My Master Pizza Dough

Za’atar Flatbread

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

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

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

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

Overall Formula

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

Biga

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

Final Dough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciabatta with Biga

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

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

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

Overall Formula

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

Biga

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

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

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

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

Final Dough

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laminate. Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Using wet or well-floured hands (and I also use my bench scraper), gently tug the dough into a large rectangle about 3/4″ thick. You don’t want to pull it too thin because you want to retain the bubbles as much as possible. Gently stretch out one of the short sides of the dough then fold it 2/3 over the sheet, then repeat with the other side. Do this again with the short sides of the dough, then gently roll it over onto the seams – no need to seal. Move the dough ball to a lightly oiled bowl for the final stage of bulk fermentation. Let the dough almost triple. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. At this point, we’re after bubble production!

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

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

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

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

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

A good ciabatta will be riddled with holes!

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

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

Happy Baking!

What About Using Sourdough?

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

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

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

Overall Formula

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

Starter

Preferment Flour % of Total20%
Hydration %75%

Final Dough (Yield: 2 X 500g loaves)

Flour425
Water388
Salt10
Yeast2
Preferment186

Notes

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

Recipe: Sourdough Baguettes (Updated)

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

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

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

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

Overall Formula

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

Levain

Preferment Flour % of Total25%
Hydration %100%

Final Dough

Flour577
Water392
Salt15
Yeast4
Preferment385
Total Yield4 X 340g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp76°F

Levain. Build a levain to yield the amount you’ll need for the bake. With these baguettes, the flour of the levain represents 25% of the total flour needed in the recipe.

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

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

Folding. Gently fold 3 times in the first hour at 20-minute intervals. By the third fold, the dough should be smooth and supple, with bubbles forming.

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

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

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

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

Pointage En Bac / Slow Rise Baguettes

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

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

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

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

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

What makes it possible is retarding the dough. Sure, the later batches will be slightly more fermented, but if I time it right, it shouldn’t make too much of a difference.

Formula

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

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

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

Process

This is one of the few doughs that I make where I mix entirely by hand mainly because I only make enough dough to make 4 X 340g pieces.

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

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

Folding. Fold 3 times at 20-minute intervals for the first hour to develop the gas-retention properties of the dough. This is gentle folding. Though I do stretch and folds I do my best to not press down on the dough too much when folding a flap over. After the third fold, pop the dough into the fridge for a long, cold rest.

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

Divide and Shape. Dump your dough out onto a lightly floured surface, tug the dough into a rough rectangle with even thickness throughout, then cut into 340g pieces. Preshape each piece by letterfolding it, then rolling it like a jelly roll into a log. Seal the seams, then set aside on a well-floured couche for 20-30 minutes to relax the dough (this could be longer if you rolled the log tight, but don’t go over 45 minutes). After resting, shape the dough into baguettes, returning each piece to the couche, giving ample room for the loaves to expand.

There’s technically no official weight and length, though in general, the accepted final weight and length of a finished loaf is around 250g and 60cm in length. After a lot of tweaking with different weights, I found that a 340g dough weight is optimal to achieve the 250g finished weight.

Final Fermentation. 45-minutes – 1 1/2 hour depending on ambient temp. This is where feel is extremely important. While traditionally “doubling” is a decent visual cue, that will take the loaf close to full fermentation and leave very little room for expansion in the oven. And with a dough like this, which is wet and narrowly shaped, the finger dent test isn’t revealing because when you poke into it, most of the time, the dent will remain – even in the early stages of the final ferment. So it’s best to check the loaves at 30 minutes. When you do the finger dent test, you want to look at the rate that the dent pops back. If it pops back really quickly and the dent only partially remains, then the loaf isn’t ready (note: The dent will not go away right away). If it initially pops back up quickly, but immediately slows down and the dent is still pronounced and then slowly comes back, then the loaf is ready.

Happy Baking!

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

As I mentioned previously, my favorite bread to make is a baguette. And I think the primary reason is 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!

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

Here’s the formula (all weights are in grams):

Flour That I Use

In general, I use high-quality and if possible organic flour. For common AP flour, it’s almost always King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill. Both offer consistent quality for baking.

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

  • Azure Market Organics Unbleached Bread Flour, Ultra Unifine, Organic – In its place you can use a Type 85 flour or another high-extraction flour. And make sure that the flour is ground fine- to extra-fine. 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 use regular bread flour. However, one of the main reasons I suggest using high-extraction flour is that it retains most of the natural yeasts, oil, and microbes that are essentially removed from white flours; not as much as whole grain flour, but certainly much more than white flour. They will add more complexity to the overall flavor of the bread!
  • AP Flour – I struggle with this because technically you could use standard grocery store brands like Gold Medal or store label AP flour. King Arthur, Bob’s Red Mill, and Azure Standard are 11.5% to 11.7% protein. It’s really not that much difference in protein amount, but it makes a world of difference in oven spring!

Bleached or Unbleached Flour?

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

Without further ado, here’s the formula.

Overall Formula

Flour100%
Water75%
Salt2%
Yeast0.7%

Poolish

Flour100%*183
Water100%183
Yeast0.16%0.4

*It’s a good idea to make more poolish than you actually need. There will always be some loss due to evaporation and dough sticking to your mixing utensil. So even though the dough calls for 183g of flour/water, I’d take it up to 190-200g flour/water.

Final Dough

Flour550
Water374
Salt15
Yeast4
Use 2 grams if bulk fermenting cold
Preferment367
Yield4 X 325g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp78°F

Instructions

Day 1

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

Day 2

Mixing. Mix all the ingredients together – including the poolish – in a large bowl. Mix until all the ingredients are combined with no large lumps. If mixing by hand, a Danish dough whisk works great! If using a mixer, mix on the slowest speed and regularly scrape down the sides. Mix until you form a well-combined, but shaggy mass as shown to the left.

Bulk Fermentation. 2 – 2½ hours. Take the dough to about 75% of its original size. You can take it to double, but you want some food for the final ferment and doubling cuts it real close. Rolling out the baguettes will degas the dough, so you want to have room for the shaped dough to rise.

Folding. Fold three times (stretch and fold in the bowl), every 20 minutes in the first hour. I want to stress that you need to be very gentle with the folding. Definitely stretch the dough but be very careful to not tear it or degas it too much! Stretch until you feel some resistance then stop. By the end of the third fold, your dough will be smooth and luxurious. As in the picture to the right, you will see bubbles just beneath the surface of the dough.

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

Divide and Pre-shape. Gently pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Tug it into a rectangle, then divide into 325g pieces. Letter fold each piece by gently pulling out the sides and folding to the middle, then jelly-roll it perpendicular to the letter fold seam to form a rought, short log.

Seal the seam, then place on a well-floured couche, seam-side-up. Allow the dough to relax for 10-30 minutes depending on how tightly you rolled the initial log. After the bench rest, shape the logs into baguettes about 15-20″ depending on the size of your oven (I have a baking stone, so I roll mine out to 24″). and return to the couche for final fermentation. Make sure to leave lots of room in between the pieces to prevent tearing during the final ferment. You’ll know the dough’s relaxed enough when you can stretch it and it doesn’t fight you.

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

Bake. Transfer loaves to a transfer board, score, then bake at 500°F for 12 minutes with steam. Release steam, turn down oven to 425°F and bake another 15-20 minutes until you achieve a rich, russet color. Personally, I’m not a fan of taking baguettes out to super-dark. The crust at that point becomes too hard to be enjoyable. But that’s just me.

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

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

Notes

  1. You might be wondering where I got the 367g of poolish. The flour of the poolish represents 25% of the total flour if I were to just make a straight dough to make 4 X 325g loaves.
  2. You can replace the poolish with sourdough starter. I’d still use a bit of commercial yeast just to ensure you get good bubble formation. Indigenous yeasts tend to produce finer bubbles.
  3. The pre-shape step is absolutely critical, not just in starting to orient the gluten strands but it also acts as an intermediate fermentation stage, however short.
  4. When shaping baguettes, make sure your hands are lightly floured lest the dough sticks to your palms and tears the skin. You need to avoid that!
  5. Having made hundreds of baguettes, I’ve learned not to put to much importance on forming ears on the loaves as you can see with the loaves above. I actually cold-fermented the shaped loaves before I baked them because I had other loaves in the oven. They kind of formed a skin even though I had them covered. And though they were delicious, they were pretty crunchy. The aesthetic that I go for now is to get a moderately crunchy crust, but not to go overboard.
  6. It is ULTRA-important that you don’t take the final fermentation all the way to the finish. You actually want to get to about 85-90% fermentation, then bake. This’ll ensure that you get great oven spring. Otherwise, the loaves will be flat.
  7. As mentioned above, if you want to do a longer cold bulk fermentation, use less yeast. I’d start out by using half the yeast. But you could treat the bulk like pizza dough and use even less and take a couple of days for bulk fermentation.

Using a Sourdough Starter

People have asked if they could use a levain in place of a poolish. Of course you can! But to make it easier, here’s my recipe for sourdough baguettes.

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

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

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

Same-Day, Straight Dough Ciabatta

One would think that with the bread craze that has swept the world during the pandemic lockdown, that sourdough is the only bread being made, and that the only bread that qualifies as artisan can only be made with a starter. That’s bullshit of course because doing something in an artisan way has little to do with the ingredients or materials and almost everything to do with craftsmanship.

When I make ciabatta, I typically use a biga or a poolish. But sometimes, I just want some bread. So as I do with Baguettes de Tradition, I’ll just whip up a batch of dough in early in the morning, and have fresh, hot bread for breakfast. No, it doesn’t keep, but at the small quantities I make, it’s gone in less than a day.

One might think that a straight dough can be bland and boring. But done right, a bread made from a straight dough can be absolutely wonderous. And I will submit that while a same-day straight dough bread may not have the depth of flavor of one made with a preferment or employing a slow-rise, cold bulk ferment, employing great technique will go a long way toward making up for that.

That said, one way to add a little flavor complexity is to use a flour blend. Though I list using unbleached AP flour in the formula, my flour is actually a blend of 30% high-extraction flour and 70% AP flour. The high-extraction flour lends a nuttiness to the overall flavor of the bread, plus an ever-so-slight grainy texture to it making it seem much more substantial than it actually is.

Especially with ciabatta, the crisp, crackly, and crunchy crust combined with the light and airy crumb, redolent with large holes can create a magical bread. A full bake that activates the Meillard reaction (but not taking it to super-dark) can add flavors that would otherwise not be present on lightly baked loaves.

Overall Formula

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour100.00%
Water75.00%
Salt2.00%
Yeast1.50%
Milk10%
Olive Oil4.00%

Final Dough

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*525
Water394
Salt10
Yeast8
Milk52
Olive Oil21
Yield2 X 500g loaves
Optimal Dough Temp76°F
*Preferably organic and definitely > 11% protein. You can use Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur. I use Azure Market AP Flour. d
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**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.

If you use a baking stone, preheat your oven to 485°F / 250°C to ensure your stone’s hot by the time you’re ready to bake. Things happen pretty quick with this bread, and you don’t want to get to final fermentation and have to wait for your oven to warm up.

Mixing. I recommend using a stand mixer if you have one, but this can be done by hand as well – it just takes longer. Sift the dry ingredients together then add the water. If using a mixer, mix on slow speed to incorporate all the ingredients then go to the second speed until mixture is smooth and the dough climbs to the top of the dough hook as the gluten is starting to form at this point. Rest for 20 minutes.

Bassinage. Once the dough has rested (you may also notice bubbles forming), fold the milk into the dough until it is fully incorporated. This will get it to 85% hydration. But since the gluten started developing with the thorough mixing, there’s already strength in the dough and it will not feel like a soupy mess. You can actualy feel the gluten strands! Once the milk has been fully incorporated, drizzle the olive oil over the dough, and mix it in well.

Again, I use a stand mixer for this because it’s much more effective at getting the milk and olive oil incorporated.

You want to be gentle with folding and lamination steps. What we’re trying to do is build the gas retention properties of the dough in these steps.

Folding. Once the milk and olive oil have been incorporated, stretch and fold the dough. Flip it over onto the folds, then rest for another 20 minutes. Then do another set of stretch and folds and rest for 20 minutes.

Laminate. Liberally flour your work surface then gently pour the dough onto it. Gently tug it into a rectangular shape that is about 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick. Letterfold the dough 3 times. After the last letterfold, roll the dough onto the seam (no need to seal). Then place the dough into a well-oiled bowl. I just wipe down my bowl then spray it with olive oil. Rest for 20 minutes.

At this point, you can go directly to dividing or shaping, or retard the dough in your fridge for up to 18 hours. With this much commercial yeast though, I recommend that your fridge temp is between 36°-40°F. You really want to slow the yeast, and promote the lacto- and acetobacillus activity. That said, alternatively, you could use a bit less yeast, say 5 grams and retard the dough for an even longer period of time.

Divde and “Shape.” Again, liberally flour your work surface then pour your dough onto it. Gently tug it into a rectangle, then divide it into two equal pieces. I’m kind of anal about things being even, so I actually scale out my pieces to 500 grams apiece. Gently tug each piece into long rectangles, then transfer to a well-floured couche (as shown to the right). Once you transfer them to the couche, flour your fingertips and gently dimple the loaves to promote even rising – and prevent over-rising, believe it or not – for the final ferment.

Final Fermentation. Cover the loaves and allow to ferment for 30 minutes.

Bake. Liberally sprinkle semolina or rice flour over the loaves while they’re on the couche, then flip them onto your transfer board. Bake the loaves with steam at 485°F for 12 minutes. Remove your steaming container, turn your oven down to 435°F, then bake for 20-25 minutes or until the crusts are a deep golden brown. You don’t want to go out to dark brown/black with these as the dough doesn’t have enough complexity in flavor to compensate for a super-dark crust. That’ll be the predominant flavor and the bread will taste like burnt toast. Not good. However, a deep golden-brown crust will also be relatively thicker lending a a nice, textural quality. I realize that this veers from the traditional thin crust of a ciabatta, but I love the textural contrast between the crunchy crust and the soft, pillowy crumb.

These are best eaten warm, so let cool for 30 minutes, then enjoy!

I don’t really think about it when I make ciabatta, but it’s a challenging dough with which to work because of its hydration level. You have to make quick, precise movements with a dough like this. But the handling of the dough is mitigated by the bassinage. I just can’t stress enough how important that step is!

When first mixing the dough, it’s at a workable 75%. This allows us to work it and develop the gluten and thus dough strength early on in the process. Once the milk and olive oil are added, even though dough may appear to be a smooth batter, if you pull on in, you’ll see that it actually transforms into a highly extensible dough with all the wonderful gas-retention properties we expect! (Read: big holes)

And let me re-emphasize that the craftsmanship put into making a bread like this is tantamount to its quality. But be that as it may, as a straight dough, it doesn’t really have a lot of complexity in flavor. That said, done right, it becomes a canvas on which you can build wonderful dishes.

I love using this bread for dipping into a fine olive oil (my preferred brand is Segreto from Italy that I have my daughter bring from New York City) mixed with a well-aged balsamic vinegar. I’ve used this bread for bruschetta as well. And let’s not forget that its very shape lends itself for wonderful sandwiches! Gawd! I’m getting hungry just thinking about these things! 🙂

Happy Baking!

Formula: Hawaiian Butter Rolls

This past weekend, my family put on a small open house for my daughter’s graduation from high school. Though we invited around 50 people, we had no more than 25 at one time, spread through the house and the backyard, so social distancing wasn’t too much of a problem.

For the main dish, I BBQ’d and braised pork butts. And instead of our regular rice or noodle offering that we have at our parties, I figured with me being an avid baker, I’d make bread for the party!

I made four different kinds (as shown in the picture): Baguettes, Sourdough Demis, Sourdough Rolls, and what I call Hawaiian Butter Rolls. These were definitely the hit of the party, and they were gone long before the other bread. So given their popularity at the party, I thought I’d share the formula.

These aren’t exactly like King’s Hawaiian rolls – I didn’t develop the recipe to mimic them. They’re more like a cross between brioche and Hawaiian rolls. But no matter, they’re absolutely delicious! And though there’s both sugar and pineapple juice in the recipe, the rolls aren’t overly sweet, but the pineapple juice makes them incredibly fragrant. Here’s the formula:

Overall Formula

%
Flour100.00%
Milk30.00%
Pineapple Juice35.00%
Eggs10.00%
Butter18.00%
Yeast0.50%
Salt1.00%
Sugar2.00%
Total Percentage196.50%

I didn’t provide exact amounts because I calculate the amount of flour I’ll need based on my final yield. But it’s easy to calculate. If you want to make a dozen rolls scaled out to 100g apiece (or 1200g total dough weight), to figure out the flour for that, just divide the final dough weight by the total of the percentages or 1200 / 196.5% or about 611g. Once you have that, number, it’s easy to figure out the weights of the rest of the ingredients.

Notes

  1. Warm the milk – it should be around 80-90F
  2. Pineapple juice should be room temp.

Instructions

  1. Mix the juice and milk along with the yeast and set aside until it forms a raft.
  2. Combine all ingredients together and mix until smooth with minimal gluten development. A mixer is probably a good thing to use for this. If you do use a mixer, mix on slow and make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything gets incorporated.
  3. Transfer the dough to a bulking container, then fold after 10 minutes, making sure you can feel the tension in the dough building.
  4. Fold twice more at 30-minute intervals, then let the dough rest and expand until almost doubled – you don’t want to take bulk fermentation too far with this.
  5. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then divide the dough into 100g pieces.
  6. Roll the pieces into tight balls and place them on a lightly oiled or buttered sheet pan, allowing for about 3/4″ to 1″ of space between them.
  7. Lightly press out the balls into about 3-3 1/2″ discs, then proof in a warm (not too warm lest the butter melts) environment until rolls are puffy (45 min to an hour). Don’t worry if they touch or come together.
  8. (optional) Before baking, if you want a shiny top, brush the rolls with egg wash.
  9. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes until rolls are a deep golden brown.
  10. Brush with butter and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes.

What was great to see at the party was people halving the rolls and stuffing meat and cheese between the halves – I didn’t even have to provide instructions! And a few loved them so much, they asked to take a few home with them. Of course I obliged!

This bread is also great for hamburger buns! Simply press the discs out to about 3 1/2″ to 4″. You can also increase the weight of each to 110-115g apiece.

Wrapping Your Head Around Baker’s Percentages

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

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

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

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

But what about that “Total” item?

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

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

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

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

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

Conversion Factor = Target Dough Weight / Total Percentage

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

Conversion Factor = 1200 / 178.55 which would be about 6.72

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

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

Flour Weight = 1200 / 1.7855 = 672

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

Water = 672 X 76% = 511

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

Let’s calculate the amounts we’ll need:

Target Dough Weight 1200g

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

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

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

Make Your Own Burger Buns!

Yesterday before she left for work, my wife prepared one of the family’s favorite dishes: The meat for Turkey-Mushroom and Swiss Burgers. As she was walking out the door, she asked if I could make burger buns – specifically buns I’ve made a few times that are light, airy, chewy, and with a yeasty goodness.

But I have to be honest: This is NOT my original recipe, though I’ve refined it over the last year. This is a riff on King Arthur’s “Beautiful Burger Buns” recipe. And these burger buns really are beautiful. But not only that, they’re the most easy and straight-forward buns to make!

When I first made these buns, I was surprised to see that there was no milk or powdered milk used in the recipe. I was also surprised at how low the hydration was (46-48%). But the egg and butter make up for the lack of hydration. Plus, the butter combined with the egg give the crumb a slightly yellowish hue.

And though there’s sugar in the formula, these buns are not sweet. The sweetness is much more subtle considering the amount of sugar used.

I’ve made these buns several times and to be honest, I recommend using a mixer, especially if you’re pressed for time. I made the buns entirely by hand yesterday and hand-kneaded the dough. But I had a bit of time, and hadn’t kneaded by hand for a long time (gotta keep my chops up). In any case, let’s get into the formula:

Overall Formula

Baker’s %Final Dough
AP Flour100%473
Water (lukewarm)46%-50%207-225
Egg (1 lg. egg – room temp)8%36
Sugar12%57
Butter (room temp)7%33
Salt2%9
Yeast3%14
Totals179%808
This will yield 8 100g buns and provides 1% of loss during processing.

Dough Development

Note that the hydration is 46%-50%. On cooler days, I recommend using the lower number. On warm days, use the higher number. That said, I always start with the lower number, then as I’m mixing will add a bit of water to get to that smooth consistency. Also, make sure your water is nice and warm! It helps incorporate the butter much easier.

Preparation. Before you start mixing the dough, mix the water, sugar, and yeast together in a separate bowl to dissolve the sugar and activate the yeast. Beat the egg so the yolk and white are well-combined. Note that I don’t bother measuring out the weight of the egg if I’m making a single batch. But if I scale up, I will beat a few eggs together and weight out according to the formula.

Mixing. Combine the flour, butter and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the egg and water mixture and mix until all the ingredients come together there are no dry ingredients present. If you’re using a mixer, combine the ingredients on low speed, then once mixed go to the second speed to knead the dough for 2-3 minutes (dough should be smooth and pulling off the walls of the bowl). If mixing by hand, turn the dough out onto your board and knead until the dough is smooth (about 8-10 minutes).

Bulk Fermenation: 1-2 hours until the dough has almost doubled.

Divide and Shape. Turn the dough out onto your board, gently degas it, then scale out 100g pieces. Roll the pieces into balls, then gently flatten them into about 3″ disks. Place each piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you’re using a standard-size baking sheet, you might want to stagger the pieces so they fit better. When they rise, they will touch, but I’ve never had a problem with it.

Final Fermentation. Allow the shaped disks to rise for up to another hour or until they’ve expanded and are puffy. It was a warm day yesterday so my dough was ready in about 40 minutes. I check them after about 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Baking. Right before you bake, lightly brush the tops of the buns with melted butter. Bake them for 15-18 minutes until the tops are a light, gorgeous, golden-brown. Remove from the oven, then brush them again with butter. Cool for at least an hour before cutting.

Some Alternatives

I love this formula because you can use it for a couple of different kinds of bread besides burger buns!

Dinner Rolls. Instead of flattening out the rolls, place them in a round or a 13X9 pan to make dinner rolls.

Hawaiian Rolls. Half the sugar, up the butter to 10%, and replace 70%-75% of the water with pineapple juice and you’ll get a VERY close approximation to Hawaiian bread! Load the rolls into a pan as with the dinner rolls! You could also replace the remaining water with milk for an even fluffier texture!

My Poolish French Bread

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

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

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

Overall Formula

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

Poolish

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

Final Dough

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

Make the Poolish

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

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

Dough Development

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

Bulk Fermentation: 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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