The Real Bread Campaign

The Real Bread Campaign is a UK organization dedicated to promoting the production of real bread, that is, bread that is free of additives such as baking powder, xantham gum, addd enzymes, or any other artificial processing aid. The thinking is that “Real Bread has nothing to hide. It is made with simple, natural ingredients and NO additives.” I’m a proud supporter of the Real Bread Campaign and though there is no US-based arm, I firmly believe that what they’re doing in the UK to promote naturally produced bread is absolutely important.

Though I’ve freely admitted that my foray into artisan bread making was the result of trying to find something worthwhile to do during the pandemic lockdown last year, a big reason for making bread myself was for nutritiononal reasons. From the get-go, I wanted to use ingredients that were wholesome; that didn’t contain a bunch of added chemicals. My ingredients didn’t necessarily have to be organic, but I wanted them to be free of chemical additives. As the primary cook in my family, I believe it is important to be as nutritionally sound as possible with the things I cook.

But let’s face it: Homemade bread is WAY better than the stuff you get at the store. So why not kill two birds with one stone? Make great-tasting bread that’s also nutritious and free of chemical additives!

Months into my quest for creating natural bread, I started searching for organizations that aligned with my own sensitivities and I ran across the Real Bread Campaign. Their simple ethos of “real bread has nothing to hide” resonated with me. So I joined the movement and recently became a paying subscriber. Though they’re based in the UK, they’re doing great work promoting producers of natural bread. I guess it boils down to the fact that I don’t care where they’re located in the world. I believe in what they’re doing and I want to support them.

A benefit of membership is that I can use the Real Bread Campaign logos on the packages of bread I sell or donate. Also, for the formulas I provide here, they’ll have one of the logos attached to them. So if you see one of these logos, it means the recipe follows a certain set of criteria:

Real Bread

When you see this logo, it means that the bread is made without the use of any processing aid. It may be leavened by baker’s yeast or a sourdough starter. Other natural ingredients may be used in addition to the flour, water and salt, but excludes the following:

  • Flour containing any additive, other than any added as so-called ‘fortificants’ if their addition is mandatory where you make and sell your loaves.
  • Chemical leavening e.g. baking powder / soda.
  • Ingredients that have been produced with the use of any additive or processing aid.

Sourdough
Sourdough is “Real Bread” but is leavened only by a starter cultured from natural yeasts and lactic acid bacteria naturally present in flour and without the use of:

  • Any souring agent or sourdough flavoring such as vinegar, yogurt, lactic or acetic acid, or dried sourdough powder.
  • Commercial yeast.

If you yourself want to use these logos – whether you sell your bread or not – I encourage you to go to the Real Bread Campaign website and become a member. You don’t have to make a donation, but as a member, you can put your “bakery” on the the Real Bread map!

Using The Best Ingredients

My favorite brand of olive oil: Frantoi Cutera. I use the Primo (above) and the Segreto.

In both Italian and French provincial cuisine, as opposed to making elaborate presentations with a complex mixture of ingredients, simplicity is the key. The rule of thumb is to use as few ingredients as possible and let them speak for themselves as opposed to hiding them behind a lot of spices.

Now, the real trick to pulling that off is to use the best possible ingredients and be uncompromising about it. The thinking is that if you use high-quality ingredients, you don’t need to “make up” what they might lack.

Take olive oil for instance. When I bake Italian bread that calls for olive oil, I don’t just use any old olive oil. I use DOP (Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta) or PGI (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) oils from Italy. These designations ensure that the olive oil is not only sourced from a specific region but also that they meet the highest quality standards. In other parts of Europe, the top olive oil is designated as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).

In California where I live, our olive oil grading is based on quality as opposed to geographic region. There’s less protection of origin, but extra-virgin is pretty high-quality stuff and meets fairly exacting quality standards. However, small producers do exist that sell olive oil from specific regions – they’re absolutely excellent.

The same goes for the flour that I use. I pay a bit of a premium for the high-protein flour I use, but it’s certified organic and it produces absolutely wonderful bread. The same goes for my Azure Standard flour. And even though I use King Arthur AP flour, there’s no argument that it’s very high quality.

You see, the thing about bread is that there really are only three basic ingredients in it: Flour, Water, and Salt. You can add yeast as an ingredient if you’re using commercial yeast, but if you’re using a natural starter, that’s just flour and water. And of course, some recipes call for olive oil. But the point is that bread is already simple with respect to its ingredients. So why not use the highest-quality ingredients to make our bread even better?

For me, that means using certified organic flour and other ingredients when called for. The fruit I use for my botanical starters are all organic or wild fruit. When I add parmesan cheese, it’s always Parmesano Reggiano. You get the picture.

Granted, using high-quality ingredients isn’t going to make me a better baker. I have to develop my skills. But using great ingredients does make the process easier. Moreover, the consistency they bring helps ensure I’ll make great-quality bread consistently.

Making a Dough You Can Call Your Own

In “Flour Water Salt Yeast,” Ken Forkish includes a section about creating a dough that you can call your own. When I first read that section, I was still very new at making artisan bread and to be honest, I was fairly skeptical about getting to the point of making a dough I could call my own. I was still completely overwhelmed by the process and couldn’t fathom having “my own” dough recipe.

So I followed Ken’s advice and made the recipes strictly according to how they were written – probably about 20 times. Then I started to get a feel for working with dough and started experimenting with hydration levels and flour blends and such. Some folks might think that that’s not much practice before experimenting, but I’m fairly experienced in the kitchen and once I did it about 20 times, it was enough repetition to start exploring.

Fast-forward a few months later, and I think I’ve found my “master” flour blend which is an 80-20 bread/whole wheat flour (fine ground) combination. I’ve made several loaves with this combination over the last couple of weeks, and I absolutely love the results I’m getting! I moved to including more whole grain into my diet because of health reasons, but the texture that whole grain brings is magnificent.

The cool thing is that my 20% whole wheat portion is like my joker card. I can use it in a straight dough, or I use it to make a poolish.

I’m not going to stop tweaking; in fact, Ken Forkish promotes this. But I’m very jazzed that I found a foundation!

Update 6/21/2021

That “master blend” that I talked about in the article is now more of a reference blend. The reason is that since I wrote that, I’ve tried out different kinds and brands of flour. For instance, I based that blend on a mix of 20% Hudson Cream White Whole Wheat flour and 80% Azure Standard Unbleached Bread Flour (High-ExtractionUltra-Unifine). But since then, I’ve learned to change up flour blends based on the loaves I make. In fact, depending on the loaf, the flour and the percentages I used could be completely different!

Was I full of shit in my original post? No. But I was only baking a couple of different types of bread at the time, so my blend was valid for that time.

Welcome!

Featured

This is the official blog for my little micro-bakery, Dawg House Bakery that I run out of my home. As I’m not a professionally-trained baker, I originally started this blog as a diary to document things I’ve learned and recipes I’ve developed. But it kind of took on a life of its own with folks from all over the world visiting the site. So welcome!

Helpful Posts

Baguettes

Ciabatta

Sourdough

Ancient Italian Bread

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.

Bread Baking “Soft” Skills

I was on an online forum and someone made this post (paraphrased):

Can someone please tell me why I can’t seem to make a decent loaf of bread? It seems I’ve made hundreds of loaves, tried dozens of recipes. I’ve tried wheat gluten, different kinds of flour, kneaded for hours, and resting at different temperatures. I’ve tried less sugar, more salt. But every loaf I make comes out the same: Cakey and totally lacking in flavor. Please help!

Several people answered the person’s plea for help with some very sound advice, albeit technical. I read through all the answers and figured that any specific technical advice I’d add to the thread might be a little redundant. On the other hand, it did occur to me that that person was lacking in what I call the soft skills department.

Soft skills are those skills that everyone assumes one should have, but no one really talks about them. But they are absolutely critical to success – in practically anything. Unfortunately, so much of our society focuses on technical acumen and ability that we end up completely missing or misunderstanding the critical nature of those soft skills.

Every discipline has an accompanying set of soft skills. In my professional life as a software engineer, much emphasis – and quite rightly so – is placed on technical aptitude. In fact, early on in my career, before it became popular to go into software engineering, if you had the skills, you got the job. But as the wold evolved, soft skills such as teamwork, initiative, persistence, and even compassion became important factors in hiring. After all, who wants to work with an asshole? And at my level now, it’s assumed I possess the technical knowledge and recruiters are more interested on how well I can integrate into their team.

Such is the case with baking. Like many, I’ve picked up techniques from blogs, cooking sites, and books. All of them focus on technical stuff. And mind you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But non-technical or “soft” skills are also critical to baking success. So I thought I’d talk about a few of them in this latest post.

Patience

In his book, “Flour Water Salt Yeast,” Ken Forkish has a section that calls time and temperature ingredients. In that section, he shows how those two things can affect how dough behaves. But after doing several bakes, I realized that even more so, patience is even more important.

Dough takes time to develop. Full stop. Let me say that again: Dough takes time to develop. How much time it takes to finish a particular step is dependent on a variety of factors: temperature, hydration, humidity, etc. It could be a short period of time or it could take seemingly forever to develop. But no matter whether it’s short or long, when you’re dealing with anything that takes time, you have to have patience. When instructions tell you to wait until the dough doubles, wait until the dough doubles!!! It may come up in half the time the baker lists, or it may take two or three times as long. But whichever, have the patience to wait it out!

Adaptability and Flexibility

As a corollary to patience, because dough takes time to develop and that time is variable, we have to be able to adapt and be flexible with our process. The same goes for temperature. For instance, as I write this post, I’m in the middle of a big bake for a luncheon tomorrow where I have to provide garlic bread for 100 people, so I’m making Pane di Como Antico to pair with the Italian menu. Normally, the hydration for this bread is 73%. But today, it’s warm in my kitchen, so I lowered the hydration to 71%. Lowering the percentage also allows the gluten to form more easily, so instead of the normal four folds that I do, I only needed to do three sets as the dough strength developed earlier.

Also, because it’s warm, rising times significantly decreased. The basic recipe calls for a final ferment of 1- 1 1/2 hour. But with the ambient temp in my kitchen at 78°F, I’m thinking it’ll take about 45 minutes to do the final proof.

The point to this is that though the original recipe states specific times, you have to remember that those times were based on the author’s kitchen conditions at the time. I need to be flexible and adapt to the conditions in my own kitchen. If I stuck with the original prescription of an hour to an hour-and-a-half, my dough would overproof. Not good.

Also, as being dogmatic can be problematic, tweaking a recipe on the fly in response to something not happening according to some condition the author lists is just as bad. You’ll be forever chasing after one bad situation after another!

Tidiness (read: Having Your S$%t Wired)

Having been a longtime home cook, and having worked in food service in the past, I’ve learned the very important lesson of mise en place, or “everything in its place.” I have a few chef and cook friends and one thing they always talk about is their “meez.” Their most commonly used items and seasonings are right within reach. Chopped veggies and herbs are prepped well before service. And most importantly, they keep their stations clean! And as one chef friend said to me once, “I know a line cook has his or her s%^t wired just by looking at how they’ve arranged their station and how clean they keep it during service.”

As for me, whether I’m cooking or baking, I prep EVERYTHING I need first, and I wash every pot and pan or scale or bowl as soon as I can after I’m done with it. My counter is kept scrupulously clean. And woe the person that comes along and leaves crap on my counter when I’m cooking. They get an earful till it’s cleared.

The point to this is that an uncluttered space means you have an uncluttered mind. It also requires immense focus to maintain the cleanliness of your space that just aids in keeping you on your A-game while baking. For instance, if you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I bake a lot of baguettes. When I do, I have my board and couch conditioned, all my scrapers lined up and all my ingredients weighed out and in containers before I even consider mixing stuff together. When I started being disciplined, the quality of my baguettes went through the roof as did the consistency of them from bake to bake.

Geeking Out

If you want to bake with any proficiency at all, you have to have to do a bit of studying. As they say, knowledge is power, that couldn’t be more true than with artisan bread baking. And there is nothing wrong with that. When I first started baking, my wife would tease me that I study more than bake. She was actually teasing me, and I knew it, but I did respond by saying that just as with the great Nancy Silverton, I was obsessed with dough. I wanted to learn all I could about it.

I woudn’t expect others to be nearly as obsessive about baking and dough as I am, but it’s never a bad thing to gain knowledge. Never.

The Importance of Breathing: In Other Words, Chill Out!

This might not seem like a skill, but it requires a lot of practice to be relaxed and chilled out when baking. When we’re nervous, we tighten up and we constrict our breathing. This slows the oxygen to our brains and we become muddled, which in turn makes us even more frantic. It’s really a vicious cycle that we get ourselves into.

But if we’re breathing and relaxed in our actions, we breeze right through everything. Everything is clear because our brains are getting oxygen. And though I’m speaking within the context of baking, it applies to everything in life.

But as far as baking is concerned, we also have to do – or not do – things that will trigger our nervousness. That whole mise-en-place discussion I had above contributes to our relaxations, whereas the lack of it creates chaos. So breathe. Relax. It’s good for you!

Mindfulness

I’m Catholic and one year at Lent, as opposed to giving something up like candy or booze, I instead decided to be more mindful; that is, be more aware of what I was doing and doing my best to see the interconnectedness of my life and world around me. While I didn’t necessary dive down into the depths of the details, I made sure I was at least always aware of what those details were.

Practicing mindfulness during that time became a habit, and I learned to apply it to my baking. At least to me, being mindful is that extra insurance for a successful bake as mindfulness prevents me from skipping steps or taking shortcuts. It keeps me aware of what’s happening with a dough that I’m working on.

For instance, as I write this section, I have a flatbread dough that’s going through its bulk fermentation. On normal days when it’s 72-75 degrees in my kitchen, that dough takes 2-hours to complete bulk fermentation. But it is a VERY hot day today and it peaked at 102 degrees. I had my are conditioning on, but my kitchen was still a balmy 84 degrees. So I’m being extra-mindful of my dough.

Whew! I kind of wrote a novel this time! But this was as much for myself as for sharing it with others.

Happy Baking!

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. Fold twice at 20 minute intervals for the first 40 minutes. After second fold, let rest for 20 minutes.

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 preven the dough from sticking.

Laminate. Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. 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, then 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 with 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 arrangement to evenly distribute the dough across the flat loaf. The loaves will not be of even weight, though you can get pretty close.

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 transfering 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 a 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.

Janie’s Mill High Protein Flour

When I first started making high-hydration loaves (75%+), they were disastrously flat. And since I was baking on a stone, I didn’t have the luxury of the sidewalls of a Dutch oven to save me. So I had to learn how to build structure into my dough.

And I learned all sorts of techniques, from proper folding to shaping method and even getting a better sense of how my dough was fermenting. And as a result, my loaf height seriously improved.

But I had run across some posts online where people had made beautiful high-hydration loaves and mentioned that they were using high-protein flour – almost to a person. And that got me thinking that if I could combine my development and shaping techniques with good, strong flour I could improve the structure of my loaves even more.

So I went on a quest for high-protein flour and that first led me to Azure Standard Unbleached Bread Flour Ultra-Unifine. This is my #1 flour, and I absolutely love it. At 14.7% protein, it develops plenty of strength and my loaf structure immediately improved as a result. But as a it is a high-extraction flour, it has a very grain-forward flavor profile. Mind you, it’s not a bad thing, but too much of a good thing can be bad as well. So I always cut it with a little King Arthur bread or AP flour.

But that kind of bugged me because I knew that was reducing the protein levels in my loaves. Look, they still came out great, but I’m the type of person that doesn’t just want to get the job done, I want it done right and with no compromises in quality.

It’s how I approach music and performance. For instance, when I first took on the role of musical director for the youth and young adult Mass at my church, the musicians initially balked at me requiring a two-hour rehearsal prior to service. But I explained to them that even though we were volunteers, that didn’t exempt us from providing a high-quality product that enhances the prayer experience. Mistakes and misalignment would only serve to detract from that. And after seeing the results of that kind of commitment, they got it. Now, twenty-five years later, we’re still going strong – a bunch of old farts rocking with God! 🙂

Sorry for going off on a tangent…

Anyway, I wanted to find a high-protein flour that had less of a grain-forward flavor. So after trying a few different ones, I ran across this wonderful flour from a small mill in Illinois called Janie’s Mill. They produce a high-protein flour from Glenn wheat, which is a hard spring wheat. And at 17% protein, it was sure to provide plenty of structure – even up the protein levels of my high-extraction flour!

The flour arrived about a week ago, and I’ve baked a few loaves with it. This is wonderful flour to with which to work. And the bread that I’ve made with it has a gorgeous, nutty flavor profile and the crumb is pleasingly chewy. Notice how dark the crumb is in the picture to the left. That actually surprised me because the flour is very light in color, as is the dough. But it browns with baking. VERY cool!

My next test will be to cut it with my high-extraction flour to see how that performs. I’ll probably start with a 50/50 blend, then go from there.

I’ve included the nutrition information card to the right. When I saw the 6g per serving size of 35g, I nearly flipped! Just on that number alone, I knew I had to try it. And now that I’ve baked with this flour a few times, it’s going to be a regular part of my flour blend.

Mind you, this flour is NOT cheap. Actually, it’s pretty expensive at $48 / 25lb bag. I bought two bags, plus a small bag of Red Fife flour and it set me back over $100. But it’s great flour, totally organic and GMO-free and most of all, it’s produced by a small, independent mill. I think it’s important to support the little guy.

For more information, go to the Janie’s Mill website.

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%

Final Dough

Flour577
Water392
Salt15
Yeast4
Preferment385
Total Yield4 X 340g loaves
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.

Initial Mix/Autolyse. Reserve 50-75g of the water. In the remaining water, break up the levain, then add the flour and combine well, being careful not to develop the gluten much. Autolyse for 20-30 minutes.

Final Mix. Sprinkle the yeast over dough. Dissolve the salt into the reserved water, then mix yeast, salt water, and dough until well-incorporated. The dough should be shaggy.

Folding. Gently 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.

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% doubled. 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. Letterfold 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 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.

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 pate fermente 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; specifically, it’s retarding the shaped dough. This technique has its roots in busy French bakeries where bakers wanted to provide baguettes throughout the day. After all, baguettes are best eaten within in 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 puts it, the close cousin to this technique is to create a huge batch of dough then separate it into several batch buckets. 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 ony 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, shape it, then bake it. While those loaves are in the oven, I’ll shape the next batch. 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. Sure, the later batches will be slightly more fermented, but if I time it right, it shouldn’t make too much of a difference.

Formula

IngredientBaker’s %Example
AP Flour (11-12% protein)100%774g
Water75%580g
Salt2%15g
Yeast0.3% – 0.5%*2-4g
Optimal Dough Temp76°F
Target dough temp: 78-80°F

Yeast amount can be varied. I use the full 6g when I want a simple, overnight bulk ferment of about 8 hours @ 39°F. Otherwise, I’ll use as little as 0.5g and let the dough ferment for a couple of days.

*During warmer weather, I recommend using the smaller amount of yeast.

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 340g pieces.

Mixing. Use a mixer or mix by hand and mix to a shaggy mass with no large lumps. With the small batches I make, I almost always mix by hand, 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.

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.

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, 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 cut into 340g pieces. Preshape each piece by letterfolding it, then rolling it like a jelly roll into a log. Seal the seams, then set aside on a well-floured couche 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 340g dough weight is optimal to achieve the 250g finished weight.

Final Fermentation. 45-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 ferment. So it’s best to check the loaves at 30 minutes. When you do the finger dent test, you want to look at the rate that the dent pops back. If it pops back really quickly and the dent only partially remains, then the loaf isn’t ready (note: The dent will not go away right away). If it initially pops back up quickly, but immediately slows down and the dent is still pronounced and then slowly comes back, then the loaf is ready.

Happy Baking!