Making the Dough


  1. Preparing the Ingredients:

    • Gather your ingredients: your prepared levain, flour, water, and salt. Make sure your levain has passed the float test, indicating it's active and ready to use. Your water should be lukewarm, typically between 24-27°C (75-80°F), but the exact temperature can depend on your specific recipe and environment.

  2. Mixing the Flour and Water:

    • In a large bowl, combine the flour and water. Mix them together until no dry flour remains. You are looking for a shaggy, homogeneous mixture. This mixture is now ready for a process known as autolyse.

  3. Autolyse:

    • Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and leave it to rest for anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours (depending on the specifics of your recipe and flour). This resting period allows the flour to fully hydrate and begins the process of gluten development. It also allows enzymes in the flour to start breaking down the starches into simpler sugars, which will be food for the yeast and bacteria in the levain.

  4. Adding the Levain and Salt:

    • After the autolyse period, add your prepared levain to the mixture. Mix thoroughly to distribute the levain evenly through the dough. You can do this with your hand or a dough whisk, ensuring there are no large pockets of levain remaining.

    • Next, sprinkle the salt evenly over your dough. Again, mix thoroughly to ensure the salt is evenly distributed. Salt not only flavors the bread but also strengthens the gluten network and helps control yeast activity.

What's Happening during this phase:

Preparing the dough is the first significant step in the bread-making process. Proper execution of this step lays the foundation for the fermentation, shaping, and baking stages that follow, all of which contribute to

  1. Autolyse: The process of autolyse is crucial for the texture and handling characteristics of your dough. By allowing the water and flour to interact before adding the levain and salt, you're promoting better gluten development and enzyme activity. This results in a dough that's easier to handle and a bread with better volume and texture.

  2. Salt and Yeast Activity: Salt plays multiple roles in bread dough. It adds flavor, of course, but it also strengthens the gluten network, making it more elastic and less sticky. Moreover, it helps control yeast activity. Salt slows down yeast fermentation, providing a sort of "buffer" that allows for a slower, more controlled rise.

  3. Temperature: The temperature of your ingredients and your environment plays a significant role in dough development. Warmer temperatures speed up enzyme and yeast activity, while cooler temperatures slow them down. This is why it's crucial to use lukewarm water and keep your dough in a reasonably warm environment, particularly during the initial stages of mixing and fermentation.

  4. Hydration: The ratio of water to flour in your dough, known as hydration, impacts the dough's consistency and the final bread's texture. Higher hydration doughs (more water) can be more challenging to handle but can produce bread with a more open crumb structure and a more pronounced crust. It's essential to know your flour and adjust hydration levels as needed since different flours absorb water differently.

  5. Mixing: Proper mixing is crucial to ensure even distribution of levain and salt and to promote good gluten development. Undermixed dough may result in uneven fermentation, leading to a denser bread with less oven spring. Overmixing, on the other hand, can lead to overdevelopment of gluten, resulting in a dough that's tough and difficult to handle.