PART 1: THE PRINCIPLES OF ARTISAN BREAD
1: The Backstory
2: Eight Details for Great Bread and Pizza
3: Equipment and Ingredients
Essay: Where Does Our Flour Come From?
PART 2: BASIC BREAD RECIPES
4: Basic Bread Method
5: Straight Doughs
6: Doughs Made with Pre-Ferments
Essay: The Early Morning Bread Baker’s Routine
PART 3: LEVAIN BREAD RECIPES
7: Understanding Levain
8: Levain Method
9: Hybrid Leavening Doughs
Essay: The 3-Kilo Boule
10: Pure Levain Doughs
11: Advanced Levain Doughs
Essay: Making a Bread (or Pizza) Dough You Can Call Your Own
PART 4: PIZZA RECIPES
12: Pizza and Focaccia Method
13: Pizza Doughs
14: Pizza and focaccia
METRIC CONVERSION CHARTS
It’s been five hundred years since I opened Ken’s Artisan Bakery in Portland, Oregon. That’s in bakery years, of course. My bakery actually opened in 2001. I had recently left a nearly twenty-year corporate career for the freedom of running my own venture and doing something I loved. In the time leading up to this risky transition, before I knew what that venture would be, I yearned for a craft and wanted to make a living doing something I could truly call my own. But I was itchy and I didn’t know where to scratch! For many years, I waited for that lightbulb moment of awareness that would signal an open path worth taking. Then, in the mid-1990s, my best friend gave me a magazine featuring the famed Parisian baker Lionel Poilâne. That article gave me the inspiration I was looking for. Not long after that, I began making frequent trips to Paris, and I was deeply inspired by the authentic, tradition-bound boulangeries I visited there. After a few years and a series of evolving ideas, I ended up with a perhaps naive plan to open a French bakery somewhere in the United States. My hope was to re-create the style and quality of the best breads, brioches, croissants, cannelés, and other specialties found at boulangeries and patisseries all over France.
My ensuing career transition was more Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride than simple job change. You could say I answered the call of that ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” But I came out on the other side with a firm love of the baker’s craft, acknowledging it as much more hard work than romance. The daily rhythms of life as a professional baker, once nearly overwhelming, now provide comfort. The aromas, the tactile nature of the work, and the way the finished products look takes me to a faraway place that is still present, and to have that be the way I spend my days continues to thrill me.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
I was fortunate to train with many excellent bakers in the United States plus two in France during the two-year between-careers period before I opened my own bakeshop in Portland. What struck me during my professional baking training was that the most important lessons I was learning—how to use long fermentation, pre-ferments, autolyse, and temperature management, for example—were not discussed in any of the bread books I had read. I later encountered books that did detail these things (like those by Raymond Calvel and Michel Suas), but they were targeted to the professional. I was sure that the techniques I had learned could apply to the home baker too.
In the years that followed the opening of Ken’s Artisan Bakery, several notable baking books were published. But I still saw an opportunity to address the techniques used in a good artisan bakery and how they could be adopted for the home kitchen. I wanted to write a book that didn’t totally dumb down these techniques, since the concepts really aren’t that difficult for the nonprofessional baker to apply. And I wanted to break from the mold prevalent in almost every bread book out there (at least until very recently): that every recipe had to use a rise time of just one to two hours. Further, I was completely motivated to demonstrate how good bread can be when it’s made from just the four principle ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast.
I also saw the opportunity to address how to make great bread at home with each of the three principle techniques of dough fermentation: straight doughs, doughs made with pre-ferments, and levain doughs, including an easy, unintimidating method for making a levain culture from scratch in just five days using only whole grain flour and water.
In order to accurately use this book’s recipes and follow its logic, I ask you to use an inexpensive digital kitchen scale to execute the recipes and to help you understand baking. One of the fundamentals of artisan baking is using weight measurements instead of cups and tablespoons and being guided by the ratios of ingredients. (Don’t worry, I do all the simple math for you.) While the ingredients tables in each recipe do include volume conversions, these measurements are by their nature imprecise (for reasons explained in chapter 2) and they are included only to allow you to bake from this book while you are contemplating which digital kitchen scale to buy.
My purpose in writing this book is twofold: First, I want to entice novices to bake, so it is written for a broad audience. Total beginners can dive right in with one of the entry-level recipes, the Saturday Breads, for example, right after reading chapter 4, Basic Bread Method. Once you feel comfortable with the timing and techniques involved in those breads, try recipes that involve an extra step, like mixing a poolish the night before. Once you have mastered the poolish and biga recipes, try making a levain from scratch and enjoy the particular pleasures of bread or pizza dough made with this culture. By the time you work your way through this book, you will be baking bread in your home kitchen that has a quality level approaching that of the best bakeries anywhere, along with Neapolitan-style pizza that would make your nonna smile.
Second, this book is also written for more experienced bakers who are looking for another approach to making dough—one that treats time and temperature as ingredients—and who are perhaps looking for an accessible (or just different) method for making great-tasting levain breads. Mixing dough by hand, a process used in all this book’s recipes, may also be new. To me, one of the most unique and important aspects of bread baking is its tactile nature. In asking you to mix the dough by hand, I am also asking you to think of your hand as an implement. Mixing by hand is easier than using a mixer, is fully effective, and teaches you the feel of the dough. People have been mixing dough by hand for thousands of years. If our ancestors did it, we can. And if you haven’t done it before, I hope you get great satisfaction from the process and feel a connection to the past and the history of baking, like I do.
FUNDAMENTALS AND METHODS
When you read the recipes in this book, you’ll see that they tend to be quite similar in many regards. All of the breads and pizza doughs call for 1,000 grams of flour and often have only slightly differing quantities of water and salt. Although they do vary in types of flour used, in some cases the main differences are in type of leavening and the timeline for development of the dough. Altering these variables can produce a wide variety of breads from very similar formulas. The format of the ingredients lists is designed to help you see these relationships. Basically, they are baker’s percentage tables. As you’ll notice, the ingredients aren’t always listed in the order in which they’re used; rather, flour, water, salt, and yeast are always listed in that order, descending by weight. This allows you to compare recipes at a glance.
Each recipe in this book uses the same techniques for mixing, folding the dough, shaping loaves, and baking, so it should be pretty easy to move from one fermentation method in this book to another. As I committed to designing every bread recipe to make round loaves baked in a Dutch oven, I realized that once readers become familiar with my techniques, all of the recipes in this book become accessible, without the need to learn new techniques for each recipe.
Whether you’re a first-time baker or someone who already has two dozen bread books on your shelf, this book explains how to use the same methods we use at Ken’s Artisan Bakery to make great bread at home. If you’re a beginner and feel intimidated by some of the tools or techniques used in my bread recipes, don’t be! With a little bit of planning (and maybe a few new pieces equipment, which I promise you’ll use again and again), you are well on your way to professional-quality bread.
Your Choice of Baking Schedules
The best breads are those with methods that allow plenty of time for flavor to develop. Time does most of the work for you. Good flavors build while you sleep. Schedule management, a critical aspect of a professional baker’s life, applies in the home kitchen too. But offering just a single schedule for making dough (for example, mixing the dough in the evening, letting it develop overnight, shaping it in the morning, and baking a couple hours later) may not work for you. So in this book, I provide recipes that operate on a variety of schedules, each using a long fermentation time, so you can work with the schedule that accommodates your other obligations. You can mix the dough in the morning and bake in time for dinner, mix the dough in the evening and bake in time for the next day’s lunch, or mix the dough in the afternoon and bake loaves first thing the next morning. Making these recipes does require a little planning, but each step of any given recipe takes just a modest amount of time. Because of the extended schedules, many of the recipes may only work for you on your weekend, but even if a recipe takes twenty-four hours to prepare, it won’t require constant attention.
Dutch Oven Baking
In the past, I struggled to bake bread in my home oven that had the texture, crust color, and oven spring (the initial boost the dough gets in its first ten minutes in the hot oven, caused by the last furious burst of yeast activity) we get at my bakery using the 15,000-pound Italian deck oven, with steam at the push of a button. I owe a particular debt to two recent books that introduced the use of Dutch ovens that fit inside a standard home oven for baking crusty, colorful loaves: Jim Lahey’s My Bread and Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread. Each book recognizes that the previous techniques for home-baked hearth bread, most often baked on a pizza stone with myriad methods for producing steam, were insufficient for recreating the oven steam we enjoy as professional bakers.
The first time I baked in my two Dutch ovens, an Emile Henry enameled model and a Lodge cast-iron model, I immediately decided to approach all the baking for this book in the same way (save for pizza and focaccia, which are best on a baking stone—although an iron skillet or sheet pan will also work). Simply placing a loaf in a preheated Dutch oven and baking with the lid on allows the moisture from the dough to steam the loaf as it bakes. The results are decidedly superior to those attained using a baking stone, yielding great oven spring and a dark and beautiful crust with the right texture—thin and crisp. I encourage you to bake until the crust develops dark crimson and ochre colors. Pull a loaf out of the oven too soon and you may be losing out on the best flavors the crust has to give.
Each of the bread recipes in this book makes two loaves. As I was testing the recipes my home kitchen, I often found myself baking one loaf of bread and using the remaining dough to make focaccia or pizza. Some people believe this is how focaccia originated, with bakeries in Liguria using “extra” dough to make flat bread topped with whatever was in season (or with olive oil and salt, or simply left plain). Some bread doughs are more suited to or focaccia than others, so each recipe in this book advises you whether you can pizza or focaccia with any extra dough, allowing you to get two great things to eat from one dough mix.
Unique Recipes for Pizza and Focaccia
Pizza is a kind of bread too, and pizzas are a natural extension of the product line for many bakers. Bakeries throughout Italy, for example, display pizza or focaccia with their bread, often on a counter, sliced to order. The same principles of dough management that apply to artisan bread baking apply equally to pizza—long, slow dough development for the best flavor, color, and texture.
I love pizza! At my restaurant, Ken’s Artisan Pizza, we make our pizza dough with the same care as our bread dough, and in this book I have four pizza dough recipes, again with varying schedules, using both store-bought yeast and a levain culture. The techniques I use for making pizza dough are the same as those for bread dough. Start at either end of the book; once you’ve learned how to make pizza or bread dough, it will be a straightforward transition to learn the other.
USING THIS BOOK
All of the bread recipes in this book use the same basic techniques, and those are described in detail in chapter 4, Basic Bread Method: weighing the ingredients, autolysing (premixing) the flour and water, mixing the dough, applying folds, shaping loaves, proofing, and baking. Chapter 8, Levain Method, describes how to start a new levain culture and how to feed it, store it in the refrigerator, and restore it for its next use. Chapter 12, Pizza and Focaccia Method, explains the techniques for making pizza from the recipes in this book.
Basically, these three method chapters explain the “how” of the book’s recipes. Chapter 2 explains the “what” and “why”—that is to say, the logic behind the methods and the specific details that characterize artisan baking. If you want to cut to the chase and just start baking bread, read chapter 4, Basic Bread Method, and then start with the Saturday White Bread recipe. If you want to be better informed, spend some time with chapter 2.
The recipes in this book are presented in three parts. Part 2, Basic Bread Recipes, offers recipes for breads made with store-bought instant yeast. In chapter 5, you’ll find recipes for long-fermented simple doughs (called straight doughs), which vary in regard to the blend of flours used and the schedule. In chapter 6, you’ll find recipes for doughs made with pre-ferments (specifically, biga and poolish), which take just a little more work than straight doughs (five to ten minutes the evening before) but yield breads with more complexity in flavor.
Part 3, Levain Bread Recipes, teaches you how to make a pungent, bubbly, and fully effective levain culture from whole wheat flour and water in five days with little effort. Creating your own starter culture is a fun science project that makes memorable, crusty, beautiful loaves. Chapter 9 offers recipes for breads with hybrid leavening, which have the unique character of levain breads but also incorporate commercial yeast to give the bread a lighter crumb and a little extra lift. In chapter 10 you’ll find recipes for pure levain breads (i.e., breads that have no commercial yeast), and finally, in chapter 11, you’ll find two advanced levain recipes. As you work your way through part 3 of the book, you’ll learn how to manipulate the variables of a levain to achieve specific qualities in the bread. Ultimately, you can use this information to create a bread that is truly your own and matches your taste preferences, as described in the essay “Making a Bread (or Pizza) Dough You Can Call Your Own”.
Part 4, Pizza Recipes, is all about how to make delicious pizza and focaccia at home using a pizza stone, a skillet, or a sheet pan. As mentioned, chapter 12 provides basic methods for pizza and focaccia. In chapter 13 you’ll find four dough recipes, and in chapter 14 you’ll find sauces and recipes for pizzas and focaccia with toppings. Use the best ingredients—good flour, good cheese, San Marzano tomatoes—and follow my instructions, and you’ll be able to make excellent pizza at home. (Being spoiled by the wood-fired oven at my restaurant, I high-fived my dog, Gomez, when I saw killer pizza coming out of my standard home kitchen oven.) It’s fun, and it really isn’t hard to do. As with making bread, making pizza is something you get better at with repeated efforts. It’s like a positive habit: do it and you want to do it again and again until you’ve mastered it.
Fun Bits to Add Flavor
Writing this book inspired me to riff on a few subjects: either experiences that I lived through (like the failed attempt to open my first bakery) or things that fascinate me (like the fact that a loaf of bread weighing over 6 pounds actually improves with age and tastes better than smaller loaves made from the same dough).
Chapter 1 tells the tale of my journey from a Silicon Valley career to the hands-on work of crafting rustic French bread as a professional baker. In part 1 of the book, you’ll find the essay “Where Does Our Flour Come From?” I take you on a tour of two of the family farms that grow the wheat that gets milled into the flour we use at my bakery and pizzeria. Evocative photography, commentary from the farmers, and a review of how they manage their land brings home how people like Karl Kupers and Fred Fleming, founders of Shepherd’s Grain, are rethinking wheat farming to meet the needs of the land, family farms, and bakers. People often want to know what goes on in the dark hours of the early morning at the bakery. To satisfy that curiosity, in part 2 of the book I’ve given you a detailed account of a morning representative of what’s typical in “The Early Morning Bread Baker’s Routine.” The essay offers a voyeuristic peek into the nonstop synchronized activity of our bakery.
In part 3 of the book I’ve included the essay “The 3-Kilo Boule,” explaining why I love these massive loaves and share some of their interesting history. My hope is that this book will provide you not only with recipes for bread that will truly impress you, but also a clear understanding of the processes we use at Ken’s Artisan Bakery and how they apply in the home kitchen. Once you have this foundation of knowledge, you can use the information in the essay “Making a Bread (or Pizza) Dough You Can Call Your Own” (also in part 3) to craft your own unique breads.
Baking is a craft that makes you want to do it again and again, trying various flour blends, improving your shaping technique, or simply following the same procedure but trying to do it better with each repetition to improve the flavor of your bread, the volume of the loaf, or perhaps the color of the crust. Repetition is part of the pleasure. And once you get a rhythm and learn the techniques, the repetition gives a warming satisfaction that comes from the familiar comfort of doing something well. Bon appétit.
THE PRINCIPLES OF ARTISAN BREAD
It was exhilarating when I quit the last job I hated. I was ready to move on and leap into the unknown future of my life as a baker. Unexpectedly, however, the dream took a detour—or maybe just a longer, more scenic route.
THE KERNEL OF THE IDEA
Flash back to 1995: I was wearing a suit every day, trying to meet my sales quota each year, and drinking the company Kool-Aid. One day that year, my buddy Tim Holt gave me a copy of the January issue of Smithsonian magazine, which featured a cover article about the famed Lionel Poilâne. Reading the article, I realized I had found my muse. Poilâne was a French baker running his father’s bakeshop at 8 rue du Cherche-Midi on Paris’s Left Bank. Lionel coined the phrase “retro-innovation” as a measure of progress. He was possessed by the old-world ways of making great bread: using human hands, time, and fire as an artisan’s instruments. These techniques required patience, and they had largely been neglected in postwar France as industrialized baking methods were widely adopted and the quality of French bread, long an icon, declined.
With his genius for promotion and his passionate embrace of bread made in the old way (pain d’autrefois), Lionel Poilâne helped repopularize rustic country breads, naturally leavened, made by hand, and baked in wood-fired ovens by men who worked hard in hot, steamy basements at a physically demanding job. (Ask these guys about the romance of baking!) His was the craft of an artisan. Poilâne’s ingredients were stone-milled wheat flour, water, and sea salt. A 1.9-kilo miche could last an entire week.
Miche A large, rustic boule, or round loaf of bread, which can weigh 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) or more.
His earthy breads were described as having a winelike complexity, and people lined up on the sidewalk to buy them from the iconic boulangerie. A charismatic and knowledgeable promoter, Lionel replicated the wood-fired oven routines of his family’s boulangerie on a large scale outside of Paris during the 1980s and began shipping his big round loaves around the world, baking about fifteen thousand loaves a day in twenty-four wood-fired ovens. Lionel’s brother, Max Poilâne, went on to open his own wonderful boulangerie in Paris’ 15th arrondissement. The two brothers made near-identical loaves the way their father had taught them to: in big rounds weighing almost 2 kilos (4.4 pounds) apiece. (Sadly, Lionel, his wife, Irena, and their dog died in 2002 when the helicopter Lionel was piloting crashed during a fierce storm in high winds off the coast of Brittany.) Both brothers—along with many other Parisian bakers, I later discovered—were fueled by traditionalist convictions about bread baking that inspired me. And even though I’d never worked as a craftsman or had any kind of job related to food, as I held the magazine in my hands I knew instantly, at a very deep level, that being this kind of baker was right for me. It was a certainty like none I had ever experienced.
Prior to reading the Poilâne piece in Smithsonian, my personal experience with baking bread was a recipe for an herb bread with dill, anise deeds, parsley, and a lot of sugar. The method involved using a whisk—a whisk! I made that bread often, and at the time, I liked it. But I had no reference point for bread at its best, and it was unlikely to be found in the United States anyway. When I lived in London in 1989 and often traveled in Europe for my job at IBM, I loved looking in the windows of pastry shops, butchers, and cheese shops and eating foods specific to the place I was in. I found these markets inspiring and could tell they had been making the same great food in the same way for generations. I asked myself why we didn’t have places like these at home and whether I could perhaps someday bring some of the transcendent goodness, quality, and timeless character of these shops back home in a venture of my own. But I had only strands of ideas—nothing concrete that rang true.
I remember sitting in my backyard in Virginia under a cherry tree in full bloom on a warm, sunny spring afternoon, reading my first issue of the quarterly newsletter of the Bread Bakers Guild of America. Cue the chirping bluebirds. The Poilâne piece in Smithsonian had inspired me to join the guild as an entry point into the world of good bakers. Reading about serious professionals baking good bread spoke to my soul—and fueled fantasies of rising at 3 a.m. to bake bread. (What are you, nuts?!) This issue of the newsletter had a feature on Lionel Poilâne’s visit to the guild’s annual dinner, another on the U.S. baking team winning the bread category for the first time at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, and an excellent piece by the original seer of the Guild, Tom McMahon, about the importance of connection between bakers and the farmers who grow their wheat (a connection I finally achieved ten years later when I switched to Shepherd’s Grain flours). Tom had a clear, high-level vision that promoted his ideals of advancing both the quality of bread and environmental responsibility. Throughout the newsletter—my first glimpse into the minds of the bakers and owners of good artisan bakeries—I detected a sense of mission and passion. It helped water the seed of my desire first sown by the Smithsonian article about Poilâne. I finished reading the newsletter, and I still remember how, at that very time, it seemed right that I should become one of them.
Until I escaped the corporate womb and became a baker in earnest, I did what I could to learn about the world of artisan baking from the outside looking in. I visited many bakeries in Paris during trips there, two or three times each year. (I had a Parisian girlfriend—how convenient!) I bought baking books. My heroes were French bread bakers: Moisan, Poujauran, Kamir, Ganachaud, Kayser, Gosselin, Saibron, and others.
In the late 1990s I read about a couple of bakeries in northern California: Della Fattoria and Bay Village Bakery. They baked the kind of bread I wanted to bake, in wood-fired ovens (I was absolutely certain that I was going to be a wood-fired oven baker like Poilâne—a certainty later changed by a firmer grip on reality) and their bake houses were in their backyards. I thought that sounded perfect! After two decades of big city commuting on jammed freeways, the thought of walking across my backyard to get to work was alluring to say the least. These bakeries were also idealistic, as mine would be, using organic flour and employing the best-quality methods to make the finest bread they knew how to bake. And they were successful. Della Fattoria was selling bread to the French Laundry in Napa (this was before Thomas Keller opened Bouchon Bakery). Bay Village was developing a reputation for having the best rustic breads in the country, and Chad Robertson was mobbed every time he went to the farmers’ market in Berkeley to sell his bread.
I knew that I needed to learn how to bake bread at this level, and my Bread Bakers Guild newsletters made it clear that the best options were at the San Francisco Baking Institute and the newly opened (and now closed) National Baking Center in Minneapolis. I wanted to learn from multiple people and then adapt the collage of lessons into my own baking style. In August of 1999, soon after chucking my last job, I was off to the San Francisco Baking Institute to take Artisan Breads I and II, two weeks of hands-on instruction. I’d finally made the break from my corporate career and I was a free man about to learn a new trade. A free man. Maybe a little crazy.
LEARNING THE CRAFT
I’ll never forget my first day at the institute. Ian Duffy, our instructor, had us each mix a small amount of dough by hand—wet, sticky dough. I was trying to work the dough the way Ian did: his hands developed it, turned it, and folded it, and before long it was a smooth ball with an outside skin soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom. Then I’d try, and I’d have dough sticking everywhere. No soft, baby’s-butt dough skin, just a red face and an oh-shit-what-was-I-thinking exclamation point in my head. That night I went to my hotel more than a little worried that maybe this wasn’t the career for me. But by the end of two weeks I could handle the dough okay, and with all of the great instruction I’d received, I thought that with a lot of practice at home maybe I could start to get the feel for this stuff.
While I was in northern California, I met Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt (now quite famous for their work at Tartine in San Francisco) at Bay Village Bakery in Point Reyes, and Chad and I began a conversation that lasted for years about levains, milling, French versus American flour, and the fermentation needed to bake the kind of old-school French country bread I was after. Chad’s bread was the best I’d ever had in the United States. It was baked to a dark chestnut brown and had gentle flavors of wheat and fermentation, and the character of the crust seeped into the soft, light interior. It tasted fantastic, and it was beautiful too. I thought his bread was in league with that of the best boulangeries I had visited in Paris.
Chad did all of his bread baking as a solo act. After a ten-second commute through his yard, he mixed the levain and the doughs, chopped wood, built the fire for the oven, and, many hours later, swept out the oven to prepare it for baking. In the filtered sunlight of a Marin afternoon, Chad divided and shaped his dough by hand. The next morning he would bake magnificent bread in the intense radiant heat of his oven, loading loaves in and out on a peel by hand. I left that first visit with Chad nodding my head up and down and thinking, “Yeah, this is it for me.”
Next I stopped to visit Della Fattoria in Petaluma, California, where they were baking dramatic round loaves decorated with grape leaves, destined for the annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. I stood out of their way as they baked these loaves in side-by-side wood-fired ovens built and designed by Alan Scott—the same kind Chad had at Bay Village. I was taking pictures, and if there was something I could do to help them out, I did it. The bakery, run by Ed and Kathleen Weber and their son Aaron, is in the most idyllic setting. The bake house is attached to their home on fifteen acres of Petaluma farmland, with beautifully tended gardens and a lot of small, life-is-good details that showed me they were living a great life on their own terms, and it was paid for by baking good bread. Again, I thought, “Yeah, this is it for me.” I rode with Ed as he delivered the loaves to the auction, and when I came back Aaron asked if I wanted to come bake with them for a week or two. What a great offer! This was my first chance to spend time in a live craft bakery, and the Webers were extremely generous and forthcoming. It’s fun to look back on those days—getting up at 5 a.m. and walking toward my future, down the Webers’ lawn to the bake house, staring up at a night full of brilliant stars, about to be humbled by more sticky dough.
After my informal “apprenticeship” with the Webers (really, just one week), I was ready to continue my instruction. I knew I was going to need more pastry skills, and the National Baking Center in Minneapolis had two great instructors, Philippe Le Corre teaching pastry, and Didier Rosada teaching advanced bread baking classes. Two weeks there, plus a one-week pastry class with Robert Jorin at the CIA in Napa, rounded out my formal training. Chad and Liz, after they moved Bay Village Bakery to a retail spot in Mill Valley, were also very generous sharing many of their lessons, and they let me observe their bakery’s operation during multiple visits. Without their help my first years at my own bakery would have been even more challenging than they ended up being, and their quality was the gold standard that I aspired to. This kind of give-back and sharing, while being pretty common in the food service trade, is totally not what happens in the last industry I worked in. Small business has so much more heart than big business.
It was time for me to set up a wood-fired oven in my own backyard bakery. Not long before, I had moved into the perfect setting to be near the rest of my family, who had all migrated to Eugene, Oregon. I had a cool house on five acres with a 1,200-square-foot outbuilding that I could convert into a bake house. The zoning allowed for a small home business, and the house wasn’t part of any homeowners’ association that might have rules against this kind of thing. It looked like a great setup. Plus, I had time to learn the craft, convert the outbuilding, and, before too long, begin my career as a baker—or so I thought.
BUT FOR THE SMELL OF BAKING BREAD
When I moved to Eugene, I assumed all I needed to do to start my enterprise was get a business license, build the bakery, and begin to bake bread. To my surprise, a community uprising against my little venture developed, and the intense energy with which my neighbors pursued their goal created a public NIMBY fuss that landed on the front page of the newspaper, on the local TV news, and in a pair of two-hour public hearings where one neighbor after another took the stand to rage against, among other things, having to smell bread baking every single day: “like Sisyphus, pushing the same rock up the hill, every day into eternity,” according to their attorney. Smoke from my chimney stack was going to exaggerate respiratory problems for one family, whose house was several hundred yards away. Sparks from the chimney were going to burn down the entire neighborhood. The bakery would turn into a tourist attraction, causing too much traffic in the neighborhood. My driveway was too steep for a fire truck to navigate in the event of a fire. Ashes from my oven were going to change the pH balance of the soil. Trash from the bakery was going to attract rodents. It was an Alice in Wonderland construct where just saying something makes it true; the process seemed to me to be anything but a court of rational appeal.
The residents of eleven out of eighteen homes in the small neighborhood wrote letters protesting the plans for the bakery. Here is a favorite excerpt of mine:
Flour dust can be very explosive. A dropped bag of raw flour can be ignited in much the same way as volatile fluids. This may be one of the hazards of baking, but it does not belong in a residential area.
In the course of due process, the legal burden was on me to refute any and all claims, no matter how seemingly absurd, like the exploding bags of flour. I produced a certified letter from the State of Oregon’s climatologist identifying the direction of prevailing winds by month. (Away from the neighbors 44 percent of the time, but that didn’t account for days of air stagnation, it turns out. Who knew?) I had certification from an environmental engineering firm stating that the emissions output from the oven would be no greater than that from a standard woodstove. I should have tried tossing a bag of flour in the courtroom to see if it would explode.
After a pair of lengthy public hearings, four months of angst, and county files at least eighteen inches thick, the final ruling was to deny my application for a business license to run my little bakery in a zone that allowed home businesses. It was time to shift mental gears.
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Immediately, I was anxious to put Eugene in my rearview mirror. Too bad about the house; I loved that place. But where to? I decided to start with a fresh plan and give up on the idyllic and admittedly safer route of opening a low-expense backyard startup. I embarked on a mission to find a new town in which to open my idealized retail bakery. To finance this ambitious—and expensive—venture, I would sell my house and apply most of my savings, risking everything I had. I wanted to move somewhere I might actually be welcomed, where people would appreciate buttery croissants that shatter when you bite into them, crisp cannelés perfumed with vanilla and beeswax, and rustic country breads—a place where nobody would complain about the smell of baking bread. Where would it be?
IN SEARCH OF PORTLAND
I drew up a list of things the town needed to have: good weather (hindsight snicker), an active restaurant scene that wasn’t stodgy, and a good farm-to-table sense. After a six-month quest, which included stops in San Luis Obispo, Yountville, Boulder, Denver, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and Monterey, as well as two weeks of training at l’Institut Paul Bocuse in France (yes, I got to meet the man, at his restaurant, and yes, his big beefy hands rested on my shoulders for a photo that I never received—sounds like a fish story, I know), I finally settled on Portland.
I barely knew the place, but it had me hooked for reasons my future self would understand better than I did at the time. Now, I realize that I was drawn to Portland because so many of its craftsmen were (and still are) doing production on a smaller, less industrial scale, with a focus on quality. Our hands are our most important tools. Our customers can associate names and faces with the food they eat and the beverage they drink. These things are characteristic of the word “artisan” and a principal reason why I named my bakery “Ken’s Artisan Bakery.” In Portland, it is not unusual to know who made the beer or wine we are drinking, the cheese we are eating, or the salami on our pizza—and that’s how I knew it was the place for me.
That said, it is difficult enough to open a restaurant or bakery in a town you know and make it work—especially if you have no history in that line of work. Going into a city where nobody knew me was absolutely insane. But I had a bad case of tunnel vision and I could only see the light at the end: my own bakery in a place I was pretty sure I’d love. Over a three month period, with layout and design help from Michel Suas of TMB Baking (a sister company of the San Francisco Baking Institute), I built the bakery in a shell of a space in an old neighborhood in Portland filled with bars and restaurants. My oven, the big mixer, and the other major equipment I’d ordered all arrived together in a single container that entered the United States at the port of Newport News, Virginia, and then came to me on a flatbed truck. The truck arrived at about 8 o’clock on a cold, rainy weekday night in early November. Along with a team of new hires and our superhero installer, Carlos, I met the driver in front of the bakery and unloaded the truck with a rented forklift. The delivery was a day later than expected. I remember the driver calling from outside Boise, Idaho, letting me know he had a bad toothache and needed to see a dentist but was going to drive through the night to get to me. I had images of the Italian oven and French mixer I had been waiting for all those months, which had traveled from Europe by boat, toppling down some mountain pass between toothache and here.
All of the equipment was installed in mid-November 2001, and we opened on November 21. New hires all around me and I was running the place—my first food job. The shock of the previous two years—misfiring in Eugene, figuring out where to open my bakery, selling my house in Eugene, finding a space in Portland, and getting the place up and running—then suddenly being open and selling bread and pastry? Whoa, that’s a big one. But in one moment the past was behind me, and all that mattered was getting people in the door. Ken’s Artisan Bakery was born.
The neighborhood where the bakery was located had the highest population density of any place between Seattle and San Francisco. But the neighborhood was filled with modest rental apartments, and the per capita income data concerned me. I was going to compete on quality, not price. We opened just two months after September 11. During a recession. And the carb-fearing Atkins and South Beach diets were peaking in popularity. Portland set a record for most consecutive days with measurable rain. The unemployment rate was around 12 percent at the time. Today, an ambitious bakery opening would get instant media attention. At that time it barely got a mention. So we had an intermittent trickle of customers, friends, and family coming through the door, along with curious passersby and a few drunks.
Some people appreciated our efforts, recognized our ambitions, and understood the quality of our ingredients and our intention to produce bread and pastry according to my idealized vision. Now, I tend to remember the things that went wrong more than the things that went right. Our first sheeter, used to laminate croissant and puff pastry dough, was too small. Making it work required that we prop boards on overturned trash cans at either end to catch the dough as it ran back and forth between the rollers. The cannelés were inconsistent, but when they were on they were fantastic. We were baking all of our pastries in the deck oven, and constantly reaching into the oven’s upper decks for sheet pans gave us all a series of nasty accidental sheet pan burns on our forearms.
I arrived at 4 a.m. each morning, mixed the baguette dough, helped with the morning pastry work, and baked levain breads that had been chilled overnight. Then I divided, shaped, and baked baguettes, with the first batch coming out of the oven around 8:30 a.m. People who came in at 8 or 8:15 a.m. were often angry or dismayed that the baguettes weren’t ready yet and sometimes taunted us with comments like “You call yourself a French bakery?” I absolutely couldn’t arrive at the bakery any earlier than 4 a.m., and although I could have theoretically put the baguettes in the oven before 8 o’clock, they wouldn’t have been as good. Still, the accusatory glares were hard to take. Our French customers were the most aggravated. I needed to know what people thought of our stuff, but these comments kind of pissed me off, too. It was an open bakery. We were vulnerable to impressions of all kinds.
The retarder, a walk-in cooler where all of the shaped levain breads spend the night for a long, slow, cool fermentation, had some idiosyncrasies. Every week, on Monday, it would shut down. Without telling me first. Before Christmas in 2001 we were closed Mondays, so I never noticed. Of course, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fell on a Monday that year. On Christmas Eve morning, I arrived at the bakery a little early, just before 4 a.m., looking forward to baking and selling bread that would be on people’s holiday tables. Then I opened the door to the retarder and was greeted by a blast of warm, humid, slightly sour air and loaves overflowing their proofing boards, totally overproofed and beyond any hope of being worth baking. Still, I baked a dozen or so just to see what I could get, and what I got was lousy, sour loaves, each about the size and shape of a double-wide size 20 low-top basketball shoe. Merde! All I could do was bake the day’s baguettes and be sold out of lousy, sour bread by about 10 a.m. Cory Schreiber, chef-owner of nearby Wildwood Restaurant, walked in and kindly bought one of the pathetic, flat levain loaves—and gave me a shoulder to lean on. Thanks, man. Still, I didn’t understand the problem. I thought the retarder shut off because of something I’d done wrong. And at that point, six weeks into running the bakery without a day off, working from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. or later every day, my judgment was a little cloudy. The following Monday, New Year’s Eve day, the same thing happened again. Waaah! On January 2 I made some calls and learned that I was using the retarder on a seven-day program cycle, which needed to be refreshed each week, otherwise it went into proofing mode and warmed up. (Yeah, I noticed.) Some lessons we learn the hard way.
Whenever I felt like we were starting to find a rhythm in our production, a new problem would jolt me back to reality. Like the fact that I repeatedly had to crawl on top of the 500°F oven whose burner sometimes stopped firing in the middle of my bread bake to replace a blown fuse (deep breath), only to realize months later that the wrong value fuse was in one of the sockets, and I kept replacing the wrong fuse with another wrong fuse. Sigh. One time, at 5 a.m., I pushed one of the buttons on the bread oven for steam, but instead of steam I saw a river of water flowing from beneath the oven. I quickly popped a lower front panel off the oven and saw a burst rubber hose, and the water wasn’t stopping! Throw the shutoff valve. Inspect. Grab a kitchen knife. Cut the hose just before the break. Reattach it to the pipe and secure with a hose clamp. Then run and grab the mop bucket and a pile of towels for cleanup. This happened over and over for several months. Bad hose. Who gets a bad hose? Nobody said this was going to be easy, but jeez.
I baked the levain breads to a dark caramel color on the outside. I was really proud of those loaves, but Portland didn’t seem very impressed. So I put together a handout titled “Why We Bake It Dark.” I’m not sure it helped much, but I felt the need to explain myself. We used Valrhona chocolate for our chocolate croissants (and still do). I also made a true pain au chocolat: a thick slice of freshly baked levain bread covered in butter and shavings of chocolate and sprinkled with a dash of fleur de sel. We sold at least two or three of those each day. I typically let a few loaves of unbaked levain sit out until they were well overproofed and gassy, then compressed the gas out of them, cut them into fougasse, and then baked them. We sold some of them plain and others brushed with olive oil and with fleur de sel sprinkled on top, like giant pretzels. My pastry chef, Angie, made beautiful apple tarts, chocolate and coffee éclairs, puff pastry with pears, chocolate tarts, brioche, financiers, macarons, brownies, profiteroles with different fillings, gougères, gâteaux de riz, and galettes des pérouges. People would walk in and ask if we had any scones. Or they would hear we were making cannelés, come in, and ask, “Where are the cannolis?” People pronounced artisan “artesian.” I set out to replicate the bread and pastries of a good boulangerie in Paris, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when people here didn’t recognize all the things we made. Today they mostly do. Portland’s food scene has changed a lot in the past decade.
We used organic flour, Tahitian vanilla beans, Niman Ranch ham, bags of sea salt from Brittany, aged Gruyère, the best butter I could buy, and, as mentioned, Valrhona chocolate. I imported tea from Mariage Frères in Paris. We made everything from scratch, and there was usually more staff present at any point in time than customers. We charged $2.50 for a chocolate croissant, and people gave me the stink-eye. I found a note in the comments box that said, “$2.50 for an herbal tea and hot water. You have lost this customer for good!” Other people complained that there weren’t free coffee refills. Many people let us know that our pastries were too small, appeared to be overbaked, and were too expensive ($3.50 for a 4-inch fruit tart, $2.50 for an apple turnover, $1.75 for a handmade butter croissant). At least nobody was complaining about the smell of bread baking.
Those were the most intense days of my life. By necessity, I’m tempted to say, and I’m not sure why. Maybe the transformation from a desk-job career to this intensely physical, sleep-deprived work required a kind of shock treatment as segue.
At the end of the day, after fourteen hours at the bakery, I remember cleaning out the big mixer, my head in its bowl, and thinking about my heroes—all the great chefs I had read about, who were known for their all-day work ethic. If they could put in those kinds of hours, I thought, I can do it too. I knew I was truly tired when one day I noticed the sound of my feet dragging across the floor. I was past feeling it. I was probably past good judgment too. About three months after the bakery opened, I finally took a day off. I slept for a solid twelve hours, and when I woke up I felt like a zombie with a severe case of jet lag.
PROOF OF CONCEPT
Despite the initial challenges, I remained optimistic about the future, because that was my only option. Positive feedback started coming in to help balance the negative things. We kept a small green suggestion box out by the coffee station, with pieces of paper and pens (people stole the pens!). I got a much-needed boost in confidence from comments like these:
“The bakery is extraordinary. The best I have been to in the United States.”
“We just returned from ten days in Paris and visited a number of well-known bakeries—none of the croissants we tried came close to yours.”
“We came today for our four o’clock snack with my son, and I wanted to let you know that we loved the pain au chocolat, the profiteroles, and the brioche. It felt like home! Thank you for that pleasure.”
“Don’t change anything. It’s superb!”
In addition, a few good restaurants made inquiries about buying our bread, and I knew I needed the money from wholesale accounts if the bakery was going to make it. When I was ready to buy a delivery van and begin that new phase, I was proud that our first three restaurant accounts—Paley’s Place, Higgins, and Bluehour—were (and remain) among Portland’s best restaurants. That gave me some sorely needed revenue and visibility.
They gave me tremendous support in other ways, as well. Greg Higgins featured my apple bread on a special menu one night, and Vitaly Paley did a tasting menu event featuring my bread in every course. Other chefs also lent a hand. Dan Spitz, at Ripe, did a similar dinner. Some restaurants put my name on their menus when they featured my bread. In one case, the menu read, “Nice buns, Ken!” Many of these chefs also generously offered advice whenever I needed it.
On a more serious note, by the end of the bakery’s first year I had lost almost $70,000 and greatly feared I’d have to close down. I didn’t have much cash left. Plus, I hadn’t received any publicity or reviews other than a Sunday feature by Sara Perry in the Oregonian’s Living section. I believed that what we were offering was unique, and we had dialed in our quality and consistency after a lot of refinement during our first five or six months. But it seemed like nobody was paying attention. Ego was part of the media deal, but more than anything else, I needed press to give us credibility with the buying public who maybe didn’t know we were worth the trip. (This was before the days of the hyperactive foodie blogosphere.)
So I decided to try to make some waves on my own. Our first event was a special bread tasting. I ordered a couple loaves of pain Poilâne, which you can order online for overnight delivery, and had Grand Central Bakery and Pearl Bakery bring some of their breads to my place. The event was friendly, not competitive. I wanted people to taste my bread alongside France’s most famous bakery’s. This unusual event—a bread tasting!—brought in at least 150 people and got them to focus on bread and its flavors—a rare standalone subject (as evidenced by the fact that we really don’t have the same breadth of vocabulary to describe the flavor of bread as we do for wine, beer, or select other things). I was pleased with people’s reactions to my bread, still a new product on the local scene, especially as it compared favorably with Poilâne’s, a benchmark for me.
Cash flow gradually improved, but we weren’t out of the woods yet. Then the city informed me that the street at my intersection was soon going to be closed during the daytime hours for the next three months while underground water pipes were replaced. I had a daytime business. I feared this was going to be the final dagger. But as I thought about how the city would be putting the street back together at the end of each workday, I wondered about trying to do some nighttime business while continuing the daytime bakery operation. I hatched an idea that involved getting a liquor license, selling beer and wine, and turning the bakery’s cafe into an evening hangout offering simple fare.
Around this time I met Rollie Wesen and Claudine Pépin, who had just moved to Portland from New York. Claudine is Jacques Pépin’s daughter, famous in her own right for doing TV shows on PBS with her dad and writing several cookbooks with him, in addition to her own TV appearances and working as brand ambassador for Moët & Chandon. Rollie is a chef who had worked at a number of hot New York restaurants. Both were looking for work, and each appreciated the bakery. I couldn’t pay what either was worth, but they joined the team, and with Rollie in the makeshift kitchen (no stove!) and Claudine running the cafe, Ken’s Artisan Bakery became a simple bistro five nights each week, offering a weeklong plat du jour of coq au vin, duck confit, or some other classic. This finally got us the media attention I both craved and needed, and the press extended beyond the bistro to my obsessiveness about baking. Eventually, Rollie and Claudine both ended up leaving for jobs that paid closer to what they were worth, and after eight months I closed down the bistro with a cassoulet party that sold out in a day. Turning the bakery into a restaurant was fine as an experiment, and it helped bridge a gap.
In January 2003, Jim Dixon wrote a piece about the bakery for Willamette Week, titled “Yeast of Burden” (which was nominated for a James Beard award in journalism). “Slicing into a loaf, you feel the crust crackle, but it’s not tough or too chewy. The crumb is soft, moist and riddled with the holes created by expanding fermentation gases. It has that yeasty, nutlike wheat taste typical of good rustic bread, but there’s another, deeper level of complex flavor that’s hard to pin down. It makes you want to keep eating.” He also referred to baking as my obsession, and as I got more press, it seemed “obsessive” was the operative word in pieces about me. Seeing anything written about the bakery was gratifying after the loud boom of media silence during the first thirteen months.
Finally, people started coming—people from all over. We were sort of prepared, and sort of not prepared. Baked goods aren’t like restaurant fare; we can’t make them on demand. We start almost everything at least the day before, so we have to guess: How many baguettes are we going to sell tomorrow? How many éclairs, croissants, and tarts?
One day André Soltner, the former chef of the famed New York restaurant Lutèce, and his wife, Simone, walked into the bakery. Chef Soltner later told Claudine and Rollie that my croissants were extraordinary. Then Claudine brought her dad into the bakery, and we had dinner together. He was equally complimentary of my croissant, saying it was among the best he’d ever eaten. He was so kind and very gracious. Having dinner in my bakery with Jacques Pépin, I was floating. These visits from some of my heroes and their praise gave me much-needed confidence.
Over time, when I could afford to hire enough staff to create a more sane schedule for myself, we managed to bake baguettes a little earlier in the morning. And comments that we bake our bread and pastries too dark decreased. Maybe I adjusted; maybe my customers did. Maybe we met in the middle. (Maybe they actually read my “Why We Bake It Dark” manifesto?) The greatest reward in those first years was when it became clear that most people really enjoyed the food we were making. We had a growing number of regulars come in day after day, week after week. We watched as their children grew up before our eyes. And now we have been around long enough to have seen customers that we loved pass on. Having a positive impact on the community was never possible in my previous career. Once it became evident that we weren’t going to fail, that my landlord wasn’t going to get stuck with a bankrupt bakery, I could stop being nervous that someday I might have to go back to my old life. The work really is its own reward.
EIGHT DETAILS FOR GREAT BREAD AND PIZZA
In this chapter, I’ll explain some key, fundamental elements of artisan baking that define my breads. If you just want to cut to the chase and start baking, turn to chapter 4, Basic Bread Method, and chapter 5, Straight Doughs, and return to this chapter (and the rest of part 1) when you have time. That said, don’t be afraid to read on. The material in this chapter isn’t complicated.
If you think of bread baking as a fermentation craft, then you can orient your thinking to consider the fermentation variables that impact taste and texture. Since this concept may be new for many readers, I want to emphasize that the most important ingredient for making good bread is plenty of time. This does, of course, have its limits. If dough ferments for too long, an excess of alcohol and acidity will develop, masking the sweet flavors of the wheat. In addition, the dough’s physical ability to hold the gases produced by fermentation will break down and it will slowly collapse. Managing dough fermentation to get the best results means finding the perfect balance of rising time, proofing time, dough temperature, ambient temperature, and amount of leavening in the dough. A major focus of this chapter is explaining how to achieve a harmony of these elements.
DETAIL 1: THINK OF TIME AND TEMPERATURE AS INGREDIENTS
Patience is indeed a virtue when it comes to making good bread. Consider time to be a powerful instrument in the baker’s tool kit. Recognizing time as a discrete and crucial element in a recipe is the first detail that sets the best bakers apart. If you manipulate time in proper balance with dough temperature, ambient temperature, and the amount of leavening in the dough, you give yourself a chance to make something special. You need enough time, but not much effort—a little over seven hours for the simplest recipes in this book—to achieve a really good loaf.
In the United States, the traditional approach to baking bread has been to think of the rise as simply a short amount of time—just an hour or two—necessary for gas to build up in the dough to give it structure. I and other good bakers view the rise as an opportunity to build flavor and an appropriate amount of acidity.
Temperature and time have an inverse relationship, and I like the visual image of a seesaw to communicate the need for balance between the two: more of one means you need less of the other. A warm dough develops more quickly, whereas a cooler dough develops more slowly. Specifically, dough temperature affects the metabolic rate of the yeast: warmer yeast replicates more quickly. Once a dough is mixed, the yeast replicates until no oxygen remains in the dough, at which point the yeast cells, as they consume sugars from the flour, begin to produce gases (carbon dioxide and ethanol). Sugar in, gas out. This gas production is what causes the dough to rise.
Bulk fermentation The first rise of the dough after all of the ingredients have been mixed together (flour, water, salt, and yeast, plus any levain or pre-fermented doughs).
Extending the bulk fermentation stage is critical to maximum flavor development. Warmer dough encourages more rapid reproduction of the yeast, and thus faster fermentation. On the other hand, using less yeast when mixing the dough means it will take longer for the yeast to replicate and build up its population to its max: the point where the dough is anaerobic, or completely depleted of oxygen. Up to a point, doughs that take longer to develop (whether due to cooler temperatures, using less yeast, or both) yield breads with a more complex flavor. In fact, this is a key principle that guides me in developing all of my bread recipes: Less yeast and more time yields a better bread.
Another factor in the evolution of dough is bacteria; flour naturally contains both yeast and a wide variety of bacterial spores. As with natural yeast fermentation, it takes time for these naturally occurring bacteria to grow and produce acids and other flavor components. Bacterial growth also contributes to complexity of flavor, by which I mean the way multiple flavor elements in a good bread hit your palate at the same time: flavors from the flour and all of the products the yeast and bacteria produce, including alcohols, acids, and esters (chemical compounds that produce aromas and flavors).
Time is a critical factor in the production of all of these compounds. What we are looking for is the fermentation “sweet spot.” Too much time can throw the flavor elements out of balance, whereas not enough time diminishes their development in the first place. When a dough is overdeveloped, the alcohol becomes too strong, overpowering the sweetness of the wheat. Longer developing time also causes dough to become more acidic. Up to a point, this is a good thing. More acidity in bread means it stays fresh longer, and lactic and acetic acids add valuable and unique flavors, aromas, and sensations. However, too much acidity creates a cloying aftertaste that many people, including me, find disagreeable. The trick is finding the right balance between time and temperature so the dough develops a desirable complexity of flavors without becoming too acid or dominated by alcohols, while simultaneously getting optimal development of the structure of the dough. The gluten that holds gas bubbles to create rise and air pockets breaks down with time, and therefore overproofed dough will collapse. On top of all this, the timing needs to work for your schedule too!
WEIGHT VERSUS VOLUME MEASUREMENTS
If you are to get consistent results, compare recipes, and, after a few repetitions be able to essentially memorize recipes, you’ll find it extremely beneficial to use measurements by weight, not volume. For starters, 2 cups of my flour won’t be precisely the same amount as 2 cups of your flour. Mine might be packed a little tighter, yours might be looser. With water, although a difference of a few tablespoons may hardly be noticeable visually, the weight will be significantly different. Baking is based on specific ratios between ingredients, and these are imprecise when using volume measurements, but predictable when using weight measurements. In professional and high-caliber baking, the standard is to measure all ingredients by weight and express the quantity in relation to the total amount of flour in the recipe. I encourage you to use weight rather than volume measurements for the recipes in this book.
That having been said, many bakers have yet to invest in a kitchen scale. For those bakers, I have included approximate volume conversions for all the ingredients used in this book. Flour is the most difficult ingredient to measure accurately by volume, since so many variables are in play: how coarsely the flour is ground, how tightly the flour is packed into the measuring cups, whether or not the flour is leveled once it has been placed in the measuring cup, and more. These variables do not come into play when flour is measured instead by weight. To ensure some consistency, all of the recipes in this book were tested using King Arthur brand flour—so the volume measurements correspond to the coarseness of that brand’s grain. When measuring flour by volume instead of weight, transfer the flour to a large container, fluff it with a fork, and then spoon it into the measuring cup or spoon until full. Then, use the edge of a knife to level the top of the flour. (If this sounds like a pain, good … buy a kitchen scale!)
Of course, when you’re baking a bread that involves a pre-ferment, volume measurements really go out the window. Many of my recipes call for using 100 grams of levain, which is a bit more than ⅓ cup. The problem is, when you scoop out the levain and transfer it to measuring cups or spoons, you degas the levain (which makes measurements less reliable). So I cannot overemphasize the value of measuring by weight, not volume, especially once you get to part 3 of this book.
MANIPULATING THE FINAL MIX TEMPERATURE
For all of my breads, I’ve achieved the best flavor when the freshly mixed dough has a temperature between 75ºF and 80ºF (24ºC and 27ºC). The subsequent timing in the recipes and quality of the final product depends on achieving this temperature. When you’ve mixed your final dough and are about to cover it for rising, or bulk fermentation, take a temperature reading with a probe thermometer. If the dough doesn’t fall between 75ºF and 80ºF (24ºC and 27ºC), you should make adjustments next time.
To control the temperature of the mixed dough, you need to work with four variables: water temperature, flour temperature, room temperature, and the length of the autolyse (pronounced “auto-lease”). The easiest variable to manipulate is the water temperature, and I’ll give you some guidelines about using warmer or cooler water. If you pay attention to your results (and keep notes), after a couple of attempts you should be able to figure out the ideal water temperature for mixing your dough.
Most of the recipes in this book specify a target temperature of 78ºF (26ºC) for the final mixed dough. I consider this to be the sweet spot, but I encourage you to experiment with different temperatures between 75ºF and 80ºF (24ºC and 27ºC). The only way to find the optimum combination of time and temperature that gives the best flavor and volume in a given recipe is to repeat and adjust based on what you did last time. It’s part of the fun of baking. Each time, write down the temperature of the dough as soon as it’s mixed and note what time it is. Also record the time when you do each of the remaining steps and, of course, note how your bread turns out. If you keep a log of temperatures and fermentation times for future reference, you can methodically fine-tune your process to achieve perfect bread. You also get the satisfaction that comes with being a baker who is fully tuned in to what you are doing and why you are doing it.
The recipes in this book specify water temperatures to use. I prefer warmer temperatures for water and dough than some bakers do, along with a smaller amount of yeast. Be careful not to use water that is too hot. Commercial yeast dies at temperatures as low as about 114ºF (46ºC). When I mix flour at room temperature, which is usually about 70ºF (21ºC) and water at 95ºF (35ºC) and let the mixture rest for 30 minutes, the dough ends up at about 78ºF (26ºC) once I’m finished mixing. That’s my target temperature. If it’s summer and warmer in the room (in which case the flour is probably warmer too), I use water at 90ºF (32ºC) to hit my target dough temperature of 78ºF (26ºC). If you keep your flour in the refrigerator or freezer, I recommend that you pull it out a day before mixing dough. All of the recipes in this book assume the flour is at room temperature.
Retarder A cool chamber that literally retards the development of the dough. At my bakery the retarder is a walk-in unit that holds six rolling racks, and we hold the temperature at about 49ºF (9ºC). You can use your refrigerator to retard loaves at home, as many recipes in this book do.
There are several ways to extend fermentation time: you can reduce the amount of yeast in the dough, you can reduce the temperature of the dough or of the area where it’s is fermenting, or you can do both. If I’m working with a levain dough that normally reaches full maturity in an 80°F (27°C) room in three hours, I can put it in the retarder at my bakery at 49°F (about 9°C) and it will instead take twelve hours to completely develop. The extended, cold fermentation yields a better bread with a more complex flavor and a rich, well-rounded aftertaste. While we do use cold bulk fermentation for doughs at the bakery, doing so is less practical at home, where it can be difficult to find room in the refrigerator for the 12-quart Cambro tubs that I recommend. For this book, I adjusted recipes so that overnight doughs are bulk fermented with small amounts of yeast at room temperature. You’ll notice that some doughs in this book are bulk fermented at room temperature and then proofed overnight in the refrigerator at temperatures of 37°F to 40°F (about 3°C to 5°C)—this is because it’s easier to find space in your refrigerator for proofing baskets than a giant dough tub.
As you read this chapter, you might be thinking, “I don’t know what to do with this information.” Here’s the deal: Making good bread is never completely formulaic. No matter how specific I am in writing a recipe, there will be variables that are outside my control or yours. Some flour is more “active” and ferments faster than other flour. Your kitchen may be at 70°F (21°C) and someone else’s might be at 80°F (27°C). That’s why most recipes in other books simply default to a timeline for bulk dough development followed with “or until doubled in size.” The recipes in this book are designed to take the variables into account. Beyond that, in this section I’m trying to help you develop an awareness of how time and temperature affect the taste and development of the dough, and how you can manipulate those variables to produce exceptional bread.
THREE DEGREES OF SEPARATION
The raisin-pecan bread we make at my bakery tastes so good that sometimes I just keep eating it even when I’m not hungry. I love this bread when it’s at its best. But there was a period when that bread tasted just ordinary, and I figured that it probably wasn’t getting the full amount of fermentation it needed to completely develop its flavor. I spoke with the morning bakers and found that the bread was getting a complete proof (meaning it was getting the time and rise it needed after shaping). Therefore, the problem was probably that the dough needed to develop more during bulk fermentation. However, I couldn’t play with the schedule because the bakers’ shifts were already synchronized with other things. Manipulating time wasn’t an option, so my choices were to play with one of three other variables: the amount of leavening in the dough, the ambient temperature of the bulk fermentation stage, or the temperature of the dough after its final mix. I decided to experiment with the latter and mixed the dough with water that was 3ºF (about 2ºC) warmer than what we had been using. Whereas our dough had been coming out of the mixer at 75ºF (24ºC), with the warmer water the finished dough was at 78ºF (26ºC). All of the other variables remained the same. The next day the bread was just as it should be: complete, full of flavor, and not sour, with just a gentle background tingle in the mouth.
DETAIL 2: USE PRE-FERMENTS WHEN TIME ALLOWS
The recipes in this book use one of two approaches to making bread with a complex flavor profile. The first approach is to make what’s called a straight dough with a slow rise, which means using less yeast and allowing much more time for rising than in traditional recipes—at least five hours between mixing and shaping into loaves. The second approach is enhancing fermentation by adding pre-fermented dough or a levain made up many hours before being included in the final dough mix.
Poolish and biga are examples of commonly used pre-ferments. Both are made with a very small amount of commercial yeast. When using a pre-ferment, you mix 30 to 80 percent of the total flour in the recipe with water and a small amount of yeast ahead of time, let it ferment (usually overnight), and then add the resulting bubbly, fragrant pre-fermented mixture to the rest of the ingredients in the final dough. This process lends greater complexity of flavor to the bread, along with more acidity for longer keeping and richer colors and flavors in the crust. In commercial bakeries, the use of pre-ferments allows for a shorter first rise of the final dough without sacrificing quality, which often works better for production schedules.
Why take this extra step in the home kitchen? For better tasting bread, of course! It will have a little more complexity in flavor than bread from a straight dough, typically. A poolish is particularly suited to making bread with a creamy, slightly nutty character and a crisp, thin crust. Baguette dough is often made with a poolish. A biga, on the other hand, can give breads an earthy, musky flavor profile. At my bakery we use a biga to make ciabatta. Other types of pre-ferments not featured in this book include sponges and so-called old dough (pâte fermentée in French). Some pre-ferments contain salt and some don’t. What all types of pre-ferments have in common, regardless of name and type, is that each allows for the development of alcohol and bacterial fermentation, which add flavor, acidity, and leavening to the dough. There is a sheen to the crumb of breads made with fully developed pre-ferments. This shiny crumb is a visual sign of good bread, and I often look for it before I smell or taste breads.
Straight dough A dough that is made up in a single stage, without pre-fermented dough or a levain culture.
Levain The French word for “sourdough,” referring to a naturally leavened dough culture made from just flour and water, containing billions of active wild yeast cells and naturally occurring bacteria that ferment bread dough and allow it to rise. For thousands of years (about five thousand, according to most respected sources) humans have made leavened bread from just flour, water, and, usually, salt, leavened only by the natural yeast in the air and flour, which work to create a bubbly, fragrant dough.
Pre-ferment A pre-ferment is a portion of the dough mixed up in advance, usually six to twelve hours before mixing the final dough. The recipes in this book that use pre-ferments use either a poolish, which is wetter and has equal amounts flour and water, or a biga, which has less water and is stiffer. Pre-ferments add flavor, leavening, and keeping qualities to the bread.
Biga The term used in Italian baking for a pre-fermented dough culture. While there is no strict definition, it typically implies a mix of a somewhat stiff dough (60 to 70 percent water) made up of just flour, water, and a very small amount of yeast, which is allowed to ferment for six to twelve hours before being added to the final dough mix. The biga builds up a lot of flavor-producing gas (carbon dioxide and alcohol), acids, and bacteria. When it is added to the final dough mix, the result is bread that captures those flavors in a very good way.
Poolish A word used in French baking, the name referring to techniques of Polish bakers who transported their methods to France. Like the Italian biga, a poolish is a pre-ferment added to the final dough mix to enhance flavor, in this case with buttery and nutty notes, and improve keeping due to the acidity that accumulates as the poolish culture develops, typically for six to twelve hours. A poolish often contains 30 to 50 percent of the total flour in a recipe and generally contains equal amounts by weight of flour and water and a tiny amount of yeast.
When using pre-ferments, it’s important to allow them to develop fully but not excessively to attain optimum flavor and leavening. Pre-ferments need a minimum of four hours of development if they are to have a beneficial impact on the bread. When at its peak, a biga will be bubbly and slightly domed on top and smell strongly of alcohol and yeast. An overdeveloped biga will collapse, which is easy to discern. A properly developed poolish will be very bubbly on top, and if you stare at it you will occasionally see bubbles popping when it is at its best. Like a biga, it too will have an alcohol-yeast smell. An overdeveloped poolish will likewise be visibly collapsed.
Top: Mature biga (left) and poolish (right). Bottom: Comparing the texture of biga (left) and poolish (right).
If you use an underdeveloped biga or poolish, you miss out on the flavor benefits and also end up with less vigorous fermentation. The result is a denser bread with lower volume and blander taste. On the flip side, overdoing it with fermentation can lead to an excess of alcohol from fermentation, which will mask the sweet wheat flavors.
The first time you mix one of these pre-ferments, you may be skeptical that such a tiny amount of yeast will be enough. Just follow the recipes and prepare to be amazed. Even after all of these years of commercial baking, I still get off on it. My Overnight Pizza Dough with Poolish recipe leavens enough dough for five pizzas with just a scant ⅛ teaspoon of instant yeast. The tiny amounts of yeast used to start a poolish or a biga are just the beginning. The yeast and the enzymes in the flour are activated by water, and all of the yeast cells bud and duplicate quickly and logarithmically until the yeast has fully populated the poolish or biga. That tiny amount of yeast you began with has expanded an untold number of times—about a gazillion. It’s so cool.
At my bakery, we have to make seasonal adjustments in the amount of yeast we put in our pre-fermented doughs because the nighttime temperatures are cooler in winter and warmer in summer. We use less yeast when it’s warmer, and more yeast when it’s cooler. Alternatively, we could use the same amount of yeast and adjust the water temperature up or down for mixing the pre-ferments.
DETAIL 3: USE THE AUTOLYSE METHOD
Every fermented dough in my bakery—be it bread, pizza, croissant, or brioche dough—uses the autolyse method, where the flour and the liquid in the recipe are mixed and left to rest for at least 15 minutes, and preferably 20 to 30 minutes, before adding salt, yeast, levain, or pre-ferments and mixing the final dough. The autolyse allows the flour to more completely absorb the water and also activates enzymes in the flour; for example, amylase enzymes break down the complex carbohydrates in the flour into simple sugars the yeast can feed on, and protease enzymes naturally degrade the gluten forming proteins, in a way that makes the dough more extensible.
The term autolysis was first applied to this process in the mid-1970s by French baking icon Professor Raymond Calvel, who developed and promoted the technique. In his book Le Goût du Pain, available in English as The Taste of Bread, Calvel wrote about being driven to improve on industrial practices that resulted in overmixed and overoxidized dough. Calvel’s mission was to educate and to restore the quality of French bread baking, which had been in decline since the 1950s. The autolyse method allowed for proper dough development with a shorter mixing time, thereby reducing oxidation and improving the flavor of the bread. Overmixing and oxidation aren’t an issue in home baking, being a by-product of mechanical dough mixers and commercial methods to speed up production. However, the autolyse process is still beneficial for home bakers because it allows for improved gluten development in hand-mixed doughs, resulting in better gas retention and better volume in the finished loaf. When hand mixing, you can feel the difference between a dough that was autolysed and one that wasn’t; autolysed dough already has some of the structure that a dough mixed all at once, without the autolyse, doesn’t have until later in its development.
Another benefit of the autolyse process is that it increases the extensibility of the dough. Extensibility refers to the dough’s ability to be stretched and hold its shape without being so elastic that it snaps back. This isn’t a big issue for the recipes in this book because all have high hydration (that is, a lot of water), which creates a slack dough that is fully extensible. But this benefit is very useful for bakeries that work with stiffer doughs. Imagine trying to shape a couple hundred baguettes from an elastic dough within a fixed period of time—it’s a nightmare! Bread doughs mixed with high-gluten flour tend to be more elastic too, and therefore also benefit from the autolyse.
While I advocate autolysing in the traditional manner described by Calvel, fairly recent developments in the manufacturing of instant dried yeast have led some people to recommend that when instant dried yeast is used in a recipe, it should be included in the autolyse. The benefit is that the yeast will be fully hydrated by the time the final dough mix takes place, resulting in a more vigorous fermentation. If you try this, don’t autolyse for more than about 20 minutes. Once activated, yeast in dough that has no salt will reproduce very quickly, and you’ll lose the flavor benefits of long, slow fermentation.
DETAIL 4: MIX A WET, SLACK DOUGH
There are opposing points of view on how wet doughs should be. I prefer the flavor and texture of breads and pizza doughs made with more water than is typical. I am by no means alone in this. Many good bakers feel the same, including most of those I learned from. My experience is that including a little more water in the dough, say 75 percent instead of 70 percent hydration, results in more gas production, and if fermentation isn’t rushed, those gases provide a lot of flavor. However, these wetter doughs are very slack and need some help building up their physical shape so they don’t fall flat. They are also stickier and a little trickier to handle than stiffer doughs.
There is a property of bread dough called strength that refers to a dough’s ability to hold its form. When dumped onto a baker’s bench or kitchen counter, a dough that has sufficient strength will retain its vertical height. It will also have tenacity and some elasticity. On the other hand, a wet, sticky dough with little strength will relax and collapse like a batter, and it won’t hold its shape when you try to form it into a loaf. All of this is to say that stiffer doughs hold their shape better than wet doughs.
But there’s a catch: wet doughs encourage gas production and flavor development from fermentation more than stiff doughs, which results in more flavorful breads. When properly made, they can also contribute a lighter texture with some big holes. By comparison, dense bread comes from a stiff dough. Therefore, the question is how to develop a wet dough that has enough strength to hold its form and hold on to fermentation gases. While some bakers use ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in very small amounts (measured in parts per million), to add strength to their doughs, I prefer to accomplish this by applying folds (see sidebar,). That way I can give the dough only as much strength as it needs, making a judgment call about how often to fold depending on how loose or tight the dough is as it’s fermenting.
One of my favorite parts of the occasional baking class that I teach is hand mixing a super wet dough made with white flour and hydrated to 80 percent. It looks nothing like a bread dough and seems more like a batter. I pass the dough bucket around the room so everyone can see the texture. Invariably, everyone says that if their final mix looked like this, they would assume they had made a mistake and pitch the entire mass or add flour. I then proceed to demonstrate that with just a few folds over the course of the next 30 minutes, the dough comes together and starts to look like bread dough, albeit a very sticky dough that must be handled at this stage with wet hands.
WHAT IS FOLDING?
One way to strengthen wet, high-hydration doughs is by applying folds. Briefly, folding involves pulling segments of the dough over the dough mass one at a time, stretching each to the point of resistance and no further, then folding it back over the top of the dough. Doing this several times during the bulk fermentation of the dough helps organize the dough’s gluten network, which allows it to hold on to gases produced as the dough ferments. (For more on folding,) The more complexly knit this network of gluten becomes, the more strength the dough has.
In a commercial bakery, much of this gluten organization occurs in the mixer. Longer mixing at higher speeds develops the dough more intensively. In the process, the proteins that make up gluten are repeatedly stretched and folded over upon themselves to create a three-dimensional fabric that gives the dough tensile strength. These doughs can be fermented faster, which is great for getting more product out the door faster, but not good for flavor and quality. Less intensive mixing organizes the gluten network less aggressively. To compensate, good bakers apply folds to the dough during bulk fermentation.
When do we apply the folds? Because the structure of the gluten network needs to be in place to prevent this gas from escaping, most of the folds should be applied in the early stages of bulk fermentation. Gas buildup in the dough also contributes to its strength, as the gas expands and stretches the web within the gluten network. Folding allows the dough to capture as much of the gas as possible. That said, it isn’t unreasonable to give a very slack dough one last fold an hour prior to dividing and shaping. Although the recipes in this book, which have five hours or more of fermentation time, offer a lot of flexibility in when to apply the folds, I recommend applying the first fold 10 minutes or so after the final mix is done. Each successive fold can occur anytime after the dough has completely relaxed from the previous fold.
How many folds does the dough need? This depends on how wet and slack it was when mixed. Wet doughs get very little gluten development during the hand mixing, so they need three or four folds during the first hour or two of fermentation to give the gluten network enough structure to create a light crumb texture in the bread.
The recipes in this book each give guidance on the timing and number of folds recommended, usually specifying a range, such as three to four folds. However, I don’t want to be overly hard and fast with rules about this. When working with your dough, you’ll be able to see the physical change after you’ve folded it. If, based on what you observe, you want to give it one more fold, go ahead and do it.
Wet dough The world of American artisan baking lacks specific definitions for many terms. When I think of a wet or high-hydration dough, I think of dough that is naturally slack and needs folds to give it appropriate strength. Wet dough can’t be defined by hydration percentage because it depends on the flour or blend of flours in the recipe. If all white flour is used, 75 percent hydration would probably result in a wet, somewhat slack dough, and 80 percent would definitely be considered a high-hydration dough. But if mostly whole wheat flour is used, 75 percent hydration would result in a much stiffer dough, because whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white flour. For a mostly whole wheat dough to be considered wet, it would probably need to have at least 82 percent hydration. Another interesting point is that American wheat flour holds more water and has a different quality of gluten-forming proteins than that used by French and Italian bakers. (I haven’t worked with German or other European flours, so I can’t extrapolate further.) The net result is that a wet dough in France would probably contain about 5 percent less water than an American high-hydration dough.
Pain de Campagne dough, 78% hydration, ready for its first fold.
Of course, using high-hydration, slack dough is only one of the secrets to making good bread with a light crumb and big open holes. You still need to allow the dough to ferment completely, both in bulk and after it is shaped. If you bake it too soon, it will be too dense.
DETAIL 5: ALLOW FOR COMPLETE BULK FERMENTATION
The careful reader may notice that many of the recipes in this book call for the dough to expand beyond the oft-repeated “until doubled in size.” Tripled in size is more common here. The amount of expansion depends on the dough. Wet doughs create more gas and therefore expand more than stiff doughs. Maximum flavor development requires allowing enough time for all of the desired biochemical reactions to take place. Every recipe operates on its own ideal timeline. Make sure you give the first rise, or bulk fermentation stage, enough time. Rush it and you lose.
DETAIL 6: HANDLE DOUGH GENTLY
Most home bakers think of kneading dough as a physical act, and the harder you work the dough, the better it is going to be. We don’t do that here. Once the final dough is mixed, treat it gently. Being gentle with the dough will help preserve its gluten structure and retain its gas. This applies throughout: when folding, easing the dough out of the tub, dividing it, shaping it, removing it from proofing baskets, and placing the proofed loaf in the Dutch oven for baking.
When folding the dough, extend the sections only until you feel resistance, and never to the point of tearing it. When turning the dough out of the tub and onto a floured work surface for dividing and shaping, toss some flour around the edges of the tub, then work a floured hand beneath the dough and gently ease it out onto the work surface.
At my bakery, we don’t punch down the dough before dividing and shaping. I prefer to keep the gas, along with all of its flavor compounds, in the dough. To divide the dough, always flour the surface along the dividing line first, then cut it with a dough knife or other sharp edge—even the end of a wide metal spatula. Tearing it breaks up more of the gluten than necessary. And when shaping, avoid overstretching the dough so you don’t run the risk of visibly tearing it. Using sufficient flour to dust the proofing baskets should prevent sticking, but if loaves do stick, be gentle as you ease them out of the baskets. Even when transferring proofed loaves to the preheated Dutch oven, continue to handle them carefully. I use the sides of my hands, rather than my fingertips, to lift the loaves; this spreads the pressure over a broader area.
DETAIL 7: PROOF PERFECTLY TO POINT
After the dough has been shaped into loaves, it undergoes one final rise, called proofing. This can take anywhere from one to sixteen hours, depending on the dough and the ambient temperature. Just as you can slow a dough’s development during bulk fermentation by putting it in a refrigerator or retarder, you can chill shaped loaves to prolong the proofing process. Slowing the rise during either bulk fermentation or proofing (but not both) is critical to achieving the complexity of flavors we look for in the breads at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. It also helps us manage our schedule and bake previously shaped loaves as soon as we get into the bakery in the early morning.
It’s usually difficult for home bakers to put bulk dough in the refrigerator overnight because of the size of the 12-quart dough tubs I call for in this book. It’s easier to put shaped loaves of bread in the refrigerator, so in this book, doughs are chilled only at the proofing stage. Not only do you get improved flavor and better keeping quality from the acidity that develops, but this overnight proof schedule also gives you the chance to bake bread first thing in the morning. It’s a great way to start your day.
The timing works this way: mix the dough in the afternoon, do the bulk fermentation at room temperature following the recipe timing (usually around five hours), and then shape the loaves in the evening. As soon as they’re shaped, wrap them to keep them from drying out, then put them the refrigerator. The chilled loaves don’t need to be warmed to room temperature before baking then next morning. I bake them straight from the refrigerator.
It’s also essential to find the perfect proof point. Don’t overproof or underproof your bread. The finger-dent test, described in detail, is a good indicator here. You’ll know the loaves are optimally proofed if you poke them and the indentation springs back very slowly. You can use this test while the loaves are still in their proofing baskets. If the dough collapses as you remove it from the proofing basket, it has gone too far and won’t have as much baked volume as it would have if you had removed it earlier. Levain breads have a longer window of time during which they are optimally proofed because their fermentation is less vigorous and they evolve more slowly, and perhaps because they have more acidity. Doughs made with commercial yeast have a shorter window, sometimes as narrow as 10 to 15 minutes.