My Basic Daily Levain Bread

Though I make lots of different bread, this is my foundational sourdough formula. The flour in the levain represents 20% of the total flour in the formula. This gives me a lot of flexibility with how mellow or how sour I want the bread as I adjust the sourness by the length of the proof. If I want a sharper tang, I will retard the finished dough for up to 36 hours. If I want just a slight tang, I’ll do a same-day bake. As I mentioned, this is my foundational formula in that it provides a platform on which I will add different add-ins or just bake it plain. I love the versatility of this dough!

But not only that, because of the hydration of the dough, I’ve even made baguettes from this dough, adding 0.75% yeast in the final dough to give it some extra oomph during final proofing. Or, I’ve even added some sugar (about 3%) to the final dough to make rolls. Like I said… versatile!

Overall Formula

Bread Flour80%
High-Extraction Flour20%
Water75%*
Salt1.8%
*If I replace the high-extraction flour with whole-wheat flour, I will up the hydration to 77% and for baguettes, I will up the hydration to 76%.

Levain Build

Bread Flour100%
Water100%
Mature Starter20%

Final Dough

Bread Flour546g
High-Extraction Flour182g
Water500g
Salt16g
Levain364g
Total Yield1608g
Optimal Dough Temp78°F
This will yield two 800g loaves with a little to spare for loss and evaporation during dough development.

Make the Levain

Build a 100% hydration levain several hours before you build the final dough using some mature starter and equal parts flour and water (such as 1:5:5 ratio starter to flour and water). You’ll know the levain is ready when you see lots of bubbles on the surface of the culture – much like the bubbles that form with pancakes on griddle. This could take up to 12-16 hours to mature.

I personally use a mother culture that I keep in my fridge alongside a botanical water starter. The cool thing about using both my mother culture and the botanical water to build my starter is that the microbe density is so great, my levain is usually ready in less than 4 hours depending on the weather!

Final Dough Development

Mixing. Sift the flour and salt together and thoroughly combine. Dissolve the levain in water to make a slurry, then add it to flour-salt mixture, then mix thoroughly by hand or in a mixer on low speed until all ingredients have come together and you form a shaggy mass with no large lumps.

Bulk Fermentation: 2 1/2 to 3 hours (or more or less depending on the weather). Fold the dough twice within the first hour making sure you build good strength in the dough – it should fight you a little by the time you’re done folding. Then let it rest (covered) until it has almost doubled but don’t take it much further than that. You’ll want to leave plenty of runway for the final fermentation. For home bakers, I don’t recommend using the proof setting on your oven as it is normally too warm and things happen a bit too fast – at least for my liking.

Dividing and Shaping. Divide the dough into 800g pieces then preshape into rounds then cover and bench rest seam-side-down for 15-20 minutes until the dough has sufficiently relaxed. Shape into boules or batards and place into appropriate proofing containers.

Final Fermenation. If you want to do a same-day bake, final fermentation should be about 1 1/2-2 hours depending on the weather. The finger dent test will tell you when the loaves are ready to bake. Otherwise, let the final fermentation get started for about 30 minutes, then cover the containers and pop them in the fridge. My last batch (shown in the pictures above) took about 30 hours to get to bake-ready. But whether you do a same-day or retarded proof, you really need to have patience in this step and allow the fermentation to get to 85-90% to ensure optimum flavor development.

Bake. Score your loaves as you see fit. I use a baking stone to kind of mimic a hearth, so I bake at 500°F for 15 minutes with steam, then 425°F dry using convection for 25-30 minutes until I get a milk chocolate-brown bottom and deep-golden brown top with dark chocolate edges on the ears. If you’re using a Dutch oven, preheat your oven to 500°F, then turn it down to 475°F. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 20-30 depending on how dark you want the crust.

Recipe: Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Sourdough

This is an absolutely wonderful bread that I learned to make from Jeffrey Hamelman’s book, “Bread.” The garlic, rosemary, and levain combine together to create an incredibly complex and delicious flavor profile that can be enjoyed alone, with a little butter, or as a dipping platform into olive oil or a savory sauce. It’s one of my family’s favorite kinds of bread that I make and a loaf never lasts more than a day – it’s that addictive.

When you see the formula, don’t be fooled by the low hyration rate. The mashed, roasted garlic and oil more than make up for the lack of water to make the dough more slack than its hydration will indicate. Also, you’ll notice that in addition to a levain, the formula calls for yeast. I will provide a short discussion on making the bread with little to no yeast.

Here’s the formula:

Baker’s %Example (g)
Flour100.00%713
Hydration %65.00%472
Salt2.00%18
Yeast0.90%8
Olive Oil5.00%45
Garlic7.00%62
Rosemary0.50%4
Stiff Levain40%285
Totals180.4%1608
Optimal Dough Temp75°F
Though I listed the levain as 40% in the formula, its flour represents 20% of the total flour in the recipe.

For the numbers that I provided, this will yield two 800g loaves with about 8g of extra dough for loss during processing.

Make the Stiff Levain

A stiff levain is simply a low-hydration levain. This one is 60% hydration. To make it, I just converted 100%-hydration mature starter culture to a 60% levain. I did this by taking 100g of mature culture, added 200g of flour and 100g water.

Hamelman says to do the final build of the levain 12 hours before making the final dough. However, in my case, my culture is extremely healthy and it literally almost tripled in volume in 3 hours! But I wasn’t prepared to bake late at night, so I just popped the levain in the fridge to completely slow it down.

Roast the Garlic

If you use whole bulbs of garlic, cut off 1/2″ from the top to expose the cloves then sprinkle olive oil on top to keep them moist, then wrap in foil. I normally just have loose cloves on hand, so I just measure out what I need then place them in some foil with a little olive oil. In either case, roast the garlic at 400°F for 30-40 minutes.

Mix the Final Dough

Once the garlic has cooled, mash it and set it aside. Measure out the amount of levain you’ll need, then in your mixing bowl, break it up into the water until it’s fully dissolved. If you’re using a stand mixer, just use the dough hook on the 2 speed.

Once you’ve created a smooth slurry with the levain and water, add all the ingredients together and mix until everything is incorporated forming a shaggy mass that has both the garlic and rosemary reasonably evenly distributed.

For this small amount of dough, I just mix by hand using a Danish dough whisk. It saves me from having to clean my mixer. 🙂

Bulk Ferment

Hamelman says bulk fermentation is 1-2 hours. But in my experience – at least in my kitchen – it takes more like 2-3 hours. In any case, after an hour, give the dough a fold. Personally, I’ve found it valuable to gently knead the dough in the bowl at this point, being careful not to tear it while I press into the dough.

Let rise until nearly doubled. This may take a little while, especially on a cool day.

Divide and Shape

Having made this bread many times, I’ve found that the optimal scaling weight for these loaves is 800g. This will produce loaves with a finished baked weight of approximately 1 1/2 pounds. After scaling, pre-shape into rounds and bench rest the balls for 20-30 minutes until the dough has sufficiently relaxed.

Final Fermenation

Shape the loaves into boules or batards. At this point, you have a couple of alternatives:

  1. Ferment at room temp for 1 – 1 1/2 hours (or until they pass the finger dent test).
  2. Rest for 20-30 minutes, then pop them in the fridge for 8-12 hours.

The second option is more of a timing thing rather than a flavor development thing. The garlic and rosemary are already intensely flavorful and the a long rest, while allowing for the development of organic acids will not have that much of an affect on the overall flavor. So I just normally bake the loaves the same day I make the final dough.

Bake

Hamelman recommends baking the loaves at 460°F under normal steam for 30-40 minutes. But I just bake the loaves the same way I bake boules and batards at 500°F for 20 minutes with steam, then 425°F for 25-30 convection. If you’re using a Dutch oven, just bake the loaves as you normally would for boules and batards.

Cool for at least 3 hours before cutting!

Pure Sourdough Method

If you don’t want to use commercial yeast, things will take a much longer time. At 65% hydration, fermentation will take a while – at least twice as long. To be honest, I don’t have exact timings on this because they vary based on the weather. But in general, I’ve found that it takes double the time. Your best bet is to use standard telltales (windowpain, finger dent tests, etc.).

I know that’s not much instruction, but truth be told, this is a bit more advanced of a recipe than just simple sourdough or straight dough, which is why I didn’t include my normal step-by-step instructions. I’ve assumed a certain experience in baking.

A Bit More Sour Sourdough Baguette

I know, I know… I have several baguette recipes on here already. Despite that, I mostly use one dough development method no matter the type of baguette I happen to be making: pointage en bac, or the slow rise method, and I only vary it by the type of leavening agent I use. And whether I use yeast or starter, the process is exactly the same.

Of course, there is the exception (when isn’t there) of Baguettes de Tradition which is a straight-dough, same-day bake with no preferment. But I don’t make those too often and only when I’m pressed for time.

As for all the different recipes I have for baguettes, I’ve always been compelled to experiment. In Jeffrey Hamelman’s book, Bread, he has several recipes for baguettes and I’ve baked them all and shared those recipes here. But for my own baguettes, I riff on the original method I learned from Master Chef Markus Farbinger. It’s straight-forward and invariably yields me GREAT results.

Historically, baguettes were developed as a welcome change from sour breads. Leading up to the creation of the baguette – and other bread made with commercial yeast – all bread was sour because they were risen with natural starters. And we’re talking centuries here, folks! Baguettes offered up a different flavor profile; frankly, a neutral one, and based on the popularity of baguettes through the years, it was a welcome change.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with making baguettes from sourdough starter as the French Decrét Pain states – however vaguely – that bread must be risen with a leavening agent suitable for bread. But, given how parochial the French are about food, using a natural starter isn’t quite de riguer.

Plus, the whole purpose behind the baguette was to create a neutral flavor platform, and sourdough is anything but neutral – and here I have to agree with the French: A baguette isn’t defined by its shape, but by its dough. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, and dammit! These “baguettes” taste great!

Now the interesting thing about these baguettes is that the acid in the starter acts as both a dough conditioner and a preservative. Even after a couple days, the crumb is still supple and pliable – even if left in the open at room temp!

So here’s the basic formula for the baguettes:

Baker’s %Example
Flour*100%644
Water76%462
Salt1.8%14
Yeast0.07%.53
Preferment35%227
Optimal Dough Temp75°-78°FYield: 1346
*I use a blend of flour which is basically 40% unbleached high-extaction flour and 60% AP flour.

I deliberately used the word preferment instead of sourdough starter or levain because you can use a poolish for this formula as well, which I have done. But for this discussion, we’ll focus on a levain.

Using the example numbers above, this will yield 4 baguettes scaled at 335g apiece, leaving a few extra grams of dough for loss during processing, which almost always happens, so I always calculate a few grams more than I actually need so I can scale my loaves to the exact weight I want them.

Make the Levain

Though I listed the levain as being 35% of the flour, I need to clarify where I got this number. I didn’t just pull it out of thin air. Assuming I’m using a 100% hydration levain, it turns out that if the flour of the levain represents 15% of the total flour of the recipe, the levain’s total weight comes out to be just a smal fraction over 35% of the flour weight.

I factor in the flour of the levain as part of the overall flour because a levain is simply part of the overall dough development. I do this to calculate my yield as I now bake according to the amount of dough I need for a particular bake. This keeps my loaf weights absolutely consistent.

In any case, using a mature starter, make a liquid (100% hydration) levain (like a 1:3:3 or 1:5:5) and let it activate until it passes the float test. I’m not putting a time on this because it can vary wildly based on the microbe density in starters. For example, when I make a levain using botanical starter water and a mother I maintain based on the botanical starter, my levain will be ready in about 3 hours. And it’s super-active.

Make the Dough

  1. Dissolve the levain and yeast in the water. The water should be at the appropriate temp to get the dough to the optimal temp. At this time of the year, that’ll probably be around 90°-95°F.
    1. You can actually eliminate the yeast altogether. The resultant bread will be a bit more chewy. And depending on how long you let it ferment, the acid in the dough will keep the crust lighter in color.
  2. Add the salt to the flour and mix well, then gradually add the liquid to the flour and mix until you form a shaggy mass with no dry ingredients.
  3. Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl and let the dough rest.
  4. Initial Fermentation: 1 1/2 hour. During this first hour, fold the dough every 30 minutes, making sure to pay attention to building up the gluten. After the second fold, rest the dough for another 30 minutes, cover and put in the fridge for 12-16 hours, or until the dough has at least doubled in size. For the sourdough baguettes, the dough may seem a bit slack. This is due to the acid in the starter which breaks down gluten.
  5. FROM THIS POINT ON, BE ABSOLUTELY GENTLE WITH THE DOUGH!
  6. Divide and scale the dough. For demi-baguettes, weight should be around 250g. I make 20″ baguettes scaled at 335g. Roll each piece up like a jelly roll and rest for 30 minutes seam-side-up on a well-floured couche or tea towel.
  7. Preheat your oven to 500°F.
  8. Once the dough has relaxed sufficiently (it’s normally 20-30 minutes for me, but sometimes it takes longer if I pre-shaped them tight, remove the pieces from the couche and place on a well-floured surface, then shape into baguettes, moving them back to the couche to do their final fermentation from 30-60 minutes. This step is important. You want to do a finger-dent test after 30 minutes. If it’s still really springy; that is, your dent essentially disappears right away, let it go another 20-30 minutes. But if your dent springs back quickly but some of it still remains, it’s ready to bake. Note that that partial spring is ultra-important. That means that there’s still life in yeast.
  9. Score the loaves (see below).
  10. Bake with steam at 500°F for 12 minutes, then 12-15 more minutes at 450°F dry.

These baguettes really benefit from a full bake to ensure a nice, crisp crust. I’m not a big believer in taking the crust out to chocolate as I do with my boules and batards. But a deep, golden-brown like the loaves above yields a delicious crust.

If you’ve baked traditional baguettes, you’ll immediately notice that once you bake these, the sourdough crust will not get as dark within the given times. You could bake them longer to get a darker crust, but you just might dry out the insides if you bake them for too long. I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with the amount acid in the starter which, at least for my very sour starter, is a clear indicator that there wasn’t much available sugar for browning.

But the other thing about these baguettes is that they stay fresh longer because of that acid. While they won’t remain as crisp as long as traditional baguettes, they will continue to be pliable for several days after the bake!

Scoring Baguettes

When you’re new to making baguettes – this included me when I first started making them – there’s a mistaken belief with scoring that the loaves are scored in a diagonal fashion. Technically, they are, but not nearly at the extreme angles that many beginners score them. I’ve seen otherwise gorgeous, straight loaves online whose aesthetics were essentially ruined by improper scoring.

To be honest, there’s no big secret or special technique to score baguettes. Just remember this: Use shallow angles! The diagram below illustrates the angles you should be using:

In both the top and the cross-sectional views, the proper scoring and blade angles are much more shallow that what most might think. From the top, the lines are long, starting from the center of the loaf, and deflecting just a few degrees. The blade angle from the cross-section is absolutely critical as it creates a flap which will produce that distinctive ear that you see in the picture immediately above.

Especially with baguette scoring, you need to be assertive in your strokes. Avoid making choppy motions with your scoring and do your best to be as smooth as possible. Also, aesthetically – and according to Master Chef Jeffrey Hamelman – an odd number of scores is much more appealing to the eye than an even number.

Recipe: 40% Kamut Flour Sourdough

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I love baking with Kamut flour! It’s such a dream to work with and most importantly, it just produces damn good tasting bread! In light of that, I thought I’d share my formula for making sourdough with 40% Kamut flour. With that in mind, here is the overall formula:

Overall Formula

Flour (40% Kamut, 10% Whole Wheat or Rye [from starter], 50% Any other combination of flour)100%
Water78%
Salt1.8%

Notice in the formula, there is no entry for the starter. This is because the starter’s flour and water is always figured into the overall hydration. It is NOT a separate ingredient.

1. Make the Levain

The first step in this process is to make the levain. Depending on how much flour you’re going to use, the levain’s flour will constitute 10% of the total flour. So if you have a 100% hydration starter and you’re going to use 500g of flour, then your total starter yield should be 100g (10% of 500 is 50g for the starter’s flour).

Since I work with larger batches, I usually make 1:5:5 levain; that is, 1 part starter to 5 parts flour to 5 parts water. This will keep hydration at 100%. But you can use any hydration starter you want. You just have to bear in mind the flour and water content.

When I make my 1:5:5 levain, I usually put it together the day before as it takes about 8-10 hours to be fully active (though that’s changing with the warming weather). No matter, I wait until the starter volume has at least doubled before I subject it to the float test. If it passes, then I move on.

2. Make the Final Dough / Autolyse

  1. Thoroughly mix the different flour you will be using in a large bowl or mixer bowl. I usually like to do this step in a mixer with the paddle attachment.
  2. Measure out the remaining water you’ll need by first determing the total water you’ll need based on hydration rate, then subtracting the amount of water contributed by the starter. For instance, if your total flour is 1000g, you’ll need 780g of water in total. The starter water will be 100g, so your remaining water will be 680g.
  3. Mix water into the flour until well-incorporated and you form a shaggy mass.
  4. Autolyse for 1 hour.

3. Bulk Fermentation

Because Kamut is a whole grain flour, we need to be gentle with the dough at all stages.

  1. Add the starter and salt to the dough and mix thoroughly until fully incorporated. If you’re using a mixer, make sure to mix on low.
  2. Fold the dough three times within the first 1 1/2 hr. I highly suggest coil folding.
  3. Let rest covered at room temp (please don’t use a proofer here) for 1 hour.
  4. Put the dough in the fridge until it has expanded about 50-75%. This may take 18-24 hours. In my retarding fridge which I have set at 40 F, it takes about 12 hours to get to this point.

4. Divide and Pre-Shape

  1. Carefully remove the cold dough from your fermentation chamber and place it on a lightly floured surface.
  2. Divide the dough depending on how many loaves you’re going to make and gently but firmly shape the pieces into rounds,
  3. Bench rest for 30 minutes

5. Shape and Final Proof

Now is a good time to get your oven started. Set to 500F

  1. Shape the pieces into whatever kind(s) of loaves. You’ll want to make sure you develop a nice, taut skin without tearing.
  2. Place into baskets.
  3. Proof for 1.5-2 hours. This time is NOT exact. You need to take the dough out to about 85-90% proven. The finger dent test will help determine when the loaves are ready for baking.

6. Bake

  1. Bake at 500F (with steam) for 15 minutes.
  2. Vent and/or remove steaming container then turn oven down to 425F.
  3. Bake at 425F for 30-45 minutes or until the crust is a deep caramel brown.
  4. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.
  5. Allow to cool at least 3 hours before cutting.

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.

Biga

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:

Flour500g100%
Water390g78%
Yeast0.25g0.05%
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%
Salt10g2%
Yeast4g0.8%
Biga200g40%
*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!

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).

Biga

Baker’s %Example
Durum Wheat Flour100%500g
Water78%390g
Yeast0.2%1g
  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
Water75%750g
Salt2%20g
Yeast0.2%2g
Biga20%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%
Water330330*66066.00%
Salt0.0020202.00%
Yeast0.704**4.700.47%
*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.

Poolish

  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.

Notes

  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!

Recipe: Baguettes de Tradition

The way I learned to make baguettes was from Master Chef Markus Farbinger, who uses a slow rise or pointage en bac method. It is a straight dough, but bulk fermented and retarded overnight. This allows the amino acids and lacto- and acetobacillus bacteria to develop, while retarding the activity of the yeast. The results, as shown in the picture to the left, are pretty magnificent.

But I recently learned another technique called Baguettes de Tradition from Jeffery Hamelman’s book, “Bread” that he learned from Japanese bakers. This is a straight dough that differs rather significantly from the slow rise baguettes. First of all, these baguettes are baked in just a few hours from final mix, so you’re working with room temperature dough. Second, where I would normally use an 11.7% protein AP flour mixed with about a third high-extaction flour, this recipe calls for 100% bread (strong) flour. And finally, this is a wetter dough than what I’m used to using at 76% hydration.

As Hamelman puts it: “…a baker could be excused for concluding that the dumpster and not the belly is the destination for the bread.” This is because mixing is done gently, so after mixing – even using a stand mixer – there’s virtually no gluten development! The dough just comes apart. But with the folding schedule, the gluten develops quickly, and by the last fold, the dough is luxuriously smooth and supple – and strong.

Chef Hamelman warns that this is a challenging bread and certainly not one for beginners. I can attest to this as the dough at this hydration using pure bread flour is tacky and will easily stick – especially since you’re handling a room temperature dough. So keep your hands floured when shaping and use quick motions!

But the end result is pretty fabulous. You will notice right away when the loaves come out of the oven, that you will not get pronounced ears. This is because with these particular baguettes, you minimize the creation of a skin during shaping. The crumb is significantly different from my other baguettes in that there were not many huge voids. But that could be more of a function of how I handled them during shaping. But in spite of that, the texture of the crumb is magnificent, redolent with numerous pockets.

Formula

I’m going to provide the bakers percentages, so you can scale the recipe up and down as required, but will also provide example amounts.

IngredientBakers %Example Amount
Bread Flour100%1000 grams
Water76%760 ml
Salt1.8%18 grams
Yeast.75%7.5 grams
Total178.55%

Before you get started, I highly recommend sifting your flour to avoid creating lumps which are a pain to get out, especially if you’re mixing by hand.

  1. Add all ingredients to your mixing bowl and combine all ingredients until fully incorporated. If you’re using a stand mixer, Hamelman recommends 400 to 450 revolutions at low speed (a KitchenAid 5-quart mixer’s RPM at the first notch is 60 RPM) – about 7 minutes. If mixing by hand, make sure everything’s fully incorporated. You’ll probably end up with a bit of a shaggy mass. Just make sure you don’t stretch the dough too much. You don’t want the gluten to develop!
  2. Let the mass rest for 20 minutes, then perform a stretch and fold of the dough. Repeat this 2 more times every 20 minutes over the course of the first hour. By the end of the third stretch and fold, the dough should be strong and velvety-smooth to the touch!
  3. Let the dough rest for 2 hours or until it has nearly tripled in volume. But you’ll know when it’s ready when the dough is like jello when gently shaking and the top surface of the dough has plenty of bubbles. For me, this can actually take as short as 30-45 minutes.
  4. Divide and pre-shape into rough cylinders and let rest for 15 minutes (it may be shorter or longer depending on the dough being sufficiently relaxed), then shape the dough into baguettes, being careful not to tighten them too much to avoid creating a skin and doing your best to be gentle but firm to not degas them too much. Transfer each baguette to a well-floured couche.
  5. Hamelman list the final fermentation as 1 hour, but use the finger dent test to make sure, bearing in mind his times were for much more dough and larger loaves.
  6. Bake at 485° for 12 minutes with steam, then 8-12 minutes at 425° or until the crust is a deep golden brown. A full bake is recommended to ensure the crust is crispy.

Baker’s Notes

  • Though I provided specific ingredient amounts in the table above, I always work backwards in figuring out how much of the ingredients I need. For instance, for my oven, my standard batch is 4 baguettes scaled out to 325g apiece. So I know I’ll need 1300g of dough. I always add a fudge factor due to loss during processing, so I’ll up that to 1310g. Given that, I can easily calculate the flour I’ll need by dividing the total yield of 1310g by the total of the percentages – in our case here it’s 178.55%. So 1310 / 178.55% = 734g of flour. From there, I can just use the ingredient percentages to figure out the amounts for the rest of the ingredients.
  • As with any high-hydration white flour dough, this dough is tacky! I can’t stress enough the quick, definitive movements I had to make to work with this dough. I also had to make sure that during shaping I was dipping my hands in my pile of flour to prevent sticking.
  • I think the next time I make these, once the dough is close to finish bulk fermentation, I’m going to pop it into my fridge for a few hours to help develop flavors. As a friend of mine who lives in Paris complained, “I’m so sick of the bland baguettes made from pure white flour here in Paris.” So a little flavor development, no matter how small, will help plus, pre-shaping will be much easier with a cooler dough. Though I’m used to handling high-hydration dough, that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. 🙂
  • I will also use my normal flour blend of 1/3 high-extraction flour and 2/3 AP flour. This will get me to the same protein content as King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour at 12.7%. But also the bran in the high-extraction flour will add a nice nuttiness to the flavor profile. That said, I will have to tweak the process a little and do an autolyse step to ensure the flour is fully hydrated, and I may have to up the hydration by a percentage point or so.

Recipe: Pane di Como Antico

This bread’s name translates to “bread of Como of the past.” This is now known as pane francese in Italy or French bread, though this “French bread” is quite different in taste and texture from the actual French loaf which has a thinner crust and lighter crumb. But irrespective of all that, this is an ancient bread that is magnificent in both texture and taste and very easy to make.

I adapted this recipe from what I consider to be the definitive book on Italian Bread called “The Italian Baker” by the late Carol Fields. This is a GREAT book. Ms. Fields traveled throughout Italy to learn these recipes directly from local bakers in the regions she visited, so these are authentic.

As with most Italian loaves, this bread is started with a biga the day before, which is much like a poolish, using flour, water and a tiny amount of yeast, only stiffer. A poolish is 100% hydration where a biga can be anywhere from 60%-80% hydration. This recipe’s biga is 80% hydration. Let’s get started!

Day 1 – Make the Biga

Unbleached AP Flour*100 grams
Water (75° – 80° F)80 grams
Yeast0.4 grams
*I highly recommend using either Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur, or any unbleached AP flour that has a protein content greater than 11%. Most generic brands are 10%. Gluten development is very difficult with those flours. Also, organic is better.

I’m going to come clean and admit that I actually used my sourdough starter to make an 80% hydration levain. The Italians call this type of biga “Biga Naturale.” My levain was 100% whole wheat, so I didn’t use the whole wheat flour that’s listed in the final dough below.

Mix all the ingredients and let ferment for 12-16 hours at room temperature. As with any preferment, you want to make sure it’s nice and bubbly.

Day 2 – Final Dough

Biga180 grams
Unbleached AP Flour435 grams
Whole Wheat Flour65 grams
Water (80°-85° F)360 grams
Salt10 grams*
Yeast (optional)2 grams**
*You may see a recipe online that lists the salt as 16 grams. For this small amount of dough, 16 grams is WAY too much.

**If the weather is cold, adding a little yeast will help the process along.

The Process

According to Carol Fields, Italians predominantly use a mixer to mix up their dough. But you can mix by hand if you choose or if you don’t have a mixer. The process is pretty much the same.

  1. Set aside about 50 grams of the water and dissolve the salt in it.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, break up and dissolve the biga with the water, then add the flour in batches. If you use the yeast, add it to the water before the flour.
  3. Once you form a shaggy mass, let it rest for 20 minutes to help hydrate the flour. This is kind of a hybrid autolyse.
  4. Add the saltwater to the mass, then thoroughly mix until you start forming a smooth dough that feels elastic. This is where a mixer really comes in handy.
  5. Dump the dough onto a board and knead for 8 minutes or until you feel the dough has built some strength.
  6. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container, then cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until almost doubled. The dough should have plenty of bubbles and should be blistering on top with a nice dome. 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  7. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured board and divide it in half.
  8. Shape each half into a nice, taut ball (like you would a boule), sealing the seams, then set it aside seam side down.
  9. Sprinkle a little flour over each ball, then cover with a cloth for 20 minutes to bench rest.
  10. Preheat your oven to 485° F.
  11. After the balls have rested, shape into cylinders about a forearm’s length. I use a baguette shaping method to create some internal structure and to ensure the cylinder is even, though I don’t make pointy ends. The cylinders will be much thicker than baguettes, but they’ll have a structure you can feel.
  12. Lay each cylinder seam side down (or up if you prefer) onto a transfer board lined with parchment paper, or if you don’t have a baking stone, a parchment-lined baking sheet. The cylinders will spread and flatten a bit and that’s okay!
  13. With floured hands, dimple the cylinders all over to prevent over-springing. Don’t worry, they’ll puff up.
  14. Cover with a well-floured cloth or couche and let rise for 1 to 2 hours. You should see bubbling and blistering. Carol Fields says to wait until they’re doubled in size, but I’ve never seen my loaves double, but just the sea, they come out just fine with nice, big holes.
  15. Bake with steam for 15 minutes (I use a broiler pan on the bottom rack and pour a cup of scalding water in it).
  16. After 15 minutes, remove your steaming tray/container and the parchment paper, turn the oven down to 425° F, then bake for another 12-15 minutes until the loaves are golden brown.
  17. Cool on racks for 30 minutes. They taste GREAT while they’re still a little warm!

I originally got “The Italian Baker” because I wanted to get a recipe for Pane Pugliese from a credible source. I made the Pane Pugliese from the book, and it turned out okay, but as I pored over the book, I saw this simple, straight-forward recipe and knew I had to make it.

I think the romance of this recipe being ancient really got to me. In fact, my whole bread-making obsession has stemmed from the romanticism of making bread from recipes that are hundreds, maybe even thousands of years old. Granted, the flour of today is so much more refined than the flour of yesteryear, but to replicate bread from ages-old recipes and traditions… That’s just so FREAKIN’ cool to me!

This is what keeps me exploring. I don’t know if this will turn into anything other than a hobby, but I do know one thing: I love continuing tradition!

Recipe: Sourdough Ciabattas

Besides baguettes, ciabattas are my other favorite loaves to make. Once I learned Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s recipe, I was hooked! Ciabattas are SO easy to make. Whether you use the standard recipe that I linked to above, or use a sourdough starter, it can be a same-day bake! Though if you go the sourdough route, I suggest doing an overnight bulk ferment, which I’ll explain below.

With this particular recipe, I’m going for a much lighter crumb and am using bread and AP flour. I know that I have eschewed using white flours, but the enzymes in the sourdough starter help break down the flour to make it more digestible, so while the flour may not be as nutritious as whole wheat and high-extraction flour, we’ll still get plenty of nutrition from the bread. That said, let’s get started!

Ingredients

Levain

Starter200 grams
Unbleached Flour150 grams
Water (90°-95° F)150 grams
For flour, I use a high-extraction flour from Azure Standard called Ultra Unifine Bread Flour.

Final Dough

Levain500 grams
Unbleached Bread Flour250 grams
Unbleached AP Flour500 grams
Water*550-600 grams
Salt20 grams
Instant Yeast** (optional)2 grams
*With water, you have to gauge it. 550 grams will get you to 80% hydration. But depending on your flour, if the dough is a little stiff, you’ll want to add more water. The initially mixed dough sh9uld be the consistency of a stiff batter.

**Using a bit of instant yeast is purely optional, but I’ve found that it is very helpful on cold days. I wouldn’t use it on hot days where I can rely on the ambient temperature of my kitchen to keep the microbes super-active.

Instead of using separate containers for the levain and the final dough, I just use a 6-quart Cambro tub. When my levain’s ready, I just add all the ingredients to the tub. It’s much more convenient. I’m going to provide some times as guides during the process. By no means are they hard and fast, especially with varying kitchen temps where the bulk and final fermentations can be shorter or longer depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen.

Make the Levain

  1. Feed your starter so you can produce 200 grams of starter. When the starter’s ready, transfer 200 grams to a large mixing bowl or a large plastic tub. Note that the starter doesn’t have to be active and at its peak. My daily grape starter is maintained at 400 grams total, so I just use 200 grams from my mother culture, then feed her. Works like a charm!
  2. (4:00 pm) To the 200 grams of starter, add 150 grams of unbleached flour (here’s where I use my high-extraction flour, but you can use any unbleached flour that you want) and 150 grams of water. Mix thoroughly until smooth.
  3. (4:15 pm) Place the levain container in a warm place to ferment. It has been cold as of late, so I put my levain container in my oven with the door cracked to get a little heat from the oven light.
  4. (8:30 pm) If you have a fairly active starter, your levain should be actively bubbling by now. If it’s not, I suggest waiting until it’s really active.

Mix the Final Dough

  1. (8:40 pm) There’s no autolyse with a ciabatta, so just add all the final dough ingredients to the levain and mix thoroughly until you’ve incorporated all the dry ingredients and create a shaggy mass (about 5 minutes). Note: If you’re going to do a same-day bake, I suggest turning on your oven to 250° C or ~485° F now.
    1. It’s a bit messy, but I prefer to mix the dough by hand, alternating squeezing the dough through my open fingers, then using a stretch and fold motion to turn the dough. I’ll do this until I feel comfortable that the salt and yeast have been totally incorporated.
  2. Clean off your mixing hand and let the shaggy mass rest for 20 minutes.
  3. (9:05 pm) Using a wet hand, do a series of stretch and folds until you feel the tension in the dough building. When it kind of fights you, then let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.
  4. (9:25 pm) Dump the dough onto your well-floured work surface – it should be really well-floured – making sure you clean and scrape all the excess dough left in the container, then wipe the container with a paper towel.. Using quick motions, pull the dough into a rough rectangle, then do letter folds, front to back, and side to side at least three rounds. Make sure that when you fold, you also pull flap, then fold over. Once you feel that the dough strength has been built up (it will fight you a bit), roll the dough onto its seams, then using your bench scraper, form the dough into a ball.
  5. (9:30 pm) Spray the container with a light coat of olive oil (I use one of those PAM olive oil spritzers) then gently pick up the dough ball (you can form it up a bit more to make it easier), then drop it into the container.
  6. So here we have two alternatives:
    1. Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes, then put the container in your fridge for an overnight bulk ferment.
    2. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, and you’ll be ready for shaping.

Dividing and “Shaping”

Again, depending on how you do the bulk ferment there are two routes to take. The steps are similar, but different enough to warrant discussing them in separate sections.

Same-Day Bake

  1. After 20 minutes, again liberally sprinkle flour on your work surface, then slide the dough ball out of the mixing bowl.
  2. Using quick motions, gently tug the ball into a rough rectangle, then divide the dough into equal pieces. If I’m making loaves, I cut the rectangle in half.
  3. Technically, you’re not supposed shape the ciabatta dough. You pull it into a basic form. But I like to make my loaves into little rectangular pillows, so I gently letter fold the divided dough pieces, being extremely careful not to degas them.
  4. Once you’ve formed the loaves, gathering them from the long ends and cupping under the dough, transfer them to a well-floured couche, seam side up.
  5. Sprinkle the loaves with a bit of flour, then cover them and let proof for 10 minutes.
  6. After 10 minutes, check the loaves for springiness using the finger dent test. You want to have some spring. If there’s a bit too much; that is, the dough immediately springs back, let it rest another 10 minutes.

Overnight Ferment

If you did the overnight ferment, check your dough in your fridge. It should have at least doubled in size. If it hasn’t, you’ll have to wait. My retarder is set to 39° F and it takes 10-12 hours for my dough to double. So if you’re dough’s ready, turn on your oven now and set it to 250° C or about 485° F. Do not proceed until your oven is up to temp, then divide. If you’re using a baking stone, wait at least an hour before proceeding.

  1. Gently slide the fully fermented dough out of the bowl or container on a very well-floured surface. It should easily slide out since you oiled it down.
  2. As above, gently tug the ball into a rough rectangle then divide the dough into equal-sized pieces. Personally, the anal-retentive part of me, can’t resist scaling the pieces so they’re all roughly the same weight.
  3. (optional) As I mentioned above, you don’t have to shape the loaves, but I always do a simple letter fold, then place the loaves on seam side up on a well-floured couche.
  4. Sprinkle the loaves with flour, cover them, then let them rest for 20 minutes.
  5. At this point, I transfer the loaves, seam side down to my transfer board, covered with parchment paper. If you’re not going to use a baking stone, you can use a parchment-covered metal baking sheet.
  6. Sprinkle the tops with flour, cover them, then let the loaves rest for 20 minutes.

Bake

  1. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes (250° C/485 F) with steam (I now use a broiler pan on the bottom rack of my oven and pour a cup of scalding water into it).
  2. Remove your steaming tray after 20 min. Turn down the oven to 200° C/400° F) and continue baking for another 15 minutes, though check for doneness at 10 minutes.
  3. If you want a real crunchy crust, turn the oven off, then leave the loaves in the oven with a slightly cracked door for 10-15 minutes to cure the crusts.

As with my other recipes, I realize that I’ve been a bit long-winded. But I want to make sure I cover as much nuance as possible.