About a week ago I thought it would be fun to try the croissant recipe from Artisan Bread Everyday. I’ve never made anything like this, so the entire process was pretty novel to me and I learned a lot. It was a very dramatic process, at one point filling my kitchen with smoke and making me think it was a total disaster, only to recover and end up making several delicious croissants.

This is a 2-day process, with a simple first day where you just start the bread dough, and the second day creating the final layered bread and butter dough. The second day is the novel part, where the layered dough we see in croissants is created. This involves shaping an absurd amount of butter into a flat rectangle, wrapping the bread dough around it, then doing repeated roll-outs and folds to multiply out the layers. By the time you are done there are 81 alternating layers of dough and butter.

The biggest problem with the preparation phase was rolling out the laminated dough thin enough. The dough refused to roll out any further, and after numerous resting periods I ran out of patience and decided to roll out at its thicker-than-optimal size. The result was mammoth croissants.

Baking is when disaster struck. I had about half the croissants on a silicon mat on a flat baking pan. When the bake started, butter immediately started oozing out of the dough, pooling on the sheet pan. At a certain point the pooling butter started sliding off the pan into the oven, landing on the baking stone, and the stone started to smoke. The smoke immediately started filling the kitchen and set off both smoke alarms near our kitchen. (They work! Yay!) In a panic, I turned everything off and took everything out of the oven, with the croissants only half done. Once we figured out the smoking was from the stone, we cleaned up the pooled butter and baked the remaining croissants. They were delicious.

After receiving a banetton as a birthday gift, I figured I would break it in on a new bread and document the process. We then used the bread to sop up the sauce in our favorite recipe, the pasta with creamy pesto from Pioneer Woman. Without further ado, here are the pictures.

Post mortem: I read lots of horror stories about sticky bread caking the inside of the banetton, so I made sure to flour it up real good. I think I over-floured, because there was a thick layer of flour on top when I turned it over and put it on the peel. Some of it browned in the oven but there was still a thick layer on. This may have been the cause of the top of the bread not cooking as fast as the bottom of the bread. The flavor was great, though, and I will definitely try this recipe again.

Pain L’Ancienne has been one of the most successful bread formulas to come out of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  It is really simple — mix in the machine at night, rest in the fridge overnight, then bake in the morning after bringing up to room temperature.  Even the shaping and working with the dough is easier than expected given the high hydration of the dough.  Despite the ease, the flavor is rich and complex in my judgement.

With that said, there is a small drawback: The bread is soooooooooo close to being absurdly easy that I want to take it all the way in that direction.  Specifically, I want to be able to eliminate the part I glossed over above — the “bringing up to room temperature.”  That part takes 2-3 hours, and is the only thing that prevents it from being a recipe I can throw together at night and bake when I wake up.  The easy part of the solution is to ferment the dough on the counter overnight instead of in the fridge, thus removing the need to bring to room temperature.  Then I can just shape and final proof while the oven preheats, bake, and eat.  The difficult part is this: How to get the same amount of rise when I change the temperature variable so severely.  The refrigeration has the effect of retarding the yeast.  So to compensate I’ll need to slow it in some other way.  One option is to increase the salt, but that has the possibility of changing the flavor too much.  Instead I decided to reduce the amount of yeast.

But how much yeast to use?  That is where the scientific part comes in.  I tried an experiment, attempting during the daytime so that I can monitor (rather than my ultimate use case of letting the bread ferment overnight).  I followed the recipe as usual (halved from the book), but approximately quartered the amount of yeast from about 1tsp yeast to 1/4 tsp yeast (unfortunately such small quantities are hard to measure precisely by weight).   I still used ice cold water during the mix.  Fermentation started at around 9:30 AM, with a rather warm kitchen temperature of 72.9 degrees F.   Since the dough is so wet, the first 2 hours there actually seemed to be an inverse rise as the dough flattened in the bowl.  I went out for a while, and came back around 2:45 PM, at which point the dough had risen about double the size.  I proceeded to bake as instructed in the book.  Total rise time of approximately 5 hours by quartering the yeast amount.

The bread turned out very nicely again (see pictures below).  I would say that this time the flavor was less complex and satisfying though still very good.  This is possibly from the time difference — usually it is in the fridge for at least 8 hours, and then would have another 2-3 hours at room temperature.  If I can slow the fermentation yet more I may be able to get the flavor development I’m looking for.  On the plus side, after one experience, the baking was easier and I think I had a little better intuition about when it was done.  In addition, this time the oven spring was incredible.  Since it didn’t have the extended sit out time before baking I was afraid it wouldn’t rise enough, but it shot right up in the oven.



I have been making many “rustic” or “artisan” breads that are honestly a bit exotic for me.  They are great fun, and usually turn out pretty well, but they are less practical and usually need to be eaten immediately.  I still end up buying bread at the grocery store, since I need some normal sliced bread for breakfast, so I figured I would try a recipe that would give me some normal sliced bread.  This one is also from Bread Baker’s Apprentice and is called “Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire” or “Struan.”  While preparation is not particularly difficult, there are a lot more ingredients than the typical rustic breads which only need flour, water, yeast, and salt.  Specifically, this recipe also calls for rolled oats, bran flakes, cornmeal, honey, brown sugar, bread flour, yeast, water, and milk.  Most of those I had around, but I did need to buy the bran flakes and milk.  It turned out really well, though it rose very quickly and very intensely.  I was afraid this was going to leave me with a loaf filled with caverns but that was not the case.  It has a mildly sweet taste with a smooth inner texture and a somewhat chewy outer crust.  Excellent toasting bread.

This weekend I tried a “rustic” bread from Bread Baker’s Apprentice called “Pain L’ancienne.”   Pain is French for bread, and L’ancienne sounds like ancient, which would be ironic for a recipe which relies on a refrigerator.  The recipe is fairly quick to execute — a few minutes of mixing in the evening, followed by a night of refrigeration, then some almost effortless shaping and then baking in the morning.  Of all the breads I’ve tried to make, this is the one that I think looks the most like artisan bread.  We used it for a French dinner, with wine and cheese, and added in an Italian flavor as well with some herbed olive oil for dipping.

Pizza success


Lately my pizza has been turning out much better.  Specifically, the spring in the outer ring of the crust has been improved to where I always wanted it — the whole point of using the broiler method.  So this is the part where I tell you that there are no shortcuts, that you need to just make a bunch of pizzas and get a feel for it before you can get it to turn out mostly right?  Well, actually, I just wasn’t using the right yeast.  I switched from active dry yeast to instant yeast (as the recipe I was using called for), and that vastly improved the quality of the crust.  Doing all the previous pizzas did teach me the right way to do the rest of the variables — particularly how to trade off crust cooking time with cheese cooking time.  That problem I consider solved, using the stone in the broiler method on top of a wire rack, and slicing fresh mozzarella pretty thick so that it takes a little longer to melt (and burn) under the intense heat of the broiler.  Here are some recent results.

With practice the crust spring will improve yet, mainly by becoming even around the whole pizza and becoming consistent across pizzas, but for the most part I consider the big problems of the crust solved.  Future work will consider the following open problems:

  • Good sauce – Right now I’m doing the best I can with fake San Marzano tomatoes but nothing mind blowing
  • Flour on crust – Getting the pizza onto the stone is still an area of difficulty.  I’ve started using massive amounts of flour on the peel and the dough, with improved sliding.  However, this sometimes leads too much flour on the bottom of the crust that doesn’t burn off during cooking
  • Bottom crust cooking – Sometimes the bottom of the crust cooks slower than the top.  This is probably because of the raw heat of the broiler.  Even with the intense 500 degree heat of the stone the proximity of the broiler ensures the top is cooked before the bottom has a chance.  One solution is to turn off the broiler after the top cooks and keep the pizza on the stone for a few more minutes to firm up the bottom.

This weekend I attempted the “Poolish Focaccia” recipe from Reinhart’s “Bread Bakers Apprentice.” The results are delicious and truly decadent. After the first few bites I thought, “This doesn’t even need the herb oil!” But then I tried the herb oil. Pictures in the white bowl in the gallery, it is olive oil warmed to 100 degrees, then filled with minced garlic, fresh chopped basil, salt, pepper, and onion powder. Amazing.