The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Perfect Loaf strategy...?

Wartface's picture

The Perfect Loaf strategy...?

I’ve been making sourdough bread as a hobby for about 5 years. I started out making doorstops and hockey pucks for awhile.

the first couple of years I made the same exact formula that was 66% hydration just so I could concentrate on the proper techniques for fairly low hydration dough. I became pretty good at being able to feel and see all of the possible mistakes during the process so I could anticipate potential problems and figured out how to fix them early so they didn’t stick out on my final report card you get on every loaf... when it comes out of the oven.

Then I moved on to higher hydration doughs... 70/80/90/100%. Learning how to finesse higher hydration dough initially was overwhelming but eventually I learned that making high hydration dough is actually easier than lower hydration dough is. It just kind of seemed impossible to turn what appeared to be pancake batter into a boule or batard of artisan sourdough bread. Ken Forkish made all of that fairly easy.👍 I went from making about 5 loaves a week when I first started, for a couple of years... to making only 1 or 2 really, really great loaves of bread a week now.

I took A little over a year off from bread making because I went on the keto diet and lost over 100 pounds, plus I quit smoking cigarettes and quit drinking alcohol... just to see if I could.🤔  I started all that crazy stuff on my 65th birthday. So now that all of that is behind me... I’ve started baking bread again. 

 My new mission right now is to figure out how to make the Perfect Loaf of Artisan Sourdough bread... with time required and effort being unlimited. If it takes me 3 days to make the Perfect Loaf that’s just fine with me. 

We all know autolysing our flour and water before adding starter and salt is beneficial. We all know that a preferment will add flavor and make the bulk fermentation easier. I’m wondering if doing the autolyse before a preferment is just a duplication of processes.🤔  I’m thinking you kill both birds with just doing a 12/16 hour Biga, but if doing both is beneficial I’m all in.👍   Any opinions on this issue? I have the proofer from Brød & Taylor so time and temperature is controllable too.

Mixing the final dough, gluten development and bulk fermentation. Dividing the dough, preshaping and final shaping. Delayed Final fermentation In the fridge. When to bake, Dutch oven. 2 days or 3 days? 

HaVe any of you guys/girls ever thought this idea through? Suggestions? 


Danni3ll3's picture

And congrats on your successes. Those are not trivial achievements!

Wartface's picture

That was quite the project actually. I had just retired and was looking for something to do.😬

BaniJP's picture

Depends on your biga percentage and how strong your bread flour is, but in general I would do at least a short autolyse (20 min., up to 2 h) before adding your preferment. Just to hydrate the flour and get the enzymes going.

Duration of your final, cold proof depends on your yeasting power. If you have a very, very low percentage, you certainly can go 48 h, but I wouldn't go much more than that. When working with sourdough starter I wouldn't do more than 24 h, since at some point the dough begins do degrade and your end up with soup.

Wartface's picture

I appreciate your opinion. I normally always do a 60 minute autolyse for all of my sourdough bread projects, before adding the starter or salt. The nice part of being retired is I never get in a rush anymore. I have no desire to rush through a batch of dough anymore. Taking 2 or 3 days to properly develop dough is more rewarding than producing average bread.😉 I’ve even started making croissants these days.

I use King Arthur bread flour along with 20% King Arthur whole grain Whole Wheat flour... in most of my bread formulas. Plus I use 50% BF and 50% WW flour in my 100% hydration starter too. I calculate those types of flour into each batch of dough too. That way my starter flour is the same flour that goes into my bread formulas. 

I decided to use a poolish instead of a Biga for this project. I prefer the higher hydration of a poolish and I can calculate about how long the poolish will take to develop better. I used half of the weight of the flour In the poolish... 400g. I added 400g of water and 4g of my starter... last night at 11:00pm. My ambient temperature last night was 74°f... so I covered my fermentation vessel and left it on the counter top overnight. This morning at 9:30am it’s just slightly less than doubled in mass. I anticipate it will have tripled in mass by about 2:00pm... about 15 hours. 

At that point I’ll mix in the remaining ingredients... 398g of bread flour, 198g of water. Then I’ll start developing the gluten structure and add the salt during the second folding session. I’ll pause between folding sessions for 30 minutes. I’m assuming it will only require about 3 folding sessions to pass the window pane test and I’m only going to allow it to rise about 50% during bulk fermentation... at which point I’ll start the preshaping and final shaping steps. I anticipate that I’ll have the 2 loaves in the bannetons by early evening. 


I assume the yeast from my starter has multiplied so many times from those original 4g used to inoculate the poolish that no other starter will be required during this project, and there will be sufficient yeast to final proof, in the refrigerator, the dough for about 24 hours. So I’m thinking I should bake these 2 loaves tomorrow evening at about 6:00pm.🤔

If ANYONE has any suggestions or ideas how to makes these better loaves of artisan sourdough bread... I’m all ears.👍