Herringbone — It’s Not Just For Tweed Anymore (or How to Cut a Boule)

So, you’ve been baking artisan breads for some time now, and you’ve finally learned how to consistently shape a nice boule. “Now”, you wonder, “how do I cut it?” Sure, you could just slice it like any other loaf, from one side to the other. But then you’ll end up with small pieces at the ends of the loaf and giant slices from the middle.

If only there was a way to cut nice, evenly-sized slices the whole way through the loaf….

Take heart, home baker, there is! All you need is a herringbone cut. Now, that may sound like some exotic technique only available to master bakers. But I’m here to tell (and show) you that you can do this at home. And you don’t need any special skills or equipment to accomplish beautiful, even slices.

So here is a simple, easy-to-follow picture tutorial that will have you slicing your boules like a pro.

First, cut a slice like you normally would. How easy is that?

Then turn your loaf counterclockwise slightly less than 90° and make another slice. Note how that end of slice #2 overlaps the first slice just slightly.

For the third slice, rotate the loaf clockwise and make the slice where you made slice #1.

Counterclockwise again for slice #4, from where you made slice #2. Back to the beginning position for slice #5, and so on.

And if you’re wondering why it’s called a herringbone cut, here is the partially sliced loaf reassembled:

See how the slices overlap like herringbone?

That’s all there is to it. Pretty cool, huh? Now, go bake a boule so you can try it yourself!

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BBA Challenge #39: Vienna Bread with Dutch Crumb Topping

The next bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is Vienna Bread, an enriched European bread that is often topped with a slightly sweet Dutch crunch topping. This bread was delicious, especially after the nearly tasteless Tuscan bread. In fact, I enjoyed this bread so much that I made it twice in two weeks.

Reinhart’s Vienna bread recipe, like many of his recipes, begins with a preferment, in this case pâte fermentée. The recipe calls for 13 ounces of preferment; but the pâte fermentée recipe in the book makes 16 to 17 ounces of dough. Time to break out the baker’s math! Since the recipe gives baker’s percentages, it was a fairly simple matter to scale it to the amount I needed.

I ended up using 4 ounces each of all-purpose and bread flours, 0.15 ounce salt, a scant 1/2 teaspoon yeast, and 5 ounces water. The result was just over 13 ounces of dough, which I allowed to ferment for a little over an hour before refrigerating it overnight.

The next day, I removed the pâte fermentée from the fridge, cut it into pieces, and allowed the pieces to come to room temperature.

The pieces were then mixed into the dough, which included sugar, butter, egg, and barley malt powder.

After fermenting the dough for about 2 hours, I divided it in half and shaped each portion into a boule.

I allowed the boules to rest for 20 minutes, then shaped them into batards.

The loaves were covered and left to proof for about 90 minutes. While the loaves were proofing, I mixed the Dutch crunch topping, made from semolina flour, yeast, oil, sugar, salt, and enough water to make a thick, spreadable paste. When the loaves were ready to bake, I brushed them with Dutch crunch paste and slashed the loaves lengthwise.

Because Vienna bread contains malt powder, it browns more quickly than other doughs. For this reason, the loaves are baked at a lower temperature than many hearth breads — 450 dF.

I baked the loaves for about 30 minutes, until the internal temperature reached 200 dF.

As noted above, this was a delicious bread, one worth making again and again. And I really liked the look, texture, and taste of the Dutch crunch topping. I’ve never used Dutch crunch paste before, but I think I will find myself adding it to other recipes.

So that’s Vienna bread. Up next: the Big Four-Oh — Pain de Mie.

Check out Paul’s write up at Yumarama.