The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


davidg618's picture

Over the past three or four weeks I've been experimenting with small adjustments, one at a time, to my process. Three of them appear to be adding positive nuances to my loaves. They are:

• longer autolyse, prior to adding yeast (or levain) and salt.

• using  new steam-generating containers.

• warming retarded, pre-shaped dough, and final proofing at elevated temperature: 82°F

With both baguettes and sourdough loaves I've been hydrating the flours for five hours before adding yeast, levain or salt. With the sourdough I've cut the hydrated flour-water ball into cubes, with a bench knife, before adding the liquid levain. With baguettes I simply sprinkle the yeast and salt on the dough ball (on alternate sides) before resting it in the refrigerator for five hours--a trick I adapted from the USA baking team's baguette formula published by the BBGA in Bread Lines.

Recently, a TFLer posted a backyard grill "moisturizer" (?) as a potential steam-generating vessal for bread baking. I tried to find his/her post again using the search function, but couldn't find the magic words, so I can't give credit. Nonetheless, when I read it it seemed like a possible alternative for me. In response to an earlier posting I'd made Mebake commented I should be getting better bloom from my baguette scoring, and attributed the lack thereof to my using a towel-lined sheet pan, on the top shelf, to generate steam; i.e., the pan was seriously preventing radiant heat from reaching the tops of my baggettes.  I took that comment to heart, and have since been searching for long, narrow pans--two of them--to replace the sheet pan to place one on each side. Until I read the aforementioned post I'd had no success. Subsequently, I found the pair pictured on Amazon--they are longer and narrower than ones in the post. I found, loaded with hot water, they sloshed badly so I added the small towel fragment rolls on either end, and I've been using them without their lids. I'm certainly satisfied with the bloom I'm getting on sourdough loaves. Next weekend I'm baking baguettes for the first time since purchasing them. I'll also be revisiting steaming from the bottom of the oven with these new containers in another future bake.

I retard both sourdoughs and baguette dough at 54°F for 15 hours. Heretofore, I've been preshaping the loaves immediately after removing the dough from the chiller, and resting them for an hour at room temperature, which varies between 68°F and 76°F depending on the seasons. Subsequently, I'd final proof in my homemade proofing box at 76°F, or in the kitchen when the air-conditioner was controlling the temperature, also 76°F. For the past three weekly bakes I've pre-warmed the proof-box, and rested the pre-shaped dough in it at 82°F, and final proofed at the same temperature. Doing so has consistently cut 1/2 hour off of the final proof time. More importantly, I'm perceiving I'm also consistently getting a modestly more open crumb.

....and today's results.

David G


davidg618's picture

My wife and I have differing opinions about sourdough--I like it tangy, she likes it mild; sandwich bread--I like its crumb chewy, she likes it soft and fluffy; and biscotti--I prefer parmesan cheese, and black pepper, she craves ameretto-almond. But when it comes to baguettes we are 100% in accord: wheaty flavor, lightly chewy, open crumb, crackling crust. And in that order.

I've spent nearly two years working on a formula, and a process that yields what we want. I've learned quite a few things about baking in general, and baguettes in particular. I've also relearned a few lessons about myself. In this moment, I think I've reached the semi-experienced novice level--somewhat akin to the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Please, this is just my offering of what I've found works for me. 

Here's what I've learned about a formula: use quality ingredients; don't obsess over the quality.

Flours:I've lusted over descriptions of French milled flours, King Arthur's French-style, and Guisto's artisan flours: lusts never realized. It's simply a cost decision. I use King Arthur's super-market accessible, all-purpose flour. I've made a couple of excursions into other brands, with consistent disappointment. One brand's flavor was really nasty.

Salt: I use sea salt, purchased in bulk from a local organic food store. It's ridiculously inexpensive. My children, knowing my Foodie obsessions have gifted me, more than once, with Sal de Very Expensive. I've used it. I can't discern a difference; neither can my wife.

Water: Our well. (Suwannee River aquifer)

Yeast: SAF: as little as possible.

Flour (one kind), salt, water, yeast: it doesn't get any simpler than that.

Process: Herein, I've learned  the biggest lessons. K.I.S.S.--Keep it Simple, Stupid! (I learned this, the first time, from a Navy Chief Petty Officer, when I was a bottom-of-the-ladder Seaman)--outpaces them all.

A few general lessons: These support K.I.S.S.

Be consistent: Use the same ingredients. Same brand, same type, same weight ratios, same temperatures, etc.. Which of course you won't so...

Make small changes (only one at a time if you have the discipline; I'm not yet that disciplined, but I am at the point that I never make more than two.)

Be consistent: Do the same steps, with the same tools, in the same order, for the same duration, at the same temperatures , etc.. Which of course you won't so...

Keep notes: what you used, what you did, what you changed, what you forgot, what resulted, what you're going to do next. Also, at the beginning of a follow-on bake review your previous notes, and write down what you're going to do. Underline the change(s).

Baguette specific lessons:

These are the things that work for me, with K.I.S.S. always in mind. I marvel at the time and effort other TFL'ers put into baking baguettes. I'm certain their results make my baguettes reminiscent of dog biscuits. Nonetheless, we (my wife and I) are happy with our results, so far, and the neighbors make complementary noises with their mouths full.

Flavor develops during fermentation: Yes, you've got to use ingredients you trust. They have to be capable of giving good flavor, but it's fermentation that exploits those qualities. Up to a point, retarded (chilled) fermentation develops flavor proportionate with the fermentation duration. I don't know what that point is. I've learned I get desirable flavor between 15 hours and 21 hours of retarding at 54°F. Furthermore, the desired flavors are more present after 21 hours compared to 15. hours. I'm fortunate to have a wine closet wherein the temperature is maintained at 54°F. I've not attempted retarding in a refrigerator--most home fridges are 38°F-40°F--but from reading TFL other bakers are having great successes.

Hydration differences don't seem to change the flavor profile significantly, or, at least, not as significantly as retardation time. I've investigated from 65% hydration to 72% hydration. Arguably, the more flour, slightly more flavor in that Hydration range, whereas, 15 hour retardation yields an excellent flavor, 21 hours a bigger excellent flavor.

Substituting sourdough levain for commercial yeast, makes a different bread. It's sourdough in a baguette shape. Delicious, sometimes, but not an accurate rendition of the modern baguette. Furthermore, sourdough levain masks the delightfully "wheaty" flavors a baguette can (and should) have.  White flour, salt, water, and yeast: it doesn't get any simpler than that. (I'm looking forward to the hiding I'll get for this comment.)

Open crumb structure improves with retarded fermentation. I'm fairly sure this is accurate, however, mishandling can massacre the gain.

Don't ignore DDT. It gives one a finer control over results from retardation. Don't think of DDT as just small adjustments to room temperature water to hit the "magic" 76°F or 80°F. Pre-chill the formula's flour and use ice water in the dough's prep, to bring the mix to the planned chill temperature immediately. Chill the dough during autolyse, and return it to the chiller immediately after each manipulation, e.g., S&F.

Process, i.e., techniques: their flow and finesse, account for more than 50% of a baking success, especially with baguettes. (I actuallly think its considerably greater than 50%, but, then again, 85% of all people make up their own statistics.)

Here's a series of photos I took today of a 65% Hydration, 21 hour retarded baguette bake.

I've documented my earliest attempts to make baguettes here  . It gives the 72% hydration formula I started with. Most of my subsequent many tweaks involved exploring hydration, and retarding effects.

This is my post-retardation setup: I preshape the baguettes immediately and leave them to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

After 1 hour rest, I shape and proof the baguettes (seam side up). Proofing time today was 1 hour.

Here is the second loaf, slashed, and ready for loading into the oven. After many attempts, with various commercial peels, to load baguette loaves either serially, or in multiples I've settled on loading them serially with a home-made peel--it's really just a scrap piece of birch plywood, cut 2" narrower than my oven. I also load sourdough loaves (2) side-by-side serially using the board held along the narrow side. It works better than any of the commercial peels I've purchased--including the Superpeel.

I load the peel by simply flipping the loaf onto the rice flour dusted board, and slashing it. Then right into the oven, one at a time.

The oven, loaded to its meager capacity: 3 baguettes. You can see the only down-side to serially loading I've experienced. Oven-spring is already well underway in the first two loaves.

On the top shelf you can see the way I generate steam: two wetted towels. SylviaH convinced me to try this approach, and after the first try I stuck to it, but I made it simpler than her method (involves heating towels in the microwave). I wet the towel with 2-3 cups of the hottest tap water. I put the wet-towel tray on the top shelf, and switch the oven control from "Convection Bake" to "Broil" at 550°F. I do this about 6 to 10 minutes before loading the first loaf. I can watch the wetted towels begin to bubble. I switch the oven to "Bake" (conventional, shutting off the convection fan) at 500°F. Finally, after all loaves are loaded, I decrease the oven to "Bake" 450°F. After 10 minutes I remove the steam pan, restore "Convection Bake", and finish the baking. Early in my trials I discovered the rear-mounted convection fan dried out the surface of the most rearward loaf, and inhibited oven-spring. That's why I do all the oven mode switching.


and the crumb.

Recall, this is a 65% hydrated dough. It's consistent open crumb like this that supports my arguement retarded fermentation supports open crumb development.

So far, I've not lost sight of K.I.S.S. I bake baguettes once each week, so if you see where I can make it simpler, please comment.

David G

Grandma Dawn's picture
Grandma Dawn

Several years ago I embarked on research and development of fun shaped buns.   The doughs I use are:  whole wheat, sweet roll, cheese, oatmeal, and caraway rye.  For the eyes I use currants, raisins, olive slices, a date slice filled with a craisin.   For fins and feet I sometimes roll out and cut pieces, other times I make a ball and cut toes in.  I use an egg white for the glaze and for some designs sprinkle with sesame seeds. 

Here are the tools I use: 

Dough cutter to divide the loaf, rolling pin, two scissors, bamboo skewer, chopstick, exacto knife, miscellaneous cookie cutters, and individual cue cards.

After the dough has risen the first time, I cut it into the number of wedges according to the number of buns I am making that day.  I found that working with wedges helped immensely to get the proportions correct for each bun.  I made a cue card for each design to show me how many pieces each design required and how to best cut the wedge to get the pieces.  I also added helpful notes from previous attempts. 

I like to make several different designs in one session.  That's where the cue cards come in handy.  Since you are working with a living organism working quickly is necessary.  I found it best to make a mix of easy and difficult designs so as to fit within the time frame I had.  I kept all pieces covered with lightly oiled clear wrap so as to prevent a crust from forming.  I found that making the bodies first then adding the smaller pieces worked the best.  I would shape the body, press it down to secure it on the pan then move on to the next body.  I would then start adding the smaller pieces, then the eyes and slash in details.  The bamboo skewer blunt end is used to make indents in the dough for the eyes and noses.  The chopstick is good for larger designs and also for cupping the ears of the bear.  The scissors are for the hedgehog and cat. 

 The cookie cutters are for the fish, grape cluster, and rose. 

Right up until the time they go in the oven I continue to check on them and push the dried fruit in, etc. if they start to fall out of the rising dough. 

At first I thought I had to pinch the pieces together but found that simply tucking them under slightly held them together just fine.

Just before baking I continue to make small adjustments, redefine slashes if necessary, then brush on the egg white.  If any egg white pools in the eyes I dab off the excess with a corner of a paper towel.

My failure rate is very small.  It seems that with a little diligence the eyes stay put and the pieces stick together.



jcorlando's picture

Getting a Higher Rise of My Loaf

June 28, 2010 - 2:05pm -- jcorlando


I'm still a rookie; made 30 loaves of bread this year, and am getting better each time.  I kneed my dough.

However, I still struggle with gettig the loaf to rise high, without using a breadpan.  The loave do their final rise on Parchment paper.  When they've risen, I coat them with butter, slice the top a couple of times and put them in the oven.

While the bread is on it's final rise on the parchment paper, it spreads out and is about 12" long, 5" wide and 2" height.

beenjamming's picture

Retarding dough during its bulk fermentation

August 18, 2007 - 11:02am -- beenjamming

In every bread book I've read, it's always suggested to retard dough during while its proofing (with the exception of pain a l'ancienne). Is there any reason one shouldn't do this during bulk fermentation? I imagine the yeast population is a lot smaller at that point, so It may not have as drastic of consequences. Also, since the cold makes dough much more elastic, it may have a negative effect on doughs that need folding. Has anyone tried this?

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