My Ultimate Bread - Learn the Secrets of "slow Baking"




Introduction: My Ultimate Bread - Learn the Secrets of "slow Baking"

A complete HOWTO on baking bread that tastes better, than most breads money can buy.

Step 1: Preliminary Thoughts

This is my 3rd instructable about baking bread.
Baking bread means more to me, than just preparing something to eat. As soon as you smell the bread baking in the oven, you know what i mean. Last year, i baked twice a week, give or take.
Most of the time, i prepare a "poolish" preferment Friday morning or around lunch time. At night, before i go to bed i add the remaining ingredients, and let it knead by my bread maker. The next morning, i preheat the oven, then maybe go to bed again until the oven reaches the temperature. This way, even a full time employed guy like me can do it without interfering with my other hobbies, or money gathering activities (like working ;-).

Many people tell me they tried to bake bread, after reading a recipe. Then their bread turns out dense like a stone. It's really not that hard to bake bread with a yeast leavened dough, if you have a basic knowledge.

1. Yeast works in a temperature range from about 5 to 35 deg. C or 41 to 95 deg. F. (At the lower end, the activity is almost stopped and it works very slow but you can raise the temp. to speed it up. At the upper end, it works very fast, but if you overshoot this temp. you could kill your yeast.)
Professional bakers normally try to reach a dough temp. of around 28 C or 83 F after kneading. (The temp. is reached by adjusting the water temp., the temp. of the flour can change from seasonal storage temperatures. Kneading causes friction and heats up the dough some more.)
This may sound awfully complicated, but if you take tepid water, all will be ok. (If you don't have 200lb of flour to knead, your bowl temp. has more impact on the rising time.)

2. Yeast doesn't like fats or salt. But then, i don't like bread without salt. The yeast tolerates some salt, but i wouldn't add it to a preferment. If you make a dough with lots of fat, add it after you mixed the flour, yeast and water or milk. Take more yeast.(As directed on the yeast pack will be enough.) Normally, i only take a quarter or even less than the amount suggested on the yeast package. But i give it more time to work.

After you master the white wheat flour bread, making whole wheat and breads with other grains are easy to adapt. I would suggest you use 25-50% white wheat flour in any of these breads. This makes sure, you get a good rise.
If you use coarsly milled or crushed grains or other dry, hard ingredients, you need to soak them. With the following method, you can soak them in the preferment.

Step 2: Ingredients

For a plain white bread, you don't need fancy ingredients. It's just flour, water, salt and yeast.
The most important ingredient is the flour of course. It's differently named in different countries and this can confuse things a little bit.
A gluten-rich flour is a good thing to start with. Gluten is a wheat-protein and we need it for the gas holding capability of a dough. It's essential for a nice rise.
So if you find a flour with a protein content of around 11%, you should be ok. I normally buy my flour at a local mill, but once i didn't have any of it, i went to the supermarket and bought plain white flour. The result was also very good.
I would stay away from "bread mixes", since they normally have obscure additives you really don't need if you follow these procedures.

I use a digital kitchen scale to weigh my ingredients. I will add volumetric measures later, stepped up or down, so you won't need 3.731 cups of flour...

Bakers state their ingredients in bakers percentage in their receipes. This way it's easy to step a receipe up or down.

This makes two batards.(thick short baguettes)

500g white flour 100%
350ml or 350g tepid water 70% (unchlorinated, and not too soft)
15g salt 3%
1g active dry yeast 0.2%

Conversion utility:

4 cups bread flour  (560g)
13 fl.oz. water           (384ml)
3   tsp    salt              (15g)
1/6  of a  1/4 oz yeast packet

Depending on the moisture content and the type of flour, you may need to adjust the amount of water a little bit. You can add some flour, if your dough gets too moist. If you always need to add more flour, reduce the water a little bit.

Step 3: Preferment

A preferment is a part of the final dough. It is made in advance and it adds considerable flavour and texture to the bread. For this bread, i make a so called "Poolish". Well it's a bit too liquid for a traditional "poolish" but for the simplicity of it, i add all the water to the preferment.

Put half of the flour in a big enough bowl, sprinkle the yeast over it and pour in the water. Then stir/mix it until you have everything evenly distributed. It should be of batter-like consistency. Leave it covered at room temperature. Don't use a absolutely tight container, or it might explode from CO2 pressure.

I normally make the preferment 12-24 hours before my intended time of baking.

There are other yeast preferments or starters like the biga, which is a very dry preferment.
Then there is the whole world of sourdoughs.
Sourdoughs are a combination of  lactic and acetic bacteria and a acid tolerant yeast. You need the acidity for the development of the gas holding capability in a 100% rye bread. But sourdoughs also make wonderful wheat breads. There are very good instructables available on this topic, but maybe i'll do one more...

Step 4: Kneading the Dough

4-6 hours before i intend to bake, i add the other half of the flour and the salt. You can mix it with your hands or take your mixer with the kneading hooks.
After incorporating all the ingredients, the dough needs to be kneaded properly. When you do it by hand, it will take around 10-15 minutes. Using a hand mixer with kneading hooks or a KitchenAid or Kenwood type of machine, it it takes around 5-7 minutes.
When you overdo the kneading, the dough will go from springy to slack pretty quickly and you need to start over with a new dough. It is very unlikely to overknead it manually, with a machine, it can happen easily.
As you can see on the pictures, i use a bread maker to mix, ferment the preferment, add the remaining ingredients, knead and ferment again. This way i only need one container with integrated mixing and kneading hook and it is covered while fermenting. The only task i don't use the bread maker, is for baking.

Step 5: Forming the Bread and Final Rest

4-6 hours after kneading (you can prolong this time in the fridge), the dough looks like on the first picture. It has risen nicely and aromas, flavours and texture had time to develop.

If you wait for much longer, the "yeast-food" gets depleted eventually. But with such minute amounts of yeast used, the schedule is quite forgiving.

Compared with insanely high amounts of yeast in many bread recipes, which double in size in 45 minutes, this is really slow baking.
Although it may sound tempting to save some time, the resulting bread smells of raw flour and yeast and has a texture like cardboard. 
Give slow baking a try, you won't be disappointed. It has been done this way for centuries and good bakers still do it.

Forming the bread:
I like free formed breads, because of the crunchy crust and the plain sight of it. And you don't need to clean a form afterwards ;-)
To form a bread, you can't just push and shove it into the desired form. It would flow to a blob during the final rise.
Here we use our good protein friend gluten again. This protein makes the dough springy.

First i flour the working surface, then i take the dough out of the kneading bowl and flour the dough from the top, so it won't stick.
Use only so much flour, that it doesn't stick, because the flour you add here is not incorporated into the dough.
Next, i flatten it and try to make a sqare area of dough. While flattening, you also drive out large bubbles. This is also called degassing. Without degassing, you get really large holes into your bread.
Then i divide the dough into 2 rectangulars. I put one out of the way and take the other one with a short side towards me.
Then i think of three sections on the long side and fold it from the far side towards me. In the end i have a "roll" with 3 layers and i push down the seam.
Then i flatten that "roll" again, but only so wide, that i can give it one more fold and push down the seam again.
When you do that you will realize how springy the dogh got by folding it. This is the work of the gluten protein. If your dough is very slack, you can give it another fold. If you overdo it, the dough can rip.
Finally i put them on a cookie sheet with the seams down for the final rise. Cover it with cling wrap and let it rise for 60-90 minutes.(or overnight in the fridge) The time of the final rise can be adapted to the environmental temperature and also how dense the crumb should be. During the final rise, you also have to preheat your oven.

Step 6: Scoring and Baking

Baking the proofed loaves the right way needs a bit more consideration, than only shoving them into the oven.
First, use a baking / pizza stone of a sort. You could use unglazed spanish tiles, but you can get gaps when they're not aligned nicely or when you move them while shoving the loaves onto them. This helps to heat up the loaves quickly from the bottom. This is important for a good oven spring. It also gives more thermal mass into the oven, so the temperature doesn't fall so much, when you open the door or shove the cold dough in. But you need to be aware, that it also takes longer to preheat.

As a next thing, you should have a steam saturated environment during the spring phase of baking. This keeps the surface elastic, since the steam condenses on the cold dough surface and keeps it from drying out too early. There is more than one way to achieve this.

1. Put a heavy skillet on the oven floor, before you preheat the oven. Just before you put the loaves into the oven, add a cup of boiling water into the skillet.
2. Spray the oven walls and the oven floor with a water sprayer, when you put the loaves in. Repeat it after a minute.
3. Buy a oven with integrated steam generator ;-)
4. Use a very small oven, like my small electric one. Sprinkle some water on the cookie sheet and on the loaves. The environment gets moist enough this way.

As you can see on the photos, i scored/slashed the loaves differently for you to see. Slash them with a very sharp blade about half an inch deep.

Sprinkle the the loaves with water, i do it by hand with tap water. But you could also take a water sprayer or a brush.

When the oven has reached the temperature and is steam saturated, i shove in the loaves on the sheet with the cookie tray. Then i let the sheet with the loaves fall on the baking stone by quickly pulling out the tray. Work quickly in order to keep the heat and the steam in the oven.

Start baking rather hot 275C / 530 F(if your oven can't get that high, take the maximum), then after about 3-5 minutes (when you see the first brown spots on the forming crust) reduce the temperature to 180C / 355F for the rest of the bake. It will take a while for the oven temp to fall, but that's ok.
If you have a oven with a convection function, use it. It helps to heat up the loaves quickly for a nice oven spring and in a even browning of the loaves. If you don't have a convection feature, i'd raise the temp to around 190C / 375F in the second baking phase. And maybe you have to turn the loaves for even browning. Every oven behaves a little different, so you probably need to make some temp adjustments to get optimal results.
Breads of this size need about 35 minutes to bake. The baking time needs to be adjusted for thicker and thinner breads. If your bread gets too dark too early, reduce the temperature in the second baking phase and/or turn down the heat earlier.
If you want a very thick crust, vent the steam by quickly opening and closing the oven door when you turn down the heat. You can repeat it after a coule of minutes.(Stand away from the oven, as hot steam can scald you!)

Final thoughts:
Many things about preferments, long fermentation times and baking are almost universal in making good to outstanding breads.
It takes me a maximum of 15 minutes of actual working to make a delicious plain wheat bread.(cleaning of the equipment included.) The time it takes from start to finish varies from 6 hours(with some shortcuts) to 24 hours with retarding, but it's not much work actually.

Happy baking

Step 7: Books, Links and Stuff

Here some very good books about baking bread.(Not ordered after preference...)

Bread by Jeffrey Hamelmann

The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

They have written more books about bread and also a wonderful pizza book.

A very nice site in german

My other bread related instructables

My entry in the pizza contest

Some photos with comments.

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    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm glad, it helps.

    At the moment, i try to copy a sourdough bread, i had two weeks ago at the "Auenerhof" (gourmet restaurant) above Sarnthein, South Tirol, Italy. A wonderful dark crusty bread, that they smoked during the last 10 minutes in the oven. To die for...


    8 years ago on Step 6

    I have a really nasty allergy to wheat so I'm attempting to use oat flour to make bread. Any advice?


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 6

    Hi Cyndi

    I can't help you with oat flour. Frankly, i have never seen it. Oat flakes yes, but not flour.

    I bake mainly with wheat, but also with rye and spelt. Maybe oat behaves similar to rye, then you'd need to sour the dough. This is normally done by a sourdough, but just for a rising test, you could use vinegar or citric acid.

    Have you tried your allergy against a wheat sourdough or long fermented yeast bread? I heard, that allergenes are broken down this way, making it less prone for allergic reaktions. This is only hearsay, but it sounds somewhat plausible to me.

    Maybe you find out more about baking with oat on the web.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Le paradoxe c'est de trouver quelqu'un qui s'y connaît en électronique et publie une aussi bonne recette de pain sans jamais publier sur son domaine de compétences initiale, comme quoi le plus important n'est peut-être pas la vie sociale et professionnelle mais ce que l'on fait par passion à côté pour décompresser.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Salut Philippe

    Je vais ecrire en anglais... because my french is not as good, as it used to be. Especially in writing.

    I do the electronics stuff all my working life, so it's mostly just what needs to be done to get a paycheck at the end of the month. If i build something for me, i just do it and don't regard it as noteworthy enough to write a instructable about. I'm still fascinated about all the new stuff that comes out. (components, microcontrollers and single board computers with cool development suites) When i started, there were only bare microprocessors. All the peripherial modules needed to be added seperately. (stuff like counters, timers, DAC, ADC, serial ports, digital I/O, RAM, ROM, clock generator and so on) There were also no compilers, not even assemblers available at a reasonable price for me. My first code was "hand-assembled"... Today, it's open source and mostly free.

    When i do other things like baking or brewing, i really like it, when i can do it successfully. I feel more of a achievement ;-) Maybe that's why i feel the urge to publish it. Also because a lot of the baking books aren't worth the paper and my first attempts at baking failed to produce the results i was looking for.

    At the moment, i have a idea for a solar heat generator, that could be used for baking and brewing. It's still at it's very beginning... I first thought about it, because a friend of mine wants to distill essential oils in Bali. You need a lot of energy to evaporate that amount of water. My idea uses many (heliostatic controlled) mirrors to concentrate the sun in one spot. The idea isn't new, so my thought circle around how to do it cheaply while still reliably. I will need around 20 sqm of mirrors, so it will be 80 mirrors with 50x50cm. Ideas are wellcome ;-)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Just found this website. I too am passionate about my own bread.
    Been making my own bread for a couple of years. Very satisfying but, like golf, it can also be very frustrating. (I never play in the rain because you just get your balls wet).
    You do exactly the same thing each time, but sometimes get different results. This can just be due to the batch of flour which sometimes absorbs the water less or more.
    I've got the brown whole grain breads sorted now. I am lucky because the French baker across the road lets me buy his special flour mix from him, plus a little powdered malt. So 500g flour, 350g water (70%), 12.5g salt, 5g yeast, 10g malt powder.
    Like you I make a poolish first using 25% of the flour and water, all the yeast and a pinch of brown sugar (just a little feed). Once the poolish has at least doubled, I make the dough. I prewarm the flour, in a prewarmed bowl, mix in ground sea salt and malt, then adding the rest of the warm bottled water, (don't like tap water, never sure what's in it!) and once that is smooth, I mix in the poolish.
    ( I am now making a big poolish which I intend to keep and feed all the time. I will pass this on to my grandchildren.
    A very good friend in Portugal has a poolish which was originally started by her great great great grandmother a very very long time ago.
    She used to keep it in her husband's trousers for some reason.
    I don't know if her husband was in the trousers at the same time!)
    Needless to say, their Rye bread is amazing, and they pour boiling water, YES BOILING water in to make their dough).
    As you say, yeast and salt don't like each other so I keep them apart as long as I can.
    If I am feeling energetic I knead it myself for 15 minutes, or in the Kenwood with the dough hook for 25 minutes, stopping and scraping down half way through. Then pop it in an lightly oiled bag in the fridge over night letting the flavours build.
    Next day I put it on a lightly floured board and squash it out into a rectangle and then roll one way, then squash out and roll the other way, 4 times. Form it into the shape I want and let it rise again on baking paper (which makes it easier to move without disturbing the shape), until doubled or more.
    Oven preheated to 275c, (the temp drops sharply when I open the door and I'm aiming for 240c), I pour cold water onto a tray at the bottom of the oven to generate the steam, slash the risen dough and in she goes.
    I get great results with my brown breads, pizzas, arab flat breads, brioches, all that stuff. The Brioche Mousseline is an old Escoffier recipe. Fantastic!
    BUT, can I get my baguettes and Boules like the ones they sell across the road? Can I hell! Really frustrating.
    I use the same method as above, with just Type 65 white flour, salt, water, yeast, same proportions. It is OK, but it just isn't the same.
    Somehow their baguettes are slightly moist and soft inside with that brilliant light golden crunchy crust. Maybe it is cooked hotter and for a shorter time. I am experimenting with the baguettes, 275c for 20 mins to see what happens.
    Anyway, it keeps me of the streets and it's all good clean fun!
    Thank you and Happy Baking

    Brioche Mousseline.JPGPain au Grain.JPGExploding Baguette.JPG

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction


    Interesting baking methods.
    They are somewhat different, but as long as they are successful, no need to change anything.

    What you write about the "portugese" poolish makes me think.
    I wouldn't call it a poolish anymore. This goes more in the direction of a sourdough. (pate fermentee)
    When you bake with large amounts of rye, the dough needs to be soured in order to rise. This is because rye has almost no gluten.
    By using boiling water, there will be some gelatinization of the rye starch. While cooling down, there is amylase activity. This will convert some of the gelatinized starch to yeast digestible sugars.
    I guess they only add the "poolish" after the dough cooled down to around body temperature.
    This way, the yeast and the bacteria in this "poolish" have readily available food for a nice rise.

    Regarding your baguette problem, look up "Danielle Forestier, Julia Child" video.
    I tried to add the links here, but they don't seem to stay valid for long.
    But you find it on Youtube as well.

    One thing that is not clear to me in your comment:
    Do you use a pizza stone of some sort? If not, try it.
    Danielle Forestier also stresses its importance in household ovens.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Hello, No I don't have a pizza stone but it is on my list, as are zillions of other bits of kit, like building my own smoker, building my own wood fired oven, buying a Kenwood Cooking Chef, the list goes on and on, and on!
    I did look at the Forestier Childs method a few weeks ago, but I didn't try it just because it is far removed from what my French baker across the road does, and it is his baguette or Boule I am trying to copy.
    Portugal their Rye (Farine de Seigle) bread has the flour and salt warmed and then boiling water mixed in quickly. It's a bit like porridge. It cools down quickly and the starter is then added. They make several kilos at the same time in a deep wooden tray stirring and turning with their arms deep in it. Wonderful.
    This goes on for ages, and then finally it is covered with a floured cloth and left for at least 10 hours, (wrapped in the husbands trousers!) Don't ask!.
    It becomes a sort of wobbly jelly which is divided into 1 kilo loaves, kneaded and shaped again and left to rise. Then it is baked in the glowing embers of a large communal oven. It is truly a defining moment if, like me, you are just a simple chap trying to produce a half decent tasting piece of bread to put on the table. They have been doing this for centuries.
    Yesterday's Pain au Grain was the business! A monster, and lovely and moist inside. Moments like that make me believe, just for a moment, that I actually might be doing something right. (I am lucky my baker sells me his special mix, but he will not tell me what is in it. Maybe I'll have to get it analysed at a lab. Naughty, I know, but a chap has to do what a chap has to do.)
    Almost a shame to spread anything on it other than Brittany butter on it really, but my lady brought up a jar of my Sept 2010 Blackberry jam. Couldn't resist!
    No wonder that baking and foraging is an obsession for some of us.

    Pain au Grain 2.JPG

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction


    Here a couple of pictures of traditional farmhouse baking in southern Tirol.

    It was a couple of years ago in the "Pustertal" valley.

    Some interesting sights of a water driven mill.
    (My lady was even able to get some rye flour, although they didn't sell it officially...)

    Then at a farm the big oven, the dough and finally the bread.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I would just like to say i have been trying to make my own bred for month’s now, with no success! I used your method about three weeks ago. Perfect bread every time. i have not bought a loaf from the shop since.
    The only problem i have is it gets eaten to fast by my wife and two kids, i have nearly got a batch on the go all the time. One day White bread, the next whole-wheat.
    5***** The best bread yet, if you are having trouble making bread that will not rise, is to heavy, or tastes to yeasty I urge you to try this recipe.

    Thank you t.rohner .


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    i can vouch for that as well. The recipe is great and the main additional thing i learned from it that leaving your dough out for a long period gives great results


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    OMG i'm flattered ;-)

    I'm happy to share my insights. (I took me quite a while to figure it out...)
    Everyone who takes the effort to bake her or his own bread should be rewarded with a decent (if not outstanding) result.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks very much for this recipe, I tried it a few times and I am very satisfied with it.
    I am now using three basic recipes:
    1 - classic, kneeding, rising, degassing, forming baking
    2 - artisan, 75% water, large supply in the fridge and using bits of it every day
    3 - this recipe, which I do not store in the fridge, start at high temperature, and than reduce.

    I must say that number three has yielded the best bread until now.

    I find though, that I have to add a lot more water than you indicate. for 1 kg of flour, I add 850 ml of water, so that would be 85%.

    I do live in a tropical area, with a constan 32-34 degr. Centigrade in the house, so rising here is never a problem.
    Thanks again.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    As indicated in the text, the water holding capability of the flour may vary.

    I go to the maximum water content, but still want a workable dough.
    It is soft and tacky, but still workable with some flour.
    If it's too moist, it also flows wide in the final rest.

    With 85% water, i get a "FlowDough". I sometimes do it, but then i omit the degassing and the final rest.
    I let it "flow" out onto a watered surface, divide it and form it somehow with watered hands. Then i instantly shove it into my 300° C preheated oven. (With a pizza stone of course.)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I did not realize that it would vary so much.
    Anyhow, even with the 85% I get reasonably solid dough, that I can shape with a gluten harness around it. I let it sit for 5-10 minutes and bake it. Tasted terrific.
    The best recipe I've seen sofar.


    10 years ago on Step 6

    tasted great, perhaps needed a pinch more salt, but as I am mainly eating cheese on my bread that isn't really so important :-) Thanks for recipe and description


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Strange, many recipes i've seen only use 2% salt. (20g on a kg flour)

    So my recipe with 3% should be on the saltier side.
    I use 3.2% (32g per kg) most of the time.

    If you use even more, you probably reach the point where the salt starts to inhibit the yeast.

    You write about dutch flour in one comment. Do you live in the Netherlands?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    saying a bit more about the Dutch flour: I have had continuous disappointing results with it. Initially I thought it was because of protein content, but I now doubt that is the case as it is generally 11-12% here. Yet, I have had better results with foreign bought 'all purpose' flour than with Dutch 'all purpose' or even 'bread flour'

    I have made fantastic bread with Asian bought AP flour and the next day with dutch flour it was disappointing.
    This included 'Artisan' bread (according to the no kneed, leave it in the fridge method) and other recipes that had fermenting times of only 4-6 hrs.

    Your recipe actually is the first with wich I have a satisfying result with Dutch cheap flour, so that is very promising. Maybe that just needs long fermentation time at higher temperatures (instead of the fridge).

    I am not a believer in buying specialised expensive flour. If I can buy a decent bread for say 1,20 euro, I am not gonna sppend that on glour alone and then still have to bake that :-)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Correct. I live in the Netherlands.
    The salt issue might be caused because I did not weigh the salt but used the teaspoon conversion and generally dutch teaspoons are smaller than the standardized size i think.
    No problem though as cheese here is quite salty :-)

    Nevertheless, great recipe. But I added some yeast from another source (Singaporean) after I had initially put in some newly bought instant yeast (German Source) that seemed to do nothing.

    I baked in two batches: the first two loafes had a crispy crust, the last two a somewhat chewier crust

    This might well become my standard recipe for baguette