The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

alfanso's blog

alfanso's picture

Been keeping a low profile around here, minding my own business - mostly.

I finally got around to baking this bread after promising Lechem (Abe) that I would.  My grain selection was bulgur, steel cut oats and flax & sunflower seeds.  Indeed, all the crowing around TFL for this bread is well deserved and it is quite delicious.

Mixing by hand proved to be a bit of a bear, but French Fold mix it I did.  Left out the IDY.  Two letter folds at 40 & 80 and into retard.  The seam was a bit hard to ID as I was placing it onto the couche, and the two baguettes had a small amount of exposed seam which split on the side of each.  Grr, but it happens once in a while.  Twice in one bake is another thing.

Another bread where there is scant evidence of having been done in baguette form, so you know that it was destined to be mine to do so.

Being a heavy dough I wasn't disappointed in the amount of grigne on the breads, but I was hoping for a little more.  Next time I'll add some IDY and up the hydration a little.

Abe visits a friend of his in Miami Beach, maybe annually, and last year we got together for the day, driving around and exposing him to a mini-tour of some of the Latin culture there.  Argentine cafe for breakfast, Cuban sandwiches and cubano coffees for lunch and Peruvian seafood for dinner.  With a few stops elsewhere in between.

This year, in fear of what to do, I came up with a plan which met with Abe's satisfaction.  Lunch at the Granier Bakery in Sunny Isles Beach where, for no other reason to go there, it was where Abel Sierra put in time with his friend last summer.  Then the “scenic” back way drive from there to my apartment in Ft. Lauderdale where we did two bakes together.  

I had prepared both a Vermont SD, which was still retarded in bulk, and an already couched and ready for the oven semolina with raisins, pine nuts and fennel seeds.

Afterwards a short walk for a dinner of pizza and beer, and then we traveled back down to Miami.  The destination being the fairly new Miami wholesale only bakery of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NY.  If the bakery doesn’t sound familiar to you then perhaps the owner will.  Jim Lahey, he being the baker who popularized the no-knead bread.

It is a pretty large scale operation and I checked with the head baker there to ensure that our visit was welcomed.  We arrived close to 11 PM, in time to see both some shaping and some baking in their humongous ovens.  Plenty of time for conversational interaction, and they couldn’t have been more accommodating, ensuring that we each left with a bread of our choice.  All in all, an exceptional and fun outing.

How am I going to top that next year?  Hmm.

alfanso's picture

My trip to Paris in June yielded these two useful results:  I was able to meet M. Bouabsa at his bakery for a few minutes and I came home with four 1K bags of T65 flour.  I’m certain that the flour isn’t the best quality as it was the house brand bought at the local Carrefour on my last full afternoon.  Held in abeyance until this weekend.

Styled on my version of Mr. Hamelman’s Vermont SD these are created using a 125% hydration KA AP flour levain which accounted for the 15% of the pre-fermented flour.  I picked up a bag of Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo and fava bean flour, as suggested by dabrownman and kendalm, and added 2% to the mix.  Therefore the quick formula is:

  • 83% T65 flour
  • 2% garbanzo bean flour
  • 15% KA AP flour
  • 65% hydration
  • 1.9% salt

Standard French Folds, 2 hour bulk rise, 2 Letter Folds, and retard overnight.  Baked at 460dF.  I usually get a darker bake than this, even with a pure white flour mix, but this is a new game for me.  And after the bake I looked at the ingredients and noticed that this was an unmalted flour, something unusual for me and which I didn’t take into consideration.  And I wonder if that is the reason that the baguettes came out paler than usual.  Or is this an expected coloration for this type of flour? 

3x330g baguettes

Update Oct. 01.  crumb shot added.  I had made an assumption that this bread di not have much of an open crumb.  And although it certainly is not very open it does display some characteristics of a standard baguette inside.  

I've already reworked the formula to include a pinch of diastatic malt powder, switch from an AP levain to an all rye levain and to increase the hydration to 68% for the next batch.

I hadn’t baked a rye in a while.  125% hydration rye levain comprising the 15% pre-fermented flour.  75% AP flour, 5% WW and 20% Rye @73.5% overall hydration.

 2X325g baguettes, 2x425g baguettes

alfanso's picture

A bit of a come-on, but for comparison the lead photo is my standard 84% hydration ciabatta crumb, as is this next of a full loaf.

Friends soon visiting asked if I could bake ciabatta for them.  I had to re-aquaint myself. Rather than make my old standby ciabatta at 84% hydration, I wanted to try another option.

A video by The Artisan Crust’s Scott MeGee has an interesting take on this bread.  In response to two separate comments, Mr. MeGee quotes the hydration first as 66% and later as 76%.  If you’ve ever made ciabatta yourself and then watch this video, I doubt that the huge billowy pillow of dough that he folds and then divides is anything like your own personal experience. It certainly wasn’t and isn’t like mine.  If you can duplicate his dough’s characteristics I’d surely be curious as to how.

The 76% version makes a fine ciabatta with one glaring exception - it does not produce the large hole structure that we associate with this bread.  I'm personally not too enamored by large holes.  Beyond an open crumb, I really don’t care.  This 76% version otherwise maintains that true ciabatta look, smell, feel and taste.  That’s good enough for me.

 The 66% hydration version was next.  Amazingly, at divide time, the jiggly blob of dough that tumbled out of the container could just as easily be mistaken for a dough with hydrations of 10% and even 20% higher.  Once out of the mixer it was near impossible to tell this dough from the 76% or even an 85% ciabatta dough when it came time to fold, divide and bake.  On the downside I didn’t detect the same ciabatta smell and flavor from this 66% version.  Maybe it was just playing with my head (and nostrils).

My takeaway is that with little, if any, additional work the 76% was the superior version.  And I anticipate that my shaping of these, although already pretty fair, will continue to improve over time.

I like how he shapes the dough and then refrains from stretching it until moving from the well-floured couche to the baking peel, neither of which I had ever done before in this way.  With the jelly-like quality of both versions, shaping is a task but doable.  The dough just isn’t what you see in his video.

I agree with dabrownman when he says that the holes have no flavor and you can’t eat them.  If you are in the market for a ciabatta with those giant holes, this is not the bread for you.

For both versions, I differ from Mr. MeGee’s formula in that I used an overnight 40% prefermented flour biga instead of making this a direct dough.   Prior to the double-hydration bassinage of water and olive oil, I removed the dough from the mixer and gave it ~100 French Folds, with a 5 minute rest halfway through.  The 66% dough is much stiffer as it isn’t a full 66% until the bassinage has completed, and therefore I had to add some of the second hydration to make it workable on the bench.

Then back into the mixer.  Both the timing of the mix and the speed of the mixer were far far different from what is in the video.  Mr. MeGee’s stated mixing time is with his large commercial rotating bowl spiral mixer. I have an old Kitchen-Aid planetary stand mixer where the dough hook and action of my mixer leaves a lot to be desired.  I’ve never been satisfied with its performance the few times that I use the dough hook.  The speeds of my mixer varied from “2” for incorporation of the second hydration, up to “6” and finally to “8” to thoroughly finish the mix.

The mix with this dough hook is done when the dough provide that familiar slapping sound and goes though successive phases of being pulled up off the bowl and onto the hook and then dropping back down to the bowl again.  There is an awful lot of mixing friction that raises the dough temperature, hence the use of a cold biga and cold water.

The 76% hydration ciabatta





 The 66% hydration ciabatta




My version of his 76% hydration ciabatta using a biga formula.  2x ~500g loaves:

Ciabatta w/Biga @76% Hydration       
Scott MeGee, alfanso        
     Total Flour    
 Total Dough Weight (g) 1000 Prefermented40.00%   
 Total Formula   Biga  Final Dough 
 Ingredients%Grams %Grams IngredientsGrams
 Total Flour100.00%550.4 100.00%  Final Flour330.2
 Bread Flour100.00%550.4 100%220.1 Bread Flour330.2
 Water,cold76.00%418.3 66%145.3 Water218.4
 Olive Oil3.00%16.5    Olive Oil16.5
 Salt2.10%11.6    Salt11.6
 IDY0.60%3.3 0.14%0.31 IDY3.0
 Totals181.70%1000 166.14%365.75  1000



alfanso's picture

Like Ulysses to the Sirens.  Like rodents to the Pied Piper, like Cupid’s arrow to the heart, and like Springboks to Spring Break - or at least to the watering hole on the Savannah. Abel Sierra posted his version of Baguette au Levain a few days ago.  Lovely, and that might have been that!  Except that in response to Old Baker’s comment stating that he would try it, Abel’s reply was "Maybe it's difficult to get this result at home. For better results, always work with professional tools.”

Well, if you know anything about me, then you know that I took it as a personal challenge, dropped my current project, and found myself on a mission.

Following Abel’s lead, this is a 75% double hydration (bassinage) dough using an assumed 100% hydration AP flour levain.  Formatting the formula in my BBGA worksheet the calculated pre-fermented flour came to 9.1%.  Without the prescribed fresh yeast I employed IDY instead, and found a cobwebbed container of Diastatic Malt.  Damn the torpedos if the Malt is expired, but in it went.

Upon shaping, the dough was quite slack but manageable, and again, another dough that is so soft to the touch that it just about rolls itself out.  One technique that Abel references is to retard the shaped baguettes seam side up, something that was a nascent experience for me having never done that before.

Scaled to 1500g I had enough dough to make 4 baguettes at ~370g, the dough before and after shaping was cumulatively ~15 hours under retard.  Baked at 470dF, 13 minutes under steam, 11 minutes after steam was released, and 3 minutes of venting.

The crust is incredibly crisp and the flavor is soft and sweet.  My crumb is not quite as open as Abel's, but nothing to be ashamed about, that's for sure.

If you are in the mood for an all white flour pain au levain, this is another in the growing list of baguettes worth trying.

And so my baguettes were baked, my itch was scratched, my curiosity was coddled.  And I am happily reporting that I found no greater challenge to baking these than with any other double hydration dough.  So you too can do it!

couched seam side up


Steam released, baguettes rotated


alfanso's picture

Or at least upping the hydration.  My first two runs had the hydration at the prescribed 73% and then 70%.  That first at 73 presented issues with a too sticky dough being difficult to shape and then to extricate from a heavily floured couche.  The subsequent run at 70 yielded much better results as I documented earlier.

Not being satisfied enough with not being satisfied enough, and with a "lot" more experience, I threw some caution to the wind and ran with a 75% hydration.  The dough unsurprisingly was wetter to begin my pinch and folds and then French Folds, but once I breached the 20 FF mark everything settled down and continued as documented before.  

I could have had some better scores on two of these, particularly at the first two entries of the blade, in fact on the initial scores of all four baguettes.  But overall I'd classify this run as a success.

The dough was as soft and compliant as could be during the shaping and maintained a very workable and soft slackness to it.  In many ways it was quite a positive experience shaping these.  As soft as newly-fallen snow and the dough just about rolled itself out.

Again onto a well floured couche.  No problems releasing them from the couche to get onto the hand peel.


  • The levain was mixed and then placed into my wine cooler at 65dF for approximately a full calendar day.  It was very bubbly on the surface and had just begun to recede as it approached its limit of food supply.  
  • The levain was added to the final mix at that 65 degree temp. So the final mix completed at 76dF instead of my typical 78.
  • An increase from 10 to 30 min. between pre-shape and shaping.  I'll continue doing this going forward as the shaping has shown signs of improvement with the additional rest period.
  • Less flour on the bench for shaping.
  • 20-25 min. out of retard vs. my typical 0 min. before placing them onto the baking peel.
  • The crumb still maintains that creamy color, likely due to an all-white flour bread where the FFs can't approximate anything more than a short mix.
  • The area that has a tight crumb corresponds exactly with the two scores that had minimal oven spring.


  • A third run was "necessary to understanding" this dough.
  • I don't see much advantage of going from 70% to 75% hydration, except for the challenge of doing it.
  • I continue to get better at handling slack doughs at shaping time.  But I still prefer to work with stiffer doughs.
  • I've learned to let the dough rest longer between pre-shape and shape phases.
  • Another in the growing list of understanding control of the process through time and temperature.  Re: the levain build in the wine cooler. 
  • I never stop learning.

Getting ready to load

Steam released, baguettes rotated.

Top view.


Bird's eye view of crumb.

Snail's eye view of crumb

Considering the difficulty experienced in the first 73% run, I can say that I am pleased with the outcome.


alfanso's picture

The video below is my step by step journey in baking Maurizio Leo’s Levain Baguettes.  It is self explanatory with almost all steps included.  However, I eliminated the levain build and final mixing of ingredients as I’ll take a guess that there are some somnambulists on TFL just looking for a good video to ease them into Dream Land.  Please watch and hopefully you will enjoy the video as well as the voiceover.


alfanso's picture

Between a fair amount of time away from home and baking the same old reliable stuff, I haven't been much of a blogging presence around these parts lately.

On our last morning in Trieste last month, I stopped into the small Despar supermarket to check out their flour section and came across a flour called Tritordeum, which I had never heard of before.  Those in mainland Europe may be familiar with it as well as a few old-timers on TFL who may recall reading our Abel Sierra's few postings about this flour in 2014, including a posting for baguettes.

Tritordeum is a new hybrid grain, a cross between barley and durum, originally bred and cultivated in Spain (hence Abel's familiarity with it) and available mostly only in Spain and Italy and perhaps a few other European countries.  I picked up a 500g bag and slipped into my suitcase for the long ride home.

A single bag wasn't going to get me very far and, indeed, I used all 500g on this dough.  No room for do-overs, this was a one-shot deal for me.

Somewhat following Abel's outline, I changed around a few things.  Here is his writeup on his related YouTube entry.  Even for the non-Spanish speakers, the majority of this should be understandable:

  • Autólisis de 15 minutos. Amasar todos los ingredientes hasta conseguir una masa elástica pero no muy fina. Dejar reposar en bloque unas 2 horas en un lugar fresco. Doblar la masa una vez en medio de la fermentación en bloque. Formar con delicadeza. Fermentación final de una hora, aproximadamente. Hornear a alta temperatura con vapor, y bajar a 200 grados al cabo de unos minutos.

    Consejos a la hora de trabajar con tritordeum: no amasar en exceso. No sobrefermentar. Meter al horno cuando la masa aún esté joven. Horno caliente y con vapor.

I didn't have enough tritordeum @20% prefermented flour to also make the levain.  Here are differences:

  • 125% hydration AP levain vs. his presumed 100% hydration Tritordeum levain.
  • Added a pinch of Diastatic Malt Powder to compensate for this unmalted flour.  I don't have a clue whether this is kaput or not, having bought it 4 years ago and can't recall the last time that I used it.
  • Overall hydration at 70 % vs. Abel's 65%.
  • Autolyse 20 min. vs. Abel's 15 min.
  • 75 French Folds, 5 minute rest, 75 FF more vs. Abel's modest bench-top kneading.
  • Letter Folds at 45 and 90 min. vs. Abel's 1 fold at 60 min.  2 hr. total bulk rise before the retard.

Due to the long cold retard, I eliminated the IDY.

The dough was magnificently easy and handleable throughout the French Folds, and incredibly extensible during my bench-top Letter Folds.  A dream.  Off to cold retard it went.  And that's when Happy Days ended and trouble in River City began.

Upon divide, and pre-shape I realized I was dealing with a wholly different animal (vegetable?).  This dough was quite moist, still unbelievably extensible.  But getting a baguette shape out of it was a step away from trying to wrangle cats.  As the dough is a hybrid of barley and durum, I opted to coat two of the three in sesame seeds - my go to version for a semolina bread.  And even that was a challenge.  

I was pretty dejected as I placed them onto a well floured couche for the remainder of their overnight retard.

I can state with certainty that this was right up there with one of the two most difficult doughs that I have tried to shape so far.  And no second chances.  I unfurled the couche early this morning to find that they had flattened out.  Grr.  Scoring them was less of a challenge than I anticipated, and off they went into a steamed 460dF oven.

Surprisingly, the dough was quite forgiving as it baked, and although I am unimpressed with the final grigne (for me) and the baguettes are still flat, the results are way better than I could have anticipated.  And most surprisingly is how open the crumb is.  So far the taste is most similar to a semolina bread.  And yes, the crumb is that yellow.

You can read about Tritordeum here.

The 500g bag with my bubbling AP levain in the background.

Post French Folds, when the blob was still well behaved.




3 baguettes/long batards x 350g

And just for fun:

Flours in a Porec, Croatia supermarket

Flours in a small market in Krajska Gora, Slovenia in the midst of the magnificent Julian Alps.


alfanso's picture

Anyone who has been around TFL long enough and is suspiciously odd (or bored) enough knows that my baguette journey began with my baking the Anis Bouabsa baguette.  For the uninitiated, M. Bouabsa is a bread baker in Paris who won the quite prestigious annual city-wide competition in 2008 for the Best Baguette in Paris, and with about 30 competitors it was no small feat.  His rewards included accolades, bragging rights and a meeting with the French President.  Oh, and supplying the presidential palace with baguettes for a year.

My wife's cousin celebrated her 90th birthday with a party last weekend.  Just about a lifelong resident of Paris she invited local relatives and friends as well as her American family, my in-laws included. As our favorite travel partners and nonogenarians themselves, the in-laws asked us to chaperone them to Paris for the event.  Our main goal was to ensure their safety every step of the way.  Literally.  So when folks gush at our vacationing in Paris I have to stop them right there.  It was not a vacation.  Although we had a good time with family there.  And no matter what, we were in Paris, for-cryin' out loud.

We had our free time in the mornings as their day often doesn't begin until 11 or so.  This past Monday, the only rainy day of the trip, we clambered down the Paris Metro steps and headed up to M. Bouabsa's boulangerie.

When he came out to see who was asking for him, I showed him a still from the video I posted a few years ago on the making of his baguettes.  To our utter surprise he said that he recognized me and "knew who I was".  He invited me in to see his workshop and I asked if my wife and cousins could come in also.  Yes.

And then we talked shop.  I don't know more than a few words of French and he doesn't understand English.  But he spoke in French, I spoke in Spanish and we seemed to be on the same page.  I guess shop talk and some hand gestures make a conversation a little more universal.  Unbeknownst to me Cousin Paul videoed about a minute of the encounter. Also unbeknownst to my wife, as she hogged the picture frame during part of the encounter!

The boys talking business


Baguettes after their long cold retard

A huge Pain de Campagne on the loader just after coming out of the oven.

T65 flour waiting to become baguettes

The Tzara Tradicion baguette.  M. Bouabsa's boulangerie is on Rue Tristan Tzara.

A peek into the workshop from the storefront.

We picked up cups of expresso and cafe creme, croissants, a pistachio & chocolate chip "stick" and an incredibly flaky custard filled "cup".  And of course a pain de campaigne batard and a pair of baguettes.  What a delightful experience.

Here's old Morris and me strolling down Rue St. Severin

And the lunch for the American contingent.  That's BD girl Dolly sandwiched between my in-laws, themselves book-ended by my wife and me.

And the same dopey rabbit seems to still get his hand caught in the Metro train doors, just as he did the first time I rode the Metro back in '89.


alfanso's picture

An old friend, Field Blend #2.  But with a new twist.  I recently returned to Mr. Hamelman's all AP 125% hydration levain (from my all rye version of it) and had a hankering to combine this with Mr. Forkish's FB#2 formula.  A Hamelkish or Forkelman Frankenstein.

Aside from using the all AP levain, I dropped the overall hydration down from 78% to a more Hamelman-like top-of-range of about 73%.  All other percentages and flour mixes were adhered to, including the pre-fermented flour percentage.  Due to the addition of the levain at "autolyse" time, I shortened the bulk rise by that same half hour as the autolyse.  Then my standard bulk retard and ...  

A very recent change to my pre-shaping and final shaping is a work-in-progress.  Trying to be ever more gentle, I'm still working on getting a consistent shaping.  Not complaining, you understand, just explaining a thing or two.


375g x 4 baguettes / long batards

And why do I call these long batards as well?  I'm so glad you asked.  Last year I was made aware of a page from Msr. Calvel's book which portrays differing bread shapes, weights, sizes and scores.  And so I changed my tune and adapted to both.

And as long as open crumb was mentioned, here are slices of the two breads I've made using this softer, gentler approach to shaping.

The two on the left are from a deli rye and the two on the right are from this FrankenBread (FB#2).  Both are at 73% hydration.



alfanso's picture

Another batch of Vermont SD, ho-hum.  However this time I decided to score these differently as well as some pre-shaping changes and a more gentle final shaping.  Which I'll attribute to the shorter and slightly stubbier look of these 

In the spirit of Abel's Ziggy scoring, which I've done  few times now - I decided to try a cross cut, "x's" all down the length of the dough.  And wound up with two distinct looks.

On the first two baguettes, I used a ceramic blade but didn't like the drag.  So I switched to my regular curved lame razor blade for the final two.  And I like the results much better.  

Playing with my food is fun!

In both of these pictures, the two on the left were with the ceramic blade and the two on the right with the razor blade.

380g x 4 baguettes/long batards.



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