A Very Agreeable Bread

by A.J. Coltrane

Here’s a typical french bread recipe (scaled to “15 servings”)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

This is the same basic ratio of flour to water (3:1) as my “go to” pizza dough recipe. 3 cups of flour weighs about 375-400 grams (I’ve been using Lahey’s 400 grams as standard). 1 cup of water weighs 237 grams. Expressed as a baker’s percentage, the water weight is about equal to 60-63% of the flour weight.  (By rounding the water up very slightly to 240 grams:  240/400 = .60)

The beauty of using weights instead of volumetric measures is that it removes all of the variables from the paragraph above, and removing variables leads to more consistent results. Baking is enough of an inexact science as it is, without intentionally introducing variables into the process.

So here’s the point:  When using baker’s percentages a “classic” french bread formula would be called out as “60-2-2”. For every 100 parts flour the formula calls for 60 parts water, 2 parts salt, and 2 parts yeast. Everybody knows what french bread “is”, and that makes for a good jumping off point to try other things:

Ingredient Original French Bread Percentage Approx French Bread Volume French Bread Weight Agreeable Bread Weight
White Flour 100 3 cups 400g 300g
Wheat Flour 0     100g
Water 60 1 cup 240g 268g
Salt 2 1-1/4 tsp 8g 8g
Yeast 2 2 tsp 8g 8g

What happened here, exactly? I replaced 1/4 of the white flour with wheat flour, and I increased the hydration from 60% to 67% by adding 28 grams of water — about two tablespoons. The end goal was a slightly more rustic, somewhat “wheaty” bread. I also added two tablespoons of butter to the dough because there was butter in the fridge and I felt like adding it.

To bake the bread I used the Lahey “covered pot” technique (30 minutes covered, 15 minutes uncovered), decreasing the baking time from 45 minutes down to 40 (only 10 minutes of uncovered baking) —  the hydration of the Agreeable bread was 67% rather than the 75% in Lahey’s “no knead” dough; there was less water to cook out.

If I had to do over again I would have removed the pot lid 5 minutes sooner, to try to get a little more color on the crust. Slashing the dough may have also produced a slightly more open crumb, a “better” result — 60% hydration doughs pretty much always get slashed, and high hydration (75%) doughs basically never get slashed (they’ll often collapse into the slash); there’s a point in between there where slashing the dough is a good thing. Now I just have to figure out what that “point” is.

In any event, the Agreeable Bread went well with Saint Andre cheese, and it made a good breakfast sandwich too.

1 comment to A Very Agreeable Bread

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