CHAPTER 2

BREAD MAKING BASICS

Flour, salt, water—that’s as basic as it gets! The magic of bread making comes from understanding how to combine these ingredients to create fermentation, plus how to develop the most wonderful flavors, aromas, and textures.

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Bread making experience is invaluable but takes time to acquire. Baking regularly and experimenting with different techniques will build your experience and install confidence. Don’t worry if you have a bad bake—we’ve all had them. But try to establish what went wrong, as this will add to your knowledge base.

Passion is the unseen ingredient of great bread. Passion comes from within; therefore, I hope the recipes, tips, and techniques in this book inspire you and release a desire to make naturally fermented bread.

In this chapter I share my most useful tips and techniques for your guidance and for providing consistency to your bakes.

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RECIPE ADVICE AND STRUCTURE

I write recipes in a structured way, enabling you to confidently reproduce them. Do make sure to read through them a couple of times before starting. I find it helps to feel more organized.

I advocate the use of weighing ingredients in grams, including liquids, as this enables greater accuracy and improves consistency in your baking. I have included ounce equivalents if you have not yet converted to grams. Using digital weighing scales eliminate errors in your preparation. Always weigh your ingredients in separate bowls before starting, as some may require conditioning before use.

Allow enough time to obtain and ferment the required botanical ingredients for your chosen recipe. Some botanical ingredients may take two to three weeks to become fully active.

Most of the recipes will indicate the water percentage used against the weight of flour. I have included this for the advanced bakers who like to know the hydration level of their dough. This is known as baker’s percentages, which compare all individual recipe ingredients against the weight of the total flour. (If more than one flour is used in a recipe, then the total weight of both flours will be expressed as 100 percent.)

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As the botanical culture consists of 100 g (31/2 ounces) of flour and 100 g (31/2 ounces) of botanical water, the total recipe flour increases to 600 g (1 pound 51/4 ounces) and the total botanical water increases to 430 g (15 ounces).

This gives a total flour hydration of 71.6 percent.

For your convenience, I have included an optional water level increase guide to enable you to change the main recipe into one that will produce a softer (higher-hydration) dough. This guide is for the benefit of the more experienced home baker, as many have a preference for which level of dough hydration they commonly use.

Naturally fermented doughs take a long lime to prove, or proof, before baking. You will need to gauge how fast your dough is proving and allow 1 hour before it is fully proved to preheat your oven to a temperature hot enough for baking. Please consider the proving times stated in my recipes as a guide only. Botanical breads generally prove at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours before baking, but if the conditions are not optimal, then they may take a few extra hours. Botanical buns, however, take much longer to prove, mainly due to the high sugar content. These can take up to 6 hours if conditions are perfect, but don’t be afraid to let them prove for 24 hours at room temperature.

A basic bread recipe would be as follows:

Bread Flour

100 percent

600 g (1 pound 51/4 ounces)

Salt

2 percent

12 g (1/2 ounce)

Yeast

2 percent

12 g (1/2 ounce)

Water

65 percent

390 g (133/4 ounces)

This gives a total flour hydration of 65 percent.

A botanical recipe would be as follows:

Bread Flour

100 percent

500 g (1 pound 51/4 ounces)

Salt

2 percent

10 g (1/3 ounce)

Botanical Culture

40 percent

200 g (7 ounces)

Botanical Water

66 percent

330 g (111/2 ounces)

KEEPING TIME

Sometimes, just one timer may not be enough!

It may seem a bit over the top, but when you are baking, you may have four or five things on the go at any one time.

My advice is to write down next to each timer which task it is set for so you won’t lose track of what you are doing.

The photograph opposite is what I use at Cinnamon Square for my oven, which has five separate chambers.

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CORRECT WATER TEMPERATURE FOR BREAD DOUGH

Many recipes say to use tepid or cold water to make bread. My advice is never to use cold water. Yeast produces carbon dioxide gas in the dough that in turn raises it. This process only happens if it is nice and warm. The colder the yeast becomes, the less active it will be. That is why you can place dough in the refrigerator overnight and it does not grow. If you use cold water in your dough, the yeast will be less active, and if your recipe states to leave it to prove for 1 hour before baking, it will be under-proved and too small to be baked. An experienced baker would know to leave it longer before baking, but if you are following that recipe precisely, then you may well have made the dreaded “brick.”

You should always, as a minimum, use tepid water, or, if your room is cold, make it a little warmer. I aim to have my bread doughs at 77°F (25°C). This is an ideal temperature to make a nice calm, steady dough. If the dough is warmer, it proves too fast, so remember my motto: real bread takes time.

There is an actual formula to work out the correct water temperature to achieve a desired dough temperature:

Twice Desired Dough Temperature – (minus) Flour Temperature = Water Temperature

Assuming I have tested my flour temperature with a thermometer, and it reads 68°F (20°C), the formula would be as follows:

2 x 77°F = 154°F - 68°F = 86°F

or

2 x 25°C = 50°C - 20°C = 30°C

Therefore, to achieve a dough temperature of 77°F (25°C), I would need to warm the water to 86°F (30°C).

Using this formula to achieve the optimum water temperature will improve the consistency of the breads made from it. Please note that room temperature, equipment, and work surfaces will influence the dough temperature too.

THE SLAP-AND-FOLD METHOD OF KNEADING

Kneading a wet dough requires a different technique than that of a typical firmer bread dough. When the ingredients have been combined, turn out the wet mixture onto the table and knead until smooth and elastic, using the slap-and-fold method, which is very different from the traditional kneading method.

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To begin the slap-and-fold method, hold the dough in the air so that it is hanging downward. While continuing to hold the dough, slap the bottom half against the work surface and then stretch and fold the remaining dough that you are holding over the top of the dough that is touching the table. Immediately pick up the dough with both hands from the left or right end and let it hang downward. Repeat the slapping and stretching action. After a few attempts, you will find a good rhythm. Now, keep this going for at least 10 minutes. The quicker you can keep a rhythm going, the less chance it will stick to the table.

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Use the windowpane test (see here) to check if the dough is fully developed. This dough should stretch way more than a bulk fermented split tin loaf dough.

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THE WINDOWPANE TEST

You are ready to test whether a dough is fully kneaded after you start to notice that the dough has become smoother and more elastic, and less tearing occurs as you knead. The windowpane test is your final quality control test. Take a small piece of dough, roll it into a ball, and leave it to rest for a minute. Next, flatten the ball between your fingers and gently stretch the dough until you can see your fingers through it without the dough tearing (like a balloon expanded to the maximum). If the dough stretches well without tearing, you’ve reached a good level of gluten development—the dough is thoroughly kneaded and ready for the next step of the process.

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RETARDING (OVERNIGHT REFRIGERATION)

Placing dough in the refrigerator for an extended period offers some interesting benefits: increased flavor, aroma, and crust color, in addition to some flexibility as to when you bake your loaf. It also makes scoring your dough much easier, especially when scoring high-hydration doughs.

There are many ways retarding can be carried out, but I will focus mainly on just one method for these recipes.

When making breads from the recipes in this book, you can interrupt the proving stage and place the shaped dough into the fridge. The cold temperature of the fridge will minimize further dough expansion, allowing you to bake the dough at your convenience. You can also make larger size doughs to make enough bread to last you a week. By retarding the individual dough pieces, you can bake one loaf every day. You should notice a reduction in oven spring, increased color, and stronger sour flavor over the period of a week.

The following rules should be observed for retarding to work successfully:

Your refrigerator must be capable of holding a temperature of 36°F (2°C); otherwise, if it runs warmer, the dough will keep expanding and feasibly over-prove while out of sight.

Place the shaped dough pieces into the refrigerator at three-quarter proof of what you are aiming for. This will allow for some dough expansion while it is cooling down and during storage. If you have never retarded dough before, you may need a few attempts to find the correct level of proof before placing the dough pieces into the fridge. Take some photographs as reference for future bakes.

Cover the dough pieces in plastic or place them into lidded plastic containers while in the refrigerator to prevent drying (skinning) of the dough surface and stop any absorption of strong flavors from other items that may be sharing the same shelf.

Score and bake directly from the refrigerator. As the dough will be proved, there is no requirement for it to come to room temperature before placing it into the oven to bake.

I have kept dough in the fridge for eight days and still baked a decent loaf from it. However, the gluten structure within the dough will start to weaken and “sit back” (start to gradually collapse) the longer it is in the fridge. The length it can stay in the fridge is determined by many factors, including the temperature of your fridge, fermentation activity of the dough, length of fermentation before placing it in the fridge, degree of gluten development, and dough temperature.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN PROVING BOX

This may appear simple, but believe me, it works perfectly. You don’t need a special proving drawer inside your oven; all you require is a deep, lidded food-grade plastic storage box to prove your dough. Place your pans or tray inside, put on the lid, and leave the dough to prove. If it needs a little warming up, place a cup with some boiling water inside. This will provide a little warmth and humidity inside the storage box. You can remove the cup if it gets too warm or wet. I use these plastic storage boxes for most of my proving requirements at Cinnamon Square, even though I do have an industrial proving cabinet.

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HOW TO TEST WHETHER A DOUGH IS FULLY PROVED

It is important that dough is fully proved before being baked. Under-proved dough will burst violently in the oven and the crumb structure will be tight. Over-proved dough can collapse, look sad, have poor crumb structure, and lack color in the oven. So, it is essential to place the proving dough in the oven at the correct stage to ensure the best opportunity for the perfect loaf. How can we tell when the dough has reached full proof?

It’s relatively easy if you bake in a loaf pan. By placing the same quantity of dough in the same size pan every time, you will be able to judge when it is ready for baking just by looking at the height of the dough (once you have determined what the optimum fully proved height is). This is the same when using proving baskets.

If you prove dough on flat trays, you will need to feel the dough at intervals during proof. At the onset of proving, the dough will be dense, and when pressed with your index finger, it will feel firm. As the dough expands, it begins to feel less firm. When it reaches a fully proved condition, the indent left from pressing your index finger into the dough will stay there, and you will notice the dough beginning to feel weak.

If you plan to score the bread, it is important to know that some styles of scoring require the dough to be slightly under-proved in order to accentuate the shaping of the cuts and produce the classic bursting ear or eyebrow effect.

Consistently judging the perfect proof comes with experience. Don’t be disheartened if you get it wrong. You will learn from it and still have homemade fresh bread for your troubles.

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WAYS TO SCORE DOUGH

Most fermented doughs are cut with a knife directly before they are placed in the oven to bake. This cutting not only decorates the bread and makes it more attractive when baked, but it also allows for the final expansion in the early stages of baking to occur in a controlled manner. Cutting of proved dough does require skill, which will come from experience. Unfortunately, there is really nothing else other than proved dough on which to practice; therefore, you will need to make bread regularly to attain these skills, and there’s nothing wrong with making bread regularly at home!

I use three different knives for my scoring. Each one has a specific use. Whatever knife you use, make sure it is sharp. This ensures the cleanest cut is achieved and minimal damage is caused to the proved dough while scoring. All knives will lose their sharpness, so it is important that you replace your knives regularly.

TOMATO PARING KNIFE

This is my favorite all-around bakery knife, ideal for scoring straight lines on proved dough—a split tin loaf or bloomer bread, for example. This serrated knife works so well because the serrations are small and close together, making this knife extremely sharp.

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STRAIGHT DECORATIVE BLADE

Some breads can be decorated all over to create patterns and images such as stalks of wheat or flowers. For this you need to lightly score this pattern on the proved dough. With so many shallow cuts, the proved dough will gently expand in the oven, retaining the delicate design. You can purchase disposable plastic-handled blades for intricate scoring of proved dough or you can use a razor blade on its own. You will need a steady hand, good eyes, and a predetermined design.

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CURVED LAME (GRIGNETTE)

This tool utilizes the fineness and sharpness of a razor blade placed in a curved position. Using this knife makes it possible to achieve the classic bulging ear or eyebrow famous on a baguette but commonly seen on sourdough breads too. Scoring the dough when only three-quarters proved accentuates the bulging effect. These blades blunt very quickly, so change them regularly. You can turn the blade around to use the other side. Because only the top third of the blade is used to score the proved dough, it is possible to use the blade, until it blunts, four times. You can buy some blades that have each corner numbered. Alternatively, you can mark the corners of each new blade before use.

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You can purchase lightweight plastic handles to hold the blade in a curved position or you can use a wooden coffee stirrer stick and insert the stick through one end of the middle of the blade and then out through the other end. This will naturally curve the blade. A word of warning: Be careful with the sharp edges when removing and inserting new blades.

ADVICE ON GAS, ELECTRIC, AND CONVECTION OVENS

So, which oven is the best?

If your oven works and holds the set temperature, that is ideal. Always keep a baking stone inside your oven ready to use and you should get some great results with the recipes in this book.

Gas ovens are very good to heat a chamber, plus they produce moisture during the bake, which can be beneficial to many products. When baking bread, I often moisten the oven by pouring some water into a hot roasting pan in the oven, which immediately produces an abundance of steam. Creating too much instant steam can blow out the flame. I have a gas Aga oven at home, and this produces some lovely bakes.

I find electric ovens more controllable, especially if you have independent top and bottom heat supplies. This feature “fine-tunes” the bake to help prevent over baking of the top of a product, while still providing a strong heat source at the base.

In my baking courses, I guarantee one of my guests will ask my advice about convection ovens (with a fan) verses static ovens (without a fan). My response is normally along the lines of …

“My preference will be to use a static electric oven for baking and a convection oven for roasting meats and vegetables; therefore, static for bakers and convection for chefs. Most bakery products rise in the oven. Some only increase a small amount, such as biscuits, but some rise significantly, such as breads, sweet fermented buns, and laminated pastries. This rising takes place from the onset of baking and generally stops by the midway point (approximately); from then on, a skin has formed, preventing further rise. This skin then darkens and thickens, forming the crust as it caramelizes toward the end of the bake time. When the same product is baked inside a convection oven, it is exposed to a torrent of heat passing over the exposed top surface from the onset. This accelerates skin/crust formation, which therefore restricts the potential growth of the product being baked. As there may still be carbon dioxide and steam being produced inside, the product can burst wildly out of the weakest point (often the sides), form sloping tops (especially on cakes), or have an unexpected strange appearance. Some convection ovens will allow for the fan feature to be turned off, creating a static oven. If this option is available on your oven, then try all future baking with the fan off, and when roasting meats or vegetables, turn it back on.”

With whichever oven you use for baking, always allow enough time for your oven and baking stone to thoroughly heat up when planning to make your recipes. In this book, I make no reference to preheating your oven in each of the recipes, as it should be the first thing you think of when deciding to bake.

HOW TO CREATE STEAM IN THE OVEN

Creating steam in the oven at the onset of baking bread allows the dough to fully expand before the setting of the crust, thus you achieve maximum height in your bread. It also produces a crispier and shiny crust. Place a roasting pan on the bottom of the oven and allow it to get very hot. Place your dough into the oven, immediately pour some water (try 30 g [1 ounce]) into the roasting pan to create a generous amount of steam, and then close the oven door to trap the steam. The dough rises and sets in the first few minutes of baking, so don’t delay in creating the steam. If you have a gas oven, be careful, as too much steam will blow out the gas; I found out that piece of information too late in my Aga oven at home!

After 15 minutes of baking, I recommend releasing the steam by opening the oven door slightly—note that this will be very hot, so keep your face well away as the steam releases. When all the steam has dissipated, close the oven door and continue the baking in a dry oven to encourage a crispier crust formation.

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HOW TO BAKE OVEN BOTTOM BREAD

Baking on the bottom of the oven in a bakery produces breads with exceptional crust. To recreate this in your own home oven, you can use a pizza baking stone or an upturned heavy metal tray. Both must be preheated before placing the dough on top to bake. Gently place the fully proved dough onto the baking stone using a pizza peel or a couple of spatulas. Alternatively, if using an upturned tray, slide the dough and the baking paper underneath, to prevent sticking, onto the upturned tray.

The heat from the stone or tray penetrates the dough quicker and imparts a greater rise and crispier crust. Even if you are baking bread in a loaf pan, I always recommend placing the pan on a hot stone or upturned tray, as it will produce a better loaf this way.

BENEFITS OF USING A DUTCH OVEN

Baking your bread inside a Dutch oven (cast-iron pot) enhances the dough’s oven spring, accentuates expansion through the scores on the dough, produces bigger blisters, and creates a richer color.

The Dutch oven is often used upside down; therefore, a flat-topped lid is important when looking to purchase one. The proved dough is placed in the upside-down lid and the deep base (now acting as a lid) is place over to seal. The whole thing is then placed into an oven to bake. It’s like an oven within an oven. Generally, 15 minutes into the bake, the deep base is carefully removed to release the trapped steam and the loaf is left in the oven to finish baking.

If you already have a baking stone in your oven, you could use this as the base and just need to find a heavy cast-iron pot to use as the lid to encase the dough. Keep a lookout at flea markets or yard sales, as you may pick up one for peanuts. Ideally, you want a black pot as this absorbs the heat much better. Also, try to find a large rectangular heavy black pot, as this will allow for different types of breads to be baked inside. Many Dutch ovens are restrictive in what size and shape of bread can be baked within it.

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HOW TO CONTROL THE FLAVOR STRENGTH OF YOUR SOURDOUGH

Sourdough breads can be strong and “tangy” or so mild you may not necessarily know they are made with a sour culture. There are many factors that influence the final flavor and aroma of sourdough bread, some of which the baker can control and steer in a predetermined direction.

Ways in which the baker can develop a strong flavor and aroma are as follows: Wild yeast and bacteria are in abundance in a healthy sour culture. Two groups of friendly bacteria, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and acetic acid bacteria (AAB), are responsible for the type of flavor. LAB produce a rounded, creamy flavor; AAB produce sharper and tangier notes.

The lactic acid produced is also a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Lactic fermentation increases vitamin and enzyme levels, also improving the digestibility of the fermented food. Lactobacillus bacteria are recognized to be beneficial for good health.

If you are aiming for a sharp and tangy flavor, then a low hydration culture kept a 68°F (20°C) will promote acetic acid production; if you require a more rounded, creamy flavor, then a high hydration culture kept at 86°F (30°C) will create more favorable conditions for lactic acid bacteria.

The length of fermentation time, from when the initial dough is formed to the time the dough enters the oven to bake, greatly affects the flavor of the final loaf. The longer the fermentation time, the stronger the flavor. Using low amounts of sour culture in your recipe, fermenting the dough in a cooler environment, and retarding the dough in the refrigerator will all extend fermentation time and increase flavor.

For some of my recipes, I recommend feeding the wheat culture twice a day for a few days before use. This produces a mildly flavored culture that is extremely active with yeast. If you bake sourdough made from this culture on the same day, it will be extremely mild in flavor. Alternatively, the same dough can be retarded in the refrigerator, which will enable the dough to start generating more pronounced flavors.

BENEFITS OF MILLING YOUR OWN GRAINS

Grains lose nutrients soon after they are milled into flour; therefore, milling grains immediately prior to making bread has nutritional benefits. The downside to this is that the breadmaking suitability of flour generally improves over time once milled, through oxidation. Because using 100 percent freshly milled flour results in heavier loaves, it is customary for only a portion of bagged flour in a recipe to be replaced with freshly milled flour.

Domestic grain mills are gaining popularity, and many home bakers have added one of these to their baking kits. The wheat is milled whenever required, so the flour will not go rancid. The coarseness of the flour can be determined by the user, as the mills can be adjusted from fine to coarse. The mills can also be used to grind ancient wheats, rice, oats, barley, and an array of dried seeds, nuts, and beans. Avoid milling oily, strongly scented, or colorful ingredients, such as coffee beans, because they will contaminate subsequent ingredients passed through the mill.

It is important to establish what type of wheat grains you can purchase locally and their suitability for breadmaking. Aim for a very strong breadmaking wheat variety and stick with the type that works for you and provides continuity in your baking.

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TIP:

Using freshly milled flour for the botanical and sour cultures works significantly better than bagged flour as they bring more microbes to the mix.

HOW TO ADD PORRIDGE TO A DOUGH

A recent trend has been to incorporate a porridge into a dough to change the taste and texture of the bread. When adding a porridge to a dough, make sure the dough is lower in hydration than normal, as the moisture content and dough softness will increase when mixing in the porridge.

Crushed or flaked oats and barley are two common ingredients. My Lithuanian Keptinis con Sopracciglio (shown here) utilizes a porridge that is actually baked before being added to the fully developed dough.

When making a porridge mix, the chosen ingredient is boiled in one to two times its weight of water. Consistency should be a very thick porridge: thicker than you would normally eat for breakfast, but not too thick that it will not easily incorporate into your base dough. Once mixed, it will slowly thicken, so allow some time to judge the consistency before adding more water to the porridge.

Leftover bread can be toasted, broken up, and then soaked into a porridge. This is a smart way to prevent food waste. Toasting old sourdough bread for porridge will impart great flavors to the bread it will be baked in.

As a guide, 15 to 50 percent of porridge to flour weight is used. As the porridge quantity is increased, the more the dough consistency will soften; therefore, I recommend adding the lower percentage when making your first loaves and then gradually increase the levels as you feel comfortable handling the dough.

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HOW TO MAKE HEALTHY BOTANICAL DRINKS

By making the Orange and Madagascar Vanilla botanical water as used in the panettone recipe (shown here), we have simultaneously created a wonderful, healthy drink. You can either drink it neat, although for some this is too strong, or—as is my preference—combine it with an equal amount of chilled carbonated water to make a refreshing beverage. The flavor options you can create are endless if you combine different fruits, herbs, and spices.

These fermented drinks contain probiotic bacteria. The friendly bacteria help digest our food more effectively, plus they help us absorb more nutrients from the food we eat. They also help with our immune system by keeping harmful bacteria at bay. So many positives come from such a simple thing to make.

At Cinnamon Square, when making our botanical breads and bakes, we utilize the active fermentation to leaven our products, but then we bake them to finish the process. Unfortunately, this baking kills off the yeast and bacteria and therefore no probiotic activity survives in the baked product. So, at home, you can make extra botanical water for drinking as well as baking.

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