The secret to great bread flavor is in the pre-ferment. A pre-ferment is a mixture of flour, water, and
yeast that is mixed hours before the rest of the recipe in order to pull more complex flavor from the
wheat molecule. The pre-ferment is then added to the final dough, creating a finished product with rich
flavor. The two types of pre-ferments we use at Stick Boy are biga and sourdough starter. Biga is an
Italian pre-ferment that is mixed fresh every morning and allowed to ferment for 16 hours before use.
Sourdough starter is maintained by daily “feeding” with fresh flour and water. A healthy sourdough
starter can be kept alive forever with proper feeding. In fact, our sourdough starter is almost 10 years old!
The 12 Steps of Bread Baking:
Step 1: Scaling
Scaling refers to weighing out all of the ingredients. It is the first and most important part of the bread
It is important for our bakers to minimize conversation and have as few distractions as possible during
the scaling process. If they are unable to focus, they will certainly make a mistake or forget an ingredient.
There is nothing worse than losing a batch of dough because the yeast was left out during the scaling
Step 2: Mixing
Once all of the ingredients have been scaled, it is time to start mixing. Mixing has three purposes:
distributing the ingredients, developing the gluten, and initiating fermentation. We use a large spiral
mixer to mix all of our doughs. During the mixing process our bakers pay special attention to mixing
times and speeds. A shorter mixing time will produce bread with an open and airy crumb (or inside of
the bread). And, a longer mixing time will yield bread with a tight crumb. Our bakers also pay close
attention to the appearance of the dough. If the dough looks too dry, they will add water. If it looks too
wet, they will add flour. Again, focus and precision are key.
Step 3: Bulk Fermentation
After mixing, the dough is allowed to rise or ferment in large bins. During the fermentation process, the
yeast feeds on the naturally present sugars in the flour and converts the sugar into carbon dioxide and
ethanol. The ethanol evaporates during baking while the carbon dioxide leavens, or raises, the dough.
The length of fermentation varies from dough to dough and helps determine both the flavor and
structure of the finished product.
Step 4: Punching Down/Degassing
Punching down or degassing follows fermentation and is done for four reasons:
1). To release some of the carbon dioxide trapped in the gluten (the primary protein in wheat)
2). To allow the gluten to relax
3). To help equalize the interior and exterior temperature of the dough
4). To redistribute the nutrients Some doughs require a full degassing while others need to be handled gently. Our French dough, for example, needs to retain as much gas as possible in order to produce a finished product with the right consistency: a crumb with large, irregular holes.
As you can see, our bakers continually evaluate and adjust mixing times, bulk fermentation times, and
degassing techniques in order to produce high quality artisan breads for you!
Step 5: Dividing
After degassing, the dough is ready to be divided. Our bakers use a metal dough scraper and bench scale to quickly and cleanly cut and weigh the dough.
Step 6: Pre-Shaping
Once the dough has been divided, it is gently rounded or rolled into the basic shape of the final loaf. A
piece of dough that will become a baguette will be quickly hand shaped into a torpedo. A piece of dough that will become a sourdough round will be formed into a ball. This is called pre-shaping. Pre-shaping stretches the gluten and prepares the dough for the final shape.
Step 7: Benching
When the dough has been pre-shaped, it is set aside and allowed to rest. This is called benching.
Benching allows the gluten to relax after it has been pre-shaped so that it is easier to handle during
shaping and panning. Some of our doughs rest for only a few minutes while others rest for 30 minutes or
Step 8: Shaping and Panning
After benching, the dough is given its final shape. There are many different shapes for bread. At Stick
Boy, our bakers are trained to shape dough into a boule (ball), batard (torpedo), baguette, sandwich loaf, braid, and epi (sheaf of wheat). We encourage our bakers to experiment with shaping and panning in
order to develop their own unique signature!
Step 9: Proofing
Most yeast breads require two fermentation cycles. During the first fermentation cycle, the dough is
fermented in bulk (Step 3). During the second fermentation cycle (proofing), the dough is fermented after it has been divided and shaped. During this stage, more flavors are developed in the dough and the dough is allowed to rise to the correct size for baking. At Stick Boy, our dough is slowly allowed to rise on linen cloth until it is ready to go into the oven.
Step 10: Baking
Finally, we have reached the baking stage. Our dough has proofed and it is ready to go into the oven.
Before the dough is loaded into the oven our head baker uses a razor blade (called a lame) to slash (or
score) the surface of the bread. Scoring releases trapped gas, promoting oven spring and giving the
bread an attractive finished look. Have you ever wondered why there are slashes on the top of the
French Baguette or why our Organic Whole Wheat dons a wheat stalk? It is the result of careful scoring!
After scoring the loaves, our bakers load the bread onto the hot stone decks of our big German oven.
Our oven has a steam injection system that allows us to coat the loaves in a fine mist. Steam slows the
baking process and gives the bread additional time to spring (or rise) in the oven. It also gives the bread
a nice sheen and beautiful color.
Step 11: Cooling
Our bakers use large wooden oven peels to remove hot loaves from the oven and place them on metal
cooling racks. The cooling racks allow the bread to cool evenly and prevent condensation from forming
on the loaves. The cooling stage is important because it allows the warm starches that make up the
crumb (or interior of the bread) to finish setting and intensify in flavor. Of course, from time to time we
love to dig into a loaf of French bread hot from the oven but, we know that if we want to taste the best
flavor, we need to let it cool completely. As master bread maker Peter Reinhart says in his book The
Bread Baker’s Apprentice, “Patience is a Baking Virtue”.
Step 12: Storing and Eating
We feel that it is important to include storage and eating in our 12 Steps of Bread Baking. Here are a few
keys to bread storage:
1). Crusty breads including our French Baguette and French Batard are best eaten on the same
day they are made. If you want to save them for more than a day, wrap them in plastic wrap and put
them in a cool place. To restore the crispy crust of our bread, place the loaf directly in a 350º oven for 5
to 10 minutes.
2). Soft breads like our Sandwich White, Honey Wheat, or Spinach Feta are best stored in a
plastic bag and put in a cool place.
3). Even though our bread is available sliced, it will keep longer if you only slice it as you need it.
4). Although bread is better fresh, it does freeze well. Simply seal it in a freezer bag– it will last
for weeks. If you have a frozen unsliced loaf and want to thaw it, pull it from the freezer
and set it on the counter a few hours before you need to use it.