The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Q & A with Daniel T. DiMuzio

Q & A with Daniel T. DiMuzio

Daniel T. DiMuzio, Baking and Pastry instructor at Culinard, The Culinary Institute of Virginia College, is the author of Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective, a new textbook on the art of artisan bread baking.  Dan has owned his own artisan bakery, managed and consulted with numerous other bakeries, and studied and baked with master bakers such as Didier Rosada and Jeffrey Hamelman. 

Dan was kind enough to discuss his new book with long-time TFL member Eric Hanner (EHanner) and myself.

Floyd: My first reaction to your book is "Wow, a textbook on Artisan Baking written in English for a North American audience!  Artisan baking has really made it, hasn't it?!?"

Dan: Well, yes, I’d say it has made it. That’s a testament, I guess, to the growing number of sophisticated palates among Americans and others in the world. It used to be hard to find good bread, and you had to ask around to find anything approximating a good baguette. Now you can actually go to most supermarkets and get decent, par-baked breads from companies like LaBrea, Ecce Panis, or others. Heck, 20 years ago croissants were considered exotic, and now they’re as common as a cheese danish.

The thing is, even though there was a sort of renaissance in craft baking over the 90’s, the textbooks covering bread for culinary students didn’t really change to keep up with the new awareness about that. There was still a focus upon a somewhat arbitrarily chosen “12 Steps of Baking”, and “artisan breads” were seen as some kind of avant garde offshoot that could be covered completely in a separate 15-page chapter.

One of the reasons I wrote this book was to present an entirely different perspective on bread in culinary education. All bread can be “artisan” if it is prepared by an educated baker who respects the ingredients, mixing, and fermenting that are crucial to creating good flavor and texture. So that can include anything from baguettes and ciabatta to pan breads or hot dog buns. It isn’t all about brick ovens or flour-covered hearth loaves. My hope is that culinary schools will embrace the idea that artisanal bread baking is an entirely different philosophy of baking, and that its principles should be applied to almost any bread -- not just a specialized set of very old recipes.

Floyd: Do you have any idea how many culinary programs there are now teaching artisan baking in North America?  Have you noticed an upsurge in interest in artisan baking among students enrolled at Culinard in the past few years?

Dan: When Wiley sent out first drafts of the chapters for review, the people chosen for the task were baking instructors from a real cross section of the schools out there. There were larger private ones with high-profile names, medium-sized vocational schools, and fairly small community colleges as well. The one common refrain we’d hear from them was that they wanted to find a culinary textbook that covered the renewed awareness about great bread baking in depth.

I don’t know how many programs now embrace artisanal perspectives in bread baking, but it is many more than I first thought. The only schools I know about that have a “dedicated” bread curriculum now (not associated with pastry) are Johnson & Wales, the CIA, and the French Culinary Institute. There are probably a few more I don’t know about, so if anyone reading this knows of any that I missed, accept my apologies.

In my opinion, there’s a very real, practical divide between the things that appeal to a pastry chef and the things that motivate bread bakers. There are people who are passionate about both areas (Nancy Silverton comes to mind), but that’s more of an exception. Pastry chefs are usually very artistic in their outlook, and they are obsessed with aesthetics. Sugar sculptures, petit fours, gorgeous cakes – all of these come from a desire to please with the eye. And while these confections can be good to eat occasionally, their flavor or texture often takes a back seat to impressive looks. That’s possibly why most wedding cakes don’t have a taste that matches their $1000-2000 price tag.

Bread baking is more visceral than aesthetic in its appeal, and I think the conscientious practitioners are better seen as craftspeople than as artists. It’s part science and part skill, and the goal is to make something great to eat – looks are important, but only in a secondary way. So, in too many cases, pastry students often aren’t as passionate about good bread as the students from the savory end of the culinary school. Pastry people mostly want to improve their artistic skills, and while they may want to include bread baking as part of their skill set, they often don’t see it as essential. I really think there’s more of an affinity between the “savory” culinary students and a curiosity about making great bread. When I started showing students in Culinard’s garde manger program (they make pate, hors d'oeuvres, etc,) how to make their own dough for focaccia and tiny buffet sandwiches, they were usually very appreciative.

Floyd: As a (former?) bakery consultant, you must have insight into the economics of running a bakery.  I always wonder how folks make it pencil out with the low volume and high ingredient and labor costs that go into making bread.  Is it as hard to make a living baking as I imagine it is?  What are some of the tricks to making a bakery successful (besides baking great breads)?  Location?  Sell lots of coffee?

Dan: It’s very, very hard. You have to love bread baking to be a successful artisan baker, and you might even have to refashion your definition of success. During the 90’s a lot of people tried to change careers away from being office types to starting a bakery, pastry shop, or even a restaurant. Most of them had no idea how physically and financially draining the move would be. Food magazines and stylists had done a good job of making that work seem very chic, cerebral, and meditative. While you may find solace in owning an artisan bakery, it has most of the same challenges as owning any small business, with the added hurdles of starting your work day at 2 to 3am and working 12 hour days.

So, yeah, location is very essential, and if Panera Bread wants to lease the same great spot you do, guess who the landlord is going to sign? I think that independent artisan bakeries will continue to thrive in bigger cities and around many university campuses, because enough people there will go out of their way to get exceptional quality in bread and other foods. In most of America, though, there’s been a big shakeout over the last 10 years, and even in some big cities the shops that used to thrive are getting less and less traffic. Some of that is due to Panera deceiving people into thinking that they embrace artisanship, some is due to good par-baked breads being available in supermarkets, and I think the rest is about the novelty wearing off and people just wanting to do all their shopping in one trip at the grocery.

Floyd: Though your book is geared more for people seeking to make a living as a baker, I think there is quite a bit that serious home bakers would find valuable in it.  I know I particular found your chapter on designing a formula insightful.

Dan: Thanks, Floyd. I certainly hope that more bakers or baking students see that chapter and the worksheets as ways of thinking more in terms of “formulas” and less in terms of “recipes.” Ultimately, that’s how you become a baker – professional or not – and not just a recipe reader. Designing your own formula forces you to think analytically about the baking process, and how the ingredients don’t just come together in the bowl, but actually affect and change each other. Eventually, that understanding helps you to troubleshoot your problems with anyone else’s formulas, as well.

Floyd: I like that you offer many of the formulas both with preferment and without.   More often than not the version with preferment will have a better flavor, won't it?

Dan: That’s a good question, and I think my opinion about it has changed a lot over the years. Aspiring artisan bakers in the 90’s were looking for the magic bullet that would transform their bread from just OK to being extraordinary. Whenever a different ingredient, technique, or equipment choice made its way across the ocean to us, we’d embrace it as the “essential” idea of the moment, even when it might contradict or ignore earlier “artisan” perspectives we’d recently discovered.

Pre-ferments were part of that search for a magic bullet. A lot of folks got seriously into using levain (sourdough), then Professor Raymond Calvel educated people about “pate fermentee” – which is just leftover baguette dough -- , and others traveled to France and saw poolish being used extensively. Eric Kayser promoted a more liquid type of levain by the mid-90’s, and fans of Italian bread had discovered Carol Field’s excellent “The Italian Baker,” which featured biga. Any of these pre-ferments could add flavor and nice aromas to your bread, and – importantly -- they shortened the time you had to wait before the dough was ready to divide and shape. In bread competitions like the Coupe du Monde, some of the USA contestants even used two or three pre-ferments to add complexity to their flavor profile or adjust the speed of the process.

What got lost in all that excitement about different pre-ferments was that in the 1920’s there were Frenchmen who made a long-fermented straight dough (using the “Direct” method) that had no pre-ferments. James MacGuire writes extensively about it in his article in the Art of Eating, 2006, Nos. 73-74. It was still very, very good in flavor due to its long bulk fermentation time (5 hours or so), and its light texture and eggshell crust were different somehow from baguettes made with poolish or old dough. Not better or worse -- just different. Raymond Calvel (who taught Julia Child how to make bread) insisted that, despite the fact that he promoted “pate fermentee” as an ideal pre-ferment, he really thought that the “direct method” baguettes of his early career were his favorites. The big downside of the direct method was that it took 4-5 hours of bulk fermentation, and probably 7-8 hours overall. Pre-ferments used in conjunction with manufactured yeast could shave 2 hours or more off of that time.

So any or all of those methods for making bread are good, and they’ve all had their periods of favor. Preferences there are often a matter of taste. One technique might work better with certain styles of bread than others. Straight doughs are only advisable if you can dedicate a lot of time (at least 5 hours) to fermenting the dough before it reaches maturity, and you should use less yeast to achieve that. Sourdoughs (levain breads), of course, aren’t going to BE sourdough unless you use a sour pre-ferment. But any dough leavened primarily with manufactured yeast can be made as a straight dough, if you have the time.

Floyd:  Interesting.  Thank you.

Eric: First let me say I find your new book very interesting from a number of standpoints. I like the fact that it is a teaching reference book. I know much of the material in the beginning chapters because I have read it at one time or another in a variety of places but this is the first time I have been able to scan the pages and be reminded about the basics of the craft. There isn’t so much detail that it would be hard to read and focus on, just the broad strokes to spark an interest.

Dan: Thanks. Of course, the book was originally conceived as a tool for use in culinary classrooms. I tried to get into the detail that I thought was critical to understanding WHY artisan bakers do what they do without burdening the reader with so much data that it might induce a coma (!). We wanted to give the bread instructor a way of providing background (of their choosing) while they taught bread fundamentals from an artisanal perspective.

Eric: I see there is also a web component for the teacher’s side with lessons and further material. That would be interesting to see also from my perspective.

Dan: You know, you’re not the first person to ask me about that, and I’m going to TRY to get as much of that stuff as possible available to readers who aren’t in school. I doubt that the quizzes or exams would be made available, for obvious reasons, but possibly the worksheets for formulas could be made downloadable. Still, Wiley has the copyright to the book, so we’d need their cooperation and agreement.

I think this would make a good gift for a young person who is expressing an interest in cooking or baking. Sort of a leg up on further education. I have a person in mind now that might appreciate some early knowledge.

Dan: Thanks again for the kind words. I would say that the book makes the most sense as a reference or instructional work for very serious bread bakers. People who are happy with being casual in their approach – and that’s still great, by the way – might want to find it in a bookstore and check it out before getting it, since it isn’t really like a typical bread book. You can also check out parts of it at online bookstores, to get a general sense of it.

Eric: One of the things I have been trying to get my hands around this year is improving the aroma and taste of my sourdough breads. Do you have an opinion on what a good compromise would be for a feeding regimen and storage temperature to promote the esters I am trying to create? You have a nice section on the general subject on Page 66 under fermentation. I’m looking for something a little more specific for a white starter.

Dan: I have pleasant and not-so-pleasant news: The pleasant news is that if you are willing to be disciplined in your approach to creating and maintaining a sourdough starter, you can usually reproduce whatever flavor profile you discover that appeals to you. So using the exact same feeding schedule, fermentation times, mix temperatures, ambient temperatures and hydration will get you what you want when you know what that is.

Unfortunately, only you can decide what’s optimal and what isn’t. I’ll provide a framework for beginning, but you’ll need to customize it to your ingredients, your environment, and your lifestyle.

I keep a firm levain (after it has stabilized) at a 60% hydration, around 70°F using something like KA All Purpose flour. I try to stick with a twice-a-day feedings, 12 hour intervals if possible. I determine the weight of ripe starter I’m going to feed, and then I use enough fresh flour and water (combined) to create a newly-fed mass that is three times the size of the original piece of ripe starter. Again, I do that every 12 hours, so you usually need to discard some ripe starter as you go to keep from making a barrel of it.

For three-times-a-day feeding, I’d probably only double it every time instead of tripling it. For once-a-day, I’d probably quadruple or even quintuple the size of the ripe nugget of levain. All of these feeding schedules may produce usable levain, but the flavor of the differently scheduled feedings will yield some differences, with less feeding yielding more acidity (lower pH) and less yeast activity, and more frequent feeding producing less acidity and greater yeast activity.

You can change the hydration of the feedings, as well, but keep in mind that wetter starters ferment more quickly and need more frequent feedings or larger feedings, or both.

Eric: A couple of things that I think are problems for home bakers is 1.) Knowing when the proofing is done and 2.) Getting the dough in during the window of opportunity that will deliver a good result. In my own case I was distracted while writing this note and missed the chance to get my Whole Wheat into the oven on time. It’s a little over proofed and totally my fault. In a commercial kitchen, people are paying attention. In my home office there are many distractions.  Is it true that I can extend my window of opportunity for baking if I lower the dough temp by a few degrees? I know the process will slow but are there any side effects in terms of structure?

Dan: Well, at the risk of covering stuff you already know, let me just state that the classic three points of control are time, temperature, and hydration. So, yes, you could go for a slightly cooler final dough temperature (or DDT, as I think Jeff Hamelman calls it) and slow things down a bit without many other noticeable effects. I wouldn’t recommend going anywhere below 74°F for a same-day bake, or you might slow things too much. Slower fermentation rates do give you a wider window for realizing that your product is ready for baking.

Eric: I haven’t read them all yet but I really am enjoying the side comments from the noted Artisan Baker Profiles in the book. I think these are excellent resources for aspiring bakers. Knowing what the key words are ahead of time would give a candidate the confidence to know they are prepared. Also I think it is important to understand what the job is really all about and that baking is still evolving.

Dan: It never occurred to me that readers not in school would find the opening list of key concepts interesting, but that’s great. And I’m glad you like the profiles – they do help point out to aspiring artisans what some of the essentials are in making a bread business work. Another thing I wanted to do there – and I don’t know yet if I succeeded – was to portray how there are different ways of looking at what’s essential and what’s not.

Eric: I noticed on Page 182 talking about using pre ferments, you didn’t reduce the amount of yeast in the final dough when using a Poolish. I have believed that I should reduce some because of the growing activity I created in the Poolish with the small amount of yeast hours before. Am I wrong about this?  In general I try to use as little yeast as necessary for all the reasons you talk about creating acids and esters over time.

Dan: You’re right that you should use as little yeast as you think is necessary to produce a selected bulk fermentation time and a mature, easily handled dough. No matter who’s formula you’re using, you should feel free and not at all “wrong” to make minor adjustments to things like yeast quantity, hydration levels, or fermentation times to get the results you prefer. I selected yeast levels that I believe work for me when I designed those formulas, but if the parameters I selected (2 hr ferment, 3 hr ferment, whatever) don’t fit what you want to do, you should change them. Just keep a record of those changes so you don’t have to keep re-discovering them.

Thank you Daniel for making your self available to us. As it turns out your new book is a lot like this community. We tend to be oriented more toward techniques and practices rather than just a source for recipes.  “Bread Baking, An Artisan’s Perspective” is much the same.

Dan: I appreciate your positive comments about the book, and I’m happy to make myself available to answer questions whenever I may be here, now or in the future. I have been surprised to see the interest from many home bakers to this book, despite its technical, school-oriented perspective. There seems to be a thirst out there for more in-depth explanations about certain baking concepts, and I’m just very happy to play a small part in providing some of that.

Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective is available from Wiley & Sons right now.

If you have additional questions for Dan, ask them below.

May 14, 2009 update:  The question and answer period is now closed.  Thank you again for your time, Dan!


xaipete's picture

Hi Dan. First just let me thank you for your participation on TFL. Your insights are a most valuable resource! I have a couple of questions after reading the Q&A.

When you feed one of your levains, am I to understand that you refresh the entire amount and then do the discard? I usually use just refresh a portion of my levain and discard the remainder. If I am understanding you correctly, would you mind commenting on why you proceed in that fashion?

You mention that fewer feedings create a levain that has a higher acidity and lower yeast concentration. I assume that a lower yeast concentration translates into a longer fermentation and/or proof, but what is the effect of a higher acidity level on the dough?

I'm very much enjoying reading your book! You have piled a wealth of information into its 258 pages.


ehanner's picture


Thanks for your reply. I haven't had a chance to think much about it yet but I will for sure.

As the seasons change, I'm again enjoying the increased activity of the warmer kitchen. Thanks for the tips.



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Hi Dan,  First the typo, I think you ment (lower pH) when you said:

All of these feeding schedules may produce usable levain, but the flavor of the differently scheduled feedings will yield some differences, with less feeding yielding more acidity (higher pH) and less yeast activity, and more frequent feeding producing less acidity and greater yeast activity.

Second, I was looking for information on germinated flours.   There is information on line but I'm not seeing it reflected in bread books.  What is your opinion?



Floydm's picture

Fixed.  Thanks for catching that, Mini Oven.

flournwater's picture

Bread recipes differ in the amount of starter they require as a ratio to the other combined ingredients.  For example, some will stipulate 500 grams of flour and 100 grams of starter while others might be written to require 500 grams of flour and 150 grams of starter.  My starters are usually 100% - 114% hydration.   When calculating ratios using bakers percentages, do I factor in the flour portion in the starter along with the other flour or just forget about that element?  Should I add more flour to my starter to balance it, in terms of bakers percentages, with the rest of the recipe?

I realize that the amount of starter I use will most assuredly affect the flavor of my bread but trying to calculate the ratio of these ingredients is driving me nuts.

Giving credit where credit is due, this question originated with Climbhi at

Thanks again .....



samsara's picture

I know that I'm new and have a lot to learn (and I'm not completely sure I'm grasping your question but I think I am) but maybe the spreadsheet that I've been working on might help.  Also, I am pretty sure you should be counting the water and flour (and anything else that you put in your starter/preferment) in the overall baker's percentage otherwise you can't tweak it, examine it, or scale it in the future.  Also, and this is completely out of my area of knowledge but I have read about it, one author (I can't remember who at this point) seemed to suggest that adding more sourdough starter (higher percentage of overall total) tends to result in a less sour bread (doesn't need to ferment as long and doesn't produce as much acid... I think) and vice versa.  I can't vouch for that last comment but like I said, I read it on the internet (or somewhere) so it must be true, right? :-)

With my spreadsheet you can find out the baker's percentage of the preferment in the final dough mix as a preferment without handling it as flour and water (although it shows you that too just as the baker's percentage for the preferment).  But there is also the total baker's percentage that will add the flour from the preferment to the flour in the final dough addition (and the same with water and other items in preferment) to give you an accurate baker's percentage and hydration number for the entire endeavor. 

Take a look at it and tinker with it if you would like.  I'm still working on making it exactly the way I want it but it is getting close.

I think that link should work.  Let me know if it doesn't.



flournwater's picture

Thanks for the input  Dave.  I've done the spreadsheet thing and it's pretty helpful in general, but my interest lies more in the "why" rather than the other "W's".

Dan indicated he would respond to the question if I posted it here so I'm hoping he'll get back to me.

davidg618's picture


Thanks for your comments re Pamela's question. I've been wrestling with trying to understand starter pH (or acidity), the effects of hydration differences, and feeding schedules. I've been an amature baker for more than five decades, but, now retired, I have the time to "kick it up a notch" to quote a popular TV chef. I've especially focused on sourdough the last few months; your interview was timely.

And, you hooked me with your comment re "formula" vis-a-vis "recipe". I'm a retired physicist, and true to form, I've been writing spread sheets to help me formulate my own recipes; oops bread formulae. I'm going to buy your book.




baltochef's picture

Chef DiMuzio

Thanks for being willing to participate on this forum..It is very educational..

After researching the capabilities of some of the less expensive table top and under counter wine coolers, I came to the conclusion that these small thermostatically & humidity-controlled cabinets might be a good solution for the home baker to use as proofing box for sourdough cultures and bulk, long-fermented doughs..

Do you have any thoughts on this??..Even the more expensive ones cost less than a traditional mobile proofing cabinet on casters such as several restaurants that I have worked in used to proof par-baked breads..

I was thinking that the smaller cavity in these wine coolers, in conjunction with their insulation, and the fairly accurate temperature & humidity controls; might make them an ideal solution for the home baker to more accurately work with sourdough cultures..

Like most members here I have had troubles over the years keeping a sourdough culture in tip-top usable condition..It has been several years since I last had a sourdough culture that I regularly used..

My first culture was one I made at age 16, (I am 54 now), in a 1-gallon ceramic crock..The recipe came out of an Outdoor Life hunting & fishing magazine..That first culture lasted for several years, during which time it was refrigerated only for several short periods of time..As I reflect back on all of the sourdough cultures that I have maintained & used over the years, I can recall that that first culture was the longest-lived, and therefore the most successful..

I believe this to be so because our family used it each week, at least once a week to make flapjacks, waffles, biscuits, muffins, or bread..It was never refrigerated for more than two weeks before being rejuvenated back to a working condition at room temperature..

I was curious as to your thoughts for a busy working home baker using a wine cooler to try and more accurately control the temperature, humidity, and yeast activity in a sourdough culture without subjecting the culture to the lower temperatures of a standard home refrigerator..I was wondering what you might think about keeping a sourdough culture at temperatures ranging from the low 50's to the low 60's; something that most of these small wine coolers are supposed to be able to accurately accomplish..And, the effect that accurately controlling the temperature of the sourdough culture at moderate temperatures might have on its yeast to bacteria ratios, and on its longevity..

Thanks, Bruce


foolishpoolish's picture

First, let me echo the sentiments of others here by saying a huge thank you for devoting the time and effort to answering our questions. Needless to say, I'm keen to get a copy of your recently published book in the very near future.

One area I do have great difficulty in understanding is the relationship between flour and dough strength and the impact on dough mixing/handling. As a home baker, one has very little other than the 'protein per 30g or 100g' information on the side of a bag of flour to give any idea on how the flour might perform when mixed into dough. I'm sure that commercial bakeries have a much more precise idea of the properties of the flours they use (falling number, farinographs etc.) 

My lay understanding is that higher protein typically translates as 'stronger flour', the opposite of which seems to be confusingly referred to as 'softer' flour.

Since the gluten comes from both hydrated glutenin and gliadin, how can one be sure whether a high overall protein level translates to high gliadin, high glutenin or both? Will the dough be very elastic or extensible?  To be honest, I'm a little confused with some of the basic terminology.  Is dough strength measured by elasticity or how difficult it is to 'tear apart'?  Does a dough using stronger flour require less or more kneading to develop adequate strength?  When is a dough 'too' strong? When is a strong flour inappropriate for a recipe?

I know that's a barrage of questions but my general enquiry is the relationships between firstly flour and dough strength and secondly dough strength and dough handling.

Many Thanks,


jacobsbrook's picture

Thank you Dan.  As always you are very generous with your extensive knowlege.  What a wonderful gift to all of us!  Bravo!