Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s Ciabatta Recipe (Updated)

No way am I going to take credit for developing this recipe, though I have made my own tweaks to the flour. The recipe comes from master chef Markus Farbinger. I had no idea who he was until I happened to stumble on his baguette shaping video on YouTube. His technique was so incredible that I ended up buying his baguette and ciabatta video series on Vimeo. This ciabatta recipe is from that series.

To be honest, even though I’m documenting the recipe, I’m really only scratching the surface. I highly recommend renting or purchasing the series. Chef Markus the former Dean of Curriculum and Instruction for Baking and Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, and is co-owner of the Ile de Pain bakery in South Africa where he uses a wood-fired oven to bake his artisan bread. In other words, this dude is totally legit!

Overview

Like traditional baguettes, this ciabatta uses a poolish that you make the night before you bake, then in the morning, you mix the final dough. With this particular recipe, the process is quick! I mean, real quick. Things happen much faster than with your typical artisan loaf. Once you mix the final dough, your loaves are in the oven within an hour-and-a-half!

On top of that, you only manipulate the dough three times before baking and two of those times are devoted to creating structure. So you really only have two opportunities to create structure and strength in your dough before you bake. That third time is just pushing the dough into a loaf shape and transferring it to a couche. There’s no formal shaping and scoring with a ciabatta. So you have to get the structure-building steps down!

Now don’t go thinking that this is a beginner’s bread simply because of the short prep time or the use of commercial yeast. It isn’t. What makes it difficult is the hydration rate is a whopping 85%! At that level, it’s almost like working with a batter, and even for seasoned bread makers, that kind of hydration rate can be a little daunting. So like making baguettes, making a great ciabatta is less about the ingredients and so much more about the technique.

The Recipe

If you read the recipe table, you won’t see any olive oil. The only time it is used is to coat the mixing bowl after the second fold, just prior to the final fermentation. I’m not sure why this is, but the results are pretty marvelous just the same.

Like baguettes, the process occurs over two days. You create a poolish the night before, then mix the final dough and bake in the morning.

Overall Formula

I’m providing the overall formula because it is possible to do this as a straight dough.

FlourWaterSaltYeast
100%
(10% Whole Wheat)
(90% Bread Flour)
85%2%0.64%

Poolish – Day 1

I love that the flour of the poolish represents 50% of the total flour. The influence of flavor from this amount of poolish is immense!

FlourWaterYeast
100 g Whole Wheat Flour
400 g Bread Flour
500 ml0.4 g
Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add water in batches until you form a smooth, thick batter. Set aside at room temperature for 12-16 hours. I shoot for 14 hours. As an early-riser, I make the poolish at about 4pm then mix the final dough at 6am the next day.

If you’re using yeast packets, simply take a healthy pinch from a packet to use for the poolish, then use the rest for the final dough.

Final Dough – Day 2

FlourWaterSaltYeastPoolish
500 g Bread Flour350 ml20 g6 g1000 g
– If you’re wondering if the amount of yeast listed seems to be a bit much, bear in mind that Chef Markus uses 15 grams fresh yeast. The instant/active yeast equivalents are 30-40% of fresh yeast.

Dough Temp: 475F/24C

Before you start, I recommend using a round-bottom mixing bowl for the fermentation steps. The dough is so wet that it will be difficult to do stretch & folds if you use a vertical-sided container. Also, a couche is very helpful to have, especially for the final proof.

Note that the times listed are approximate! I just baked a batch yesterday and because it was early in the morning and very cool, I had to extend the times to 30 minutes, and I let the final proof go for 20 minutes.

Mixing. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, then add the salt and yeast. Use a whisk to combine and thoroughly incorporate all the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, combine the poolish and water and completely dissolve the poolish. Once it’s liquified, pour the liquid into the mixing bowl and mix until no dry ingredients are left. Mix into a shaggy mass, then let the mixture rest for 20 minutes.

You can use a stand mixer for this step, but with this small amount of dough, I just mix by hand and use a Danish dough whisk. It’s pretty fast with this kind of hydration.

Bulk Fermentation First Fold. After the dough has rested, do a series of stretches and folds in the bowl. The trick to folding a super-wet dough like this is to make your hand like a wooden spoon, with your fingers pressed together. Scoop from the side and slip your fingers under the mass, then lift. At first, most of the dough will kind of pour out of your hand, but as you stretch the dough more and more, you’ll feel the tension building and the dough won’t pour out nearly as much. Wet your hand regularly! Once you feel as if you can pick up about a third of the dough mass when you scoop, you’ve built up enough strength for that session. Cover the dough and rest for another 20 minutes.

At this point, it’s a good idea to start preheating your oven (to 475°F/250°C), especially if you use a baking stone like I do.

Bulk Fermentation: Lamination. Generously flour your work surface, and I mean generously, then pour out your dough onto your work surface. Check to see if you can lift up the edges of the dough, and use your bench scraper to push flour under areas that are sticking. Gently tug the dough into a square, then starting at the bottom edge, quickly work your fingers under the dough (your fingers should be pressed together, give that side a stretch toward you, then fold the edge about 2/3 over the dough. Do the same with the top edge. Once you’ve folded the top edge over, gently pat the dough down to even out its thickness, then fold the left and right sides. Gently pat down the folded dough, then repeat the process.

Chef Farbinger laminates his dough 3 times. But with the King Arthur AP flour I use, by the time I’m finished with the 2nd lamination, the dough is nice and strong. Not matter what, once you’ve finished lamination, Roll the dough onto its seams then form it into a round. Place the dough into a well-oiled bowl (I just rinse out my mixing bowl then spray oil in it). Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

Divide and “Shape“: Flour your work surface again, but not nearly with as much flour as with lamination. Slide the dough ball into the surface. Then using your bench scraper, gently tug the dough into a rectangle with fairly even thickness. Cut the dough down the center along the long edge to form two “slippers.” Then work each piece into long rectangles. Picking the loaves up from the ends and scooping towards the middle, transfer the loaves to a well-floured couche or tea towel. Lightly flour then dimple the tops to even out the thickness.

Final Fermentation: 10 minutes

Bake. If you’re baking on a stone, transfer the loaves to a loading board generously sprinkled with cornmeal. If you don’t have a board, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, then sprinkle cornmeal on the parchment paper. Bake the loaves at 475°-480°F (~250°C) with steam for 15 minutes. Remove steaming container(s), then turn down the oven to 400°F (200°C) for another 15-20 minutes or until the crust turns a deep golden brown. If you want to follow tradition, don’t bake your loaves past this as the standard crust thickness should be 3mm on average according to Italian law. But that said, bake the loaves to whatever doneness you want!

I put “tradition” in italics above because technically ciabatta didn’t exist until the early 1980s. However, the technique is steeped in thousands of years of tradition.

Sourdough Ciabatta

After the success I had with the baguettes based on the Tartine Bread recipe, I thought I’d apply a similar principle to making ciabatta. But this time around, roughly 30% of the flour would come solely from a young sourdough starter as opposed to the half levain/half poolish of the baguettes.

Notice that I mentioned employing a young sourdough starter. This is important in that I wanted lots of yeast activity and also to mitigate the sourness from the bacteria. This is along the lines of Chad Robertson’s approach in Tartine Bread.

Like all ciabatta, this is an extremely wet dough. When you fold this dough the first time, it’ll feel a little icky. But don’t worry. The results are fabulous! Let’s get into the formula.

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water (warm – 85°F)80.00%
Salt2.00%
Olive Oil5.00%
Total Percentages187%

Levain

Preferment Flour %*30%
Hydration %100%
AP Flour194.44
Water194.44
Mature Starter~30
Preferment Required389
Note that the weights listed here are what is needed for the recipe. I’ll get into building the levain below.

Final Dough

Flour454
Water324
Salt13
Olive Oil32
Levain389
Total Yield1212
2 X ~600g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp80°F-82°F
Weights are in grams

Please TRUST YOUR EYES AND YOUR HANDS with this. I list out times like 30-60 minutes, but things can happen faster or slower. As with any baking process, times are only guidelines!

Make the Levain. I do a double feeding to really crank up the yeast activity before I mix the dough. So I first take a good spoonful of mature starter and add that to 100g of AP flour and 100ml of water and mix it up well. I place my container in a fairly warm place (80°F+) and let it more than double. When it’s ready, the top is bubbly – very bubbly – and you can see the activity of the yeast. Once it gets to that point which, at least for my starter, takes about 2-3 hours, I feed it with 100g flour and water, then let that double. The activity is pretty strong at this point, so the levain is ready in under 2 hours (yesterday, my levain was ready in an hour!). The levain will be fairly bubbly and as with the initial feeding, you should see activity at the top of the mass.

Initial Mix. In a large bowl, mix the levain and all of the water and completely liquify the levain. Place the flour in another large bowl, then gradually add the water and mix until there are no dry ingredients. Rest for 30 minutes.

Final Mix. Sprinkle the salt over the dough mass, then once lightly incorporated into the dough, add the olive oil. It’s best to just squeeze it into the dough to work it in. Once all the olive oil is incorporated, do a series of light stretches and folds to fully incorporate the salt and oil. Note that this isn’t meant to build strength in the dough. Rest for 30 minutes.

Bulk Fermentation. Up to 2 hours depending on ambient temp. Ideally, your dough should ferment in an environment that’s no lower than 78°F.

Folding. After 30 minutes, stretch and fold the dough. It will be wet and will feel like a batter. Continue stretching and folding until you start feeling some tension build in the dough. You may have to do 10-12 stretches and folds. Four will not do the job. This is a critical step in building up some dough strength and gas retention properties in the dough. I love this part because I can literally feel it transform from a very liquid mass into a dough. After folding, rest for 30 minutes.

You may not see much apparent fermentation activity at this point, but that’s okay. The yeasts are working!

Lamination. This is the last step in building structure in the dough, so it’s pretty important. Liberally flour your work area. Don’t be stingy with the flour here because you do not want it to stick and tear the dough. Using your bowl scraper pour your dough out onto your work surface. Then to ensure that there’s flour underneath your dough, use your bench scraper to push flour underneath any areas that could potentially stick. To make sure your dough’s not sticking, move the whole mass around. It should move easily. Then once you know it’s not going to stick, with quick, definitive motions, slide your fingers under the sides of the dough and lightly stretch it into a square till the dough is about 3/4″ thick.

Take the top of the dough and stretch it away from you a bit and bring it to the center. Take the bottom half, pull it toward you, then completely overlap the top fold. Gently pat the rectangle down to even out the thickness, then do the same stretch on the left and right sides. Pat the dough down, then repeat the process two more times if you can. If the dough fights you, that’s a good thing. It means you’ve built some strength into the dough. Once you can no longer laminate the dough, gently roll it onto the seams and with cupped hands, work it into a round. Transfer the round seam-side-down into a lightly oiled bowl. Let the dough rest in the bowl for another 30 minutes or until you see about a 25% increase in volume. Note that this could take a little longer.

At this point, preheat your oven to 500°F and make sure you have steaming container handy – a cast iron pan or a loaf pan with water-soaked towels.

Divide and Shape. Slide the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured surface. As with the lamination step, gently pull the dough into a square with roughly even thickness, then cut it into two equal halves. Gently tug each half into long rectangles (forming the slippers). Then holding a rectangle at each end, bring your hands together to scoop the rectangle and place it onto a well-floured couche or towel. Once it’s on the couche, gently tug it back into shape. Once both loaves are on the couche or towel, gently dimple the tops of each piece to promote even rising.

Final Fermentation. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. What you want to watch for is that the loaves are nice and puffy with obvious bubble formation on the skin. Exercise some patience here because with natural yeast, things happen A LOT slower than with commercial yeast, and if you bake the dough too early, you will not get very good bubble formation!

Bake. Get some hot water into your steaming container to get the steam going in your oven about 10-15 minutes before baking.

You’ll really need a flip board for this so as not to degas the loaves. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to basically do the same motion as putting the loaves onto the couche to transfer the loaves to either a baking sheet covered lightly with cornmeal (if you don’t have a baking stone) or flipped onto a transfer board sprinkled with cornmeal or semolina.

Quickly place the loaves into your oven and immediately turn the heat down to 475°F. About five minutes into the bake, check to make sure there’s still water in your steaming container. If not, replenish it (see notes). Bake with steam for 12 minutes then remove your steaming container(s) (I use multiple to ensure steam is produced faster than it can be vented) and reduce your oven temp to 425°F. At this point, the loaves will have started to take on color. Bake for another 12-15 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown. You can let these cool if you want, but there’s nothing like slathering a hot slice of ciabatta with butter and honey!

Notes

  1. Some bakers I’ve encountered talk about not being able to keep steam in their ovens. I can’t either. Like almost all domestic ovens, my oven is designed to vent moisture. But if you produce more steam than the rate that the oven can vent it (I use multiple containers), you’ll be able to maintain a steamy environment. Furthermore, when you bake with steam, you need to check to see if your water has burned off during the time you need to be steaming! I always check my steaming containers 5 minutes into each bake to make sure they’ve got plenty of water to do the job.
  2. Once you add the olive oil, the dough will really feel liquidy. Don’t worry and please don’t add flour. Olive oil is like a gluten lube. It increases a dough’s extensibility immensely and in addition to adding great flavor, contributes to the production of large bubbles.
  3. Speaking of olive oil, do yourself a favor and use nothing but real extra virgin olive oil, not the cheap grocery store stuff.

Achieving Great Oven Spring Using a Baking Stone

When I read Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, he recommended using a Dutch oven for baking as that would create a steamy environment that promoted oven spring. He further asserted that as domestic ovens were designed to vent steam, he wasn’t able to trap enough steam to get a good oven rise.

Then I saw a video the other day comparing results baking with a Dutch oven vs. a baking stone. Luckily the guy didn’t say one was better than the other, but I totally disagreed with his conclusions that one is better suited for everyday baking (Dutch oven) and the stone is much better for baking multiple loaves. Irrespective of his results, when I saw his oven setup, it didn’t surprise me that his loaf baked on a stone didn’t have as much oven spring as his Dutch oven.

So… based on what Chad Robertson and on what that video showed, I have one thing to say: They probably didn’t set up their ovens correctly and have their stones appropriately positioned in the oven to catch the steam. It’s physics. Heat makes things rise, so the steam is going to collect in top half – or at least in the case of my oven – the top 30%-40% of the oven. If you have your stone too low, your dough will not get enough steam and your oven rise will seriously suffer. Take a look at the diagram below:

With my stone correctly positioned, I get GREAT oven spring because my baking stone is placed so that my loaves catch the steam! Check out the bread that I’ve made in the last few days…

And here’s how my own oven is set up:

When I bake ciabatta and baguettes, I move the stone one notch up as they are low-profile loaves and I want to make sure they’re in the steam. In addition to my broiler pan, I also use two loaf pans with water-soaked towels in them to provide even more steam. I had to do this because my oven is very good at venting moisture, so I have to produce more steam at a faster rate than the rate my oven can exhaust it.

Baking By Feel The Old School Way – No Recipe!

I woke up early this morning with a question in my head: Am I being a bit too academic with my bread-making? Like many bakers, I live by my formulas. They ensure that my loaves are consistent, no matter what I bake. But it occurred to me that bakers long before me had been baking by feel for centuries. They’ve developed a certain instinct about how their dough should look and feel.

Then I remembered watching four-part series on Netflix by Michael Pollan called Cooked. In the bread episode, there was a woman who made her bread in a wide bowl, just adding her ingredients in a seemingly free-form manner. It was fascinating watching her work! Then I harkened back to a video I saw of an Amish farmer making bread. No measurements, just going by the consistency of his dough. Again, fascinating. Then finally, at the world-famous Poillane Bakery in Paris, the bakers don’t use any measuring devices. They study the process for a year and a half!

That got me thinking: Have I developed those kinds of chops? After all, I’ve been baking bread for over 40 years. And especially in the last year, I feel I’ve developed certain instincts of how my dough should look, feel, and behave. So I decided to challenge myself today and go completely native, that is, use absolutely no measuring devices of any kind to assemble my dough.

The Starter

I had tailings leftover from my bake yesterday, so I fed my starter this morning with some AP flour, eyeballing the flour and water to relatively equivalent amounts.

I’m going to do something a bit different once it’s ready to be used and that is to mix it with a large quantity of water, then gradually add it to some flour until I get a consistency that’s similar to 65% to 70% hydration dough. This is consistent with what I do already by dissolving the starter in the water (sans a reserved amount for bassinage), then adding that to the flour.

I’ll let that mixture autolyse for a half-hour or so, then I’ll add the rest of the water and the salt, which I will also eyeball. Truth be told, I eyeballed what I think is 20 grams of salt based on the little crucible that I normally use for weighing my salt.

I am going to do a bit more of a bassinage. Normally, it’s about 50 ml of water. I think I may reserve more. I’ll play that by ear. Once I have the mix to the consistency I want, then I’ll do the standard 3-hour bulk fermentation with folds every 30 minutes or until I get about 25%-30% expansion.

I’m a little torn right now about the dividing and shaping. I’m a little anal about things being equal, so I’m leaning towards dividing my dough using a scale. But we’ll see when I get there… That said, I just might not do that to see if I have the chops to create consistently-sized loaves without a scale. We’ll see…

As far as shaping is concerned, I will do my best to not use any bannetons. Everything will be hand-shaped. This means I will have to rely entirely on my dough development and shaping skills to produce loaves that will literally stand up. And as I write this, I’m actually pretty excited. In the back of my mind, I’m confident that I’ll be able to pull it off with good results. But as with anything, you never know until you see the finished product.

The Process

The first step in the process was to completely liquify the starter. This liquid would then be added directly to the flour as shown below.

Using a Danish dough whisk made quick work of bringing the liquid and flour together.

Once I had everything mixed, I dialed in the consistency of the dough by mixing by hand, adding a little extra flour and liquid as I didn’t feel I had enough dough. Mixing by hand at this point was important because it allowed me to really feel the dough.

Once I dialied in the dough’s consistency, I transferred it to my bulking container to autolyse for 30-45 minutes. After that’s done, I’ll add the salt and a little more liquid to get to the approximate hydration (feel) that I want. There’s whole grain Kamut in this flour, so I’ll probably go a little wetter with the final dough.

I will admit that I’ll be leaning a lot on what I learned in Tartine N°3 in developing dough with whole grain flour. In that book, Chad Robertson employs his basic country loaf process, but has some valuable handling tips (read: being freakin’ gentle with the dough) accompanied by a fairly long final fermentation that has made a HUGE difference in how my whole-grain loaves come out.

After five sets of stretch and folds, the dough was super extensible, so I decided not to proceed with the sixth fold and let fermentation proceed untouched for another hour or so. Since I have a lot of high-extraction and whole grain flour in the dough, I need to be absolutely careful to not degas the dough and ruin all the work it has done the last two and a half hours.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I try not to be too parochial with recipes and techniques. That’s important because dough is affected by so many different factors. For instance with this particular batch of dough, about a third of the flour is really strong high-protein flour (17%+). I usually use it in conjunction with whole grain flour to help compensate for the bran that tends to cut the gluten.

But I have to say that at this point, the dough is feeling absolutely luxurious and is beginning to get nicely aerated. I should be shaping in the next couple of hours.

The Next Day…

Yeah… I was going to freestyle the loaves, but I ran out of time as I had plans for the evening. So I decided to shape up a couple of batards, put them in baskets and let them do their final ferment in my dough retarder. And yes, I did scale them out, though I got VERY close eyeballing them when I originally divided the dough and only fell about 20 grams short on one piece. Next time, I’ll probably just eyeball it…

But it’s probably best that I put the dough in baskets. When I was shaping the loaves, They felt like they were 90%+ hydration. Of course, I don’t know

The loaves are looking great in the oven right now! I was expecting the loaf on the left to be a little flatter than the one on the right as it came out of its banneton a little cockeyed. Oh well… But I’m loving the oven spring! With the predominance of whole-grain and high-extraction flour in my flour blend, I wasn’t too concerned about vertical lift. However, I was VERY concerned about overall spring and oven expansion. The wide fissure on each loaf indicates that the loaves expanded quite a bit and that pleases me to no end!

Notice how high up my baking stone is in my oven. I think I can go one more notch higher before my loaves touch the top. The reason I’ve got them up that high is that I used to have it down a few notches and I wasn’t getting enough steam on my loaves. With my stone higher up, all the steam created by my soaked towels and the water in the broiler pan at the bottom go right to the top of my oven. It’s kind of difficult to see in the picture, but the skin on each loaf at this point is quite damp. Since I’ve done that, my oven spring has been absolutely stellar!

I just pulled these out of the oven. I am VERY pleased with the results! Admittedly, it was a little nerveracking at first because I’ve been so used to being fairly exact with my measurements. But having gone through it and trusting in my dough development skills, I’m probably going to do this a bit more often.

That said, what I will definitely do is have predetermined flour blends that I normally use – I’ve been meaning to do this for a while anyway. This will make it easy to assemble my dough and take a little guesswork out of my different doughs’ performances so I should be able to achieve a fair amount of consistency.

Finally got a crumb shot of my loaves! Wow! I wasn’t expecting them to have such an open crumb because of all the bran in my dough. But hey! Who’s arguing? 🙂 I kind of felt as if I’d get a good crumb, because of the great oven spring, but did not expect it to be this good. In any case, the bread was a hit at the dinner party I attended this evening. It was a going-away-to-college party for one of my daughter’s friends so there were lots of teenagers there. They devoured the bread! I was quite pleased to see that!

Tartine Bread Baguettes

Yesterday, I wrote a post saying that I had some issues with the Tartine Bread baguette recipe, especially with the yield, which was much more than the two or three baguettes that the recipe said it would produce. It was more like seven or eight baguettes. Not a bad thing, but the inconsistency kind of bugged me. I was also a little dubious about the hydration being only 64% and that the poolish used a seemingly large amount of yeast for such a small poolish amount.

But despite my issues, these baguettes totally intrigued me because Chad Robertson employed both a levain AND a poolish. And unlike most poolish baguette recipes that add a little yeast to the final dough, the rising potential with both types of preferments completely eliminates the need to use any extra commercial yeast other than what goes into the poolish!

Using two preferments was all I needed to know to want to make these baguettes. Chad’s reasoning was that they’d contribute tons of flavor to the bread – they do – but also give the dough lots of extensibility and a longer shelf-life (and I could attest to that because my pure sourdough baguettes will last a week).

But I didn’t want to make as much dough as the recipe in the book yields, so I had to scale it down. To scale it down I had to get the overall formula, then figure out my ingredient weights from that. I shared all this in my previous post, but I’ll put it down here now:

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water64.00%
Salt1.70%

Levain

I use a tailings method for my levain in that I use the tailings from the previous starter to build a new levain. That could be anywhere from 20 grams to 100 grams. In Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson says to use a tablespoon of mature starter.

Mature Starter30-40g
AP Flour150g
~14.25% of total flour
Water150g
Weights are in grams.

Poolish

The book says to use 3 grams of yeast for 200 grams flour and water. Even if he meant fresh yeast, that’s an awful lot for such a small amount of flour. It’s not necessarily wrong, but the poolish will mature much faster than 3 hours with that amount of yeast and the aim is to get both preferments to peak near the same time.

AP Flour150g
~14.25% of total flour
Water150g
Instant Yeast0.4g
Optimal Fermentation Temp.78°-80°F
Weights are in grams. Poolish should develop in a warm environment to make the 3-hour schedule.

Final Dough

Bread Flour170g
AP Flour402g
Water286g
Salt14g
Poolish229g
Levain229g
Total yield1330g
4 X 330g 60cm loaves
6 X 220g 40 cm loaves
Optimal dough temp76°-80°F
Weights are in grams. Yield is just a little more than 1300g which is the target to account for loss due to evaporation or processing (dough sticking to stuff).

This is a fairly straightforward formula. BTW, in case you’re interested, both the Poolish and Levain flour contribute 14.25% each to the total flour. Without further ado, let’s get into the dough development!

Make the Preferments

One thing to note is that both preferments should be made from predominantly AP flour. The reason for this is that whole grain flours will have much more fermentation activity.

Build the Levain

For the levain, take about 30-40 grams of mature starter and mix it with 150g each of flour and water. Your starter should have enough activity where the levain will be ready in three to four hours. Or if you have a regular schedule, try to coincide the peak of the levain with the peak of the poolish.

Poolish

With the poolish, thoroughly mix all ingredients together. Set aside in a warm place to promote yeast activity. Poolish will be ready when it is heavily bubbled on the top.

Both preferments should pass the float test to ensure optimum activity.

Initial Mix/Autolyse. Set aside 50 grams of the water. Measure out what you need from both preferments and place in a mixing bowl. Liquify the preferments with the rest of the water, then sift all the flour and add to the liquid. Mix well until there are no dry ingredients and no large lumps in the mix. It’ll be shaggy. Cover and rest for 30-60 minutes.

If you’ve made baguettes previously, you will notice how stiff the dough is. Don’t be alarmed and add more water! The fermentation action of the starters will soften and aerate the dough.

Final Mix. Sprinkle the salt all over the dough mass, then add the remaining 50 grams of water. Note that for this small amount of dough, I just mix it by hand, squeezing the salt and water into the dough. Mix until all the water has been incorporated.

You could use a stand mixer for all the mixing. But if you do, mix only on the lowest setting! I’ve found that with baguettes, you actually don’t want to develop the gluten too much in the mixing stage. You’ll do all that through the folds.

Bulk Fermentation. 3-4 hours. As with Chad’s basic country loaf, you’re looking for about 25-30% dough expansion. Even though it was pretty warm in my kitchen, I let the bulk fermentation go for about 4 hours.

Folding. Fold every 30 minutes within the first three hours. Truth be told, I got to the fourth fold and the dough had plenty of strength, forming a nice windowpane. As with any kind of bread, you should never be too parochial about the folding. Once you’ve developed enough strength, stop folding. Continuing will just degas the dough.

To be honest, having made these a few times now, I’m not convinced the dough needs this many folds. The hydration is so low that the gluten bonds form rather quickly. I’ve never gone past four folds. The bulk fermentation does take four to five hours though. With that in mind, I’d perhaps suggest doing four folds every 45 minutes instead of six every 30 as is written in the book.

Divide and Preshape. Gently turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently tug it into a rough rectangle, then scale out four 330g pieces for 60cm baguettes, or six 220g pieces for 40cm baguettes. With each piece, letter fold the dough in an east-west direction, then roll it up like a jelly roll and seal the seam and ends. Take care not to roll too tightly. Add just a little tension! Place seam-side-up on a well-floured couche. Rest for 30-45 minutes depending on how tightly you rolled the pieces. With this low hydration dough, you need the dough to be well-relaxed.

Shape. I always use Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s baguette shaping technique. But if you have a shaping method already, feel free to use it.

Final Fermentation. Up to 3 hours. Yes, you read that correctly. Remember, this is a stiff dough, and after shaping, you want to give it plenty of time to relax. I felt my dough was ready in about an hour and a half. It was a really warm afternoon when I baked and I didn’t want to run the risk of over-fermenting the loaves. In hindsight, I probably could’ve let it go out to about two hours. To tell if the loaves are ready to bake, if you do the poke test, the surface should give fairly easily. And once you press a little deeper, the interior should have a little more tension, but it should give as well. Once you remove your finger, observe how the dough springs back. It should spring back slowly.

Bake. During the last hour of final fermentation, warm up your oven to 500°F. I use a stone to bake, but you can bake on a sheet or even a dedicated baguette pan. Use lots of steam! When I bake baguettes, I use both a broiler pan that I put hot water into, plus two loaf pans that have well-soaked terry-cloth towels in them to provide a really steamy environment. These are in the oven about 10-16 minutes before I pop the loaves in (allowing my oven to come back to temp). Quickly place your loaves in the oven, then immediately turn it down to 475°F. Bake for 12-15 minutes on steam or until the crust just starts getting color. Remove the steaming containers, turn down the oven to 425°F, then bake for another 12-15 minutes until the loaves turn a deep golden brown.

While I don’t show the entire oven here (and the loaves are different), make sure the rack that you’re baking the loaves is up pretty high in your oven. This will ensure that your loaves make contact with the steam. As you can see, I have two loaf pans with soaked towels underneath, and you can just make out the broiler pan at the bottom of the oven. I put a couple of cups of hot water in the broiler pan about 7 minutes before I bake, then replenish the water if it runs dry within the first 15 minutes of the bake.

Cool on rack. You can eat these warm!

Notes

  1. The crumb, while open, is very much like a sourdough crumb. It’s tender, but a lot more chewy than the baguettes I normally make. I realize that that could be a function of the flour I used. The next time I make these, I will probably use all AP flour – most probably Central Milling flour as it is only 10.7% protein. This shoiuld lend itself to a much lighter crumb texture.
  2. While I appreciate the romanticism of baking on a stone, I always use parchement paper on my transfer board to get my loaves into the oven. Especially with baguettes, since I have to put them in along their long sides, I’ve had too many mishaps where the loaves roll off my board! So I use parchement paper. When I remove the steaming containers, I also remove the parchement paper from underneat the loaves.
  3. The loaves probably could’ve benefited from a longer final fermentation. As you can see in the pictures, they turned out fine, but I think I could’ve had them even more puffy had I let the final fermentation go longer. That said, I will have to monitor progress carefully if I use a low-protein flour.
  4. Once final fermentation is complete, I cannot stress enough that you handle the shaped loaves as gently as possible.
  5. I have to admit that I’m still a little bugged by the yield in the original recipe and the recommendation to break up the dough into 2 or 3 pieces. But despite that, I will relegate that to a copy editing oversight.

When you see the Real Bread loaf mark, it indicates that this recipe produces bread with no artificial additives, and is leavened either by a natural starter or commercial yeast.

Issues with the “Tartine Bread” Baguette Recipe?

Picture of the baguettes from “Tartine Bread”

Okay… who am I that I should even have the audacity to correct Chad Robertson? But when I see a recipe in a book that’s obviously wrong – I don’t care if the author is a world-renown baker and I’m just a peon baker of a relatively unknown micro-bakery – I’m going to point it out.

So what got this bug up my ass about the baguette recipe in Tartine Bread? There are a few things I found in the recipe that seem off. The first issue is that the total yield of the recipe far exceeds what you actually need to make 2 to 3 baguettes as suggested in the book. Furthermore, the amount of yeast used in the poolish seems a little much for the amount of flour and water. And finally, the hydration seems awfully low based on my own research and experience.

By themselves, these issues aren’t really that bad. I have no doubt that the recipe will yield some very tasty baguettes. But all together, they make the recipe seem a little off to me. Again, these are minor things, though the dough yield is actually pretty major. Let’s dive in…

Here’s the recipe from the book:

Leaven400g
Water500g
Poolish400g
All-Purpose Flour650g
Bread Flour350g
Salt24g
Total Yield2324g

Before the recipe, he writes:

Makes 2 or 3 baguettes

When I originally read that, I immediately thought that recipe amounts would be pretty small. But when I saw the amounts he was calling for, I immediately said out loud, “No friggin’ way!” Then that made me analyze the recipe even more.

Right-sizing the Recipe for Home Baking

I know, I know. Who am I to correct a master? But from everything I’ve learned about making baguettes, 40cm demi-baguette dough generally weighs about 220g. Standard 60cm baguettes are about 330-350g apiece depending on the oven. The amounts listed in the recipe would make 10 demi-baguettes or 7 full-size baguettes! Even if we scale out 400g pieces (as he mentions his are in Tartine Bread), that is enough dough to make more than 5 of those! So that must’ve been a typo. Furthermore, if you look at the pictures in the book, there’s no way that the dough pieces are 400g. But look, if you read the book and follow the recipe, just know that it’ll make more than 2 or 3 baguettes.

In light of that, here’s what I’ve been able to glean from the recipe in the book.

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water64.00%
Salt1.70%
Yeast0.00%
Total Percentage165.70%

Preferment (Both Levain and Poolish)

Note that the flour from both the levain and the poolish contributes ~14.25% of the total flour apiece. So for the final dough, you’ll need about 230g of each of the levain and poolish. I just combined the two for my calculations.

Preferment Flour %*28.6%
Hydration %100%
Preferment Flour Weight229g
Preferment Water229g
Preferment Required459g
NOTE: Both starters use AP flour

Final Dough

Flour575g
Water286g
Salt14g
Preferment459g
Yield1330g
4 X ~330g loaves
6 X ~220g loaves

This yield is much more sensible for a home baker. I realize that many folks don’t have a baking stone and can’t make full-size baguettes. Not a problem. The final dough weight of 1330 will make 6 X 220g 40cm baguettes, which is about 15″. If you have 15″ baguette trays, these will fit right on them!

As far as dough development is concerned, Chad Robertson uses the same process for his basic country loaf, which involves 6 folds over a 3-hour period after mixing.

An Issue with the Poolish

Another anomaly I saw in the recipe is that the poolish is made of 200g AP flour, 200g water. and 3 grams of active dry yeast, or 2.25 grams instant yeast. His instructions state to let that stand for 3 to 4 hours at room temp or overnight in the fridge. Based on my experience, that’s way too much yeast for that small amount of poolish. That poolish will be ready in less than two hours, even in cold weather. An overnight fridge rest will have exhausted all flour. I would say use 0.5g instant yeast, or 0.75g active dry. Ideally, you want the poolish and the levain to be peaked at roughly the same time. With that amount of yeast, the poolish will be ready long before the levain. But maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing as once the poolish is incorporated into the dough, the yeast will have a new food source.

Hydration? Hmm…

You’ll notice that the overall hydration is 64%. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make a stiffer dough. I have to admit that I’m a little dubious of the openness of the crumb with hydration that low. However, Hamelman’s Poolish Baguettes in Bread are only 66%. I guess there are many ways to skin a cat. But that said, everything I’ve learned about baguettes is that in general, they’re at least 75% hydration – but that has just been my personal experience. And no, I’m not being a high-hydration snob.

Believe me, I don’t want to come off as being some know-it-all, and I’m not the kind to actively look for fault in someone’s approach just to make myself feel better. That’s absurd behavior. But being a home-based baker myself, I wanted to point out a few minor anomalies I found. Especially with the dough yield, I just couldn’t imagine making a baguette from almost 1200g of dough! 🙂

As for the dough itself, I see no problem with it. In fact, the high amount of preferment that’s used will make the dough much more extensible, despite it being such comparatively low hydration to what I’m used to – at least that’s what I’m thinking will happen. But there’s no better way to find out than to make these! I’ve never even considered using both a levain and a poolish together. I’m excited to see how it will turn out!

I Found My Oven!

…now I just have to save for it…

I’ve been looking to get a dedicated oven for baking bread for well over a year now. It has been a bit frustrating using my regular ovens in my kitchen because as with most standard ovens, they’re built to vent steam. So no matter how much steam I create, it doesn’t seem to be enough.

You could say, “Why don’t you just use a Dutch oven? That’ll provide plenty of steam.” That is true, but you can’t bake baguettes or ciabatta in a Dutch oven. And no, I don’t want to get long loaf combo pans.

The first oven I looked at was the Rofco B40 oven. Great oven and there are lots of micro-bakeries like mine that use it. My only problem is that it doesn’t have built-in steam. You have to buy a separate steam tray that you place on the stone. That takes away valuable real estate from what is also a relatively small baking surface. Moreover, the B40 is almost $3300! It’s a bit pricey.

Another option I considered was the Nero 400. It has built-in steam and though compact, has a more conventional deck oven profile. But it’s something like $3500.

Enter the Tom Chandley Compacta Pico Plus. This is it for me! It has an 18″ X 30″ stone, built-in steam, runs on standard 220V (my house is wired for 220 already), and not only that, it’s modular, so I can stack them as my demand grows. And get this: The Pico Plus is only $2195 per unit. While it doesn’t give me the whole total capacity of the Rofco B40, the built-in steam allows me to use the whole stone! That’s such a selling point for me!

Not only that, I can bake full-size baguettes, which are 60cm standard. I can already do that in my home oven, but as I mentioned above, most domestic ovens are built to vent steam, and baguettes need LOTS of moisture in the first 10-15 minutes of the bake – probably more so than boules and batards.

A couple of months ago, I was going to pull the trigger on a Rofco B40. I’m so glad that I didn’t.

So I Finally Got “Tartine Bread”

Chad Robertson is legendary and like Nancy Silverton, his bread has achieved cult status. Defying the conventions of traditional French bread, Chad sought to create bread with a lacy, open, tender crumb that has since become a benchmark for home-based artisan bakers the world over.

I’m not necessarily one of those who seeks that kind of crumb. I seek to create a crumb that is more open than closed but not nearly as open and lacy as Chad Robertson’s. That’s a personal choice.

But after having read so many different bread books, it occurred to me that I hadn’t read Tartine Bread and that given the legendary status of his bread, it would probably do me well to read. Mind you, it’s not that I was shunning it. I just hadn’t gotten to it yet.

But that changed when I picked up a copy of Tartine Book N° 3, which focuses on baking with whole grain flour. Reading through his techniques and putting them into practice, I couldn’t believe the wonderful results I got. So after baking his 60% Kamut loaf a few times and getting an open crumb with mostly whole grain flour (I used a combination of Kamut, white whole wheat, and strong bread flour), I knew I had to get the original book to see what his Country Loaf was all about.

So I got it. And I LOVE it! Though it’s rife with recipes, what I really dig about the book is Chad Robertson’s philosophical discussions and his instinctive approach to making bread. When I started making artisanal bread many years ago, I realized that so much of the process was instinctual; I couldn’t just follow a recipe and expect a good result. I learned to identify telltales in look and feel that were indicators of the dough’s progress.

And though Chad speaks a lot about his journey, those tidbits of what to look for – at least to me – are the most valuable information in the book! For instance, in his instructions for making his basic country loaf, he says:

During the first hour of bulk fermentation, the dough will feel dense and heavy. Watch how the surface becomes smooth soon after you turn the dough. By the end of the third hour, the dough will feel aerated and softer. A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes.

Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread

Sure, I know this. Most experienced bakers do as well. But the book is peppered with what I call telltales like this, and it’s what I love about it because it’s filled with insight – a baker’s insight. And that’s important to me because so many books tend to take a more academic approach to baking. Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman is a great example of the academic approach. But that said, Bread is basically a textbook and discusses food science and the more technical aspects of baking. It’s my go-to reference.

But Tartine is both a story of how Chad Robertson got started as well as a compendium of insights he has gleaned from years of baking. And that appeals to me as an artisan. I need the technical perspective to get the mechanics down. But I also need the insight to develop my craftsmanship. Tartine has that down in spades!

I Like Big Bakes…

I’ll let you complete it.. 🙂

Yesterday I baked 8 dozen butter buns for another luncheon today at the Opportunity Center in Palo Alto, CA. I normally provide them with a few Poillane-style miches, but my wife, who now runs the outreach program for our church, came up with a new luncheon menu: BURGERS!

I didn’t consider that a bad thing at all, but it did mean scaling the recipe up to a size that I previously hadn’t baked. We’re talking over 21 pounds of dough! The most I had baked for the Center was just over half that amount, as I’d make four 3 1/2 pound miches. I’d easily be able to cut those up into 100-120 slices.

But this bake? This was different. Not only did I have to stage the actual baking, I had to stage the entire production as my mixer could only handle the dough for 24 buns. So I had to do a bit of planning.

The way I figured it, since I could bake on baking sheets, I could bake 48 buns at a time using convection to ensure an even distribution of heat. That wouldn’t be a problem. The challenge was going to be making the dough batches. With the amount of yeast the recipe calls for, as soon as I transferred a batch to one of my bulking containers (I used two, big 8-liter rectangular bulking tubs), the batch would start rising quickly, so time was of the essence.

The idea was to do two separate big batches with each bulking container holding the dough for 48 buns apiece. To deal with having to make two batches in a row, I kept the temperature of the water of the first batch below 70ºF. Working the dough in my mixer would raise the temp a couple of degrees so the dough would start at about 72ºF. Then with the second batch, I’d make the water temp around 86-89ºF. Then when I combined the two batches, the final temp would come out near 80ºF, which is the optimal temperature for this dough. OMG! It worked!

This was a very active dough, so I didn’t immediately start making the second big batch until the first batch of 48 buns was in the oven. I probably should’ve waited a little longer as the buns weren’t cooled down long enough for me to clear the counters. So I had to pop that batch into my retarder fridge. That slowed things down a tad, but that dough still rose a ton and was pushing the lid off the container by the time I was ready to shape. The next time I bake this amount I’ll take that into account. But I think what I’ll do instead is simply do the bulk fermentatino of the second batch at a lower temperature.

Details, details. But I love it! With baking, there’s so much that I have to consider all the time; not just in the present, but also the corrections I have to make for future bakes.

Butter Burger Buns!

Yesterday before she left for work, my wife prepared one of the family’s favorite dishes: The meat for Turkey-Mushroom and Swiss Burgers. As she was walking out the door, she asked if I could make burger buns – specifically buns I’ve made a few times that are light, airy, chewy, and packed with yeasty goodness. With the butter and sugar in them, they’re very similar to brioche, but not as sweet and not as buttery – but they’re close, which is why I call them butter buns.

But I have to be honest: This is NOT my original recipe, though I’ve refined it over the last year. This is a riff on King Arthur’s “Beautiful Burger Buns” recipe. And these burger buns really are beautiful. But not only that, they’re super easy to make!

When I first made these buns, I was surprised to see that there was no milk or powdered milk used in the recipe. I was also surprised at how low the hydration was (46-48%). But the egg and butter make up for the lack of hydration. Plus, the butter combined with the egg gives the crumb a slightly yellowish hue.

And though there’s sugar in the formula, these buns are not sweet overly sweet. The sweetness is much more subtle considering the amount of sugar used.

I’ve made these buns several times and to be honest, I recommend using a mixer, especially if you’re pressed for time. I made the buns entirely by hand yesterday and hand-kneaded the dough. But I had a bit of time, and hadn’t kneaded by hand for a long time (gotta keep my chops up). In any case, let’s get into the formula:

Overall Formula

Baker’s %Final Dough
AP Flour (pref. unbleached, unbromated)100%473
Water (lukewarm)46%-50%207-225
Egg (1 lg. egg – room temp)8%36
Sugar12%57
Butter (room temp)7%33
Salt2%9
Yeast3%14
Totals179%808
Optimal Dough Temp80ºF
This will yield 8 100g buns and provides 1% of loss during processing. Note that this is a warm bulk fermentation!

Dough Development

Note that the hydration is 46%-50%. On cooler days, I recommend using the lower number. On warm days, use the higher number. That said, I always start with the lower number, then as I’m mixing will add a bit of water to get to that smooth consistency. Also, make sure your water is nice and warm! It helps incorporate the butter much easier.

Preparation. Before you start mixing the dough, mix the water, sugar, and yeast together in a mixing bowl to dissolve the sugar and activate the yeast; yes, even if you’re using instant yeast. Beat the egg so the yolk and white are well-combined. Note that I don’t bother measuring out the weight of the egg if I’m making a single batch and just drop a large egg into the mix. But if I scale up, I will beat a few eggs together and weigh according to the formula.

Mixing. Combine the flour, butter, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the egg and water mixture and mix until all the ingredients come together there are no dry ingredients present. If you’re using a mixer, combine the ingredients at low speed, then once mixed go to the second speed to knead the dough for 2-3 minutes (dough should be smooth and pulling off the walls of the bowl). If mixing by hand, turn the dough out onto your board and knead until the dough is smooth (about 8-10 minutes).

Bulk Fermenation: 1-2 hours @ 80ºF or until the dough has almost doubled. In warm weather, this will happen FAST! With this amount of yeast, bulk fermentation will happen pretty quickly so you need to keep an eye on it.

Divide and Shape. Turn the dough out onto your board, then scale out 100g pieces. Roll the pieces into tight balls (you can do two at a time), then let them bench rest for 10 minutes. Place each ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and press them out into 3″ disks. Gently dimple the tops as you would a ciabatta (believe it or not, this promotes even rising). If you’re using a standard-size baking sheet, you might want to stagger the pieces so they fit better. Don’t worry if they touch when you press them out. They’ll expand even further during final fermentation and baking.

Final Fermentation. Allow the shaped disks to rise for up to another hour or until they’ve clearly expanded and are puffy. On warm days, my dough’s ready in about 30 minutes. In any case, check them after about 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Baking. Right before you bake, lightly brush the tops of the buns with melted butter. Bake them for 15-18 minutes until the tops are a light, gorgeous, golden-brown. Remove from the oven, then brush them again with butter. Cool for at least an hour before cutting.

Some Alternatives

I love this formula because you can use it for a couple of different kinds of bread besides burger buns!

Dinner Rolls. Instead of flattening out the rolls, place them in a round or a 13X9 pan to make dinner rolls.

Hawaiian Rolls. Half the sugar, up the butter to 10%, and replace 70%-75% of the water with pineapple juice and you’ll get a VERY close approximation to Hawaiian bread! Load the rolls into a pan as with the dinner rolls! You could also replace the remaining water with milk for an even fluffier texture!