How to Make Stirato: Like a Baguette, but Easier

Yes, you can make bakery-worthy bread at home!  Get ready for chewy, crusty loaves that you'll want to tear into for breakfast, dinner and everything in between. 

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

©2015 Food Network

In the Kitchen with Samuel Fromartz

"What's the temperature in here?" asks Sam Fromartz, rolling up his sleeves. It's an unusual question for a first-time visitor to the Food Network Kitchen, but it makes sense coming from a breadmaker. For Fromartz, baking is about the environment, which it affects the ingredients, the rising time and the flavor. Every kitchen has its own micro-local terroir. Fortunately, you don't need to master these principles in order to make great bread, thanks to Fromartz's award-winning book In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey. In it, he details the lessons gleaned from 20 years of breadmaking and visits with some of the great artisan bakers of Europe and America. A highlight is his stirato. Easy enough for beginners, the recipe dispenses with marathon rounds of kneading and lots of yeast, and instead relies on a long rising time and a few simple turns of the dough. The result is a baguette-like loaf with a chewy, slightly tangy interior and beautiful brown crust. Here's how he does it.

Make a Shaggy Dough

"One thing I love about baking is that you don't have to invest hundreds of dollars to get started," says Sam. Your only requirements for this recipe — other than ingredients — are a $5 plastic dough scraper and a baking stone. ("With the stone you can also get really crispy cookies," Sam confides, "plus make pizza.") He first uses his hand and then the scraper to blend the flour, water and yeast, stirring in a circular motion. Within a minute or two it comes together in a shaggy dough. 

Add Salt Last

"Salt tightens the gluten in the dough, so I leave it out in the initial mixing stage," Sam explains. Just before setting the dough out to rise, he makes a small indentation in the center and pours in the flakes, followed by about a tablespoon of water ("just enough to hydrate the salt"). "I like flaky sea salt, because it's slightly less salty than kosher salt and straight table salt," he notes. 

Grab, Stretch and Fold

Rather than knead the dough on the counter, Sam prefers to do it in the bowl, using a three-step stretching and folding process. He repeats it several times, resting the dough for 20 minutes after each time.

First, moisten your hand and dig your fingers in under the dough.

Second, stretch the dough out and up.

Last, fold the dough over, pressing the pieces together with slightly splayed fingers. "After you repeat this 12 times, the texture should be smooth and satiny — a sign it is starting to develop gluten," Sam says. 

It's Alive!

After rising for eight hours, the dough becomes delightfully squishy, plump and full of bubbles. "When you press down on it, it should grow in size," says Sam as he demonstrates. Beware of fast-rising-dough recipes that call for lots of yeast, he warns. "The flavor of bread comes from the starches converting to sugars," which happens over time, he says. "When you speed that process up, you sacrifice flavor."

Use a Light Touch

To get the sticky dough out of the bowl, Sam dusts it with flour and then uses his dough scraper to loosen the dough around the edges. After dumping it on a flour-dusted counter, he gently pulls the dough into a 10-by-16-inch rectangle. The less you work it, the better, he advises. "You’re trying not to lose those bubbles the dough has spent all that time creating."

Mark Your Cuts

Before dividing the dough, Sam sprinkles three lines of flour across the rectangles where he wants to make his cuts. "It prevents your cutting tool from sticking," he explains. Then he uses the handle of a wooden spoon to cut the dough into four loaves. (A wooden dowel or a chopstick will also work.) "You want to use a round dull edge so it presses the dough together to form a seam," says Sam. "That's how you get rounded-looking loaves." He uses the edge of the scraper to cut through the very ends.

Transfer the Loaves

Before the final rise, Sam carefully transfers the cut loaves to a sheet of floured parchment. To preserve their loose, spongy texture, he slides his hands under either end of a loaf and slightly crimps it before lifting. 

Flick, Don't Sprinkle

Flouring the loaves before covering them with a cloth for rising prevents the dough from sticking to the fabric. Sam uses a flick of the wrist to throw the flour from the side, as you would when skipping a stone on a lake. "It powders the surface," he explains. "If you sprinkle from above, you get clumps of flour." 

Stretch It Out

"This kind of bread is called stirato because it's stretched," says Sam demonstrating his technique. "Put your fingers in from the edge of a loaf and pull outward. If the dough resists, you can wait another couple of minutes." You'll know it's ready when "there are some bubbles and it looks like it's come more alive." 

Not Your Average Loaf

A deep, crackly brown crust is the sign of a well-baked loaf. "If it's nice and golden, it's not done," Sam cautions. "You need it to brown so the sugars caramelize. That's a big issue with French bakers. A lot of people are trained to like pale loaves, but they are not well done!" Although the rises span several hours, it's easy to make this bread in one day. Start it in the morning, "then put it in the oven at 4 o'clock," says Sam. "It's awesome for dinner."

Get the Recipe: Stirato