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txfarmer's picture

Straight Method Baguette - a good starter baguette to practice on

Sending this to Yeastspotting.

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For a lot of bakers, it's an important milestone to learn to make a good baguette. I have been asked many times both at my Chinese blog and TFL what the "trick" is for those big holes in the crumb. The truth is that, there's no trick. It's everything: appropriate flour, S&F rather than intensive kneading, appropriate fermentation, precise shaping, clean scoring, good steam and high temperature baking. I have yet to make a baguette that I am totally happy with, probably it's the chase that keeps me making it again and again. For that reason, I hesitate to call this post a tutorial - how can a student in bread baking offer a tutorial at all. However, I did write it up for some of my blog friends who are new to bread/baguette baking, and in need of a simple recipe to get started. This recipe contains lessons and notes learned from many many many baguettes I have made over the years, hopefully it will be helpful to others.

Since this recipe is meant for newbies, I intentionally kept it as simple as possible. No sourdogh, just dry yeast. No long cold fermentation, just straight method. No whole grain flour or addins, just white AP flour. By taking out all those variables, hopefully it's easier to follow and repeat. Even with such simplification, as the pictures show, the crumb still can be very hole-y, and the crust still can be very crisp, however, the flavor does suffer. Its taste is not nearly as complex as my favorite 36 hour baguette formula and its many variations (see here). Therefore, once you are comfortable with this straight method, I would definitely encourage you to move on to more complex recipes.

Straight Baguette
Note: makes 4 baguettes, each 220g, 40CM in length

AP flour (I used King Arthur AP flour because most people can get that easily and reproduce the recipe with the same flour), 500g
water, 375g (this means the dough is 75% hydration, yes, it's wet, but trust me, it's managable, especially after a few tries)
salt, 10g
instant yeast, 2g

1. Mix everything together. No need for kneading. Just mix everything into a rough dough.

2. Cover the container, rise at room temp (22C-25C) for 3 hours. At 45, 90, 135min, do Stretch and Fold (S&F). TFL handbook has good explanation on S&F. For a dough this size, I find it's the best to water/oil/flour my hands, lift the dough out and do S&F directly in my hands. That's two quick movements, one in horizontal direction and one in vertical direction . The hand/dough touch time is so brief that sticking is not an issue. By the end of 3rd S&F, the dough magically becomes very smooth. And by the 3rd S&F, you can feel the dough offers resistence when being stretched out, that's a sign of gluten developement. Rember how the dough feels, because you want to remember how "elastic" (i.e. gluten strength)  yet extensible of a "good baguette dough" should be. Oh yeah, keep the container oiled and covered the entire time.

3. Dump the dough out and divide into 4 portions. Try to have less small scrap pieces. I have practiced enough to eyeball and cut 4 equal portions without too much weighing and adjustment. I find each detail in preshaping and shaping affects final crumb, in general the less I touch the dough (yet still get all the tasks done) the better crumb is. Roll each piece into a colum, with tight skin surface . This is my version of preshaping, there are other methods. Again, the key for less sticking is lightly flour/oil/water hands and surface, AND MINIMAL TOUCHING. Cover and rest for 25-30 minutes.

4. Shaping the baguette. Now there are so many good ways to do this, my method below is just what I am used to. As long as you can shape the dough into desired size/shape with minimal handling, your method is good. The key here is 1)keep skin surface tight, AND 2)don't destroy too much of internal bubbles. Be gentle yet effective.If you find it hard to roll the dough long enough, the dough is too strong, S&F less next time or use a weaker flour. If you find the dough to be limpy, extensible but offers zero resistence when being rolled long, can't keep a tight surface, the dough is too weak, use a stronger flour or S&F more next time.
a. Lightly pat the preshaped column into a rectangle, roll the top edge down twice

b. Turn the dough 180 degrees, and fold the now top edge to middle

c.Fold in half again, top edge meeting bottom edge, seal. Roll it to 40cm long. "Light", "firm", and "even" are the key words while rolling out. Start rolling from the middle, move both hands outward until the ends, while applying light force downward and outward. If the skin of the dough is tight enough, it should be enough to just lightly flour the surface for the dough not to stick. Most of the flour should end up on skin, rather than inside of the dough anyway. If you find the dough slipping while rolling, you might be flouring the dough and surface too much. Put them on lightly oiled parchment paper (and the whole thing sits on the back of a baking sheet), with middle part of the parchment paper srunched up to act as dividers. Note that there are people who prefer bakers couche such as this, and I have seen/used it in a class using profession oven with great success, HOWEVER, in a home environment, I much prefer to use parchment paper so that I can slip the dough along with paper together into the small home oven onto the steaming hot stone. I don't want risks associated with moving the dough onto a peel, then moving the dough again from peel onto stone. It's just safer, neater, and quicker.

5. Cover and proof at room temp (22C-25C) for 30-60minutes. The dough should have grown noticably but still have enough bounce left. If you dough does not grow much in oven, you have over-proofed, proof for less time next time. If the dough grew too much in oven, resulting in bursting seams and uneven distribution of holes, proof longer next time. Score. For tips on scoring, please see this great tutorial from David. For baguettes in general, the dough is pretty wet, which means you need to be quicker and firmer with your movement for the blade not to drag and stick. Dipping thd blade in water before each cut sometimes help. Furthurmore, David's tutorial mentions "classic cut", which is done by cutting at a shallow angle to get "ear/grigne/bloom". With a 75% hydrated dough, you might at first have trouble cutting at the shallow angle without sticking, don't worry, just cut perpenticular to the surface for now, once you get all the other components correct, you can then start cutting at an angle and try to get "ear" for your cuts. The dough may seem deflated somewhat when you score it, don't worry, a well executed baguette dough would recover and expand beautifully in the oven.

6. Bake at 460F for 10 min with steam, then 15min without steam. Turn off oven, crack the door open, and keep baguettes inside for about 5 minutes. Take out and cool. Note that I preheated my stone at 500F for an hour to make sure the oven is hot enough, only reduce the temp to 460F when the dough is loaded. There are many ways to steam and load, each oven seems to prefer a different way. I use the most common method for my very ordinary electric home oven: a cast iron pan on a rack below the stone with some rocks inside; it's preheaded along with the stone; once the dough is ready to be loaded, I pour a bit of boiling water onto the cast iron pan (steam comes out, watch out!), close the door and get the baking sheet (with the dough/parchment on top) in hand; open the door again and slide parchment paper along with dough onto the hot stone; pour another cup of boiling water into the cast iron pan (watch out again, more steam comes out); close the door. The whole operation is pretty intense, my husband is still amazed that I haven't lost a finger loading bread doughs ... yet. However, it does get easier with practice.

Comparing to my 36 hour baguette doughs, this dough is much easier to score!

Crumb is decently hole-y, and even. :)

Crust is thin and crispy. If they are baked enough, they should be singing for a long time while cooling, which means a lot of tiny cracks on the crust.

However, I am never completely happy with my baguette. Holes can be bigger, more even, and I can live without the line in the middle of the crumb coming from the seam at the bottom. But hey, like I said at the begining, the fun is in the chase. :)

txfarmer's picture

Sourdough Pan de Mie - how to make "shreddably" soft bread

After posting about some soft Asian style breads, I have gotten more than a few private messages regarding how to make very soft sandwich loaves. I was a little suprised since my impression was that most TFL-ers here prefer a good crusty lean hearth loaf, and soft "wonder breads" are being looked down to. I guess there IS always a need for soft breads: elders and kids who don't have strong teeth, spreaded with a little jam for delicate tea sandwiches , or just because you like the taste and texture. Soft breads are not equal to tasteless wonder breads either, they can be flavorful, "bouncy", and full of body.


Pan de Mie is a slightly enriched bread, just like most soft sandwich breads. That little bit of sugar, butter (you can replace with oil), and milk powder (you can replace with milk, and take out water accordingly of course), only 5% each, are enough to make the crumb very soft. For even softer results, you can increase these ratios to 10% or even 15%, or/and add other enriching ingredients such as cream, cream cheese, buttermilk, cottage cheese, etc.  However, adding too much, you are getting into broche territory though. This verion is raised purely with sourdough stater, but you can get good results using commercial yeast as long as the ingredient ratio is reasonable, and you do a good job at kneading/fermentation/shaping. However, since pan de mie has a very subtle taste, that bit of sourdough tang really enhance the flavor, I would highly recommend using it.


Sourdough Pan de Mie (my own)

Note: 19% of the flour is in levain

Note: total hydration is 65%

Note: total flour is 280g, fit a 8X4 loaf pan. For my Chinese small-ish pullman pan, I used 260g total flour. For KAF 13X4X4 pullman pan, I would suggest using about 450g of total flour.

- levain

starter (100%), 15g

milk, 24g

bread flour, 46g

1. Mix and let fermentation at room temp (73F) for 12 hours.

- final dough

bread flour, 227g (I used half KAF bread flour and half KAF AP flour for a balance of chewiness and volume)

sugar, 14g

butter, 14g, softened

milk powder, 14g

salt, 5g

water, 150g

2. Mix together levain, flour, milk powdr, sugar, and water, autolyse for 30min. Add salt, mix until gluten is developed, add softened butter, and knead until the gluten is very developed. This intensive kneading s the key to a soft crumb, and proper volume. We've all heard of windowpane test, but what's important is how STRONG the said "windowpane" is, which is a measurement of how strong the dough is, and how uniformed the gluten structure is. The following the a picture of my windowpane test on this dough, notice that it's thin, but so strong that it doesn't tear even when I wear it as a glove and my finger is poking at it.

When I finally poke through, the edge of the hole needs to be very smooth.

Yes, it can be done by hand. I have regularly kneaded dough to this stage by hand, it just requires a bit of patience and practice. Of course it's easier with a mixer. In my KA pro6, this dough took 13 to 15 min of mixing at speed 3 or 4 (I know, I know, it violates the KA mixer manual. If you are worried, don't do it, just mix at speed 2, it will take (quite a bit) longer. I have been using this "illegal" method for 2 years now, the mixer has not complained.), doughs with more fat would take longer, different dough size would also affect the time. Do note that it's very possible to over-knead, especially with a mixer, even a couple more minutes after the stage above, the dough would deterioate quickly, it takes a few trial and error to get it perfect. I would suggest to touch and feel the dough every few minutes even you do use a mixer, so you get a good sense of how the dough changes. This intensive kneading technique is quite useful, not just for soft sandwiches, but also for brioche, or other enriched breads. However, for lean hearth loaves, I don't knead at all, I stretch and fold, to get the open crumb. I think different breads demands different techinques.

3. Bulk rise at room temp (73F) for 2 hours, the dough would have expanded noticably, but not too much. Fold, and put in fridge overnight. I find the crumb would be more even and soft if dough gets a full bulk rise - that is true even when I use dry yeast with this dough.

4. Divid, rest for one hour, then Shape into sandwich loaves, the goal here is to get rid of all air bubles in the dough, and shape them very tightly and uniformly, this way the crumb of final breads would be even and velvety, with no unsightly holes.

For the 8X4loaf pan, I first roll out the dough into pretty thin, getting rid of bubbles in the mean time. Fold two sides to middle (see picture below), then roll up like a jelly roll, and put in the pan seam side down.


However, I much prefer the pullman pan method. First divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces depending on pan size, roll each piece into oval, and roll up. After resting for 10min, roll out each piece into long oval again(along the seam), and roll up again, tighter than the first time. Put the pieces seam side down in the pan. By rolling twice, the crumb will be more even and "pore-less".

5. Cover and rise for about 6 hours at 73F. For pullman pan, the dough should be 70%full

For 8X4loaf pan, the dough should be about one inch over the edge

6.  Bake at 375 for 45min. Immediately take the bread out of pans, and cool.

Looking at the crumb shots below, you can see the difference between two shaping methods, the "double roll" really make the crumb more even and pore-less:

Of course, the "pore-less" crumb is more about aesthetic, with either shaping method, the bread would be shreddably soft.

Makes a great grilled cheese:

Or as I tend to do, just tear pieces off and snack on


Sending this to Yeastspotting.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2

Pineapple juice is a simple solution to a problem that many people encounter while trying to start a sourdough seed culture from scratch. Oftentimes, a new culture will appear to start off very strong, only to die a day or two later. The early expansion is caused by a prolific gas-producing bacterium which many mistake for yeast. Pineapple juice can be added to flour instead of water at the beginning, to insure against unwanted bacteria and the problems they leave in their wake. It doesn't change the end result, but it does seem to keep things on the track to finish on time. Part 1 tells the story of where the pineapple remedy comes from and how it was conceived. The rest of the story probes deeper into how it all works. But first, here is a recap of the key patterns revealed by notes and data collected during experimental trials:

  • When starters expanded significantly on the second day, a period of stillness followed, and the appearance of yeast was delayed.
  • Gas-producing bacteria stopped growing when the pH dropped to 4.5, but yeast growth didn't begin until the pH fell to around 3.5, accounting for the period of stillness.
  • Lowering the pH in the initial mixture, by adding ascorbic acid or by replacing the water with pineapple juice, kept gas-producing bacteria from growing and brought about a more timely and predictable result.

But it wasn't enough just to find a fix. The problem-solving efforts of my team were creating a buzz which we hadn't anticipated and this thing, like the seed cultures we were creating, was taking on a life of its own. Some were jumping to premature conclusions, and speculation seemed to be spreading as fact. It made me very uncomfortable, because I'd rather be dispelling myths than adding to them. I wanted to find some real answers, and find them fast, so I started making phone calls. I found two local labs that could help me out. One had the capability to identify leuconostocs, and the other to detect lactobacilli and other bacteria of interest. I submitted samples of a day two starter during the big expansion. Both labs found that there were three organisms growing. But there were no lactobacilli or yeasts found, which supports what I observed time after time on microscopic examination. My gas-producer was identified as Leuconostoc citreum. At the time, I couldn't find much information specific to this organism, although it seems to share many characteristics with other Leuconostoc species found in foods. Most will not grow below pH 4.8, and this one doesn't appear to be an exception.

Until recently, I could only theorize that the Leuconostoc may actively hinder the process, because the pattern supports it, and because it's not uncommon for microorganisms to produce substances which inhibit competitors. But in updating this article, a new search of the scientific literature finally uncovered the piece of the puzzle I was looking for. Who would have thought the answers would be found in kimchi and sake? It turns out that kimchi fermentation has a lot in common with sourdough development, and mirrors the early days of the seed culture process. Leuconostoc citreum plays a dominant role in the early and mid-phases of fermentation where it causes a slow and prolonged drop in pH, and retards the growth of other lactic acid bacteria.[1] In a study on sake fermentation, Leuconostoc citreum was found to produce bacteriocins (bacterially-produced antibiotic proteins) which inhibit the growth of similar lactic acid bacteria (i.e., lactobacilli).[2] It appears that these bacteriocins linger for a time even after the organism stops growing, although their effect is diluted through successive feeding. A dosage effect would explain nicely the apparent relationship between the vigor with which this bacterium flairs up initially, and the number of days the starter remains still afterward. The higher the rise, the longer it seems to take to recover.

In addition to Leuconostoc citreum, there was also a large amount of Aerococcus viridans. The first lab I visited found Leuconostoc to be in the greatest quantity, but Aerococcus was multiplying so fast that it soon passed the Leuconostoc in number. That is important, and could very well have contributed to the delayed progress. Even though Aerococcus doesn't produce gas, and so was not responsible for any of the expansion, it is not an acid producer either. So while it was using up a large share of the available sugars, it was not helping the pH to fall. Aerococcus is an occasional spoilage organism in unpasteurized milk, which is the extent of information that I have found on its involvement in foods. Its lower limit is not given in my reference books, but since pineapple juice seems to keep it at bay, I suspect that it must be in the same ballpark with leuconostocs. I'm still not sure how big a part each of these organisms plays in slowing the progress of a seed culture, but lowering the pH at the outset seems to be a blanket fix.

I mentioned in Part 1 that some of the bacteria were flipping, twirling and zipping around under the microscope. Those were Enterobacter cloacae. Enterobacter produces gas, but since it was present in only a scant amount compared to the others, I think it safe to say that the Leuconostoc was responsible for the majority of it. However, Enterobacter contributes to an unpleasant odor, as do Aerococcus and Leuconostoc. Because some people report a very stinky smell and others not as much, I'd have to say that even among starters that grow Leuconostoc, not all necessarily have the same combination of bacteria. There are others that can grow as well. Results vary from flour to flour and year to year, because the number and species of microorganisms are influenced by conditions relating to weather and grain crop production.[3] I wish I could have all the organisms identified at every stage, but there aren't any laboratories in my area that are equipped to identify wild yeasts or sourdough bacteria. And even if they could, the cost would be prohibitive. I was fortunate to be in a position to have two of the organisms identified as a professional courtesy.

With the additional information, and having watched the drama unfold under the microscope, I started seeing the seed culture process not as good guys out-competing bad or gradually increasing in number, but as a natural succession of microorganisms that pave the way for "the good guys" in the way that they transform their environment. There are bacteria in flour that prefer the more neutral pH of freshly mixed flour and water (like Leuconostoc and company). They are the first to start growing, some producing acids as by-products. This lowers the pH, and other bacteria begin to grow; they produce their acids, lowering the pH even more. It soon becomes too acidic for the first batch and they stop growing. One group slows down and drops out as the next is picking up and taking off. Each has its time, and each lays the groundwork for the next. It's much more like a relay than a microbial free-for-all. The baton is passed to the next group in line as conditions become suitable for them. The acidity increases a bit more with each pass, and the more acid-loving bacteria can eventually take over. The appearance of yeast seems to be tied in some way to low pH---maybe directly, maybe indirectly, but the correlation shows that it isn't random in the way that "catching" yeast from the air would be, or their gradually increasing in number.

In the late fall/early winter of 2004, I was coaching a group of women on Cookstalk, Taunton's Fine Cooking forum, and I noticed something else. My starters sort of liquefy the day before yeast starts to grow. Gluten disappears, which shows the work of proteolytic enzymes. At first I thought it signaled the appearance of lactobacilli and their proteases. But now I think it was simply an indicator that the pH had dropped low enough to activate aspartic proteinase, a pH-sensitive enzyme abundant in wheat.[4] Because I prefer to seed a new culture with whole grain flour for at least three days, there are more cereal enzymes present than in a starter fed with white flour (most of them are removed with bran in the milling process). But either way, it is a good sign of Lactobacillus activity, whether by production of bacterial proteases or by the organism's effect on pH and activation of cereal proteases.

The starters were developing a little more slowly this time around, which inspired me to describe the different stages that a new culture transitions through, rather than try and pin it to a time frame. Room temperature is different from one kitchen to the next, as well as season to season. Sometimes rye flour works faster, sometimes whole wheat is faster. Sometimes a culture doesn't start producing its own acid for the first two days instead of one. Because this process involves variable live cultures under variable conditions, it doesn't always work in a prescribed number of days, but it follows a predictable pattern. While this has been a discovery process for me, it is not a new discovery:

"There has been nice work done in Rudi Vogel's lab on the microflora of a freshly started sourdough: first, there are enterobacteria (Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Enterobacter), highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly. Then there are homofermentative lactobacilli (good lactic acid producers, but they don't produce gas or acetic acid), then acid-tolerant, heterofermentative lactobacilli that make lactic and acetic acid, as well as CO2. I think this took about forty-eight hours at 30ºC in Vogel's study. The stink at the beginning does not matter as the organisms will be diluted out or die eventually. No L. sanfranciscensis appears by forty-eight hours, though: these will occur only after repeated refreshments. Peter Stolz told me that it takes about two weeks of repeated inoculations to get a good 'sanfranciscensis' sourdough."[5]

That paragraph didn't have any special significance for me until I had gotten to this point. But when I read it again, I had one of those aha moments. Not only did this describe a succession, but it filled in some of the blanks, and I could see clearly how all these microorganisms related to the four phases I had defined. Here is the updated version marrying the two. You don't need a microscope for this, because there are outward signs which serve as useful indicators of progress.

The First Phase:
For the first day or so, nothing really happens that is detectable to the human senses. It doesn't taste any tangier or develop bubbles. It remains looking much the same as when it was mixed, except a little lighter in color if an acid was used, and a little darker if not. While nothing appears to be happening, the first wave of bacteria (determined by pH and the microflora in the flour) are waking up, sensing their new environment and preparing to grow. This phase usually lasts about one day, sometimes two.

The Second Phase:
The starter will begin producing its own acid and develop a tangy taste (although it might be difficult to distinguish from pineapple juice). Lactic acid bacteria are actively growing at this point. When using only water, this phase represents two waves of microbes---first Leuconostoc and associates, followed by homofermentative lactobacilli and possibly other lactic acid bacteria. By controlling the pH, you can by-pass the leuconostocs and other "highly undesirable organisms that stink terribly," and skip to the second wave. It will get bubbly and expand only if the pH is not low enough to prevent growth of gassy bacteria, otherwise there won't be much else to see. There probably won't be much gluten degradation, and it may smell a little different, but it shouldn't smell particularly foul unless started with plain water. This phase can last one to three days or more. If it is going to get hung up anywhere, this is the place it usually happens, especially if it is put on a white flour diet too soon. If after three days in this phase, it still doesn't become more sour and show signs of progress, the best thing to do is switch back to whole grain flour for one or more feedings. Whole grain flour has a much higher microbial count and will re-seed the culture and get it moving again.

The Third Phase:
The starter will become very tart---an indication of more acid production by more acid-tolerant bacteria. The gluten may disappear and tiny bubbles become more noticeable. These are signs that heterofermentative lactobacilli have picked up the baton. Once a starter becomes really sour, it usually transitions right into phase four. Note that lactic acid doesn't have much, if any aroma, and so smell is not a very reliable way to judge the level of sourness.

The Fourth Phase:
Yeast start to grow and populate the starter relatively quickly at this point. It will expand with gas bubbles all over and begin to take on the yeasty smell of bread or beer.

This pattern suggests that wild yeasts are activated by low pH. Or perhaps the activator is something else produced by lactobacilli, but it happens predictably at this point for me, as long as the whole grain flour has not been diluted out. There may be some variation among wild yeasts as to the exact pH or activating substance. I have been unable to find the answer in scientific literature, and my contact at Lallemand did not know. I have only found studies done with cultivated strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which don't seem to require much more than a fermentable sugar (and may explain why seed cultures take off much quicker in a bakery environment where baker's yeast is everywhere). The most useful information I have found on the subject is this, about microbial spores in general:

"Although spores are metabolically dormant and can remain in this state for many years, if given the proper stimulus they can return to active metabolism within minutes through the process of spore germination. A spore population will often initiate germination more rapidly and completely if activated prior to addition of a germinant. However, the requirement for activation varies widely among spores of different species. A number of agents cause spore activation, including low pH and many chemicals... The initiation of spore germination in different species can be triggered by a wide variety of compounds, including nucleosides, amino acids, sugars, salts, DPA, and long-chain alkylamines, although within a species the requirements are more specific. The precise mechanism whereby these compounds trigger spore germination is not clear."[6]

What this means is that for dormant cells to return to active growth (germinate), they need to break dormancy (activate) which is initiated by different things for different species. In the case of these wild sourdough yeasts, if all they needed were food or oxygen, which are there from the get-go, then they would start growing immediately. The fact that they don't, is probably why many people think they need to be caught from the air, or that large quantities of flour must be used to round up enough of them. There are enough dormant cells present even in relatively small quantities of whole grain flour, but it's like a game of Simon Says. You can try to coax them into growing, with food and all the things you may fancy to be good for actively growing yeast. But they're not active. They are dormant, and will remain so until they receive the right message from their surroundings. Compare this to the plant seed that sits in soil all winter long, waiting until spring to sprout, when conditions are most favorable. Is it a survival mechanism? I don't know, but waiting for the pH to drop does increase the likelihood that the yeast will wake up in the company of lactobacilli, with which they seem to share a complex and mutually beneficial relationship. It is also important to point out here that active sourdough yeasts thrive in a much wider pH range than what appears to be required for activation of dormant cells. The point to keep in mind is that active and dormant cells are physiologically and metabolically different, which also means their needs are different.

This pattern of growth is not unique to the formula in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I have seen the same progression, in whole or in part, with all the starter formulas I've tried. And it doesn't really matter how much flour you start with. In fact this can be done with very small quantities of flour. All else being equal, it proceeds just as fast with a teaspoon as it does with a pound. Procedures that call for two or three feedings per day, or large refreshments before yeast are active, can actually get in the way of the process. Overfeeding unnecessarily dilutes the acid, which slows the drop in pH, and keeps it from moving through the succession of microorganisms in the timeliest manner. But while it can take up to two weeks or more this way, with Mother Nature as the driving force, things do fall in line eventually. It's just a question of when. Three to five days is about all it really takes to reach the yeast activation stage at average room temperature, somewhat longer if Leuconostoc and associates grow. The strategy is quite different from reviving a neglected starter, which is likely to have an overabundance of acid, and a large population of yeast and sourdough bacteria, however sluggish they may be.

So, what can we do instead to facilitate the process? Start by providing conditions for the first two to three days which are favorable to lactic acid bacteria. A warm spot if you can easily manage one (but not too much higher than 80ºF), and a reasonably high hydration (at least 100%). Use pineapple juice if you like, to bypass the first round of bacteria. Feed with whole grain flour until yeast are actively growing, not for the wider spectrum of sugars it may offer, but for its higher numbers of yeast and lactic acid bacteria to seed each phase in its turn. Don't feed too much or too frequently, so as to allow the acids to accumulate and the pH to fall more rapidly. The ideal feeding quantity and frequency would depend on the temperature, hydration, and how fast the pH is falling. However, I usually recommend once a day at room temperature, simply because it is the easiest to manage, it works, and the daily manipulation helps to keep mold from getting started. Mold is the biggest stumbling block for procedures in which a young mixture is allowed to sit idle for two or three days at a time. Turning surface mold spores into the center by re-kneading or stirring and scraping down the sides daily, is the best way to get around it. Mold is not inhibited by low pH or pineapple juice, and anti-mold properties don't fully develop until sourdough is well established.

While you don't actually need a formula to do this, no article on making sourdough starter would be complete without one. This procedure was designed with simplicity in mind, to be efficient and minimize waste. It was developed with the participation of four willing and very patient women whom I worked with online---DJ Anderson, Karen Rolfe, Deanna Schneider and the still-anonymous 'lorian,' whose plea for help is what renewed the quest to find a better way. I learned a great deal from the feedback they gave me as we worked out the kinks, and this formula is a tribute to them.

There is nothing magic about the two tablespoons of measure used throughout the first three days. Equal weights didn't provide a high enough ratio of acid to flour to suit me, and equal volumes did. Two tablespoons is enough to mix easily without being overly wasteful (and just happens to be the volume of an eighth-cup coffee scoop, which is what I kept on the counter next to the flour and seed culture for quick, easy feeding). These first few days don't really benefit from being particularly fussy with odd or precise measuring, so make it easy on yourself. Keep it simple, and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Day 1: mix...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour* (wheat or rye)
2 tablespoons pineapple juice, orange juice, or apple cider

Day 2: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 3: add...
2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
2 tablespoons juice or cider

Day 4: (and once daily until it starts to expand and smell yeasty), mix . . .
2 oz. of the starter (1/4 cup after stirring down-discard the rest)
1 oz. flour** (scant 1/4 cup)
1 oz. water (2 tablespoons)

* Organic is not a requirement, nor does it need to be freshly ground.

** You can feed the starter/seed culture whatever you would like at this point. White flour, either bread or a strong unbleached all-purpose like King Arthur or a Canadian brand will turn it into a general-purpose white sourdough starter. Feed it rye flour if you want a rye sour, or whole wheat, if you want to make 100% whole wheat breads. If you're new to sourdough, a white starter is probably the best place to start.

On average, yeast begin to grow on day 3 or 4 in the warmer months, and on day 4 or 5 during colder times of the year, but results vary by circumstance. Feed once a day, taking care not to leave mold-promoting residue clinging to the sides or lid of your bowl or container, and refer back to the different phases to track progress. Once you have yeast growing (but not before), you can and should gradually step up the feeding to two or three times a day, and/or give it bigger refreshments. This is the point at which I generally defer to the sourdough experts. There are several good books on sourdough which address the topic of starter maintenance and how to use it in bread. Just keep in mind that the first days of the seed culture process have nothing to do with developing flavor or even fostering the most desirable species. The object is simply to move through the succession and get the starter up and running. The fine-tuning begins there. Once yeast are growing well, choose the hydration, temperature and feeding routine that suits you, and the populations will shift in response to the flour and conditions that you set up for maintenance.

One more thing I have found is that with regular feeding at room temperature, new starters seem to improve and get more fragrant right around the two week mark. Maybe this coincides with the appearance of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis mentioned previously. It is generally regarded as the most desirable species, as well as the one found to be the most common in traditional sourdough.[7] A Fifth Phase? Obviously, there is still more to learn.   -Debra Wink


1. Choi, In-Kwon, Seok-Ho  Jung, Bong-Joon Kim, Sae-Young Park, Jeongho Kim, and Hong-Ui Han. 2003. Novel Leuconostoc citreum starter culture system for the fermentation of kimchi, a fermented cabbage product. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  84:247-253.

2. Kurose, N., T. Asano, S. Kawakita, and S. Tarumi. 2004. Isolation and characterization of psychotrophic Leuconostoc citreum isolated from rice koji. Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi 82:183-190.

3. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains, p. 135. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

4. Katina, Kati. 2005. Sourdough: a tool for the improved flavour, texture and shelf-life of wheat bread, p. 23.VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

5. Wing, Daniel, and Alan Scott. 1999. Baker's Resource: Sourdough Microbiology, p. 231. The bread Builders. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT.

6. Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Spores and Their Significance, p. 50. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, DC.

7. Arendt, Elke K., Liam A.M. Ryan, and Fabio Dal Bello. 2007. Impact of sourdough on the texture of bread. Food Microbiology 24:165-174.


This article was first published in Bread Lines, a publication of The Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Vol. 16, Issue 2, June 2008.

Related Links:
  The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1 | The Fresh Loaf
  Lactic Acid Fermentation in Sourdough | The Fresh Loaf 
  Basic Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter | Cooks Talk

txfarmer's picture

Poolish Croissant - the pursuit of perfection


In the past 1.5 months, this is what I have been doing in the kitchen, once, or even two batches every week. I have occasionally made croissants before, however, this time I really want to get the techinques down. My idea of a perfect croissant: golden flaky high on the outside, crisp layers and honeycomb like crumb inside, and of course, buttery rich taste. Using European style butter (Plugra), in TX warm weather, with no professional equipment (no sheeter here!), it's a process that requires patience, thorough understanding for each step, a lot of attention to details, and insane amount of practice. I am nowhere near "perfect" yet, but heading in the right direction, here are some lessons learned in the process.


First, the following are resources that helped me a great deal, many thanks!

1)"Advanced Bread and Pastry". This book has a whole chapter on viennoiserie, the formula I am used is adapted from it. However, the formula and procedures require quite a bit of changes in a home kitchen.

2)Hamelman's formula from here. while I didn't use his ingredient ratios, but his procedure is much more suitable for a home kitchen, comparing to what's in AB&P.

3)Ralph from this thread. The whole thread is helpful, but Ralph's input was extra enlightening to me. I emailed him asking for the formula he uses in the shop. Since his posting was from over a year ago, I really didn't expect a reply, but he did write back! I really appreciate his insight and generosity.

4)Many enlightening posts from TFL, especially andy's post here.


Since I made many mistakes along the way, and learned a lot form each of them, I am writing them all down below. Warning, it's long. I mean looooooooong.


Poolish Croissant (Adapted from AB&P)

*I get about 12 standard sized croissants from each batch, with some small rolls from scraps.


- Poolish

AP flour (KAF AP), 160g

water, 160g

instant yeast, 1/8tsp


1. mix and ferment 12 to 16 hours.

- Final Dough

AP flour (KAF AP), 362g

milk, 135g

sugar, 67g

salt, 10g

osmotolerant instant yeast (SAF gold), 3.55g, 1tsp+1/8tsp

malt, 3.55g (I used a tsp of barley malt syrup)

butter, 22g, softened

poolish, all

roll-in butter, 287g

NOTE 1, there are two poolish croissant formulas from AB&P, one for hand rolling, one for sheeter. The sheeter one has less liquid and less rest time between folding and rolling, the hand rolling one has much more liquid and more rest time. I find drier dough would give a more well defined cleaner crumb structur, but it's harder to rol out; wetter dough would be easier to roll out, but the crumb would be more sticky and less layered. What I try to do is to adjust the liquid amount so that it's dry, but still possible to roll out without messing up the layers. In the end, this amoutn is closer to the sheeter formula (the hand rolling one is way too wet for me), but with a tad more liquid.

NOTE 2, the original formula uses bread flour. As Andy mentions in his post, contrary to conventional belief, croissants need a strong dough to rise well and create layer in the end. Since the formula was meant for machine rolling, it can afford to use BF, however, 10 years of marathon running gave me strong legs, not arms, I had to change it to AP flour, otherwise butter would melt and leak when I struggle with the strong dough. Note that Hamelman's formula I quoted above is meant for home bakers, and it uses AP; while Ralph's formula (which he emailed to me) uses BF, but it's meant for shop production. I have seen recipes that uses mostly, even all, cake flour. It never ends well. The final product is usally small and bread like, with less rise. The crumb structure is not layered. IMO, those recipes are sacraficing the crumb structure for the ease of handling

NOTE3, this is probably the most important lesson in terms of ingredients. The industry standard for rolling in butter is apparently 25% of the dough weight, which comes out to be about 45%of flour weight. Andy says it's about the same over the pond. However, I have found that in a home environment, when the rolling is less even and efficient, more rolling-in butter is needs for a well defined crumb. The less butter to use, the thinner the butter layers are, which means easier for the butter to melt into the dough or leak out. I have increased the roll-in butter ratio to 55% of the flour weight, about 30% of dough weight, which gives me much more consistent good results. I know many have said more butter would cause butter to leak out during final proof or baking - it's simply not true. Butter leakage during proofing is caused by proofing temp being too hight, and butter leakage during baking is caused by under-proofing, neither is related to the amount of roll-in butter. With 55% of roll-in butter, zero butter is leaked during proofing for me, minimal leaks during baking - sometimes none at all.

NOTE4, I use  Plugra European style butter for most of my croissants. Have also used Kerry Gold occasionally. Both taste great. I would suggest to stick to a good European butter, different brand handls a bit differently. My Chinese baking friends can buy "butter sheets" which are 100% butter with high melting point. Those are much easier to handle, but I have not found any here in US, if anyone knows a resouce pelase let me know. In fact if anyone knows why we don't have such a thing here, I am curious to know as well. Those are made in New Zealand and Europe.


1. Mix everything but the rolling butter, knead until gluten starts to form. In my KA mixer, 3min at first speed, 3 min at 3rd speed. The dough is not very smooth, but not sticky. Pat flat and put in fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

NOTE5, some recipes ask for a thorough kneaded dough, some ask for no kneading at all. I think the objective is to have a strong dough with well developed gluten structure AT THE END. All the rolling, folding, even relaxing in the fridge would strengthen gluten, so it's not a good idea to knead the dough too well in the beginning. It will make rolling near impossible (if you don't have a sheeter).


NOTE6, some recipe would ask for some bulk rise time at room temperature. I think it's not suitable for home bakers. Bulk fermentations strengthen the dough, which means one would need to play with knead time, and rolling technique to accomodate the added dough strength. Furthurmore, there are a lot of resting in my procedure because the dough would get too tight or too warm. With a bulk rise, I am risking over fermentating, which would cause the final proof and oven spring to be weak.

2. Cut the roll-in butter into pieces, put between two sheets of plastic or wax paper. Use a rolling pin to tap the butter until it's soft enough to roll, roll between the two sheets until it's a 7.5X7.5inch square. Put in fridge.

NOTE7, this is a good time to learn how your butter behave. How long does it take for it to get soft? How long until it's melty? That's the guideline for later.

3. Roll the dough out until it's double size of the butter sheet, 11X11inch in this case. Tap butter until it's roll-able, and the texture is similar to the dough. put the butter in the middle of the dough as following, fold up dough and seal the butter. Pay attention to corners and edges, you don't want spots where there's no butter.


4. Roll out into a 8X24inch rectangle, do your first fold as following:

NOTE8, as Ralph emphasized in his posting: don't trap the dough! Before folding, cut the edge off to expose the layers before folding that side into the crease of the dough, that way there's no "extra trapped dough".

NOTE9, even though at this stage, it doesn't seem important to roll the dough out into specified sizes, but you will get better results if you do. The reason is simple: if your dough piece is smaller at this step, you will have to do more rolling in the later steps. Later steps would have more layers of butter, which means it will be harder to roll out evenly. Roll out the dough to the size now.

NOTE10, pay attention to corners and edges. Every imperfection would be magnified 27 times because you are folding 3 times.


5 Put in fridge and rest for 1 hour. Take out dough and repeat the rolling and folding 2 mroe times, which gives 3 folds in total.

NOTE11, I had the misconception that the more folds, the more layers, the flakier it will be. Wrong. With too many folds, butter layers would be thinner and thinner, and it will be more likely for the butter to melt and leak. Even with perfect rolling, too may layers would mean smaller honeycomb "holes" in the crumb. With no sheeter and TX weather, I find 3 folds sufficient, any more it's risky.

NOTE12, 1 hour is "MINIMAL" resting time. I often have rested longer since I was doing something else. There's no harm in resting a bit longer. During final fold, I sometimes have to rest it in the middle in order to roll out to the desired size. Sometimes when it's way too warm (the curse of TX, at one point I was rolling out croissant while hubby was eating watermelon in a tshirt), I would also rest in the middle to avoid butter melting. It's always better to be overly cautious. Allow you self more time than your expect.


6. Put in fridge and rest for at least 90min.Roll out to 9X36inch, 1/8inch thickness.

NOTE13, I don't have such a big counter space, niether do I have such a big fridge, so I cut the dough in half, which means I have 2 pieces, each one is 9X18inch.

NOTE14, Rest often. Rest when there's any indication of butter getting too warm, or the dough getting too elasticy. There's no harm in resting too much.

NOTE15, Use enough flour so the dough don't stick.


7. Cut into triangles, 4.5inch wide at the base, 9inches tall(the one on the left). Don't hesitate to cut off inperfect edges if you want a pefect crumb. Fridge and rest the triangle pieces, then strech them into 10inch high(the one on the right), this will creat more layers.


8. Roll up fairly tight, stretch out the tip with one hand when you roll the bottom with the other hand. You should get 3 rolls, and 7 little steps, wich the tip underneath.

NOTE16, this is the straight shape, if you want a curved shape, you will need to cut a slit in the base before rolling, and roll to the outside as you start from the base. See Hamelman's formual link.


9. At this point, you can proof right away, fridge overnight and proof next day, or freeze (defrost overnight in fridge before proofing). Brush with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 TBSP of water), then proof @ about 80F until very soft and jiggly. About 3 hours for me. Brush another layer of egg wash after proofing.

NOTE17, don't proof warmer than 80F, the butter might leak otherwise.

NOTE18, don't under proof, otherwise butter will leak during baking. I have yet to overproof these. They have to be REALLY soft and jiggly. The layers will be very obvious at the end.

NOTE19, the egg wash before proofing would reduce the requirement on proofing humidity.

NOTE20, I have a madeshift proofing box made from foam box, a temperature sensor and control from pet shop, and a light bulb, works great.


10. Bake at 425F for 10min, 375 for 15min.


Honeycomb enough? Not really, but getting there.They should be more well defined, and the wall of each cell should be thinner.


For this one, I didn't cut off the imperfect edge before rolling up , which made the center too doughy.


I don't even know whether a "perfect" croissant can be achieved in a home kitchen, especially a warm TX home kitchen, but I will keep trying. In the mean time, my family, friends, and coworkers are loving me for feeding them such delicious breads.


Sending this to Yeastspotting.

SylviaH's picture

Oven Steaming - My New Favorite Way

I have been wanting to try this method for sometime and have just been putting it off until today.  Of coarse I had to pick today, my kitchen still in some construction mode after remodeling my shower, it had leaked through on the kitchen ceiling, an appointment with a glass and mirror installer...and today is Mike's birthday, so everything is in a bit of a rush.  I baked a couple of mulitigrain loaves, and upon doing this I decided to try a new method of creating steam in my oven.  I'm convinced the only way I'm going to get steam that's not continually 'vented' out of my oven is by using this method.  This is so much easier for me..a lot less effort to create constant steam.  Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Preheated the loaf pans in my oven one or two 5 1/2" X 9 1/2" dark non-stick loaf pans...I used 2 loaf pans with 2 tightly rolled towels in each pan.

Placed 2 water soaked towels into a 6X10 Pyrex glass dish.  Microwaved them for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.  Until good and hot.

I removed a pre-heated loaf pan from the oven.  Turned my pre-heating oven onto the Bake mode.

Using Tongs I placed the hot towels into the loaf pan. Placed the pan and hot towels back into the oven

Repeated for the other loaf pan and towels.

Using a 8oz. pyrex cup, I microwaved a 1/2 cup of water until it boiled.  Poured the hot water over the two hot rolled towels in one of the loaf pans.

I then repeated for the other loaf pan.  I covered my glass door with a towel and left the pans in the oven while pouring the hot water over the towels.

More or less water can be added.  I had my towels very wet with a little water on the bottom of the pans.

The oven was pre steamed and steamed.  There was constant steam coming from the towels..  Up to 10 minutes after the pans were removed from the oven, there was still steam present, lots of it.  Photos of this steam.  It's not easy to get photos of steam but I did manage if you look closely at the photo.

This is the first time I have tried this method.  It is so much easier for me and creates that constant steam I have been after, without losing it to my venting oven...there's always steam present until the pans are removed.  I think one pan would work nicely too. 

My bread is still cooling.  Mike and I are off to enjoy the evening out.


            Tongs should have been included in this photo.  A couple of  large multigrain loaves was todays's baking.


                  Microwave heating the wet towels in a the pyrex dish



                                                           Steaming the oven



                                                        Steam coming from towels, apx. 10 minutes after being removed from the oven



          ADDED: A little better photo.  Steam coming from the towels several minutes after being removed from the oven.

                                  As I said in the post to Larry, there is some scientific reason

why the steam vapors are not as visable in a hot oven..something I think to do with the air being hotter and so the vapors do not show like they do in cooler air...something like that!  But the steam is in the oven, even though you can't notice it as much as you do outside the oven.  I think I will try a little less steam in my next bake.








Baked Potato Bread

This weekend I found myself staring out the window at the abundant chives growing in my garden. What could I possibly do with them, I wondered, except eat them on baked potatoes? And how many baked potatoes can I eat before I never want to see another spud again?

Then it occurred to me that I've made potato bread before, so why not add chives to potato bread? And, heck, while I'm at it, why not throw in some other tater toppings like sour cream and bacon and have a full-on Baked Potato Bread?

By the time I had second thoughts about it, all of the ingredients were mixed together. But, you know what? It turned out excellent, the perfect accompaniment to a pot of corn chowder on a rainy day.

The full recipe is below.
Freestyle Baking

As I have written about time and time again, I think the real fun in baking comes once you have mastered the basics and understand how adding different ingredients in different proportions will change the character of your loaf.

Whether I am making up a recipe or checking out a new recipe in a cookbook, my point of reference is always the loaf I introduced in lesson 1, which is 3 cups flour, 1 + a little cups of water, 2 teaspoons yeast, 2 teaspoons salt. If I read a recipe and it has more water than, say, a cup and a quarter of water per three cups of flour I know it is going to a slack dough; more fats (butter, milk): a softer loaf; contains sugars: a sweet loaf; and so on.

When thinking up this recipe, I took the lesson one recipe, substituted potatoes for about 20 percent of the flour, substituted sour cream for about 50% of the water, and added the chives and bacon and bacon fat. It sounded easy enough, though I made some adjustments as I started baking, as you'll see below.

Potato Bread

I don't believe that I've every posted about a potato bread on this site, so a little introduction is in order.

Replacing between 10 and 30 percent of your flour with mashed potatoes results in a wonderful soft, moist loaf of bread. Potato flakes or potato starch can be used, as well, but leftover mashed potatoes work great even if they have some butter or milk or salt in them.

Do be careful, though: potatoes are considerably lower in gluten than wheat, so add too much potato and you will end with a dense, moist loaf, probably too much like a baked potato for anyone's liking. I find 1/2 cup potatoes to around 3 cups flour to be plenty.

In this recipe I used a couple of small red potatoes that we had steamed up as a side dish for dinner the night before. All I did was mash them up with a fork and mix them into the flour. I left the skins on before mashing them because I find the little red flakes speckling the loaf to be quite attractive.

Bacon isn't to everyone's liking, either for dietary or religious reasons. I see no reason why this recipe wouldn't be good even if you excluded it, but if it something you are able to indulge in I suggest you do. I definitely think it improved the flavor and consistency (and appearance, for that matter) of the loaf.

Enough blabbing. On to the recipe!

Baked Potato Bread

Makes 2 small (one pound) loaves or one large loaf

1/2 cup mashed potatoes
3 to 4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (I'll explain the ambiguity below)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cooked bacon
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

To begin, chop up two or three slices of bacon and fry them up. Remove them from the heat.

Mix the mashed potatoes, yeast, salt, and 2 cups of the flour together in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. If you have active dry yeast and want to substitute, read this. Add the sour cream, water, chives, and bacon and mix together until all ingredients are combined. I also mixed in the bacon fat, which there was about a tablespoon of in the pan, because it improves the flavor of the loaf.

At this point you'll have a very wet, sticky mess, probably more of a batter than a dough. Add additional flour a handful (1/8 cup) at a time and mix or knead it in.

(I lost track of exactly how much extra flour I added, but it seems like it was around 9 or 10 hands full. I added 4 or 5 hands full and mixed them in while the dough was still in the bowl, then I poured the dough out onto a well-floured cutting board and added more, kneading it with my hands which I repeatedly dipped in flour to keep the dough from sticking to them. After 5 or 10 minutes of this I ended up with something that was still quite sticky, but was definitely in the realm of a dough and not a batter: it could be formed into a ball and generally held its shape.)

Once you have combined the ingredients well and gotten the balance of flour and water to a level that seems acceptable, return the dough to a well-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 90 minutes at room temperature or until it has doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape the loaf or loaves. Notice how moist and gummy my dough was when I cut it to shape it into two loaves:

One probably could add more flour and make an acceptable loaf of bread with a drier dough, but I've been finding that I get better results the wetter I am able to leave it. But this really is an art, not a science, so use your own best judgement.

At this point you need to shape the loaves, cover them loosely and let them rise until they double in size again, about 45 minutes. You could put them in greased baking pans and let them rise and bake them in those. I wanted round loaves, so I put them in a couple of couche lined baskets:

Professional bakers use these kinds of baskets, which are very nice but completely out of my price range. I found two small baskets at Goodwill for 49 cents each and have found that they help keep the shape of my rounds very well.

The baking couche I got from a neighbor who works in bakery. It works very well, but you can fake the same thing with a well floured kitchen towel (the linen kind, not a fuzzy one).

As you can see in the picture above, I placed the baskets on a table, the couche over the baskets, and the dough in the floured couche in the baskets. I wrapped the edges of the couche around the balls of dough and let them rise. When they had risen I simply unwrapped the loaves and shook them out of the couche onto my peel (which I dust with semolina flour) and threw them into the oven.

While the loaves are rising again, preheat the oven to 425. If you have a baking stone, be sure to put it in early to heat.

When they have doubled in size (as I said before, about 45 minutes after shaping), put the loaves in the oven to bake. I baked them at 425 for 5 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350 and baked them another half an hour. The loaves are done when the internal temperature reaches the 185 to 195 degree range (as read with an instant-read thermometer) or when they are nice and brown on the outside and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. For me this took about 35 minutes.

And there we have it. The bread was wonderful while still warm with a pot of soup, but I actually think I preferred it the next day cold. With the bacon fat and sour cream, there was plenty of fat in the bread so it didn't need to be buttered; just plain it was rich and moist enough.

hanseata's picture

Croissants - in Buttery Heaven!


When my husband decided to open up a furniture store in Portland, ME, he found a big old garage in Fore Street. After spending a month with scrubbing, painting and cutting new panes for each of the high windows, he turned the dark and dirty place into a beautiful, light space, to showcase his contemporary furnishings.

Eventually Richard Parks Gallery moved to Commercial Street, and the first floor of the old store became Fore Street Restaurant, one of Portland's foodie temples.

The souterrain was turned into a bakery, and, instead of housing French sofas and bistro tables, it's now home of Standard Baking Co., maker of the best French breads and pastries in Maine!

Richard Parks Gallery on Fore Street in the early Nineties

Whenever we visit Portland, we get Pain au Levain, Seeded Fougasse, Croissants, or, on Fridays, Rugalachs.

Last time we came into the bakery, I saw a pile of books: Standard Baking Company had published "Pastries" with many of their recipes, including those of the croissants and rugalachs we were just about to buy. Of course I didn't hesitate one second, grabbed one of the little books, and, while driving home and munching on a walnut filled rugalach, studied the recipes.

Though I bake (and sell) lots of breads, I have little experience with French baking, and couldn't wait to try making one of those mouthwatering pastries myself.

I was also wondering whether Alison Pray and Tara Smith had dumbed down their formulas to make them "everybody's darling". Or, jealously guarding their secrets, changed them so that the home baked pastries would never taste the same as their professional counterparts at the store (try finding the original Sachertorte in Hotel Sacher's pastry book!)

Worth every penny!

To my utter delight neither was the case. Every piece of pastry I made so far was outstanding - and tasted as good as its sibling at the bakery. (No, I don't get a kickback for my gushing!)

Croissants, with their multi-layered, buttery dough, are the gold standard of pastry baking. I had made them only once before. Those had turned out quite nice, and I was curious how the Standard Baking ones would compare to them.

I found the formula easy to follow, with clear, detailed instructions and explanations for every step of the way. Involved as the process is, it's not rocket science, and you really can do it at home!

You have to plan ahead, though, because you'll achieve your best results when you allow the dough sufficient time to rest. As with most of my breads, time and the refrigerator are your friends, achieving three important goals: relax the gluten (readying the dough for the next turn), keep the butter cold (preventing it from seeping out) and develop the taste.

Therefore, make yourself familiar with the whole procedure before you start! This is your schedule for the 3-day process (no worries, the actual hands-on time is much less!)

Pure buttery, flaky goodness!


DAY 1 (Mixing the dough)
Hands-on time: 20 minutes mixing           Resting time: 1 hour plus 1 night

DAY 2: (Laminating the dough)
Hands-on time: 2 to 2 1/2 hour                 Resting time: 2 hours plus 1 night

DAY 3: (Shaping and baking)
Hands-on time: 30 minutes                       Resting time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours

If you don't want to use all the dough for regular butter croissants, use part of it for Sticky Buns, Pain au Chocolat or Ham & Cheese Croissants. You can also freeze the laminated dough up to 10 days, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before baking.)

And if you have leftovers, recycle them into utterly delicious Almond Croissants!

BUTTER CROISSANTS   (12)  (adapted with Alison Pray's permission from Standard Baking Co. "Pastries")

630 g all-purpose flour (4 1/2 cups)
    7 g instant yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  50 g sugar (1/4 cup)
  14 g salt (2 1/2 tsp)
  28 g unsalted butter*) (2 tbsp), cool, cut in pieces
186 g water, at room temperature (about 70ºF) (3/4 cup)
186 g milk, at room temperature (about 70ºF) (3/4 cup)

Butter Roll-In
280 g/10 oz unsalted butter*), chilled

Egg Wash
1 egg
2 tsp. water
1 pinch salt

*) If you have the chance, get European style butter with a higher percentage of fat (like Cabot's European style butter or Plugra)

For the dough, whisk together flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Using your fingertips, rub butter into dry ingredients until it is evenly distributed and coated with flour mixture.

Rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients is easy

Using a stand mixer with dough hook: Combine water and milk in mixer bowl. Add dry ingredients on low speed and incorporate for 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

Increase to medium speed, stopping mixer after 2 minutes to check consistency of dough. It should be medium-soft. (If it feels stiff, add more water, a tablespoon at a time.) Resume mixing for 2 minutes more. Dough will not be completely smooth, but hold together. (Don't over-mix, you don't want the dough to become tough!)

Using a food processor: Pulse for about 2 minutes, or until dough comes together in a ball. (Don't over-mix, otherwise dough becomes more difficult to roll out, and result in less tender croissants.)


Place dough in lightly oiled container, turn around to coat with oil, cover, and let rise in a warm spot (ideally 75ºF) for about 1 hour, or until it has grown by about half.

The dough has risen 1 1/2 times its original size   

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a rectangle about 2 inches thick. Wrap it in plastic and seal it well to prevent it from escaping when it rises. Refrigerate dough overnight (or at least for a minimum of 4 hours.)

(I placed the dough on lightly floured cutting board, sprayed it lightly with baking spray,  put the whole thing first into an unscented garbage bag, and then in the fridge.)


About half an hour before rolling out the chilled dough, prepare butter roll-in: cut cold butter into large chunks, and place them in mixer fitted with dough hook. Beat butter on medium speed until completely smooth and pliable, but not warm (about 3 minutes.)

(You can also pound the butter with a French rolling pin until it is flat and pliable, but the mixer works great.)

After kneading the butter is pliable but still cold

Transfer butter to a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Press it into a 6-inch square, 1/2 inch thick. (I measured and marked parchment paper at 6 inches, and folded it into a square, then closed it with the butter inside, and pressed on the package until the butter filled the edges.)

Chill butter square in refrigerator for about 15 minutes (it should be just firm, but not hard.)

Folded parchment paper helps pressing the butter into a square

And now the fun starts: you are about to create something absolutely wonderful, a tender, buttery, multi-layered (laminated) croissant dough.

Room temperature and work surface should be on the cool side, and each step should be done as quickly as possible, to prevent dough and butter from getting warm. Put everything you need (flour for dusting the work surface, roller pin, brush for excess flour, and ruler for measuring) within easy reach.

The butter square covers half of the dough rectangle.

If the chilled butter feels too firm, take it out of the fridge a few minutes before using. Dust work surface lightly with flour. Remove dough and butter block from refrigerator. Roll dough into rectangle twice the size of the butter square: 12 x 6 inches. Brush off excess flour from top of dough. Place butter square (unwrapped) on one half of rectangle, so that edges are neatly stacked.

Fold other half of dough over butter, and press open sides together to seal butter in. Lightly re-flour work surface, if necessary, and roll out dough rectangle into a square, about 1/2-inch thick and twice as long as it is wide (the long side should be facing you.) Brush dough surface to remove loose flour.

Roll out dough into rectangle twice as long as it is wide

Fold dough lengthwise in thirds like a business letter, always brushing any loose flour from the surface before you fold: first fold left third over center, then right side over left. Using a bench knife, straighten and square edges, so that layers are neatly stacked. Congratulations! You just made your first turn (aka envelope fold.)

Wrap the dough "envelope" in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 45 - 60 minutes, so that you and the gluten can relax and cool down. In the meantime, clean your work surface from any remaining bits of dough, and dust it again lightly with flour.

After its workout the dough needs another break in the fridge

Unwrap cooled dough and place it on work surface, the long, folded side facing you. Roll out dough as before into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Fold it again in thirds, always brushing off excess flour between folds. The second turn is done! Re-wrap and re-chill dough again for 45 - 60 minutes.

Now you're already a pro, and know how to handle the third and final turn. Unwrap, roll out, fold, and use the brush in between! You don't want flour to keep the layers from adhering.

Brushing off any flour from the top of the dough is important

So, that's it for the day, wrap your (beautifully laminated) dough in plastic and place it in the freezer. Before you go to sleep, take it out, and put it in the fridge so that it can slowly thaw overnight. (Or, if your mouth waters too much, and you need to bake it the same day, give it at least 2 hours chill-out time before shaping.)

TO MAKE AHEAD: You can also freeze the dough up to 10 days, thawing it in the fridge overnight before baking.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough into 12-inch x 25-inch rectangle (1/4 inch thick.) Re-dust with a little flour, if needed, to prevent sticking. If dough springs back and is difficult to lengthen, let it rest a few minutes, before you continue. When desired length is reached, trim and straighten narrow ends with pizza wheel or chef's knife.

A same size piece of parchment paper with markings helps with the cutting

Cut rectangle into long, skinny triangles, 4 inches wide at base and 10 to 12 inches long on sides. (It's easier if you cut parchment paper into a same size rectangle, and measure and mark bases and tips of triangles on it. Place paper over dough, and then mark dough in the same way with little incisions.)

Make a 3/4-inch incision in the center of each triangle base (this notch helps to create the desired length in the final shape.)

To shape each croissants, pick up a triangle, holding base edge with one hand. With the other hand about 1 inch from base, pull dough gently to lengthen it slightly, without causing any tears. Place triangle down again, base towards you, and gently but firmly roll it up towards the tip. (If done properly, you should have 6 to 7 tiers.)

Leftover dough scraps: Place cut off half-triangles from both edges side by side, pinch the middle seam together, put any other small scraps on top, and roll this patchwork triangle up, too. It will be a little "malfatti" (badly made) as my half Italian spouse calls it, but nothing of your precious dough will be lost.

The triangles get a notch at the base to make lengthening easier

Put shaped croissants on prepared baking sheets, evenly spaced, the tips should be tucked underneath.

For the egg wash, whisk together egg with water and salt in small bowl until smooth. Brush croissants lightly with egg wash, carefully avoiding open edges, so that the egg can't glue them together and prevent tiers from rising. (Refrigerate remaining egg wash for the second application.)

The croissants need to proof for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Place baking sheets in the (unheated!) oven, then put a pan with hot, steaming water on the bottom to provide the ideal rising environment: humid, to prevent a skin from forming, and warm, but not too warm - you don't want the butter to melt, resulting in less flaky, greasy croissants.

Half an hour before baking, remove proofing croissants from oven. Position racks in upper and lower thirds, and preheat oven to 430º F.

Cover croissants, and continue to let them rise, until they have almost doubled in size, and dough springs back slightly when pressed gently with a finger tip, but the dimple should remain visible. Each tier should still hold its distinct shape. (Check croissants frequently after the first hour of rising, if they overproof, they will have loose their flakiness and have a bread-like structure. The room temperature should not be too warm.)

Proofed croissants. The "malfatti" on the upper right is not much different from the others

A few minutes before they go into the oven, brush risen croissants again with a thin coat of egg wash, carefully avoiding the edges (you don't want to screw up now!)

Bake croissants for 10 minutes, then quickly rotate baking sheets from top to bottom and from front to back, for more even browning, taking care not to leave the door open too long. Continue baking for another 4 - 6 minutes, until they are evenly baked, with deeply browned, crisp edges.

Remove sheets from oven, and transfer croissants to wire rack, to cool a bit. They are best when eaten while still warm, or shortly after baking.


If you cant eat all of the croissants right away, you can wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and re-crisp them at 375ºF for a few minutes.


There is no such thing as stale croissants when you recycle them into these!

Submitted to YeastSpotting

Flo Makanai's picture
Flo Makanai

1.2.3, An Easy Formula for Sourdough Bread

Hi Everyone!

I'm Flo Makanai, French "author" of the (in French, sorry...) blog Makanai ( I love bread baking, especially sourdough baking, and I've been doing it for about 15 years.

As I always have many obligations other than baking bread (who does'nt?!) AND lots of sourdough to use (I hate throwing it away once it has reached maturity), I eventually came to "invent" a formula that works for me in France (Janedo from, whom you certainly know, has also tested that formula and it works for her too).

Here it is:

I weigh the liquid (100%) mature sourdough I have on my counter. It gives me a weight which I shall call weight 1.

I then multiply "weight 1" by 2 to obtain the quantity of liquid (water, rice milk, milk...) I'll need. So the liquid will weigh twice as much as the sourdough.

Then, I multiply "weight 1" by 3 to obtain the quantity of flour(s) (always organic for me) that I'll need. So the flour(s) will weigh 3 times the sourdough. 

I mix those 3 ingredients, I let the dough rest 30 minutes and then I knead my dough, adding 1.8% to 2% of the flour(s) weight of salt.

So "1" = sourdough weight

"2" = liquid weight, which is "1"x2

and "3" = flour(s) weight, which is "1" x3

Example : with 125g sourdough, I'll bake bread with 250g liquid and 375g flour + 6 to 7g salt

The reason I'm writing today on TFL is that I wonder if that formula works in the States, where flours are so different from the ones we have in France. Is anyone interested in trying and then posting a comment on TFL? That would be interesting.

I posted this formula (in French, but you can use the Google translator, even if the result is quite ... unusual!) on Makanaibio yesterday (here:, if you can read French or if you'd like to see a few pictures of some of my breads.

(And please excuse my english, I certainly made mistakes I'm not even aware of...)

I hope to read you soon!

Flo Makanai

dmsnyder's picture

Scoring Bread: An updated tutorial


What is scoring?

Scoring” is the word used to describe the cuts made in a loaf of bread before it is baked. Some breads are not scored. For example many loaves baked in pans are not. However, almost all free-formed “hearth breads” are scored.

When is scoring done?

Scoring is generally performed just prior to loading the loaves in the oven. French rye breads (pains de siegle) are sometimes scored right after shaping, before proofing.

Why are breads scored?

Intentionally creating a weak spot on the surface of the loaf prevents the loaf from bursting at weak spots created during shaping.

The type of scoring performed controls the direction in which the bread will expand during “oven spring.”

The pattern of cuts made, the angle at which they are made and the depth of the cuts influences the rate of expansion and the formation of an “ear” - a raised flap of crust at the edge of a cut.

The pattern of cuts can create a pleasing visual pattern on the surface of the loaf. While there are some very traditional patterns, for example for baguettes, the baker can use the scoring pattern to identify the type of bread or to create an unique pattern that identifies the loaf as coming from his or her oven.

The effects of scoring on loaf shape are discussed in more detail below.

What do you use to score bread?

The blade used to score bread is often referred to as a lame (pronounced “lahm.”) This is simply a French word with means “blade.” Breads may be scored with straight or curved razor blades, either held in the hand or mounted on a handle. Scoring may be performed with other sharp, straight blades, even with a straight razor. Some bakers prefer serrated blades.

For some types of scoring, a straight blade is preferred. Straight bladed knives are preferred for cuts made with the blade held perpendicular to the loaf's surface. This sort of cut is generally used for round loaves (“boules”). For other types of scoring, a curved blade works better. Curved lames are generally used for long breads like baguettes which are scored with cuts parallel to the long axis of the loaf.

Video on Choosing a Blade:

How are the cuts made?

The scoring stroke should be firm, rapid, smooth and decisive. For the beginner, it may help to take “practice swings” or to visualize the movements and totally focus one's attention before making the cuts. Understanding the functions of scoring and the effects of the variables described can help, but there is no substitute for experience. In this respect, scoring bread is no different from an athletic skill or any other art or craft. (Tourist: “Please, sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” New Yorker: “Practice, practice, practice.”)

The cuts should generally be 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. A wet, sticky dough requires a more shallow cut than one would make in a dryer dough.

Scoring a boule (round loaf)

The angle the blade of the knife makes with the surface of the loaf is important in determining how the cut will open up. If you want the cuts to spread equally from the cut and to open quickly, as is traditional with round loaves (boules), the knife should be held vertically – at 90 degrees to the surface of the loaf.

Video on Scoring a Boule:

Besides the “tic-tac-toe” pattern, boules can be scored with diamond patterns, simple crosses or much more elaborate and creative patterns.

Miche scored with a diamond pattern

Scoring a long loaf (bâtard)

If you want the cuts to spread more slowly and create an “ear,” as is generally desired with long loaves (baguettes and bâtards), the knife blade should be held at a shallow angle with the surface of the loaf, at about 20-30 degrees or so. Many find using a curved blade helps make this type of cut. The blade is held with the concave surface facing up (away from the loaf). A flap of dough is created that will lift up to create an “ear” as the loaf expands and, by lifting gradually, slows the expansion of the loaf. This prolongs the time during which new areas of dough are exposed to the direct heat of the oven and results in greater overall expansion – a larger “bloom.”

Video on Scoring a Bâtard:





The effect of scoring on loaf shape

Michael Suas, in his book "Advanced Bread & Pastry," provides some information about how scoring patterns influence loaf shape. Scoring is not just to make a visually pretty design on the top of a loaf. It is also how the baker controls the direction in which the loaf expands. This impacts the shape of the loaf cross section (rounder or more oval), the height of the loaf and, for a boule, whether it stays round or ends up more oblong.

According to Suas, long loaves like bâtards and baguettes are traditionally scored parallel to their long axis. This may be a single long cut or multiple cuts that are almost parallel and overlap somewhat (for ¼ to 1/3 of their length, generally). This pattern promotes sideways expansion of the loaf, resulting in an oval cross section when the loaf is sliced.


Baguette showing overlapping cuts, almost parallel to the long axis of the loaf

For breads with high-rye content which have lower gluten and less oven spring, the traditional objective is to encourage a higher rise in the oven spring resulting in a rounder cross section. This is achieved by "sausage" or "chevron" cuts.

"Sausage cut" on the left. "Chevron cut" on the right.

Boules are scored in a variety of patterns with differing effects on how the loaf expands. The common "tic-tac-toe" pattern and a simple cross will direct the expansion upward. More complex patterns like diamonds result in a relatively flatter loaf.

One of most interesting effects is that scoring a boule with multiple parallel cuts encourages expansion at a right angle to the cuts. This results in an oblong loaf shape.

 Two boules scored differently. Note the effects of the scoring pattern on the final shape of the baked loaves.

What's the point of an ear? Controlled bloom!

This topic is not about the auricular anatomy of elves (or Vulcans). It's about scoring breads.

Scoring loaves creates a visually pleasing pattern, and it helps control the expansion of the loaf as it bakes.

What Suas called "the classic cut" is parallel to the long axis of a baguette or a bâtard. The cut is made with the blade at a shallow angle to the surface of the loaf. The cut should be shallow - about 1/4 inch deep. Paradoxically, this shallow cut results in the flap lifting better than a deeper cut would, thus forming a nice "ear." Hamelman (pg. 80) points out that "a deep cut will simply collapse from its own weight."

The angle of the blade is important. "If the angle is not achieved and the cut is done with the blade vertical to the loaf, the two sides of the dough will spread very quickly during oven spring and expose an enormous surface area to the heat. The crust will begin to form too soon - sometimes before the end of oven spring - penalizing the development of the bread. If the cut is properly horizontal, the sides of the loaf will spread slower. The layer of dough created by the incision will partially and temporarily protect the surface from the heat and encourage a better oven spring and development." (Suas, pg. 116.)

These photos illustrate nice "ears," but they also show that the bloom occurred slowly, as it should. Notice that the color of the crust in the opening has 3 distinct degrees of browning, decreasing from right to left. The darker part on the right obviously opened first and was exposed to the direct heat of the oven for longer. If the bloom occurred too rapidly, it would have a more even coloration.

In summary, in order to achieve an optimal bloom in baguettes and bâtards, one must attend to 3 variables when scoring them:

  1. The cuts should be almost parallel to the long axis of the loaf.

  2. The blade should be held at about a 30 degree angle to the surface of the loaf.

  3. The depth of the cut should be shallow - about 1/4 inch.

Variable shading of the bloomed crust confirms that the desired slow but prolonged opening of the cut during oven spring occurred.

A final word

This tutorial focused on the mechanics of scoring, but the other steps in bread making impact the behavior of the cuts you make and the final appearance of your loaves. In fact, every single step, from your choice of ingredients and their proportions – your formula – to how you steam your oven plays a role in how your cuts will open. Your best looking loaves will result from a series of choices that are mutually dependent, where how you score a loaf takes into account the other choices you have made about the formula, mixing, fermentation, shaping, proofing and baking.

Happy baking!


Cinnamon Rolls

There must be a hundred different cinnamon roll recipes, from the French pain aux raisin to the British Chelsea buns to Philadelphia style sticky buns to the Midwest American truck stop cinnamon rolls that are as big as your head.

Here is the recipe I grew up with and still bake most often.

Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 12 rolls
16 oz all-purpose flour
10 oz warm milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup choppped walnuts or pecans

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Make the dough by combining all of the ingredients and kneading until smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. If it is too moist add a handful of extra flour. Place the dough in a bowl, cover the bowl, and set aside to rise until it has doubled in size (roughly an hour).

While I'm waiting for the dough to rise, I like to plump the raisins by pouring very hot water on them and letting them sit in the water for 15 minutes before draining them. This keeps them moister when you bake them, but this step isn't necessary if you are short on time.

Sometimes I prepare my filling as you'll see below: by combining the softened butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar in a bowl so they can be spread together. Again, this isn't necessary: you can simply spread the butter and sprinkle the sugar and spices as best as you can by hand. It is up to you.

When the dough is risen, roll it out on a floured surface.

Cinnamon Rolls

Spread the filling on the risen dough.

Cinnamon Rolls

Also sprinkle the raisins on top.

Roll the dough up, trying as best as you can to prevent the filling form spilling out. Slice the roll into 12 even pieces.

Cinnamon Rolls

A tip from the Department of Slow Learners: I have no idea why it took me 25 years to figure out this trick, but it did. In the past, when I needed to slice something like this into 12 even pieces, I would eyeball it and then start carving one slice at a time off the end. Inevitably as I reached the final couple of slices I'd have either too much or too little left, so the final couple rolls are never the same size as the rest.

The trick I learned is to first slice the roll into two even pieces. Then slice slice each of these pieces into two even pieces, so you have four pieces total. Each of those pieces only needs to be cut twice more for you to have twelve pieces. Eyeballing how to cut a small piece of dough into three even pieces is much easier than eyeballing a twelfth of a large piece of dough.

Cinnamon Rolls

Moving on....

Now that your roll is cut into twelve even pieces, place those pieces in a baking pan.

Cinnamon Rolls

Cover the pan and let the buns rise for another 45 minutes to an hour until they've roughly doubled in size.

Cinnamon Rolls

Bake them at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes. Be careful about oven positioning and overbaking: because there is quite a bit of sugar in the filling it is quite easy to burn the bottom of the rolls. I find that the second rack from the top works best in my oven, and I try to pull them out as soon as they look baked.

Cinnamon Rolls

Let the rolls cool for 20 minutes or so before glazing them. The glaze will thicken as it cools, but if it is extremely runny feel free to add some additional powdered sugar to thicken it up.

Cinnamon Rolls

There is it.

Cinnamon Rolls

I'd be interested in hearing about other people's favorite Cinnamon Roll recipes/techniques. Please share your recipes, ideas, and photos.