The way I originally learned how to make ciabatta was with a poolish or a biga preferment that I’d start the night before baking. That is the real traditional way of making it. But this afternoon, knowing that I was going to be preparing spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, I wanted to have some Italian-style bread to accompany the meal. I mean… How could I not have bread with Italian food?!
So I decided to make a real quick version of ciabatta that I’d make with basic ingredients and just use regular, old commercial yeast for rising the dough. This recipe is absolutely simple and straight-forward, and not only that, produces an incredible bread with a crunchy crust and light, fluffy interior. It’s also probably one of the only recipes where I will use nothing but all-purpose flour. The best part is that it’ll take less than an hour-and-a-half to make this bread!
Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
*Preferably organic and definitely > 11% protein. You can use Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur. I use Azure Market AP Flour.
**If you don’t want to use milk, that’s okay, just use all water, but milk will help with the fluffiness of the bread.
Preheat your oven to 485° F / 250° C.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk.
In a separate vessel, combine the milk and the water.
Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients then pour the liquid into the well including the olive oil.
Using a fork, with a quick circular motion within the well, gradually work the flour into the liquid, much like you’d incorporate egg yolks into semolina if you’ve ever made or seen pasta being made.
Mix until no dry ingredients are present and the mixture is somewhat smooth (it may be a bit shaggy, but that’s okay).
Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the mixture rest for 20 minutes in a warm place. I use my oven with door cracked to get some heat from the oven light.
After the dough has rested, do a series of stretch and folds in the bowl. Feel free to wet your hand often to prevent sticking. Stretch and fold until you feel tension in the dough.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and let rest for another 20 minutes.
Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Be generous with the flour because the dough’s really wet!
Make sure to scrape your bowl out really well, then liberally spray or paint olive oil onto the inside of the bowl
With floured hands, tug the dough into a rough rectangle, then starting from the long ends, letter fold the dough three times, alternating sides.
Roll the dough onto the folds, then form the dough into a nice, round ball and place the dough seam side down into bowl.
Cover again and let rest for 20 minutes.
Slide the dough onto a well-floured surface; again being generous with the flour, and tug the dough into a rough rectangle.
Using your bench scraper, cut the dough into four roughly equal pieces, and tug them into rough rectangles.
Transfer each piece to a transfer board if using a baking stone, or just place on a baking sheet.
With well-floured hands, dimple each piece to prevent the dough from over-puffing while baking.
Place the dough in the oven, then bake with steam for 12 minutes at 485° F/250° C.
Remove steaming container, then bake for another 8-10 minutes at 425° F/220° C.
Remove from oven and let cool for at least 10-15 minutes. Yes, these are meant to be eaten while hot.
This bread’s name translates to “bread of Como of the past.” This is now known as pane francese in Italy or French bread, though this “French bread” is quite different in taste and texture from the actual French loaf which has a thinner crust and lighter crumb. But irrespective of all that, this is an ancient bread that is magnificent in both texture and taste and very easy to make.
I adapted this recipe from what I consider to be the definitive book on Italian Bread called “The Italian Baker” by the late Carol Fields. This is a GREAT book. Ms. Fields traveled throughout Italy to learn these recipes directly from local bakers in the regions she visited, so these are authentic.
As with most Italian loaves, this bread is started with a biga the day before, which is much like a poolish, using flour, water and a tiny amount of yeast, only stiffer. A poolish is 100% hydration where a biga can be anywhere from 60%-80% hydration. This recipe’s biga is 80% hydration. Let’s get started!
Day 1 – Make the Biga
Unbleached AP Flour*
Water (75° – 80° F)
*I highly recommend using either Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur, or any unbleached AP flour that has a protein content greater than 11%. Most generic brands are 10%. Gluten development is very difficult with those flours. Also, organic is better.
I’m going to come clean and admit that I actually used my sourdough starter to make an 80% hydration levain. The Italians call this type of biga “Biga Naturale.” My levain was 100% whole wheat, so I didn’t use the whole wheat flour that’s listed in the final dough below.
Mix all the ingredients and let ferment for 12-16 hours at room temperature. As with any preferment, you want to make sure it’s nice and bubbly.
Day 2 – Final Dough
Unbleached AP Flour
Whole Wheat Flour
Water (80°-85° F)
*You may see a recipe online that lists the salt as 16 grams. For this small amount of dough, 16 grams is WAY too much.
**If the weather is cold, adding a little yeast will help the process along.
According to Carol Fields, Italians predominantly use a mixer to mix up their dough. But you can mix by hand if you choose or if you don’t have a mixer. The process is pretty much the same.
Set aside about 50 grams of the water and dissolve the salt in it.
In a large mixing bowl, break up and dissolve the biga with the water, then add the flour in batches. If you use the yeast, add it to the water before the flour.
Once you form a shaggy mass, let it rest for 20 minutes to help hydrate the flour. This is kind of a hybrid autolyse.
Add the saltwater to the mass, then thoroughly mix until you start forming a smooth dough that feels elastic. This is where a mixer really comes in handy.
Dump the dough onto a board and knead for 8 minutes or until you feel the dough has built some strength.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container, then cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until almost doubled. The dough should have plenty of bubbles and should be blistering on top with a nice dome. 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Pour the dough onto a lightly floured board and divide it in half.
Shape each half into a nice, taut ball (like you would a boule), sealing the seams, then set it aside seam side down.
Sprinkle a little flour over each ball, then cover with a cloth for 20 minutes to bench rest.
Preheat your oven to 485° F.
After the balls have rested, shape into cylinders about a forearm’s length. I use a baguette shaping method to create some internal structure and to ensure the cylinder is even, though I don’t make pointy ends. The cylinders will be much thicker than baguettes, but they’ll have a structure you can feel.
Lay each cylinder seam side down (or up if you prefer) onto a transfer board lined with parchment paper, or if you don’t have a baking stone, a parchment-lined baking sheet. The cylinders will spread and flatten a bit and that’s okay!
With floured hands, dimple the cylinders all over to prevent over-springing. Don’t worry, they’ll puff up.
Cover with a well-floured cloth or couche and let rise for 1 to 2 hours. You should see bubbling and blistering. Carol Fields says to wait until they’re doubled in size, but I’ve never seen my loaves double, but just the sea, they come out just fine with nice, big holes.
Bake with steam for 15 minutes (I use a broiler pan on the bottom rack and pour a cup of scalding water in it).
After 15 minutes, remove your steaming tray/container and the parchment paper, turn the oven down to 425° F, then bake for another 12-15 minutes until the loaves are golden brown.
Cool on racks for 30 minutes. They taste GREAT while they’re still a little warm!
I originally got “The Italian Baker” because I wanted to get a recipe for Pane Pugliese from a credible source. I made the Pane Pugliese from the book, and it turned out okay, but as I pored over the book, I saw this simple, straight-forward recipe and knew I had to make it.
I think the romance of this recipe being ancient really got to me. In fact, my whole bread-making obsession has stemmed from the romanticism of making bread from recipes that are hundreds, maybe even thousands of years old. Granted, the flour of today is so much more refined than the flour of yesteryear, but to replicate bread from ages-old recipes and traditions… That’s just so FREAKIN’ cool to me!
This is what keeps me exploring. I don’t know if this will turn into anything other than a hobby, but I do know one thing: I love continuing tradition!
Besides baguettes, ciabattas are my other favorite loaves to make. Once I learned Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s recipe, I was hooked! Ciabattas are SO easy to make. Whether you use the standard recipe that I linked to above, or use a sourdough starter, it can be a same-day bake! Though if you go the sourdough route, I suggest doing an overnight bulk ferment, which I’ll explain below.
With this particular recipe, I’m going for a much lighter crumb and am using bread and AP flour. I know that I have eschewed using white flours, but the enzymes in the sourdough starter help break down the flour to make it more digestible, so while the flour may not be as nutritious as whole wheat and high-extraction flour, we’ll still get plenty of nutrition from the bread. That said, let’s get started!
Water (90°-95° F)
For flour, I use a high-extraction flour from Azure Standard called Ultra Unifine Bread Flour.
Unbleached Bread Flour
Unbleached AP Flour
Instant Yeast** (optional)
*With water, you have to gauge it. 550 grams will get you to 80% hydration. But depending on your flour, if the dough is a little stiff, you’ll want to add more water. The initially mixed dough sh9uld be the consistency of a stiff batter.
**Using a bit of instant yeast is purely optional, but I’ve found that it is very helpful on cold days. I wouldn’t use it on hot days where I can rely on the ambient temperature of my kitchen to keep the microbes super-active.
Instead of using separate containers for the levain and the final dough, I just use a 6-quart Cambro tub. When my levain’s ready, I just add all the ingredients to the tub. It’s much more convenient. I’m going to provide some times as guides during the process. By no means are they hard and fast, especially with varying kitchen temps where the bulk and final fermentations can be shorter or longer depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen.
Make the Levain
Feed your starter so you can produce 200 grams of starter. When the starter’s ready, transfer 200 grams to a large mixing bowl or a large plastic tub. Note that the starter doesn’t have to be active and at its peak. My daily grape starter is maintained at 400 grams total, so I just use 200 grams from my mother culture, then feed her. Works like a charm!
(4:00 pm) To the 200 grams of starter, add 150 grams of unbleached flour (here’s where I use my high-extraction flour, but you can use any unbleached flour that you want) and 150 grams of water. Mix thoroughly until smooth.
(4:15 pm) Place the levain container in a warm place to ferment. It has been cold as of late, so I put my levain container in my oven with the door cracked to get a little heat from the oven light.
(8:30 pm) If you have a fairly active starter, your levain should be actively bubbling by now. If it’s not, I suggest waiting until it’s really active.
Mix the Final Dough
(8:40 pm) There’s no autolyse with a ciabatta, so just add all the final dough ingredients to the levain and mix thoroughly until you’ve incorporated all the dry ingredients and create a shaggy mass (about 5 minutes). Note: If you’re going to do a same-day bake, I suggest turning on your oven to 250° C or ~485°F now.
It’s a bit messy, but I prefer to mix the dough by hand, alternating squeezing the dough through my open fingers, then using a stretch and fold motion to turn the dough. I’ll do this until I feel comfortable that the salt and yeast have been totally incorporated.
Clean off your mixing hand and let the shaggy mass rest for 20 minutes.
(9:05 pm) Using a wet hand, do a series of stretch and folds until you feel the tension in the dough building. When it kind of fights you, then let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.
(9:25 pm) Dump the dough onto your well-floured work surface – it should be really well-floured – making sure you clean and scrape all the excess dough left in the container, then wipe the container with a paper towel.. Using quick motions, pull the dough into a rough rectangle, then do letter folds, front to back, and side to side at least three rounds. Make sure that when you fold, you also pull flap, then fold over. Once you feel that the dough strength has been built up (it will fight you a bit), roll the dough onto its seams, then using your bench scraper, form the dough into a ball.
(9:30 pm) Spray the container with a light coat of olive oil (I use one of those PAM olive oil spritzers) then gently pick up the dough ball (you can form it up a bit more to make it easier), then drop it into the container.
So here we have two alternatives:
Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes, then put the container in your fridge for an overnight bulk ferment.
Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, and you’ll be ready for shaping.
Dividing and “Shaping”
Again, depending on how you do the bulk ferment there are two routes to take. The steps are similar, but different enough to warrant discussing them in separate sections.
After 20 minutes, again liberally sprinkle flour on your work surface, then slide the dough ball out of the mixing bowl.
Using quick motions, gently tug the ball into a rough rectangle, then divide the dough into equal pieces. If I’m making loaves, I cut the rectangle in half.
Technically, you’re not supposed shape the ciabatta dough. You pull it into a basic form. But I like to make my loaves into little rectangular pillows, so I gently letter fold the divided dough pieces, being extremely careful not to degas them.
Once you’ve formed the loaves, gathering them from the long ends and cupping under the dough, transfer them to a well-floured couche, seam side up.
Sprinkle the loaves with a bit of flour, then cover them and let proof for 10 minutes.
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.
If you did the overnight ferment, check your dough in your fridge. It should have at least doubled in size. If it hasn’t, you’ll have to wait. My retarder is set to 39° F and it takes 10-12 hours for my dough to double. So if you’re dough’s ready, turn on your oven now and set it to 250° C or about 485° F. Do not proceed until your oven is up to temp, then divide. If you’re using a baking stone, wait at least an hour before proceeding.
Gently slide the fully fermented dough out of the bowl or container on a very well-floured surface. It should easily slide out since you oiled it down.
As above, gently tug the ball into a rough rectangle then divide the dough into equal-sized pieces. Personally, the anal-retentive part of me, can’t resist scaling the pieces so they’re all roughly the same weight.
(optional) As I mentioned above, you don’t have to shape the loaves, but I always do a simple letter fold, then place the loaves on seam side up on a well-floured couche.
Sprinkle the loaves with flour, cover them, then let them rest for 20 minutes.
At this point, I transfer the loaves, seam side down to my transfer board, covered with parchment paper. If you’re not going to use a baking stone, you can use a parchment-covered metal baking sheet.
Sprinkle the tops with flour, cover them, then let the loaves rest for 20 minutes.
Bake the loaves for 20 minutes (250° C/485 F) with steam (I now use a broiler pan on the bottom rack of my oven and pour a cup of scalding water into it).
Remove your steaming tray after 20 min. Turn down the oven to 200° C/400° F) and continue baking for another 15 minutes, though check for doneness at 10 minutes.
If you want a real crunchy crust, turn the oven off, then leave the loaves in the oven with a slightly cracked door for 10-15 minutes to cure the crusts.
As with my other recipes, I realize that I’ve been a bit long-winded. But I want to make sure I cover as much nuance as possible.
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
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
Whole Milk or Half N Half
500 g High-Extraction Flour
1 tbl (softened, not melted)
In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk.
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.
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.
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.
You can also do this in a stand mixer, which is my preferred method of mixing ingredients.
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).
Transfer the dough back to your mixing bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, do a stretch and fold of the dough, then turn it over onto the folds.
Rest the dough another 30 minutes and do a final stretch and fold.
Rest the dough from 1-2 hours until it has risen about 50%
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.
After the bulk ferment, dump out the dough and divide and scale it into 2 equal pieces.
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.
Preheat your oven to 485° F (about 250° C)
Take a ball, flip it over onto the floured side onto a lightly floured surface.
Using your fingers, gently form press out the ball into an 8″ X 12″ rectangle (it doesn’t have to be perfect).
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.
Seal the seam, then place it into a well-oiled loaf pan.
Repeat steps 12 through 15 for the second loaf.
Cover the loaves with a floured cloth and let them go through their final proof for at least an hour.
Mine took about an hour and a half this morning until they passed the finger dent test.
Once proofed, score the top of each loaf with one long slash, then place the pans gently in the oven and apply steam.
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.
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.
Bake 10 more minutes, then remove from the oven.
Melt about a 1/2 stick of butter, then slowly pour it into the cracks of the loaves.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 Flour
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.
Mix flour, salt and yeast in a separate container until well incorporated (I use a whisk).
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.
Use the remaining water to rinse poolish container of any leftover dough, then pour that into mixing bowl.
Mix up the poolish so that the water fully incorporated into the dough and you have a smooth batter.
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.
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.
Mix the dough until smooth. It may be a bit shaggy, but there shouldn’t be any lumps and no dry ingredients.
Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and incorporate any stray ingredients into the dough.
Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for 20 minutes.
At this point, it’s a good idea to preheat your oven to 480 dF. (~250 dC)
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.
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!
Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then loosely cover and let ferment for 20 minutes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After the last fold, roll the dough onto the seam, and cupping your hands, form the dough into a nice neat ball.
Lightly brush oil around your mixing bowl, then place the dough into the bowl.
Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for another 20 minutes.
Again, like the previous fermentation step, if you’re not seeing many bubbles, let the dough sit for another 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, again liberally sprinkle flour on your work surface, then slide the dough ball out of the mixing bowl.
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.
“Shape” the dough by gently pushing the sides and forming a rough loaf shape.
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.
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.
Once you’ve formed the loaves, gathering them from the long ends and cupping under the dough, transfer them to a well-floured couche.
Sprinkle the loaves with a bit of flour, then cover them and let proof for 10 minutes.
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.
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.
If you don’t have a transfer board, the loaves will get a little misshapen. Just prod them back into shape.
If you don’t have a baking stone, instead of putting the loaves on a loading board, you can use a flat baking sheet.
Bake the loaves for 20 minutes on steam at 480° F
After 20 minutes, remove your steaming container, then turn your oven down to 400° F (~200° C). Finish baking for 20 minutes.
Remove the oven and let cool for at least 45 minutes.
As I mentioned previously, my favorite bread to make is a baguette. And I think the primary reason is because I love to make sandwiches out of baguettes! Take, for instance, the sandwich above. I made the baguette yesterday, and just couldn’t wait to prepare my lunch to take with me to work. 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!
Note for all you sourdough snobs out there (just kidding), 😉 I don’t do an overnight cold bulk fermentation nor do I use a sourdough starter. The overnight poolish provides plenty of flavors and nutrition, especially if allowed to ferment for longer than 12 hours. And that will be passed on to the final dough as well.
Here’s the formula (all weights are in grams):
By using a substantial amount of AP flour, we 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.
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. I don’t recommend 100% whole wheat unless it is extra-fine ground. If you can’t find any high-extraction flour, no problem. Just make the whole thing with regular bread flour. However, one of the main reasons I suggest using high-extraction flour is that it retains 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!
Generic, AP Flour
250 g Unifine Bread Flour -or- 250 g High-Extraction Bread Flour -or- 250 g Extra-Fine Ground Whole Wheat -or- 250 g Bread Flour
Prepare poolish the night before the bake and let ferment overnight at room temp for 12-16 hours. The longer the better.
350 g Unifine Bread Flour 400 g AP Flour
The total yield on paper is 1725.4 g, but in reality, there will be some loss. But what we’re after is a yield of approx. 6 X 285 g loaves. My stone fits four baguettes at a time, and I have a baguette pan, so I do three on the stone and three in the pan in my second oven. If you only have a single oven, no worries. Just pop three in the fridge while the others bake, then when the first set’s done, score the second set and bake them. Easy-peasy!
Prepare poolish at least 12 hours before you intend to mix the final dough. For me, this means making the poolish around 6-7 PM the evening before, so I can be mixing the final around 8-9 AM the next morning. I like fermenting my poolish for 14 hours to activate the lactic acid bacteria.
Mix the bread and AP flours, 400 grams of water and salt together and let autolyse for 20-30 minutes.
Pour the reserved 50 grams of water into the poolish along with the yeast and use a whisk to liquefy the poolish a bit (it makes it easier to mix).
Thoroughly incorporate the poolish into the autolysed dough and mix until smooth. You can do this in a stand mixer, but don’t over-mix. Just mix until you don’t see or feel lumps.
Let the dough rest for 30 minutes then do a stretch and fold. Rest the dough for another 30 minutes then do an S & F, for a total of two S & Fs in the first hour.
Bulk ferment for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (or until you see about a 50% increase in dough size – not doubling). Depending on the ambient temp of your kitchen, this could be shorter or longer.
Note that at this point, you have a choice to make. You can go ahead and finish the fermentation (step #5) at room temp or, you can pop your dough into the refrigerator after about 20-30 minutes (to give the microbes a little head start) and let it cold ferment for 6 to 12 hours. I do this if I prepare the dough really early in the morning, then I’ll do the shaping after I get home from work.
Preheat your oven to 480-degrees Fahrenheit (250-degrees C)
Gently turn out dough onto an unfloured surface and divide it into six equal pieces. I use a scale to measure out approximately 285 grams each.
Using letter folds, gently pre-shape the pieces into rough logs.
Once the pieces have been pre-shaped, lightly flour them and cover with a cloth and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
Rather than try to explain how to shape the baguettes, view this video. This is the ABSOLUTE BEST shaping technique I’ve learned, and best yet, it is focused on baking in a domestic oven!
Place each shaped loaf on a well-floured couche. I can’t stress how incredibly useful a couche is! If you don’t have one, you can use a towel, but a linen couche holds flour better.
Let proof for 30-45 minutes. Note: You want the loaves to be slightly under-proofed, so when you do the finger dent test, you want the dough to have just a little spring. It is important you don’t take it out to full proofing because that will affect the oven spring.
Transfer loaves to a loading board or square peel and make sure there’s at least 3/4″ between each loaf.
Transfer the loaves onto a baking stone. If you don’t have a baking stone, a flat baking sheet will work as well, but I’d recommend preheating it in your oven.
If you do use a baking sheet, line it with parchment paper otherwise your loaves will stick!
Apply steam to the loaves for the first 12 minutes of the bake. I use a round metal cake sheet pan on the bottom rack and put a cup of boiling water into it, and I also throw a couple of small ice cubes on the bottom of my oven (I don’t have coils there, so it’s safe).
After 12 minutes, remove your steaming container, and vent the steam.
Turn down the oven to 400-degrees F (~200-degrees C), and set a timer for 10 minutes. But check for doneness at 8 minutes. My own oven can be a bit wonky with temperature sometimes, and on cooler days, I extend the final baking time at 400-degrees a few minutes.
I’m actually pretty amazed at how mobile I am just three days after full hip replacement surgery. And I have to admit that my relative comfort level has quite a bit to do with the pain meds I’m on. But irrespective, since I’m capable of moving around and to avoid getting bored, I decided to bake baguettes!
I just pulled those baguettes out of the oven a few minutes ago! You’ll notice the ears on one loaf and just nice openings on the others. I was experimenting with my scoring and wanted to see what a shallow score would produce. I’ll stick with the deeper score. 🙂
Now normally when I bake baguettes, I make a poolish the night before I bake. But I was pretty exhausted last night, so I decided to make a straight dough this morning. Here’s my recipe:
365 grams (85º-90º F)
This will produce a 73% hydration dough
Measure out your flour into a large mixing bowl.
Add the water and mix until no dry ingredients are present and you form a shaggy dough.
Let the dough rest for 30 minutes (autolyse)
Sprinkle the salt and yeast evenly over the surface of the dough.
Thoroughly mix the salt and yeast into the dough.
Dump the dough onto an unfloured surface
Knead the dough until it just starts getting smooth (about 5-8 minutes). Do NOT overwork it! The moment you start feeling tension in the dough (it feels like you’re fighting it), stop kneading.
Transfer the dough back to your mixing bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Now do a stretch a fold and form the dough into a ball, then turn it over onto the folds.
Allow the dough to rise from 1-2 hours. Check after an hour – you want the dough to have expanded at least 50%. You should see some bubbles formed on top and the surface should be nicely domed. At about 50% rise, you have room for proofing/final rise which I found is critical with baguettes.
If you don’t see much activity, which typically happens on cooler days, do one more gentle stretch and fold and let the dough rise for an hour. But check it at a half hour because sometimes all the little beasties needed was a nudge. 🙂 Again, you want to see some bubbles, but not a preponderance of them.
Gently remove the risen dough from the bowl onto an unfloured surface.
Portion out the dough into four equal pieces. By weight, the pieces should weigh about 213-215 grams apiece. Alternatively, you can portion out into three for a little beefier baguettes (I do this when I’m making baguettes for sandwiches).
Lightly sprinkle the tops of the portioned dough with flour, then pre-shape each into a nice, tight ball.
Flip the balls over on their folds, sprinkle a little more flour on top, then cover with a cloth and bench rest for 15 minutes.
Shape the balls into baguettes. Here’s a simple, yet effective shaping technique from Markus Farbinger. But just take note: When you fold the dough, you want to make sure you’re creating good tension on the skin without tearing it! You don’t want to be lackadaisical with the folding because you won’t get any spring.
If you have a couche, transfer the shaped loaves to the couch (or you can use a well-floured towel) and let them proof for an hour. This is why you don’t want to over-ferment in the bulk fermentation stage.
Preheat your oven to 480 degrees.
Once proofed, transfer the loaves to your peel, score with nice longitudinal cuts, then bake for 15 minutes. Provide steam for the first 15 minutes, then remove the steaming container. Then turn your oven down to 450 for 10 minutes.
You might be wondering why I’m using 7 grams of yeast. You can definitely use less, but it lengthens the timeline. I came up with this recipe specifically because I wanted to produce the bread relatively quickly with limited manipulation because I was literally three days out of total hip replacement surgery. But you know what? I like this process because it produces great results!
What About Using a Poolish?
You can absolutely use a poolish, and that’s my normal method of making baguettes. Typically I use 25% of my total flour for the flour I use for a poolish, and I make the poolish at 100% hydration. I do this the night before I bake and give it about 12-16 hours to ferment. At 12 hours, it will not be sour, but at 14-16 hours, it will get nicely sour, so if you vary the times of the poolish, you can make different flavored baguettes.
If you do use a poolish, you have the option of bumping up the fermentation activity with some yeast, or just let the poolish be the only leavening agent. If you do decide to use a bit of yeast, use no more than 2 grams of yeast because you have a lot of active microbes already in your dough, and you just want to give it a little kick.
Yet Another Word on Flour
If you read this blog with any regularity, I’m pretty obsessed with flour. Now even though I occasionally make my baguettes with white flour, you all know that my flour of choice is a 75-25 blend of high-extraction flour and white whole wheat flour (the second picture); and specifically, flours produced with the Unifine milling process. I prefer the darker crust it produces (the picture at the top) but more importantly, the nutrition those flours provide.
If you venture into high-extraction flour (Type 85 and above), do not expect to get the kind of open crumb you get with white flour. It just ain’t gonna happen. The particulates in high-extraction and whole wheat flour cut the gluten strands. And if you think working the dough to build more structure will help, it won’t. The strands you do create will be so tight, you won’t get any holes!
This is why I advocate for doing a shorter bulk and a bit longer final proof. This allows the dough to really relax so when you place the loaves in the oven, the final activity before the microbes die will allow for better gas pocket formation.
I purposely put quotes around “Sourdough” because even though the bread has a slightly sour taste, it is not made from a levain, but from a pre-ferment; specifically a poolish. What? Sourdough bread from a poolish? Well, give it a bit of time and it’ll turn sour, then when added to the final dough, that will give the microbes plenty more to feed on, and it’ll produce a very pleasing, sour taste throughout the loaf.
One might argue that a bread like this will not be as complex in taste as a traditional sourdough bread. But I disagree. Just as with cooking, complexity can come from several sources. I’ve joined the school of thought that doesn’t depend solely on the microbes to provide the flavor complexity. The combination of the flours I use plays an immense role in influencing the flavor and texture of the bread.
If you read this blog, you know I’ve written another batard with poolish recipe. That one works great, and even though the proportions are exact, the fundamental difference with that recipe and this are the number of stretch and folds that are done with this recipe. The original had just four folds, this has six. The extra two folds make a HUGE difference in the structure of the dough!
Here’s the recipe:
* Whole Wheat Flour (fine or extra-fine ground) ** You can use regular, high-protein bread flour here, but I recommend using a high-extraction flour such as Type 85. *** Add a bit more yeast (up to a gram) if your kitchen is around 70-degrees. The amount listed here is for 75+-degree kitchen, like mine is in the summer.
†You really want to have your dough be in the 75-80 degree range. So take the temperature of your flour with a food-grade thermometer, then use the table in this article to determine what your water temp should be.
In a separate container, make the poolish mixing everything together until smooth. This is wet, and you don’t want any lumps.
Allow the poolish to rest for at least 12 hours, but probably not more than 16 hours. With this long of a resting time, make the poolish at about 8-9 PM at night, and it’ll be ready in the morning.
When you’re ready to make the final dough, transfer the poolish to a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer bowl. Add most of the water and whisk until the poolish is dissolved. Then use the rest of the water to rinse out your poolish container so you get everything.
Add the flour to the poolish mixture, and combine until there are no dry spots. It’ll be shaggy. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it autolyse for 30 – 45 minutes. It’s important not to mix to a smooth state because all we’re trying to do here is help the flour with water absorption and not start to develop the gluten structure. Note that with the poolish in there, fermentation will start, but that’s okay.
Once autolyse is complete, sprinkle the salt and yeast evenly over the top of the dough and start mixing until smooth. Admittedly, I do this with a stand mixer because it does it better than I can with my hands. I used to do this step with my hands but using a stand mixer saves me a little time; especially when the bulk fermentation takes over three hours.
One the mixture is smooth, transfer the dough to the container you’ll be using for fermentation. Once transferred, immediately do a stretch and fold of the dough to form it into a ball. Then turn the ball over onto its folds. I use Ken Forkish’s stretch and fold technique and stretch and fold in my fermentation container. There are lots of others but I started out with Ken’s technique and it’s what I’m used to. In any case, once you’ve done the stretch and fold, cover your container and put it a place where you can reasonably maintain the temperature of your dough.
Repeat step 6 every half hour for the next 3 hours. Yup… you read that right. This one takes time, but it is SO worth it! Also, note that you want to treat the dough gently and not degas it. When you stretch and fold in the bulk fermentation stage, you want to be gentle and not tear or press down on the dough.
After the last fold, let the dough rest for 45-60 minutes. You should see nice bubbles in the dough, but it shouldn’t be going crazy. Your dough should be a bit jiggly from the air pockets that have formed.
Now, carefully pour the dough onto an unfloured work area. You don’t want to degas it and ruin all the work the microbes have done. Divide the dough into two reasonably equal portions, then lightly flour the tops of the pieces. These will be the tops of your dough.
Take a portioned piece and flip it over onto the floured side (with a little flour on your board). Try to gently move the dough. If it sticks, just lift it up and sprinkle some flour underneath the sticky area. Pre-shape the piece into a nice, tight ball then flip it over onto the seams. Repeat this with the other piece.
Lightly flour the tops then cover with a floured cloth and let them rest for 15 minutes.
Once the balls have rested, shape them into the type of loaf you want and place them into an appropriate proofing container, seam side up.
Place the containers in separate plastic bags, then put them in a cool, dark place place to proof for up to 2 hours. Check after an hour though and if your dough passes the finger dent test, then it’s ready to bake.
While the dough is proofing, preheat your oven to 475-degrees. If you’re using a Dutch oven, place it in the oven now. I use a baking stone and it needs a minimum of an hour to come to temp. If using a baking stone, also place a metal baking pan (I use a 9″ cake round) on the bottom rack of the oven.
Remove your preheated Dutch oven from your oven, then place a loaf directly into it. Carefully score the top of the bread, cover the pot, then put it back into the oven. Bake covered at 475-degrees for 20 minutes, then uncovered for 10 minutes to harden the crust.
If you only have one Dutch oven, then pop the other container in the fridge while the first loaf is baking. Once it’s done, you can transfer the chilled dough directly to the Dutch oven.
Before you transfer your loaves to your peel, put about a cup of hot water into the metal baking pan to start generating steam. If your oven doesn’t have heating coils at the bottom, you can help with the steam by pouring a little on the bottom of the oven. Immediately close the door, so your loaves will enter a humid environment.
Now, transfer your loaves to your peel, then score the loaves. Now, as quickly – and safely – as you can, place your loaves onto your baking stone and get the door shut as quickly as you can. You can do the water at the bottom of the oven to get the steaming process going again.
Bake at 475-degrees for 35 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the water pan from the oven to allow the crust to set and harden for the last 15 minutes.
The cool thing about this is that with the stretch and folds, I recently started doing this because my previous loaves kept on collapsing on my peel. You have to expect a little collapse, but these were laying out too much. It was perplexing because I knew I nailed the proofing times and I’d get a big ear and an open crumb – just not much vertical rise. So I thought I needed to work the dough a bit more to get some more structure.
It turns out that this is exactly what the famous Tartine bakery in San Francisco does! I just read several Tartine recipes by various people (yes, even the famed NY Times recipe) and each had six stretch and folds over the course of three hours! Pretty awesome!
These burger buns are light, airy and fluffy, and guess what? They’re nutritious because of the whole wheat or high-extraction flour retaining the wheat’s nutrients! The dough is no-knead, but you’re still going to have to do stretch and folds for the first hour or so to help develop the gluten network and because we’re using flour with more of the bran and germ than regular flour, this dough is wet. Kneading really isn’t an option.
Tip: Though you can do the initial mix completely by hand, I’d recommend using a stand mixer if you have one.
A Note About the Flour You Use
It is critical that you use fine or extra-fine flour if you’re going to use 100% Whole Wheat. Course-ground flour has too many sharp particles in it that will literally cut the gluten strands. Myself, I use high-extraction bread flour that has about 90% of the bran and germ. It works like regular bread flour, but bakes like whole wheat flour which means it needs a really high hydration rate.
Mix the flour, butter, salt, yeast, and diastatic malt powder until fully incorporated.
Measure out the 105º water into a container, then add the honey to it and stir until the honey is completely dissolved.
Slowly add the water/honey mixture to the dry ingredients, then mix until smooth with no lumps (this is why I suggest using a stand mixer as it makes it a lot easier).
Check the dough. It will be too wet, so with your mixer running at Speed 2, add a couple of extra tablespoons of flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, but is still pooled at the bottom. You don’t want to make a dense ball with this dough!
Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl and cover it with a towel to rest for 10 minutes.
Stretch and fold the dough, turn the dough over onto the folds, then let it rest for another 10 minutes.
Repeat the stretch and folds every 10 minutes for the next hour for a total of 6 stretch and folds. By the last stretch and fold, you should see plenty of large bubbles forming.
Cover the bowl again and let the dough rest for an hour or until the ball doubles in size (don’t worry, with this amount of yeast and with the diastatic malt powder, the yeast will go crazy).
Once doubled, gently pour the dough out onto an unfloured bench being careful no to tear the dough and ruin all the hard work the yeast has just done.
Divide the dough into 125-gram pieces. This recipe will make about 14 buns. Only 6 will fit on a standard cookie sheet, so you can do as I did and make a baguette or mini-batard with the excess dough.
Sprinkle flour over the tops of the divided pieces. These will be the tops of your buns.
Now, lightly flour your work area.
Take a piece of dough, flip it over, gently, press it out into a circle, then shape it just like you would shape a boule, pulling an edge and bringing it to the center. If the dough sticks, add a bit of flour underneath the piece. We’re building tension on the top, so this is important!
Now, flip the ball over onto its seams, then round the ball out using a claw-like shape with your hand and rotating.
Once you’ve got a reasonably nice spherical shape, gently flatten the ball until it’s about 3-3 1/2″ in diameter, being careful not to degas it.
Place the shaped disc on a parchment-covered cookie sheet.
Repeat steps 12 – 16. But only re-flour your bench if it needs it.
Once you’ve created your discs, sprinkle flour on the top of them, then cover the cookie sheets (you’ll need 2) with a paper towel and let them proof for an hour.
At this point, pre-heat your oven to 425º. If you have double oven, then heat both so you can bake the sheets at the same tie.
After an hour, the buns will be ready to bake. If you only have a single oven, pop the other sheet into the fridge to retard the proof (don’t worry, you can bake them right out of the fridge).
Bake for 25 minutes. Hint: To help them pop up, I put some hot water (1/2 cup) in a metal pan on the bottom rack of my oven. This develops steam and helps with the oven spring in the first 15 minutes of the bake.
Once finished, immediately transfer for cooling racks! Do not let them cool on the cookie sheet as the bottoms will get all gooey!
I’m going to just be up front: The one thing you have to expect when you introduce 100% whole wheat flour into your dough, or like me, where you use a combination of high-extraction flour and whole wheat is that you will not get a big vertical oven spring; at least compared to a pure white flour loaf. The more bran and germ there are in the flour, the less vertical rise you’ll get and that’s a fact of life and there’s nothing you can do about it.
This is something I’ve had to expect once I made the move to more nutritious flour. Especially when I moved to high-extraction flour in lieu of white bread flour, I noticed a distinct lessening of the vertical rise. The fact that my bread was making nice ears meant that I was getting great oven spring (as evidenced above) and open crumb. It just hasn’t been as vertical and you know what? I’m now okay with that! But admittedly, it has taken several adjustments to achieve the crumb that I achieved with those loaves above.
Before I go on to explain what I did, I just can’t believe the flavor and texture of the final bread that this combination of flours produces. It’s chewy but with a velvety-smooth texture. I just can’t say enough about how great these Azure Standard Unifine flours are!
Lots of changes to my process… I used to pride myself on being able to make bread in a day, but with the switch to these flours, that’s no longer possible if I want to get results like I got above.
The first thing I had to do was up my hydration to 82%. I started out with 75%, 78% and 80% hydration, and while the loaves turned out pretty good, they were still a little dense. Just that extra 2% between 80 and 82 made a HUGE difference. Now you might think that at 82% the dough would be difficult to work with. I won’t lie. It’s a challenge, but it’s not nearly as bad as one might think. You just have to get used to working with a wet dough.
The next adjustment that I made was using a poolish. But instead of doing an overnight poolish, I started it at 7 AM in the morning, let it bubble up for 12 hours. then made my final dough at 7pm.
After mixing the final dough, I kneaded it until smooth, let it rest for 10 minutes, then did a stretch and fold. I then did five more stretch and folds every 10 minutes over the next hour or so.
After I did the last stretch and fold, I moved my container to the fridge where I let it bulk ferment for 14 hours. After the bulk ferment, I divided and shaped the loaves, then proofed them for 45 minutes at room temperature, then popped my bannetons in the fridge for an hour.
I then baked the loaves at 500 degrees for 30 minutes on my baking stone.
Here’s the recipe:
In a separate container, make the poolish and mix everything together until smooth. This wet, you don’t want any lumps. You can make this in the early morning then let it sit out all day (at least 12 hours) at room temperature, then make the final dough in the early evening – you’re going to refrigerate it for awhile. At the end of the 12 hours, it should be pretty bubbly.
Just before the poolish is finished fermenting, in large bowl, add the remaining flour.
Add the water to the remaining flour, but reserve a little bit (like 50-100 grams) to rinse out the poolish container after you’ve added the poolish.
Mix the flour and water until you get a shaggy dough, then let it rest and autolyse for 30 minutes. We just want to get it started because bulk fermentation will take place in the fridge.
After the final dough has rested, evenly sprinkle the salt and yeast over the dough, then add the poolish to it.
Rinse out the poolish container with the water you reserved and make sure you get everything in the poolish container. Add that to the final dough.
Mix well until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
At this point, you either dump it out on your board and knead it until it’s smooth, or if you’re using a stand mixer, mix at Speed 2 until the dough is smooth.
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then do a stretch and fold.
Over the next hour or so, do a stretch and fold every ten minutes until you’ve done 5 or 6 folds. You’ll know you’ve done enough when you pick up a corner of the dough and the whole ball comes will try to come with it without tearing.
Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap and let it ferment in your fridge for at least 14 hours or until the dough about doubles in size. It really depends on the temperature of your fridge. I have my mini fridge set to 49-degrees and 14 hours is the sweet spot. You should see some nice bubbles in the dough. If not, let it ferment some more. It could take up to 30 hours.
Once the dough has doubled, remove it from the fridge and divide and shape it as you normally would, but be EXTREMELY gentle with the dough. You do not want to degas it!
Once shaped, proof for 45-minutes to an hour at room temperature, then move the loaves into your fridge once again to chill for an hour.
Once chilled, remove the loaves from their proofing containers, score the loaves, then bake for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.
Yes, this is at least a 2-day process. But believe me, the results are totally worth it!