Close Encounters of a Sandy Nature!

My wife and I were in NYC last weekend for her birthday and had planned to return on Tuesday. Our long weekend turned into one day and two nights in the city before we flew out on Sunday to avoid the potential chaos to come. We were in a hotel near 24th Street and 6th Avenue. The hotel lost power on Monday evening and is hoping to get power back on Sunday or Monday. Being a visitor on the 20th floor of a hotel, no power, no subway or buses, and no way to fly home would have been miserable. We are glad we heeded the call to get out. It is hard to imagine the contrast between being in Mid- or Lower-Manhattan and above 36th where life is far normal. Over the past few days I have felt I was living in two alternative universes – one of me is in that hotel on 24th, hunkered down and trying to figure out how to get home; and the other is here at home with everything “normal”. Having lived in Houston through hurricane recovery I know how challenging it can be and how weeks without power can be an eternity. There is no graceful easy recovery from a real storm and my sympathies and best wishes go out to all those who are suffering from the storm!

Baking Again!

Traveling and working off frozen bread slowed my baking in October – plus trying to limit consumption to keep my weight under control! I did bake once but the loaves were not notable and I was rushed so I skipped the blog. But getting home early from New York did provide an opportunity to bake and I took advantage of the opportunity!

I fed my starters (white and rye) on Monday and wanted to use both so I made two half batches (relative to my normal 2.5 kilo formula) – one with each starter. But rather than dividing the dough into (roughly) 1.5 pound boules as is my norm I kept them as single large loaves. Things mostly went well, but our air was uniquely dry on Tuesday so I encountered a few issues worth sharing. And the rye loaf turned out very nice so…I definitely want to share that!

“White” Boule

The “white” loaf pretty much followed the normal procedure that I have outlined many times. It was 74% hydration and used an organic stone milled White Whole Wheat for 7% of the loaf. I could sense the starter was a bit slower than it ought to be and gave the levain build an extra two hours to develop. In mixing the final dough, I decided to develop it a bit more than normal before the bulk fermentation. During the bulk fermentation I gave it two   sets of four stretch and folds – one each at half hour intervals. I used a larger, linen

Puffed profile

lined brotform for the proof – to accommodate the larger loaf. I baked it on a heated stone at 450 oF with my normal steam generation. The loaf was a tad overproofed by my taste (as indicated by the lack of rip) and dry air threw me off in a couple of ways. The oven was clearly a bit dry and the loaf had a bit of a dry skin which led it to puff up. This shows in the second photo where you can see the rounded edge of the loaf – where it lifted from the stone.  When the oven is well steamed and the loaf has no skin, the loaf

“White” Crumb

should have a less rounded profile – the bottom edge should be more abrupt. Crumb was fairly good. I was hoping for it to be a bit more open and random but a dry skin also subdues the crumb so it is a bit more closed than I intended. However, I have often done much worse! Good taste. Good loaf! But I need to remember to pay more attention to humidity when the air is dry!

The rye loaf was impromptu and as a whim I made it as a 20% rye, walnut boule. I started with my 100% hydration, 100% rye starter and expanded it as follows: 65 grams of starter plus 130 grams of water and 130 grams of KA Organic Rye flour. The

Twenty Percent Rye Walnut Boule

expansion was allowed to ferment overnight. The rye levain was quite robust so I decided to forego the IDY so often added to give an extra “kick” to lower protein rye breads. This decision also reflected my decision to use First Clear flour for the white flour. First clear flour is a high protein, high mineral flour that includes more of the outer portions of the grain than regular or patent flour and is commonly used commercially for making breads using rye and other low gluten grains. This too followed my normal practice The final dough was 78 percent hydration. I did have one snafu on this loaf – I left out the salt – and realized it about thirty minutes after I mixed the final dough. So I had to knead the salt into the finished dough. The dough was pretty stiff so I added more water also. I did not weigh the extra water but the final dough was close to 78% hydration (first clear flour absorbs more water!). I also added 25% of the flour weight as toasted walnuts. (I toasted the walnuts by zapping them in the microwave for 3 minutes.) The loaf was baked in a 450 oF oven for 20 minutes. Then the temperature was dropped to 400 degrees and baked for an additional 50 minutes. The final loaf was a bit over 4 pounds and the internal temperature was 207. This is one of those loaves you should make ahead and hold for at least a day before cutting or freezing as the flavors will develop for several days.

Rye Walnut Crumb

The crumb on this loaf was definitely a tighter than I intended, but my faux pas and extra kneading certainly did not help, nor did the humidity. As a result I was pretty pleased with the final result. This is a really nice loaf to serve with a good blue cheese. We had it last night with a roquefort from Gabriel Coulet. It was divine!

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Catching Up!

The past six weeks have been really hectic with some traveling and my involvement in several nonprofit organizations. While traveling I ate too much and have been struggling to keep my weight from ballooning, so my bread baking and consumption has been slowed down…  But it is time to catch up a bit. While this blog will not be totally bread oriented I think it will appeal to breadheads!

My first trip had me going to Portland, Oregon for a fishing trip on the Deschutes. On the way home I dropped by Apizza Scholls for dinner. From the comments of others about the great dough and pies I had assumed it was a WFO pizzeria and boy was I wrong. They use deck ovens at about 700 degrees, quite a bit hotter than seems to be typical for deck ovens. Unfortunately I did not get a photo of the pie but it was gorgeous. Very airy and open crumb, and about 30 to 40 percent dark leopard spots on the bottom. The toppings were first rate and the pie was absolutely delicious. The only bad thing I can say about Apizza Scholls is that their standard pie is 18 inches. Fortunately I was there early and they had a few “half balls” of dough and I was able to get a smaller pie. The salad was also outstanding and huge – easily enough for two. I highly recommend Apizza Scholls if you are visiting Portland!

My second trip was to Chicago to celebrate my daughter’s birthday with dinner at Alinea. This was my second trip to Alinea, her first. Alinea is easily one of the best and most unique restaurants in the world. The food is exceptional and the experience is amazing as almost nothing is really as it seems. Molecular gastronomy rules in a three hour parade of stunning presentations. This was a really short trip put together at the last moment when I was able to snag reservations.  I had hoped to visit some of the pizza alternatives to Pizzeria Uno but we simply didn’t have enough time in our birthday packed weekend. One other noteworthy dining experience in Chicago deserves comment. My daughter and son-in-law took us to The Purple Pig. This is a tapas style restaurant near downtown and features pork and charcuterie. It was quite good and is recommended.

Also in the past few weeks I came across the book Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin. Mary teaches cheese making at several culinary operations around San Francisco and published this book in 2011. While I have not started working my way through the book yet, I must comment that it is inspirational and appears to be very well conceived and written. The book has five major sections:

  1. Basics – a detailed overview of cheesemaking
  2. Simple cheeses – fresh cheeses, cultured dairy products, and salt rubbed and brinded cheeses.
  3. Intermediate cheeses – stretched curd cheeses, semi-soft, firm, and hard cheeses
  4. Advance cheeses – bloomy rind cheeses, surface ripened cheeses, blue cheeses, and more
  5. Cooking with artisanal cheese – twenty or so recipes that are really appealing.

Since bread and cheese go together so well I will be getting the materials to work my way through this book. I have located a good source of raw milk and as soon as I can get some I will get started.

This week is going to be pretty crazy so it will probably be next week before I can have another bake or make any cheese. But I am looking forward to it!



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Back to Basics…And a Lesson…

Whole Wheat Focaccia, Olive Oil with Balsamic, Volkornbrot Rye, and Cheese

In my most recent baking I have focused on working off some odds and ends of various whole grain and alternative flours I have been storing. I finally finished off most of those loaves – giving away the prettiest and eating the lesser loaves. One of my best results was a really nice focaccia with great crumb as shown in the accompanying photographs.

Focaccia crumb

I was ready for some lighter bread. So I am returned to my basic boules – pretty much as described in my opening blogs and comments on baking. I really wanted to make open crumb so I concentrated on working the dough to get a good, open crumb. The bread turned out great but the crumb was quite a bit tighter than I wanted… I wasn’t able to follow my plan so perhaps I learned something…

I fed my starters the day before and when they peaked I took my milder starter and mixed up my levain. It fermented overnight and was wonderfully happy this morning. The levain was made starting with 110 grams of starter and added 220 grams of water and 220 of flour (half whole wheat and half King Arthur AP). In the morning I saved a bit of starter for the future and had 470 grams of levain for mixing final dough. The final expansion to a 72 percent hydration dough required 750 grams of water, 1130 grams of King Arthur AP flour, and 38 grams of salt. As is my practice I hand mixed this until the flour was fully wet and the dough was beginning to lose a bit of its stickiness. Altogether I worked the dough for about five minutes.

The dough was still a bit sticky, but I scraped it from the big stainless bowl to my small, clear tub for bulk fermentation. The dough then received three full sets of four stretches and folds at half hour intervals. At that point the dough was soft and smooth, and only Slightly sticky. The gluten was clearly well developed. The window was about half clear and half ropy – about right – and did not tear easily. The fermentation was going well. The dough was beginning to get lighter. It was beginning to be bouncy.

As I had decided to go to spinning class I was going to have to extend my bulk fermentation, I put the tub in the fridge. I had planned to pull it from the fridge to warm and complete the bulk fermentation while I exercised. However it was growing well when it was time to leave so it stayed in the fridge. When I got home it had just about doubled. So I cut it into chunks and preformed the loaves. I let the boules sit for 20 minutes and then finished the shaping. They were gassy but too cold to really be bouncy! But they weren’t badly sticky either.

I don’t routinely retard my sourdough for my yeast is notoriously not fond of cold. This time it had seemed to be growing pretty well. After an hour I did a poke test and the loaves only slowly rebounded. I was a bit confused. The dough was still a bit cold/cool. And it hadn’t really expanded as much as I wanted. But the rebound looked overproofed. So I popped two loaves in the oven (in cloches) to bake. When I removed the lids at 20 minutes

Underproofed, Super Oven Spring Boules

it was clear from the ridiculous oven spring that they loaves were underproofed.  I finished baking them and went ahead and baked the third and fourth loaves. They also showed pretty ridiculous oven spring. No doubt all of the loaves would have survived two hours more of warming and proofing! And thus my crumb was a bit tighter than I wanted. Oh, well! It tasted great and was a nice change from whole wheat!


The big lesson from all this was to trust my instincts a bit more, (I suspected the cold was the issue with the rebound and that the loaves were underproofed!) And to be wary of cold dough. Cold dough will hold more gas in solution in the dough and release more gas to the pockets in the crumb as it warms in the oven, thus giving greater oven spring than a room temperature loaf. But it will also proof slower and the cool, dense dough can be misleading as I experienced.

Next time I will do my loaves on a day when I am not planning to work out! I want to do this again and get the crumb right!

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More Thoughts on Dough Development…

In my most recent post I tried to use no-knead bread to place dough development in context and to provide insights into other factors that influence oven spring and open crumb. Today I want to follow up on some observations related to dough and dough development for conventionally made breads.

The Impact of Salt…

Salt impacts dough in several ways. As stated previously it is a yeast inhibitor. But it also influences gluten and a simple “experiment” can easily illustrate this effect.

The Experiment: The next time you plan to make bread, when you get ready to make the final dough, autolyse the flour first. I.e., simply mix the flour and water for the final dough (and leave out the salt, yeast, sourdough, whatever). Hydration is not critical but I think the effect is more pronounced when hydration is moderately high – the 65 to 70% range is good. Just mix the flour and water until it is wet and let it sit for a half hour. This will allow the water to activate gluten formation (which should be essentially complete at that point) and will activate the enzymes in the flour which will generate sugars from the starch and improve the flavor of the final loaf. After a half hour play with the dough some. Stretch it, knead it. It will be very soft and “loose” or extensible. It will not be very elastic. While doing this, go ahead and mix in the yeast or preferment. When they are reasonably combined, sprinkle the salt for the loaf over the top and begin mixing the salt into the dough. You will feel it tighten and the dough become stronger and more elastic (bounce back rather than simply stretch). This is a dramatic change – it is almost as though you poured salt on a cut and the dough is writhing in pain. When you finish you should have an appreciation for how salt strengthens gluten. Bulk ferment the dough, give it a few S&Fs if needed, shape, proof and bake!

It is my belief, especially in lower hydration dough, that the salt has a hard time fully dissolving and creates small, salty pockets of dough around each grain – assuming the dough is not mixed/kneaded forever. If I am correct, these pockets would contribute to forming a random crumb with the less salty pockets having more fermentation and thus being more gassy and open. It is also my impression that this effect is more pronounced when larger grain salt is used – for example Morton’s Kosher  salt vs. finer table salt. You might want to try using delayed salt addition using Kosher salt if you are seeking a more open, random crumb.

Mixing Considerations

In general mixing, kneading, and stretches and folds help organize the gluten, and make it stronger, giving the dough more elasticity and ability to hold its shape. This supposedly occurs because this encourages the gluten to contact other gluten molecules and “stick” to each other, making a more heavily cross connected matrix of gluten in the dough. Mixing is another point where beginners get in trouble for the general attitude in books on bread is that “dough should be well developed” and “the window should be clear”. This is, in my and many professional baker’s minds, vastly overstated for one can definitely overmix dough and develop dough too far – and the impacts of overmixing are many: diminished flavor, diminished color, toughness, finer and more uniform crumb, and more. Mixing seems so simple but is a rather complex phenomenon with lots of nuances.

Understanding the nuances of dough development via different methods benefits from experience. Among my biggest insights were making baguettes using three different mixing approaches in one day while taking Artisanal Bread I at the San Francisco Baking Institute. The three approaches were hand mixing, what they call an improved mix, and an intensive mix. Both the improved mix and the intensive mix were mixed in a commercial spiral mixer. The hand mix was only lightly mixed and finished with stretches and folds during the bulk fermentation. The improved mix was mixed until it had a window that was about half clear/half ropey and then given some S&Fs during bulk fermentation.. The intense mix was mixed until it made a clear window and received no S&Fs. While each of the doughs were different, the hand mix and improved mix were somewhat similar while the intense mix was rather dramatically different. All were mixed at around 70 % hydration. Here are some of the differences in the doughs:

  • Hand Mix – Most color, most open crumb, more wheaty aroma, most “relaxed” dough – a bit trickier to handle as it was a bit sticky.
  • Improved Mix – Slightly less color and aroma, similar crumb but slightly tighter, slightly less sticky and a pretty nice dough to work with.
  • Intensive Mix – Distinctly whiter, less aroma, very uniform tight crumb, relatively firm dough – very easy to handle. The extra mixing clearly oxidized some of the delicate color and aroma compounds. And the additional mixing developed the gluten to the point where the gluten was well organized but to the point where the crumb was tight and the loaf would not expand like the doughs with less mixing.

One of the surprises from this exercise was the obvious oxidation of the intense mix loaf as evidenced by the loss of color and flavor/aroma. The first two were good bread. The latter was much more like a standard “grocery store baguette”. (The advantages of the intense mix dough is that it is basically bulletproof and can take tough, mechanical processing, but it is NOT for quality.) Keep in mind most mixers raise the temperature of the dough about one degree F per minute of mixing (more if the mixer is set to higher speeds). We used colder water to compensate for the temp but the extra 5 minutes or so of mixing really hurt the dough quality. Since that experience I stick to hand mixing or only very light mixing for most of my breads.

Mixing and High Hydration Doughs…

Whenever we are mixing a dough, the dough will be sticky early in the mixing process. As time and mixing progress, the starch absorbs water, the gluten forms, and the dough begins to take form and personality. At some point lower hydration doughs will lose their stickiness and become easy to work with. As hydration increases, water interferes with dough development and mixing the dough to the point where the dough loses stickiness takes longer and longer. Mixing to this point by hand can become almost impossible.

Using a mixer is convenient for it can develop the dough even when it is really wet. I have made doughs where, after ten minutes of mixing, the dough seemed more like a soupy batter. One recipe called for going to a high speed and mixing for 20 minutes. And amazingly enough, it worked – the dough eventually came together enough to form into a loaf and bake. I still occasionally use that approach for focaccia where I know the dough will have strongly flavored toppings and the bread is not “naked” but for ciabatta I now have concern that the extended mixing will overly oxidize the dough. So I go for a different approach. (The extended mix is a neat experiment also. Just make focaccia and mix it until it gets “cooperative”! At worst you will toss 50 cents worth of flour into the trash!)

It is pretty easy to knead a 65 or 70% hydration dough to a good level of development – ready for bulk fermentation and a couple of S&Fs. At 75% things get a lot trickier in my experience. My suggestion is to make the dough at 65% and once it is developed to about the point you want, add the extra water to take it to the final hydration and work it in by hand. I must admit I tried this a few times years ago and it seemed really messy. Now that I am used to mixing by hand, it seems really easy. And amazingly fast.

Dough Durability…

It seems to me that baking experience and books combine to terrify new bakers of degassing their dough. There seems is a strong tendency to handle dough gently! And this tends to lead to tentative handling of dough and of moving slowly and these approaches do not help!

Properly developed dough can be shockingly durable. Yes, use of whole wheat, and adding bran or seeds can weaken gluten, but well developed dough is not particularly fragile. At SFBI we would dump 16 pounds of dough onto a table, slice it into six inch wide strips which we then portioned into “slabs” of equal weight. Those slabs were typically about three inches thick but we needed to get the thickness down to an inch and a half or less to form the baguettes. So we slapped and patted them down as the first step of baguette formation. They were pretty heavily heavily degassed. And in the final forming stages we would draw our thumbs through the loaf, stretching the dough (and skin) around our thumb and using the heel of our other hand to “seal” the seam. Part of the purpose of that step was to pop the bigger bubbles in the dough. And we still got amazingly open crumb as evidenced in the following photograph.

SFBI Baguette Crumb

The point of all of this is that IF you are having problems degassing your loaves, there is a good chance your dough is underdeveloped. Try a bit more mixing/kneading and/or a few more S&Fs. If you go too far you will probably know it – you will probably get an almost totally uniform crumb. But if your high hydration loaves are sticky (so that they degas when you touch them) you are almost certainly underdeveloped. Try increasing the mixing/dough development next time but for now try dusting a bit more flour on your hands or on the skin of the dough (properly done it should not take a lot unless the dough is super wet like ciabatta!). If you are degassing excessively on removal from the bulk fermentation container, try using a bit more oil to coat the container before you put the dough in. But try a different mixing approach next time too!

Finding that perfect point can be elusive, but play around with development – be sure to both overdevelop and underdevelop loaves from time to time so you learn what dough should feel like!

Great dough feels like it is alive. It  has bounce and resiliency. And it makes better bread! Hope you find this useful!


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Lessons from No-Knead Bread: The Meaning of Development…And More…

One of the areas that seems to be painfully confusing to many aspiring bread bakers is that of dough development. No-knead breads require no almost no involvement and can be spectacular in both oven spring and crumb. Dough that is kneaded, and more developed often has much tighter crumb. What is going on? If development of gluten is good, why is no-knead so spectacular? What are the tradeoffs in developing dough? How can I use the insights from no-knead to make my bread better? These are some of the topics I will try to make sense of today! But crumb, texture, and oven spring is not just a function of development. Hydration, proofing, and other factors are involved and must be woven into the story. Understanding how these work together can be very useful in striving to make bread that looks like you want it to! So pour a glass of wine or a favorite drink and let’s work our way through all of this!

Background on Development?

The term development is used to refer to the formation and arrangement of gluten in the dough. While the chemical details are not particularly critical to a baker it is useful to know that gluten forms when the proteins glutenin and gliadin (which are present in wheat, barley, rye, etc.) crosslink to form a network of gluten in the dough. It is also worth knowing that gluten is NOT water soluble and you can make rather pure gluten by washing dough with cold water until you are left with a gummy residue that is a little bit like chewing gum. Dough is basically starch granules held in suspension in water by a network of gluten. Gluten will form automatically in wet flour though a modest amount of mixing (mainly moving the water around to get everything wet) seems to be beneficial in helping gluten fully form.

If you read very much about bread baking you have probably seen the term autolyse.  An autolyse is simply wetting flour with water and letting it sit for about 20 minutes. This is about how long it takes for gluten to fully form in the wet flour. At that point the gluten will be a poorly organized network – like a very loose hairnet with big open gaps. Kneading the dough or doing stretches and folds after this point will organize the gluten into sheets and make the dough stronger as the gluten network gets more aligned and organized.

Some more advanced recipes will not have you do an autolyse on the flour but will simply have you mix the dough until it is barely mixed (say two to three minutes for most mixers) and then let it sit for five, ten or twenty minutes before finishing the mixing. When we finish the mixing influences the nature of the gluten matrix and thus will impact its ability to hold and contain gases (and alcohols) created by fermentation and on the crumb of the final loaf. (We will come back to that later!) So now that you have some idea what development does, let’s go back and look at the no-knead process and see how it works!

No-Knead Bread and How “No Development” Can Work!

I will be honest, I don’t do no-knead bread very often for I simply don’t personally like the process. I like establishing a connection between myself and the dough by personally working with it in the mixing, kneading, and development phases.

The relatively high quality of no-knead bread puzzled me for a long time and took some deep thinking and experience before I felt I understood the multiple factors that I sense is contributing to the success of no-knead bread. The following comments apply to the approach promoted by Jim Lahey and published in the New York Times (

The no-knead approach involves mixing the dough only until it is barely mixed – a bit past the ragged stage where it is only barely together. As this takes only a few moments in the mixer, the gluten will not be fully formed at this point and what has been formed will not be very well organized. The dough is then allowed to bulk ferment for 12 to 18 hours. This accomplishes two things: 1) the actions of enzymes and bacteria in the flour, and the added yeast will create a variety of sugars, alcohols and byproducts that will add flavor to the bread, and 2) the gluten will be fully formed and responsive to manipulation in the loaf forming process. (Note: the gluten would be fully formed within a half hour or so!)

The dough is then typically floured lightly and folded over once or twice (this approximates a stretch and fold which facilitates the gluten matrix becoming more organized and forming sheets of gluten to better trap gases from fermentation (and during the early baking phase). Timed properly the yeast is only then really approaching its peak and producing gas at a maximal rate. The dough is given a short rest to let the dough relax a bit. Then the dough is formed into a ball, floured some more, and allowed to rise on floured towels or linen. Forming a ball will also organize the gluten a bit, but obviously not very much compared to conventional kneading and loaf formation. Yet the loaf will typically show great oven spring and crumb. Some variations of the process have one essentially forming a ball after the bulk fermentation and plopping it into the baking container with almost no handling – in which case the gluten is even less developed. So how can this minimally processed dough be so spectacular?


While not related to development, the first item that really helps no-knead bread is that it calls for being baked in a “sealed” environment – such as a Dutch oven, a covered pot (enamel, cast iron, glass, or ceramic), or a cloche. This creates a closed environment where the water driven from the bread humidifies the air in the container. The humidity level in the container will be higher than you probably achieve in your regular oven. The steam gelatinizes the starch on the surface. This makes the surface more elastic and keeps the dough from drying out and restricting loaf expansion as the gases in the dough expand (and alcohols vaporize). This approach typically yields breads (whether kneaded or not) that have superior oven spring and approximate the look of loaves made in wood-fired ovens.

From a development perspective the fully developed gluten in the no-knead process does not need much working to form a good matrix – a matrix strong enough to support a loaf and capture and hold CO2 during the final proof. Stretches and folds are powerful organizers of gluten. Kneading seems to be less efficient. It is my experience however that no-knead loaves – with minimal development can be a bit fragile as the only marginally developed gluten is not as well formed as in more conventionally developed loaves. As a result these loaves seem a bit more likely to deflate if handled roughly. For loaves that are proofed in the baking container and have almost no development, I find the gluten is barely developed enough to contain gas. It is my experience that these loaves deflate easily if touched or handled. Proofing in the container avoids handling and allows the loaves to perform well.

My experience leads me to speculate on a couple of additional effects that seem to me to contribute to the great look of no-knead bread. I strongly suspect that the minimal mixing leads to an uneven distribution of salt and yeast in the bread and that the nonuniform distributions contribute to the generation of a random, highly open crumb. NOTE: salt is a yeast inhibitor so yeast activity would be higher in areas of the dough that have less salt, leading to more gas formation and a more open crumb while areas with more salt would be slowed, yielding a denser crumb. Yeast concentrations would act similarly with areas of high yeast concentration having higher activity, and lower concentrations lower activity. Both hydration and variation of hydration (due to incomplete mixing) seem to have an impact as well though there is no question that wetter dough s tend to yield loaves with more open crumb.

Pulling a Window

When I use the term dough development I am referring to how well the gluten is developed and how well it is arranged within the dough. Most books will urge you to evaluate the level of development by “pulling a window”, i.e. stretching a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball to see if you can form a “window pane” – a relatively thin film of dough that you can almost see through or read print through.

Pulling a window pane inovlves taking a ball of dough about the size of a golf ball (once it is reasonably mixed – won’t really work on dough that still has dry stuff) and stretching it (and rotating it to stretch it somewhat uniformly) to see how thin a “window pane” you can get before it tears. With really well developed doughs you can get a pane that is sort of clear and more or less able to read a newspaper through. That is TOO MUCH development for rustic breads and baguettes.

If you try it on a few doughs I think you will find that a no-knead dough, for example, will be highly extendible but will tear fairly easily – it will get thin but will remain whitish and opaque and tear before it becomes clear. It is still capable of making a good loaf but in my experience it can’t take much handling or shaping without degassing. So you dump it in a dutch oven so it doesn’t have to be touched. (and the tight/closed confines of the dutch oven traps humidity to give a good crust.)

At SFBI they typically mix until the dough is to a point where the dough yields a window pane that is still somewhat ragged – about half to 2/3 opaque (mainly strings/globs of opacity) with the rest somewhat clear and thin. If there are big globs of opacity it still isn’t mixed well and it will tear early. This optimal mix will let you get a “window” (or at least be close) before it tears. While this is ideal it is certainly not necessary. I often mix a bit short and rely on the autolyse/rest to help finish the dough by forming the gluten and then rearranging it in the S&Fs.

SFBI follows the mixing with S&Fs every 30 minutes for up to two hours in an approximately 3 hour bulk proof. The dough is done (i.e. no more S&Fs or working during the bulk ferment) when it has the right “bouncy” smooth feel and that will typically correspond to a window pane that is about 1/4 to 1/3 threads (small cords) of opacity passing through a relatively thin/clear window.

Obviously words are not very precise for describing this but that is about the best I can do as so far none of my pictures show what I am trying to communicate. Hands on experience is the best way to learn it.

The Goal!

To my way of thinking the goal of developing the dough  is to create a dough that is strong enough to survive being shaped and formed into loaves that can typically stand alone (i.e. proof on a sheet of linen) and stand up to being flipped over and onto a peel without degassing significantly. This basically means having the gluten developed and organized adequately to contain the gases without excessive leakage as you handle it. It is not that underdevelopment yields bad bread so much as that the loaves will tend to degas more and you will get flatter loaves with less oven spring. (assuming proper proofing). Proper development is most critical for breads like baguettes that have a lot of handling and some of the big loaves (Pane di Genzano weighing 4 to 8 pounds that are like giant pillows and will fall like a cake if not properly developed.) and for breads like batards where you want to create a tight loaf so you can get a dramatic split/rip. But you can make really lovely loves with underdeveloped dough. Overdeveloped can be tough and lose taste – especially if it is overmixed and oxidized. When in doubt I favor underdevelopment and underproofing!


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Using Up Odds and Ends: Flours, Meals and Seeds…

Yesterday I fed my starters twice to reinvigorate them and decided it was time to use up some of the odd flours and meals that I had accumulated. I keep them in a refrigerator in my garage that shares responsibility for keeping beer cold for my son-in-law. As I was running out of room for beer it was clearly time to clear out some flour. Among the flours I wanted to deplete were organic rye, whole wheat, and white whole wheat flours, an assortment of rye, barley, and wheat flakes, and some seeds. After thinking over what I had I decided to make two breads, Volkornbrot deli loaves and  Whole Wheat Multigrain boules.


Volkornbrot Loaves

I hadn’t made a Volkornbrot for some time and while I didn’t have any of the coarse rye meal I prefer to use for this bread. Rye flour would do, howver, and the rye flakes are at least in the right direction. I had used them before to augment meal with good results since rye chops are impossible to buy in San Antonio. But, I didn’t have quite as many rye flakes as I wanted so I used some some barley flakes to finish out the “meal”. I had plenty of flax and a shortage of sunflower seeds so I decided to approximate a Volkornbrot with flax seeds.

Volkornbrot is typically a 100% sourdough rye bread with seeds. My approach to Volkornbrot involves a combination of sourdough based levain as a preferment augmented by commercial yeast in the final dough to give a burst of activity to put enough CO2 in the dough to give it a bit of oven spring. Basic strategy is to create a rye sourdough levain, a rye soaker, and a seed soaker the night before, then to finish the dough the next morning. The high yeast dose will allow a short (half hour or less) bulk fermentation, and a short (45 minutes to 1 hour) proof following loaf formation.

This is a great bread with lots of fiber and will accommodate substitutions to create tasty variations. Here is my basic formula – noting that I would use rye meal and chops if I had them instead of rye flour and rye flakes!

Volkornbrot                     Weight, grams              Bakers %

Preferment                                                 515                           
Rye Flour                                                    250                          100
Water                                                           250                          100
Sourdough Starter                                       15                               6

Rye Soaker                                                  400
Rye Flakes (in this case with barley)      200                          100
Water                                                           200                          100

Seed Soaker                                                 140             
Flax Seeds                                                      40                          100
Water                                                            100                          250

Final Dough                                                 1272
Rye Flour                                                       200                         100
Salt                                                                     13                             2 on total flour/meal
Yeast                                                                   4                            0.6 on total flour/meal
Preferment                                                    515
Rye Soaker                                                    400
Seed Soaker                                                   140

The preferment is simply mixed a bit past having the flour all wet, covered with plastic wrap, and set aside in a bowl to age overnight. The soakers are each mixed separately in small bowls until wet, covered with plastic wrap and set aside overnight. The final dough can be mixed by hand or mixer. Rye is rather low in gluten and it there is little benefit to extended mixing, so mix it until it is uniform and shape it into a ball and place it in a bowl for bulk fermentation. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until it just shows signs of growing.

The dough will be pretty sticky so you will almost certainly want to use wet hands or plenty of rye flour when working with the dough. As always, the goal is to keep flour out of the loaves and only on what will be the surface. As a result I tend to use damp hands for preliminary shaping, followed by drying my hands and using flour to finish the loaves. While Volkornbrot is tradtionally baked in bread pans I prefer to make smaller, squarish loaves that I bake on a hearth or stone to produce “deli sized” loaves that I use for appetizers with cheese and tapenades.

Options: the Rye soaker would ideally be rye chops (rye grains chopped that look like steel cut oats or wheat). Seeds can include sunflower seeds, flax, poppy seeds, millet, or other seeds you might want to use up. Sunflower seeds and flax are traditional.

I should also note that I made this batch using my whole wheat starter. It is my substantially more acidic than the starter I used for the whole wheat bouled. If one wanted to be more traditional one could feed a portion of their starter with rye a couple of times and have what is essentially a pure rye starter.

Whole Wheat Multigrain Boules

Whole Wheat Multigrain Boule

This is effectively a variation of what I affectionately call my “garbage can bread” – bread I make with sourdough starter that would otherwise be tossed in the garbage. After feeding my starter and pulling 25 grams for storage in the refrigerator I had 160 grams of my main starter. Following the same basic formula from Baking Day, I expanded the starter with 320 grams of flour and 320 grams of water to create 800 grams of preferment which I covered with plastic and set aside to ferment overnight. For flour I used most of the organic whole wheat I had in my storage container.

I also wanted to use up the rest of my barley flakes so I took all of my barley flakes (200 grams) and some wheat flakes to total 225 grams (about 2/3 of the weight of flour). I added 225 grams of water, stirred the flakes to wet them all, covered it with plastic wrap and set it aside.

The basic process for making this bread is very similar to that in Baking Day. The key difference would be that the final dough will include not only flour but the flakes as well. As a result the salt should be adjusted to be 1.8% to 2.0% of the total weight of flour and flakes, depending on your taste. I personally prefer slightly less salt in this case but…it is all up to you!

Next morning I measured out 1600 grams of flour (about 1400 of white whole wheat and 200 of AP to reach the total), 1100 grams of water (2000 grams of flour [400 in the preferment plus 1600] times .75 [for 75% hydration] gives 1500 grams of water wanted less the 400 grams of water in the preferment), and 40.5 grams of salt (1.8% of 2250 [the total flour plus the flakes in the soaker]) I mixed that by hand and it was pretty stiff (whole wheat absorbs more water than white flour). I took advantage of its stiffness to knead it to develop the dough. With the flakes as additives I did not bother trying to pull a window – it would have torn due to the pieces of flakes throughout the dough. Once it was coming together reasonably I added more water until it had the texture/feel I wanted. That ended up requiring another 80 grams of water so my final hydration for the dough was close to 80% by calculation! Once the dough felt right formed it into a large ball, placed it in a large stainless bowl sprayed with spray oil, covered it with plastic wrap and set it aside to ferment. I did not do any S&Fs on this dough.

Several factors contribute to this high hydration. First, the flour was uniquely dry, having been stored in a refrigerator for close to a year. Thus it needed an extra 5% or so of hydration to equal the same flour stored in a normal pantry. In addition flakes tend to absorb water and stiffen the dough a bit.

Following the fermentation of about 2 1/2 hours I divided the dough into 3 pound chunks and preformed them as boules. After a ten minute rest I reformed them more tightly, floured the tops well and proofed them in bannetons for 3 hours. I baked two loaves in an electric oven using steam generation and one loaf in a gas oven using a cloche.

Options: Other flours like coarse ground cornmeal, teff, and other oddball flours can be added in modest quantities. You can use most any rolled grain flakes you can find. I have used oat, barley, rye, wheat, and others when they can be found. You can augment the flakes with seeds if you want. Sesame, flax, sunflower, millet, pumpkin seeds, etc. are all worthy. Nuts can work well too. Walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts seem to me to go particularly well with whole wheat. Just don’t add too much. My formula should put you in the right range. You can always adjust your next batch to try more if you want.


Volkornbrot Crumb

Both batches turned out very nicely. The Volkornbrot got good oven spring as evidenced by the cracks in the loaves. The more acidic, San Francisco (Sonoma) area starter gave the loaves a lovely tang and aftertaste. The crumb was fairly open for a 100% rye loaf. You can see both the flax seeds and the barley and rye flakes in cross section. The flax adds both flavor and fiber to the bread. This is a great “health food” bread. A couple of slices a day is enough!

Whole Wheat Multigrain Crumb

The whole wheat multigrain boules had good crumb for an almost pure whole wheat and a good, hearty flavor. I really like using white whole wheat in place of most of the whole wheat in whole wheat breads for I tend to find pure whole wheat bitter. White whole wheat is milder and less assertive. (NOTE: I commonly use 10 to 30 percent whole wheat in my rustic loaves for flavor, with the rest AP, or BF, or white whole wheat, depending on my mood.)

So…if you have some dribs and drabs of seeds and flour, now you have an idea of how to use them to make your own bread!


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“Authentic” Pane Pugliesi

Pane Pugliesi

I am invited to a wine and cheese pairing party this weekend and was asked to bring rustic bread to serve with the cheese. Given that the hostess is Italian I naturally thought of one of my favorite general breads. Four years ago a chef told me he was not happy with his bread and asked me to help him fine tune his Pane Pugliesi to meet the scheduling and culinary demands of his kitchen.  This led me to research the history of Pugliesi and to explore his limitations and desires. That experience made Pugliesi led me to treat Pugliesi as one of my “go to” breads – one that I know well and can fine tune to meet my plans.

Pane Pugliesi is large rustic hearth bread most typically in the 2 to 4 pound range and is relatively unique in that it is traditionally unslashed such that it is a somewhat pillowy looking loaf. To compensate for the fact it is unslashed the dough is dimpled using fingertips to partially degas the loaf before baking. At its most beautiful and striking best it will feature random swirls on the crust where the oven spring spreads the flour. Alas, the loaves I made in this project didn’t do that! But they are rustic and pretty typical of Pugliesi.

In its modern form, Pane Pugliesi is  typically made with commercial yeast using a biga as a preferment. Both the biga and dough are very wet (typically 75% or so hydration) creating a loaf that features a rather open crumb.  It should be noted however that Italians historically  made their bread using natural yeasts and sourdoughs. Following its introduction commercial yeast quickly replaced natural levains with only a few exceptions (such as Pane Casareccio di Genzano, a fabulous Italian sourdough which I will feature soon).  Today, artisanal bakers in Italy are beginning to return to natural levains and one can find Pane Pugliesi in both sourdough and commercially yeasted forms. As an aside, the recipe I developed for the restaurant used wild yeast/sourdough for extra flavor and a lower hydration in order to yield a less open crumb and reduce food drippage onto customers! For this batch I chose to go with commercial yeast and refined flour for a more neutral flavor (to play second fiddle to the cheese!) but I kept the hydration high for an open crumb. Whether this qualifies as an “authentic” Pane Pugliesi depends on your definition of “authentic”. It approaximates modern Pane Pugliesi rather well in my experience. The original was sourdough and used less refined flour. The more typical modern version uses commercial yeast and refined flours. Artisanal bakers in Italy are returning to sourdough and less refined flours. Clearly one has a number of possible paths for making this bread!

A Formula for Pane Pugliesi Using Commercial Yeast

One begins this bread by making a biga – a small amount of dough made in advance and typically retarded in the refrigerator. The hydration of bigas commonly varies from about 60% to 75%. When started from scratch, the biga uses a reduced dose of yeast relative to a normal bread formula in order to accommodate the extended fermentation time. From a practical perspective, biga is the near equivalent of the “old dough” method where bakers saved a piece of dough from one day to serve as the starting point for the next day’s bread. The biga provides improved gluten and flavor development and longer keeping time compared to breads made in a single step (mixing final dough as the beginning).

Biga                                 Weight, grams                 Bakers %
All Purpose Flour                                 200                            100
Water                                                     150                               75
Instant Yeast (1/8 teaspoon)              0.5                               0.25

Simply mix this up in a bowl using a spoon, your hand, or a mixer, cover it with plastic wrap, let it sit out for a half hour to an hour, and put it in the refrigerator. The biga should grow in the fridge so make sure it has some room, but it should not go crazy.  The biga will be ready to use the next day but can be held for at least four days or more. NOTE: I personally don’t like what prolonged enzyme action does to dough so I tend to have a three to four day limit for retarding dough but there are others who go much longer!

If you want to make a more rustic loaf, feel free to use whole wheat (all or part – I like half) in place of the all purpose flour. As indicated earlier, I wanted a more neutral dough so I used straight King Arthur AP.

Pane Pugliesi                    Weight, grams                 Bakers %
All Purpose Flour                                     1000                            100
Water                                                           750                               75
Biga                                                              200                              20*
Yeast (1 teaspoon)                                         4                               0.4

*One will see bakers percentages done various ways. In this case I treated the Biga as an ingredient. Given that it has the same hydration as the final dough I know the final hydration is still 75%. IF I were using a 60% hydration biga and I wanted a 75% hydration final dough I would have to calculate the water and flour in the biga separately and adjust the flour and water in the final dough to get the hydration exact. I will save that for a later bread!

Making the Bread

Mixing Pane Pugliesi – note the gluten strings in the dough!

This dough is wet enough that I like to use a mixer to ensure it is adequately developed to reasonably hold its shape. It will be rather sticky and troublesome to work with if you are not comfortable with wet doughs. I would encourage you to at least make your initial batch with a mixer. Give it about four minutes with a paddle to blend everything together followed by a five minute rest and ten minutes with a dough hook and possibly more.  The dough will be heavily puddled in the bowl as shown in the photograph.

Just mixed dough. Note the texture and level in the tub! It reached the top when finished.

I put my dough in my small, oiled tub and gave it one set of stretch and folds at 1/2 hour.  Total bulk fermentation time was 2 hours and 15 minutes  at which time the dough had almost tripled in volume.

I floured my kneading board generously and lightly floured the top of the dough in the tub. Be warned, do not skimp on flour or you will have sticking problems. But try to minimize the flour you get inside of the loaf or your crumb will be compromised. Then I dumped the dough (or was it a batter?) on the flour, sprinkled the top very lightly with flour (so my floured fingers would not stick and rip the top, excessively degassing the dough), and flattened and shaped the dough into a rectangle, and sliced it into two pieces (deliberately of different sizes for I wanted one larger loaf for the party and a smaller one for me).

Finished loaves ready for sprinkling with flour and proofing.

Forming loaves is a bit tricky. You need your hands floured to minimize sticking.  You need to be generous with flour, but you don’t want to fold excess flour into the loaf. So expect to struggle a bit as you fold the dough and form a ball. Once you have a ball formed, use your floured “cupped” hands to drag the ball across the board/counter to tighten the skin – using only as much flour as necessary. I like to form a ball, let it rest 15 to 20 minutes and then tighten it again. I floured the tops of the finished balls, placed them on parchment to facilitate handling and covered them with a towel for the final proof – about 45 minutes to an hour to double.

Place your baking stone in the oven along with your steam generator and set the temperature to 440 degrees F so that it can heat up. About ten minutes before you expect to put the loaves in oven, remove the towel and dimple the tops of the loaves with floured finger tips. Figure four or five pokes using four fingers for each loaf.

Activate your steam system and bake for about 50 minutes if you made two loaves, 30 minutes if you made three or four loaves. I like to remove the steam system and move the loaves around and rotate them about half way through the bake.

The finished loaves should be golden to dark brown depending on your preference. Internal temperature should be at least 205 degrees F. I prefer 209 to 210. Let cool thoroughly on a rack. I made these loaves in advance so later that day I wrapped them in plastic wrap to freeze until the weekend.


Whole wheat can be added to make the a more rustic loaf as indicated in the formula. While not traditional, rye, spelt, semolina and other grains can be used. Salty black olives can also be added to a traditional variation of this bread.

To make the bread as a sourdough, simply replace the biga with a levain. Start with 50 grams of 100 percent hydration starter (25 grams flour/25 of water) and expand it to 250 grams using 100 grams of flour and 100 of water) which will mean you will need to adjust the flour and water in the final dough. Alternatively you can expand it to 250 grams  using  118 grams of flour and 82 of water to make a 75% hydration levain and follow the final dough formula without adjustment. (NOTE: the 118 and 82 can be rounded off to 115/80 or 120/85 with no real impact.)

This is a great bread that will really help you learn to work with wet doughs!


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