The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A simple technique for French bread?

Sadassa_Ulna's picture

A simple technique for French bread?

I have been making batards and baguettes for about six months now. I started out using Dan Leader's stiff levain baguettes and then found txfarmer's 36+ hour baguettes. So I currently keep a 70% starter and a 100% starter in my fridge, both to make baguettes that are around 76% hydration dough. I would like to streamline things for 2013. 

I know people talk about a method of making dough and reserving a portion as the next starter. Is there a name for this method? If so I would love to know what it is called. I was thinking about making a roughly mixed 76% dough (holding the salt) and reserving a piece for new starter. Then letting the dough autolyse overnight. Then add the salt to dough as I do S&F the next day.  Then retard in fridge or proof at room temp... I'm not there yet. 

My aim is to not have so much concurrent mixing, ripening, proofing and CLEAN-UP going on. Some day I will move on to other breads where it would make sense to keep starter and dough as two separate things, but for now I just want a streamlined process where I can just focus on mastering shaping and learning how to sense when my loaves are proofed (proven).

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!




wally's picture

Why not make things easy on yourself and start making your French bread with a straight dough recipe - no levain, no poolish?  And step back the hydration to a more workable 66-68%.  Then you can concentrate on dough handling and proofing and still attain a nice, open crumb.

BTW, pate fermentee is what you're referring to when talking about reserving a small portion of today's dough for use in tomorrow's dough.

Good luck,


Juergen's picture

Like Wally said, what you're referring to is a pate fermentee. Why not simply make a certain percentage of a recipe in the evening, let it ferment overnight in the fridge and make the rest the next day? That's essentially the pate fermentee technique. So just mix 30% (or so) of the total of each individual ingredient the night before and mix the remainder the next day to get to 100% for each individual ingredient. This way you'll have pre-fermented 30% of your total dough. It's essentially the same thing you're already doing but you never have to worry about keeping certain amounts in your fridge at all times in weeks when you're perhaps not baking at all.

carefreebaker's picture

Please recommend a recipe for me so I can try what you suggest. Thank you in advance.

Sadassa_Ulna's picture

Hello and thank you to Wally and Jeurgen for your replies,

I realize I forgot to mention a few things. I am interested in using wild yeast levain/starter (no commercial yeast), and I like a higher hydration and no knead formula. The higher hydration is a challenge when shaping but I am getting better, and I use oil now instead of flour so my hydration level is staying high.

I recently read this older thread . In a similar vein, I am looking to mix up a dough without salt and reserve a piece that literally becomes the starter for future bread. Salt is then added to the bread dough, and the reserved piece of dough is left out to ripen as levain.

My understanding of modern usage of pate fermentee (which might have changed since commercial yeast) is that a piece of dough is reserved for flavoring future bread and perhaps boosting the leavening, but is not the sole leavening agent for the next batch.

I guess I have some minimalist idea (ideal?) of just having one bowl of stuff and just doing one mix to create the dough and the levain simultaneously. I am trying to figure out when to portion out piece for levain, when to refrigerate, when to S&F, when to add salt, to be most efficient and I guess... minimalist. Also, the amount of reserved dough would be critical because ideally it would become exactly the right amount and strength needed for the next batch. Am I asking for too much here?  ;)

Thank you again. I know I am "thinking out loud" with this query and I really appreciate all advice.





Sadassa_Ulna's picture


I am writing this for anyone who makes simple sourdough baguettes and is interested in reducing clean-up and waste. It is based on txfarmers 36 hour baguettes and Dan Leader's stiff levain baguettes. It might not be for everyone, but here goes, I apologize for the length:

pre-step: I get an 80% starter going and build it to the amount of 160 grams (about 3/4 cup) [hold it in the fridge for up to two or threes days without refreshing].

1) Mix up an 80% dough just to a "shaggy mass" using 515 grams unbleached bread flour (I use King Arthur, its about 4-1/4 cups) and 410 grams filtered water (about 1-3/4 cups). Cover and let sit 12-24 hours in the fridge. I do two S&F during the first couple hours and I feel for any bumps of flour and press them out.

2) Bring starter and dough out of fridge. Holding the dough in the air, I press it into a "frisbee" or "steering wheel" letting gravity help, then I elongate it and drape over the bowl (think Salvador Dali's melting watches). I do the same with the starter and lay it on top of the dough. Then I roll it up and press the coiled edges together; then pull and roll again, this time pull edges under, forming a ball. I wet the bowl a little and place the ball of dough in it. I avoid adding salt or oil yet.

3) I pull the dough out a half-hour later and do two more of the same "rolling style" of S&F. The idea being to incorporate the starter into the autolysed dough. An alternate process would be to cut the starter into little chunks and knead it into the dough but the above method uses less time and muscle.

4) Cut off a portion of dough that weighs 160 grams (a heaping 1/2 cup). Let this sit out for a few hours until nearly doubled and bubbles form, then cover and put in fridge. [This is the exact amount of starter needed for next batch]. No waste, it will be ready to go if you make bread within the next two or three days.

5) Pour 12 grams of salt (about 2 tsp). into a tiny bowl. Continue to do S&F (I think of them as stretch-and-rolls) every half hour but now sprinkle some of the salt in before you roll. This is why draping over the bowl is handy, as well as the little dish of salt. I try to get all the salt incorporated by the third or fourth S&R. After four hours, oil up the bowl and place dough inside and cover (or use flour if that's your method). Store in fridge for another 12-24 hours.

6) Pre-shape while dough is cold right out of fridge; this amount will make 4-5 short baguettes or 10-15 pretezels. Cover and let sit at room temp for 1/2 hour or so. Shape as desired and allow to sit another 2-3 hours or until poke test let you know they're ready. Slash and bake. I bake baguettes at 450° F for 10 minutes (with hot water in two skillets for lots of steam) then drop to 425° F for another 10 minutes. This dough makes excellent soft pretzels (I used baking soda not lye).


dabrownman's picture

Usually the old dough, used as leavening for tomorrow's bread, is cut off after all of the ingredients are assembled, including the salt, and the complete dough has fermented and developed to the point where it is being shaped for final proof.  Right before shaping is when it is sliced off.

This is exactly the way most all commercial breads were made before commercial yeast was invented the latter 1800's and SD or other natural yeasts were used for all bread.  Home makers making smaller batches would use SD starters instead if they weren't baking every day.