The Wood-Fired Blog

Baguettes Follow Pizza

This is becoming a good habit. Baguettes follow pizza, and this time it was particularly fun because I got to see how the Central Milling flour works in bread. You know what happens  — you make 9 pizza balls, and you only make six pizzas. So you roll your extra dough into a ball, and refrigerator it overnight, and then bring it out in the morning to take off the chill.

My dough started to come back to life by early afternoon, and I shaped my baguettes, let then proof for about 90 minutes and then slashed and baked them in time for dinner. Despite my best attempt at properly scoring them, they still exploded! One of these days I am going to get it right.


Much like the pizzas, the Central Milling flour gave my bread a nice crunch in the crust, and a dense, flavorful crumb. The loaves were not as light and airy as a traditional French baguette, but the overall effect was very good.


Making a Pretty Good Baguette with Pizza Dough

Everybody has leftover pizza dough. Two nights ago, we had company and made flatbreads to go with steak and salads, and we ended up with two 275 gram dough balls. They weren’t anything special; just regular 65% hydration dough using Trader Joe’s general purpose flour (embarrassing, but we ran out of both Caputo and Central Milling 00), and the dough balls sat out most of the evening and developed a thick skin. Just about everything you would expect. I threw the dough into an airtight container and popped it in the refrigerator.

But this morning, I was determined to make a pretty baguette with the dough — just to see if it could be done. So I folded it six times and put it back in the container to warm up. After a few hours, I folded it again.

By early evening, the dough was warming up and expanding, so I cut it in half, started shaping my baguettes. Because it was only 65% hydration, it was easier to work with than a more highly hydrated baguette dough; it felt like there was a lot of wiggle room working with the dough and it wasn’t too sticky. I tried hard to create a nice, tight outer edge on the dough as I shaped the baguettes and worked out the air holes.

Finally, let the loaves proof in a linen cloche, score them and popped them in my pizza oven — you can still see where I spilled olive oil from my flatbreads from last night. Overall, I am pretty happy. The loaves has some nice oven spring, though one of them burst out the side, not through the slashes (I seem to be having that problem recently), and a nice, warm brown color. The baguettes crackled as they cooled, and yes, I decided to not swab the cooking floor gain, though I did a through job of brushing the floor, so there only a little bit of ash on the loaves.

All in all, this was a useful experience. I got to work with 65% dough in an almost no-harm, no-foul environment, and my baguette shaping turned out OK.

One last note on white flour and baguettes in general. Like a lot of people, I am trying to constantly work my way into ever more complex carbs — which explains all of the whole wheat, whole grain bread that I bake. We’re started eating a lot of quinoa, brown rice and I’m even starting to eat Trader Joe’s brown rice paste; it’s not bad.

I have started looking at baguettes (and focaccia) as something to enjoy and appreciate as a treat. Everything in moderation means that you get to eat everything.

My New (and very nice) Bread Peel

I have been struggling to find a good way to load multiple baguettes into my pizza oven off and on for years. With my recent round of bread baking, my struggles have come to a head. I’ve tried the back of baking pans, short wood pizza peels designed for (that’s right) pizza, standard metal pizza placing peels, my new baguette flipping board and a homemade attempt to making a true baguette bread peel (or bread boat). I tried loading my baguettes by sliding them down the front of the peel and across the side of the peel. Nothing worked.

My baguettes were often twisted or serpentine, like snakes — even after I tried to straighten them in the oven while they were still soft.

Then, I decided to get serious and I contacted the good people at Lillsun, the leading US manufacturer of wood bread and pizza boards and peels. Forno Bravo has sold a number of their products through the Forno Bravo Store for years. And they send me a 14″ wide x 30″ long bread peel with a 6″ handle and a bevelled front edge. To get right to it, it’s perfect. I ordered the 14″ wide peel hoping that it would fit nicely through the opening of my small Presto wood-fired oven and reach to back without having to put my hand inside the oven, and most importantly that I could slide my baguettes into the oven without messing up.

And I can happily say that it worked just as I planned the first time. This is great.

Todays’ bread (as always) had its flaws. The oven was too hot and it wasn’t cooling down as quickly as I had planned, so I had to wait longer that I had intended before loading my bread — so my loaves were over proofed and starting to lose their elasticity. But on the up side, my scoring technique is improving. I seemed to hit the mark overlapping my slashes by about 1/3, and I am getting my scoring deeper into my loaves. So you win a few and you lose a few. Such is wood-fired bread.

These loaves are 72% hydration and use Central Milling Tipo 00 pizza flour. The flour and dough were really nice. That said, I started the dough in the morning and baked it around 5PM, so I didn’t have time for any complicated techniques. 10 minutes knead on low (KitchenAid 2), six folds, bulk fermentation, six molds, second fermentation, cut in half, shape baguette balls, rest for an hour, shape baguettes, rest for over an hour (ooops), score and bake. I successfully used by baguette flipping board, moving my loaves from the linen to the baguette peel.

I used a garden sprayer to steam the oven twice in the first five minutes. More to come on steam later.

Overall, I am OK with my bread, and really happy with my new baguette peel. Onward and upward.

A Baguette Self-Critique

I have always thought of myself as a glass half full person, so in parsing my latest baguette lessons and trials, I’m going to start with the positive. As background information, I made a standard 70% dough using TJs AP flour.

On the upside:

I started my dough the night before using room temperature water and an initial knead for 10 minutes on KitchenAid at 3. The dough ball was silky and well-formed. I then popped it in the refrigerator covered with a kitchen towel overnight.

The overnight rise was good. The volume increased by more than 50%, but did not exploded, and it did not stay in a hibernating state—as is the case when I start my dough with ice water. My conclusion is that ice water baguettes probably need more than 19 hours (kneading at 10PM and baking at 5PM the next day).

I did six folds and a bulk fermentation and an second six folds. It’s easy to do, and I have mastered the wet deck and wet hands method—so I am not adding any additional flour to the dough. I created the baguette balls and let them proof on the deck, which also worked.

Overall, these are probably my best baguettes yet. They are light, crispy on the crust, the crumb is nice and developed, and they are tall. I’ve been wanting to address my low (puddle) baguette problem, and I might be there.

On the “needs improvement” list, I still have a ways to go:

While my slashing (docking or scoring—I wonder why there are so many terms for basically the same thing) is improving there were some real shortcomings in this batch.

On one baguette, my scoring did not overlap by 1/3 (as described in the Hitz scoring video, and in parts of the bread where there was not enough overlap, there is the “bulge and constraint” phenomenon that Hitz described in his video. You can see it in the photo below. The cuts are over-exploded, while the areas of bread without the overlap are very narrow. Got it. Overlap by 1/3.

On the second baguette, despite the fact that I thought I scored the loaves pretty well, and did the 1/3 overlap, the baguette steam blew out the side of the loaf—leaving the score makes relatively un-expanded. Not good. Watching the video again, I have to remember that speed is important to the scoring technique. I think I need to score fast to get a deeper cut.

While one baguette is pretty consistently formed, the second loaf is just too short and too fat. I need to think about whether this was because I simply didn’t roll that loaf properly at the final step of preparing the loaf, or whether I made another mistake earlier in the process.

And finally, after watching the Hitz video again after loading these baguettes in the oven, I can see that I need to know more air out of my baguette balls before shaping the baguettes. I need to get more skin tension during my final shaping, and that will help.

So in the end, I feel like I made a few more improvements to my technique, and definitely have a few more to go. I some ways, fixing more problems upstream (earlier in the process), makes the mistakes I make later in the process all the more glaring. I can definitely say at this point that I do not know how long it is going to take for me to get all of the bugs out of the system. Or, to be honest, if I can reach the level of skill that I would like will staying 100% self taught. It’s going to be fun finding out.



More on Baguettes and Hydration

Following up on my previous posting on why 80% hydration is just too high for a straight yeast baguette (and my plan on trying different hydration and dough preparation methods), today I ventured off and made a couple of simple baguettes with 70% hydration.

My plan was really simple. I made a straight-forward, room temperature dough:

500 grams of TJs AP flour
350 grams of water
5 grams of yeast
10 grams of salt

Then I did a 5 minute knead at quite a high speed (5 on KitchenAid). I was in a hurry, so I rushed it. But then I have the dough a quick six holds before heading out the door, and a second six folds after bulk fermentation. About 90 minutes.

In then shaped the baguette balls (what is the proper word for this?) following the Ciril Hitz method, and let them rest of an hour, and then I shaped the baguettes, put them in a couche and left them proof for an hour.

I know this is obvious to an experienced baker, but the difference between 70% dough and 80% (no matter how hard you try to build dough strength) is really clear. You can handle the 70% dough with very little flour, and the task of shaping the baguette balls and then shaping the baguette was much easier.

And as you would guess, I did get the oven spring and the higher, rounder, lighter loaf that I was shooting for.

Of course my baguettes are still pretty darn ugly. I am always having issues loading them into the oven, with the dough sticking to (in no particular order) the couche, the flipping board, the peel and each other. And my scoring is still awful.

But, they are closer to what I am trying to accomplish. A step in the right direction, with a good lesson learned.

One last note on baking. As I said earlier, I was in a bit of a hurry today, so I decided to bake my baguettes on a Forno Bravo pizza stone (15”x20”) in my convection oven, using a spray bottle—rather than firing my pizza oven. I preheated my oven to 475ºF, and then turned it down to 425ºF after l loaded the bread.

Here’s what is interesting. The two baguette came out completely different. The dark brown baguette was loaded a minute of two before the second (I decided to load and score the second baguette after the first was already in the oven). It started baking and the crust was already forming by the time I loaded the second baguette and started spraying water in the oven for steam. The second loaf is much more of a caramel color. It goes to show what a couple of minutes can do to change the nature of a loaf of bread.  Even more interesting, the first loaf is taller than the second.

Was it differences in dough handling? Because the first loaf was in the back of the oven facing the convection fan? Did the back of the oven maintain a more consistent temperature?

Anyway, I still feel like I am taking small steps forward most days that I bake. Being self-taught has its pluses and minuses, but for now I am enjoying the process.

Technique and a Really Good Baguette

In my quest to learn to make a better baguette (dare I say a good baguette?), I have been experimenting with new techniques, reading about the science, watching videos, tuning my equipment (pizza oven, etc.) and even making equipment (my baguette flipper). I have been deconstructing the process and learning how to make beyond my initial attempts, which I would characterize as follows:

1. Mix 80% room temperature water dough for 8 minutes at low speed.
2. Bulk ferment for an hour or so.
3. Shape baguettes and let them proof on the counter.
4. Transfer them into the pizza oven by hand using the back of a baking sheet.

I would say that my results have been OK, but I want more. My flavor is good, the crumb texture is OK, the crust is only so-so, and my slashing is downright awful. In my defense, my baguettes are still better than just about anything we can buy locally.

So I want more.

Plus, I have always enjoyed learning new skills—it’s what keeps a middle-aged guy going, and I think that being self-taught is the way to go.

My initial steps toward improvement were primarily at the back-end of the process. Improved baguette shaping and a better method for loading my loaves into the oven. And that has been helping. But until I improve the quality of my dough, the back-end improvements will only get me so far. GIGO. Well, not that extreme. MEMO. Mediocre In…

Today’s work is focused on the dough.

To start, I have been reading more about gluten development and working with high hydration dough. There seem to be a number of elements of dough preparation that I can easily improve, without significantly increasing the complexity or time commitment of my daily baking. In no particular order:

1. Temperature control.
I am starting to work with ice-water and overnight fermentation, rather than a short fermentation at room temperature. In today’s batch I mixed an 80% hydration dough using ice water and an overnight fermentation in the refrigerator.

2. Higher speed mixing for better gluten developement.
Wet doughs require more mixing in order to develop the gluten your bread needs for a nicely structured crumb. In my previous ice water baguette batch, I mixed the dough for about 8 minutes on a low setting at the end of the evening. It was basically undeveloped, but it was late, so I put it in the refrigerator, hoping the overnight fermentation would improve the structure. It didn’t. And the resulting baguettes were very flat and did not have very much (if any) oven spring. In this batch, I mixed the dough faster (the 4th speed) and longer—a little more than 10 minutes. I could definitely see the gluten developing and the strand in the dough becoming elongated. Over the mixing time, the dough went from batter, to a sticky mess, and actually forming a dough ball.

It formed a real dough ball by the end.

3. Folding during bulk fermentation for better dough strength.
This is another good way of helping the dough develop a strong gluten structure, without over-mixing your dough during the initial kneading. There has been a lot written recently on no-knead dough (very high hydration, un-kneaded dough left to ferment for long periods of time) and folded doughs (where lots of folding takes the place of a higher speed initial knead), and there seems to be a consensus that folding after bulk fermentation helps build gluten structure without overworking the dough to where oxygen depletes the flour.

I found a great YouTube video that demonstration high hydration dough folding. I really like the instructor’s methodical approach, and I have started incorporating this into my bread making technique. Working with very wet dough is incredibly important if you want to make the traditional light, crusty European breads, including Baguettes, ciabatta and Pugliese.

Now, if I can learn to combine my improved “front-end” techniques with the “back-end” techniques that I have been trying to master, I might get somewhere.

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.

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.