Here’s a Little Acid Test…

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on various online bread forums and have seen many pictures of bread people bake from around the world. There’s LOTS of talent out there! And today, as I was perusing a forum, I saw a picture that someone took of a half-dozen boules they made today. They were gorgeous!

And they were perfectly round and all the exact same diameter. When I zoomed in on the picture, I noticed that the bottom sides of the loaves were just a tad bit flat, which told me one thing: The loaves expanded outward to the sides of the Dutch oven.

Look, I don’t want to take away from how beautiful the loaves were. But it made me ask the question: What if they didn’t use a Dutch oven? Chances are, those loaves would be a LOT wider in diameter and not nearly as tall.

I don’t use a Dutch oven. I bake all my bread on a baking stone with a pan of water at the bottom of my oven for steam as shown below.

That doesn’t necessarily make my bread better or make me a better baker. But baking on a stone has forced me to constantly think about the strength of my dough and really hone my shaping skills. If I mess up, I get results like this:

That was not amusing. Those loaves were made with 40% Kamut, 30% Organic Whole Wheat, and 30% Bread Flour at 88% hydration. I knew I was in trouble after final proof. Though the loaves were perfectly fermented, there just wasn’t enough dough strength and they collapsed under their own weight. The lack of strength wasn’t due to kneading – or lack thereof – either. I used too much of a fairly acidic starter, and the hydration was simply too high for the flour I used. Both the Kamut and Whole Wheat flour from this supplier just don’t develop enough strength. Combine that with a low pH and well… you see the results.

As for the title of this post, here’s an acid test: For those of you who bake with a Dutch oven, try using a metal pan or a pizza stone to bake your next loaf. Instead of covering your loaf, put a cast-iron skillet on the bottom rack of your oven and put some hot water in it to generate steam. If you’re building up good strength in your dough, your loaf should rise up nicely. But if it spreads out, chances are you’ll need to work on building up your dough strength and shaping.

When I personally moved to a baking stone from a Dutch oven, I made several flat loaves until I learned how to get great gluten development, and learned how to create a taut skin during shaping; that, and studying my flour’s capabilities. In fact, with that brand of flour, I rarely take it above 80% and usually stay around the 78% hydration mark.

And when I saw the flatbread I had created, I have to admit that it was pretty humbling because I thought I was the bee’s knees with my perfectly shaped loaves! 🙂 Little did I know that my skills needed A LOT of development.

Formula: Hawaiian Butter Rolls

This past weekend, my family put on a small open house for my daughter’s graduation from high school. Though we invited around 50 people, we had no more than 25 at one time, spread through the house and the backyard, so social distancing wasn’t too much of a problem.

For the main dish, I BBQ’d and braised pork butts. And instead of our regular rice or noodle offering that we have at our parties, I figured with me being an avid baker, I’d make bread for the party!

I made four different kinds (as shown in the picture): Baguettes, Sourdough Demis, Sourdough Rolls, and what I call Hawaiian Butter Rolls. These were definitely the hit of the party, and they were gone long before the other bread. So given their popularity at the party, I thought I’d share the formula.

These aren’t exactly like King’s Hawaiian rolls – I didn’t develop the recipe to mimic them. They’re more like a cross between brioche and Hawaiian rolls. But no matter, they’re absolutely delicious! And though there’s both sugar and pineapple juice in the recipe, the rolls aren’t overly sweet, but the pineapple juice makes them incredibly fragrant. Here’s the formula:

Overall Formula

%
Flour100.00%
Milk30.00%
Pineapple Juice35.00%
Eggs10.00%
Butter18.00%
Yeast0.50%
Salt1.00%
Sugar2.00%
Total Percentage196.50%

Don’t be fooled by what looks like a low-hydration dough (65% by adding the milk and pineapple juice together). If you count the eggs as water, they take hydration to 75%! But don’t worry the dough is actually pretty easy to work with.

Final Dough

AP Flour733g
Milk220g
Pineapple Juice256g
Eggs73g
Butter132g
Yeast4g
Salt7g
Sugar15g
Pineapple Juice256g
Optimal Dough Temp80ºF
Yield24 X 60g dinner rolls
14 X 103g burger buns

Notes

  1. Warm the milk – it should be around 80-90F
  2. Warm Pineapple juice – should be a little above room temp.
  3. 73g for eggs? I will actually scramble a couple of eggs and pour in what I need. I will use the rest mixed with a little milk for an egg wash.

Instructions

Mix. Once you have everything prepared, add all the ingredients to the mixer and mix until the dough is smooth. At this hydration, you won’t have much gluten development but that’s okay.

Bulk Fermentation. 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on ambient temp until just short of double.

Fold. Fold twice within the first hour. When folding make sure to stretch and fold until the dough no longer wants to be stretched.

Divide and Shape. Scale-out pieces as listed in the Final Dough table, roll into tight balls, then immediately transfer to a well-greased or parchment-covered baking sheet separated by about an inch or two depending on the size you’re making. Once all the balls have been shaped, gently press them out to 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-inch discs (smaller disc is for dinner rolls).

Final Fermentation. Allow discs to proof for 45 minutes to an hour. The discs should be a little puffy. Don’t worry if they touch and come together.

Bake. Just before baking, brush the dough with egg wash. Bake at 350ºF for 25-30 minutes until the rolls are deep, golden-brown.

Every time I make these, whether dinner rolls or burger buns, they’re a total hit! The whole house smells of butter and the sweetness of pineapples!

Baguettes Using Ken Forkish’ White Bread with Poolish Recipe

Last night, my wife told she was going to be attending a potluck dinner party this evening and asked me if I could bake something for her to bring. Of course, any excuse to bake bread is just fine by me so I told her I’d make baguettes. I was going to make my standard pointage en bac baguettes where I mix everything together then cold retard the bulk fermentation but decided instead to make poolish baguettes.

But I didn’t want to do my standard poolish baguettes where the poolish flour was only 25% of the total flour. I wanted to challenge myself a little. Then I remembered the white bread with poolish recipe from Ken Forkish’ Flour Water Salt Yeast book that uses 50% of the total flour for the poolish! That’s a challenging dough because it is SO easy to get the poolish wrong; that is, over-ferment it, as it calls for an overnight ferment at room temp. And as ambient temperatures vary wildly, I’ve had some real poolish fails in the past.

But luckily the weather is turning cooler and Ken’s requirement of a 65°-70°F temp is now possible. In fact, the temp in my house dropped even below 65°F overnight, so when I woke up this morning to check the poolish, it wasn’t yet ready. Whew! I could catch it at its peak!

To be honest, I hadn’t made baguettes with this dough yet. But at 75% hydration, I had a feeling this would be perfect dough for making baguettes! I wasn’t wrong. They turned out beautifully, with a crisp, golden crust, and a light, airy, and buttery crumb! Here’s the recipe!

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water75.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast0.43%

Poolish

Bread Flour 25% (96g)
AP Flour 75% (286g)
382g
Preferment Water382g
Yeast Weight0.3g

As I always recommend, make a little more poolish than you need because you will lose some weight due to processing and evaporation. In this case, I’d do 400g flour water each.

Final Dough

Bread Flour 25% (96g)
AP Flour 75% (286g)
382g
Water (~100°F)191g
Salt15g
Yeast3g
Preferment763g
Total Yield1353g
4 X 335g, 60cm loaves
6 X 225g, 40cm loaves

Make the Poolish. The night before you bake, make the poolish and place it in a cool place where you can maintain about 65°-70°F. At that temp, it’ll take about 10-12 hours to be ready. Just like with a levain, the poolish will be ready when it passes the float test. Visually the poolish should be a bit more than doubled, its top mottled with bubbles, and the top surface slightly domed.

Mix. Thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour the water around the edges of the poolish to help release it from its container. The poolish will then slip right out of its container. Add the poolish to the dry ingredients then mix thoroughly until you form a shaggy mass with no dry ingredients remaining.

Bulk Fermentation. 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on ambient temp. My kitchen was pretty cool this morning, and even though I put the dough in my oven with the light on and door slightly cracked, it still took 2 1/2 hours. Bulk fermentation is done when the dough has expanded 50%-75% its original size.

Ken Forkish has his dough go out to 2 1/2 to three times volume. But he has a VERY short final fermentation at 30 minutes. I prefer to take the dough only as far as 50% and having a longer final fermentation to let the dough recover from shaping.

Folding. Fold three times in the first hour after mixing at 20-minute intervals.

Divide and Preshape. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface, then gently tug it into a nice, even rectangle. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. For this recipe, scale each piece to 335g for 60cm loaves. Alternatively, you can make six 40cm loaves. Scale those out to 225g. If you have any leftover dough, just cut it into pieces and distribute to the pieces. Preshape the loaves into small logs by letter folding them, then rolling them up like a jelly roll. Rest the logs seam-side-up on a well-floured couche for 20-30 minutes or until the dough has relaxed.

Shape. Shape each piece into a baguette, then place each shaped loaf onto a well-floured couche for final fermentation.

Final Fermenation. 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hour, depending on ambient temp. As I mentioned above, my kitchen temp this morning was pretty cool, and it took and hour and a half for the loaves to be ready to bake. The loaves will be ready when you do the finger dent test and the hole fills in very slowly.

Bake. Bake at 480°F with steam for 15 minutes. Remove steaming container, reduce oven temp to 425°F, then bake another 15-20 minutes or until the crust becomes a deep, golden-brown. These really benefit from a full bake!

Recipe: Easy-Yeasty Pan Bread!

I know there’s this general obsession over sourdough this and sourdough that. And while making – and eating – fresh, sourdough bread is certainly satisfying, sometimes I get a real hankering for simple, yeasty bread. Plus, with my now very busy schedule that doesn’t permit me to bake nearly as much as I’d like, there are times when I just need the process to be absolutely straightforward. And I couldn’t think of an easier bread to make than simple, yeasty pan loaves!

I just pulled the loaves pictured above out of the oven about 20 minutes ago and the wonderful aroma of yeasty bread pervades my entire house! As with any bread, these take a few hours to prepare and bake, but the process is as straightforward as can be. These are perfect for those “work from home” days!

And the results! These have a light, thin, and crispy crust with a light, airy, and chewy crumb. Talk about a versatile bread! I just had some with butter and honey, but these make GREAT sandwiches!

Overall Formula

Bread Flour*100.00%
Water71.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast1.25%
I used a 70%/30% blend of King Arthur Bread flour (12.7% protein) and Azure Standard Ultra-Unifine Bread Flour (14.7% protein but it’s also high-extraction)

Final Dough

Flour933g
Water (~90ºF)663g
Salt19g
Yeast12g
Total Yield2 X 800g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp~80ºF

Initial Mix/Autolyse. In a large bowl or container (I use an 8qt Cambro), mix all of the flour and all but 50g of the water until no dry flour remains. Once mixed, let it rest for 30 minutes to autolyse.

Final Mix. Sprinkle the salt and yeast evenly over the top of the dough mass, then pour the reserved water over the salt and yeast. Using a squeezing motion, work the water, salt, and yeast into the dough until fully incorporated. The dough will still be a little shaggy but that’s okay.

For both bulk and final fermentation steps, I place the dough and loaves into an oven with a slightly cracked door. The oven light will provide a little heat that will maintain the 80ºF dough temp I want.

Bulk Fermentation. About 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the dough has expanded about 2 1/2 times in volume.

Normally, I recommend about 25% to 30% expansion. But we’re using a lot of yeast and it acts quickly and vigorously! Don’t worry, final fermentation is relatively short so we won’t be over-fermenting the dough.

Folding. Fold the dough 2 times in the first hour.

Divide and Preshape. Divide the dough into two 800g pieces. Shape into rounds, then let them rest for 15 minutes.

Shape. Shape tightly into logs that will fit into a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan. I use my batard shaping method that essentially creates an oval and I rely on the rising action to expand the dough in the pans. Once shaped, place each loaf into a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan.

Final Fermentation. 45 minutes.

Bake. Bake at 460ºF for 30 minutes. Use steam for the first 15 minutes. Brush with melted butter as soon as they’re out of the oven.

I told ya! This is as simple and straightforward as can be!

Recipe: 60% Durum Wheat Flour (Semolina) Ciabatta Sandwich Rolls

Ciabatt-ahhhhhhhh! Those pillows of airy goodness. I make basic ciabatta (just AP flour) almost as much as I make baguettes. They’re so light with a crispy crust. You can eat them plain, or with some butter, or dip them in good olive oil… Just puts a smile on my face. But despite loving to make them so much, I wanted to see what they’d be like with a flour blend.

Then it hit me that the other Italian bread I love to make is Pane di Altamura. That recipe uses an 80/20 Durum/AP Flour blend that’s absolutely delicious. So I decided to do a version of ciabatta that uses Durum wheat flour.

About Semolina…

Durum wheat ground up into flour is commonly called Semolina. But you can’t just use any semolina flour off the shelf as that is typically too coarse for making dough. You have to be sure that it’s ground fine to extra-fine. I get my Durum from Azure Standard. This is actually a high-extraction version of their Semolina that has a lot of the sharp bits of bran sifted out after milling. I use it for making bread and pasta!

Overall Formula

Flour
Semolina
AP Flour
100.00%
60%
40%
Water90.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast1.10%
193.10%

Final Dough

AP Flour377g
Semolina251g
Water565g
Salt13g
Yeast7g
Total Yield1212g
6 X ~200g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp80ºF

Initial Mix/Autolyse. Mix all the flour and all but 50g of the water together in a large bowl. Autolyse for an hour. Semolina is a very hard wheat and benefits from an autolyse.

Final Mix. Sprinkle the yeast and salt over the dough, then add the reserved water. Work the water, salt, and yeast into the dough until fully incorporated.

Bulk Fermentation. 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

NOTE: You’ll do two folds in the first hour, separated by 30 minutes.

First Folding. After 30 minutes, stretch and fold the dough using a wet hand. With a dough this wet, you need to be very gentle with the folding to ensure you don’t tear it while stretching. Stretch and fold until the dough no longer wants to be stretched.

Second Fold. Generously flour your work surface to prevent any sticking, then pour the dough out of your bowl and use your scraper if any dough sticks – you want to minimize tearing. Using quick movements, tug the dough from underneath into a rough rectangle. Then working in an N-S-E-W pattern, letter fold the dough by stretching a side, then pulling it over the dough mass. Once the pattern is complete, gently pat the dough down to flatten it, then repeat the letter folding pattern. If any side sticks, use your scraper to push flour underneath the dough. Once the second letter fold is complete, roll the dough onto the seams, then work it into a nice taut round. Transfer the round to a well-oiled bowl, seam-side-down. Allow the dough to expand about 50% of its original size after folding.

From this point on, the keyword for handling the dough is: gentle. Semolina flour-based dough is extremely delicate and will easily degas.

Divide and Shape. Slide the dough out onto a well-floured surface and gently tug it into a rough rectangle. Divide the dough into 200g pieces. You can then just tug the individual pieces into sandwich roll rectangles. Myself, I like to letter fold the pieces then using my fingertips, dimple the pieces and work them into sandwich roll rectangles. Once done with shaping a piece, transfer it to a well-floured couche or appropriate cloth for final fermentation.

Final Fermentation. 30-45 minutes. Rolls will be ready when they’re puffy and slightly billowy.

Bake. Transfer rolls to a baking sheet or transfer board, then dust lightly with flour. Bake at 460ºF for 15 minutes with steam. After 15 minutes, remove the steaming container, then bake until deep golden brown (about 10-15 minutes).

If Can Can, If No Can No Can

The title of this is a common Hawaiian pidgin phrase that basically means, if something’s possible, that’s great, if it’s not, then that’s okay too. In plainer terms, it means be flexible. It has been a useful thing to remember especially since I’ve gotten deep into bread-making. And admittedly, it was a hard lesson to learn. I used to totally obsess over the aesthetics of my bread. I wanted each and every loaf to fit an archetype – both inside and out – and I’d stress if it didn’t.

But bread dough is a living thing and it’s affected by all sorts of factors. And given that, working with forces you to be flexible. Look at ambient temperature for instance. When it’s warm – above 72°F – things happen fast. Dough action is significantly slower in cooler temps. But even if you adapt to different factors changing, there’s no guarantee that things will turn out as planned. You can certainly narrow the margin of error, but something will always be a little off.

Granted, as I’ve gained more and more experience, I make fewer mistakes, and quite frankly, the only person who notices an off outcome is usually me. But despite that, I’ve adjusted my thinking and usually just laugh at the little things that might happen.

For instance, with the loaves shown above, I actually tore the skin of the one on the left because I wasn’t paying attention when I preshaped the dough. And though I re-preshaped it after letting it rest a few minutes, I didn’t know how it would turn out in the end. And I was okay with that – If can can, no can no can… In the end it turned out fine. It spread out a little in the oven, but not severely to it was all good. But even if it did really collapse, it wasn’t going to end the world.

Not that I don’t fully let things go… I admit that I did have a concern because I inadvertently allowed bulk fermentation to go WAY longer than I normally do. Whereas I normally bulk ferment to about 25%-30% expansion, I let this dough go to over double because of a meeting. When I was done with the meeting, I saw how far it had gone and immediately went to preshape. I could tell that the dough was close to the edge of full-fermentation, so that tear got me a little worried that my dough wouldn’t have enough fuel for the long, cold final ferment.

When I pulled the loaves out of my fridge the next day, I took a whiff, and whew! They were sour-smelling; not in an off-putting way, but I knew that I had to bake them, lest they fall into a heap in my oven from over-fermenting. And alas, they turned out fine… If can can, if no can no can…

The Focus on Open Crumb IS SO DUMB!

Spend any time on most home-bakers online forums and you’ll be convinced that your bread has to have an open crumb – the more open and lacy the better. When I was really getting into making artisan bread, I strived for that as well, upping my hydration percentages beyond 90% and using high-gluten flour, and learning the dough development techniques to achieve an open crumb.

It was a great experience, but in the end, that’s not what I wanted out of my bread. Aesthetically it looked great and it tasted great on its own. But especially with boules and batards where I’d be cutting slices, the bread was totally impractical! Any spread like mayonnaise and mustard would ooze right through. They were great for dipping in fine olive oil and balsamic, but that’s about it.

With the pictures above, I wanted to show the normal crumb of the boules and batards that I make. Though they employ different kinds of flour, I’ve figured out the hydration and processing that will get me that kind of crumb consistently. You’ll notice that while there are some larger holes, in general, the crumb of each loaf is only moderately open. What’s important to me is making sure the bread is fully fermented and that the yeast action is consistent and even during baking. Ultimately what I’m after is a soft, moist, yet airy crumb that has substance, but isn’t dense.

You’ll see on closer inspection that there are in fact numerous very small holes. I get lots of oven spring, but not due to large holes but by small holes acting together to raise the bread. If I’ve done the right job in making sure my dough is fully fermented, I’m good with that and it’s what I personally prefer. Given that, let me say this: A super-open crumb is not the be-all, end-all to baking bread! It really boils down to a baker’s preference. But this has somehow become a thing in home baking circles.

To be fair, I can understand why there’s so much enthusiasm surrounding an open crumb. It’s just not that easy to achieve when you don’t have the experience. And really, that’s what it takes: experience. In order to achieve that kind of open crumb, there are so many interdependent factors involved; and no, it’s not just upping the hydration as so many people are wont to recommend. And the only way one can fully understand the various interdependencies is through practice and repetition. So when someone finally achieves an open crumb with their bread, it’s understandable that they’d be excited.

And speaking of the recommendation to increase hydration, I have to admit that it’s irritating to me when I read this when someone asks how to get a more open crumb because most of the time that’s all the person answering says. So many people just blurt out, “Just increase your hydration,” as a catch-all, and don’t consider the flour the asker is using. First, your flour has to be able to absorb the extra water, and second, your flour has to have a high enough protein content to maintain the dough structure with higher hydration. Otherwise, you may very well get an open crumb, but your loaf will expand out and not up during baking.

And even with higher protein content, there’s the dough development and handling techniques to achieve that open crumb. Then you also have to consider the size of the loaf. A larger format loaf is going to have a lot of weight that could affect the openness of the crumb significantly. Like I said, there are lots of interdependencies…

Captured from Tartine Bread

Tongue-in-cheek, I kind of blame Chad Robertson for this craze because I’m fairly sure his book, Tartine Bread, had a lot to do with people’s notions of what constitutes an ideal crumb. Look at the picture to the right that I captured from Tartine Bread. That crumb is aesthetically amazing (unless, of course, you have trypophobia). And while it looks delicious – and I’ve had Tartine bread and it tastes amazing – spread some honey on a slice of that. Just make sure you don’t lay the slice directly on your hand without a napkin. And butter? Fuhgeddaboutit!

While that style of crumb isn’t what I’m personally after, it’s what Chad wanted to achieve as a baker and that’s entirely his prerogative. He spent years in search of that and developing the technique to achieve that crumb consistently in all his different kinds of bread – and at high-production levels, no less! So kudos to him!

And kudos to others who want to achieve this. It’s just not for me. Unfortunately, I’ve been on forums where people are downright snooty about other folks’ crumb shots that are like mine. And worse yet, they’ll say things like, “It looks like your dough is underfermented,” or “You need to up the hydration of your dough.” In my case, all my loaves contain a significant portion of whole-grain or high-extraction flour, at least 25% and usually more, and unless I add vital wheat gluten – which I try to avoid – I will not get big holes. The best I can hope for is a crumb similar to the leftmost loaf in the pictures above.

I know I kind of went off here… But don’t feel bad about not getting a super-open crumb. Even if that’s what you’re ultimately after. What you really should be concerned about is ensuring that your dough is fully fermented. Get that down first. Then study your flour to see if it can handle a higher hydration rate. You’ll also then have to ensure that you’re thoroughly developing your dough. Like I said above, there are lots of interdependent factors.

My Baguette Dough Development Process

This morning, I was thinking about the several different types of techniques of baguettes that I make: Pointage en Bac, Baguettes de Tradition, Poolish, Levain, Poolish, and Sourdough, Sourdough and Yeast; not to mention varying the hydration and flour blends to achieve different textures. The baguettes pictured above are Poolish and Levain baguettes ala Tartine Bread. They’re a low hydration double preferment bread that produces a crunchy crust and a chewy crumb. My Baguettes de Tradition on the other hand create a light, crispy crust with a light, airy crumb.

In any case, I realized that I use two dough development techniques depending on the type of rising agent I use: One for yeasted and another for sourdough. So I thought I’d share them here so I could just link to them in my future baguette recipes as I’m tired of duplication.

Flour Type

People ask me what flour I use for making baguettes. Traditionally, baguettes are made with white flour. But unless I’m teaching a basic technique or introducing a new recipe, I invariably use a mix of different kinds of flour to affect different flavor profiles in my bread.

Sift Your Flour!

Whether or not you use a blend of different flour, you should always sift it before mixing. This will prevent large lumps from forming during the mixing process.

Yeasted Baguette Dough Processing

Mix. Mix all the ingredients together to form a shaggy mass. With my yeasted dough baguettes, I normally don’t do an autolyse.

Bulk Fermentation. 1 1/2 to 2 hours or 6-18 hours in the fridge. Bulk fermentation is finished when the dough has expanded about 50%.

Folding. Whether doing a cold bulk fermentation or not, stretch and fold the dough every 20 minutes in the first hour. By the third fold, the dough should be smooth and luxurious and will be highly extensible.


Levain Baguettes

Whether I’m making a double-preferment (both poolish and levain) or just a straight levain dough, I use the same process for both, which leans heavily on Chad Robertson’s dough development technique.

Initial Mix. Reserve 50g of the water and set it aside. In a large bowl, dissolve the preferments(s) into the remaining water to create a slurry. Add the slurry to the flour and mix until no dry ingredients are left and you’ve formed a shaggy mass. Cover and allow to rest 30-60 minutes.

Final Mix/Bassinage. Sprinkle the salt over the dough, then add the reserved water to the bowl. Work the salt and water thoroughly into the dough until all the water is absorbed and you can no longer feel any grittiness from the salt.

Bulk Fermentation. 3-4 hours @ room temp. Bulk fermentation is complete when the dough has expanded about 25%-30% in volume.

Folding. Fold up to 6 times every 30 minutes for 3 hours. That said, really feel the dough and check its extensibility before each folding session. This folding schedule is based on the Tartine method which calls for 6 folds over 3 hours. However, I’ve rarely gone past 4 folding sessions with the flour blends I use – they get strong real fast, even if I’m handling them gently!

Once you’ve built up dough strength, you can either proceed to shaping or pop the dough into the fridge for further flavor development from 8-18 hours.


Both Yeasted and Levain Baguettes

Divide and Pre-Shape. All the baguette recipes I post here either make 4 X 335g baguettes or 6 X 220g baguettes. Whichever you choose, divide the dough into pieces of that weight. Once divided, letter fold each piece by stretching one side, then folding it to the center, then stretch the other side and fold it over the body of the piece. Then roll the piece up like a jelly roll perpendicular to the folds, seal the seam, then place the piece seam-side-up on a well-floured couche.

Shape. I use Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s shaping technique. There are others out there, but this is the one I know. Feel free to use one with which you’re familiar.

No matter the shaping technique you use, bear in mind that shaping a baguette is not just rolling the dough into a long, skinny log. The first part of getting it into a cylindrical shape builds skin tension prior to rolling it out. This is absolutely critical to achieve ears on your cuts when you score! I will submit that this particular step is the most important step of shaping.

Final Fermentation: Depending on the ambient temp of your kitchen, final fermentation can take anywhere from 30 minutes for yeasted baguettes to 2 hours for levain baguettes. In either case, to determine when the loaves are ready for the oven, poke a floured or wet finger about a half to three-quarters of an inch into a loaf, then pull your finger back quickly. Observe the rate at which the indentation comes back. If it doesn’t come back at all, pop the loaves into the oven immediately – you’re extremely close to over-fermenting the dough. If it comes back quickly, and almost fills the indentation back up, give it a bit more time. If it comes back quickly, but immediately slows down, then you’re ready to bake!

Scoring. Scoring should be done in the middle third of the loaf, using fairly straight lines that overlap each other by about a third. The lame or scoring blade should be at an extreme angle to create a flap which will in turn bake into an ear as seen in the picture below.

Don’t cut across the loaf! This will only create diagonal slashes!

Though Chef Markus mentions overlapping the scores, he doesn’t discuss why you need to do it. If you don’t overlap the scores, your baguettes will indeed open at the scoring sites, but they’ll come out as bulges and remain narrow where the cuts didn’t overlap, so the sides of your baguettes will be wavy, not straight.

Baking. Bake at 475ºF with steam for 12-15 minutes or until the loaves start taking on color. Vent the steam and remove your steaming container, then bake for 12-15 minutes at 425ºF or until the loaves turn a nice, deep, golden-brown.

Alternative Baking Method. Bake at 400ºF for 20 minutes with steam. Remove the steaming container, then finish baking at 425ºF for 25-30 minutes. I know it sounds backward, but it actually works great!

Baguettes based on the Tartine Bread recipe.

Poilane-Style Pain au Levain Using Double-Fed Levain

I’ve made no secret that much of what I bake is heavily inspired by traditional and ancient French and Italian bread. There’s a certain romance to it all and as a hopeless romantic, making these kinds of bread have a deep appeal.

But despite my love of ancient bread, my dough development techniques are all influenced and inspired by studying modern baking masters such as Markus Farbinger (Il de Pain, Knysna, South Africa), Jeffrey Hamelman (Director of Baking, King Arthur), Chad Robertson (Tartine Bakery, San Francisco), Carol Fields (Author of “The Italian Baker”), Nancy Silverton (Founder, La Brea Bakery, Chef & Restauranteur, L.A.), and Paul Barker (Cinnamon Square Bakery, UK)… which brings me to this particular recipe.

Asked to think about French bread and most people will immediately think of baguettes or the thicker long loaves labeled “French Bread” in the grocery. Long loaves made of white flour seem to have become synonymous with the country. But the baguette, while much loved (if you read this blog, you know how much I love to make baguettes), isn’t that old – at least relative to the traditional bread – having only been introduced in the early 20th century when bakers started using brewers yeast to leaven their bread. Before that, like hundreds of years before, naturally leavened bread ruled.

This particular bread really is a melding of the ancient and modern. While it’s a pure levain bread I use what Chad Robertson calls a young levain that provides a very light tartness as opposed to being strongly sour, which explains why I feed the levain twice in one a day prior to mixing (plus it’s highly active to give a good rise). The base of my starter uses employs a yeast-water culture I learned from Paul Barker’s Naturally Fermented Bread. And the recipe leans heavily on Hamelman’s Pain au Levain in Bread. Bread is so cool…

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water65.00%
(With 50ml optional bassinage 68%)
Salt2.00%
Bassinage is optional. But I like to add a bit of water to the autolysed dough as it helps dissolve the salt.

Levain

Mature Starter25g
Flour150g
Preferment150g
Required for Recipe229g

Final Dough

Flour
I use:
40% unbleached bread or high-extraction flour
30% whole grain flour (whole wheat, Kamut, red fife)
30% unbleached AP flour
949g
Water (warm)617g
Salt22g
Levain229g
Yield~1817g
2 X 900g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp82ºF

Build the Levain

With this levain build, there’s no discard, save for what’s leftover from the build which you can pop into the fridge and use later. The thing about this levain is that it’s young and the way it’s prepared promotes yeast growth over bacterial growth. Traditional French sourdough has a tang but is not sour, so we focus on the yeast with this kind of levain.

Initial Levain Build. Add 25g mature starter (I just take it directly from the culture in my fridge) and add it to 50g flour and warm water, respectively. Allow doubling in volume with a slightly domed top and lots of bubbles. The build’s ready when it passes the float test – about 3-4 hours.

Second Levain Build. Add 75g of each flour and warm water to the levain. Mix thoroughly and let ferment. It should be ready in just a couple of hours – or even less. The levain is ready when it passes the float test.


If you’re working from home: Timing-wise, you could start the build early in the morning and mix before mid-afternoon.

If you have to go into the office: Do the first build immediately before leaving for work and leave it in a cool place. By the time you come home, the levain will have peaked and collapsed – that’s okay, but it’ll be pretty sour. You can discard a bit of if you don’t want the bread to be too sour. I myself just keep it all. But to help counteract the sourness, I use 100g of each flour and water. You’ll mix by early evening then shape right before bed. Then you can bake as soon as you get up!


Make the Dough

Initial Mix/Autolyse. If you’re using a flour blend, mix the flour until well-combined. In a separate bowl, measure out the levain you’ll need, and dump in all the water. Dissolve the levain until you have a thin slurry. Pour the slurry into the flour, then mix until no dry ingredients remain. Rest the mix for 30-45 minutes.

Final Mix/Bassinage. Sprinkle the salt over the dough, then add the 50ml of water. Work the salt and water into the dough until thoroughly combined.

Bulk Fermentation. About 2 1/2 – 3 hours, or until dough has risen to 50% of its original volume.

Folding. Fold twice at 50-minute intervals.

Shape. There’s no preshape with this bread! Gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then divide into 900g pieces. Shape the pieces into tight rounds then place them into linen-lined baskets.

Final Fermentation. 1 1/2 – 2 hours @ room temp, or pop into the fridge for 6-12 hours.

Bake. Bake at 440ºF 45-50 minutes. Bake with steam for the first 20 minutes, then finish the bake with a dry oven.

Coming Clean…

Though I provided a recipe here, it’s really meant as a guide to enable you to freestyle later which sort of explains why I didn’t take much space with the more verbose explanations I usually provide. In fact, with the loaves at the top of the article, though I did measure out the ingredients so I could prove out the formula, I freestyled the process.

I had to because now that I’m going into the office three days a week, my baking time is limited. With the levain build, I actually did start the first build before I left for the office. And though I stored it in the coolest part of my house, by the time I got home, it had peaked and collapsed into a pleasingly sour mass. But I just fed it – and my instinct told me to use a higher ratio of flour and water and not just do a 1:1:1 so I probably used a 1:3:3 – and the microbe density was so high at that point that the second build was ready in just over two hours!

That’s the whole point of calling this a “Poilane-style” bread. At the famous Poilane Bakery in Paris, bakers make their famous miche relying purely on instinct. They go through a year and a half apprenticeship to learn the technique so well that they can pretty much eyeball the whole process. For me, baking by pure instinct is the ultimate expression of being a bread baker, but also the most pure form of historical expression, if you will.

Think about it. Back in ancient times, they didn’t have digital scales and temperature gauges. Bakers just relied on their senses. They took a little bit of this, a little bit of that and they just instinctively knew when to move on to the next step. So if and when you make this bread, pay attention to the look, feel and smell of the dough as you develop it. Then the succeeding times you bake, rely less and less on the recipe. You’ll actually be pleasantly surprised at how much you retain.

Batard Using Whole Wheat Poolish (Updated)

The loaf above just came out of the oven about 15 minutes ago as I write this recipe! This was a free-form batard where I didn’t use a banneton and proofed on a couche!

I love making bread from a poolish – or sponge – before I go to bed, then make a couple of loaves the next day. With this recipe, I’m using 25% fine-ground white whole wheat flour. You can use red whole wheat as well, but just make sure it’s fine-ground or extra-fine ground.

I will be upfront: It’s going to take a bit of patience, especially after mixing the final dough because there’s very little yeast used in total (I kind of wanted to simulate sourdough dough development). But your patience will be rewarded with a slightly sour bread with a wonderful, light, chewy texture. I did my folds in between meetings today! And the bulk ferment took about 5 hours. So yeah… it takes patience. Without further ado, let’s get to the recipe!

Overall Formula

Bread Flour75%
Whole Wheat Flour25%
Water75%
Salt1.5%
Yeast (Instant)0.075%

Poolish

Fine- / Extra-Fine-Ground Whole Wheat Flour250g
Water250g
Yeast (Instant)0.25g
Since the recipe calls for 500g of poolish, it’ll be a good idea to make more than what you need like 520g.

Final Dough

Bread Flour750g
Water500g
Salt15g
Yeast (instant)0.5g
Poolish500g

Make the Poolish

Just-mixed poolish, ready for a long nap.

The evening before you bake, in a large bowl, mix up the ingredients for the poolish until everything’s incorporated. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, making sure it vents to release the gases. Let it sit and do its magic for 12-16 hours. If your kitchen is really warm like mine, 12 hours is the max! But please do not rely on time! What you’re looking for is the poolish being bubbly and slightly domed on top. It should pass the float test (see picture below).

Tip: Alternatively, you can pop the poolish into your fridge and let it develop for 18 to 24 hours. I’ve found that this actually mellows the sourness a bit, but introduces some interesting nutty and earthy notes. NOTE that if you decide to do this, let your poolish “wake up” for an hour at room temp before doing the final mix.

Poolish is ready and passes the float test.

The Next Day ~ Mix and Bulk Ferment

Measure the temperature of your flour. We’re after around 75-80-degrees of final dough temperature. Use the following table to determine the temp of your water:

Flour TempWater Temp
55110
60100
6590
7080
7570
8060
8550

Add the rest of the water, salt, and yeast to the bowl with the poolish and mix thoroughly with a dough whisk or fork until the poolish is fully dissolved. Once combined, add the bread flour in batches.

Using a Danish dough whisk makes quick work of bringing ingredients together. That was probably one of the best investments I made for baking bread. By the way, that’s a 24″ wide mixing bowl. I prefer mixing in a huge bowl like that because it makes mixing by hand much easier as I don’t have to worry about ingredients popping out of the bowl!

Form the dough into a rough ball and let it rest in the bowl for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, fold the dough, then turn it over to rest on the folds. From there, fold the dough every 30 minutes for the next 2 hours or until you feel the dough is strong and extensible (hint: do the windowpane test to see if it is developed enough). Other than the windowpane test, I know the dough has developed enough strength if I can take 1/4 of the dough ball and stretch it up about a foot without it tearing. But bear in mind that as you are using whole wheat flour, you need to be gentle when handling the dough!

I use a 6-liter Cambro container for bulk fermentation.

Finally, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 2 hours or until it has expanded about 25% to 30% in volume with a nicely domed top. You may not see bubbles on top, but that’s okay. Give your container a gentle shake. The dough should be jiggly, which means there are air bubbles in the dough, which is what you want! If you don’t see much growth, and the dough’s not very billowy, just give it more time.*

Tip: Turn on your oven to 475 before dividing and shaping. If you’re cooking on a stone, make sure it’s placed on the middle rack and you also place a metal baking pan (I use a sheet pan) on the bottom rack. You’ll be pouring a cup of hot water into the pan to create steam.

If you’re using a Dutch oven, place it in the oven now so it’s hot when you’re ready to bake. A steam source isn’t necessary for the Dutch oven since the baking bread will provide enough steam in the enclosed chamber.

*Notice that I didn’t say wait until doubled. The whole doubling in size that you often see is a little misleading. Most recipes, even some of my early recipes, give that as a telltale. But to be honest, if you let your dough fully double or even triple in size, chances are that you’ll end up on, or close to the very end of the fermentation cycle where the yeast and microbes have no fuel left for the final fermentation. This is why I mentioned inspecting the dough to see if it’s jiggly (which means there are air bubbles in it). I’ve learned to rarely let the dough go over 50% expansion in volume unless I will be shortening the final proof.

Typically, you’ll see a double in size telltale with quick bread, or bread that is baked within a few hours. Those typically have a fairly short final fermentation. But with this particular bread, we’re only using a very small amount of yeast, so dough development is much more akin to sourdough as the rising process is much slower.

Divide and Shape

This is a fairly high-hydration dough at 75%. It’s not impossible to work, but it can be a bit challenging, especially if you haven’t worked with dough at this hydration rate. Anyway, pour your dough out from the bowl and divide it into two equal pieces. With this recipe, they should weigh ~880 grams each. Preshape into rounds.

I learned how to pre-shape and shape high-hydration dough with the following video:

I use a different batard shaping method that can be viewed here.

Final Proof

Once you’re done shaping, place the dough in an appropriate proofing container (banneton, wicker basket, etc.). Proof the dough for an hour or two. But check it after a half-hour with the finger dent test. On especially warm days, my dough proofs quickly.

Tip: For smaller batards, I got some french fry baskets to use as bannetons that work great. I also did an 18-hour proof in my mini-fridge, set to about 40-degrees to do a slow proof. Frankly, if you have room in your fridge (or a second fridge to use as a dough retarder like I do), I’d recommend doing a slow, chilled, final ferment. Cold dough is much easier to slash and also, even more importantly, cold dough releases steam into the bread for a longer time, promoting better oven spring.

Alternatively, you can shape these into logs, and instead of placing the dough into bannetons, place them into loaf pans. This recipe makes excellent sandwich bread!

Bake

Once proofed, place the dough on a peel or appropriate device to slide onto your stone that has been liberally sprinkled with cornmeal or flour if you don’t have cornmeal. Don’t be shy about it! Your dough has got to slide off the peel easily. 🙂 But before you place the dough into the oven, score it with a super-sharp knife or a lame. Slide the dough onto your stone. Immediately pour the cup of hot water into the baking pan below. Careful of the steam that will rise!

If you’re using a Dutch oven, remove the Dutch oven from the oven and place it on a heat-safe surface. Remove the cover, then place your dough directly into the pot. Cover and place back into the oven.

Bake at 460 for 40 minutes or until the crust achieves the classic tri-color of a deep burnished brown, golden in the cut groove, and blackened at the tips of the ear. Remove the baking pan from the oven after 20 minutes. If you’re using a Dutch oven, remove the lid after 20 minutes and bake open for the last 10 minutes.

That’s it! Enjoy!