The Fresh Loaf

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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

bwraith's picture

Maintaining a 100% Hydration White Flour Starter

The following is a description of how I maintain my 100% hydration (1:1 flour:water by weight) starter. The term 100% hydration refers to the baker's percentage of water in the starter, i.e. the water in the starter is 100% of the weight of the flour in the starter.

This maintenance regime assumes that your starter is already healthy, fresh, and active. This is not what I would do to "start a starter", but rather it is the maintenance regime I follow to store, revive, and use my starter over time.

The following characteristics are for a 100% hydration starter. The characteristics, signs of health, problems, and readiness for use are different for starters maintained at different hydration levels.

Characteristics of my 100% hydration white flour starter:

  • The weight of flour and water in the starter are equal.
  • The flour is either bread or AP flour with protein content around 11-13%.
  • The water is bottled (Poland Spring).
  • Normally fed at room temperature.
  • Stored in the refrigerator when not being fed.
  • The consistency can be described as a thick, stirrable paste after it is fed.

Characteristics of a recently fed, fresh, active 100% hydration starter:

  • It rises by double in about 4-5 hours at room temperature after a feeding of 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water by weight)
  • It maintains a reasonably thick, elastic consistency after rising by double.
  • It smells very pleasant. The smell could be described as flowery, tangy, and slightly sweet.
  • No liquid layers develop on top or in the middle even hours after rising by double.
  • Hooch (an alcoholic layer of liquid on top) forms eventually when it is stored in the refrigerator for a week or more or left out for a long time at room temperature after doubling.

Characteristics of a 100% hydration starter that is not yet ready or is possibly unhealthy:

  • Unpleasant odors a few hours after feeding.
  • Separated layers of liquid form a few hours after feeding.
  • Takes longer than 4-6 hours to rise by double at room temperature after a 1:2:2 feeding (starter:flour:water by weight).
  • Develops a runny consistency a few hours after feeding.

An Important Note on the Large Effect of Temperature on Rise Times

Before launching into the information below on maintaining starters, it is worthwhile to point out one of the largest points of confusion in sourdough starter maintenance. Temperature has a big effect on the speed of reproduction and the activity of the organisms in a sourdough culture. For example my kitchen may average 76F in the summer and only 69F in the winter. At 76F, my starter may rise by double after a 1:2:2 feeding in 4.2 hours, whereas at 69F it will double in 6.4 hours. At 64F, it would take 9.4 hours. It is not a problem to follow the procedures below in a kitchen with a temperature averaging 64F; but clearly, you need to allow for rise times of roughly double in the various discussions below. So, adjust your expectations and timing accordingly, if your temperatures don't hover fairly close to 74F or so, which is the temperature assumed for the discussions below.

Assuming a healthy, active starter, here is the maintenance regime I follow to feed, store, revive, and use my starter.


I almost always feed my starter 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water by weight) and then allow it to rise by double at room temperature, which should take about 4.5 hours when it is fully active and recently fed. Once it has risen by double, it is placed in the refrigerator. The starter can then be used directly from the refrigerator in a recipe for the next 3 days. On the first day, it is almost the same as it was right after it rose by double. On the second day, it has a little more flavor and may be ever so slightly weaker, but it is still at an excellent point to use in a recipe. After 3 days, it can still be used, but it will have stronger, more sour flavors, and it will be noticeably weaker in terms of rising power. If you have a recipe that uses a very small percentage of starter in the dough, it won't matter much if you use old starter. I've used week old starter in recipes where the flour contributed to the dough was only 5% of the total flour weight. If you are using the starter in a recipe that has a high percentage of starter, it may be better to use the starter after 2 days or less in the refrigerator.

Although it may not make much difference, I actually maintain my starter with a 1:2:2.2 feeding ratio, i.e. at a 90% hydration. With the bread flour I use (KA Bread Flour) that results in a consistency of a thick paste that is a little difficult to stir once you mix it up well. The amounts you work with don't matter much, either, other than the amount of flour being thrown out. I typically work with a total culture size of about 80 grams. My scale will measure down to 1 gram of precision. A typical 1:2:2.2 feeding would be (16g:30g:34g) of (old starter:water:flour). Below I am doing 1:10:11 feedings, which are done by feeding (4g:40g:44g) of (old starter:water:flour).

The above method works great, but see in the variation section below for an update on how I am feeding most recently to better accomodate a 12 hour feeding cycle. Also, I now use an even thicker consistency, around 80% hydration. It seems to keep longer this way on the counter or in the refrigerator.


Once the starter has been in the refrigerator for more than three days, I consider it to be in storage. It can't be used directly in a recipe, but instead will have to be revived. If I plan to store my starter for a period of time longer than 2 weeks, I usually will thicken it up, as it keeps better at a thicker consistency. However, even at 100% hydration, I've had no problems reviving my starter after 2 months. At thicker consistencies, the starter can last for many months in the refrigerator. I believe Glezer says it can last more than a year in a very stiff consistency, like 50% hydration. However, the longest I've gone with my starter is 2 months. I use glass canisters for both feeding and storage. I usually pour the ready to refrigerate starter into a fresh container, so that the sides are clean and the starter is stirred down to take up less volume. The containers have a rubber gasket that seals them from the air in the refrigerator but allows some gas to escape if pressure and gasses build up in the container.


When the starter has been in the refrigerator for more than a few days, it must be revived first before it can be used in a recipe. I do this by simply feeding it once or twice in the manner described under "Feeding". After being stored for a week or two or more, rising by double after a 1:2:2 feeding may take something like 6-8 hours at room temperature. If it only takes 6 hours, one feeding works fine. However, if it takes more than 6 hours to rise by double at room temperature, I generally feed it one more time. The second feeding usually takes much closer to 4.5 hours, which is an indication it is fully revived. On the occasion where it had been stored for 2 months, it took a third feeding at room temperature before the starter would rise by double in 4.5 hours at room temperature after a 1:2:2 feeding.

One subtle aspect of all this is the question of how long after the starter has doubled should you wait to feed it again. The starter needs to ripen enough to bring the cell counts up to their maximum level. In the period after you feed the starter, the cell counts of yeast and lactobacillus will double every couple of hours or so. Once the starter is ripe enough, the yeast and lactobacillus cell counts will stop increasing. The pH and acid levels get to a point where they attenuate the cell activity, and they can no longer multiply in numbers. So, you want to let the starter mature enough to reach that maximum cell count, and then feed it again or store it. Just based on experience, it seems like my starter does well as long as I let it sit for an hour or two beyond the point it doubles. I usually "stir it down" at the point it doubles, and then let it rise some more. However, I refrigerate it right when it doubles, since it will continue to ripen in the refrigerator. Recently, I was rushing my feeding schedule and slowed my starter down by trying to feed too early, just before it had completely doubled, in fact. The result was that it was taking longer than usual to rise. The solution was to let it sit a while longer for a few feedings in a row. It didn't take long at all for it to bounce back to doubling in 4.5 hours from a 1:2:2 feeding at room temperature.


You can feed at a lower or higher ratio than 1:2:2 in order to adjust the amount of starter you want to build to match a recipe or to better match the times when you can feed the starter conveniently. However, I never feed at a lower ratio than 1:1:1 to avoid any problems with acid building up or the starter becoming too ripe or underfed. Higher ratios can be used to lengthen out the rise time if you know you will not be back within 4-6 hours to store the starter in the refrigerator before it becomes too ripe. At warmer temperatures, the starter will rise by double much more quickly after a 1:2:2 feeding, taking something like 2.5 hours at about 85F, for example. At 85F the timing for rising by double will be very roughly half as long as at room temperature, and at 65F the timing will be very roughly twice as long (very, very roughly).

Recently, I've been experimenting with feeding ratios for a 12 hour room temperature maintenance schedule. I have found that feeding 1:10:11 (for a slightly thicker consistency I'm using 90% hydration), results in a 12 hour cycle. The starter will double 8 hours after the 1:10:11 feeding, and then I stir it down and let it ripen some more. If I feed every 12 hours on this cycle, the starter is at full strength from about 8 to 12 hours after being fed (all this at room temperature). When you feed a starter routinely at higher ratios, like 1:10:11, it will ferment for longer periods of time at higher pH. The result should be that the starter will have relatively more lactobacillus in it compared to a starter maintained with a 1:2:2 feeding ratio, since the lactobacillus thrive in a slightly higher pH environment (around 5 pH).  I can't say what the effect on flavor would be, but it makes sense that the aromatic compounds and acids produced by the lactobacillus would be more evident in the one maintained with the high feeding ratio. Although this is not at all scientific, I do think that the starter I've maintained with a 1:10:11 feeding ratio has a more intense aroma than the one fed with a 1:2:2 ratio.

Even more recently (added 12/14/2007), I've settled on feeding every 12-17 hours using a feeding of 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight). Using this procedure, the starter doubles in volume in about 4.75 hours at 76F or about 7.25 hours at 69F. Even at 69F, the starter has peaked in 12 hours, so it can be fed again. At 76F, it will peak and fall after 12 hours, but it is still at full strength and will rise vigorously when fed. It seems like a good compromise that can be used year-round for a 12 hour cycle. The starter can be maintained on the counter at room temperature indefinitely using this procedure. If I know I won't be baking bread for a while, I thicken up the starter by feeding it 1:4:7 to thicken it up when I feed it next, and put it in the refrigerator immediately after feeding. Then, I take it out a day or two in advance of the next bread-making session and revive by letting it rise by double and feeding 1:4:5 every 12 hours. Although I generally go through the revival procedure, I've found that the starter is at close to full strength even after 7 days in the refrigerator when stored this way. So, it's possible to take the starter out of the refrigerator, let it rise by double, and use most of it in a bread recipe, and take a tiny portion of it to revive for a couple of feeding cycles before returning it again to the refrigerator using the 1:4:7 feeding and refrigerating immediately.

When to Refrigerate

I like flavors to be less sour and more mild in sourdough breads I make. I've found that the right flavors and lower amounts of sour flavor seem to be there when I don't let the starter become overly ripe before using it in a recipe. That's why I tend to refrigerate when the starter has just doubled. You can experiment with feeding schedules that allow the starter to become more ripe before refrigerating. It will change the balance of organisms in the culture and therefore the flavor. Also, when you use a large percentage of starter, the larger amount of accumulated byproducts of fermentation in a more ripe starter will contribute directly to the flavor and texture of the dough, in addition to the contribution made by the subsequent fermentation.

An Additional Tip on Refrigerated Starter Storage

If you are using your starter fairly frequently, like once a week, then just refrigerating it when it doubles will work very well. You can use the starter directly out of the refrigerator for a period of time if stored that way. For storage it works well, as I've had no problem reviving my starter after 2 months when stored just after doubling. However, as Mike Avery commented below, and I've verified as well, feeding a well revived and healthy starter in such a way as to thicken it to a firm consistency and then refrigerating it immediately allows the starter to keep very well for longer periods of time. It can be removed from the refrigerator and allowed to rise by double or a little more and used directly in a recipe, even after a week, I've found. If you use this procedure, the starter should still be "revived" with enough feedings, usually one or two more, at room temperature to verify that the starter is rising at full strength again before it is again stored in the refrigerator.

Converting Starters

I sometimes make a recipe starter for a whole grain bread by feeding some of my starter with spelt or whole wheat. I have never fed a starter with whole grain repeatedly to completely convert it, so I have to accept the flavor as is and a small amount of white flour in my whole grain recipes. I'm sure there are many subtle flavor differences if you feed repeatedly and fully convert a starter from being fed exclusively with white flour to being fed exclusively with a whole grain flour. I've found the feeding and rising process works about the same way with whole grains for a recipe starter, except that the rise times seem a little bit faster with the whole grain flours.


It's pretty hard to kill a healthy starter, but here are a few ways to possibly send yours over the edge.

  • Heat the starter to over 95F and kill the organisms - easier than you might think, for example...
    • Use actual oven heat and get up over 100F very quickly.
    • Place the starter in an oven with the light on - check carefully first - it can be much hotter than you think in there with just the oven light on and the door closed.
    • Use hot water to feed your starter
  • Put acids in the culture
    • The culture doesn't need acid if it's healthy. It generates all the acid it needs on its own.
    • Sometimes a small shot of vinegar or other acid, such as pineapple juice, may help fix a sluggish culture, but if you feed acid repeatedly, you can put too much in and kill the starter.
  • Not feeding the culture for too long at warm temperatures or repeatedly underfeeding over long periods.
    • When out of the refrigerator, the culture will be very active and must be fed to stay healthy.
    • It is especially easy to underfeed a culture when temperatures are warmer.
  • Overfeeding the culture
    • If you feed before the culture has ripened enough repeatedly you can dilute the culture and eventually kill it.
    • More likely to happen at colder temperatures, stiffer consistencies, or higher feeding ratios. Let the culture rise by double, then let it ripen for a number of hours beyond that. A dip should form in the middle when the culture is at its peak. You can let it go for a number of hours beyond the point it dips, but it should be ready to feed at the point it is dipping or collapsing on itself.
    • If you refrigerate the culture for storage, you can let it just rise by double and then refrigerate it. It will continue to ripen in the refrigerator. However, allow it to come to full ripeness at room temperature over a couple of feedings once in a while, normally done when reviving the culture for baking, to avoid any decline similar to overfeeding caused by repeatedly refrigerating when it has just doubled.

Given the above, it makes a lot of sense to keep back a small amount of old starter in the refrigerator, even if just the scrapings from the inside of the container that came out of the refrigerator, until you're sure the feeding went well. It's also not a bad idea to make a small amount of stiff starter and keep as a backup. Some dry their starter and freeze or store it for backup.

Tips on Quantities Used, Mixing Technique, and Volumes (a scale is highly recommended, but to use measuring spoons...)

As I've gained experience, the amounts of starter I work with have dropped. I haven't found any disadvantages to using smaller quantities. For example, my most recent feeding routine (mentioned in the variations section above) is 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight) is done by taking a clean jar, putting it on the scale and adding 5 grams of starter and 20 grams of water. I stir vigorously with a tiny whisk to aerate and thoroughly mix the starter into the water. Then, I add 25g of flour and use a fork to thoroughly mix the flour into water, forming a fairly thick paste - not quite a dough, but very thick. I then take a small spatula and scrape down the sides, put the lid on the jar, and place the jar in a nice unobtrusive spot on my counter where hopefully no one will disturb it.

If you don't have a scale, my first advice is to get one. It makes baking much more reliable, especially when you are trying to reproduce another baker's recipe. A good digital scale costs about $25 and is very much worth the trouble. Still, the procedure in the previous paragraph is easy to do by taking 1 teaspoon of starter, adding 2 tablespoons of water, and stirring vigorously to aerate and completely mix the starter into the water. Then, add 3 tablespoons and possibly another teaspoon or so of flour, and mix thoroughly with a fork. Scrape down the sides of the jar, cover, and place on the counter.

If you are planning to store the starter for a long time in the refrigerator, it helps to carefully drop the recently fed and thickened starter into a clean jar, so that there is no film of flour or paste stuck to the sides at all. Over a longer period, it is possible for mold to grow on a residue of flour paste left on the sides of the jar.


What I describe above is just one way to do it. I'm sure there are many other ways, but I find this method convenient and robust. It's hard to kill a healthy freshly fed and risen starter that is stored in the refrigerator. It is convenient that the starter remains in a good usable state for several days. Very small amounts can be used when storing it for long periods to avoid large amounts of flour waste. I store something like 100 grams when I'm planning to store the starter for more than a few days, so my revival can be used in a recipe without wasting much if any flour. Maintaining only one starter and converting it for recipes each time is easy and convenient, although by not fully converting the starter to a whole grain flour some flavor or other characteristics may be missed with this approach.

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!


ehanner's picture

Eye opening techniques

I know when I first started baking I nodded dutifully when I was told to knead until the dough will pass the window pain test. If you can't stretch a piece until it is translucent and you can see light through it, knead some more. This advice is found through out the industry help and how to books and is considered to be a core understanding by many. Far be it for me who is a lowly novice in terms of time in the flour bin to question the conventional wisdom, however. There are a few misconceptions that have become accepted as gospel that I believe hinder the new baker and for that matter any baker who wants to truly understand what their potential is in the kitchen. The techniques I address here are not my ideas or content. These things were presented to me by others here on the forum in pieces over the last few years and together represent the basis of my capability today.

The first bit of advice I have is to stop what ever you are doing and watch this video. If you're like me it will take a few times to get the hang of what the poster is doing. This is Richard Bertinet doing a demo for Gourmet magazine. He is making a sweet dough but it doesn't matter. The technique is key. When I learned this move and method of handling dough, my results instantly went from unpredictable to reliable. 10 or maybe 15 seconds with your hands in the dough and that's it, you're done. No more kneading is required. You might do a couple folds every 20-30 minutes during the primary ferment. This will work with sourdough or yeasted recipes and white or whole wheat with the caveat that WW will need a fold or two during the ferment. Once I learned to do the French Fold, I have rarely used my mixer. When you understand how the dough is supposed to feel with your own fingers it is much easier to produce a dough that will perform to your expectations.

Further EDIT: A regular contributor to this forum has produced some really terrific video training aids that can be seen HERE. Mark Sinclair is the owner of The Back Home Bakery in Kalispell Montana. He is remarkably clear in the message he sends about how to handle several dough types and shaping.
Mark demonstrates how easily you can mix, stretch and fold and shape dough. His style is easy to follow and well done. I highly recommend you take a look at these instructional videos. He just posted a new video on shaping a high hydration baguette that is excellent. Many of his recipes are search-able here or if you email him he will probably send them to you. His bakery products are beautiful and the photography is inspirational.

Mark now has 2 DVD's for sale that take you from end to end with 3 different breads and another on technique. There are lots of places to get information on how bake good breads. Marks Video's are reasonable and very helpful to the new baker.

There is another video that should be included is the Julia Child/Daniel Forester baguette demonstration. This is a 2 part video that shows how to put together french bread dough by hand and uses the frisage method. Frisage is something that once seen, always understood. You can read about it repeatedly but it won't make sense until you see it in action. See it here.

Added by Edit: A great video is now available that I think is the essence of dough handling and shows how easy it is to mix dough without a mixer. If you can chew gum you can make great bread using Richard Bertinet's video HERE.

Secondly, Da Crumb Bum posted a concept that goes against all the common wisdom concerning pre heating your oven and using a stone for a thermal battery. Who hasn't thought that to get good rustic bread one must bake on a pizza stone or a tile surface? There are some instances where a stone and preheat is required like pizza and bread sticks but for the greatest majority of your baking, no stone or preheat is required. A link to the original post is . Most are skeptical this will work at first but trust me on this, you won't believe it until you see it with your own eyes. It is expensive to maintain 450F in a steel box both in terms of wasting money and by wasting the energy and resources of our planet. The minimal effect that preheating has on the crust is absolutely not worth the additional energy.

I share these thoughts and techniques as a way of thanking the many posters who have helped me to become at least a competent home artisan baker. The host of The Fresh Loaf (floydm) is top on the list with his lessons and frequent examples of solid baking. Hundreds of community members, posters, are here to answer your question or help with an issue. This is a great site because of the members. Don't be afraid to jump in, we are just like family.

It's been a while since I made this post and I wanted to come back and add a few things now that I have some experience under my belt.
1.) I still almost never use the mixer. A brief hand mix to break up the dry clumps of flour followed by a 30-60 minute rest and stretch and fold or French folding as per the top video will develop the gluten just fine. Stretch and fold every 30-60 minutes for the duration of the bulk ferments. Time will be your friend here. Be patient. If you use a very small amount of starter for inoculation or yeast, you slow down the bulk ferment. If you increase the hydration slightly, you will find you can fold every 40-60 minutes for about 4 hours. The dough will be perfectly satin smooth and will easily windowpane.

2.) Instead of starting from a cold oven, I now am starting the oven when the dough looks ready and the proof is about done. The dough is proofing on parchment, covered with a floured towel or a moist tea towel. When it looks like the proof is done, turn on the oven. My electric will go to 450 in 7 minutes. Slide the dough in, steam for a great crust. I rotate after 20 minutes.

3.) I think many people over ferment and over proof. Try fermenting for 60 minutes at 78F, shape and proofing for 45-60 minutes. Remember, the warmer it is where your dough ferments, the faster the dough will rise. Temperature matters.

4.) Make your slashes deeper than a 1/4 inch. You might be better to go back and retrace your initial slashes to make them just a little deeper. Be modest in the pattern. Remember what the purpose is of slashing.

5.) Not so much a technique but a suggestion. Adopt a basic formula that you can make in your sleep. Nothing fancy, a basic yeast or sourdough bread your family likes and work from that. You will be surprised at how many different types of bread you can make using your basic master formula by adding one or two ingredients or changing the handling slightly.
Have fun and learn at your own pace. The collective knowledge at The Fresh Loaf is being plugged into your own private baking school.


"It's not you he wags his tail for, but, your bread".

Better Banana Bread

Well, maybe not a better banana bread, but different banana bread: cakier, creamier, moister. I, personally, think I prefer this loaf to the previous banana bread recipe I posted, but my wife makes the point that this recipe produces a much more delicate bread than the previous one does. For a quiet cup of tea on a lazy summer afternoon, this is the one. For a picnic at the zoo with a rambunctious three year old, the previous one is the way to go: it'll survive the transport in the car and backpack much better.

Recipe below.

This is, in fact, the same recipe as before with a cup of vanilla yogurt added. The yogurt made the dough moister, so in response I needed to add more flour. Since I was adding more flour, I decided to try using some whole wheat flour. It turned out well.

So if there is a lesson to be learned here, it isn't that this is the greatest banana bread in the world. It is to make each recipe your own. Bake often and do not be afraid to experiment. If you don't screw up a recipe from time-to-time you probably aren't baking enough!

Better Banana Bread
Makes 1 huge loaf or 3 small loaves

Preheat the oven to 350.

In one bowl, combine:

1/2 stick (4-5 tablespoons) butter, softened
2 eggs
2 or 3 very ripe bananas
1 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
2/3 cup sugar

Use a potato masher, fork, or spoon to squish the banana and mix the ingredients together. It is alright for there to be small (1 centimeter) chunks of banana in the batter, but you want most of the banana to be reduced to mush.

In another bowl, combine:

1 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix until the ingredients are blended together.

If you like, stir in additional ingredients here, such as chopped walnuts or pecans, dried cherries or apricots, or chocolate chips. A handful (about a half a cup) is about right.

Pour the dough into greased baking pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Small loaves take around 30 minutes, a normal-sized loaf takes around 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven. This bread is great warm, but it is excellent cold too.

After they have cooled for 5 or 10 minutes the loaves can be removed from the pan to cool. Once they are cool they can be individually wrapped and frozen.


Related Recipe: 10 Minute Banana Bread.


pretzel shapingThe other day I was reading Jeffrey Hamelman's recent book Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes when I came across his pretzel recipe. His recipe requires a pate fermente overnight, a long fermentation, and a bath in a solution of water and lye, which means rubber gloves and goggles are required.

"Rubber gloves and goggles and caustic fluids to make a batch of pretzels?!? You've got to be kidding me," I thought.

The next day I found myself flipping through another baking book when I stumbled across another pretzel recipe. No caustic bath. No preferment. Not even an initial fermentation: simply mix everything together, shape the pretzels, and bake them; beginning to end, under an hour.

So which is it? Is it necessary to make the preferment and use lye to make decent pretzels at home? Do you even need to ferment the dough to make passable pretzels, or can you just jam them into the oven?

Find out below.

By the way, the other baking book I was looking at was Breaking Bread with Father Dominic 2. Not a bad little book. I gather that it is out of print, but if you see a cheap used copy at the local bookstore it might be worth picking up.

I didn't follow his recipe exactly, but it provided a nice balance to Hamelman's recipe.

The Experiment

There was no way I was going to try the lye bath at home. Maybe to make world class, authentic German pretzels that is necessary, but for a half dozen pretzels at home? Forget about it.

I decided to try make pretzels with an initial fermentation and without. I also tried boiling them briefly in water, egg washing them, and just baking them dry. If any of those methods could produce something reasonably like the soft pretzels I've had before I'd be happy.

The Recipe

I buy my yeast in a jar so that I can measure out as much or as little as I want (well, that and it is cheaper when you bake as often as I do). If you are using yeast from a packet, you can either use half a packet or double the recipe and use an entire packet (at least the packets they sell in the grocery stores in the US... international bakers will have to do their own conversion).

If you are using instant (AKA Rapid Rise or Bread Machine) yeast, you can just mix the yeast in with the rest of the dry ingredients before adding the warm milk and it'll activate fine. If you are using active dry yeast, mix it into the warm milk along with the malt powder (or brown sugar) and give it 5 to 10 minutes to activate before incorporating it into the dry ingredients.


Makes 6 large pretzels
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon malt powder or brown sugar
2-3 cups all-purpose unbleached or bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees, which is 1 minute in my microwave)

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix together until it forms a ball. I start with 2 cups of the flour and mix it together until it forms something like a thick batter, then add more flour a handful at a time until it'll form a nice ball that I can knead by hand.

Either use an electric mixer to mix the dough for 5 minutes or remove it from the bowl and knead it by hand for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough begins to get smooth and satiny.

If you are going to ferment the dough (more information on whether this set is necessary below), return the ball of dough to a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately an hour.

If you fermented it, degas the dough gently before moving on to the next step.

Before shaping, start preheating the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each one into a short log, cover with a towel, and let the dough relax for 5 to 10 minutes. After it has relaxed you should be able to roll it out and stretch again fairly easily.

pretzel logs

After taking this photo, I let them relax again and then gave each a third roll and stretch session before they were as long and thin as I wanted (about 15 inches long and about as big around as my index finger). They'll nearly double in width while baking, so it is ok to roll them out quite thin.

pretzel shaping

Shaping pretzels is simple, once you get a hang of it. Place a rope of dough on the work surface in front of you. Take each end in a hand, loop the dough away from you, and bring the ends back toward your stomach, crossing them about an inch above the rope. Apply a little bit of pressure to make the loops stick together, but not too much because you don't want then to flatten out.

Pretzels don't appear to need to rise again before baking, so you just need to figure out how you want to prep them for the oven. Here are the options I tried:

To boil them: If you want to boil them, bring a pot of water to a boil. Dunk each of the pretzels into the boiling water for 5 seconds, then place them onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt (I use the kosher stuff that is easy to find at the grocery store) or other toppings.

pretzel shaping

I used a pair of spatulas to hold the pretzel in place while holding it under water.

To eggwash them: Simply place them on a baking sheet, brush them gently with an egg that has been whisked, then sprinkle with coarse salt or other toppings.

To bake them (mostly) dry: Sprinkle or spritz them with a little bit of water so that the toppings will stick, then sprinkle with coarse salt or other toppings.

Place the baking sheets into the oven. It took around 15 minutes for my pretzels to get golden and brown. Remove from the oven and eat immediately.


pretzels done

We definitely thought the boiled pretzels (on the left) were better than the pretzels that had just been spritzed with water (on the right). The spritzed ones were dry and had a slightly french bread like crust. Crust like that is good on french bread but not so good on soft pretzels.

I liked the boiled pretzels more than the eggwashed pretzels, my wife preferred the eggwashed pretzels better. The eggwashed ones rose considerably more in the oven than the boiled ones, so they were quite soft and fluffy. The boiled ones were still soft, but they were a little denser and chewier.

Truthfully, I couldn't tell the difference between the batch that I let ferment for an hour and the batch I baked immediately. If I were tasting them side by side with no toppings I probably could detect a slight difference. But at least when I eat soft pretzels they are a medium for other flavors (salt and mustard), either method produces an adequate pretzel.

pretzel alone

And the lye bath? At least for the home baker I can say with confidence that you can skip it.

Defender of the lye bath? Or have any other insight into proper pretzel making? Please comment!

dmsnyder's picture

San Joaquin Sourdough: Update

While I enjoy a variety of breads, the San Joaquin Sourdough remains my “go to” bread. It's easy to fit into a busy schedule. It uses few ingredients. It always tastes delicious. It's wonderful freshly baked but also makes great toast, French toast, garlic bread and croutons for salads or onion soup. It is almost as good after being frozen as fresh. What's not to like?


I first developed this formula about 3 years ago. Since then, I've tweaked the formula and methods in many ways. I know many TFL members have made this bread and enjoyed it. So, I thought an update on my current recipe might be of interest.

To summarize the changes I've made in the past 6 months:

  1. I substituted 25 g of whole wheat flour for an equal amount of the rye flour in the original formula. The difference in flavor is subtle, but I like it better.

  2. I adopted the oven steaming method for home ovens we were taught in the SFBI Artisan I and II workshops. 

    SFBI Steaming method

  3. I switched from using a parchment paper couche to a baker's linen couche. (Highly recommended! Here is my source for linen: San Francisco Baking Institute)

  4. Most recently, after trying several different methods, I've settled on the method of pre-shaping and shaping bâtards taught in the King Arthur Flour instructional video. (See: Hamelman technique videos  The relevant instructions are in the fourth video, starting at about 7:00 minutes.) The SJSD dough is very extensible. This method forms a tighter loaf which is shorter and thicker than that produced with the method I had been using.



Active starter (100% hydration)

150 g

All Purpose flour (11.7% protein)

450 g

BRM Dark Rye flour

25 g

Whole Wheat flour

25 g


360 g

Sea Salt

10 g



In a large bowl, mix the active starter with the water to dissolve it. Add the flours and stir to form a shaggy mass. Cover tightly and let rest (autolyse) for 20-60 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough. Using a plastic scraper or silicon spatula, stretch and fold the dough 30 times, rotating the bowl 1/5 turn between each stroke. Cover tightly. Repeat this stretch and fold procedure 3 times more at 30 minute intervals.


After the last series of stretches and folds, scape the dough into a lightly oiled 2 quart/2 liter container and cover tightly. (I use a 2 quart glass measuring pitcher with a tightly fitting plastic lid manufactured by Anchor Glass.) Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes with a stretch and fold after 45 and 90 minutes, then return the dough to the container and place it in the refrigerator and leave it there for 21 hours. 

Dividing and Shaping

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and scrape it gently onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently pat it into a rectangle. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.

To pre-shape for a bâtard, I now form a ball rather than a log. Place each piece of dough smooth side down. Pat into a rough circle, degassing the dough gently in the process. Bring the far edge to the middle and seal the seam. Then go around the dough, bringing about 1/5 of the dough to the middle and sealing it. Repeat until you have brought the entire circumference of the piece to the middle. Turn the piece over, and shape as a boule. Turn each ball seam side up onto a lightly floured part of your board.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and/or a kitchen towel and let it rest for about 60 minutes. (The time will depend on ambient temperature and how active your starter is. The dough should have risen slightly, but not much.)

To shape a bâtard, I now favor the method portrayed in the King Arthur Flour instructional video. I encourage you to watch the video, but here is a verbal description of the method:

  1. For each piece of dough, place it in front of you on an un-floured board.

  2. Hold down the near side and stretch the far side of the piece into a rough rectangle about 8 inches front to back.

  3. Now, fold the far end two thirds of the way to the near end and seal the seam with the heel of your hand.

  4. Take each of the far corners of the piece and fold them to the middle of the near side of your first fold. Seal the seams.

  5. Now, the far end of the dough piece should be roughly triangular with the apex pointing away from you. Grasp the apex of the triangle and bring it all the way to the near edge of the dough piece. Seal the resulting seam along the entire width of the loaf.

  6. Turn the loaf seam side up and pinch the seam closed, if there are any gaps.

  7. Turn the loaf seam side down. Then, with the palms of both hands resting softly on the loaf, roll it back and forth to shape a bâtard. Start with both hands in the middle of the loaf and move them outward as you roll the loaf, slightly increasing the pressure as you move outward, so the bâtard ends up with the middle highest and the ends pointed .

Preheating the oven

One hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack and put your steaming apparatus of choice in place. (I currently use a 7 inch cast iron skillet filled with lava rocks.) Heat the oven to 500F.


After shaping the loaves, transfer them to a linen couche, seam side up. Cover the loaves with a fold of the linen. Proof until the loaves have expanded to about 1-1/2 times their original size. (30-45 minutes) Test readiness for baking using “the poke test.” Do not over-proof, if you want good oven-spring and bloom!


Pre-steam the oven, if desired.

Transfer the loaves to a peel. (Remember you proofed them seam side up. If using a transfer peel, turn the loaves over on the couch before rolling them onto the transfer peel. That way, the loaves will be seam side down on the peel.) Score the loaves. (For a bâtard, hold the blade at about a 30 degree angle to the surface of the loaf. Make one swift end-to-end cut, about 1/2 inch deep.)

Transfer the loaves to the baking stone. Steam the oven. (I place a perforated pie tin with about 12 ice cubes in it on top of the pre-heated lava rocks.) Turn the oven down to 460F.

After 12-15 minutes, remove your steaming apparatus from the oven. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees, if it is browning unevenly. Close the oven door. (If you have a convection oven, switch to convection bake, and turn the temperature down to 435ºF.)

Bake for another 12-15 minutes, then remove the loaf and place on a cooling rack. Check for doneness. (Nice crust color. Internal temperature of at least 205F. Hollow sound when you thump the bottom of the loaf.) If necessary, return to loaf to the oven to bake longer.

When the loaves are done, turn off the oven but leave the loaves on the baking stone with the oven door ajar for another 7 minutes to dry the crust.


Cool on a rack for two hours before slicing.



Submitted to YeastSpotting

nicodvb's picture

Very liquid sourdough

I read that most of you use a sourdough with 100% hydratation, just like me.
Recently I came across a more liquid sourdough (130% hydratation) that doesn't actually rise (a lot). It has the consistence of yogurth but it thickens during refreshments. It's supposed to develop exclusively lactic acid (none of acetic acid), and to grow the yeasts better

Did anyone ever use it? Can you share your experiences? Can you explain the differences?


dmsnyder's picture

Ficelles made with Anis Bouabsa's baguette formula



  • Flour500 gms Giusto's Baker's Choice
  • Water375 gms
  • Yeast1/4 tsp Instant
  • Salt10 gms
  1. Mix flour and water and autolyse for 20 minutes.
  2. Add yeast and mix by folding dough in the bowl.
  3. Add salt and mix by folding dough in the bowl.
  4. Mix dough by folding and stretching in the bowl for 20 strokes. Repeat this 3 more times at 20 minute intervals.
  5. Refrigerate dough, covered tightly, for 21 hours.
  6. Divide into 4 equal parts and preshape gently for baguettes.
  7. Allow preshaped pieces to rest, covered with plastic, for 1 hour.
  8. Shape into ficelles (short, thin baguettes).
  9. Proof en couche or on parchment paper dusted with semolina for 45 minutes.
  10. Pre-heat oven to 500F with baking stone in middle rack and a cast iron skillet and a metal loaf pan on the lowest rack. Preheat 45 minutes or longer before baking.
  11. 3-5 minutes before baking, place a handful of ice cubes in the loaf pan. Shut the oven door. Bring water to a boil.
  12. Transfer the ficelles to a peel and load them onto the baking stone. Pour one cup of boiling water into the skillet. Close the oven door.
  13. Turn the oven down to 480F.
  14. After 10 minutes, remove the loaf pan and the skillet from the oven.
  15. Continue baking for another 10-15 minutes until the loaves are nicely colored, the crust is hard all around and the bottom gives a hollow sound when tapped. Internal temperature should be at least 205F.
  16. Cool on a rack completely before slicing.
Anis Bouabsa is a young Parisian boulanger who won the prize for the best baguettes in Paris in 2008. He gave Janedo, a French home baker extraordinaire and a member of TFL, his formula, and Jane shared it with us. He uses a technique of a long, cold fermentation which has been used, with variations, by a number of contemporary French bakers.In addition to producing wonderfully flavored bread, it also permits the home baker to make bread using two blocks of about 2-3 hours rather than requiring longer time blocks. For example, I mixed the dough yesterday evening after dinner. I took it out of the refrigerator at about 4:30 pm this afternoon, and we ate it with dinner at 7:30 pm.These ficelles sang loudly coming out of the oven. I cooled them for only 20-30 minutes. The crust was very crunchy, and the crumb had a sweetness that would make one think there was sugar in the dough. Very yummy.Variations on Bouabsa's formula, adding 100 gms of sourdough starter and substituting 10% rye or whole wheat flour for an equal amount of white flour, make a delicious pain de campagne, which has become a favorite bread of several of us.This is described in my blog entries under "Pain de Campagne" and "San Joaquin Sourdough."Enjoy!David


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1

You know what they say... Life is a journey. But have you ever been pulled down a path that you otherwise would have walked on by? That's what happened to me when I started playing with sourdough. I didn't even like sourdough, or so I thought until about seven and a half years ago. I was watching the food network one day, and Daniel Leader appeared as a guest on Cooking Live. He was demonstrating how to make a sourdough starter from nothing but flour and water. How fascinating! I had no idea you could do that. Bread science was nowhere in the curriculum when I went to university almost 30 years ago, let alone sourdough. But for someone with a microbiology degree and a passion for baking, sourdough is the perfect marriage of two loves. I had to try it for myself. And so began the journey. The path so far has taken some surprising twists and turns, and led to meeting many interesting people along the way. Including Peter Reinhart, who has been nothing but gracious and supportive throughout, and who is ultimately responsible for getting me to sit down and record this story in my own words. Now, back to the beginning...

In early 2002, I was a member of the King Arthur Baking Circle, a message board for baking enthusiasts. With this brand new interest in sourdough, I found myself reading all of the threads under that category. In March another member, Pat Doucette began posting of the difficulties she was having in getting a starter going. She had tried a few different recipes with no success. Now she was following the formula in The Bread Baker's Apprentice and... still no luck. Newly armed with all of the advice that she was getting from others on the forum, she started over. And once again, she got results that were nothing like the book describes. But a pattern was becoming clear. On the second day, her seed cultures would fill with bubbles and expand to over three times the starting volume when minimal growth was expected. And then do nothing on the third and fourth days when they were supposed to be expanding more and more. They came on strong and then died at the same point each time. A pattern holds a clue, so I offered to do the procedure myself and see if I could reproduce what she was seeing. I followed the directions to the letter and, lo and behold, my results duplicated Pat's perfectly. I may be the only person on the planet who would be excited about this, but it gave me something to study and troubleshoot. There was something unexpected going on at the microbial level. Living things are funny that way, and microorganisms don't always follow directions.

One by one, other people on the message board began to speak up and post that they had experienced the same thing. In fact, it seemed that many more saw that scenario than the one described in the book. This phenomenon had nothing to do with local strains of lactobacilli and yeast as some had surmised, because Pat was making starter in Massachusetts and I was in Missouri. Others chiming in represented various regions of the country from coast to coast. This pattern is apparently quite common. We ran the gamut of theories on why yeast were coming on like gangbusters, only to quit and become non-responsive. We tested each theory by trying different flours at various points, increasing the feeding frequency, changing the hydration and water source, cooling it down, and anything else that anyone thought might help. But in the end, nothing fixed the problem, and the results weren't making much sense to me.

At that point, I had to do what microbiologists do when things don't add up---go back to the microscope and take a look. That meant packing up my starters, taking them to work, and having to answer all the curious questions about what I was doing and why. But the microscope answered a few of my questions, and that day proved to be the turning point. No wonder things didn't make any sense! We were operating on the assumption that we were growing yeast. What I found was that there were no yeast or lactobacilli to be seen anywhere in all the activity of day two. Not a single one. But it was like a three-ring circus in there---different kinds of bacteria, some round, some rod-shaped, some motile, some not. Some were spinning, some were twirling, some flipping or zigzagging, and some were just darting back and forth across the field. What were these bacteria, and which one was responsible for all the gas?

I knew, from having made so many starters by now, that this pattern does turn into sourdough if given more time. So, I looked at cultures each day in the process, comparing them to my established starter which was yeasty and stable. Everything quiets down in there and yeast emerges a few to several days later. They don't appear to be coming from the air as many people believe, because it happens even in a covered container. But if they are already in the flour as the more reliable sources say, then why couldn't I find any? Obviously, there was more to this than just a symbiotic relationship between lactobacilli and yeast gradually increasing in number, good guys out-competing bad---the usual explanation. It was evident that there are many more bacterial and fungal species present in flour than just sourdough lactobacilli and yeast. But where were the good guys? Why weren't they growing? It was time to close the cookbooks and open the textbooks.

I turned to a large, newly updated food microbiology tome, and was disappointed to find only two brief paragraphs on sourdough, and not much more on yeasted breads. So it became a challenge to find the information, mostly borrowed from chapters on wine, beer, dairy, and other food fermentations that share something in common with sourdough. I was able to narrow down the gas producer to a Leuconostoc species. The tip-off was reading that almost 90% of spoiled doughs are caused by Leuconostoc mesenteroides or Leuconostoc dextranicum. When I started searching for more on the genus, I found Leuconostoc mesenteroides is considered the primary agent in the fermentation of an Indian steamed bread called idli. (Spoilage is a subjective thing from culture to culture.) After soaking grains for a day and then grinding them with water into a paste, there is a 15-24 hour fermentation during which the idli batter increases in volume by about one and one half to three times---the same as our wild day two growth.

Leuconostocs are also occasional spoilage bacteria in wine making, "but they undergo little or no growth during the alcoholic fermentation and tend to die off because of competition from yeasts. Nevertheless, these bacteria are capable of abundant growth in the juice and, if yeast growth is delayed, they could grow and spoil the juice or cause stuck alcoholic fermentation."[1] Many microorganisms produce characteristic aroma compounds, and so smell is also an important clue. I had previously described an unamended, all-white seed culture as smelling like sour milk with a hint of rotten cheese. Then I learned that some leuconostocs are added to dairy fermentations (such as cultured buttermilk, and cheeses like Gouda, Edam, blue cheese and havarti) for their carbon dioxide and aroma compounds. Together, these pieces all fit what we were seeing, and according to the chapter on fermented vegetables, leuconostocs are quite common in nature and found routinely on all kinds of produce and plant material. So, we can expect them to be present on grains and in flour.

Knowing how bland a flour-water mixture starts out, and seeing how the microscopic picture becomes more subdued as the sourness increases, it was apparent that the shift in populations and activity are tied to changes in acidity. pH is a fundamental factor in microbial growth. Some like it neutral while others need more acidity or alkalinity, but each species has its own pH range. The reason that the starters had become quiet on day three was because the pH had fallen and the gas-producing bacteria were no longer growing. Even though I still wasn't sure what these bacteria were, it was clear that whenever the gas-producing one or ones grew, the starter would subsequently become still and take longer to finish---sometimes by several days. I reasoned that the best solution might simply be to keep them from growing. And since they stop growing as the pH drops, why not add an acidic ingredient to the mixture to lower the pH and inhibit them from the outset?

It was May now and Evan Shack had entered the picture. Unaware that this was already a hot topic, he began posting to the message board seeking help after having just tried to make starter and getting the same result that we had. Evan was interested in learning the science behind it, and he and Pat were both eager to get to the bottom of the problem, so they volunteered to do some testing. Soon after we joined forces, Gary Wray contacted me and we invited him to join our little task team. With so many different recipes to choose from, it was clear that there are several approaches to making starter. But we needed to pick a direction to focus our problem-solving efforts. And because so many people on the message board were loyal fans of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, the group decided the goal would be to use that formula, altering it as little as possible, and make it proceed as described in the book. The fix should be simple, with ingredients readily available at home or in the average grocery store. Our choices for the acids were ascorbic (vitamin C), citric (sour salt), tartaric (cream of tartar), acetic (vinegar), lactic (yogurt), and mixed acids (fruit juices).

For our first trial we chose ascorbic acid, because it is readily available in the vitamin supplement section, known to be beneficial, and widely accepted in bread-making. Pat and I used vitamin C tablets that we had on hand. We crushed them and mixed the powder with the flour and water on day one. And much to our amazement... it worked! No gassy bacteria, and we were both growing yeast on or before day four, where it had been taking about seven days. But I discovered a little problem with supplement pills, which is that some are buffered without being labeled as such. I was not getting the pH to drop in mine even though I kept adding more and more vitamin C. When I took a closer look at the bottle, I found two ingredients listed which together, formed a buffer system that was keeping me from reaching the pH I was aiming for. Pat's vitamin C was not buffered and her starter took off in only three days.

Buffer problems aside, neither one of us enjoyed the task of crushing pills. And whirring them in a blender with the water only worked so-so. We also had no idea what the best dose would be. Gary and I both had ascorbic acid powder, so we did another experiment testing different doses ranging from 1/8 to over 1 teaspoon mixed with the 4.25 ounces of flour on day one. It was a fun experiment to do. With the jars lined up next to one another, they looked like perfect stair steps as the starters began to rise. It was easy to see which doses were most effective by how fast and how high the cultures rose. For me, the most active jars were the ones with 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon of ascorbic acid powder. For Gary, the best results came from 1/2 and 3/4 teaspoon, and so we settled on 1/2 teaspoon as the recommended dose. While the ascorbic acid worked quite well, and may be the ingredient of choice for purists or professionals, the average person must go a little out of their way to find or mail-order it. So we decided to press on.

All of the acids that we tried, inhibited the gassy bacteria effectively, but sour salt (sometimes found with canning supplies) was so strong that it was hard to measure the tiny amounts accurately. Cream of tartar (found in the spice section) was too weak, and required an impractical amount to effectively lower the pH. We dismissed lactic acid because we didn't want to deal with dairy or go to the trouble of draining yogurt for the whey. And vinegar was so highly inhibitory to yeast in the doses required to lower the pH, that it was no solution at all. That left fruit juices. I tested the pH of various juices and made a list for the group to try---apple cider, orange, lemon, grapefruit and pineapple juices seemed like the most suitable candidates based on wide availability. But whenever trying a new juice or acid, I had the group run a negative control alongside---a duplicate to the test in every way, except using plain water. This would show whether changes in the result were due to the ingredients under evaluation, or to chance or variation in experimental conditions. Time after time though, the control jars followed the familiar pattern, while the test jars proceeded by the book.

While the trials were under way I went back to basics, monitoring the changes in acidity and examining seed cultures under the microscope every day. I recorded pH readings, growth measurements and observations at the beginning and end of each 24-hour feeding cycle. After a number of runs, I gathered my notes to compare and look for patterns. (My pH paper was only sensitive to the nearest 0.5 increment, so readings are approximate.) I found that when I acidified the day one mix to 4.5, it stayed at 4.5 until I fed it again on day two. If I didn't add more acid at that time, the freshly fed starter would read 5 and the gassy bacteria grew on day two and followed the oh-so-familiar pattern. If I acidified the day one mix to 4, it stayed at 4 until I fed it on day two, after which it read 4.5. The gassy bacteria did not grow and the culture started producing its own acid as other lactic acid bacteria were increasing in activity. During the second 24 hours, the pH dropped to 3.5 and the starter tasted really sour. Yeast usually appeared the day after. When I acidified the day one mix to 3.5, I actually got some yeast growth on day two. I'm not sure that this is the best way to go, though. I've only done it once with citric acid and yeast were not as vigorous the next day as I had hoped to see them. More testing could be done. But the key points here are that the gassy bacteria grew at or above pH 5, not at or below 4.5, and the cultures I was growing all failed to produce acid of their own in the first 24 hours. That is important because a day one flour-water paste measures about 6---quite inviting to leuconostocs. And even more importantly, in all my trials I have never seen yeast before a starter gets sour, but it usually follows very soon after.

I was hoping orange juice would perform well, since it is a good source of Vitamin C and a staple in many homes. But, it turned out not to be acidic enough to meet the group's objective, which was to use it only on the first day. However, Orange juice and apple cider do work well if they are used in place of the water for two or three days. Pat was the first to try pineapple juice, which has a lower pH than most other juices, and just happens to come in handy 6-oz cans (exactly the right measure for day one). She liked it so well that she stopped testing anything else and started recommending it to others. Almost everyone who tried it was thrilled with the results, and so pineapple juice became the solution that stuck. While the group's mission was accomplished, the story doesn't end here. But the rest will have to wait until next time, so please stay tuned...

Doyle, Michael P., Larry R. Beuchat, and Thomas J. Montville. 2001. Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 2nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Wahington, DC.

This article was first published in Bread Lines, a publication of The Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Vol. 16, Issue 1, March 2008

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2 | The Fresh Loaf