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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.

Tools:

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.

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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.

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

Crunchy Banana Nutella Brioche

A double chocolate chip Brioche filled with a crunchy Nutella and banana filling. It’s topped with a cocoa nib and banana crumble just before the bake. After baking it’s dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a gold leaf.

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Pain au chocolat

These lattice cut pains au chocolat have been flying out of the case since we introduced them a few weeks ago. Great job to my team of bakers at Café Ficelle for always working hard to grow and maintain the highest quality of breads and pastries.

Croissant

Careful detailed lamination and shaping are key elements to a great croissant but the shine on the crust is what makes it sell. I egg wash prior to proofing and a second time right before the bake. To make the egg wash use equal parts: Whole egg, egg yolk, and water. Add a pinch of salt and whisk together. Try to avoid brushing directly on the layers of the croissant and only brush the smooth surface of the dough.

Ciabatta

Ciabatta…the very first bread I ever made. At the time, I was an exercise physiologist fresh out of college in 2012. My girlfriend’s (now wife) dad mailed me a bag with flour, salt, instant yeast, and a piece of paper with instructions to mix with a 16.9oz bottle of water. I made that first batch of ciabatta with no baking experience and no clue what I was doing. Somehow, it turned out great and tasted amazing. Weeks later I tried again but in the Virginia heat I noticed the dough was proofing faster than the last time, in the humid environment it was stickier than last time, and at that moment I caught the bread bug. Since opening Café Ficelle we have added ciabatta to our daily bread production. The key to a great ciabatta is using a poolish (preferment consisting of a 1:1 ratio of flour and water) and dough development using the stretch and fold technique.