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Big Bear’s Bread


If you would like a printable version of this formula, click here: Big Bear’s Bread

I have a dear friend I call “Big Bear,”  He likes “holey” lean sourdough breads. I know he would enjoy this bread, so I named it for him.

I have been experimenting with the “Double Hydration” technique. I have known about it and used it for some time, but I finally read about the technique in Michael Sua’s wonderful book, “Advanced Bread and Pastry.” It is a book well worth the price. I have my own slant on that technique that I use because I have found that you can get some amazing gluten bonding by utilizing it. I made up this 73% dough using this technique plus my own technique and the resulting bread is holey, light, fluffy and has a wonderful crust with terrific flavor. In most formulas, 73% dough can be almost impossible to handle, this technique does make it easier, although you still have to work with sticky dough.

The Biga-like dough (technically not a real biga, because it does not contain commercial yeast):


I start out with a Biga-like dough at 60% hydration, made with ice water, which is fermented in a dedicated refrigerator (46F) for three nights, it has no salt so it is going through a cool autolyse (technique via Gosselin/Reinhart). Then the rest of the water, salt and dough are added to bring the hydration up to 73%. The dough is fun, it is stretchy and bubbly.

Here is the formula:

Big Bear’s Bread

First make the Biga-like dough (3 lb 5 oz/1502g of dough @ 60.6% hydration):

  • 8 oz/226g Vigorous starter @ 100%
  • 16 oz/453g ice water
  • 16 oz/453g bread flour
  • 13 oz/368g AP flour

Mix these ingredients all together until you have a smooth mass of dough(it is stiff), knead for two or three minutes. Then put the Biga-like dough into the refrigerator in a covered container for three nights(let it hibernate 🙂 ). I took the dough out each day and folded it once. I used my dedicated refrigerator which is kept at 46F. I turned my dedicated fridge up to 50F on the last day and night(the higher temperature will help develop the sour factor).

Note: If you use a regular fridge at 40F or lower, try fermenting your biga-like dough for four nights instead of three to help acheive the sour flavor (the warmer temps are pretty important in obtaining your sour though).

Note: If you decide to use all bread flour instead of part AP flour, your dough will be very dry as bread flour absorbs more water than AP flour.

Around 4pm on the third day take out your Biga-like dough and then add:

A slurry made up of:

  • 7 oz/198g warm water
  • .7 oz /19g salt
  • 4 oz /113g bread flour

Add this slurry to the biga-like dough which you have pulled apart into stretchy chunky pieces (do not cut) and slowly, incorporate the slurry by folding the dough over and over while it is in the container:

Biga dough and slurry:

Fold it over and over using two hands to incorporate the slurry, handle the dough gently, you don’t want to tear the gluten bonds unnecessarily.

The dough will still look like a ragged mass when you are done. The gluten strands will not go together smoothly at first:

At this point, just leave the dough to ferment and as you fold the dough each hour, it will begin to come together:

Allow your dough to ferment, covered, at room temperature, for 4 hours. Fold the dough once each hour. It will begin to look smooth like this:

It is at 73% hydration. It will spread out in the container while it is fermenting, but look like this when you fold it:

This makes 4lbs 0.7oz/1834g of dough @ 73% hydration

After four hours, you can divide the dough and shape it. I shaped two boules. The sticky dough is harder to work with, but just have your hands wet and take your wad of dough and holding it in your hands, pull it up from underneath a few times while shaping it into a round. This way you are pulling the dough up and causing the seam to be on the top. Then just plop the dough into a very well floured banneton (seam side up), lining the banneton works well, but I used one lined and one unlined and they both came out fine.

Place the dough, banneton and all into a plastic bag and then refrigerate your dough overnight. Next morning, take out your loaves one at a time, staggering them by 30 minutes. My dough was risen pretty well but it is a gloppy, shapeless sort of dough. The dough did not take long to proof. It was pretty much ready from the refrigerator.

Preheat your oven, baking stone and roasting pan lid to 465F for one hour(this is way more important than you think if you want good oven spring)

When your dough is ready to bake, turn your oven down to 450F.

After your dough has proofed and is ready for baking, turn it upside down onto a floured peel, slash (a word about slashing wet dough below) and place on the hot oven stone. Then spray the dough all over with water. Quickly place the hot roasting pan lid over your dough and allow the bread to bake, covered with the roasting pan for 20 minutes.

A word about slashing wet dough. For slashing wet dough, make sure you have an extremely sharp blade and wet it before slashing. The less you slash wet dough, the more oven spring you will have because wet dough likes to spread out and slashing it more will allow it to spread more. I slashed one loaf with one cut and one loaf with two cuts and you can see the difference in oven spring:

This, of course, mainly applies to boules, a long batard or even longer baguette will need vertical slashing all down the length or one long vertical slash down the middle. Also, slash shallow, not deep.

Once the loaf has baked for 20 minutes, remove the roasting pan lid and set it on top of your oven to keep it handy for the next loaf. Then turn the loaf around for even browning and allow the dough to bake for 15 more minutes, turning it one more time. Keep an eye on it for the last five minutes, because the oven is extremely hot and can start to burn the outside during the last five minutes. I pushed the limit because a nicely caramelized, brown loaf tastes so much better than a pale one.

When the loaf is done,place it on a grate and let it cool. Heat your oven back up to 465F with the roasting pan lid back inside. Then bake your second loaf.

Big Bear’s Bread is so good. The crust is terrific, the crumb is moist and custardy (it will stay fresh several days), the flavor is wonderful, the smell is awesome and the loaf is surprisingly light for it’s size because of all of the holes.

The day following baking, this bread developed a very good tang. Enjoy, Big Bear!

Loaf from the next batch:

If you would like a printable version of this formula, click here: Big Bear’s Bread

Sent to Susan at Yeastspotting.

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  1. Ken Ken
    May 2, 2011    

    Absolutely incredible technique and results. Love the crust and the crumb. I have heard of double hydration and I am glad you have explained it so well. This will be on my list.

    • northwestsourdough northwestsourdough
      May 3, 2011    

      Thanks Ken, you won’t be disappointed, this bread is extraordinary.

  2. Ken Ken
    May 18, 2011    

    I am starting the “biga” tonight. Looking forward to the results!

  3. Lu Lu
    May 18, 2011    

    I am new at this and have tried different starters and non have worked for me. However, I did a starter with unsweetened pineapple juice and think that did the trick with whatever I have in my air here. It looks like it is ready to use for sourdough. What I am confused about is when you mention making this or that with a certain % hydration. I do not understand how to know the proper hydration. Do I try and judge based on your pictures or can you recommend a book that explains the process fully and with photos? Thank you…I am desperate to figure this out and so excited to get started now that after a few years, finally have a REAL starter with some strength.

    • northwestsourdough northwestsourdough
      May 18, 2011    

      You can join the forum to find out more about hydration, or you can search on my website for help on hydration at: http://www.northwestsourdough.com
      However, if you are wanting to make Big Bear’s Bread, it uses 100% hydration and that is really simple. You just pour out most of your starter, reserving just a small amount , like 2 Tablespoons, and then you start feeding your starter with the same weight of flour and water. That means for instance, feed your starter with 4 oz of water and 4 oz of flour. It doesn’t matter what weight, as long as they are both the same. It is a thicker starter, until it ferments somewhat. If you always feed your starter in this way, you will be keeping your starter at 100% hydration. And all of the recent recipes and formulas on my blog here have been using 100% hydration, so that should help.

      Happy Baking, Teresa

      • June 4, 2011    

        Holy cow! This is easily the best bread I’ve baked so far. My improvised bannetons worked O.K. and I had no roasting pan lid, so turned the oven very hot – 545F for the first 10 minutes, then reduced after that and watched it carefully. Even with these adaptations, it still came out great. The biggest faults with my loaves are that the oven spring while very good, is not as high and all the really large bubbles are at the top of the loaf. This was my first experience with (cool autolyse/ retarding dough?) I will definitely bake this one again and continue to try to improve my results. Thanks so much for your very clear directions and photos!

  4. Ken Ken
    May 23, 2011    

    I didn’t heed your warning not to let it proof long after the rise-it over fermented a bit. But the crust and crumb! It is amazing. The crumb is nicely custarded, so tender. The next day it was so much better after letting it sit on the counter (in a cloth flour sack). Wonderful flavors. I am going to perfect this one. It is definitely worth working for. Thanks so much for posting this formula.

  5. northwestsourdough northwestsourdough
    May 23, 2011    

    I am glad you like it Ken. The dedicated refrigerator makes a big difference in the sour factor.

  6. miss.amaryllis miss.amaryllis
    May 29, 2011    

    Isn’t the verb “to prove” rather than proof? (as in Ken’s post, for example)

    Sorry! Pedantic, I know.

  7. Ken Ken
    June 1, 2011    

    I guess my English needs some work. My bread doesn’t notice the wrong verb tense. Maybe in baking proof is the right term? Thanks though Miss Pendantic oh Amaryllis

  8. northwestsourdough northwestsourdough
    June 1, 2011    

    Proved, proofed, whichever works. I like proofed. 🙂

  9. rick rick
    July 4, 2011    

    I’m giving this recipe a try with the hopes that it will have an increased sour over my normal sourdough bread. I hope the trick is in the 3 day retarding.

    • rick rick
      July 4, 2011    

      After spending all night in the fridge, I brought the loaves out and removed them from the Brotform proofing basket. Unfortunately, because of such a high hydration dough, they immediately lost the support of the basket and spread out to about 8 inches in width. They never did recover as a result of a good rise in the oven so my loaves are pretty low in height and excessive in width.

      • northwestsourdough northwestsourdough
        July 4, 2011    

        It is unfortunate, Rick, that your bread did not turn out as you had hoped. High hydration dough can be tricky to work with. You have to use good shaping techniques and a VERY hot oven for a good oven spring. Your oven has to be preheated at least an hour with a good oven stone. Also, old flour, poor quality flour, overproofing or a sluggish starter can contribute to a poor rise in bread. Good luck on your next try.


  10. Ricardo Brill-Thiel Ricardo Brill-Thiel
    October 20, 2011    

    Looks really great. I wonder how it goes with whole wheat flour I grind myself. Have you tried this yet?
    I live in Bogotá, Colombia, at 8612 ft altitude. This makes baking different. Do you have any tips for high altitude baking?
    Thanks, Ricardo.

  11. Sourmilk Sourmilk
    October 28, 2011    

    Can you send me your starter and BBB recipes as I can not read this file. It will not display correctly on my Macbook.

  12. Sourmilk Sourmilk
    October 28, 2011    

    Can you send me the starter recipe? I printed the BBB recipe from the link above. Thank you.

  13. ann ann
    January 3, 2013    

    I’d also love to know if I can add some whole wheat flour to this recipe–it’s the ONLY sourdough recipe that I’ve used so far where I can get great oven spring…and it’s SO yummy! I’d just like to try to add in some whole grains if possible…

    • northwestsourdough northwestsourdough
      January 6, 2013    

      I would certainly experiment with adding some whole wheat flour. The more you add, the harder it will be to keep the open crumb, but adding some whole wheat flour should be good.

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No Pings Yet

  1. BBB one extra day… | Discovering Sourdough on May 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm
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  3. Lady Bear’s Bread | Discovering Sourdough on June 16, 2011 at 7:37 pm
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  5. Experiments with Autolyse (Autolysis) - Discovering Sourdough on October 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm

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