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Friday, January 1, 2021

Sourdough Baguettes

Sourdough baguettes - Not really sour at all, but richly delicious, crusty rustic loaves with creamy crumb and extra crunch from white whole wheat flour. 

These baguettes are a little bit of work to make, but totally worth it. After you have made a couple of batches, the process will become second nature to you. You will wonder why you haven't been making these all along, and why you have paid money and taken trips to get baguettes, when you can make really superior ones at home.

Using the scale: The recipe is based on weights, not volumes, so you will need a digital kitchen scale, and basic knowledge on how to tare the scale to permit accurate weighing of ingredients (taring subtracts the weight of your container so that you are only weighing the ingredients). Also, you will get more accurate readings on the scale if you tare with a lightweight container like a plastic bowl or cup. When weighing things that are in very small amounts, like salt and yeast, try taring with something very small and light, like a plastic cupcake cup or paper cup.
All weights are given in grams. This makes the recipe scaleable; if you want to make only half as much, it's easy to divide the gram amount by 2.

Here's what you will be doing: The night prior to baking day, you will make a poolish* containing a small amount of sourdough starter, flour and water. The next day, that poolish will be combined with more flour, water, salt and baker's yeast to form a final dough. That dough will be risen and folded 3 times, then formed into loaves and risen another hour before baking.

Sourdough Baguettes


Bread flour  180 g
Water           180 g
Starter            40 g

Final Dough
Bread flour                         810 g
White whole wheat flour   110 g
Water                                  600 g
Salt                                       20 g
Baker's yeast                         2 g
Poolish   - all the poolish from step 1


1. The night before baking, make the poolish:
Combine the poolish ingredients in a small, deep bowl, mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on counter overnight.

2.  The next morning, make the final dough:
Combine the final dough ingredients in an electric mixer bowl. Mix on low speed with paddle attachment until combined.

Let sit for 10 minutes before continuing. This is called the autolyze. It permits the flour to absorb the water prior to kneading.

Knead with dough hook for 6 minutes on medium speed or 12 minutes by hand.


3. Rising and folding:

Allow to rest in bowl for 45 minutes. Dough will look shaggy and non-uniform.


  Do the first fold: Take dough out of bowl onto floured board. Think of the dough as a square envelope. Grasp the left side and pull out, then fold over the dough. Grasp the top side, pull out and fold down over the dough. Do the same for the right and bottom sides.




 Do the second and third folds -  Do this two more times: 
Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and wait 45 minutes. Repeat the envelope folding process.   Each time, the dough will appear smoother and more uniform. It will also be more elastic and will stick to the bowl less. 

After the third fold, put back in the bowl, cover and wait another 45 minutes (this makes a total of 3 hours in this step.

4. Shaping the loaves

Take dough out of bowl onto floured board. Cut the dough into the basic shapes that you will form into loaves. This recipe will make either 5 baguettes or 3 baguettes and 1 bâtard (larger loaf).

Using your scale, make sure each baguette weighs between 350 and 390 grams. This will make a baguette the length of a baking sheet or baking stone in a conventional oven.
If you are making a bâtard , make sure its weight is equivalent to two of your baguettes.

At this point, you have roughly-formed shapes of the correct weight, as below:

Allow to sit for 15 minutes to permit the gluten to relax, and then, using the palms of your hands, roll each one out into the desired shape. It's nice to make slightly pointed ends on the baguettes and a slightly bulbous center on the bâtard. 

Place the loaves on a floured dishtowel or linen couche if you have it. cover lightly. 

Allow to rise for one hour while you heat a baking stone to 450 degrees in the oven.

5. Slashing and baking:

At the end of the rise time, the baguettes might look something like this:


Using a transfer board, move a baguette to the peel, or top of a baking sheet, which will be used to transfer it to the hot stone in the oven. The peel should be dusted with semolina flour or corn meal.

Using a razor blade or baker's lame, make three or four slashes at a slight angle on the baguettes, overlapping slightly.  For the bâtard, make one long, fast slash at a slight angle, the length of the loaf.

Slide the loaves onto the hot stone. Immediately toss a small amount of water onto the sides/bottom of the oven to create steam, shut the door quickly.

(Or, while you are heating the stone in the previous step, heat a cast iron skillet on the bottom shelf of the oven, and toss the water in the skillet to create steam. This helps to produce "oven spring" or the smooth quick rising that occurs while the starches gel and then brown on the crust. The steam permits more expansion during that quick phase of initial rise.)

Bake 20 minutes for baguettes, 30 minutes for bâtard. Cool on rack.

*Poolish is a term to describe a wet preferment dough which is permitted to develop for an extended time, often overnight, prior to being added to the final dough. Originally, it used baker's yeast rather than natural starter, and the bread was much less acid to the taste than that using a levain.  According to Calvel in The Taste of Bread, "This method of breadmaking was first developed in Poland during the 1840s, from whence its name. It was thenused in Vienna by Viennese bakers, and it was during this same period that it became known in France."

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