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.