June 2, 2009

Basic Bread Dough


I had an interesting experience the other day. I've been enjoying Ratio, Michael Ruhlman's newest book, and decided to try the basic bread ratio. He explains that the actual quantity of yeast isn't all that important, and that less yeast just requires more time, with better-developed flavor as your reward for patience.

Well, I mixed up the dough. I didn't worry about water temperature and I used a small quantity of yeast. After kneading, I covered the dough and waited for it to double in size. I checked it after an hour, and it looked like nothing had happened. Two hours, and it was the same result. I shrugged, figuring I'd gotten a batch of old yeast and went on about my day, intending to throw the dough away and start over.

Oops, I got distracted, forgot all about the dough, and didn't rediscover the bowl sitting in a quiet corner until the next day. Hmm, it had finally doubled in size. And it smelled fine. So I punched it down, let it rest a bit, formed it into a boule, wrapped it in plastic, and put it in the refrigerator.

The next day I pulled the dough out of the refrigerator and let it proof for a couple of hours. Then I popped it into the oven with a pan of steaming water, baked it until done, and let it cool.

The crust color was a bit odd, but at this point it was just an experiment, so I didn't much care. I cut into the boule and the structure of the bread was absolutely marvelous. Well, I decided I should taste it to see if it was alright. It certainly smelled fine.

Oh my, what a delight! It was, hands down, the best-tasting bread I've ever made: dense without being heavy; very tasty but without the overly yeasty flavor I'd usually achieved. And long-lasting as well. It didn't dry out for the three days it lasted, and every bite of it continued to satisfy.

Was it a fluke? Only one way to find out. First, the recipe.

Basic Bread Dough
from Ratio by Michael Ruhlman
20 ounces bread flour
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active or instant yeast

Put the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. P0ur on the water--I also added 1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1½ tablespoons honey--then sprinkle the yeast on top. If you have patience, let the yeast rehydrate for a couple of minutes. Mix with the paddle attachment for a few seconds until the dough comes together. Then fit the dough hook onto the mixer and knead for about ten minutes, until it's smooth and elastic.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover it with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until it doubles in size. When you push a finger into it, there should be some resistance and it shouldn't spring back.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. It's going to stick to the bowl a bit, so just keep pulling it away from the bowl until it's out. Knead it a couple of times to expel excess gas and redistribute the yeast, then cover with a towel and let it rest about 10 minutes. Form it into the shape you wish--Ruhlman gives excellent instructions for different shapes--then cover with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

Pull the dough from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, place it on a baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let it proof for 1½-2 hours. Near the end of proofing, preheat your oven to 450°F/230°C and place a cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven. Set aside a cup of water to add to the pan at baking.

BoulePut your bread in the oven, add a cup of water to the pan, and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375°F/190°C and continue to bake another 45-50 minutes, until done. Let it cool on a rack as long as your patience will allow before cutting the first slice.

If you've never made bread before, try this method. It produces fantastic bread with minimal effort. And if you haven't looked at Ratio yet, get a copy. You'll be glad you did.


  1. A very handsome boule!

    I've been very, very into bread since October. A fresh baked loaf is like crack - you never want to go back to processed again. I've got a couple of books in my Amazon store on my site that you might look at if you want to get into long-fermented breads. Most of what I bake takes 2-3 days.

    If you like very "techy" books on baking you might like "Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective" By Daniel T. DiMuzio. I'm also a BIG, BIG fan of Peter Reinhart, as a quick peek on the shop page of my blog would reveal. I've loved most of the stuff that I've baked out of "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" except for one or two of the higher-percentage rye breads that I attempted before owning a stand mixer. Many of Reinhart's breads (and pizza doughs!) take advantage of long fermentation.

    BTW, I've found slightly better results when I mix all my ingredients slightly and then mix in the salt as salt inhibits yeast.

  2. Thanks! I didn't score it quite as deeply as I would have liked, but it did come out well.

    Thanks for your book suggestions. I have Bread Baker's Apprentice in my Amazon store as well.

  3. Definitely going try this. And thanks for the temp in celcius!

  4. You're welcome. Sorry I forgot to convert the rest, but the basic metric proportions for bread are 1kg flour, 600g water, 3g yeast, 2g salt.

  5. The bread looks absolutely wonderful! I have seen a few posts about the Ratio book, I think I need to check that out. Sounds like a great resource.

  6. Thanks!

    Michael Ruhlman did a great job with Ratio. I recommend it without reservation as an essential resource.

  7. The bread looks perfect! I printed the recipe.
    My first attempt at sourdough bread was a flop. Have you ever made it? The process wasn't what I expected and I had to keep a lot of scented candles around...when they say sourdough they sure mean it.

  8. It's been years since I last tried sourdough, and it was a failure. This method will work and even your first loaf will succeed.

    One of these days I'll make a sourdough starter again and see if age has somehow made me a better bread baker.

  9. Ooooh, I love sourdough, and sourdough baking. I'll put sourdough starter in just about anything I bake from standard sourdough loaves to pretzels to English muffins.

    The trick is to get a good, strong starter with regular feedings and to use it at the peak of its strength, anywhere from 6-12 hours after its last feeding, depending on the temperature in your home. If you are having trouble getting your starter going, or just don't want to wait a couple of weeks to really build one up from scratch, you can sometimes buy liquid starter from a local bakery and dive right in.

    The rest is all waiting. Lots and lots of waiting, often 3-4 hours for the first rise and 2-3 hours for the proofing.

  10. Looks good, but would like to find out if your bread crust is rubbery the next day?

  11. The crust never gets rubbery on the breads I make. Of course, I don't put the bread into a refrigerator and I don't live in a locale with high humidity, two things that can cause problems. If you're having a problem with crust getting rubbery it's most likely a humidity problem. Keep the bread unwrapped in a bread box or something similar that allows air to circulate around the loaf and keep it dry.

  12. I'm just beginning to discover how much I love the taste of longer rises. Thanks for your story.

  13. I use a long rise all the time now. I'll be posting shortly about my continuing adventures in bread making.