Sometimes Things Just Work Out…

Today was baguette day, and it’s usually my favorite day because I love making baguettes. But it was also a bit of a weird day. I didn’t feel quite on it today, and I was not at all happy with my baguette dough. I felt it was way too wet and the bulk fermentation went way too fast which in turn made me cut my pre-shape and final proofing short – like to 10 minutes each!

Then on top of that, I was really struggling with shaping! The dough being wet, I felt it was fighting me and by the time I finished shaping my second loaf, I said out loud, “Dammit! I can do better than this!” I’m normally really good with shaping, but today, I felt as if I had two clubbed hands!

Then finally, when I transferred the loaves to my loading board, even though they seemed puffed up on the couche, they immediately collapsed on the board! At that point, I just shook my head, scored the loaves, then popped them into the oven, accepting my fate that I’d be baking baguettes that were going to be DOA. But when I went to remove my steam container and parchment paper, they had sprung up in the oven! Talk about an F me moment!

As you can see from the pictures above, the loaves turned out great! They have nice oven spring and a reasonably open crumb. It’s certainly not my best work, but it’s far from being the total fail that I thought it was going to be. ‘Scuse my language, but Fuckin’-A!

So as the title of this article says, things sometimes just work out. I think what saved my loaves was the fact that I cut off the final proofing. I normally do a 15 minute intermediate (after pre-shape) and a 30 minute final proof. But as I mentioned above, I cut them off to about 10 minutes each. I’ve done baguettes enough where I’ve developed a bit of an instinct as to when to move on to the next step based on what I’m seeing and feeling. And this was definitely one of those cases where I followed my instinct and went off script completely.

So yeah, things sometimes do work out, but the lesson for me here is to trust what I’m seeing and feeling and not be overly canonical and parochial about the process. Sometimes, you have no choice but to go completely off script!

I Use a Stand Mixer. So There!

When I’m mixing my ingredients, I use my handy-dandy KitchenAid Artisan mixer. I love that contraption! It has made my life so easy. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any romantic notions about mixing dough by hand. I did it when I first started on this artisan bread obsession, but then when I started baking daily, I abandoned doing that in favor of having a more automated way of bringing my ingredients together.

Like many, I’ve read books and watched videos where the bakers extoll hand-mixing, elevating the process to one of honor. It’s like there’s a certain romanticism attached to the whole artisan bread making process and making bread the old fashioned way where every step is done completely by hand. I bake bread at least six days a week and I’m doing it while I’m working at home. I don’t have time to do everything by hand for goodness’ sake! I’ve got meetings to attend and actual work to do. So the more efficient I can be the better.

But I laugh when professional bakers say to mix by hand because you know they’ve got an 80-quart Hobart (or maybe even a few of them) mixing up their dough! I realize their intent is pure and that they’re trying to reinforce that we learn and know what it’s like to feel the dough develop. But for me, once I learned what to look and feel for, I went straight to the mixer so I could “git ‘er done!”

That said, I think that it’s important to mix by hand when you first start out. That way you know what the dough feels like at every stage of mixing. And to this day, even though I use a mixer, I frequently stop it to feel my dough. I don’t just set it and forget it. I monitor the state of my dough carefully and get it to the point where I can throw it into its fermentation container, or dump it out onto my board to knead. Yes, I hand-knead my lower-hydration dough. I have to because it strains my mixer too much.

But one thing that my mixer does that I can’t do without a lot of effort – and time – is evenly and efficiently distribute the ingredients. Okay, yes, I can achieve that with time. But I have to admit that mixing ingredients is probably my least favorite baking activity. So I’d rather have a machine do it for me, then I’ll take over and do the rest.

I do have to admit that I feel just a little guilty about using a stand mixer at times. But then I remember how much I don’t enjoy mixing by hand, and that guilt disappears – quickly.

Happy Baking!

Consistency Is Important

Call me anal retentive but to me, especially with baking, if I’m going to do the same thing a number of times, I need to be consistent with how I execute; otherwise, I’ll get different results from instance to instance. Over the months I’ve developed my process and I do specific steps in specific ways. And it has been important to learn to do this because now, not only can I be confident that I’ll get consistent results, those steps have become second-nature and I just do them automatically.

Even with something as simple as washing my fermentation tub… As soon as I’ve dumped my dough out onto my board following bulk fermentation, I immediately rinse out my tub with hot water. The reason for this is that it is a total pain in the ass to clean off dried dough from anything. It’s like cement! Plus, once I rinse it out and put it away, it’ll be ready for my next round of baking.

And of course, the obvious candidate for consistency is shaping. I now do five different kinds of loaves on a fairly regular basis – though I probably do three of those much more frequently – and I’ve learned different shaping techniques for each that I do over and over again. And it has been comforting know that I can produce repeatable results.

But with respect to my batards, even though I’ve shaped them all the same way, for months I’ve been using two different bannetons which has meant that even though they come out looking nice, you know they’ve come from different proofing baskets. Well… I know because I see them side-by-side. And I have to admit that that difference has bugged the shit out of me!

It finally came to a head last week and I vowed that I wouldn’t make another set of batards until I had a matching pair of bannetons. So last week, I ordered a match to my favorite banneton and yesterday, I made a couple of sourdough batards that are shown above. No, they’re not exactly alike but they are consistently shaped in the right way to me.

The ears came up pretty much the same, the width of the loaves was generally the same, and they both sprung up the same. When I was using two different bannetons, one loaf would always be wider than the other because that other banneton had a wider base. Like I said, that bugged the shit out of me!

But now I’m a happy man. I feel that with respect to batards at least, I’m complete. Consistency is a good thing!

Ciabatta Using Levain Discard

I hate to waste anything, especially levain discard. I’m in the middle of creating a new starter so of course I have a daily or twice-daily discard, and rather than just toss it – and I can’t give it away because everyone I know who bakes has gotten a starter – I use it. Yesterday I made baguettes from the discard and today I’m making ciabatta buns.

This is a super-straight-forward recipe that doesn’t require a feeding like you would with a levain. And the great thing with making ciabatta, it’s a same-day bread! No overnight bulk or final fermentation! The challenge, as with any ciabatta, is that it’s a wet dough, so it’s sticky. But as long as you develop the gluten structure in the process, then it’s not too hard to work with.

Note: To help the discard microbes, I use a small amount of instant yeast ~ just 2 grams. No, it’s not cheating. I do this because discard can sometimes be a little unpredictable, and that little bit of yeast helps boost the fermentation activity just enough to keep the process on schedule. That said, the yeast amount is also highly dependent on the temperature of my kitchen that varies wildly. When I made this the other, my kitchen temp was 84° F, and I used just half a gram of yeast! Even with that small amount, the fermentation went a bit crazy and I had to shorten my bulk fermentation to just 10 minutes!


Whole Wheat Flour 100 g
Bread Flour 300 g
AP Flour 600 g
800 ml20 g2 g100 g

The Process

  1. Combine the flours and mix thoroughly.
  2. Weigh out 100 grams of discard from your container, then place that directly into the flour.
  3. Add all the water to the flour/discard mix and combine everything until you fully incorporate all the ingredients, and you form a shaggy dough.
  4. Rest for 30 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle the yeast and salt evenly over the surface of the dough then mix thoroughly until smooth. I do all the mixing with a stand mixer. It’s just more efficient.
  6. Preheat your oven to 480° F or 250° C.
  7. From this point on, you can follow the process from step 9 in Chef Markus Farbinger’s Ciabatta Recipe.

Regarding “shaping,” as I mentioned in the process I linked to, I letter fold my divided pieces to shape them into pillows. And especially if I’m making sandwich ciabatta where I want the mini loaves to come together during baking, shaping them ensures that each piece has its own structure. Also, if I’m making sandwich ciabatta, I use parchment paper on my transfer board, and I place the mini loaves about 1/2″ (roughly a 1 cm) apart so they’ll spread out and come together during baking.

My Rules for a Successful Bake

An artist by nature, I’m not naturally inclined to being disciplined. But I’ve had to be very disciplined to bake the loaves I bake with any semblance of consistency. To that end, I’ve come up with rules that I follow to ensure all my bakes are reasonably successful.

Rule 1: Be Prepared

In a commercial kitchen, this is generally known as mise en place, where everything that I need – from ingredients to implements – is within easy reach and my workspace is cleared and set up for my process. There is nothing worse to me than having to scrounge and scramble for something I need in the middle of the process.

Rule 2: Keep It Clean

“It” means pretty much everything. I’m obsessive about keeping my hands clean, but I also keep my workspace clean. If I flour my bench, as soon as I’m done, I use my scraper to clean up the loose flour and put it back in its container. As soon as I’m done with a mixing bowl, I wash it and put it away. Clutter is the enemy!

Rule 3: No Peeking!

Actually, this is another way of saying, “Be patient.” This especially applies to bulk fermentation. When I first started out, I’d check my dough every 15 minutes to see if something was happening. But with the generally small amount of yeast I normally use, things just don’t happen very fast. Of course, I’ve gotten to the point where I implicitly know how long things will take given different parameters. So when I set the timer for some part of my process, I just let the dough sit. That said, I do usually check about 2/3 of the way through, but it’s a quick inspection just to confirm everything’s okay.

Rule 4: You Do You!

Like many, I learned a lot by watching videos and participating in online forums, and interacting with lots of different bakers. All that activity was critical to my process because it opened my eyes to different shaping and scoring possibilities and even more importantly, showed me the most efficient ways to do things. But once I established a sense of what works for me, I stopped trying to achieve a particular look or follow someone else’s process. Especially with respect to my process, I had to work out what worked for me and my equipment and environment.

Rule 5: Use the Right Tools for YOU

You’ll read or get advice that you should get this or that or whatever. But my advice would be to not have a knee-jerk reaction and get everything you read about or hear about and instead try to use what you have on hand first. For instance, when I first started taking bread-making seriously, like many, I read Ken Forkish’ Flour Water Salt Yeast book. In it, he recommended getting a 12-quart tub. When I read that, I immediately got a quizzical look on my face because that size of tub seemed awfully big for the amounts of dough in the recipes. Lucky for me I already had some food-safe tubs on hand and I used those until I finally got an 8-quart tub (I actually still use them as pre-ferment containers). But I’ve encountered so many people who purchased one of those 12-quart tubs and now no longer use it because it’s TOO DAMN BIG! But that story aside, you probably have a lot of the tools you’ll need already. Yes, they may be old, but that doesn’t make them obsolete.

Recipe: Buttertop Whole Wheat Pan Bread

Okay, it’s not 100% whole wheat which is why I didn’t put 100% whole wheat in the title. But it’s damn close. This uses my favorite flour combination of 25% White Whole Wheat / 75% High-Extraction Flour, both milled using the Unifine process. The high-extraction flour is like a Type 85 flour that retains at least 85% of the bran and germ of the wheat berry when milled, though this particular flour is more like Type 90. What this means is that it is very close to whole wheat but it’s SO much smoother.

This recipe uses an overnight poolish. But unlike other recipes I’ve developed, where the poolish only accounts for about 20-25% of the total flour, this recipe uses a poolish that accounts for 50% of the total flour. The reason for this is because all the whole wheat flour goes into the poolish and soaking it overnight ensures that the bran and germ are fully hydrated. Here we go!

The Night Before ~ Make the Poolish

250 g High-Extraction Flour
250 g Whole Wheat
500 g0.5 g
1. If you don’t have any high-extraction flour, I advise using whole wheat bread flour. It’s milled finer than regular whole wheat flour.
2. Mix everything together until you form a thick, but smooth batter with no dry flour left over, and no lumps (this is important).

Baking Day – Make the Final Dough

FlourWhole Milk or Half N HalfSaltYeastButter
500 g High-Extraction Flour200 g20 g12 g1 tbl
(softened, not melted)
  1. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk.
  2. Use the milk to loosen up the poolish by slowly pouring it around the edges of the poolish, then use a scraper or spatula to tease it away from the sides. Then moving about the container, pull the spatula towards the center (like you would making an omelet), scraping the bottom of the container. The poolish should now just pour out and into your mixing bowl.
  3. Once your poolish is transferred, make sure to get as much of the residual material out of the poolish container, then incorporate the milk into the poolish until it’s fully dissolved.
  4. Working in batches, add the dry ingredient mix to the poolish. Once you’ve added a cup or so, drop the softened butter into the mix, then continue mixing until all the ingredients are incorporated and you’ve created a shaggy dough.
    1. You can also do this in a stand mixer, which is my preferred method of mixing ingredients.
  5. Dump out the dough onto an unfloured work surface, and knead it until smooth (about 8 minutes). Again, you can do this in a stand mixer as well (about 3-4 minutes).
  6. Transfer the dough back to your mixing bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
  7. After 30 minutes, do a stretch and fold of the dough, then turn it over onto the folds.
  8. Rest the dough another 30 minutes and do a final stretch and fold.
  9. Rest the dough from 1-2 hours until it has risen about 50%
    1. This is the tricky part. I just made my loaves early this morning, around 6 am, and my kitchen was a bit cold, so even though I proofed in my oven with the door slightly ajar so that the oven light provides a little heat, it took a little over 2 hours to rise.
  10. After the bulk ferment, dump out the dough and divide and scale it into 2 equal pieces.
  11. Pre-shape the dough into balls, either using the stretch and fold technique, or the scraper technique. Set the balls aside, sprinkle a little flour on top of them, and let rest for 20 minutes.
  12. Preheat your oven to 485° F (about 250° C)
  13. Take a ball, flip it over onto the floured side onto a lightly floured surface.
  14. Using your fingers, gently form press out the ball into an 8″ X 12″ rectangle (it doesn’t have to be perfect).
  15. Roll the sheet up by folding from the top and gently pressing out, much like you’d shape a batard. What we’re trying to do here is really get the skin taut.
  16. Seal the seam, then place it into a well-oiled loaf pan.
  17. Repeat steps 12 through 15 for the second loaf.
  18. Cover the loaves with a floured cloth and let them go through their final proof for at least an hour.
    1. Mine took about an hour and a half this morning until they passed the finger dent test.
  19. Once proofed, score the top of each loaf with one long slash, then place the pans gently in the oven and apply steam.
    1. For steam, I use an old metal cake round that I put about a cup of scalding water, and I throw a few ice cubes on the bottom of my oven.
  20. Set the timer for 15 minutes and once it goes off, turn the loaf pans around to ensure even baking and remove your steaming container.
  21. Bake 10 more minutes, then remove from the oven.
  22. Melt about a 1/2 stick of butter, then slowly pour it into the cracks of the loaves.
    1. Some butter may run off the sides, so I suggest placing a plate under the loaves to catch the spilled butter, then use a paper towel to soak up the excess and wipe it on the top surface of each loaf.
  23. Let the loaves cool at least 45 minutes before cutting (if you can last that long).

Notice I don’t have any added sugar in this recipe. It doesn’t need it. The use of butter and milk provide fat which helps soften the bread.

My Dirty Little Secret

If I could point to one positive thing about this pandemic lockdown it has to be that it has given me time to master a few different styles of bread. I’ve reached heights of quality and consistency in my baking that I didn’t think possible just six months ago. Though I no longer use a Dutch oven and bake on a stone, all my loaves basically come out the same in appearance and taste and texture. And I’ve also gotten to the point where I know exactly what to tweak to get a particular result.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to brag on myself. But the plain fact of the matter is that I bake bread at least 6 days a week, ranging in quantity from 2 to 12 loaves. So naturally I get a lot of practice; not nearly as much as I would in an actual commercial artisan bread bakery, but enough practice to where I’ve developed a comparatively high degree of skill.

So one would assume that with all the bread that I bake that I have this super starter that I keep alive and have grown from scratch to give me my signature taste. But I don’t have one, and as I admitted to a close friend of mine last night, I really don’t have any intention of getting one started very soon. I know that I have mentioned in the past that I will eventually get around to making a levain, but the truth is, I’m having too much fun and too much success with my bread to even consider it.

So here’s my dirty little secret: None of my bread is made with a sourdough starter, nor do I in the immediate future intend to start and grow one. So there! 🙂

I used to think that not going down the whole sourdough starter route made my bread less “artisanal,” so I didn’t openly admit that I didn’t use one. I’d say that I have a culture in my fridge that I was intending to use. But truth be told, it has been sitting in my fridge for months now, and though it’s not dead (yeast and microbes go dormant, not dead), it’ll take at least a week to revive it. That’s a week I don’t want waste.

Furthermore, as I’ve dived deeper and deeper into the artisan bread making rabbit hole, I’ve realized that there’s really no formal definition for “artisan bread.” The only common factors are that it is made up of only flour, water, salt, and a leavening agent (with no chemical additives) and that it is handmade; well, at least the shaping part. Hell! Even commercial artisan bakeries use mixers for at least part of their process. 🙂 So I figured that if I’m meeting those informal criteria, my sourdough starter-less bread is no less artisanal than one made with a levain.

People have debated with me that a sourdough starter makes their bread more complex and nutritious. But as I’ve mentioned previously, I have spent a lot of time introducing complexity and nutrition through other factors such as flour mixtures and varying my pre-ferment fermentation times, among other things.

I think what “ruined” it for me using a sourdough starter was my focus on developing my poolish technique. Once I figured out that if I vary the fermentation times of the poolish, I could affect different flavor profiles in my bread and also introduce other by-products like amino acids and enzymes that make the bread more digestible, on top of adding flavor, so the whole sourdough being more nutritious argument kind of went out the window.

After that, I kind of lost my aspiration to make a sourdough starter. BUT, I’m excited to say that I also recently started using a Pâte Fermentée, or old dough technique with my baguettes where I reserve some of the dough from the previous day’s bake to kickstart the current day’s dough. I have to do write-up on it once I’ve worked out the process, but so far, it works marvelously!

So… Sourdough starter? We don’t need no stickin’ sourdough starter. And there’s my dirty little secret! Nee-nee nee-nee neeeee-neeeeee!

Next Stop… Ciabatta Town!

So in my imaginary bakery – well, at least it’ll be imaginary until I make it a reality after I retire – I’m only going to offer a finite set of loaves. I’ve decided on three loaves so far, but I probably won’t offer more than five. It’ll be a small-volume shop where I can sell all my stuff in the morning, so I can go and play in the afternoon.

One type of loaf that I will for sure be making is ciabatta. Now THAT is a loaf I’ve been wanting to make since I started baking, but up until recently, didn’t want to learn until I had baguettes down cold. And now that I finally have my master baguette recipe, it’s time to move on to ciabattas!

I’m SO excited to get this loaf down. To me, learning to bake ciabatta is like baguettes: So easy to learn, but very difficult to get right. But I’ve been doing my research, and now I’m ready to go for it.

What turns me on about a ciabatta is that like a baguette, it’s the perfect medium for a sandwich. Surprise! If you want to know just one thing about me, I love to make sandwiches! Even when I first started out making my early Dutch oven boules, I always had sandwiches in mind.

My first attempts at ciabatta have been well… just okay. They’ve certainly tasted absolutely delicious, but I need to get them a bit more puffy. It’s tough because the hydration rate of the recipe I’ve learned is 85%. It’s almost like a batter! And to create structure, you have to do letter folds. I’m okay at it, but I certainly need more practice doing those folds with a super-high hydration dough.

But as with anything, all it takes is practice! I can’t wait until I’ve fully arrived in Ciabatta Town!

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Though all bread is basically made with just four ingredients, what makes them different lies in the ratios of the ingredients and especially the processing techniques. For instance, with boules and batards where the ingredient ratios and fermentation times tend to be exactly the same, just a little thing like shaping completely changes the texture of the bread. Crusts bake completely different.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because early on, I learned that lesson. Reading Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast (FWSY) was a revelation in artisan bread baking, but it also had the effect of metastasizing my thinking that I could use the same principles I learned in the book to every single type of bread that I wanted to bake. That, even though Ken often said that his recipes were general guidelines and that depending on my kitchen and equipment, I’d have to work out what worked best.

I thought I could use the basic Saturday white bread recipe to make baguettes. After all, I thought to myself, it was just dough, and I was just shaping it differently. But to my frustration and consternation, my baguettes kept on coming out too heavy. Yet in my stubbornness, I pulled an Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…” I finally had to get over the fact that FWSY was not the be-all/end-all to baking artisan bread, and I had to change things up.

I now make baguettes that are airy on the inside and crispy on the outside and if you looked at my process, it’s WAY different than any recipe in FWSY. And mind you, I’m not cutting down anything in the book. But I had to break free and diverge from the book, which is what I believe Ken intended all along.

To be honest, everything changed for me when I decided to make long loaves like baguettes. You can’t make them in a Dutch oven, and I didn’t want to purchase a bunch of special pans to bake the different kinds of breads I had in mind. So when I purchased a baking stone, it was game over as far as FWSY recipes were concerned. I still made my boules according to the recipes in the book for the most part, but for other loaves, I took different routes.

And this is where I realized that one size doesn’t fit all with respect to making bread. Even the slightest tweak can yield significantly different – and admittedly, sometimes unexpected – results. For example, in FWSY, Ken promotes this idea of letting the dough bulk ferment to double or even triple the original size. I never do that because it runs the risk of over-proofing the dough. And since I use a baking stone, I don’t have an enclosed container that will limit the spread of my dough should it be over-proofed.

For me, I want to have plenty of energy left over for intermediate and final proofing. So I cut bulk fermentation short at about 50% rise, so I have plenty of fuel for the final two fermentations after pre-shaping and shaping, respectively. Furthermore, I will err on the side of slightly under-proofing my dough (not too much). My final product may be a little tighter than a fully-open crumb, but I also avoid making flat loaves.

So for those just starting out, I have to say that just don’t take my word for it. You’ll have to learn these lessons by baking over and over. But the important thing is to keep an open mind to different techniques and processes. One size does not fit all!

Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s Ciabatta Recipe

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

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


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

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

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

The Recipe

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

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

Poolish – Day 1

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

Final Dough – Day 2

500 g Bread Flour350 ml20 g10 g1000 g
If you’re wondering if the amount of yeast listed seems to be a bit much, bear in mind that Chef Markus uses 15 grams fresh yeast. The instant/active yeast equivalents are roughly 30-40% less.

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

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

  1. Mix flour, salt and yeast in a separate container until well incorporated (I use a whisk).
  2. Loosen the poolish from its container by slowly pouring around 250-350 ml of around the outer edges of the dough. Then use a scraper to further loosen the sides and get water all the way to the bottom of the container. The poolish will pour right out of the container – it’s cool.
  3. Use the remaining water to rinse poolish container of any leftover dough, then pour that into mixing bowl.
  4. Mix up the poolish so that the water fully incorporated into the dough and you have a smooth batter.
  5. Working in batches, incorporate the dry ingredients. It’s important you take your time with this because you want to avoid creating lumps, which is very easy to do.
    1. You can also do this in a stand mixer, but don’t use the dough hook! I use my KitchenAid’s nifty scraper/mixer attachment at the lowest speed. It keeps the sides of my bowl clean as well as breaking up lumps more effectively than a dough hook.
  6. Mix the dough until smooth. It may be a bit shaggy, but there shouldn’t be any lumps and no dry ingredients.
  7. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and incorporate any stray ingredients into the dough.
  8. Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for 20 minutes.
  9. At this point, it’s a good idea to preheat your oven to 480 dF. (~250 dC)
  10. After 20 minutes, working your way around the bowl, do a series of stretch and folds, picking up about a quarter of the dough, pulling it up to stretch it a bit (but not tear it), then folding it over to the other side.
    1. NOTE: Don’t just do this 4 times! While you’re stretching feel how the resistance in the dough builds. When you first do it, you’ll be able to stretch the dough easily. You’ll know when to stop when you feel resistance in the dough. At that point, you’re good!
  11. Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then loosely cover and let ferment for 20 minutes.
    1. Here’s an important point. You should see some bubble production after 20 minutes. If you don’t, let the dough sit for another 20 minutes. I had to do this this morning because my kitchen was still a little cool.
  12. After 20 minutes, liberally sprinkle flour on your board and gently pour the dough onto the surface and scrape out any residual dough from the bottom and sides of your mixing bowl.
  13. Once all the dough has been transferred, try to move the dough to see if it sticks. If it does, use your scraper to lift up the dough and get flour under the dough.
  14. Using quick, but gentle motions, laminate the dough using the letter folding technique. This is a good tutorial. The chef in that video uses oil, but we’re going to use flour as Chef Markus does. Laminate the dough three times, gently pushing out the the dough into a rectangle shape, being careful not to degas the dough too much.
  15. After the last fold, roll the dough onto the seam, and cupping your hands, form the dough into a nice neat ball.
  16. Lightly brush oil around your mixing bowl, then place the dough into the bowl.
  17. Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for another 20 minutes.
    1. Again, like the previous fermentation step, if you’re not seeing many bubbles, let the dough sit for another 20 minutes.
  18. After 20 minutes, again liberally sprinkle flour on your work surface, then slide the dough ball out of the mixing bowl.
  19. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Technically you could scale the dough, but you don’t want to run the risk of popping any bubbles that have formed in the middle.
  20. “Shape” the dough by gently pushing the sides and forming a rough loaf shape.
    1. I actually veer from Chef Markus’ process here and do a set of letter folds, then nudge the dough into loose loaves to ensure I’ve got at least some structure.
    2. Alternatively, you can cut the dough into smaller pieces if you want to create smaller sandwich loaves. Based on experience, 200 gram pieces work great for large subs.
  21. Once you’ve formed the loaves, gathering them from the long ends and cupping under the dough, transfer them to a well-floured couche.
  22. Sprinkle the loaves with a bit of flour, then cover them and let proof for 10 minutes.
  23. After 10 minutes, check the loaves for springiness using the finger dent test. You want to have some spring. If there’s a bit too much; that is, the dough immediately springs back, let it rest another 10 minutes.
  24. Transfer the loaves to a well-floured loading board. You can use a peel, but it should have a straight edge, not round. Myself, I use a thin cabinet siding that I’ve cut to size.
    1. If you don’t have a transfer board, the loaves will get a little misshapen. Just prod them back into shape.
  25. If you don’t have a baking stone, instead of putting the loaves on a loading board, you can use a flat baking sheet.
  26. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes on steam at 480° F
  27. After 20 minutes, remove your steaming container, then turn your oven down to 400° F (~200° C). Finish baking for 20 minutes.
  28. Remove the oven and let cool for at least 45 minutes.
  29. Enjoy!