Artisan Bread Baking Tips

All steps of the bread baking process are interrelated, and each step affects the final product. Only with this understanding can bakers begin to control the process. Here are some tips that can have an immediate impact on your bread productions.


Fermentation

  • Plan longer fermentation times. Flavor comes from long, natural fermentation. The first fermentation period is the most important: try for 1 hour minimum. Pre-ferments can help even more.
  • Use less yeast. For longer fermentation times in a normal dough, 2 percent baker's yeast is a starting point. Work down from there. At the end of the mix, dough should be 75°-76°F, the ideal range for yeast activity.
  • Mix less. A "fully developed" dough will be gassy and hard to handle after a long first fermentation. Doughs continue to develop and gain the necessary strength during the first fermentation.

Make-up and Baking

  • Handle doughs gently. Rough handling increases the dough's strength. Using too much pressure to shape a bread, for example, tightens the proteins, actually making the task harder.
  • Bake on a stone surface. For hearth breads, the immediate transfer of heat from the stone to the dough assures a good oven spring and better volume.

Flour

  • Use more water. For American flours, 6.5 percent water (based on total flour weight) is a good starting point. Work up, not down from there. The optimum hydration rate depends on many things, including the moisture content and quality of the flour.
  • Use lower protein flours. Lower protein flours have better quality. Look for easier make-up, tolerance to long fermentation, good crumb structure and a natural taste in the end product.
  • Use high quality ingredients. It makes sense to pay a little more for a quality flour. Bleaching and bromating are becoming things of the past among the best bakers.