Every dough that we make in our bakeries follows all of these 10 steps from start to finish. This ensures we produce the best quality bread without compromising taste, texture, nutrition or our artisan craft.
As a home baker, if you follow these 10 steps when making breads at home, you will be on the right path to creating superb loaves.
Step One: Ingredient Selection & Scaling
Using good quality ingredients is crucial to making good bread. At Le Pain Quotidien, we use only organic, unbleached flours from The King Arthur Flour Company. When choosing flour for bread making, look for one labeled as “all-purpose flour” or as “bread flour.”
We use instant dry yeast (‘rapid rise’) and/or levain (sourdough) in our breads. Both give us wonderful products whose qualities vary the types of breads we can create. A levain is a culture that must be ‘fed’ and allowed to cultivate daily, which can often be difficult for home bakers but a challenge worth all of its effort. Instant dry yeast is a good option as it has a long shelf life and does not need to be proofed in water before using.
Our salt is a high quality, unrefined sea salt from Sicily. Generally, whatever salt you keep in your pantry will work just fine, unless it is too coarse to dissolve easily. The water that comes from your tap is also good for making bread. What’s most important about the water is its temperature; we use the water to control the temperature of the dough. A dough will ideally come out of the mix at around 75°F.
We measure all of our ingredients (including liquids) in grams on a scale. Scaling is much faster and more accurate than working in volume.
Step Two: Mixing
There are two stages to the mixing process: the first is to incorporate ingredients, the second is to develop the structure of the dough, otherwise known as the gluten network. Dough can be kneaded by hand, or mixed in a tabletop mixer. When using a tabletop mixer, keep it to the lower speeds to avoid damaging the motor.
Step Three: Primary Fermentation
Also referred to as rising, or proofing, this is where the yeast starts to do its work, converting sugars into carbon dioxide, alcohol and organic acids. Every dough has a different primary fermentation time, depending on its formulation. We work with time as well as our senses to determine when the dough is properly fermented.
Step Four: Divide and Pre-Shape
When the dough is properly fermented, it is time to divide it to the desired size and give the divided pieces a preshape. A preshape is an intermediate shape—a loose suggestion to the dough of where it’s headed that will make final shaping easier.
Step Five: Bench Rest
After the dough has been preshaped, it needs to rest for a short time before final shaping. Bench rest is typically 15-20 minutes long and during that time, the gluten network, which has been made more elastic through handling, will relax and become more extensible.
Step Six: Final Shaping
There are four basic shapes in bread making: the baguette (stick), the boule (round), the bâtard (a football-like shape) and the pan loaf (a blunt-ended bâtard). After shaping, the dough must be set somewhere to rest during its final fermentation. For baguettes and bâtards, we use baker’s linen and wooden boards; for boules, we often use wooden proofing baskets. The linen and the baskets help to hold the shape of the dough during the final fermentation.
Step Seven: Final Fermentation
After shaping, the dough must rest and continue to ferment. The length of the final fermentation varies from dough to dough; it could be anywhere from 15 minutes to 12 or more hours. Again, we work with time and with our “dough sense” to determine when the dough is properly fermented.
Step Eight: Scoring
Most loaves will be scored, or cut, just before they are baked. Scoring has a decorative function, and it allows the dough to “spring” properly as the carbon dioxide gas that has accumulated during fermentation expands in the heat of the oven. Scoring is typically done with a razor blade or a small serrated blade.
Step Nine: Baking
Lean doughs (those like baguettes and levain breads made without fats, sugars, eggs, etc.) are typically baked at a very high temperature, around 450-475°F. Enriched breads (brioche, challah, sweet breads) are typically baked around 350-400°F. In most cases, a smaller loaf should be baked at a higher temperature than a larger one, so that it will take on the right amount of color in its baking time. There are a few different ways to determine that a loaf is properly baked—by color, by the hollow sound you hear when you knock on the bottom of the loaf, and by internal temperature (at least 190°F for lean breads, 165°F for enriched breads).
Step Ten: Cooling
Although it is tempting to eat hot bread right of the oven, that’s not the best way to really taste its subtle flavors. When bread first comes out of the oven, it is still filled with excess moisture and carbon dioxide. The bread needs time to cool so that the moisture and gas will dissipate. After cooling, the texture, flavor and aroma of the bread will have developed into what they should be and you will have a flavorful, palate-pleasing loaf.
Have any questions for our bakers? Drop us a line in the comments section below!
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