Better Bread at Home

When I started this website I intended, and still do, for it to be a resource for serious bakers. There are several techniques, components, and equipment that I mention throughout this site that only a seasoned baker would be familiar with. With that said, this article is specifically for the home baker who is just starting their journey in artisan baking.

The first, and most important thing is you need to have all ingredients scaled individually and your tools readily available for a more efficient and clean baking environment. Let’s go over the ingredients first:

Flour, Water, Salt, Levain

When it comes to flour I recommend King Arthur Bread Flour. I personally use it both at home and at Café Ficelle. King Arthur Flour is an exceptional company from Norwich,Vermont. They employ some amazing bakers and have a great reputation in the baking community. Their products are very consistent and reliable.

Water also plays a key role in baking. City water varies from region to region. Some have very hard water, some regions have soft water. I use purified water when feeding starters, building levains, and mixing doughs.

There are dozens of different salts to choose from but I find that Maldon Sea Salt has the best flavor and most easily dissolves into the dough without cutting through the developing gluten structure during the mix.

Now for Levain. Levain (French for “leaven) is the natural yeast culture that is created from mixing flour and water, letting the mixture sit for 24 hours, discarding all but 20% of the mixture, and adding more water and flour to repeat the process. Read more on Levain HERE.


Digital Scale, Dough Bucket, Dough Knife, Banneton, Dutch Oven, Lame, Thermometer

Digital Scale: Measure all ingredients in grams (g) using a digital scale . I find it best to measure in grams because there is very little room for error, whereas volume measurements have a really high probability for weight errors. You want consistent results every time you bake and no matter how many loaves you bake. Measuring by weight is the most fool proof way to scale your doughs.

Dough Bucket: I recommend using a clear Cambro 6qt bucket for bulk fermentation. I prefer the clear buckets because I can see the fermentation via air bubbles in the dough.

Dough Scraper/Bench Knife: The dough knife is used to divide the dough and handle the dough. It allows you to manipulate the dough without making a mess of your hands.

Banneton Basket: The Banneton is a wood cane proofing basket. This is used in the final proof. The basket easily holds and the dough’s final desired shape. It is easily cleaned and is traditionally used in artisan bread making.

Dutch Oven: This is the key to home baking. Most ovens lose heat easily and dry out the dough too quickly. When the dough dries out to soon the crust forms and doesn’t allow for a proper oven spring. This results in “blow outs” in the bread. If you bake in a dutch oven it retains heat and moisture encouraging a properly baked and desirable loaf.

Lame: The lame (pronounced lahm), is a double sided razor used to score the dough. A score refers to a series of cuts that create weaknesses on the dough surface to influence the doughs final baked shape. The best way to score is with a lame. The razor sharp edges keep the blade from dragging through the dough, and allow it to slice smoothly through the dough surface.

Thermometer: Often times a bread may look cooked on the outside but the inside is still gummy and raw. The proper internal dough temperature should read 205°F to ensure that the crumb is completely cooked.


Levain (250g)*

Flour: 100g

Levain Starter: 87g

Water: 54g

Rye Flour: 9g

*You need to always make more levain than what is needed in the dough so that there is enough to refresh and build a new levain for your next bake.


Pain au Levain (1000g)

Flour: 495g

Water: 371g

Salt: 11g

Mature Ripe Levain: 173g

First, mix your water and flour until fully incorporated and let rest covered for 1 hour. This helps the dough become more extensible, this process is called autolyse. After the autolyse add your levain and mix until completely incorporated, then add the salt and mix until a medium dough development. This refers to the window pane test in which you can stretch an opaque window in the dough without it ripping.

img_5570Up next is the bulk fermentation. This is the longest rest that the dough gets. During this time the dough will just about double in size and become very bubbly with yeast activity.  Over the course of 1 hour give the dough a series of stretch and folds every 20-30 minutes. A stretch and fold is when you fold the left edge of the dough to the right, the right edge of the dough to the left, top edge to bottom, and bottom edge to top. This encourages even fermentation and proper internal dough temperature. Next, allow the dough to rest for 1 1/2 -2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

After bulk fermentation comes division. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface. with your dough knife and scale, weigh out 1000g of dough and gently shape round, being careful not to de gas the dough. Let the dough rest covered for 15-30 minutes, or until it starts to spread out like a pancake.

img_4213Once the bench rest is completed, use the dough knife to gently scoop the dough up and place smooth side (top side) down on a floured surface. Fold the outside edges of the dough in to the middle and repeat to shape the dough round. Keep rounding the dough to create tension in the surface but be careful not to rip the surface. Place it upside down in a floured and lined Banneton basket and rest in the refrigerator for an overnight final rise.

img_4828In the morning preheat the oven to 485°F with you dutch oven in the oven for 1 hour. during this time set your banneton on the counter so it can slowly start to come up to room temperature. Once pre heated, remove the dutch oven and dump the proofed dough onto the bottom of the dutch oven.

Before placing the lid back on the dutch oven you need to score the dough.  After scoring, place the lid back on the dutch oven and bake for 25 minutes. Then, remove the dough from the dutch oven and bake for a final 10 minutes at 450°F. The crust should be a deep golden brown and the internal temperature should read 205°F.

It may take a few bakes to get used to mixing, handling, shaping, scoring, and baking the dough. The great thing about baking is that there is always room for improvement and learning.


For more detail please visit The Baking ProcessBaker’s MathResources, and my Consulting Service.

Father’s Day Bacon Old Fashioned Brioche

We’re celebrating Father’s Day the best way we know how: with bacon and bourbon. Yeah.

This brioche has bacon and orange zest mixed into the dough. After after baking we brushed them with an “old fashioned” syrup made with simple syrup, orange zest, and bourbon. We then filled the brioche center with a bourbon pastry cream, and garnished with orange peel and candied bacon. Happy Father’s Day!


Cherry and Candied Walnut Brioche

This weekend special is the Cherry and Candied Walnut Brioche feuillitee. The brioche is cut into 1″ wide strips that are 9″ long and tied into a knot. After baking we filled with into with a thick cherry compote and topped it with candied walnuts.

Pain Marguerite aux Herbes

Pain Marguerite at La Faventia, one Michelin starred restaurant at Terre Blanche Resort.

In past posts and articles I have written about the importance of mastering the fundamentals of baking, consistency, and utilizing time and temperature to work with your schedule. There is another aspect that pushes growth in baking and that is a creative imagination. In most cases when you think of creativity in the baking world desserts and viennoiseries come to mind, but bread has the same creative potential. When I staged at the boulangerie in Terre Blanche Resort the Pain Marguerite became my favorite to make (and eat). The dough is a brioche with saffron and there is an herb blend on top. This combination creates a buttery, savory bread that offers intense flavors of chervil, tarragon, chive, and parsley. This bread was served daily at La Faventia, the Michelin starred restaurant at Terre Blanche.

Mise en Place

Mixer with dough hook, rolling pin, dough knife, pastry ring, apple corer, food processor, 1 gallon plastic reclosable bags

The Dough

Pastry Flour1020g
Instant Yeast10g
Egg Yolk150g
Wt/ Portion90g

First, add the water and egg yolks to the mixer with dough hook, then add the flour, salt, and saffron. Mix on first speed for 5 minutes.

Add the sugar and mix on medium speed until all of the sugar has been incorporated into the dough. Initially, the sugar will make a scraping sound in the mixing bowl but the sound will disappear as the sugar gets worked into the dough. Once it is incorporated, add the cold butter in 3 stages over the course of 5 minutes. Total mixing time should take approximately 15 minutes.

Once the dough is developed, wrap with plastic and place in the freezer for 2 hours. After that, transfer it to the refrigerator over night.

Herb Topping

Soft Butter 400g
Bread Crumbs300g
Shallots Cooked in White Wine100g
Lemon Zest2g
Pepper 7g
Parsley Chopped120g
Tarragon Chopped80g
Chervil Chopped120g
Total 1236g
Wt/ Portion30g

While the dough is resting overnight in the refrigerator, begin making your herb blend. First, sauté your shallots in white wine on medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with the ingredients listed above in a food processor. Pulse until a paste is formed. Spread the herb paste into 1 gallon ziplock bags and spread thinly into all 4 corners. Freeze the bags.


Take the dough out of the refrigerator, de-gas, and roll into a rectangle that is 1/4 inch thick. Freeze for 30 minutes. Remove and cut 3.5 inch circles and mark with an apple corer.

Pain Marguerite marked with apple corer. Ready to be cut and shaped

Remove the gallon bags herbs from the freezer. Cut the edges of the plastic to expose the surface of the herbs. Cut the herbs into 3.5 inch circles. If the herbs become too soft you can place them back in the freezer as needed.

Next, using a dough knife, cut the dough along the straight lines that were indented by the apple corer, but do not cut out the center of the dough. Gently stretch each triangular arm of the dough and flip clockwise (it is important each arm gets rotated the same direction). Brush the surface of the dough with egg wash.

Now, take the circles of herbs and cut through with the apple corer. Place the herbs on each of the corresponding arms of dough, and place the center circle on the center of the dough.

Proof for 60-80 minutes then bake at 425°F for 10-15 minutes.

Pain Marguerite ready to be served at La Faventia, Terre Blanche Resort

Ojai Pixie Mimosa Croissant

Inside look at the Pixie Mimosa Croissant. It’s filled with an Ojai Pixie curd and topped with a champagne infused whipped cremeux.