The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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fminparis's picture

Tips and Techniques for Bread Baking

Having baked well over a thousand breads over the years, I thought I’d write some things I’ve discovered while baking baguettes, batards, and boules.  I’ve used techniques from many people – Bernard Clayton, Greg Patent, Julia Child, Peter Reinhart,  Jim Lahey, others.  I still change and experiment but, for better or worse, here are some things I’ve discovered. I’m not here to argue; just presenting.  Take it or leave it.

 1) I don’t bother with no knead bread.  I don’t want to have to decide the night before whether I will want bread the next night.  Total time for me is 4 hours, from entering the kitchen to taking the loaves out of the oven.

 2) Best hydration for my boule is 70%; for baguettes 65%.  The baguettes have less water so they can be rolled and shaped. I don't overdo the boules with water because I like them high, not spread out.

 3) For best consistency, use a good, accurate  scale.

 4) I never found the need for a poolish.  No argument, I’ve done it with and without and don’t find a difference.  I don’t bake sourdough.

 5) The best kneading is with the Cuisinart, metal blade. One minute is all it takes. I find that the bread is, in all ways, a better, more consistent product than with a standing mixer and dough hook. I never tried all hand kneading - no patience for that.

 6) Autolyse is necessary.  After adding flour and yeast and processing for a second or two to mix, pour in warm (90’) water slowly while running the processor.  After a few more seconds shut off and let sit 20 minutes so flour can absorb the water. With  a spoon spread the dough around the bowl. Then  sprinkle salt over dough, so you don’t forget to add it.  After 20 minutes, process for one minute.

 7) Immediately after kneading, dump dough out and do stretch and fold. I used to flour a large wooden cutting board.  Now I just smear a little olive oil on surface of table - no need for messy flour all over. Dough won’t stick at all.

 8) If making baguettes or batards, after dumping out dough and doing stretch and fold (oiled table), divide dough, form balls and then allow each to rise in a separate oiled bowl covered by plastic wrap, rather than dividing after first rise.

 9) Best shaping for baguettes is by following:    

 Other good stuff there also. Unfortunately, batard demo doesn’t work.

 10) I bake my boules in a La Cloche which is very convenient, with parchment paper round on the bottom.  I used to use a parchment covered cookie sheet with a pot turned upside down over the boule and that was fine.  The important thing for me is to allow the final rise to take place on the surface I’ll be baking on, so that there is no deflation moving it from one location to another. Slash, cover, bake. If I wanted to slide it onto tiles, I would let it rise on parchment covered cookie sheet, then use cookie sheet as a peel and slide paper and  dough onto tiles. Paper would slide smoothly and easily. I give 32 minutes covered, then 20 minutes uncovered turning loaf 180 degrees halfway through (my oven).

 11) My baguettes I bake on the same parchment covered cookie sheet that they have risen on with an aluminum "disposable" roasting pan turned upside down. Slash, cover, bake. I give 30 minutes covered, then 20 minutes uncovered switching loaves halfway through (my oven). Same remarks as boule if use tiles.

 12) I never found any difference whatsoever between using a heated cover or cold cover and since the cold one is more convenient to handle, that’s all I use.

 13) If bottoms burn, use two cookie sheets. One can be left in the oven.

 14) I never tried using a cold oven so can’t comment. I preheat to 450’ and bake at 450’.

15)  Give boule 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cool. Give baguettes an hour.



butterflygrooves's picture

Ways to create steam?

I have a gas home oven and am wondering what the best way to create steam is. 

I have a small pan that sits on the oven floor that I dump boiling water into but I'm not sure it's doing the job well enough.  I have to have the oven door completely open to get the water into the pan and slide it back before closing the door.  I don't feel like enough steam isn't trapped inside when doing this.

I've heard of others on here using lava rocks or spraying the inside of the oven, or going so far as to MacGyver their home oven into a steam injection oven.

What is the best method for getting steam?  I just want a shiny, blistery crust every now and then...

hanseata's picture

Korntaler - Crunchy Bread from a "Floury German Kitchen"

10 g rye starter, 100% hydration
60 g water
100 g bread flour

115 g whole rye flour, or medium rye
120 g whole wheat flour
30 g flaxseeds
30 g millet
4 g salt
210 g water

all soaker and starter
105 g bread flour
6 g salt
60 g dried soybeans
40 g water, or more as needed


Mix together all ingredients for starter. Cover, and let sit at room temperature for 14-18 hours.

MIx together all ingredients for soaker. Cover and let sit at room temperature.


Pour boiling water over soybeans and let soak for 15 minutes. Drain, let cool, and chop coarsely. Dry on kitchen paper towel, and toast slightly at 170 C/325 F for ca. 20 min. Let cool.

Combine all dough ingredients, mix on low speed for 1-2 minutes, until ingredients come together, then 4 minutes on medium-low speed. Let rest for 5 minutes, then continue kneading for another 1 minute.

Ferment sough for 3-4 hours, or until it has grown 1 1/2 times its original size.

Shape dough into boule, place into banneton, seamside down, and proof for ca. 2 hours, or until it has grown 1 1/2 times. (Preheat oven after 1 hour.)

Preheat oven to 250 C/500 F, including steam pan.

Bake bread at 240 C/475 F for 10 minutes, steaming with 1 cup of boiling water. Reduce heat to 220 C/425 F, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove steam pan and rotate loaf 180 degrees. Continue baking for ca 20 minutes more (internal temperature at least 93 C/200 F). Bread should sound hollow when thumped on bottom.

Let cool on wire rack.

The recipe was adapted from Nils Schöner: "Brot - Bread Notes From A Floury German Kitchen".

pixielou55's picture

Good Shortbread


I bought some Shortbread made in Scotland and want to make something that good (I think the brand is Walker). Very dense and full of butter. I have been looking online and see some very different recipes:  1 says only use brown sugar, many call for about 2-1/2 cups cornstarch (?? - can that be right - they call it corn flour, is that different?), others have the 4-2-1 ratio and some call for salt, some not.

I'm dying here at work thinking about trying to recreate those wonderful morsels! Any TAT recipes would be appreciated.



hanseata's picture

Why E-Cookbooks Really Suck - But Some Breads Are Worth It

Much as I enjoy my Kindle for reading novels - e-cookbooks really suck!

My favorite baking books are full of scribbled exclamations, observations and suggestions. But try to enter notes in an e-book - and then IDENTIFY them again in their separate storage space on the e-reader - nothing is more cumbersome and annoying.

Therefore my only e-cookbook is Nils Schöner’s: “Brot - Bread Notes From a Floury German Kitchen” (written in English). First I got the free online version, but after I realized how much experience and work went into this compilation of recipes, I decided to give Schöner his due, and pay for the Kindle edition - a print version doesn’t exist.

Working with e-recipes is easy as long as you follow the recipe to the t, but if you want to change something, you have to write your notes on a piece of paper, and copy the recipe plus alterations and comments in your recipe program (or write them in a notebook) for later use.

Schöner didn’t make the task of navigating his book any easier by forgetting to add a table of contents to his book - but you can find it at Amazon with the book listing, and print it out.

His recipes are not “Bread Baking for Dummies”, either, and the procedure is often not described in great detail. So I adapted his recipes to my preferred method, introducing a soaker and overnight fermentation. I also found that baking it with slightly different temperatures resulted in a better crust.

KORNTALER - a hearty loaf with flax seeds, millet and, interestingly, dried, toasted soybeans.Link to the recipe:

Conjuay's picture

Baking Stone Too Hot

I put together a propane fired pizza/bread oven from a used Bar-B-Que.  My first attempts indicate that the stone is getting much hotter than the upper half of the oven. Pizzas will get a bit of charring underneath while the cheese on top has hardly bubbled. Baguettes will hardly brown while the bottom is over crisp- bordering on hard.

There is space around all sides of the stone, approx 1.5" to 2", so the heat should be circulating.

The upper 'clamshell' of the BBQ is lined with mortar and fireclay to retain the heat, and I decreased the size of the upper chamber by adding firebrick to the "warming rack" that sits about six inches above the baking stone.

Did I simply go too large with the stone?  Do I need better (more) insulation up top?

Thanks for any advice,





jcking's picture

Altamura Volcano Loaf

100% Durum loaf with balck and white sasame seeds and Sterile Sourdough X.


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

A little bague-xperiment

Last sunday we went over to my mom's for a mother's day brunch with the family.  My mom asked me to "just take a baguette out of the freezer".  You know, since baking a batch of bread in time to leave for a 11am brunch (we live about an hour away) would be tricky.  The problem?  No baguettes in the freezer--we've run through them all since I finished up my baguette quest.  

A challenge!  This presented a great opportunity to experiment with cold retardation with my standard baguette recipe, Hamelman's Baguettes with Poolish, as well as test just how well they keep at room temperature.  Here's what I did:

I mixed a batch of baguette dough around 2 in the afternoon.  I then shapped 3 small baguettes a little after 5pm, and set to proofing on a couche.  However, for one of the 3 I put a small sheet of parchment underneath.  After 40 minutes of proofing, I slid the baguette on parchment off of the couche to finish proofing, while the couche itself with the other 2 baguettes was slid onto a sheet pan and stuck in the refrigerator.  The lone baguette was baked when fully proofed, about 75 minutes total.  Once it was cool, the baguette was placed in a plastic bag that was not fully sealed, and then wrapped in a paper market bag. 

Later, at 10:30, I pulled the couche out of the fridge, flipped one of the baguettes onto parchment on a peel, and baked it immediately, while the other went back into the fridge.  Baguette #2 sat on the cooling rack all night, unwrapped (mainly because it was past 11 by then!)

The next morning, the last baguette was baked at 9:30am and taken straight from the oven into a paper bag as we hurried out the door at little after 10.

The results:

From Left to Right: Not retarded, Retarded 4 hours, Retarded 15 hours. 


The baguette retarded overnight had lots of bubble in the crust, which made it very crisp and crackly.  All three had similar (good) flavor, and seemed plenty moist inside.  The baguette not retarded was crisped in the oven before cutting, but I presume it was crisp when fresh.  The baguette retarded for 4 hours was rather chewy when we got to it (we took that one home and my wife and I ate it for dinner), about 20 hours after baking.  

Crumb shots:

Retarded overnight

Not Retarded


Retarded 4 hours

Longer retarding seemed to be correlated with a lower profile, with the non-retarded baguette being the most round (although the baguettes were sliced on the bias,  and were less flat than the slices indicate).  I don't think this was underproofing, as the grigne looks pretty clean on those baguettes.  The retarded baguettes were much easier to score than the one that had not been retarded. 

Conclusion: Retarding baguettes gives a distinctive bubbly crust (for better or for worse), and makes them easier to score, but results in a lower profile.   Flavor is about the same either way.  As long as the crust is re-crisped, a baguette can sit un-cut at room temperature overnight and be nearly as good as first baked, and as good or better than frozen and thawed. Interesting.

alexandrut03's picture

Soft SD hamburger buns recipe - can't find!

I'm looking for sourdough hamburger buns recipe, very soft hamburger buns. Is here anyone who can help me? Thanks!

Janknitz's picture

William Alexander's Hazy Apple Sourdough Starter

I'm not quite sure why, but I decided to try William Alexander's Hazy Apple Sourdough starter to get a new levain going.  This is leading to some questions:

1)  Am I wasting my time and effort since there are already yeasts present in the flour and I could get a levain going (using Deborah Wink's method) without bothering with the apple?  Or will I get (at least to start with) a different strain of yeast going by using the apple ( just picked a hazy looking one from the organic bin at Whole Foods) or a different character to this levain? 

2)  By day three (today) I'm supposed to be seeing a bit of "foaming".  All I see are some very teeny, tiny little bubbles formed around the edges.  Is that enough, or should I really see some activity?  I did learn my lesson last time I began a starter that my house is too cold,  and I'm keeping this coddled and warm using my microwave oven (turned off, of course) as an "incubator" at about 78 to 80 degrees. 

3)  Does anyone know enough about the chemistry of this "apple water" I'm creating to tell me if it's going to be acidic enough to kill off the bad guys when I add the flour?  Or am I going to have to add in some pineapple juice anyway?  (If so,  IS there a point to using the hazy apple method?).