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Breadmaking 101: All About Proofing and Fermentation

In today's edition of Breadmaking 101, we're going to delve into what happens when dough is rising, and get to know our soon-to-be good friends—the billions of yeast cells that make our wet blobs of dough into pillowy, airy wonders—a little better. Along the way, we're going to unpack what it means to divide and shape dough, and figure out how we can confidently and purposefully coax our dough into loaves, hopefully without making too much of a mess of ourselves. More

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

Hi everyone, and welcome to our brand new bread column. Think of this as a safe space, committed to talking about—and demystifying—your breads and doughs. Our goal is to break down some of the basics of the techniques, chemistry, and superstition behind great bread, and make the whole idea of getting your hands in some dough a little less intimidating. More

The Science of Baking Bread (And How to Do it Right)

Hello! I'm responding from a bar, so if this gets murky, make sure you call me out! Let's try this in order....

@Balma: Good eyes! We've corrected the typo. A 9,000 g banneton would be the size of a bathtub. Generally, I bake 2 lb. loaves at the Cleveland. Roughly 900 g to a kilo, unless I'm putting lots of stuff in them, in which case weights increase.

As for the scoring experiment. I'm skeptical, but I strongly support you trying it. In my experience, disturbing bakes mid-oven-spring makes for sad loaves. But why not try it? After all, if you have low quality sherry around (which I always try to), you have the makings of great french toast. We'll be posting recipes designed to salvage ambitious experiments soon. I support you.

@the temperature folks: I don't temp loaves when I bake, and the thump and feel tests haven't failed me yet. But taking a dough's temperature won't hurt. I recommend using a thermometer as a tool to develop your feel for when bread is done. Anything above 190F should be safe.

@red: I use the three quart. It's called the Lodge Combo Cooker. At at work I use six at the same time, lacking a proper bread oven. They're cheap at work great. Hat tip to Chad Robertson for bringing this method and equipment into my life.

@canihavesome: At first glance, that sounds like and under proofing problem. Try a longer final rise. Also, it could be a pan lubrication, or over egg-washing problem, or too-much-drafty-air-mucking-up-your-dough-problem. Email me pictures and let's talk more.

@drude: either will work. The flour I used for this recipe was about 12% protein. If your protein content is lower, mix more, but more gently. If your protein content is higher, mix less. For this recipe, we won't really need bread flour until we start modifying it to tolerate being spliced with weaker flours, i.e. lower in protein, such as rye, benne, and buckwheat.

@Dekay: Spot on. The short final proof on this recipe keeps the poke test relevant. I don't use it for overnight proofs.

@Su-vide Sam: For this recipe, I never proof overnight. There's too much yeast activity going on (although intentionally over proofing the dough makes for great pizza crust or foccacia). For wild yeasted loaves--sourdoughs--I usually proof overnight.

Regarding the soft crust. Not to jump the gun on this, but try integrating a polish into this recipe. Say, you use 500g polish, which means dropping 250g each of flour and water from the recipe totals. Bake hot and fast, leaving the loaf covered for everything but the last 5 minutes of baking. If what I just wrote doesn't make sense, email me, and we can talk it through. For anyone else reading this, we'll be talking about it this all in a few weeks. Or email me. I'll respond to all of you.

@bostonAdam: I use 100% rice flour for dusting. It's greater absorbency helps to prevent sticking better than AP. However, properly seasoned bannetons are the key. That takes lots of proofs and bakes.

Also, your sticking issue could be related to shaping. Wet doughs are easy to rip, and when we rip our gluten we release water, making our dough stickier. As an experiment, try pre-shaping your dough twice, and gently. This might help organize your gluten while reducing how wet it feels on it's surface.

And that's that. Cheers everyone, and happy baking.


Breadmaking 101: All About Proofing and Fermentation

Hi Everyone! Let's talk bread. For simplicity, I'm going to try and answer your questions in order:

@Su-vide Sam: First off, the bench rest is really important. It's a key step in creating a successful final shape. This is because gluten takes time to react to being manipulated, and relax. If we skip our bench rest, we're more likely to tear our gluten during our final shape. Also, if we skip the bench rest we might think we've created enough tension in our final shapes, but that gluten will then relax too much during our final proof, and the result will be flatter bread.

Regarding a cold retardation of the bulk fermentation, it can definitely be done. However, commercially yeasted breads ferment faster than sourdough's do. If you want to bulk ferment your dough overnight, I would try reducing the yeast by half to prevent over-proofing. Typically, sourdough breads are much better suited to this treatment than commercially yeasted breads.

@Sailtier: To start with, the conversation happening here about this all makes me really happy. Regarding no knead recipes as a rule--which includes Kenji's pizza dough recipe--you'll notice that these recipes call for a small fraction of the yeast that the Workhorse does. This is why they both can, and in fact need, to proof for so long. The Workhorse is designed to happen relatively fast, and is ill-suited to such a long proof.

@Everyone concerned about flavor and cold retardation: The Workhorse, really speaking, is just an introduction to the world of hearth baking. In a few weeks, we're going to begin discussing pre-ferments, which will allow us to maintain a schedule similar to the Workhorse, but boost flavor by offering a portion of our flour more time to ferment. We'll be talking about old-dough recipes, poolish, biga, and eventually sourdough culture, including a tutorial on how to start you're very own culture and feed it in a manner that suits your baking habits.

However, with respect to retarding proofing in general, let's think about it the same as we would think about cooking a steak. What I mean is that because our dough temperature doesn't plummet to 40 F the minute it enters the fridge, our dough will continue to proof--albeit at a slower and slower pace--for several hours after being set to retard. I think of this as carry-over proofing, just the same as pulling a steak off of your grill at a slightly less done than you plan on eating it.

With respect to the Workhorse, 90 minutes is just enough time to slow down proofing, but certainly not stop it. For me, this proofing schedule balances well my desire for flavor and my need to get bread through the oven in a timely manner. If we chose not to retard our final proof, our dough would likely be ready after only a half hour or so. This is a totally valid way of going about things, especially if time is precious. If you plan to retard the workhorse overnight, I would reduce the yeast by half, but remember that your bulk fermentation will be slower as a consequence.

With respect to sourdoughs, the same applies. It takes a two pound loaf several hours to hit forty degrees after fermenting at 75-80 F. Proofing sourdough overnight in a cold setting, therefore, amounts to roughly the same amount of real proofing time as a 4 hour proof would at room temperature.

Last thing about the pizza dough. JLHuge hit right on it when he talked about structure. Really speaking, pizza is flat bread, and so is unburdened by supporting it own weight to any significant degree. Hearth loaves require more structure to fully rise during baking. If we proofed the Workhorse for 5 days, we would get delicious pizza crust, but certainly not anything that resembles a "loaf."

@Balma: I do something similar to what it sounds like you do with a proofing box, which is to final proof doughs in the Cleveland's wine room, which is a nice 60 F. As it happens, all of the fermentation for just about any loaf can happen entirely at these temperatures, but the schedule will be greatly extended, and at least at the Cleveland, storage space for all the loaves we have working would quickly become a problem.

As goes videos, I'll see what I can do. At the very least, I'll try to post something to instagram for folks to reference.

Please let me know if those answers were helpful or more confusing!

Butter and Sage Gnudi From 'Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food'

Hi Maggie! This recipe looks great, thanks for the post. Seeing your suggested tweaks section, I was reminded of how a pasta maker I used to work with shaped the gnudi. When working with a wet ricotta, it helps to load the ricotta mixture into a piping bag, and cut the gnudi into the semolina, then shape them into rounds once they've been coated. Chilling the piping bag once filled with stiffen up the ricotta as well.

Just thought I'd pass that diggle around to see if it helped anyone. Cheers! Gnudi are delicious.

Breadmaking 101: How to Mix and Knead Bread Dough Like a Pro

@!James: Don't worry! I've baked many failed loaves. It happens. It's part of the learning. Good thing our lives aren't in danger here. This is all about practice.

Let's talk about your first loaf. I would want to hear a little more about how you mixed it. I also need a details about your proofing experience. Such as how much it rose, and how it felt while shaping. Gumminess is usually a sign of being under baked, or cut open too early. Its lack of height might have something to do with how it was loaded into the oven, or how hot your oven really gets. As an experiment, try baking the workhorse as a pan-loaf, and see what sort of crumb you get.

As for the second loaf, I'm curious about all the same details. My gut tells me that with both loaves, the trouble was in proofing or loading the dough into the oven. Those are the next two posts to go up.

If you're up for it, bake another batch. No matter how it turns out, take a picture of the crust, and bisect the loaf laterally and send pictures of the crumb to my email. We'll talk about this more during our storage/eating post, but a proper autopsy on lackluster loaves is a great learning tool (hat tip to Chefs Brynne and Johnson at FCI).

That same offer goes out to all readers. Email me pictures of finished loaves, beautiful and fugly, along with a description of your experience and we can talk process. Also, even ugly, dense bread has its uses. I've got old and weird bread recipes for days.

@Balma: Schmuperstition is my favorite kind. Glad to help out!

Breadmaking 101: How to Mix and Knead Bread Dough Like a Pro

Morning folks! Thanks for reading and for the awesome discussion happening here. Let's talk some bread....

@BostonAdam: On kneading. This recipe isn't a no-knead recipe, but it's not a knead the hell out it recipe either. The more a dough is kneaded, the more uniform it's crumb will become. However, there is a limit to this. If we were to knead a dough--any dough--for too-too long we would so overdevelop our gluten structure that it would deteriorate and rip, releasing it's water and become mush, un-revivable and un-bakable. If we didn't knead this dough at all, it would be difficult to shape, and although our crumb might open up a little more we wouldn't have enough structure to make big, tall loaves of bread.

When using your mixer, you are kneading your bread when you set your mixer to medium-fast speed after incorporating your salt and yeast. Since we have a nice, long autolyse built into our process here, I wouldn't let it spin for more than a couple of minutes. Give your dough a tug--it should pull away from you and stick to your hands just a little. If it doesn't stick to you at all you've gone overboard. If the dough is so sticky it tries to swallow your hand, let it spin another minute.

On cold retardation: Since this dough is rather heavily yeasted, our only cold step is during our final proof, and only if we're working someplace really hot. Since the weather is cooling off here in New York, I'll do a test bake in a couple of weeks and post up a revised proofing schedule as an example for the curious.

@Su-Vide Sam: That's some wet dough your working with there. Nice work. Our next post is going to be all about proofing, and getting a feel for that pillowy feeling dough gets when it's ready to be divided and shaped. If it'll help, I'll try to Instagram some pictures from the Cleveland this week of ready-to-be-divided dough. My go to is to wait for a dough--particularly at the hydrations you're working with--to bulge like an overfull water ballon when pushed on in the center.

@Balma: You are being a little silly, but I love it that you are. A baker's superstitions are part of what makes each baker's bread unique.

Adding the salt and yeast together won't hurt the yeast--there's ample room for the both of them in our dough. If you still want to add them separately, just be careful not to over mix your dough. Any and all mixing develops gluten, whatever the speed. For that reason, if you're using a mixer I would reduce the amount of time you mix at higher speed, or even eliminate it. If mixing by hand, it might mean doing fewer folds later on than others might need to.

And with regard to autolysing, the Workhorse is what we'd call a straight dough, meaning there's no sourdough or any other preferment involved. When we get to sourdoughs, we'll usually add our preferments and cultures before autolysing, as they will contain a significant portion of our water. In those cases, we will often choose to reduce our autolyse time. We'll be doing a whole little series on preferments and sourdoughs.

And on proofing vs. fermentation: Great question, and we'll talk about this more in the next post. You're totally right, Balma, proofing usually refers to the last rise. However, the chemistry is the same throughout the entire process, and the words can be used interchangeably in some cases. I usually use the word fermentation when I want to focus on yeast activity as it relates to the creation of acids and alcohols, particularly when managing preferments, such as sourdough cultures and polish. I usually talk about proofing/rising when I'm thinking about my my baking schedule, and the hands-on side of things. That might sound arbitrary but I find the distinction useful when having a conversation on multiple fronts.

@Blaise and etu001: Don't worry about the next post! I strongly encourage you to start baking now. As much as any of us can read about baking, the only way to really learn is by doing it. Practice, practice, practice. Lucky for us, even baking misadventures are usually still delicious if we have enough butter or stinky-cheese around.

@Dekay: As we make our way into wetter doughs and wild yeast we'll draw very heavily on Chad Robertson's techniques, many of which I use at the Cleveland. Thanks for the heads up!

@pumpkinator: Bread Science is an amazing resource. I know it's a little expensive, but it's worth it. Good luck at the restaurant!

@!James: The Workhorse, as-is, probably isn't going to work that well for your schedule. But for sport, try halving the yeast and placing the loaves in the fridge once shaped. Make sure you do this at night, as we don't want them to over-proof. This should allow you to bake them in the morning and still get beautiful loaves.

Alternatively, try baking the loaves according to the recipe the night before. When it's breakfast time, get your oven up to 500 degrees, spray the baked loaf generously with water and throw it in for 3 to 5 minutes. It won't be quite as magical as fresh baked, but it should be really close.

For recipes that work well retarding overnight, check out the Tartine Books and the Girl Meets Rye blog. If sourdough is new to you, give it a shot. We'll be doing our own sourdough primer here in a month or so.

A last, but no less delicious, resort: toast. Shmeer recipes will be forthcoming. I promise.

The Workhorse Loaf: Simple Crusty White Bread

Hi all! And thanks for sharing your experiences.

@Attemptingtobake: To bake this without a dutch oven, start by placing your heaviest pan--or several of them--at the bottom of your oven and preheat your oven to 500 degrees. If you have baking stones, put those in too. Cover any oven vents with wet kitchen towels.

When your oven is at temp, grab a cup full of ice cubes. Place the loaf on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper--do not use a silpat--and spray the loaf liberally with water then score it. Moving fast, place the loaf and tray on your baking stone and throw the ice into the pans you've gotten hot on the bottom. Shut the door.

Do not open your oven for the first twenty minutes of baking. Regress your temp down to 450 or 425 and bake for another twenty or so minutes.

@Chiara: Baking two loaves at once is no problem at all--I just didn't think most people would have two dutch ovens, or an oven big enough to fit them both.

As for the temperatures, it's not hard to believe your oven burns hotter than mine. What I would recommend is that you regress your oven to a lower temperature rather than shorten the baking time, making sure to still start your bake at 500. Shortening the baking time could mean an underdone crumb.

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

@Girish: I almost always use Diamond brand kosher salt cause it's what's around the restaurant. But any table salt will do. We don't want anything too course or that would melt ice on roads or anything.

As for measurements, this is why it's important to weigh ingredients. Table salt, kosher salt, or sea salt will all be the same by weight regardless of the grind. If going by volume, however, I imagine you would need slightly larger amounts for more coarsely ground salt.

Fool proof but slightly weird way to guestimate is to chew a piece of raw dough once you have your complete dough mixed. If going this route, start low and work in more salt to taste.

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

@Shaz: We're going to be covering the chemistry of salt in bread in the next post, but here's a brief explanation to chew on. Salt does three main things in bread dough. First: Salt effects how a dough's gluten structure develops. Generally speaking, salt strengthens the gluten network and makes a dough easier to manipulate. Second: Salt, by attracting water to itself, helps to regulate yeast activity. This has the effect of slowing down our dough's rise. And third: Salt, as in any other food, seasons the dough and helps the flavors pop.

What this means for saltless bread....It is possible to make bread without salt although a number of things will change. First, your dough will feel very loose and will be more difficult to shape. To mitigate this, you might want to try and reduce the hydration of the Workhorse by just a bit--use your judgement, but fifty grams less is about as low and you'll want to go.

Second: Your dough will proof really fast which means keep an eye on it. Or two eyes even. You're whole proofing schedule will condense by as much as half depending on how hot your kitchen is.

Third: Traditionally, many Tuscan breads were made without salt. To people accustomed to well seasoned breads, this makes Tuscan bread a real chore to eat. However, the reason the Tuscans seasoned their bread so mildly was to offset the more aggressive seasoning of the rest of their cuisine. Point being, whatever your reasons are for wanting low sodium bread be warned, it will dramatically effect the taste of your bread.

@stillSTH: I checked out the link, and that looks like a recipe for some pretty dense bread. Here are some tweaks to try that could help your loaves a bit.

First: Increase the amount of yeast in the recipe by half. This will change your baking schedule a bit, but might do the trick.

Second: Shorten or eliminate the bulk proof. Yeast only has so much juice in it, and dough naturally degasses a bit during dividing and shaping. If you divide the dough earlier, it should add some bounce to your final rise. Not sure where you're writing from, but if it's really hot your bread might be over proofing, which can result in loaf collapse. My feeling, if the recipe was working earlier in the year and is struggling now, is that this is what's happening. In this case, reducing the amount of yeast could help as well.

Third: How dense are the loaves? If the texture works for you, try putting more dough in each pan.

Four: Industry secret, most breads marketed as whole wheat are often still made mostly from white flour, or, use high extraction flour (such as type 80 or 85) which is somewhere between AP and whole wheat in terms of it's graininess. To help your rise, try using high gluten bread flour for the portion of white flour, or reduce the amount of whole wheat in the actual dough and put a whole mess of toasted seeds in the bread.

Which leads me to a question: In making a bread with such a high percentage of whole wheat, is your goal to increase the nutrition in your loaf? or to boost flavor? It's definitely possible to do both but I need to hear a little more about your goals.

A note to tinkerers: When changing a recipe, try to change one thing at a time. If you try all the things I just mentioned at once, it could clutter up your idea of what changes worked or didn't. Dialing in a new recipe takes lots of bakes sometimes.

The Workhorse Loaf: Simple Crusty White Bread

Hi folks, Max here. It's great to hear you all have tried the recipe! There's a few things I want to clarify....

First off, next week's column is going to be all about how to mix this dough effectively, both with a mixer and by hand. 70% hydration can be intimidating at first, but with a little practice it should create a medium floppy sort of dough that shapes nicely. There will be pictures, lots of them. In the meantime, have a look at some of the resources listed in the article, as most of them have great tutorials on mixing, which our discussion will draw upon heavily. The Robertson and Reinhart books have particularly detailed discussions on this topic.

@Northcook: Sounds like you had a run-in with the shaggy-mass monster. The dough will stay really sticky until we get our gluten organized, which is what folding accomplishes. If you try the recipe again, run your hands and dough spatula under water before attempting your folds and that should help a lot. After each fold, your dough should feel much less sticky than before it was folded, and more "dough-like" as a consequence.

@dotcodotuk: Warts and all it sounds like you had a great bake! As for recessing your oven temperature, it really all depends on your oven. At work, I use a giant convections oven which most certainly wasn't designed for bread, and so I've had to do an extensive retrofit, both in terms of temperatures and times. The recipe above is closest to how I bake at home. If your oven doesn't go past 250 C, try a bake without recessing the temperature and see how it goes. Be sure to beware of burning the bottom though. And if you don't recess your temperature, remember that your crust will colo(u)r faster when uncovered, which might not allow enough time to bake the crumb through, so maybe leave it covered for five minutes longer and uncovered for a few minutes less?

The skinny on it is this: everyone's kitchens and ovens are different. The schedule above should get you really close to a great bake, but it's all going to need tweaking to suit your environment.

How were those next fifty minutes by the way? Do tell.

and @lareve and lily: Having a slight skin on the outside does make scoring easier. Also though, most refrigerators are actually pretty humid inside, and we're not keeping the loaves in there for very long so dry-loaf syndrome isn't much of a concern. When we get into doughs that proof overnight we'll want to be covering them. In the meantime though, I vote for saving the plastic wrap.

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

*and thanks FOR reading. I gotta edit my comments a little better. Sorry folks, I'm learning.

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

Morning all! It's awesome to this comment section become such a conversation. I've got a few responses to questions and some explaining to do about this column's near future with I think will put some folks at ease. Here goes.

As for baking vessels...

@aloepathic: Le Creuset is fantastic cookware, and I imagine their enamels will hold up better than most. The thing to think about is that when we bake, we're putting two pounds of cold stuff really quickly into a big hot thing, and that temperature shock is what causes a lot of enamels to crack. I think you should go ahead and use the dutch oven you've got--but it sounds like replacing that knob would be a really good call--and decide down the line if you want to go for the lodge combo cooker depending on how much baking you are going to be doing.

On the will-I-destroy-my-cookware-? note, In addition to its dimensions the thing I love about my combo cooker is that its simple and cheap. It's got no frills to ruin, and I have no plans to pass it down to my descendants. If the lodge dies for whatever reason, I can replace it without stressing too hard.

@dmurray: As for using a stainless pot, so long as it's burly enough and has a good lid it should work just fine. Our goal is to retain heat and steam, remember. If you get a minute to try the workhorse in your stainless, let us all know how it goes.

@Kenji: Thanks for chiming in!

and onwards...

@VTHIPPIES: Awesome to hear to had a successful bake! If your oven is a bottom burner, another trick is to place the half of your dutch oven with the loaf in it on top of the lid when you uncover it (providing you're using something like the combo cooker that won't topple). This trick allows to you keep the loaf closer to your heating element, which should give your oven a little more oomph, which means more oven-spring.

@tunie: Thats a great video. Thanks for the heads up!

Also, I wanted to let folks know what the next few posts are going to be about. Coming up next week we're going to talk about mixing the Workhorse loaf, what happens chemically when flour is hydrating, and what gluten really is. It seems there are a number of you having hydration struggles, and I'll be sure to address those in depth, with lots of pictures.

After that we're going to run through what proofing and fermentation are all about. Who are these yeast really? And how do we know we can trust them? In this post we'll also discuss shaping a boule, and why folding dough during bulk proofing is important.

Then, we're going to have a whole post on baking the bread, and what can be done to bring our home ovens up to speed. Then we pat ourselves on the backs and talk bread eating and storage, and maybe attach some recipes for peanut butter and what to do about stale bread.

After that, we're going to start working away from the Workhorse, and talk our through the bakers math and chemistry that can allow us all to start really thinking in ratios rather than recipes. This will include discussions on preferments--including sourdough!--and move its way towards enrichers, which is when we'll start talking about breads like challah, brioche, and po' boy rolls. We'll also talk more about different grains and flour milling, and what to do about whole grains, ryes, spelts and seedy breads. The order of all this business has yet to be decided, but will be driven by you and your comments.

Keep the questions coming! And thanks reading...

I can't promise everything will happen in quite that order, but the schedule above has been the idea at Serious Eats headquarters.

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

Hi all! On the subject of baskets....Don't try to season them like a cast iron pan! They will burst into flames! Thank you for asking me to clarify this!

When we talk about proofing baskets, also called bannetons, being seasoned, we're talking about them being flour seasoned, meaning flour has filled all of the basket's nooks and crannies well enough that it's become practically non-stick. If you have baskets you've been using a while, try proofing your loaves without cloth--we'll call this proofing commando. You'll still want to dust the baskets with flour before each use, and clean them out and allow them to dry afterwards. Allowing them to dry completely is really important, as it'll prevent the growth of mold. In any case, proofing your loaves commando, will leave a really pretty pattern on the outside, provided your baskets are properly flour seasoned.

@SteveC: For the foreseeable future, this column will be gluten obsessed, as developing gluten is at the heart of making great, fluffy, crusty bread. That being said, we'll be discussing a lot of flours and grains that are usually easier to digest for people with gluten sensitivities. As for celiac-safe breads, I'm honestly not sure when we'll get there, but I'll post resources if and when I find them.

@bdelbanco: I've tried using bowls and hotel pans to retain steam with mixed results. I've heard of folks using flour pots but haven't tried it yet. An easy alternative that might be more effective is to preheat a heavy cast iron pan in the bottom of your oven and put ice cubes in it when loading your bread. Make sure to stop up the vents as best you can. This will come close using a dutch oven, but as we make our way into wetter doughs the dutch oven is really the only thing I've found that can preserve the necessary temperatures and steam to make for a satisfying bake.

@violettennyoshi: It's true and it works. Bartering and/or giving away an extra loaf or two is how I met most of my neighbors and developed a friendship with my local bartenders. Also, I looked it up, and appreciating that beer and bread are the same thing more or less, artisan bread and craft beer cost roughly the same per-pound. Who knew?

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

@Cassandra Jane: Just realized my last response was confusing. If oil is your method of preventing sticking your crust will turn out different from the picture above. Regardless, give it a try, I'm sure it will be delicious.

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

@Cassandra Jane: Great question! Best I can do is think about baking during winter here, since summer in NY is a humid, sweaty mess. I would still use cloth in your baskets as you proof your bread--unless your baskets are really well seasoned with flour. However, I would definitely cover them to ensure they don't dry out. If your proofing in unlined bowls, and are using oil as a lubricant, your crumb will likely turn out similar to picture above, but the caramelization/Maillard balance during crust formation will be different on account of the oil, and so your crust will likely turn out differently.

@amgross: The mixer is totally optional; just a nice thing to have. I often use a bowl and dough spatula for smaller batches of dough. If you're looking for visuals regarding the mixing, we'll be getting to that in the next post. But in the meantime, check out the Tartine Bread book if you have it, where Chad Robertson details hand mixing for a dough like this step-by-step.

As for the dutch oven....the Workhorse loaf is very similar to a baguette dough, and as such we call it a Basic Recipe because of the ratios and ingredients it uses with respect to the broader world of artisan/hearth baking. To get results similar to a commercial deck oven, the dutch oven gets us closest. That being said, if your oven door is sealed well and you have baking stones, try plugging up the exterior vents with wet towels, and place a bowl full of water at the bottom of your oven to create steam. Steam is the key to getting a tall loaf, with a porous crumb and blistered crust. I'm reluctant to tell you that you need to get a dutch oven, but winter is coming, and I would strongly recommend it.

@SaqibSaab: There will be sandwich breads, pullmans and brioche. I promise.

Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread

@ Everyone: Max here, and thanks for all your questions! I'm excited about this column too will try to answer as many questions as I can throughout the series. On that note, this is a series, and so although there are a lot of half explanations in this first post, over the next few weeks we'll be breaking this all down into tiny pieces and covering much of what you all are asking about in more detail.

@AlfredoL: It's true, our formula adds up to more than 100%. Like some other commenters mentioned, this is because all of our percentages are measured against the flour, which will always be 100%. When we get to talking preferments, we'll talk baker's math in more detail.

@Heeru: I live in one of those sea-level pirate sort of cities, and so I'm not sure how altitude might affect a dough's rise. But I'll do some digging. In the meantime, if there's a bakery near you that makes bread you like, ask to spend a day helping out. Most bakeries can always use an extra set of hands.

@kejjt26: For the moment we won't be covering baking with bread machines. This series will be about bread done the messy way--hands, . However, I would love to here how this recipe works in a bread machine, and so if you give it a try please share out.

As we go, we'll talk more about each ingredient and what it does in dough, and how much we can bend these ratios. We'll also talk about different ways of shaping dough, and how we can match those methods to our proofing vessels in order to maximize our dough volume.

Keep the questions coming folks. It's awesome to hear from you.

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