The Fresh Loaf

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A Few Newbie Baker Questions (regarding equipment and Pain A L'Ancienne

gijose's picture

A Few Newbie Baker Questions (regarding equipment and Pain A L'Ancienne

Hey all, I'm very excited about baking some good breads in the future.  I picked up Peter Reinhart's BBA and I decided to attempt the Pain A L'Ancienne recipe first!  

A few equipment-related question first:

1) I've been using a food processor to mix my dough.  The recipe calls for an electric mixer with variable speeds and different attachments.  I know that's not REQUIRED, but what effect does using the dough blade in a food processor (with only one speed) have on the dough?  I've also had trouble figuring out exactly when it's "done", and when I took the dough out it was still sticky, but didn't leave much on the sides or bottom of the mixer.

2) I placed the dough in a metallic bowl rubbed with oil, and rubbed oil on the dough.  I covered this with plastic wrap.  After letting the dough rise, in order to remove the dough I found it difficult because it stuck to the sides of the bowl (just a tiny bit).  It stuck enough so that I felt like I degassed the dough more than I would have liked to get it out of the bowl.  Are there any standards that are used for storing dough that will hold in the fridge and for proofing?  If the dough is sticky, will it stick to a cotton cloth lined bowl?  Could it just mean that I left the dough too wet?  Should I use different bowls for placing the dough in the refrigerator and for proofing?

Now, a few bread-specific questions:

The bread came out tasting great, and I would venture to say that certain sections of the bread came out like I was hoping them to be, but much of the bread did not.  It was a bit flat in some sections, and most of the holes in the bread were very small.

3) The dough got a decent rise in the refrigerator, as I left it in there for over 24 hours due to a hectic schedule, and then finished rising over 2.5 hours.  Is there anything bad about letting the bread rise so much in the refrigerator?

4) I used a baking stone to bake the bread.  When I opened the door to place the dough on the stone, I also added water to the metal pan beneath the stone, and when I closed the oven, I had lost about 75 degrees in heat.  What would a loss in heat do to the bread?  

5) Lastly, HOW DO I GET BIGGER HOLES IN THE BREAD! When all was said and done, the cut and shaped dough looked remarkably like the dough in the picture accompanying the recipe.  It just didn't come out the same as (or similar to) the finished product.

Sorry for the questions en masse!  This is me, trying to solve all of my bread baking issues in one swoop, though I know it will take many batches before I get bread coming out like I'd like!

proth5's picture

One might guess that using a food processor to develop your dough is the source of the even texture of your bread.  The high speed  and blade action of the food processor mixes the dough quickly, but will not create the uneven little pockets in the dough that will develop into irregular holes. Rather it creates many small, even  holes in the dough that become the many small,even holes in the bread.

There was a time when this even texture was prized (probably because without a machine like the food processor, it was difficult to achieve - making it a symbol of luxe), but no longer.

Once the dough has been developed in this way, it will progress to bread with the same characteristics - there is nothing to be done that will change it. 

Ideally you want a method of dough development that creates many uneven pockets in the dough (such as mixing by hand or the dough hook in a stand mixer) that will eventually expand into the big, uneven holes that we now seek.  That is why you see directions written for mixers with variable speeds.  

There are numerous methods for developing dough that have been documented on these pages - you may wish to try one or more of these.  As convenient as it is, a food processor will probably never give you the texture that you seek.

I never oil the containers that I use for bulk fermentation.  The dough often sticks and I use a plastic scraper if required.  I think we put too much of a premium on not "de-gassing" the bread dough.  If the dough has been developed properly and has fermented properly - the gas will come back.  That doesn't mean we can beat the dough (I was just looking at some old bread books and they do advise the baker to work the dough with closed fists during final shaping - once again, striving for that fine texture - that's a bit much!) but it is not a matter of being afraid lest we crush any little gas pocket. 

As for your oven temperature, just opening most home ovens will cause the temperature to drop. We often use heavy baking stones so that the temperature near the stone does not drop too much and so that the temperature recovers quickly.  A drop of 75F is pretty typical for a home oven and does have some small impact on the bread, but it is pretty much unavoidable so no sense in worrying about it.  It has less of an impact than how you develop the dough.

Hope this helps.

gijose's picture

Thanks for the quick response!


Do you think that I could have less sticky-ness if I used a different type of bowl? Say, plexiglass or something?  What about cotton dishtowels to line the bowl? What's the standard bowl most people use to place their dough in?  

The reason why I'm asking so much about the bowl is that I definitely need a new one.  I used a half recipe, and after rising it barely fit in the bowl.  If I want to make any bread using more than 3 cups of flour... im kind of out of luck!  Another reason why I was asking is I really have no idea if I over or under-hydrate my dough, and was wondering if the dough sticking to the proofing container was evidence of over-hydration.

Outside of that it sounds like the next batch I'm making will be pretty much the same, just with hand mixing instead of food processor-ing.  I've been browsing the information on the site and it looks great!  Looking forward to the handbook coming along.  Reading some information it looks like I might have not let the baking stone get hot enough before placing the bread on the stone.  I timed it so that the oven hit 500, and shortly after, the bread went in the oven.

proth5's picture

Stickiness is not determined by bowl material. I favor plastic tubs with covers for fermentation. I like stainless steel bowls because they clean up well and do not break easily.  Buy a the bowl that suits your needs and tastes. I would not line a bowl with a cotton dish towel for fermentation.  I might line a bowl with a cotton or linen dish towel that has been dusted with flour for proofing - if I wanted to proof in a banneton.

Dough should be hydrated to the level that is required.  Some doughs (like ciabatta) have very high hydrations and will always stick to the bowl after fermentation.  Other doughs (like bagels) have relatively low hydrations and may still stick to the bowl or they may not.  Sticking to the bowl during fermentation  is not problematic. In the recipe you cite, I would imagine that the dough might be a bit sticky as the hydration is nearly 80%.

Dough sticking to the proofing container or proofing surface (proofing is the final rise prior to baking) means that the container or suface hasn't been properly prepared.  If you have a very high hydration dough, you may need to flour the proofing "container" more heavily.  Some folks favor a 50/50 mix of wheat and white rice flour for dusting proofing surfaces. In the recipe you cite, the shaped dough is proofed on parchment paper, so sticking will not be a problem and you should not need to flour it.

Hope this helps.

Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

...Get one of these Spatulart's, they can move the stickest dough around in metal bowls, absolutely wonderful little gem:

bassopotamus's picture

A few things you can do to keep oven temps more even


1. Use a baking stone, like you are doing .

2. Do a very long preheat so that it isn't just the air that is hot, but everything in the stove (I've seen alton brown reccomend something like an hour preheat). I start preheating about an hour before I bake.

3. Start at a higher temperature to compensate for the lost heat. Many recipes call for an initial temp of 50 degrees warmer than the rest of the bake to compensate. I've been making the Bread Bible basic hearth bread a lot lately, and you start it at like 475 then turn down to 425 (or maybe 450 and 400, I don't have it in front of me) after 10 minutes. This gives maybe a little extra early browning but it also helps compensate for opening the oven

LindyD's picture

Welcome to TFL, Gijose.  I bake these baguettes at least weekly because my family literally inhales them.  I usually use all 24 ounces ounces of water (at 40F or colder).  The dough will pull away from the mixer bowl sides, but stick to the bottom. As Proth5 has noted, using a food processor is a detriment to the crumb.  While I've never mixed it by hand, you might want to try the Hamelman method of stretch and fold in the bowl.  I thought David Snyder had done a video on this, but can't seem to find it.

The dough is immediately moved to a tall, square plastic container which has been very lightly oiled.  Oil only the container - not the dough.  The lid is snapped on and it goes into the refrigerator.  On the outside of the container are two pieces of duct tape.  One to mark the top of the dough when it's placed in the container and the other marks where the top of the dough should be when it has doubled. 

How much the dough rises overnight depends on where I've placed it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and how many times the door was opened.  I made this recipe last weekend and when I took the dough out on Sunday morning (early), it had not risen at all - most likely because the water I used was 38F.  It took around three and a half hours for the dough to double (I heat with wood so my kitchen is warm: 72-75F).

I keep an eye on the rise and turn the oven on to 500F (the recipe suggests 550, but mine doesn't go that high) at least 50 minutes before I'll bake.  When the dough has fully doubled, it's gently transferred to a lightly floured counter (using a wet plastic bowl scraper to get it all out of the container). 

I've been able to get a nice open crumb by using the following technique:

My metal bench scraper sits in a bowl of cold water on the counter and I wet my hands before handling the dough.  Using the wet bench scraper, I quickly, but gently, push the dough into an 8" x 6" oblong.  You have to keep your hands and the bencher wet to keep the dough from sticking to you and the counter, and just about everything else it touches.   I then lightly flour the top of the dough and let it rest for about five minutes.

Using the wet bencher, I cut the first three baguettes and making sure my hands are wet, they are stretched and moved to a sheet of parchment on a peel, then onto the hot baking stone they go.  The hydration is so high, they can't be scored with a knife so I use wet scissors to place a couple of cuts on each baguette.  Most of the time I don't bother.

Contrary to Reinhart's instructions, I do not cut the remaining dough until the first three baguettes are baked and out of the oven.  When I did that, they would flatten out and spread.  I just cover the uncut dough with a glass bowl and leave it on the counter.

After the first steaming, the oven is turned down to 475F until the baguettes are fully baked and racked.  The oven is turned back up to 500F and when it is up to temperature, I cut the last three and get them into the oven.

I baked a lot of these baguettes before I finally was able to get a crumb that I liked and hope that some of these suggestions will work for you.






dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Lindy.

I like your tip about not dividing dough you are not going to bake immediately!

Mark Sinclair did the video of the fold in the bowl technique. I think he did a great job, as usual. Here's the link:


gijose's picture

Hmm, thanks for the tips!

I tried making the dough again last night, only mixing by hand.  I think I did not hydrate the dough enough, I cut the recipe in half and ended up using 3 cups of flour and 1 1/4 cups of water, plus whatever I brought over with my hands when I dipped them several times while mixing.

I think it would take me forever to mix it enough by hand to get the silky smooth mixture, and I ended up with a dough that stuck solidly to the bottom of the bowl, and stuck a bit to the sides, but came off of the sides pretty easily.  But the dough was a bit stiff...

Anybody have any experience trying to mix these kinds of doughs by hand?  I checked out the videos on the site, but they look like they all use a mixer (for good reason), and the methods detailed are for after the dough is well mixed.

LindyD's picture

Little wonder I couldn't find it, David.  I was searching using your name.  Thanks for posting the link...have it bookmarked now.

If I were to try it with the Ancienne dough (and I may), I'm not sure if I'd wait 20 minutes between folds since coldness is such a factor in the recipe.  If I did, I would put the dough in the refrigerator for those 20 minutes.


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Lindy.

If you are following Reinhart's formula for Pain a l'Ancienne, I agree. I would just do one series of 20 strokes.

Another option, taking off from Hamelman's dictum that all retarded dough should be folded during the first hour of refrigeration, would be to do one set of stretch and folds, refrigerate, and do another set or two while briefly taking the dough out of refrigeration during the first hour.

Gosselin's original method, which Reinhart changed, was to barely mix the dough and refrigerate immediately. After retardation, the next day, add more water and mix for 5-6 minutes before dividing, etc.

Bouabsa mixes completely and develops the gluten further before retarding the dough. Mark's video pertained to Bouabsa's method, which he is now using in his bakery for his baguettes.

I hope this clarifies.

Myself, I use both the Gosselin and the Bouabsa approaches. I have adapted the latter to other breads besides baguettes and like it a whole lot. On the other hand, Gosselin's method has resulted in the best tasting baguettes with the most open crumb I've made, without adding any rye or WW flour.


niagaragirl's picture

For very sticky dough, I place my hands above the mound, and with my fingers start making very small grabs almost like I was tickling the dough. The small grabs will help the tension release in a more natural fashion instead of trying to grab big gobs of dough away from the bowl all at one time.Work quickly and gather the released dough towards the middle.

You can work your way all the way down to the bottom with the small tickling grabs, or work your way around the edge. Really doesn't matter, whatever is comfortable for you.

I also find that stainless releases better than some plastics. But that's my own preference. If all else fails, I guess you could try and line the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap, then just lift everything out. I would not line with anykind of towel. I think it would suck moisture and that's not good.

As far as the wetting of hands, usually one wetting under the faucet is all it takes. Any droplets should be shaken off. I find a "wetter" hand I find will really just cause more problems in handling. Wetter ain't always better.

gijose's picture

So, I made the dough again.  I don't think I hydrated the dough as much as I should have.  I also lost WAY too much heat from opening the oven.  The loaves still came out tasting good, so I guess I shouldn't really complain.  I mixed the dough by hand, and ended up with a pretty solid dough.  I was surprised when I removed it from the refrigerator and let it rise, how smooth and spreadable it was.  It had no problems coming out of the bowl this time, and I was able to easily put it in most shapes that I wanted.  But I still got the small holes in the bread.

What are the reasons for getting small pockets in the bread?  I'd like to try to get bigger holes, which I'm guessing requires more air to be released by the yeast.  The dough loses much of it's gas from transfer, and to be honest, it didn't rise all THAT much in the oven.  It definitely doubled though in the bowl.  Does this mean I need more yeast?  more heat to get a bigger initial rise?  I made sure that the baking stone was nice and hot before placing the dough on it (left my oven on for about an hour before baking).

Would allowing the dough to proof for a while allow for bigger holes?  In the book Reinhart says that if you leave the dough alone after shaping into loaves you get more ciabatta-style bread.