Recipe: Baguettes de Tradition

The way I learned to make baguettes was from Master Chef Markus Farbinger, who uses a slow rise or pointage en bac method. It is a straight dough, but bulk fermented and retarded overnight. This allows the amino acids and lacto- and acetobacillus bacteria to develop, while retarding the activity of the yeast. The results, as shown in the picture to the left, are pretty magnificent.

But I learned another technique called Baguettes de Tradition from Jeffery Hamelman’s book, “Bread” that he learned from Japanese bakers. This is a straight dough that differs rather significantly from slow-rise baguettes. First of all, these baguettes are baked in just a few hours from the final mix, so you’re working with room-temperature dough. Second, where I would normally use an 11.7% protein AP flour mixed with about a third high-extraction flour, this recipe calls for 100% bread (strong) flour. And finally, this is a wetter dough than what I’m used to using at 76% hydration.

As Hamelman puts it: “…a baker could be excused for concluding that the dumpster and not the belly is the destination for the bread.” This is because mixing is done gently, so after mixing – even using a stand mixer – there’s virtually no gluten development! The dough just comes apart. But with the folding schedule, the gluten develops quickly, and by the last fold, the dough is luxuriously smooth and supple – and strong.

Chef Hamelman warns that this is a challenging bread and certainly not one for beginners. I can attest to this as the dough at this hydration using pure bread flour is tacky and will easily stick – especially since you’re handling a room temperature dough. So keep your hands floured when shaping and use quick motions!

But the end result is pretty fabulous. You will notice right away when the loaves come out of the oven, that you will not get pronounced ears. This is because with these particular baguettes, you minimize the creation of a skin during shaping. The crumb is significantly different from my other baguettes in that there were not many huge voids. But that could be more of a function of how I handled them during shaping. But in spite of that, the texture of the crumb is magnificent, redolent with numerous pockets.

Overall Formula

IngredientBakers %
Bread Flour100%
Water76%
Salt1.8%
Yeast.75%
Total178.55%

Final Dough

Flour769
Water585
Salt14
Yeast6
Total Yield4 X 340g pieces
Optimal Dough Temp76°F

Especially with this recipe, before you get started, I highly recommend sifting your flour to avoid creating lumps which are a pain to get out, especially if you’re mixing by hand.

Mix. Combine flour, salt, yeast in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly until all the dry ingredients are well incorporated. Whether or not you use a stand mixer, gradually add the water until you form a shaggy mass, then stop. I know that it might not make any sense, but believe me, the end result will be pretty amazing!

The dough is a shaggy mass after the initial mix

Bulk Fermentation. 1.5 to 2.5 hours (could be shorter) depending on the ambient temp of your kitchen. I know it’s a wide margin, but on hot days, things will happen quickly! Do not take bulk fermentation out too far, otherwise, you will shorten the final fermentation, and a lot of the final magic of creating nice holes happens there. I recommend 50%-75% volume expansion.

Right before the second fold. The dough has already started puffing up and is well-domed at the top!

Folding. During the first hour, gently stretch and fold the dough at 20, 40, and 60 minutes, being careful not to degas the dough too much. For each folding session, make sure to stretch the dough to its extent without tearing it and feel the tension and tenacity build up in the dough – eventually, it will fight you and not want to be stretched. When you’ve finished folding, turn the dough onto the seams. By the end of the third fold, you will have a very luxurious and supple dough! I never cease to be amazed by the transformation, plus the gentle, but frequent folding in the first hour really helps build the gas-retention properties of the dough. As such, I use this folding technique for all the baguettes I make!

Pro Tip: Wet your folding hand often!

By the end of the third fold, the dough is super-strong and smooth, with proonounced bubbles inside. This picture was taken about a minute after I turned it over on its folds to show how well it holds together.

Divide and Shape. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (for this recipe, they’ll be 340g). Gently letter fold each piece, pulling one side over two-thirds of the dough, then repeating that on the other side. Roll against the seam like a jelly roll, seal the seam, then place seam-side-up on a well-floured couche. Let rest for 15-30 minutes ensuring the dough has sufficiently relaxed before shaping. Shape into baguettes then transfer back to the couch for final fermentation.

For pre-shaping and shaping tips, see My Baguette Dough Development Process.

Final Fermentation. 30-90 minutes depending on ambient temp. No matter how gentle you are, shaping a baguette is a bit of a violent affair on the dough. This is why you want to leave as much room for final fermentation to let the dough recover from the shaping process. Use the poke test at about 30 minutes to see how fast the dough pops back up. If it’s real quick and leaves no mark, then it’s not ready. Check it after 15 minutes to see how things are progressing. It’s a real feel thing with baguettes!

After final fermentation, baguette loaves should be puffy. Note that the skin on these is very delicate so scoring must be quick and decisive. You cannot pause the blade.

Bake. Bake at 475°F with steam for 15 minutes. Remove the steaming container, then bake at 425°F with convection (if you have it) for 15-20 minutes. If you don’t have a convection setting, finish the bake at 435°F. When you remove the loaves from the oven, check how they weigh in your hands. They should feel lighter than they look and the crust should not be soft. It will soften a bit later but fresh out of the oven, it should be firm and a bit crackly. If you feel they still have a little mass or if the crust is soft, pop them back into the oven for a few minutes.

Notes

  • Though I provided specific ingredient amounts in the table above, I always work backwards in figuring out how much of the ingredients I need. For instance, for my oven, my standard batch is 4 baguettes scaled out to 335g apiece. So I know I’ll need 1340g of dough. I always add a fudge factor of about 1% due to loss during processing, so I’ll up that to 1350g. Given that, I can easily calculate the flour I’ll need by dividing the total yield of 1310g by the total of the percentages – in our case here it’s 178.55%. So 1310 / 178.55% = 734g of flour. From there, I can just use the ingredient percentages to figure out the amounts for the rest of the ingredients.
  • As far as scaling out the pieces is concerned, officially, a baguette should be 60 cm in length and weigh 250 grams. I’ve found through experimentation that I can get there if I scale the baguettes to 335 grams. However, I myself prefer a little bit wider baguette, so I scale my dough out to 340 grams. But as a rule of thumb, I use a factor of 5.5 or 5.6 and multiply that by the length of the baguette I want to make. This factor is basically dough weight/centimeter. 40cm demi baguettes typically scale out to 220g.
  • As with any high-hydration white flour dough, this dough is tacky! I can’t stress enough the quick, definitive movements I had to make to work with this dough. I also had to make sure that during shaping I was dipping my hands in my pile of flour to prevent sticking.

Roasted Garlic Rosemary and Cheese Bread

There’s something ethereal about biting into a slice of garlicky, herbacious bread. But add a sharp cheese like Asiago or Parmesano Reggiano, and the bread goes to another level! This is a bread that I don’t make too often simply because it’s an incredibly caloric bread. My family requests it quite a bit, but I usually end up making my Garlic-Rosemary sourdough bread and citing health reasons.

This bread, on the other hand, is made from a straight dough. I developed it more out of convenience and ease because it’s a same-day bake. However, I have made it with a levain made from 20% of the total flour.

No matter what you use to raise the bread, this is a great recipe for learning how to incorporate cheese into your bread. When I first made it, I used nothing but shredded cheese. Unfortunately, cheese melts, which means it liquifies! I’ve had a few collapsed loaves from only using shredded cheese. But I’ve learned to use a combination of shreds and predominantly chunks. Even with chunks, the cheese will melt, but it will melt in pockets rather than shreds that will melt into the dough.

A Note on Ingredients

For the cheese, I use a combination of Asiago and Parmesano Reggiano cheeses. The cubes are folded into the dough. Depending on my mood, I use different shredded, sharp white cheeses such as Gruyere or Grana Padano Parmesan or a four cheese Italian blend that I sprinkle on top of the loaves during the last 10 minutes of the bake.

I only use very good extra virgin olive oil. There is a lot of shit olive oil on the market. Most California olive oils from independent producers are pretty good. It’s a bit of a crap shoot with Italian olive oil which I love. For Italian olive oils, I use oils produced by the Frantoi Cutera brand; specifically, their Segreto and Primo types. These oils can be pricey, but they’re really robust. I always have a bottle of one of these on hand. For Italian oil, though it’s not a guarantee, look for the “DOP” or “PDO” badge on the bottle. Also, check the bottling date. It should be less than a year old.

For California olive oil, I absolutely adore anything made by Sciabica Family California OIive Oil. I was first introduced to their oil at the annual Dominican Sisters Christmas Fair. Sciabica harvests, crushes and produces the olive oil for the sisters, and they also sell their own oil at the fair, which I bought and absolutely love! But you can get it online! You can order a 1.5L “oil in a box” for $36.00. They use flat rate shipping. For me, it was $5.00. So it’s high-quality but very affordable olive oil!

Let’s make some bread!

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water65.00%
Olive Oil5.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast1.00%
Garlic6.00%
Fresh Rosemary0.25%
Cheese (cubed)20.00%
Total Percentage199.25%

Final Dough

Yield: 4 X 700g loaves

Flour1,419.32
Water922.56
Olive Oil70.97
Salt28.39
Yeast14.19
Garlic85.16
Rosemary3.55
Cheese283.86
Total Dough Weight~2828g
Yield4 X 700g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp76°-78°F

Prep the Garlic. Peel and measure out the garlic you’ll need (I buy peeled, fresh garlic from my local produce store). If you’re over a few grams, it’s not a big deal. Place the garlic on a piece of foil, and drizzle a little olive oil to coat the cloves. Wrap the garlic in the foil, then roast it for 35-40 minutes at 400°F. Set aside and let cool for at least a half hour before mixing the dough.

Prep the Rosemary. You can use dried rosemary, but there is nothing like the aroma and flavor of the oils from fresh rosemary. Though I listed 0.25%, you can use more or less. I actually use a little more than called for.

Prep the Cheese. For the chunks, I like to use a combination of Asiago and Parmesano Reggiano. Cut the cheese into 1/2″ – 3/4″ cubes.

Mixing. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast together until fully combined. Gradually add the water. When the ingredients just start coming together, add the olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, then mix until all the ingredients are fully combined with moderate gluten development. You do not want to knead this dough!

If you use a mixer, mix only on low speed, just to bring the ingedients together. If you find a lot sticking to the sides, go to the second speed for a few seconds, then go back to the lowest speed.

Bulk Fermentation: 1 1/2 – 2 hours until almost doubled.

Incorporate the cheese and folds. After mixing, let the dough rest for 30 minutes to get fermentation started. Spread the cheese cubes evenly over the surface of the dough and press them into it. The dough will be a little puffy even after 30 minutes. Once you have all the cheese pressed into the dough, take the dough by the long end, stretch it up and fold it back about 2/3 over the dough. Turn your container around, then do the same on the other side. Turn the container 90° then repeat the letterfolding process. Make sure to give the dough a healthy stretch without tearing it! Roll the dough onto the seams. Rest another 30 minutes then repeat the process.

Lamination. After another 30 minutes, you’re going to laminate the dough on a board. It’s basically the same thing as the folds in the container, but stretching it a bit more as the dough should be more extensible by then. Lightly flour your board so the dough doesn’t stick, tug the dough into a rectangle, then stretch and letter fold the dough. Be VERY gentle with this to avoid tearing, but give it a good stretch. There will be a little tearing due to the cheese chunks, but don’t pull too quickly or violently. Once you’ve folded over all four sides, roll it over onto its seams then form it into a ball. You could try using your bench scraper, but it’s actually easier to do with your hands. Return the dough to your container seams-side-down then let the dough rise for another 30 minutes or until it has about doubled.

Divide and shape. Divide into four equal pieces. Ideally, based on the formula, the pieces would be 700g. But… sometimes I use a little more garlic or cheese, so I scale out to four equal pieces. Once scaled, pre-shape into rounds, being careful not to let the cheese tear the skin (lightly dust the tops with a little flour to help with this). Bench rest for 15-20 minutes, then shape into batards or rounds.

Final fermentation. 30-45 minutes. By now the yeast will have really propagated, so this final rise will be fairly quick. Just do a poke test to see how the loaves are doing.

Bake. Bake at 500°F for 15 minutes with steam, then 30 minutes at 435°F. 10 minutes before the bake is done, sprinkle a healthy amount of shredded cheese over the top of the loaves.

If you bake on a stone, I highly recommend lining it with parchment paper as the cheese will ooze out of the loaves – which is a good thing. It will prevent your board from staining.

If You Want to Use a Sourdough Starter

I’ve made this with sourdough starter as well. The only difference in the development is that things go quite a bit slower. The mixing and initial folding stays the same, but bulk fermentation will take longer to get the dough to double, and final ferment can take a couple of hours at room temp. You can also pop the loaves in the fridge overnight.

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water65.00%
Olive Oil5.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast1.00%
Garlic6.00%
Rosemary0.25%
Cheese20.00%
Total Percentage199.25%

Levain

Preferment Flour %*20%
Hydration %100%
Flour283.86
Water283.86

As I always state, build up a levain that’s more that what you need, so in this case, make a 600g 100% hydration starter.

Final Dough: Yield 4 X 700g loaves

Flour1,135.46
Water638.70
Olive Oil70.97
Salt28.39
Yeast14.19
Garlic85.16
Rosemary3.55
Cheese283.86
Preferment567.73
Total Dough Weight2,828.00
Total Flour1,419.32
Total Water922.56

My Master Pizza Dough

Za’atar Flatbread

Though I haven’t ever posted anything about pizza dough, I actually make pizza or flatbread a couple of times a month. I just haven’t posted anything about it because I’ve been working on my formulation as well as my dough development technique. But I finally developed a formula and method that I’ve been using the past few times I’ve made pizza and as I’m getting consistent results, I thought I’d share it.

This dough may not be for everyone, especially those who like a thin, crusty crust. I like a crust that’s similar to baguettes: A crispy exterior and a chewy, toothy crumb. If you like a crust like that, this dough will fulfill that!

One thing I love about this particular dough is that it’s highly extensible due to the olive oil. But what I discovered is that you can’t add the olive oil too early as it inhibits gluten formation (I actually had to do some research on that). So the olive oil is always added last, after the dough has been worked a bit.

Contributing to the dough’s extensibility is the use of a stiff biga. But it also lends a very nice, slightly sour flavor profile from the long, slow fermentation. That, combined with a cold final fermentation makes this dough very tasty! Let’s get to the formula!

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water68% – 70.00%
Salt1.80%
Yeast1.30%
Olive Oil5.00%
Total Percentage178.10%

Biga

Preferment Flour % of Total17%
Hydration %60%
Preferment Yeast %0.20%

Final Dough

Flour430
Water299
Salt9
Yeast7
Olive Oil26
Biga138
Yield909.00 / 2 X 450g pieces
Total Flour510.39
Total Water357.27

For both the biga and the final dough, I like using a high-protein flour. Something in the range of 14-17% protein content. You can use King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill bread flour and add a bit of vital wheat gluten to get you over the 14% mark. I wrote an article on upping the protein percentage in your dough using vital wheat gluten that you can use as a reference.

Biga. As I make a lot of Italian bread, I usually have a couple of different biga formulations in my fridge, so when I need some, I just scale out what I need for a particular bake. For this, you want to make a 60% hydration biga. Most folks won’t have a 60% biga on hand, so you should make it the day before you mix. So for this recipe, take 100 grams of high-protein flour, 60 grams of water and a half-gram of yeast. Mix it all together then form it into a ball. Place it into a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic. Let it begin to ferment at room temp for an hour, then pop it into the fridge. It will be ready when the surface is riddled with holes and the center is ever-so-slightly recessed.

While I recommend using a mixer to mix, you can do this by hand. It’s just a little harder.

Mix. Measure out the water to 68% (the final dough indicates what you’ll need for 68%). Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl except for the biga and the olive oil. Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together. As the ingredients start coming together, add the biga in chunks, then mix until fairly smooth. Once everything has been incorporated, the dough should be sturdy, but still pliable. If it seems a little dry and stiff, add a few grams of water to correct the hydration. Work the dough a little to start developing the gluten, then once you’ve got some gluten development, add the olive oil. At this point, I usually squeeze the olive oil into the dough with my hands. To use the mixer would mean to mix at a higher speed, and I don’t want to tear the gluten strands to incorporate the oil.

Bulk Fermentation. 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled. It was 83°F in my kitchen yesterday when I made the dough and the dough doubled in 45 minutes! So in warm weather, keep an eye your dough!

Folding. If you mixed by hand, you can optionally fold after an hour. But I never fold if I use a mixer. I get good enough gluten development with it.

Divide and Shape. Scale the dough into 450g pieces. These will be big enough for a 16″ peel. If you want smaller pieces, then just half the halves again. Form the pieces into rounds (it’s not important to form a super-taut skin), then place on a floured surface, seam-side-down. If you plan to bake them the same day, let the balls rest for 20-30 minutes then they’ll be ready to press out or thrown. Otherwise, sprinkle the tops with flour, then wrap each piece individually with plastic then place them in the fridge. Alternatively, you can place the pieces unwrapped in a sealable container. Store in the fridge for up to 24 hours. That said, with this amount of yeast in the final dough, I’ve had the most success with a 12-hour final ferment. If you rested your rounds in the fridge, allow them rest at room temp for an hour before baking and shaping into flats.

Note: If you want do an even longer cold fermentation, use 25%-50% of the prescribed yeast. Depending on how cold your fridge is, you could take a two or three days.

To shape, press the ball into a flat circle or a rough oval if making flatbread. Stretch the dough with both hands on the backs of your knuckles, rotating often to ensure an even thickness. As the dough thins, it will tear, so be careful not to tear it! These particular dough balls will make 16″ pizzas. Once finished shaping, place on a peel that has been well-dusted with semolina or coarse-grind cornmeal (my preference), then add toppings.

There’s technically no final fermentation step unless you count the bench rest after shaping into rounds or resting in the fridge. .

Bake. This is where it kinds of gets tricky. And as much as I’d like to say you can bake your pizza or flatbread on baking trays, you get the best results with a stone or steel. Even though you can’t get the high 700° temps of a wood-burning oven, you can still get pretty good results. So bake at 500°F dry for 10-12 minutes. The crust will be golden brown.

Ciabatta with Biga

Like the humble baguette, a ciabatta is the model of simplicity when it comes to its ingredients. But also like the baguette, if you don’t bring your A-game to this bake, it’ll bite you in the ass! The dough is so wet that you have to use quick movements when working with it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up with my hands covered with dough (more like batter). I don’t want to discourage anyone from making this, but just be prepared.

Speaking of preparation, I’ve adapted this recipe from a few sources, but mainly from what I learned from Carol Fields’ book, “The Italian Baker” and her Ciabatta Polesana, which she in turn adapted from former race driver Arnaldo Cavallari who quit racing and started baking the flour from his family’s mill. In her recipe, she recommends using high-gluten flour. I’m not sure just how high of protein content she was talking about, but the high-protein flour I use is 17% protein. At 88% hydration, it’s like working a regular dough. So I upped my hydration to 93% when using this flour to get it to a looser consistency. But I do recommend bread flour or a mix of bread and AP flour at this hydration.

Ms. Fields also recommend using a mixer. I usually use one if I’m making a larger batch of ciabatta. But when I’m just whipping up a couple of loaves, I just mix by hand. But as I often recommend, a Danish dough whisk really comes in handy. That said, let’s get to the formulas!

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water88.00%
Salt1.80%
Yeast0.75%
Total Percentage190.55%

Biga

Make a 75% hydration biga from 35% of the flour you’ll need (we’ll get into that in just a bit). Whatever that weight comes out to, make a bit more than what you calculate. For this particular recipe, our yield will be 2 X 500g loaves and I always add a percent or two for process loss, so about 1010g total dough weight. The biga formula is as follows:

Preferment Flour % of Total35%
Hydration %75%
Preferment Flour Weight185.52
Preferment Water139.14
Preferment Required325

As the table above shows, to make the total dough weight, we need 325g of biga. I made 350g and just measured out what I needed the next day.

To figure out how much total flour you’ll need for ANY recipe, take your target dough weight (this recipe is 1010g) and divide that by the total percentage (in this case 190.55% or 1.9055). That will give you about 530g. So, for the biga, you’ll need about 185g of flour as that is 35% of the total flour.

Final Dough

Flour345
Water327
Salt10
Yeast4
Biga325
Total Yield1,010.00
Total Flour530.04
Total Water466.44

Biga. The night before, mix the flour, yeast, and water you’ll need for the biga. Form into a ball, cover with plastic and let it rest. The next morning, it should be covered with bubbles and slightly domed. For my kitchen, it took about 10 hours to get to this state. It will be shorter in warm weather and longer in cold weather. Carol Fields recommends putting the biga in the fridge after an hour. But be forewarned that it will take 18-24 hours to get to the proper state. This is NOT a bad thing as it will develop the flavors of the organic acids.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix biga, yeast and water. Break up the biga (it will not completely dissolve. Add the flour, then sprinkle the salt over the flour. Mix until well incorporated and get the mixture to be as smooth as possible. Adjust hydration so that the dough is loose, but not quite a batter.

Bulk Fermentation. Approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hour.

Folding. After mixing, let the dough rest for 20 minutes then stretch and fold the dough.

Be sure with your folding that you do not tear the dough! However, do plenty of stretch and folds and feel the gluten strands develop. You will not get a lot of resistance at first, but you will feel it build. Also, don’t be afraid of wetting your folding hand often to prevent the dough from sticking.

Laminate. Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface (be generous with the flour). Using wet or well-floured hands (and I also use my bench scraper), gently tug the dough into a large rectangle about 3/4″ thick. You don’t want to pull it too thin because you want to retain the bubbles as much as possible. Gently stretch out one of the short sides of the dough then fold it 2/3 over the sheet, then repeat with the other side. Do this again with the short sides of the dough until you’ve completed a north-south-east-west pattern. Gently pat the dough a little flatter, then repeat the NSEW pattern two more times, with a light pat-down in between. The dough will build up after each lamination, so be careful not to flatten it out too much. After the third lamination, gently roll it over onto the seams – no need to seal. Move the dough ball to a lightly oiled bowl for the final stage of bulk fermentation. Let the dough almost triple. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. At this point, we’re after bubble production!

Do yourself a favor and use really good olive oil. While you can use the standard stuff you can find in a grocery store, I’ve found that even the small amount that’s used with this bread makes a huge difference in the taste. I use Frantoi Cutrera Segreto Degli Iblei cold-extracted extra-virgin olive oil from Sicily.

Dividing and “Shaping.” At this point, you can be pretty generous with the flour you put on your board. Slide your dough out onto a well-floured work surface and tug into a rectangle about 3/4″ to 1″ thick. You’re going to divide it along the length, so try to make the rectangle as even as possible. Placing your fingers under the ends of a piece, quickly bring your hands together to scoop up the dough and transfer it to a very well-floured couche, or well-floured baking pan. Do some final arrangements to evenly distribute the dough across the flat loaf. The loaves will not be of even weight, though you can get pretty close. (Update: I scale out to 500 grams pieces – I like ’em even)

You will also notice bubbles just under the surface of the skin. Do not pop them!

Note: If you use a baking pan, use a mixture of flour and course-grind cornmeal or semolina. You won’t be transferring the loaves to a stone.

Final Fermentation. This is a little tricky because all you really want to do is let the dough reset from dividing and shaping. Chef Markus Farbinger only waits 10 minutes for this final stage. I go from 15-30 minutes. The poke test will not work here. What I look for is if the dough has puffed up a bit and the sharp edge of my cut is all but gone.

A good ciabatta will be riddled with holes!

Bake. Transfer the loaves to a transfer board. For added texture, I sprinkle a generous amount of cornmeal on my transfer board to give the bottoms of the loaves a nice crunch. Lightly spray olive oil on the tops of the loaves. Bake with steam at 485°F for 12 minutes. Remove the steaming container, turn the oven down to 435°F and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the crust is a deep golden brown. Cool for 30 minutes before cutting.

Fully baked, a ciabatta will feel a lot lighter than what its size may indicate. My ciabatta are 22″ long, but they feel light as a feather. If your loaves feel a little heavy, bake them for a few more minutes. It’s the water that makes them heavy.

Happy Baking!

What About Using Sourdough?

That is entirely possible, though I’d change the formula a little to use a hybrid starter/commercial yeast method of rising as indigenous yeast tends to make finer holes. You’ll use half the yeast prescribed in the original recipe and cut the starter’s flour percentage to 20%.

Furthermore, I recommend building a levain from AP flour to keep the flavor mild. Or if your starter is based on whole-grain flour, I’d recommend a grain that has some gluten in it. If you want to use a rye-based starter, then knock the hydration down a couple of percentage points.

Given all that, here’s what the adjusted formula would look like:

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water88.00%
Salt1.80%
Yeast0.30%
Total Percentage190.10%

Starter

Preferment Flour % of Total20%
Hydration %75%

Final Dough (Yield: 2 X 500g loaves)

Flour425
Water388
Salt10
Yeast2
Preferment186

Notes

  1. Though I mentioned using a hybrid rising technique you could still go with using nothing but a levain to raise the dough. But if you do, I highly recommend doing a long, cold bulk fermentation for at least 12-16 hours to ensure good bubble formation. Also, after you remove the dough from the fridge, you’ll need to give it a couple to a few hours to come up to near room temp before proceeding with the rest of the processing.

Recipe: Sourdough Baguettes (Updated)

As I’ve often mentioned in the past, baguettes are my favorite bread to make. Nothing gets me in the zone as much as making baguettes. The reason for this is that though they seem so easy to make at first blush, they’re actually incredibly difficult to get right. For me at least, making baguettes requires me to be on my game every step of the way; forcing me to be absolutely mindful of what I’m doing because one misstep can result in total disaster. Which explains why I haven’t released a sourdough baguette recipe until now. I’ve had quite a few disasters and I didn’t want to publish a recipe until I had a few successful runs.

As with all my baguettes, I make them for the express purpose of being a platform for sandwiches. But they work just as well for tearing up and dipping into olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They’re also optimized for baking in a domestic oven, so they’re more demi-baguettes than full-sized 60-80 cm loaves.

Also, these use a hybrid rising technique using a levain and some yeast. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear the sourdough purists out there screaming, but I prefer the results of the hybrid technique over a pure levain-risen dough. I’ve baked several permutations and I have to be honest: While I love the flavor profile of a pure levain-risen dough, it’s far too extensible, and backing off the hydration creates too tight of a crumb. The small amount of commercial yeast used here helps open the crumb. But that said, you still can choose to not use any commercial yeast. The process will take longer and the crumb may not be as open.

This can be up to a two-day process, depending on how long you want to do the bulk fermentation. But unlike a poolish baguette where you make the poolish the day before then mix, shape, and bake the final dough the next day, with this you’ll build the levain and mix the final dough on the same day, then either bake that day or cold ferment overnight. Let’s get to the formula:

Overall Formula

Flour100.00%
Water76.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast0.50%
Total Percentage178.50%

Levain

Preferment Flour % of Total25%
Hydration %100%
Levain Flour192.5
Levain Water192.5
Levain Required for Recipe385

Final Dough

Flour577
Water392
Salt15
Yeast4
Levain385
Total Yield~1374g total dough
4 X 340g loaves (60 cm)
6 X 226g loaves (40 cm)
Optimal Dough Temp76°F

Levain. Build a levain to yield the amount you’ll need for the bake. With these baguettes, the flour of the levain represents 25% of the total flour needed in the recipe, which would be 192.5g out of a total of 770g. Your levain will be ready when it passes the float test.

As far as the type of starter to use, for baguettes, I normally use one based on AP flour as I want less sourness in my dough. But you can use any flour to evoke different flavor profiles.

NOTE: I’m not going into building a levain as there are plenty of resources available for making and building a 1:1 (flour:water) starter. As for how much you should make, while the requirement for this recipe is 385g of levain, make more than that – like 400g – to account for evaporation and levain sticking to your mixing utensil.

Initial Mix/Autolyse. Reserve 50-75g of the water. In the remaining water, break up the levain until it’s fully dissolved, then add the flour and combine well, being careful not to develop the gluten much. Autolyse for at least 20-30 minutes on up to an hour (remember, there’s starter in this, so you don’t want fermentation to progress too far).

Final Mix. Sprinkle the yeast over the dough. Dissolve the salt into the reserved water, then mix in the, salt, and reserved water into the dough until well incorporated with no large lumps. The dough should be shaggy.

The rest of the process can also be seen here in my Master Baguette Recipe.

Folding. Gently stretch and fold 3 times in the first hour at 20-minute intervals. By the third fold, the dough should be smooth and supple, with bubbles forming. When you do your stretches, try to be as smooth as possible, but do make sure to stretch the dough to its full extent. This is important, especially with baguettes because you only have a narrow window – one hour – in which to build dough strength.

I love this part of the process because the dough goes from this ugly, uneven mass and transforms into a smooth, luxurious and structured dough.

Bulk Fermentation. 1-2 hours depending on room temp. Or you could pop the dough into the fridge for a long, cold nap. In either case, take the dough out to about 75-80% and NOT doubled as you might see in other recipes. You don’t want to take it too far.

Divide and Shape. Pour dough out onto a floured surface and gently tug it into a rectangle of even thickness. Scale out 4 X 340g pieces. Letter fold each piece, making sure to stretch the sides out when folding, then roll each piece out into a jellyroll shape, and seal the seam. Place seam-side-up on a well-floured couche and let relax for at least 20 minutes (maybe more depending on how tightly you rolled the logs). After resting, shape the logs into baguettes.

Final Fermentation. 1-1½ hour. This could be shorter in warm weather.

Bake. Transfer loaves to a loading board or baguette pan. Score, then bake at 500°F for 8-10 minutes with steam (baguette should just start getting color). Remove your steaming container, then bake at 425°F for 12-15 minutes on convection if you have a convection setting, otherwise bake at 435°F for 12-15 minutes. Bake longer to a deep russet color, but beware that because of the acid in the dough, you don’t want to take these out too far as the crumb will dry if baked too long.

NOTE: You could technically leave out the commercial yeast, especially if your levain is super-active. With its flour representing 25% of the total flour, there will be plenty of yeast to rise the dough. However, if you do this, lengthen the time between folds to 30 minutes and be super gentle with your folding. Consider doing a coil fold for the final fold. Pure sourdough dough is much less forgiving than one that has commercial yeast. Also, final fermentation time will increase as the density of yeast in a levain is much less than that of commercial yeast.

Pointage En Bac / Slow Rise Baguettes

Okay, I admit it. I’m a baguette freak. I make baguettes at least once or twice a week. And up until this past week, I’ve been experimenting with different methods from baguettes made with a poolish to paté fermenté to levain. But to tell you the truth, my favorite baguette to make is based on the slow rise or pointage en bac method; a method similar to the one Master Baker Markus Farbinger teaches in his baguette and ciabatta video series.

So what is the pointage en bac method? Simply put, it’s a straight dough that slowly rises in the fridge. Traditionally, it was retarding the shaped dough. The technique has its roots in busy French bakeries where bakers wanted to provide baguettes throughout the day. After all, baguettes are best eaten within the first hour or two of baking – and they’re MUCH better warm! However, that had an issue of the shaped loaves collapsing, so to prevent that, the bakers would add dough conditioners to help the shaped loaves maintain their structure. Not a fan.

However, as Jeffrey Hamelman put it in “Bread,” the close cousin to this technique is to create a huge batch of dough then separate it into several batch buckets and allow the individual batches to bulk ferment in a cold environment. From a production standpoint, this has huge advantages because all the baker has to do is pull a bucket from the retarder, then shape and bake as opposed to whipping up another batch of dough. This is the method that Chef Markus Farbinger teaches in his baguette video series, though he only makes a single batch.

I prefer this technique simply because it keeps things simple: Throw all the ingredients into a mixing bowl, let it ferment for an hour, fold the dough, cover it, then pop it into the fridge for 6-18 hours. I’ve even used a third of the amount of yeast called for and let it ferment for over 24 hours to develop flavor. It’s a very flexible technique that can easily be adjusted to acccomdate different schedules.

AND if you’re going to be baking in separate batches, it’s an ideal method. For instance, in the next couple of days, I’m going to have to make a few batches for an upcoming graduation party. I’m going to make a huge batch of dough, then separate it into separate batches. When the dough’s ready, I’ll take a batch from the fridge, shape it, then bake it. While those loaves are in the oven, I’ll remove the next batch from my fridge, shape them, then let them go into their final fermentation. By the time the previous batch is finished and the oven comes back to temp, the next batch should be ready to bake.

What makes it possible is retarding the dough. Yes, the later batches will be slightly more fermented, but there shouldn’t be too much of a flavor difference between the batches. Let’s get to the formula/recipe, shall we?

Note that the final dough will produce 4 loaves at 335g apiece. With the baking method, the finished loaves will have be approximately 250 grams, which is the official French weight for a baguette (those French are very exacting about their bread standards).

Formula

IngredientBaker’s %Final Dough
AP Flour (11-12% protein)100%763g
Water75%573g
Salt2%15g
Yeast0.3%2g
Total Yield
(Accounts for about 1% weight loss during processing)
1353g
Optimal Dough Temp76°F
Target dough temp: 78-80°F

The yeast amount can be varied. Go up to 5g if you intend to just bake them that day, but 2g and an overnight cold rest yield the best flavor!

Process

This is one of the few doughs that I make where I mix entirely by hand mainly because I only make enough dough to make 4 X 330g pieces for a single batch. I use a mixer if I’m doing multiple batches.

Mixing. Use a mixer or mix by hand and mix to a shaggy mass with no large lumps. As I mentioned above, I almost always mix by hand for a single batch, though I use a Danish dough whisk – that’s a must-have tool. Make sure though to sift the flour if you mix by hand.

Shaggy mass with very little gluten development. The folds at 20-minute intervals will build the strength and has-retention properties of the dough!

Bulk Fermentation: 6-18 hours. 1 hour @ room temp; the rest of the time in the fridge.

Folding. Fold 3 times at 20-minute intervals for the first hour to develop the gas-retention properties of the dough. This is gentle folding. Though I do stretch and folds I do my best to not press down on the dough too much when folding a flap over. After the third fold, pop the dough into the fridge for a long, cold rest, or until the dough has expanded around 50%. It’s best not to let it go too much further than this.

You may notice that this folding schedule is different from my original instructions of letting the shaggy mass sit for an hour, then doing a single fold and popping it into the fridge. But once I started making Baguettes de Tradition, I’ve preferred this folding schedule because it ensures equal distribution of the yeast and salt AND the dough develops lots of strength, especially if I mix by hand so I now use this folding schedule for all the baguettes I make.

Divide and Shape. Dump your dough out onto a lightly floured surface, tug the dough into a rough rectangle with even thickness throughout, then scale out 335g pieces. Preshape each piece by letter folding it, then rolling it like a jelly roll into a log. Seal the seams, then set aside on a well-floured couche – seam-side-up – for 20-30 minutes to relax the dough (this could be longer if you rolled the log tight, but don’t go over 45 minutes). After resting, shape the dough into baguettes, returning each piece to the couche, giving ample room for the loaves to expand.

There’s technically no official weight and length, though in general, the accepted final weight and length of a finished loaf is around 250g and 60cm in length. After a lot of tweaking with different weights, I found that a 335g dough weight is optimal to achieve the 250g finished weight.

Final Fermentation. 30-minutes – 1 1/2 hour depending on ambient temp. This is where feel is extremely important. While traditionally “doubling” is a decent visual cue, that will take the loaf close to full fermentation and leave very little room for expansion in the oven. And with a dough like this, which is wet and narrowly shaped, the finger dent test isn’t revealing because when you poke into it, most of the time, the dent will remain – even in the early stages of the final fermentation. So it’s best to check the loaves every 30 minutes. The loaf will be ready when it feels like poking a marshmallow.

Score. Score the loaves according to the diagram below. Do not score on the bias! Even though the scoring may appear to be on the bias, the slashes are actually fairly parallel, with just a few degrees of deflection down the middle third of the loaf. Though there’s no rule governing how many slashes you make, aesthetically, an odd number looks better.

Scoring should be done within the middle third of the loaf, with each slash overlapping roughly 1/3 of the previous slash. Your blade angle should be about 20-degrees to the surface of the dough.

Bake. Bake at 475°F/250°C for 12 minutes with steam. Remove steam container, then bake for 12-15 minutes at 435°F/225°C, or if you have a convection setting, 425°F/220°C. These baguettes really benefit from a full bake.

Happy Baking!

I Think I’ve Got It! My Master Baguette Recipe (Updated)

As I mentioned previously, my favorite bread to make is a baguette. And I think the primary reason is that I love to make sandwiches out of baguettes! To me, happiness is a great sandwich made with great bread. But I was SO excited because I think I finally found the perfect flour blend for my baguettes!

Yeah, yeah… I’m always tweaking. Well, not for my boules and batards any longer. I have the flour blend down for that. But with my baguettes, I’ve been trying to strike a good balance between texture, taste, and especially, nutritiousness. I didn’t want to do a pure white flour baguette, but I also didn’t want the bread to be as heavy as my 75-25 high-extraction/whole wheat blend. So I decided to lighten it up. But instead of using bread flour, I decided to use regular old AP flour, and the results were magnificent!

Before I get into the recipe, especially if you’re new to making baguettes, the formula and process may seem a bit daunting. But I wanted to include as much detailed information as possible because there’s a lot to know and frankly, baguettes are one of the hardest breads to make well. I’ve learned how to make baguettes through a lot of trial and error plus a variety of sources, both online and from books. What I’m presenting here is kind of a conglomeration of all the stuff I’ve learned.

Flour That I Use

In general, I use high-quality and if possible organic flour. For common AP flour, it’s almost always King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill. Both offer consistent quality for baking (though I’ve recently taken to using Central Milling organic AP flour – it’s very nice).

For my baguettes, I use a blend of flour that is predominantly unbleached AP flour. By using a substantial amount of AP flour, I lower the protein content slightly. The one thing I found about baguettes is that you don’t want a real tight internal gluten structure. You want a nice, taut skin when shaping, but internally, you don’t want nearly as much dough strength as you would a boule or batard – just enough dough strength to hold the bubbles together.

  • Azure Market Organics Unbleached Bread Flour, Ultra Unifine, Organic – In its place you can use a Type 85 flour or another high-extraction flour. And make sure that the flour is ground fine- to extra-fine. If you can’t find any high-extraction flour, no problem. Just use regular bread flour. However, one of the main reasons I suggest using high-extraction flour is that it retains most of the natural yeasts, oil, and microbes that are essentially removed from white flours; not as much as whole grain flour, but certainly much more than white flour. They will add more complexity to the overall flavor of the bread!
  • As for 100% whole-wheat flour, you should sift it before mixing. Retain the bran, then sprinkle it over the shaped loaves right before baking. It’ll give the tops of the baguettes a rustic look.
  • AP Flour – I struggle with this because technically you could use standard grocery store brands like Gold Medal or store label AP flour. King Arthur, Bob’s Red Mill, and Azure Standard are 11.5% to 11.7% protein. It’s really not that much difference in protein amount, but it makes a world of difference in oven spring and dough strength!

Bleached or Unbleached Flour?

My preference is to use unbleached flour which is aged naturally as opposed to bleached flour which uses chemical agents to speed up the aging process. From a taste perspective, you shouldn’t notice any differences. Texturally, it is said that unbleached flour has a denser grain and tougher texture, but I’ve only used unbleached flour, so I couldn’t tell you the difference.

Without further ado, here’s the formula.

Overall Formula

Flour100%
Water75%
Salt2%
Yeast0.43%
Total Percentage177.43%

Poolish*

Flour100%200
Water100%200
Yeast0.16%0.3
Flour of the poolish represents 25% of the total flour (see below Final Dough)

*It’s a good idea to make more poolish than you actually need. There will always be some loss due to evaporation and dough sticking to your mixing utensil. So even though the dough technically calls for 190g of flour/water (380g poolish), I’d use at least 200g flour and water each.

Final Dough

Flour572g
AP flour (75%): 428g, High-extraction (25%): 143g
Water381g
Salt15g
Yeast5g
Use half if bulk fermenting cold
Poolish380g
Yield1340g (+ 13g wiggle room)
4 X 335g (60cm) loaves
6 X 225g (40cm) loaves
Optimal Dough Temp76°- 80°F
Total Flour (incl. poolish)762g
Total Water (incl. poolish)572g

Instructions

Day 1

Prepare the poolish 6-12 hours before you intend to mix the final dough. I usually make it the evening before my bake, but also, since I’m an early-riser, I’ll make the poolish at 5-6am, then mix the final dough in the afternoon.

Day 2

Mixing. Break up and completely dissolve the poolish into the water. In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine all the dry ingredients. Then mix the wet and dry ingredients together. Mix until all the ingredients are combined with no large lumps. If mixing by hand, a Danish dough whisk works great! If using a mixer, mix on the slowest speed and regularly scrape down the sides. Mix until you form a well-combined, but shaggy mass as shown to the left.

Bulk Fermentation. 2 – 2½ hours. Take the dough to no more than 50% of its original size. Though you can take it to double, you want some food for the final ferment, and doubling cuts it real close. Rolling out the baguettes will degas the dough, so you want to have enough yeast activity for the shaped dough to rise.

Folding. Fold three times (stretch and fold in the bowl), every 20 minutes in the first hour. I want to stress that you need to be very gentle with the folding. Definitely stretch the dough but be very careful to not tear it or degas it too much! Stretch and fold until the dough no longer wants to be stretched then stop. By the end of the third folding session, your dough will be smooth and luxurious, as in the picture to the right. You will see bubbles formed just beneath the surface of the dough.

(optional) Cold Bulk Fermentation. After the first hour, you can pop the dough into your fridge for some further flavor development. With this amount of commercial yeast though, I wouldn’t recommend doing this for more than 6-8 hours. You want to make sure the dough is still well-domed when you remove it from the fridge. The reason for this is commercial yeast – even at 36°F- 39°F – are pretty hardy little buggers. They’ll certainly slow down, but unlike indigenous yeast, they’re like little Energizer Bunnies! 🙂 That said, if you want to do an even longer cold bulk fermentation, cut the yeast in half or even down to a quarter of what I listed and you can cold bulk for a couple of days!

Divide and Pre-shape. Gently pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Tug it into a rectangle, then divide it into 4 X 335g pieces for standard 60cm baguettes or 6 X 220g pieces for 40cm baguettes. Letter fold each piece by gently pulling out the sides and folding to the middle, then jelly-roll it perpendicular to the letter fold seam to form a rough, short log. Seal the seam, then place on a well-floured couche, seam-side-up (on the left). Allow the dough to relax for 10-30 minutes depending on how tightly you rolled the initial log. The dough should be very relaxed before you shape, otherwise, it will fight you!

Shaping. After the bench rest, shape the logs into baguettes about 15-20″ depending on the size of your oven (I have a baking stone, so I roll mine out to 24″). and return to the couche for final fermentation. Make sure to leave lots of room in between the pieces to prevent tearing during the final ferment. You’ll know the dough’s relaxed enough when you can stretch it and it doesn’t fight you. If you find the dough fighting you, let it sit for a few minutes then resume shaping.

Final Fermentation. 1 – 1½ hour. This could be shorter or longer depending on the weather! Use 1 hour as the baseline, but during warm weather, check the progress of the loaves at 30 minutes.

Bake. Transfer the loaves to a transfer board, score, then bake at 475°F for 12 minutes with steam. Release steam (remove your steaming container), turn down oven to 425°F and bake another 15-20 minutes until you achieve a rich, russet color. Personally, I’m not a fan of taking baguettes out to super-dark. The crust at that point becomes too hard to be enjoyable. But that’s just me.

The ideal baguette will have various sized holes that dot the crumb.

I allowed these demis to get a bit of a skin, thus they formed ears.

Notes

  1. You might be wondering where I got the 380g of poolish. That represents 50% of the total flour, including the poolish flour. To calculate total flour for any formula, take the the Total Dough Weight divided by the Total Formula %, so 1353 / 177.43% = 762. Technically, 50% of that is 381, but I like nice, round numbers.
  2. You can replace the poolish with sourdough starter. But make sure it’s at peak activity (passes the float test) and is nice and bubbly. The process will slow a bit because the yeast density of starter is not nearly as high as with commercial yeast.
  3. The pre-shape step is absolutely critical, not just in starting to orient the gluten strands but it also acts as an intermediate fermentation stage, however short.
  4. When shaping baguettes, make sure your hands are lightly floured lest the dough sticks to your palms and tears the skin. You need to avoid that! And remove any rings!
  5. Having made hundreds of baguettes, I’ve learned not to put too much importance on forming ears on the loaves as you can see with the loaves above. I actually cold-fermented the shaped loaves before I baked them because I had other loaves in the oven. They kind of formed a skin even though I had them covered. And though they were delicious, they were pretty crunchy. The aesthetic that I go for now is to get a moderately crunchy crust, but not to go overboard.
  6. It is ULTRA-important that you don’t take the final fermentation all the way to the finish. You actually want to get to about 85-90% fermentation, then bake. This’ll ensure that you get great oven spring. Otherwise, the loaves will be flat.
  7. As mentioned above, if you want to do a longer cold bulk fermentation, use less yeast. I’d start out by using half the yeast. But you could treat the bulk like pizza dough and use even less and take a couple of days for bulk fermentation. If you do that, use less than a gram of yeast.

What If I Can Only Bake Half the Shaped Loaves at a Time?

If you don’t have room to bake all the loaves at once, then pop the other loaves into your refrigerator while the other loaves bake. Once your oven comes back up to temp after the first batch, remove the extra loaves from the fridge and place them on your board.

You could also pop them in the freezer, but I don’t recommend doing that for more than 30 minutes.

Wrapping Your Head Around Baker’s Percentages

When I first started baking bread 40 years ago, I riffed on a recipe that listed the exact amounts I’d need for each ingredient, like 4 cups of bread flour, etc.. Then when I started getting into artisan bread, recipes became formulas, showing the relative amounts of the ingredients expressed as percentages. For instance:

Flour100.00%
Water76.00%
Salt1.80%
Yeast0.75%
Total178.55%

The first time I saw that, my immediate reaction was, “WTF?” And my heart raced with anxiety. Nowadays, when I’m either recalling a recipe/formula, or even developing a new one, the percentages are all I think about.

As was explained to me, the percentages in a formula represent the ingredient amounts relative to the flour, which is always at 100%. So if we take the formula above, if I have 1000g of flour, then the amount of water I’ll need is 76% of that or, 760g. Easy, right?

But what about that “Total” item?

To be honest, I really didn’t pay too much attention to that figure until I started thinking about actual dough production and yields. At the time, I was starting to make bread to fulfill orders for luncheons and such. For instance, to feed a 200-person luncheon, I’d have to make 8 loaves scaled out to 1200g apiece, which mean that I needed to produce 9.6kg of dough.

The way I’d calculate how much I’d need was kind of a crapshoot. I’d start out with 5 kilos flour, then I’d apply the bakers percentages to get a weight. If we use that formula above, this would get me close to 9kg. So I’d go to 5.5kg and recalculate… It was tedious to say the least.

Thinking that there had to be a better way, I started doing some research and discovered that the total percentage in a formula is probably the most important number. This is because it is a representation of the total dough. Here’s a simple way to visualize what that means:

If you take the total percentage from the formula above, as Jeffrey Hamelman puts it in his book, “Bread,” (paraphrasing) that no matter what weight of dough we’re producing, there are 178.55 units that make up the dough. 100 of those units are flour, 76 of those units are the water, etc.

Without getting too technical about it, with that number, we can easily calculate the ingredient amounts we need for any given amount of dough we want to produce. In “Bread,” Hamelman talks about the conversion factor and using it to finding the amount for each ingredient.

Conversion Factor = Target Dough Weight / Total Percentage

So if I want to create a dough that weighs 1200g, given the formula above, the conversion factor would be:

Conversion Factor = 1200 / 178.55 which would be about 6.72

Multiplying each item percentage as a whole number by the conversion factor would give me the needed weight. For example, my flour weight would be 6.72 X 100 or 672g.

I have a simpler approach which basically accomplishes the same thing, but it’s more direct as I calculate the flour directly. Instead of coming up with the conversion factor, I just divide my target dough weight by the percentage, but expressed as a regular number. In this case,

Flour Weight = 1200 / 1.7855 = 672

From there, I just multiply the formula percentage relative to the flour weight. So the water I need would be:

Water = 672 X 76% = 511

Both methods will get you to the same place, but I like to shortcut my calculations as much as possible.

Let’s calculate the amounts we’ll need:

Target Dough Weight 1200g

PercentagesAmounts
Flour100.00%672
Water76.00%511
Salt1.80%12
Yeast0.75%5
Total178.55%1200

With this method in hand, I now completely focus on how much dough I will need for a given bake, be it a single loaf or several. As long as I have an accurate formula, I will always be able to get the exact amount of ingredients I’ll need.

But that said, I usually add about a 0.5%-1% fudge factor to my total dough weight because weight will always be lost during processing, so if I need 1200 grams to make 4 X 300 gram loaves, I’ll usually calculate my dough weight to 1210 grams. You’ll have loss due to evaporation or dough sticking to tools, etc. With this fudge factor, you can be guaranteed that you’ll get the exact dough weights you’ll need for each loaf.

My Poolish French Bread

This is yet another versatile dough that can be used for different kinds of bread. I’ve made baguettes from this dough, mini cheese-filled boules, dinner rolls – and it’s also one of my favorite formulas for making hand-shaped batards! But it really shines for making French bread, producing a thin, crispy crust and a light, airy, pillowy crumb riddled with holes that is the perfect platform for sandwiches, or eaten warm, to hold little pools of butter. Gluten development with this dough is relatively light as compared other loaves; a little more than baguettes and a whole lot less than boules and batards. So somewhere in the middle.

As the title says, this bread uses a poolish which, truth be told, is my favorite ferment with which to work. Done right, a poolish imparts a distinct nuttiness and just a bit of tang upon the flavor profile of the bread. But it also adds extensibility to the dough. When I work with a poolish-based dough, it feels so luxurious. I jokingly call it a “sexy dough.”

But sexy as this dough may be, to be fair, I should offer up a bit of a caveat. This is NOT a dough you want to work with if you haven’t worked with high-hydration dough yet. At 76% hydration and using predominantly bread flour, it’s slack and sticky. Any manipulation of the dough needs be done precisely and with quick movements, lest you find your hands covered in muck. This is further exacerbated by the moderate – and perhaps by others’ standards minimal – gluten development. But though I issued that warning, don’t let that intimidate you. As with anything, practice makes perfect. Let’s get to the formula:

Overall Formula

Bread Flour (unbleached)100%907g
Water76%689g
Salt1.8%16g
Yeast (Instant)0.4%3.6g
Total Yield1616g
Optimal Dough Temp76°F

Poolish

Bread Flour* (unbleached)100%302g
Water100%302g
Yeast (instant and relative to the poolish flour)0.2%0.6g
*The amount of flour you use for the poolish should be 33% of the total flour of the recipe.

Final Dough

Bread Flour* (unbleached)605g
Water387g
Salt16g
Yeast3.4g
Poolish604g
*I use my standard 75-25% Bread / High-Extraction flour blend

Make the Poolish

You’ll make the poolish 12 to 16 hours before you mix the final dough. Since I’m an early riser, I usually make it between 4pm and 6pm, so I can start mixing the dough at aroun 6am the next morning. I will make it later as the weather warms up. You’ll know the poolish is ripe and ready when its surface is riddled with bubbles – and you can actually see bubbles actively forming plus, when you uncover it, you get a nice whiff of alcohol.

To make the poolish, simply combine the flour, water, and yeast into an appropriate size bowl and mix until smooth. It’s better to use a larger container rather than a small one as the poolish will expand. I’ve woken up to a container whose lid literally exploded and spewed dough all over my counter. In any case, let the poolish sit at room temperature on your counter.

Dough Development

Mixing. You can mix by hand or with a mixer. First, pour your water into the poolish container, then with a spatula loosen the poolish from the sides of the container. Then dump the water and poolish in your mixing bowl. It will slide right out! Add the flour, salt and yeast then mix until all dry ingredients have been incorporated and you form a shaggy mass with no large lumps. If you use a mixer, mix for no more than 3 minutes on low speed. You want little to no gluten development.

Bulk Fermentation: 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Folding. Let the dough rest for the first hour, then fold it until you start feeling tension building in the dough. Rest for another hour and then fold again. You should start feeling plenty of tension by this time. Let the dough rest another half hour, then you’ll be ready to scale. However, if, after several folds, the dough still feels a little too slack, rest it for 45 minutes, do another set of folds, then take the fermentation out to the full 3 hours.

Technically, you could do the folding in half-hour intervals right after mixing and reduce the bulk fermentation to 1 1/2 hours. But there’s a lot to be said about the flavor development that takes place in the full 2 1/2 hours.

Divide and Shape. Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. With this wet dough, you want to be generous with the flour. I normally don’t recommend this, but this is a slack dough! Divide the dough into 400g pieces, then preshape into blunt, compact logs, rolling them up like jelly rolls. Rest the rolls for 20 minutes on a well-floured couche, seam-side-up. Once the rolls have sufficiently relaxed, shape them as you would baguettes, but be as gentle as possilbe when rolling them out – you want to shape and not degas. Place each shaped loaf seam-side-up onto a couche, providing a generous fold between each loaf to allow plenty of room for proofing.

Final Fermentation. 1 – 1 1/2 hour. Note: On warmer days, check the loaves after 30 minutes. This is a bread that I will take out to about 90% full-fermentation. It’s cutting it close, but the flavor development and bubble development in this last phase makes it worth the risk. Admittedly, the first few times I made this bread, I over-fermented the loaves and they came out pretty flat, but once I found the sweet spot – yowza! They were incredible!

Bake. Transfer the loaves to a loading peel and score as you would a baguette though perhaps not quite as deep. I personally don’t like pronounced ears on these fatties. 🙂 Bake at 500°F with steam for 12 minutes. Remove steaming container, then reduce oven temp to 425°F and bake for another 12-15 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown. You don’t want to take this bread out to chocolate as it will create too thick of a crust.

Notes:

  1. When shaping, even though you’re rolling the dough out with your hands to form a cylinder, do your best to not press too hard. Be firm, yet gentle in your motions and coax the dough into shape. Because it’s so wet and also due to the moderate gluten development, the dough will tear if you try to muscle it into shape.
  2. When scoring, be absolutely quick and assertive with your blade. It’s not necessary to create an ear and besides, even with a super sharp blade, with this slack of a dough, you won’t be able to dig in. After you score, don’t worry if the loaves appear to deflate. As long as you didn’t beat the shit out of them during shaping, they’ll pop right back up in the oven. 🙂

My Basic Daily Levain Bread

Though I make lots of different bread, this is my foundational sourdough formula. The flour in the levain represents 20% of the total flour in the formula. This gives me a lot of flexibility with how mellow or how sour I want the bread as I adjust the sourness by the length of the proof. If I want a sharper tang, I will retard the finished dough for up to 36 hours. If I want just a slight tang, I’ll do a same-day bake. As I mentioned, this is my foundational formula in that it provides a platform on which I will add different add-ins or just bake it plain. I love the versatility of this dough!

But not only that, because of the hydration of the dough, I’ve even made baguettes from this dough, adding 0.75% yeast in the final dough to give it some extra oomph during final proofing. Or, I’ve even added some sugar (about 3%) to the final dough to make rolls. Like I said… versatile!

Overall Formula

Bread Flour80%
High-Extraction Flour20%
Water75%*
Salt1.8%
*If I replace the high-extraction flour with whole-wheat flour, I will up the hydration to 77% and for baguettes, I will up the hydration to 76%.

Levain Build

Bread Flour100%
Water100%
Mature Starter20%

Final Dough

Bread Flour546g
High-Extraction Flour182g
Water500g
Salt16g
Levain364g
Total Yield1608g
Optimal Dough Temp78°F
This will yield two 800g loaves with a little to spare for loss and evaporation during dough development.

Make the Levain

Build a 100% hydration levain several hours before you build the final dough using some mature starter and equal parts flour and water (such as 1:5:5 ratio starter to flour and water). You’ll know the levain is ready when you see lots of bubbles on the surface of the culture – much like the bubbles that form with pancakes on griddle. This could take up to 12-16 hours to mature.

I personally use a mother culture that I keep in my fridge alongside a botanical water starter. The cool thing about using both my mother culture and the botanical water to build my starter is that the microbe density is so great, my levain is usually ready in less than 4 hours depending on the weather!

Final Dough Development

Mixing. Sift the flour and salt together and thoroughly combine. Dissolve the levain in water to make a slurry, then add it to flour-salt mixture, then mix thoroughly by hand or in a mixer on low speed until all ingredients have come together and you form a shaggy mass with no large lumps.

Bulk Fermentation: 2 1/2 to 3 hours (or more or less depending on the weather). Fold the dough twice within the first hour making sure you build good strength in the dough – it should fight you a little by the time you’re done folding. Then let it rest (covered) until it has almost doubled but don’t take it much further than that. You’ll want to leave plenty of runway for the final fermentation. For home bakers, I don’t recommend using the proof setting on your oven as it is normally too warm and things happen a bit too fast – at least for my liking.

Dividing and Shaping. Divide the dough into 800g pieces then preshape into rounds then cover and bench rest seam-side-down for 15-20 minutes until the dough has sufficiently relaxed. Shape into boules or batards and place into appropriate proofing containers.

Final Fermenation. If you want to do a same-day bake, final fermentation should be about 1 1/2-2 hours depending on the weather. The finger dent test will tell you when the loaves are ready to bake. Otherwise, let the final fermentation get started for about 30 minutes, then cover the containers and pop them in the fridge. My last batch (shown in the pictures above) took about 30 hours to get to bake-ready. But whether you do a same-day or retarded proof, you really need to have patience in this step and allow the fermentation to get to 85-90% to ensure optimum flavor development.

Bake. Score your loaves as you see fit. I use a baking stone to kind of mimic a hearth, so I bake at 500°F for 15 minutes with steam, then 425°F dry using convection for 25-30 minutes until I get a milk chocolate-brown bottom and deep-golden brown top with dark chocolate edges on the ears. If you’re using a Dutch oven, preheat your oven to 500°F, then turn it down to 475°F. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 20-30 depending on how dark you want the crust.