forming a smooth consistency. If you’re using a mixer (that’s what I did), mix until the dough become smooth and starts climbing up the hook (about 3 minutes at medium-low speed). If you’re mixing by hand, knead the dough in the bowl until smooth and it starts coming off the sides of the bowl (about 5-7 minutes).

Bulk Fermentation. About 1 1/2 hr.

Fold. The dough only needs to be folded once after 1/2 hour. After that, let it rise in the container until nearly doubled in size.

Preshape. After the dough has finished bulk fermentation, transfer it to an unfloured work surface and work it into a round. Allow it to bench rest for 15-20 minutes or until it has relaxed.

Shape. This is a really versatile dough, so you shape it into a round or an oval or even a long loaf. For my loaf, I did a standard batard shape, but rolled it out a little to form a longish loaf that I let rise in a 14″ banneton.

Final Fermentation. 30-45 minutes. By this time, the yeast will be really active and if it’s warm, final fermentation will happen quickly. So watch it! Use the standard poke test to determine the springiness of the dough. Your indentation should pop back a bit after poking the dough, but never fully come back.

Bake. Bake for 45 minutes at 450°F (no fan, please). During the first 15 minutes use steam to help the loaf rise. It will really spring up with this much yeast!

It’s Lent. Time for Bread Bowls on Fridays!

I’m a cradle Catholic and though I don’t consider myself to be particularly devout, I still do my best to observe the traditions on which I grew up. One of those traditions is not eating meat or poultry on Fridays during the season of Lent. For my family, that has meant eating soup. Normally, we go to our church as they have Friday soup days, but this Lent, we’ve been staying in and either preparing our own soup (which actually means me doing the cooking), or we buy freshly prepared soup from our local Safeway (the tomato bisque is the BOMB!).

Last week, I made a batch of clam chowder. When my son came home from lacrosse practice he asked me what was for dinner, and I said, “Clam chowder.” He immediately asked, “In a bread bowl?” When I gave him a negatory, I could see his heart sink. I think he figured since Dad was a baker, I’d naturally make bread bowls. So… lesson learned, and this week, though I bought the soup, I decided to make bread bowls to make up for not having them last week.

These are not sourdough bread bowls. I could easily do those, but it being a fairly full-scheduled week, I didn’t have the time to get a levain going. So I decided to keep it simple and make a straight dough and make little boules from that. Now, not wanting to fuss with a recipe, the best I could come up with was a riff on my standard baguette recipe, but use a good amount of yeast. I also wanted to make the bread in less than three hours, so using plenty of yeast would get me there. Yeah, it’s a quick bread, but I wasn’t too concerned about making a particularly flavorful bread because it would get all its flavor from the soup.

Ahhhhh! The smell of yeasty bread! As much as I love sourdough, there’s nothing quite like a nice yeasty bread. It’s pretty amazing. Here’s the recipe!

Overall Formula

Total %178.50%

Flour Blend

AP Flour (King Arthur)60.00%
High-extraction Bread Flour (Azure Standard)40.00%

For flour, a specific brand isn’t that important. But for bread flour, I’d recommend using a fairly strong flour that has more than 12% protein content as this dough is pretty high in hydration at 75%.

Final Dough

AP Flour458g
High-extraction Bread Flour306g
Water ~90°-95°F573g
Total Yield1364g
6 X 225g loaves

Mix. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add all the salt and yeast, then mix all the dry ingredients until everything is evenly distributed. Make a crater in the middle of the dry ingredients, then pour all the water into the bowl. Using a Danish dough whisk or your hand, using a circular motion in the water, work the flour and water together, grabbing a little flour off the sides as you make circles. This is a lot like mixing pasta dough by hand. Once you’ve pulled all the flour off the sides of the bowl, use a rounded bowl scraper to scrape under the dough and turn the dry ingredients at the bottom into the dough mass. Once there are no dry ingredients left, cover your bowl with a cloth and place it in a warm place to rise.

Bulk Fermentation. 1.5 – 2 hours.

Fold. This dough only requires a single stretch and fold session after 45 minutes. There’s so much yeast, that after the first 45 minutes, the dough will be close to doubled. Using gentle motions, stretch and fold the dough until the entire mass lifts off the bottom of the bowl. Your dough will have developed all the strength it needs. After that, cover the bowl again with a towel, then let it sit in a warm place for another 45 minutes or until the mass is close to double in size.

Before dividing, preheat your oven to 475°F.

Divide and Preshape. Pour out the dough onto an unfloured work surface. Scale-out 225g pieces, then using your scraper, shape the pieces into rounds. No need to create a super-taut skin. Once preshaped, let the loaves bench rest uncovered for 15 minutes. The dough will spread out, but will still be nicely domed on top.

Shape. Lightly sprinkle the tops of the pieces with dusting flour (I use a 50/50 rice/AP flour mixture). Turn each piece onto the floured side then shape it into a boule. With dough at this hydration, I prefer to use a stitching technique similar to the Tartine shaping method to create a good internal structure, then use my bench scraper to form it into a round, making sure to tuck all the seams from stitching under the round.

Final Fermentation. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, then evenly space the rounds on the baking sheet. Once placed, you can optionally dust the tops with dusting flour, then cover the rounds with a towel and let rise for 30-45 minutes. But poke test after 30 minutes! Because it was warm in my kitchen today, I was bake-ready in just less than 30 minutes!

Bake. Bake with steam for 12 minutes at 475°F. After 12 minutes, remove the steaming container, then turn down your oven to 425°F. Bake for another 15-20 minutes until the loaves are nice, golden-brown.

Serve. Let the loaves cool for 15-20 minutes (they’ll still be nice and warm), then take a loaf and cut a large circle on the top. Using either a spoon or your fingers, gently hollow out the loaf. Fill it with your soup!

An “Easy” Dough Calculator

Here’s the link to the spreadsheet. You can’t edit it, but you can copy it to your own Google Sheets.

Being a software engineer by trade, I have a penchant for using technology to aid in automating manual tasks and baking is no exception. One thing I did early on was to create spreadsheets for calculating ingredient amounts based on my desired yield and a baker’s formula. I actually created a bunch over time, but there’s one dough calculator I created in particular that I seem to use the most. It’s displayed a the top. If you’re interested, click on the link above and copy it!

The calculator is split into 5 major sections:

  1. Loaf Calculation
  2. Formula
  3. Preferment
  4. Flour Blend
  5. Final Dough

One of the reasons I started building my dough calculators was that I wanted to bake bread to a certain, specific yield like 4 loaves at 335g apiece, then calculate the ingredients I’d need based on the target yield and the baker’s formula. This is in contrast to recipes you’d normally find in books and online where the ingredients are listed out and you have no idea about the yield other than, “Divide the dough into two equal pieces.”

That has always rubbed the more exacting side of my personality the wrong way. And especially when I started baking at higher volumes, I needed to know how much I was going to bake first. Then I’d figure out ingredient amounts based on that. Thus, I started creating dough calculators.

I use this calculator when I’m experimenting with different flour blends or different kinds of preferments. It takes all the guesswork out of figuring out what I need. Note that it is specifically meant for basic loaves that have no inclusions. This accounts for about 95% of what I bake such as sourdough boules and batards and baguettes.

Let’s step through the various sections:

The first two sections of the spreadsheet deal with the yield I’m after and the base baker’s formula. Just these two elements can drive all the ingredient amount calculations as the total flour can be obtained by simply dividing the target dough weight by the Total %. The Process Loss % field is a fudge factor for the total yield. There will always be some dough weight loss in processing, so adding a 1% or 2% fudge factor ensures that you can create all the loaves based on the dough weight.

Note that Yeast is included as an entry. If you’re making naturally leavened bread, this should be set to “0.”

The next section deals specifically with the preferment. You will provide the percentage of the total flour you’d like your starter to be, then set the hydration of your starter. A typical liquid starter is 100% hydration. A biga, on the other hand, will be around 75% to 80% hydration. Once you enter those things, the flour and water you’ll need to produce the starter, along with mature starter OR yeast will be calculated. Note that these calculations will produce more starter than you actually need for the recipe, but this is something that should be done anyway to account for process loss or starter sticking to the container.

The starter amount is meant to create a 1:5 ratio starter, the starter weight being 20% of the combined weight of the flour and water. But note that this is merely a guideline. If you’d rather do a 1:3:3 or whatever, that’s entirely up to you. You’ll just have to provide the amount of starter required in the ingredients list.

If you’re creating a poolish, the yeast you’d use is listed. I personally base the amount of instant yeast I’ll use for a poolish to 0.3%. You can change this in the cell formula if you use a different amount.

The last two sections of the calculator deal with the flour blend and the ingredients which really go hand-in-hand. This provides an easy way to figure out how much of a particular flour you want contributing the flour blend as a function of percentage. The grey line labeled “Preferment” is the percentage of the total flour that is already spoken for by the preferment. All the numbers should add up to 100%. The cell will be colored red if there is any variance.

Finally, we have the Final Dough ingredient list and the amounts required. The flour blend amounts are provided. The Total Yield is provided as an accounting measure to ensure everything adds up to what we expect. Though not shown, Total Flour and Total Water are displayed below the ingredient list and yet another check.

I invite you to copy the calculator. It has proven an invaluable tool for me!

The First Rule of 90%+ Hydration Dough: Don’t Mess With It! Part II of Working with Extreme Hydration

In “Tartine-Style 50% Whole Grain Sourdough: Experimenting with Extreme Hydration, First Stop 85%,” my goal was to push the limit of the flour I use to see just how far I could take it. I postulated that 85% hydration was the outer limit for my flour, but to be completely honest, I was wrong. The loaf shown in the pictures above was hydrated to just over 90% hydration. The flour blend I used was 10% Whole Wheat (from the starter), 54% Bread Flour (Bob’s Red Mill), 36% Whole-grain Kamut Flour.

I was amazed at how the loaf maintained its structure enough to get a really great oven spring! I was a little unsure when I poured the dough out onto my loading board. It really spread out. But the important thing I noted was that despite the dough spreading out, it was still domed which meant that there was a structure to the dough. And rise up it did!

I’m going to keep pushing to find the outer limit of the hydration my flour can take, but one thing that has occurred to me in my high-hydration experiments is that the success I’ve been experiencing with the loaves I’m producing probably has a lot more to do with my technique than the flour itself. And that brings me to the crux of this post.

An important thing I’ve learned working with super-high hydration dough is to only manipulate it to accomplish what I need for a particular step and after that, leave it alone! When I’m stretching and folding the dough, I only do it enough to where I can feel the tension in the dough. And I also have learned to stretch the dough a lot slower than I normally stretch a less hydrated dough lest I degas it too much. Oh I stretch it as far it will stretch, but I don’t tug on it hard – just a slow and smooth motion.

With this batch of bread (I actually baked a few loaves with this batch of dough), I didn’t stretch and fold the Tartine method of six folds over three hours. I felt enough strength had built up after three folds. So I let the dough sit for 3 hours until it was almost doubled (my starter was a little sluggish that day).

When preshaping, I only preshape until the skin has been pulled a little taut and smooth. I don’t try to develop tight skin on the ball. And then I let it rest until it has relaxed. Depending on the weather, this could be 30 minutes or it could take an hour for the dough to relax.

With shaping, I use a stitching technique I learned from watching several videos of Chad Robertson shaping his bread at Tartine. Though it isn’t Chad Robertson, this video demonstrates the technique really well. It’s a gentle technique that creates structure but doesn’t degas the dough much and uses gravity and the natural tackiness of the dough to seal the bottom seam. Another way to get a great look at the technique is to watch John Favreau’s “The Chef Show” when he visits Chad Robertson’s Manufactory in Los Angeles.

Then finally, a long, 12-24 hour rest in the fridge for final fermentation will allow the flavors to develop and dough to perform its expanse.

Again, I want to stress that I only touched the dough when I absolutely needed to. The dough is so wet and delicate that I didn’t want to pop too many bubbles. Messing with the dough too much would undo all the hard work the yeast had done to create those wonderful gas-filled pockets!

Calculating Dough Yield – You Have to Work BACKWARDS!

I’ve touched upon this before that I’ve always had issues with recipes because they always list out the ingredients like 1000g of flour, then say, “Divide the dough into two equal pieces.” I suppose that’s fine if you’re just baking for your family and you don’t really care about things being truly equal. But when I started baking a lot and especially when I started Dawg House Bakery, dough yields and loaf weights became VERY important to me.

With regular recipes, even though they might include the baker’s formula, oftentimes they simply say, “Use this much of this and this much of that, etc.” It makes it incredibly difficult to calculate yields based on that approach, especially if you’re baking a dozen or more loaves. So I’ve taken to working backward. And by that I mean I figure out what I want to bake first, like 8 loaves @ 800 grams apiece, then work backward from there. And THAT is where the baker’s formula comes into play.

Now, most people look at a formula and only look at it from the perspective of calculating the non-flour ingredients, for instance, salt is 2% of the total flour. But the real secret of a formula lies in the sum of all the percentages. Let’s look at a basic sourdough baguette formula that I use:

Total %182.00%

When I first started using formulas, I didn’t understand that Total % figure. Like most, I just looked at the non-flour ingredients. But once I learned that if you divide the total dough weight by that Total %, you get the flour amount that you need, it was a total game-changer!

For instance, let’s say I want to make 4 baguettes at 335g apiece before baking. The total dough weight would be 1340g. Now, if divide that by the 182% total percentage, the total flour in my recipe would be:

1340 / 182% = 736g

From there, it’s easy to calculate the rest of the ingredients!

If we were doing a straight dough, the numbers would look like this:


For this amount, I just know from experience to use about 6-7 grams of yeast, so I don’t really factor that into my calculations, but typically it’s around 1% or less depending on the weather (the warmer it is, the less yeast I use).

But What About Using a Preferment or Sourdough Starter?

This is where it gets a little tricky because the preferment is technically part of the total flour and water, not a separate component. You will hear some bakers say that a preferment is the early stage of the dough. You still calculate the total amount of the preferment based on the total flour, but you have to subtract the flour and water of the preferment from the total flour and water when figuring out what you’ll need in the final dough. Otherwise, you’ll throw off your total dough weight.

For my sourdough baguettes, I want my starter to be 25% of the total flour. As my starter is 100% hydration, here are the calculations:

Preferment % of Total Flour25%
Preferment Total Weight184g
Preferment Hydration100%
Preferment Flour92g
Preferment Water92g

Based on that, here’s what the final dough ingredients will look like:

Flour736g – 92g = 644g
Water589g – 92g = 497g
Salt736g * 2% = 15g
Preferment736g * 25% = 184g
Total Yield1340g

For your convenience, I’ve created a Google Spreadsheet that you can use to calculate your ingredients. You won’t be able to edit the document, but you can copy it to your own spreadsheet, then edit it as you see fit. BTW, the calculations in the spreadsheet that you will first see are for creating 2 X 1000g Tartine-style 40% Kamut loaves. If you’re new to baking, I don’t recommend this recipe! At 90% hydration, the dough is VERY tricky!

To be honest, I have about 30 different sheets for the different kinds of bread that I bake. When I’m developing a new recipe, I always use a spreadsheet like this. It takes the guesswork out