I Love Baking with Kamut Flour!

I love working with ancient grain flour. To me, there’s a certain romance to working with grain that bread makers have used for thousands of years. To think that I’d be working with flour made from grain that bakers from ancient civilizations used makes my mind wander back to those ancient times and what it would have been like to bake back then.

Kamut, which is the commercial name for Khorasan wheat is an ancient grain that I discovered several months, but with which I only started recently baking. Its exact origin is unclear, but it is named after a historical area called “Khorasan” which was a region in what is known as the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. The predominant civilizations that occupied that area were the Mesopotamians and Sumerians. If they were cultivating and using that grain, we’re talking about a grain that was used thousands of years ago! And we’re talking about 5,000+ years ago. I don’t know about you, but to me at least, that’s incredibly exciting!

But other than the romanticism I’ve assigned to the grain, baking with Kamut flour is incredible. Similar to durum flour, it absorbs water slowly, so it requires an autolyse period. And like durum flour, once hydrated, it forms a luxurious, highly pliable dough. And again, like durum or other whole grain flour, it absorbs a lot of water. Most of the bread I make with it is in the 78-82% hydration rate range. Even at those levels, the dough is very workable and not too tacky.

Interestingly enough, Kamut has a lower protein content than durum and whole wheat. The Kamut flour I use from Azure Standard, is rated at 11.7% protein, which is along the lines of King Arthur or Bob’s AP flour. So I often mix it with a little vital wheat gluten to get the protein content to around 14%. The reason for this is that even though it is milled to a super-smooth consistency, it still is a whole grain and will tend to cut the gluten strands. Admittedly, I’m still experimenting with how much vital wheat gluten I add.

As far as baking is concerned, see the loaves in the picture above? They were all made with 40% Kamut flour. The baguettes used 20% high-extraction and 40% AP Flour, whereas the batards used 10% whole wheat (from the starter), 30% high-extraction, and 20% AP Flour. For the batards, with that much bran in the dough, I wasn’t expecting large holes. But look at the oven spring of those loaves! It’s absolutely incredible. The batards exploded in the oven. The crumb, though not possessed of big holes was still really light and airy. And the texture – OMG, the texture – was absolutely fabulous!

And don’t get me started on the taste. Kamut flour adds a slight sweetness and a definite nuttiness to the flavor of the bread. Even though it’s whole grain flour, you don’t get that grain-forward taste. The taste is akin to macadamia nuts, and it’s addictive. I gave one of the loaves to a friend who brought it over to her aunt’s for a small luncheon. The ladies loved it so much they ate over half of it at lunchtime, then according to my friend, they polished it off at dinner. That loave was not small, weighing in at over 2 1/2 pounds.

It also helped that the sourdough was made from a nectarine botanical starter I had just cultivated. The fruity notes in the starter definitely integrated well Kamut’s nuttiness. Even my family who has gotten pretty used to having artisan bread around loved that loaf. Many sandwiches and avocado toasts were made.

Along with durum, Kamut flour will most likely be a regular blending flour for me. Technically, I could do 100% Kamut, but it’s relatively expensive at $1.57/pound. Contrast that to Durum, which is $0.94/pound. I’ve got to stretch it to make it last. Plus, I can only get it in 25-lb bags, which is a bummer. I’d love to be able to get 50-lb bags. But Kamut has limited cultivation in the US, so it’s definitely not as available as other flour.

I’m so glad I discovered Kamut. Like I said, It’ll be part of my regular flour blend from here on out!

Still Splitting Hairs

In my previous post, I quoted the following originally from a New York Times article:

Mitchell Davis of the Beard Foundation believes that the bagel, like ketchup, is a product ill served by current food trends. ‘‘The effect of artisanship does not always produce a better result…’

While that article focused on bagels, the same can be applied to bread. Having done a real deep-dive into ancient bread making techniques over the last several months, I’ve developed a sensitivity to innovating too much. As I mentioned in my article, when I bake bread based on traditional recipes, I do my best to stick to the traditional ingredients and techniques.

Take, for instance, the humble baguette. While technically, it has only been recognized as a specific loaf called a “baguette” for only a couple of hundred years, it is steeped in a tradition of French long loaves that date back a few hundred years. And in 1993, the French government ratified into law (known as the Décret Pain) the ingredients that define the class “pain de tradition Française” of which baguettes are a part, as being made of flour, water, salt, and yeast.

That said, there is a little grey area with the leavening agent as Article 2, Section 2 states:

Fermented with yeast suitable for breads (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and a starter, in the sense of article 4 of this Decree, or either yeast or a starter;

That kind of opens the door to using a sourdough starter to leaven the bread. But the general interpretation of a “starter” seems to be more along the lines of using a poolish, which is a yeasted starter.

Now, why does this even matter to me at all? Simply because what I’ve learned about baguettes is that they’re not defined by their shape, but by their dough. I know, you see a long, thin loaf of bread with diagonal scoring along the length, and you immediately say, “baguette.” And I suppose that to the consumer, it doesn’t matter. But now, when I see “sour” or “sourdough” preceding “baguette,” I know, based on my research, that loaf is technically “pain au levain” or bread risen with a levain.

Furthermore, circling back to “the effect of artisanship does not always produce a better product,” I’ve often found myself innovating for innovation’s sake. It’s not that the end product is bad by any means. But at least for me now, when I call a certain bread a particular type, I want to make sure that I’m not coloring outside the lines.

One of the things I was concerned about when making my baguettes was the mix of flours I was using. I typically use a combination of 60% high-extraction flour and 40% AP flour – both unbleached, so the crumb of my bread tends to be on the brown side. Luckily, the Decret Pain states in Article 2, Section 1:

Made only from a mix of wheat flours suitable for making bread, safe water and cooking salt.

I admit that I’m being a bit parochial. It’s actually a little out of character for me to so strictly observe tradition. If you knew me as a contemporary Catholic liturgical musician, you’d know that I’m not much of a traditionalist. Even in my career as a software engineer, I forged my path in technology as a visionary and innovator.

But with bread, it’s a completely different story. Don’t get me wrong, I have a few different types of bread that I make that are innovations on traditional recipes. But when it comes to making traditional bread, I’m pretty parochial. I have a real “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.

Some might say it’s limiting. But there’s a lot to be said about mastering the traditional techniques. As I journey forward in bread making (and yes, I have aspirations of eventually doing this professionally), I want to make sure that my technique is steeped in tradition.

Plus, some of the techniques are just downright difficult to master. Take the ancient Italian bread, Pane di Altamura, for instance (shown to the left). This is 100% durum wheat bread from the Altamura region of Italy. It is a very distinct-looking loaf, sporting a pompadour of sorts. The dough itself, like pretty much all Italian bread, is uncomplicated, as is the dough processing. But learning to shape that bread is a different story altogether. It has taken me several bakes to even approach what it should look like.

There are no instructional videos that teach how to shape Pane di Altamura, so I’ve had to watch slowed-down videos, of which there aren’t very many. And though the bread is distinguished by the region where it comes from, different bakers achieve the pompadour in slightly different ways. But luckily I did run across a video that had a close-up view of how one baker shapes his bread and I’ve been using that.

The point to this is that with this particular bread, there’s really no room for innovation. I suppose I could eventually tweak things here and there, but before I can do that, I need to master the basics first.

Speaking of tweaking, a few months ago I had a realization that I got to the point where I was innovating so much that I wasn’t getting consistent results. I was making tweaks everywhere. But it wasn’t until I stopped myself and stuck with a method that I started getting consistent results.

This was evident in my baguettes. I was trying a lot of different techniques and my results, while tasty, weren’t consistent at all. I now focus on two production methods depending on when I want to bake. I use a pointage en bac or slow rise method for flavor development that I learned from Chef Markus Farbinger (which is also my normal two-day method) or, if I want a same-day bake and a more grain-forward taste, I use the baguettes de tradition method that Jeffrey Hamelman presents in his book “Bread.”

But in both cases, I use the same shaping technique that I learned from Chef Farbinger. Now, no matter what dough development technique I use, my baguettes come out looking the same. It’s comforting because as simple as the ingredients are in baguettes, they’re probably the most challenging bread to get right. And shaping is absolutely critical, which is why I use the same technique for both dough production methods. Besides, if it’s good for a master chef, it’s certainly good for me. 🙂

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all against innovation. But as with anything in life, you have to be well-versed in the foundational aspects of different bread before you can branch out. But here in America, it’s almost expected to “do your own thing” and there’s this seemingly pervasive attitude to innovate for innovation’s sake. And I think that’s where many people run into the proverbial brick wall or worse – they come up with some pretty funky creations (the funkiest I’ve seen are blue croissants).

At least for me, I do heed those words Mitchell Davis wrote: The effect of artisanship does not always produce a better result.

Sticking with Tradition

I recently read an article on Medium discussing how Boichik Bagels in Berkeley was voted the Best Bagel in America by the New York Times. I don’t know that I’d agree as my local bagel shop that I’ve been going to for almost forty years has great bagels. But I’m not here to debate that. What struck me in the article though was the following:

…When the New York Times last considered West Coast bagels in 2015, their conclusion was that West Coasters couldn’t make a good one because they tried too hard to innovate. Rather than putting in years of practice to hone and perfect old-world techniques — and to obsess over tiny details like the alkalinity of their water — they tried to create new twists on the traditional bagel, adding in sourdough starter, cooking up gluten-free varieties, and the like.

With bagels, Mitchell Davis of the Beard Foundation told the Times in 2015, “the effect of artisanship does not always produce a better result.” A great bagel is fundamentally traditional, steeped in long-developed cultural trends and a peoples’ collective memory. It’s not something that benefits from “updating” or from the artisanship and personalization which West Coast chefs often bring to their trade.

Reading those two paragraphs above struck me like ton of bricks!

Though my return to baking started out with just wanting to make a decent loaf of bread, my journey since then has led me to doing my best to replicate old world techniques in the modern age. It harkened me back to a recent conversation where a close friend suggested that I make sourdough baguettes.

I make sourdough baguettes from time to time, but technically, baguettes are typically yeasted breads, using a poolish preferment, or a simply a straight dough as in the pointage en bac or baguettes de tradition methods. To me at least, baguettes using a levain are different. Don’t get me wrong. I love the taste, especially when I use one of my botanical starters. But I normally call the bread I make with levain Sourdough French Bread as opposed to being called a baguette. By French law, breads made with a levain are called “pain au levain.”

I realize that I’m splitting hairs, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my journey: I don’t like to mess with tradition with certain loaves. I may try different methods; for instance, I’ve learned 5 different approaches to make baguettes, but for the most part, I do my best to stick to the traditional methods where I can. This especially rings true for the ancient Italian bread that I make like Pane di Como Antico, or Pane di Altamura. These have literally been made for thousands of years. Who am I to tweak them?

That said, I’m not a curmudgeon. I innovate all the time, experimenting with different flour mixes or adjust protein levels or hydration or even levain amounts. But if I’m making something I intend to call by its traditional name, I pretty much follow the traditional method.

As Emily Winston, owner and chef of Boichick bagels said:

I wasn’t trying to be an innovative chef, and I wasn’t trying to make something new. I don’t have a horse in that race,” Winston said. Instead, she was “trying to make something that already existed…

That totally reverberates with me. With the traditional recipes I use, I really don’t want to be an innovator. Obviously, I can’t copy everything that was done hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and I certainly don’t have a stone hearth oven. But I do my best to observe the ingredients and processes that are in the recipes. I’m trying to make something that already existed, that has hundreds or even thousands of years of tradition behind it, not to mention bakers who have devoted their entire lives to making that bread. For me at least, I think it’s super important to carry on that legacy where I can.

Happy Baking!

Working Backwards… Or, Thank Goodness for Formulas!

Once I started getting into more advanced recipes, be they sourdough or straight dough, and especially reading books like Jeffrey Hamelman’s “Bread,” which focus heavily on production, it made me start thinking in terms of yield. That is, how much dough should I produce based on the size (weight) of the loaves I wanted to make.

For months, I kind of flailed around using a kilo of dough for pretty much everything, then dividing it up into equal portions. But frankly, that wasn’t very efficient, and it certainly lend itself to consistency from bake to bake.

Why? Simply because if you tweak anything, it changes the weight of the final dough. For instance, let’s say I always use 1 kilo of flour. If I’m making baguettes, I know that I want my hydration to be 75%. Easy enough, the final dough’s flour and water will weigh 1750g. But what if I wanted to drop the hydration to 65% using the same amount of flour. That weight would drop to 1650g! See what I mean?

So what I needed was a way to calculate the ingredient amounts I’d need based on the final weight of the dough. For instance, if I’m making baguettes, my 20-22 inch baguettes should weight 350g apiece. If I want to make 8 baguettes, then I should produce 8 X 350 or 2800g of dough. That’s all well and good, but how do I calculate how much flour, water, salt, and yeast I’d need? This is where the baker’s formula comes into play.

Basic Calculation

Let’s take a simple straight dough baguette formula. In Hamelman’s book, the overall formula would look something like this:

Flour 100%
Water 76%
Salt 1.8%
Yeast 0.25%
Total: 178.05%

When I first saw a formula listed like this, I have to admit that I was totally confused about the number that added all the percentages together. What I later found out is that number is the key to calculating the amount of flour in a recipe based on the final weight of the dough! You simply divide the final dough weight by that number, and you get the total flour in the recipe!

So taking my need for 2800g of dough, the flour I’d need would be 2800 / 1.7805 which calculates to about 1573g, rounded-up. From there, it’s easy to calculate the water, salt, and yeast.

Factoring in a Preferment

A mistake that I used to make and what I see in some books, a lot of blogs, and forum posts is treating a preferment (starter, levain, poolish, biga, etc.) as an ingredient. For instance, saying to use 10% starter. A preferment is simply not an ingredient. It’s a dough development stage; that is, it is part of the overall dough formula and thus the weight of its constituent contents is what’s meaningful, not the preferment itself.

Why is this important? Think about it this way: Let’s take the 1573g grams of flour that I’d need to make my baguettes, for example. 10% of that would be 157g. But if we add 10% of that to the recipe, treating the preferment as an ingredient, we’ll completely throw off our weights. Remember, we’re after a final weight of 2800. If we add 157g to that, we go up to 2957g. Not good.

Furthermore, different preferments will have different hydration rates. If we use a 200% hydration liquid starter, that’ll completely screw up the hydration that I want to be at 76%; not by much, but enough to make a difference in how the dough performs.

So the better approach to take is to consider the flour content in the preferment as a fraction of the total flour, then subtract the flour and water in the preferment from the overall flour and water to keep the final weight the same. With this method, we ensure that the preferment is truly a fraction of the overall dough and not an added ingredient.

The spreadsheet below is something I put together to help me calculate my ingredient amounts for pretty much any kind of bread that I make. I’ve included various other ingredients that I might use. It all goes into the calculation. It’s also available on Google Spreadsheets. Just copy all and paste it into a new sheet.

This has become an invaluable tool for me in calculating exactly what I need to bake all sorts of bread.

Baking Bread on “Staycation”

Making a biga for ciabattas this afternoon!

So… I’m sitting here in Waimanalo, Oahu, Hawaii where my wife rented a house for a couple of weeks so we could all “work from home” away from our real home for awhile. We arrived in the early evening and went out for dinner last night, but we spent WAY too much on dinner, having dined at one of Guy Fieri’s Triple D restaurants, Uahi Grill in Kailua. It was good, but nothing spectacular.

I had the poké which was pretty good, but to be honest, Fresh Catch in Kaneohe is WAY better; so is the poké at Foodland Supermarket – and they have 10 different varieties that they make fresh every day! But I digress…

Anyway, after getting over the initial shock of spending over $200 on dinner last night (it’s not that we can’t afford it, it’s just a lot to pay for okay food), since we rented a house, I promised my wife I’d go grocery shopping the next day and get provisions so I could cook dinner most of the nights we’re here.

So early this morning, I drove to the local Foodland to pick up groceries and, of course, today’s supply of poké. On the menu, at least for the next couple of days, are some traditional Filipino and Hawaiian dishes like Pork Adobo and Pancit and Spam Musubi.

While I was going down the Rice and Pasta aisle, it just happened to be the baking goods aisle as well. I was not intending to bake on this trip. I was going to take a little break. But the kids wanted to make sandwiches for lunch and I’m sorry, even though Foodland bakes their own bread and it’s pretty good as grocery store bread goes, I just can’t get myself to buy grocery store bread any longer.

As I’m writing this, I looked up at my wife who’s sitting across the kitchen table from me and said, “I ust realized that I haven’t bought a loaf of bread for over a year! There’s just been no need.”

My aversion to grocery store bread was strong enough to overcome my wanting to take a bread from baking. Yeah, I’m pretty obsessed with baking, though not so crazy as to bring a starter with me. But truth be told, baking on this particular trip is purely practical. I’d rather bake my own bread where I know exactly what goes into it, than buy bread that has additives and preservatives in it.

Luckily Foodland had some King Arthur flour and Red Start Active Dry Yeast on hand. Niether were cheap, but I’ll be making ciabattas later today (I’ve got a biga started). Technically, I probably could make baguettes as well, but I’ll see how it goes with the ciabattas first.

The challenge here is that I have no scale, so I’m going to have to pretty much eyeball everything. As I wasn’t planning on baking in the first place, I didn’t even bring my trusty, compact precision scale which I could’ve easily packed. But hey! After watching several shows of people making traditional breads by hand, and owing to the fact that I bake so much that I’ve learned to determine a dough’s consistency by look and feel, this won’t be much of a problem for me. In fact, I’m pretty excited!

Every time I bake, I get this excited feeling. At least for the past year since I’ve put a lot of energy into artisan baking, I get this anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. But it’s a good anxious; that anxiousness of anticipation, and I just can’t help but smile. I have to admit that I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been since I picked up baking.

Even when I’m doing my charity projects where I’m baking a bunch of loaves at once, it’s like my brain releases a flood of serotonin into my bloodstream, and my feelings of well-being and happiness go straight through the roof! Is it weird? Maybe. But I’m addicted to the feeling.

Well, I just realized that I forgot to get a small bottle of olive oil, so I need to go out to the grocery store again…

Happy Baking!

P.S. Here’s what the finished product looks like!

Recipe: Biga Baguettes

I needed to make lunch for the family tomorrow and I didn’t figure out what I was going to make until too late. I knew that I wanted to make sandwiches, but I wanted to make them on baguettes. But since it was late afternoon by the time I was going to start making them, my recipe options were a bit limited. I couldn’t make my normal Pointage en Bac baguettes which require an overnight cold fermentation (I had to have the sandwiches prepared early in the morning). That also left out making a poolish.

But what I did have on hand was some nice, ripe biga that was in my fridge. So I pulled it out of the fridge, let it warm up for an hour or so, and started preparing the dough. They turned out fantastic! They’re so good that I thought I’d share the recipe.


Make the biga the night before you bake. This will make a lot, so put the unused portion of the biga in the fridge in an airtight container. It’ll keep for over a week. It’s actually much more flavorful a few days old. The biga I used for my baguettes was five days old and had a rich and slightly sour flavor. Here’s the formula:

Biga will be ready to use when it has doubled in size and is slightly domed at the top.

Final Dough

AP Flour500g100%
Water* (warm)390g78%
*Target dough temp is 78-80° F

The process we’re going to use here is loosely based on Hamelman’s Baguettes de Tradition which is a great recipe for making straight dough baguettes.

  1. Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside then mix the biga and water together until biga is broken up. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly, making sure there are no lumps (there’s shouldn’t be if you sifted the dry ingredients together). Mix until you form a shaggy mass. Don’t worry if it resembles more of a batter than a dough. It’ll all smooth out and come together nicely.
  2. Bulk ferment for 3 hours. During the first hour of bulk fermentation, fold the dough every 20 minutes. I recommend doing stretch and folds as opposed to coil folds as this is a fairly fast fermentation and the commercial yeast will expand the dough nicely. By the third fold, the dough will have built up plenty of strength with noticeable bubbles. Try not to degas the dough too much with the third fold. Let the dough rest for 2 hours or until it has nearly doubled.
  3. The yield will be about 1100g, which will give you 4 20″ baguettes at about 276g apiece. If you’re using a 15″ length, it will make 5 baguettes at 220g apiece. Divide and scale out the size that works for you. With each piece, lightly flatten, then letterfold it, then gently roll it into a compact log. Place each piece seam side up on a well-floured couche or tea towel. Bench rest for 20-30 minutes or until the dough has relaxed.
  4. Shape into baguettes and let rise for 1 hour or until loaves have reach about 75-80% fermentation.
  5. Bake at 485°F for 12 minutes with steam, then 425°F for 8-12 minutes. Note that the baguettes will not be very dark.

What amazed me about these baguettes is that despite the fact that I baked them for much longer than the final 12 minutes they didn’t get darker than when the time was up. But no matter, the crust on these baguettes is thin but very crisp and the crumb is super-soft. The crumb isn’t really open and pockmarked with holes, but it it’s super-light – almost like a banh mi crumb.

When I pick up a baguette and it feels as if it has very little weight, I know it’s going to be a great baguette, and these baguettes are great!

Happy Baking!

Arnold Palmer: “The Road to Success Is Always Under Construction”

Those who know me know I have kind of an obsession about golf. I learned the game kind of late – at 18 years old – but from the moment I picked up a club, I was hooked. Absolutely hooked. I even moved to Las Vegas in the hopes of eventually becoming a PGA teaching pro. That didn’t happen for me for lots of reasons but my love for the game of golf has never wavered.

One of my golf idols throughout my playing career has been Arnold Palmer. To me, he was a man of the people. Though he had four green jackets from winning The Masters four times, he was always known to be totally accessible to his fans. But not only that, he carried a wisdom with him that he readily shared.

Arnie’s words of wisdom that I shared in the title of this post have inspired me through the years. I don’t remember when he said them (and I realize this quote is also attriuted to Lily Tomlin), but I remember that when I heard them, it was during a particularly difficult time in my life where I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do. And upon hearing those words, I was inspired; inspired to keep on charging forward, to keep on working. To never quit.

I’m at that point with my bread making right now. I’ve started working with more difficult formulations and techniques and while the bread is coming out delicious and to the untrained eye it looks fine, I’m not satisfied. I’m not getting an ear with my many of my loaves as of late and it bugs me.

But this afternoon, I sat down at the TV to watch the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament and right before a commercial break, they showed a statue of Arnold Palmer with the quote right next to it. I just smiled because I knew that though I’m frustrated right now, I just have to keep on working at it.

Plus, I realized that I should know better. I’m working with much more advanced formulations and techniques and I need to practice before I get the results that I’m expecting I should get. It’s a road that’s definitely under construction!

Happy Baking!

Dividing and Scaling Baguettes

One of the most important things I’ve learned about baking is striving to achieve consistency; that is, doing things the same way time after time to achieve consistent results. When bake a certain type of loaf, I expect it to fit a particular ideal I’ve established in appearance and taste. And as long as I haven’t strayed from the basic formula and process, it’s reasonable to assume that ideal will be met.

One way I achieve consistency is working with different ratios. After all, bread formulas are all about ratios. And working with ratios eliminates guesswork, and a lot of it you can do in your head. For instance, if I want to create a 75% hydration dough and I use a kilo of total flour, I automatically know that I’ll need 750g of water.

So given that, I worked out a ratio for scaling baguettes that ensures that I’ll get consistent results from bake to bake. Essentially it works like this:

Target Baguette Length (centimeters) X 5.5 = Portion Weight (grams)

Where did I get that “5.5?” I actually got it from Chef Markus Farbinger’s Baguette series on Vimeo. He scales out 220g portions for 40cm (~15 1/2 inches) baguettes. So given that, I took the weight of the portion and divided it by the length to give me grams per centimeter and that works out to 5.5g/cm. Because I have a nice baking stone, I bake 60cm baguettes (I used to do 40 cm), but I was able to easily scale up to 60cm and I know that each portion should be 330g. Easy, right?

I make four different types of baguettes: Baguette Traditional (straight dough), Pointage en Bac (straight dough with a slow bulk ferment – the one I bake the most), Levain, and of course, a Poolish baguette. No matter the type, I scale them the same. I may not bake them the same; for instance, the levain baguette gets a lot more oven time to get color into the crust. But they’re all scaled the same. For me, as I mentioned above, it takes the guesswork out of things.

The less you guess, the more consistent your results!

Happy Baking!

Recipe: Pane di Altamura

Ever since I got Carol Fields’ book, “The Italian Baker,” I’ve been wanting to make this bread. It is a truly ancient bread from the Puglia region of Italy and known for it’s pompadour top. The pictures above are my first shot at making this bread, and though they turned out pretty nice, I still have some work to do with the shaping. No matter, the romantic in me has striven to make bread based on centuries-old recipes and Pane di Altamura is truly ancient, having been mentioned by Horatio!

Now truth be told, this recipe is technically NOT true Pane di Altamura because it is a “protected” bread under the Denominazione di Origine Protetta, which specifies that the flour must come from the Puglia region. Plus, the high mineral content water of that area apparently contributes to the distinctive taste of the bread. But even still, I believe we can get pretty close to the original. All I know is that the two loaves I made today are gone. My family ate one loaf, and the family I gave the other loaf to demolished the bread! This will definitely be a regular part of my repertoire from here on out!

This recipe uses 200g of biga made from durum flour. But I made the loaves above with the same amount of levain simply because I was making a big batch of bread for donation today and had prepped a lot of levain. But I’ll give the formula for the biga (besides, I prepared a biga right before I started writing this post, so I figured I might as well add it).

BTW, I get my durum flour from Azure Standard (and no, this isn’t an affiliate link).


Baker’s %Example
Durum Wheat Flour100%500g
  1. Mix all ingredients together until smooth
  2. Cover and let ferment for 6-12 hours (the longer the better)

This will yield more biga than what is called for, but I put the unused portion in a jar and put it in the fridge so I have biga on hand. It’ll last about a week.

Final Dough

Baker’s %Example
Durum Wheat Flour80%800g
AP Flour20%200g
Target dough temp: 78°F/25°C

According to Carol Fields, most Italian home bakers invariably use a mixer, but this recipe is small enough to mix by hand.

  1. Mix flour and water together until well-incorporated and autolyse for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Add the biga, salt, and yeast and mix well.
  3. Knead the dough until smooth.
  4. Bulk ferment for 3 hours in a warm place to maintain the dough temp. Fold the dough twice during the first hour evey 30 minutes. Then let rise for 2 hours. The dough should at least double. If it doesn’t in that time, let it sit until it is fully doubled. My dough expanded about 2 1/2 the original volume.
  5. Divide the dough into two pieces and shape into rounds, much like you would a boule using your hands or a scraper. Bench rest for an hour or until the dough forms nice, large bubbles on the surfact. Mine took 1 1/2 hour.
  6. Shape the dough. There’s no tutorial for this. I had to watch that video a few times to get the motions down and immediately transfer to your loading board or peel. If you don’t have a baking stone, you can use an inverted baking sheet that’s covered with parchement.
  7. Bake at 485°F/250°C for 20 minutes with steam.
  8. Remove steam container then bake at 435°F/225°C for 25-30 minutes or until the pompadour has a deep burnished color.

This is such an easy bread to prepare but I realized that the trick to it is in that final shaping. It’s not that difficult to get the sections shaped, but it will take me practice. One thing that I know I will have to do next time is to bring the pompadour section a little more forward so it sits more over the base.

Happy Baking!

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Poolish Baguette (Adapted)

It’s no secret that I love making baguettes. In fact, I made a batch of sourdough baguettes based on Hamelman’s Baguettes de Tradition from his great book “Bread” this morning. Technically, Baguettes de Tradition is a straight dough. But I love the processing technique and it’s difficult to make because the hydration is 76%. And using a levain further exacerbates things because the acid in it makes the dough more extensible – and sticky.

But after I made them, I wondered what the chef’s poolish formula was like, so I looked it up and was a little shocked by his formula. A 66% hydration dough? That couldn’t be right. It’s commonly accepted that baguette dough is around 75% hydration, give or take a percentage point or two. It’s a fairly wet dough. But 66% is getting close to stiff!

But the kicker for this recipe is the long bulk fermentation at 2-2 1/2 hours and the long final fermentation at 1-1/2 hours. This gives the dough plenty of time to form lots of air bubbles, which is what you want with baguettes plus, the long periods of rest in the bulk fermentation give the dough plenty of time to relax. With a moderately stiff dough like this, you want to give it plenty of relaxation time if you can.

As my title indicates, this is an adapted recipe. The reason for this is that in the book, the quantities are all listed in kilos and pounds, which leads me to believe that this recipe really is geared towards a full-fledged bakery. But everything can be scaled if you work out the percentages properly. Also, the chef uses fresh yeast in his final dough, but I adapted the recipe to use regular, instant dry yeast for both the poolish and final dough. There’s no difference in what either does. You just use less granulated yeast. Here’s the formula:

PoolishFinalTotalBaker’s %
Bread Flour3306701000100.00%
*Target dough temp is 76-78°F so adjust water temp accordingly.
**If you have fresh yeast and want to use it in place of the granulated yeast, just divide by 0.4.


  1. Mix all the ingredients together until smooth. I like mixing the yeast into the flour first to distribute it, then adding the water. Let ferment at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours or until the top is highly pockmarked and bubbling and ever so slightly domed.
  2. When the poolish is ready, dump everything thing into a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. If using a mixer, incorporate ingredients at low speed for a couple of minutes, then increase speed to second speed and run for 1-2 minutes to break up any large lumps. Once the dough starts to pull cleanly off the sides, stop. If mixing by hand, thoroughly mix until moderately smooth being careful not to knead the dough too much.1
  3. Bulk ferment the dough for 2 hours, gently folding it after the first hour and being careful not to degas it too much.
  4. Divide2 the dough and lightly shape it into rounds, then bench rest (covered) on a lightly floured surface seam side up for 10 to 30 minutes depending on tightly you preshaped them. I recommend having a fairly light touch as you don’t want a skin to form.
  5. Once the dough has relaxed, shape them into long cylinders then set them on a well-floured couche or tea towel seam side up.
  6. Let the shaped loaves do a final fermentation for 1-1 1/2 hour. This is VERY important because shaping the loaves will have degassed them a bit and this long, final fermentation allows the gluten to relax and reform bubbles.
  7. Preheat oven to 460°F. When the loaves are ready, bake them for 24-26 minutes applying steam for the first 15 minutes.


  1. Whether using a machine or mixing by hand it’s important to NOT knead a baguette dough too much. You want the fermentation process to naturally form the gluten bonds and not force it by kneading. This will really tighten up the dough which you don’t want.
  2. Since I bake on a stone, I divide the dough into five pieces at about 336g apiece and 20″ long. You can do 8 pieces at about 14-15″ long as well to fit on a baking or baguette tray.

I’ve been writing this post while smack dab in the process of making these baguettes. I have to admit that I was really surprised at how supple the dough was when it ready to shape. It wasn’t nearly as pliable as my normal, high-hydration baguettes, but it was still pliant and luxurious.

And because it was rather cool in my kitchen, I let bulk fermentation go for almost three hours. And even at that point, it was easily less than 80% fully proofed. But that’s okay because it gave me plenty of runway for final fermentation, which I’ll probably take to a full 1 1/2 hour to ensure the loaves are close to fully proofed. This is definitely a recipe where I need to let everything that happens before baking get most of the work done on the dough!

Happy Baking!