The Fresh Loaf

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Tips and Techniques for Bread Baking

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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.



clazar123's picture

The links look like they would be interesting but act like they are on a dialup-after 10 minutes I got the title only.Is there an alternative link?

Your synopsis represents a lot of experience and useful techniques! I agree about the handling of the proofed loaf-as little as possible or let it rise on the baking surface. I just use a cornmeal or oatmeal covered baking sheet(though the loose oatmeal tends to burn more easily) . As for steam, I've taken to using the wet towel in the loaf pan trick mentionedon this site and just removing it 10-15 minutes into the bake when I want the oven to dry out. Turns my whole oven into a cloche-very steamy.I don't have an overly large oven and it is electric, so there is no moisture produced as a byproduct of gas burning.

 But I get the sense that you are talking only about a basic French dough-flour,yeast,salt and water. Do you have  similar wisdom to share with other varieties-enriched,whole wheat,rye,sweet,etc? 

 It does take some planning but I have discovered that using a preferement (small quanitity flour/water/yeast or sourdough)mixed up the evening or morning before a bake enhances the flavor tremendously-it just take 4-6 hours, minimum, to set and work its magic.

Thank you for sharing your experience!


Chuck's picture

I too can't use the links reasonably (I'm in Massachusetts, U.S.A, on a FiOS 15/5Mb drop). For me the website shows up in just a second or two, but when I then click on one of the videos it's just the old "world-wide-wait". I suspect the video server is set up to give priority response to nearby visitors, and send requests from "across the water" to the very back of the line. (Or maybe it's effectively doing this simply by accident rather than by intention. After all, it can be less than straightforward to "test" video access from another continent:-)

Although I haven't checked specifically, I expect a search on YouTube would turn up a bunch of fairly similar videos.

fminparis's picture

I'm not into the technical side of cyberspace so I don't know what the problem is. When I click on that link, I get 31 pictures of various breads.  When I click on any of the pictures I get a video screen and clicking on the "play" arrow runs the video (except for the Batard" which doesn't work).  The first one is the classic baguette. Maybe try copying the link  into the address space on your browser. 

The breads I talked about are the French style breads and are the only ones I bake.

Chuck's picture

Being a web techie nerd, I'm pretty certain there's nothing a user can do to make these work.

When a privileged person clicks on a picture, they can then watch a video. But when an unprivileged person (i.e. apparently one "across the water") clicks the same way on the same thing, all they get is a hung browser.

The site has a problem, which only the site can fix. It's too bad those videos aren't more generally accessible. But that's just the way it is for now, and we have no choice but to live with it.

Breadhouse's picture

I fully agree with your comments, although there are a lot of variables regarding baking bread. I have learned that over- complicating things only result in frustrations. There are of course a magnitude of different tips and techniques one can apply to the even bigger magnitude of different breads one can bake but I generally use the Occam's Razor: ''one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything''

Keep it simple and you might have more success!

Thanx for this post fminparis!

fminparis's picture

<<When a privileged person clicks on a picture, they can then watch a video. But when an unprivileged person (i.e. apparently one "across the water") clicks the same way on the same thing, all they get is a hung browser.>>

I am "across the water".....on this side - New York.  But I'm happy to see that I'm "privileged."  Here is a direct link to the Baguette video.  Try pasting it in your browser and see if it works.  If it does, I'll do the same for the rest.





Chuck's picture

Well what just hung when I tried it two days ago now works! The site maintainer must have noticed something awry in the site logs and fixed the site so it now works for everyone. While the separate links for each video may be more convenient, my experience is they're not really necessary, and my tentative conclusion is they have nothing to do with the problem having been fixed. Just click on the original link, click on your chosen picture, and click the "play" arrow.

fminparis's picture

Glad to hear it.  They're really good videos, the baguette one being the best I've ever seen for forming a baguette.  I had to watch it several times because he works so fast but now I do it all the time and it forms a beautiful baguette.

GeraldC's picture

I'm a believer. I think that as I've worked my way toward my ideal baguette, autolysis was the single most influential addition to the process. By that, I mean the thing that made the most difference when introduced. I had been getting nicely crusted, good tasting bread, but when I gave it 20 to 30-something minutes to itself before kneading, the crumb opened up as I wanted. I think the second most significant step forward was when I began to put the dough through stretching and folding before the two bowl risings. I can get three stretches with folds before it tightens up too much to stretch. The last rise was distinctly more dramatic after that.