The Wood-Fired Blog

Ice Water, Yeast and Crumb

This is a follow-up on my earlier posting on High Hydration Dough, where I ask (and answer) the question—”do I need to proof my yeast”?, with a clear and definitive “no”.

As a little background, I mixed my flour, salt and yeast, and then added 80% ice water directly to the flour and mixed it. After a two hour bulk fermentation, I shaped my baguettes, put then on a homemade couch for final proof. Note that I did not proof my baguette dough balls before shaping my loaves.

So, did I get a pretty good crumb development, with a nice structure of crumb and holes? I think it came out pretty well. Not perfect distribution, and I still have a lot to learn, but I feel good about not proofing my yeast (for bread or pizza dough) going forward.

Handling Wet Dough and the Couche

In my previous posting, I made to notes on mixing and kneading high hydration dough (80% in this case), so I wanted to make a couple of notes on working with web dough—and point out a mistake that I made (something I know but need occasional reminding).

First, don’t over-flour your work surface, or the dough, when handling wet dough. You can add a little bit of extra virgin olive oil to your work surface to the dough from sticking, and you can put water on your hands. If you use a lot of flour you can alter your dough, by working a lot of flour into the dough later in the process (which ins’t good), and your proofed loaves can have a lot of excess flour on them, which can burn in the oven, and give your bread an almost sandy, or gritty texture on the outside.

Second, you will need a couch. From our friends at Wikipedia (wait a minutes. are we our own friends at Wikipeidia? I have contributed a number of photos there—including some up-close photos of water buffalo for mozzarella):

Alternatively, a couche or proofing cloth can be used to proof dough on or under. Couche are generally made of linen or other coarse material which the dough will not stick to and are left unwashed so as to let yeast and flour collect in them, aiding the proofing process.

I have been using tea towels (at least that’s what my English wife calls them). You can find linen tea towels that are inexpensive and work pretty well—though they aren’t perfect. A professionale couche is wider, longer, stiffer and has a looser weave pattern, so the bread is less likely to stick. Maybe I need to go shopping. I know you can get one from the wonderful people at King Arthur Flour.

Mixing High Hydration Dough

I made 80% hydration baguette’s, and was reminded just how much longer (and a little faster) you need mix the dough to build the strands of gluten and develop the bread’s structure. That statement marks roughly the end of my technical knowledge on the science of web dough—thought I want to do some more research in order to understand why this is true.

From this sequence of photos, you can see the dough go from being not much more than batter, to nice thin strands of gluten developing, to the entire mixtures pulling from the sides of the mixing bowl to shape a true dough ball with a wonderful, silky texture.

Here is the recipe:

1 kg of Trader Joe’s white all purpose flour
10 grams of yeast
20 grams of salt
800 grams of ice water

Mixing took 13-15 minutes, including 3-4 minutes in the middle with my KitchenAid stand mixer running at a high speed (4 or 5). I bulk fermented the dough for a couple of hours before pushing out all of the air bubbles and shaping baguettes.

I ended up making some nice baguettes in my Presto pizza oven.

One last note. The Forno Bravo “perfect pizza dough” by weight recipe that we use in all of our eBooks does not call for you to proof your yeast in any way—we don’t add sugar to get it started, we don’t add warm water, and we don’t mix it on the side. Modern yeast is simply good enough to work without any of these extra steps.

“Ah, but does it always work?” you might be asking be asking yourself. If fact, we get a reasonable number of questions by phone and email, asking us if that really works. The answer is a resounding yes!

Think of it this way. In this recipe, I added the yeast directly to the flour (with no sugar or honey, and no separate proofing), and then I proceeded to dump ice water on top of it. Ice water, which is pretty much the opposite of proofing the yeast in warm water. And it worked great.

So my advice is to skip the yeast proofing step, and invest that time is very accurate weighing of your ingredients. You will come out ahead on time, and your bread and pizza dough will be much better!


Baguette à l’ancienne

From William Alexander, author of 52 Loaves.

I hate to burst anyone’s fantasies, but the typical baguette in a Parisian bakery, that very symbol of French cuisine, simply isn’t very good, made quickly by machine, from pumped-up flour. If you ask for a baguette à l’ancienne, however, you might pay a little more, but get an artisan baguette, made slowly, with a wild-yeast starter. This is my own interpretation of such a baguette. Take solace in the fact that, no matter how badly you might think it comes out, it is better than half the baguettes sold in Paris.

I agree with this in two ways. First, I think it is true that bread from Parisian Bakeries is extremely variable and lots of it just isn’t that good. Not as bad as my local Save Mart, but as Mr. Alexander says, “made quickly by machine, from pumped-up flour”. Not good.

I also agree that your own bread will be far better than just about anything you can buy locally, and better than most of the mass-produced bread made in France. Interestingly, the same thinking applies to your own wood-fired pizza and Italy.

Enjoy making your own!

Baguette Flipping Board

Watching Ciril Hitz’ wonderful video on baguette shaping and baking, I quickly saw the answer to one of my long-standing questions. For years, I have done my best stretching, folding and shaping my baguettes, only to get a little confused and frustrated about ruining their shape as I moved the loaves from my linen couch to the peel.

But there in the video is my answer. The baguette slipping board. You use it to load the baguette onto the board by flipping it seam side (bottom) up, and then moving it on to the peel by flipping it back seam side down. And the shape of your baguette remains perfect—or at least as perfect as it was when you started.

A quick Google search revealed that a typical baguette flipping board is roughly 4″ wide x 27″ long, and quite thin; perhaps 1/4″. You can buy a baguette flipping board for about $26 from a couple of sources, including shipping to California.

Ah, but today I was already going to Home Depot to buy plants, so I decided to swing through the wood department to see what they had. As good luck would have it, they stock 3 1/2″ x 24″ x 1/4″ popular and oak—for less than $4. I knew I had some sandpaper in garage, as well as linseed oil for my cutting boards, so that was that. I sat in the sun for a couple of minutes after planting my new plants, and sanded the corners and edges nice and smooth, coated my board of couple of times with the linseed oil, and I am now looking forward to my next round of baguette baking.

Traditionalists and Innovators Square Off in Naples Pizza Debate

This from the Guardian in the UK.

Naples chefs take sides in the ‘ultra pizza’ wars

The opening salvo by the innovator:

Enzo Coccia has an evangelical air as he discusses his spring pizza – piled with asparagus, buffalo mozzarella, sheep’s cheese, lard and beans. “They may say I am a heretic, but I just want to experiment,” says the controversial exponent of the Italian trend for what are being dubbed gourmet, or “ultra-pizzas”.

Quickly followed by up with strong disapproval from the establishment:

“There is no such thing as gourmet pizza, we are not OK with this,” said Sergio Miccu, head of the Neapolitan Association of Pizza Makers, which has secured EU certification for the margherita and another Neapolitan standard, the tomato, garlic and oregano marinara.

This article has particular meaning to me, as I have met Enzo a number of times, have been to his pizzeria, La Notizia, and I’ve even ridden across Naples on the back of his motorcycle (which was truly the experience of a lifetime). He’s a great guy. Still, I can see that the battle lines have been drawn, that reputations and power are stake and there is a great deal to be won or lost.

Will Naples become known for “gourmet” pizza, or remain known as the home of the well-made Margherita pizza?

Personally, I am a traditionalist. I feel as though something similar happened in Tuscany with the “Super Tuscan” wines, which to me were simply developed to cater to consumers with taste for “new world” wines from Napa and Australia. I have never enjoyed the taste of these new age wins, and rather, greatly prefer Chianti Classico and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. I once heard a story from the Italian food editor at, where they had a tasting of Super Tuscan wines in Chianti for the leading Florentine food and wine writers. After sipping their Super Tuscan wines so they could write their reviews, the Italians all pushed them away and went back to drinking Chianti. haha. I can truly picture that.

But to give you an idea of where I am coming from as a traditionalist, I don’t think they should even call the food product that California Pizza Kitchen makes pizza. It’s something; it’s edible. But it isn’t pizza.

Free Stuff

Facebook went public yesterday, and there a couple of things that stood out for me. With a market capitalization of $104B, larger than both, and McDonalds, and 900 million users (a significant percentage of the population of the planet with access to a computer) the company has clearly been an incredible success. As an aside, from an investor’s perspective, the Facebook IPO demonstrates how important it is in today’s system to be an early institutional investor and an insider, and how little upside remains for the real investor (you and me) by the time the shares hit the public market. Facebook hit the retail market at $42 (the price paid by someone who placed a buy order with their retail broker), and closed the day at $38 (only with buying support from Facebook’s investment banks). For the typical Facebook user who bought the stock, Friday was a losing day.

Still, with a $104B market cap, Facebook makes a big statement on the value of free.

Which brings me to the theme of this posting. Free stuff. My view is that there are two different ways of making money by giving something away for free.

1. You can use free as a way of inspiring your customers to buy stuff from you.

2. You can give away services in order to show customers ads and to collect data on their activity that you sell the advertisers.

In the first model, your users and your customers. You treat your users with respect, and you have a clean business relationship. Your customers give you money in exchange for an item or a service that they value, and the company makes a profit by selling that item or services at a higher price than it costs to produce. This is the model that Forno Bravo and Apple follows. We make stuff (pizza ovens and outdoor fireplaces) and we sell it—hopefully at a profit. We give lots of valuable stuff away for free, but we only do that in an effort to make our customers happier so that they will buy more stuff.

The second model is more complicated. The main difference is that the company’s users are, in fact, not its customers. It’s customers, the people who generate its revenue, are its advertisers. This business model describes both Facebook and Google. This dynamic can create a great deal of conflict between the company and it users, where what is good for the user, for example privacy rights and content ownership rights, is bad for the company. And visa versa.

Today Facebook makes a profit of roughly $5 per user per year, virtually all through advertising. In order for the company to grow its revenue and profit in the coming years to meet Wall Street expectations and deliver on its huge stock valuation, they will need to grow that figure to $20 per user per year. Now that Facebook is public, it is going to be interesting to watch.

All of which brings me back to Forno Bravo and free. Is there a free lunch? At Forno Bravo, we believe that the answer is a big yes! :-)

We offer a wide range of free services, including the Pompeii Oven eBook (who else would teach it customers how to not buy its products?), the Forno Bravo Forum, the wood-fired cooking eBook series, the Community Cookbook and more. And we will be announcing more free services and new free eCookbooks in the future—all with no strings attached. These services cost a good deal of money to create and maintain, but from a business perspective, these are good investments.

The important point is that Forno Bravo does not accept advertising and we will never sell or share your information with a third party. Never! We think that it should be easy, relaxing and fun to be a part of the Forno Bravo community.

This has been our strategy from day one, and it has been working really well; both for Forno Bravo and, we think, for our customers and our community. So we aren’t going to make any changes. Even though Facebook is now worth $104B.

I’m off to bake some bread and take lots of notes for our forthcoming wood-fired bread eBook.

Keeping It Simple

I really enjoyed this posting on web design news & information since 1995.

THANK YOU for the screen shot. I was actually already aware that the type on my site is big. I designed it that way. And while I’m grateful for your kind desire to help me, I actually do know how the site looks in a browser with default settings on a desktop computer…

The first thing you might notice reading is that is it easy read, and yes, it is true, he uses really big type on this latest version of his web site in order to best share his thinking with his audience—and to think outside of the box. That’s when it occurred to me that one of the things that I am enjoying about blogging is the ability it gives me to present my thoughts to our oven community without the clutter of traditional web design, and all of the demands of links, navigation, colors, fonts, logos and layout. It gives me a sense for freedom to just think and write. Nice.

Among other things, Jeffrey Zeldman hosts The Big Web Show, a weekly podcast featuring special guests and topics like web publishing, art direction, content strategy, typography, web technology, and more.