Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s Ciabatta Recipe

No way am I going to take credit for developing this recipe, though I have made my own tweaks to the flour. The recipe comes from master chef Markus Farbinger. I had no idea who he was until I happened to stumble on his baguette shaping video on YouTube. His technique was so incredible that ended up buying his baguette and ciabatta video series on Vimeo. This ciabatta recipe is from that series.

To be honest, even though I’m documenting the recipe, I’m really only scratching the surface. I highly recommend renting or purchasing the series. Chef Markus the former Dean of Curriculum and Instruction for Baking and Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, and is co-owner of the Ile de Pain bakery in South Africa where he uses a wood-fired oven to bake his artisan bread. In other words, this dude is totally legit!

Overview

Like traditional baguettes, this ciabatta uses a poolish that you make the night before you bake, then in the morning, you mix the final dough. With this particular recipe, the process is quick! I mean, real quick. Things happen much faster than with your typical artisan loaf. Once you mix the final dough, your loaves are in the oven within an hour-and-a-half!

On top of that, you only manipulate the dough three times before baking and two of those times are devoted to creating structure. So you really only have two opportunities to create structure and strength in your dough before you bake. That third time is just pushing the dough into a loaf shape and transferring it to a couche. There’s no formal shaping and scoring with a ciabatta. So you have to get the structure-building steps down!

Now don’t go thinking that this is a beginner’s bread simply because of the short prep time or the use of commercial yeast. It isn’t. What makes it difficult is the hydration rate which is a whopping 85%! At that level, it’s almost like working with a batter, and even for seasoned bread makers, that kind of hydration rate can be a little daunting. So like making baguettes, making a great ciabatta is less about the ingredients and so much more about the technique.

The Recipe

Like baguettes, the process occurs over two days. You create a poolish the night before, then mix the final dough and bake in the morning.

Poolish – Day 1

FlourWaterYeast
100 g Whole Wheat Flour
400 g Bread Flour
500 ml0.4 g
Mix all the dry ingredients together, then add water in batches until you form a smooth, thick batter batter. Set aside at room temperature for 12-16 hours. I shoot for 14 hours. As an early-riser, I make the poolish at about 4pm then mix the final dough at 6am the next day.

Final Dough – Day 2

FlourWaterSaltYeastPoolish
500 g Bread Flour350 ml20 g10 g1000 g

Before you start, I recommend using a round-bottom mixing bowl for the fermentation steps. The dough is so wet, that it will be difficult to do stretch & folds if you use a vertical-sided container. Also, a couche is very helpful to have, especially for the final proof.

  1. Mix flour, salt and yeast in a separate container until well incorporated (I use a whisk).
  2. Loosen the poolish from its container by slowly pouring around 250-350 ml of around the outer edges of the dough. Then use a scraper to further loosen the sides and get water all the way to the bottom of the container. The poolish will pour right out of the container – it’s cool.
  3. Use the remaining water to rinse poolish container of any leftover dough, then pour that into mixing bowl.
  4. Mix up the poolish so that the water fully incorporated into the dough and you have a smooth batter.
  5. Working in batches, incorporate the dry ingredients. It’s important you take your time with this because you want to avoid creating lumps, which is very easy to do.
    1. You can also do this in a stand mixer, but don’t use the dough hook! I use my KitchenAid’s nifty scraper/mixer attachment at the lowest speed. It keeps the sides of my bowl clean as well as breaking up lumps more effectively than a dough hook.
  6. Mix the dough until smooth. It may be a bit shaggy, but there shouldn’t be any lumps and no dry ingredients.
  7. Scrap down the sides of the mixing bowl and incorporate any stray ingredients into the dough.
  8. Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for 20 minutes.
  9. At this point, it’s a good idea to preheat your oven to 480 dF. (~250 dC)
  10. After 20 minutes, working your way around the bowl, do a series of stretch and folds, picking up about a quarter of the dough, pulling it up to stretch it a bit (but not tear it), then folding it over to the other side.
    1. NOTE: Don’t just do this 4 times! While you’re stretching feel how the resistance in the dough builds. When you first do it, you’ll be able to stretch the dough easily. You’ll know when to stop when you feel resistance in the dough. At that point, you’re good!
  11. Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then loosely cover and let ferment for 20 minutes.
    1. Here’s an important point. You should see some bubble production after 20 minutes. If you don’t, let the dough sit for another 20 minutes. I had to do this this morning because my kitchen was still a little cool.
  12. After 20 minutes, liberally sprinkle flour on your board and gently pour the dough onto the surface and scrape out any residual dough from the bottom and sides of your mixing bowl.
  13. Once all the dough has been transferred, try to move the dough to see if it sticks. If it does, use your scraper to lift up the dough and get flour under the dough.
  14. Using quick, but gentle motions, laminate the dough using the letter folding technique. This is a good tutorial. The chef in that video uses oil, but we’re going to use flour as Chef Markus does. Laminate the dough three times.
  15. After the last fold, roll the dough onto the seam, and cupping your hands, form the dough into a nice neat ball.
  16. Lightly brush oil around your mixing bowl, then place the dough into bowl.
  17. Loosely cover with plastic and let ferment for another 20 minutes.
    1. Again, like the previous fermentation step, if you’re not seeing many bubbles, let the dough sit for another 20 minutes.
  18. After 20 minutes, again liberally sprinkle flour on your work surface, then slide the dough ball out of the mixing bowl.
  19. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Technically you could scale the dough, but you don’t want to run the risk of popping any bubbles that have formed in the middle.
  20. “Shape” the dough by gently pushing the sides and forming a rough loaf shape.
  21. Once you’ve formed the loaves, gathering them from the long ends and cupping under the dough, transfer them to a well-floured couche.
  22. Sprinkle the loaves with a bit of flour, then cover them and let proof for 10 minutes.
  23. After 10 minutes, check the loaves for springiness using the finger dent test. You want to have some spring. If there’s a bit too much; that is, the dough immediately springs back, let it rest another 10 minutes.
  24. Transfer the loaves to a well-floured loading board. You can use a peel, but it should have a straight edge, not round. Myself, I use a thin cabinet siding that I’ve cut to size.
    1. If you don’t have a transfer board, the loaves will get a little misshapen. Just prod them back into shape.
  25. If you don’t have a baking stone, instead of putting the loaves on a loading board, you can use a flat baking sheet.
  26. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes on steam at 480 dF
  27. After 20 minutes, remove your steaming container, then turn your oven down to 400 dF (~200 dC). Finish baking for 20 minutes.
  28. Remove the oven and let cool for at least 45 minutes.
  29. Enjoy!

I Think I’ve Got It! My Master Baguette Recipe

As I mentioned previously, my favorite bread to make is a baguette. And I think the primary reason is because I love to make sandwiches out of baguettes! Take, for instance, the sandwich above. I made the baguette yesterday, and just couldn’t wait to prepare my lunch to take with me to work. To me, happiness is a great sandwich made with great bread. But I was SO excited because I think I finally found the perfect flour blend for my baguettes!

Yeah, yeah… I’m always tweaking. Well, not for my boules and batards any longer. I have the flour blend down for that. But with my baguettes, I’ve been trying to strike a good balance between texture, taste, and especially, nutritiousness. I didn’t want to do a pure white flour baguette, but I also didn’t want the bread to be as heavy as my 75-25 high-extraction/whole wheat blend. So I decided to lighten it up. But instead of using bread flour, I decided to use regular old AP flour, and the results were magnificent!

Note for all you sourdough snobs out there (just kidding), πŸ˜‰ I don’t do an overnight cold bulk fermentation nor do I use a sourdough starter. The overnight poolish provides plenty of flavors and nutrition, especially if allowed to ferment for longer than 12 hours. And that will be passed on to the final dough as well.

Here’s the formula (all weights are in grams):

Flours

  • Azure Market Organics Unbleached Bread Flour, Ultra Unifine, Organic – In its place you can use a Type 85 flour or another high-extraction flour. I don’t recommend 100% whole wheat. And make sure that the flour is ground fine- to extra-fine. If you can’t find any high-extraction flour, no problem. Just make the whole thing with regular bread flour.
  • Generic, AP Flour

Poolish

FlourWaterYeast
250 g Unifine Bread Flour250 g0.4 g
100%100%0.16%
Prepare poolish the night before the bake and let ferment overnight at room temp for 12-16 hours. The longer the better.

Final Dough

FlourWaterSaltYeast
350 g Unifine Bread Flour
400 g AP Flour
450 g19 g6 g
Totals (w/Poolish)
1000 g700 g19 g6.4 g
The total yield on paper is 1725.4 g, but in reality, there will be some loss. But what we’re after is a yield of approx. 6 X 285 g loaves. My stone fits four baguettes at a time, and I have a baguette pan, so I do three on the stone and three in the pan in my second oven. If you only have a single oven, no worries. Just pop three in the fridge while the others bake, then when the first set’s done, score the second set and bake them. Easy-peasy!

Instructions

Day 1 ~ Prepare poolish at least 12 hours before you intend to mix the final dough. For me, this means making the poolish around 6-7 PM the evening before, so I can be mixing the final around 8-9 AM the next morning. I like fermenting my poolish for 14 hours to activate the lactic acid bacteria. It creates a sour aftertaste in the final bread!

Day 2

  1. Mix the bread and AP flours, 400 grams of water and salt together and let autolyse for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Pour the reserved 50 grams of water into the poolish along with the yeast and use a whisk to liquefy the poolish a bit (it makes it easier to mix).
  3. Thoroughly incorporate the poolish into the autolysed dough and mix until smooth. You can do this in a stand mixer, but don’t over-mix. Just mix until you don’t see lumps.
    1. Now some suggest mixing until the dough looks like a “brain.” But the problem with that is there will be lumps at that consistency. However, that’s a good indicator that you’re getting close to where you need to be. At this point, it would a good idea to slow down the mixer and get to a smooth consistency at a gentler speed.
  4. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes then do a stretch and fold. Rest the dough for another 30 minutes then do an S & F, for a total of two S & Fs in the first hour.
  5. Bulk ferment for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (or until you see about a 50% increase in dough size – not doubling). Depending on the ambient temp of your kitchen, this could be shorter or longer.
    1. At this point, you have a choice to make. You can go ahead and finish the fermentation at room temp or, you can pop your dough into the refrigerator after about 20-30 minutes (to give the microbes a little head start) and let it cold ferment for 6 to 12 hours. I do this if I prepare the dough really early in the morning, then I’ll do the shaping after I get home from work.
  6. Preheat your oven to 480-degrees Fahrenheit (250-degrees C)
  7. Gently turn out dough onto an unfloured surface and divide it into six equal pieces. I use a scale to measure out approximately 285 grams each.
  8. Using letter folds, gently pre-shape the pieces into rough logs.
  9. Once the pieces have been pre-shaped, lightly flour them and cover with a cloth and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
  10. Rather than try to explain how to shape the baguettes, view this video. This is the ABSOLUTE BEST shaping technique I’ve learned, and best yet, it is focused on baking in a domestic oven!
  11. Place each shaped loaf on a well-floured couche. I can’t stress how incredibly useful a couche is! If you don’t have one, you can use a towel, but a linen couche holds flour better.
  12. Let proof for 30-45 minutes. Note: You want the loaves to be slightly under-proofed, so when you do the finger dent test, you want the dough to have just a little spring. It is important you don’t take it out to full proofing because that will affect the oven spring.
  13. Transfer loaves to a loading board or square peel and make sure there’s at least 3/4″ between each loaf.
  14. Score the loaves. Here’s Chef Markus again, demonstrating how to score baguettes.
  15. Transfer the loaves onto a baking stone. If you don’t have a baking stone, a flat baking sheet will work as well, but I’d recommend preheating it in your oven.
    1. If you do use a baking sheet, line it with parchment paper otherwise your loaves will stick!
  16. Apply steam to the loaves for the first 12 minutes of the bake. I use a round metal cake sheet pan on the bottom rack and put a cup of boiling water into it, and I also throw a couple of small ice cubes on the bottom of my oven (I don’t have coils there, so it’s safe).
  17. After 12 minutes, remove your steaming container, and vent the steam.
  18. Turn down the oven to 400-degrees F (~200-degrees C), and set a timer for 10 minutes. But check for doneness at 8 minutes. My own oven can be a bit wonky with temperature sometimes, and on cooler days, I extend the final baking time at 400-degrees a few minutes.
  19. Remove loaves and let cool for 30 minutes!

Baguette Day Is My Favorite Day!

While I love baking all sorts of loaves, baguettes are definitely my favorite loaves to make. To me, there’s no more satisfying a feeling than seeing baguettes come out of the oven, all crunchy and steamy, and knowing the technique that goes into making them. Out of all the different loaves I make, baguettes require so much technique to get right.

When I made my first set of baguettes, they looked great, but they were extremely dense – and I was even using 100% white bread flour! I figured at the time that I could use my normal technique of several stretch and folds over a few hours – boy was I wrong!

Then thinking that the denseness was due to hydration, I upped my hydration to 80%. I got a marginally better result, but still, the baguettes were a little dense.

But then after watching several videos and reading a bunch of different recipes, I saw that most people just kneaded the dough once, then did maybe one extra stretch and fold within the first hour. Then they let it sit! I then got a much better crumb, with great oven spring, but the loaves were a bit lopsided.

Then it dawned on me that perhaps the last pieces of the puzzle were pre-shaping and final shaping. As I recently wrote in “Gimme Some Skin” the other day, it’s absolutely critical to form that outer skin of the dough. And especially with baguettes, because I don’t want to create a tight, internal gluten network which will affect the crumb, I have to rely on my shaping for structure. And once I figured that out, I started getting consistent results time after time.

Honestly though, I’m still honing my technique, but I’ve got the all-important fundamentals down to the point where I’m very confident of my ability to create great baguettes consistently. And like Chef Markus Farbinger says, “I still get excited when my baguettes come out of the oven!”

Gimme Some Skin!

A friend recently asked me what drew me into my bread making obsession. I shared that when I first started, I had no idea I’d totally fixate on this. All I was doing was jumping on the bandwagon and my only goal was to be able to make a decent-tasting loaf of bread. But once I made my first few loaves, inevitably, my sense of aesthetics kicked in and I didn’t want to just create decent-tasting bread, I wanted it to look good as well as taste good.

Then I wanted it to be much more nutritious than other bread. In essence, I went on, what drew me in was the nuance; those little niggling details that all come together to create a beautiful loaf of bread. As I discovered, all those little things affect how the bread turns out. And one of those little things I have found to be absolutely critical is, of all things, pre-shaping.

I have to admit that when I first started out, I kind of took the pre-shaping step for granted. After all, it seems like such a minor step: Shape the dough into a ball, let it rest for 15-20 minutes, then shape. And mind you, I was learning alot of technique from YouTube videos, and none of the chefs I watched ever explained the importance of this step. But I found that the more care I put into pre-shaping, the better my loaves turned out. Let me explain why…

First, pre-shaping establishes the “skin” of the bread; essentially creating the canvas that will be presented to the world. But that skin isn’t just for looks. It plays a vital role in the overall structure of the loaf. Arguably, this is the most important item of pre-shaping’s importance. In pre-shaping, you don’t want to just create a smooth outer skin, it has to be taut, stretching the gluten strands to begin to establish the outer structure of the loaf.

Secondly, pre-shaping begins orienting the gluten strands to make it easier for the ultimate shape. It doesn’t seem that apparent when making boules or batards, but that orientation is really apparent when making baguettes. It gives the dough a little bit of a head start before shaping.

Finally, pre-shaping re-arranges the yeast and other microbes in the dough, so that the little beasties that have exhausted their food supply during bulk fermentation can be moved to a new spot to get new food. This may explain why oftentimes during pre-shaping, you’ll see bubbles spontaneously form. Pre-shaping wakes up the microbes and that’s a great thing. You want them to be active during final proof!

When I first started out and didn’t put any emphasis on establishing the skin, I believe it negatively affected my ultimate shaping in that my loaves would often collapse. But once I started making sure I’d create a nice, smooth, taut skin during pre-shaping, I had fewer and fewer collapses to the point where my loaves – why are generally 75-80% hydration – just don’t collapse unless I over-proof them.

But as I always say, this is just one aspect of the whole process, but though on the surface it seems like a minor item, it really isn’t.

Happy Baking!

Okay… I Admit It. I’m Obsessed.

I took this weekend off from baking because I went on an annual trip to Lake Tahoe to spend a few days with some of my oldest friends from college (yes, I brought up a bunch of bread that got completely gobbled up – it was very pleasing to witness that). Throughout the weekend I was having what amounted to mental withdrawal symptoms because I wasn’t baking.

My best friend who came with me asked me on Saturday what I felt like not baking. I replied, “I have to admit that I don’t quite know what to do with myself. For the past six months, my hands have been covered in either flour or dough, so to have completely flour-free hands the entire day is a little unsettling.”

But now that the weekend is over, I still can’t bake this week at all as my house is being tented for termite fumigation. I have to admit that even though I know that I’ll be just fine, baking bread has been part of my daily life these past six months that I’m feeling a little… weird…

So yeah, I’m a little obsessed.

Open Crumb? Sure… But Not All the Time

Generally, the bread I bake has a fairly open crumb, considering the high-extraction flour I use. With the loaves pictured above, the only pure white flour bread is in the top-left corner. I can get that kind of open crumb every time with any kind of loaf I bake when I use white bread flour. But the other ones? They use my 75-25 combination of high-extraction and white whole wheat flour.

Their crumbs may appear to be pretty open. But if you pick up a slice, there’s a certain heft to it. In fact, your first reaction will be that it’s dense. But when you bite into it, it doesn’t feel dense at all. The reason is that instead a really big holes, what I get with this flour are lots of small gas pockets, which makes the bread a lot more airy than how it might feel. And that’s exactly the end product that I’m after.

I want to strike a balance between open crumb and density to make my bread versatile. A loaf with big, open pockets isn’t really good for making sandwiches. But then a super tight crumb is just too dense and filling. But striking a balance between the two is perfect. I get to make my sandwiches, and my wife and kids love making avocado toast! And the bread is great with pasta and sopping up sauce!

This really isn’t a rant. But there is this preponderance of thought that an open crumb is the ultimate aim of artisan bread. For me, getting an open crumb was certainly a goal when I first started. But now that I’ve gained a lot more experience these past six months, what crumb I get is based on what I want to achieve with the bread.

For my baguettes and boules, I definitely want to get a nice open crumb. But for my batards and hand-shaped long loaves, I want a slightly less-open crumb (not tight, but less than open than a boule or baguette). For my loaf pan breads, I definitely don’t want big bubbles at all, though I do want to make sure the dough is airy.

The reason I’m writing this is because once you get to the point of consistently being able to create bread with an open crumb, you may also start asking yourself what you want to do with the bread; in other words, practicality may make you think about the different loaves that you make and what their ultimate purpose might be.

Mind you, I’m not arguing against an open crumb. But what I am saying is that an open crumb doesn’t necessarily define what makes a good loaf of bread. To me, what does define success is if the loaves I create fulfill the purpose I have in mind for them. And, of course, they have to taste good…

Best Videos Yet on Shaping and Baking Baguettes

I’m always trying to learn different techniques of shaping bread, and just when I thought I had baguette shaping down, I ran across the following videos with Chef Markus Farbinger. He has this quiet, soothing teaching style that I just love and great technique! But best of all, these videos are for making baguettes in a domestic oven! To me, this is the best of both worlds: A professional chef instructing for home baking. It doesn’t get better than this!

Shaping Baguettes

Scoring and Baking Baguettes

I love his passion and I really connect with his excitement. Even with all the loaves I’ve baked these past six months, I still get totally jazzed when my bread comes out of the oven! I addicted to the warm and fuzzy feel-good!

And following his techniques, here’s what I produced today!

Okay… I’m following his shaping technique from here on out. These came out perfect!

Baguettes Are Easy. NOT!

My favorite bread to make is baguettes. I love sandwiches and I especially love to make sandwiches with baguettes. And ever since I started making bread, my goal was to make my own baguettes so I could use them for sandwiches. And of all the different kinds of bread that I make, baguettes are the simplest with respect to the process. But they are also the easiest to completely screw up.

With my earliest attempts, the baguettes had a great shape. They appeared to get great oven spring and from appearance alone, they just looked right. But most of the time, they were pretty dense inside and super-chewy. I’d pick up a loaf and my heart would sink because I could feel the heft. They tasted okay, but damn if I couldn’t make a 6″ sub and not be completely weighed down by the dough.

But now my baguettes are light and airy. They have a great chew, but the dough gives very easily. And with the flour that I use, while the crust is crunchy and crispy, it’s not overly so. This bread is perfect for making sandwiches!

What changed to get me to making much better baguettes? In actuality, not much. I just did less; specifically, I worked the dough far less than I would with a larger loaf like a boule or batard. What I realized is that while forming a good, strong gluten network is important with any bread, with baguettes, there’s an inflection point that defines whether I get a light, airy crumb or I get a dense one. And that point comes a helluva lot sooner than when I’m making larger loaves.

With my larger-format loaves, I’m pretty aggressive with mixing the dough upfront until the dough is completely smooth. Then I do about six stretches and folds over the course of three hours from the initial mix. But with baguettes, I mix to a much courser consistency, rest the dough for a half-hour, then do at most two stretches and folds within the first hour then let it rest from 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

It reminds me of making biscuits. With biscuits you never want to overwork your dough. You mix only until all the ingredients are just incorporated and the butter or shortening is reasonably distributed throughout the dough. Then you roll it out and cut the biscuits. It’s a similar thing with making baguettes. Less is definitely more!

I wish I could explain where that inflection point is, but it’s something I feel. What I can share is that once I finish the second stretch and fold, if I can pull on the dough mass and the whole thing wants to come up, I know I’ve hit that point where the dough’s strong enough. And then I leave it alone!

Leaving the dough alone was a very difficult thing for me to learn. In fact, even with my larger-format loaves, I’ve learned that resting is just as important as manipulating the dough. And it’s been especially tough for a naturally impatient person as myself. As I used to say, “If patience was a virtue, then I’d be a slut.”

Sorry, I Just Won’t…

…eat grocery store bread any longer, unless there isn’t an alternative. And if there isn’t one, I will be extremely picky of what I buy. Luckily for me though, I bake practically every day, so the likelihood of me having to buy a loaf of bread is pretty low.

I realize that this might seem obvious considering this blog is now almost entirely about my bread-making journey and I think it’s clear that I bake – a lot! But if baking bread was merely an occasional affair, I’d certainly be buying bread from the grocery and wouldn’t feel compelled to write an article like this. But yeah… I’m kind of done with store-bought bread.

What prompted me to write this was last night’s dinner which was graciously prepared by a good friend to help my family out while I recover from surgery. She made an absolutely wonderful vegetable frittata, a fresh green salad, watermelon, and brownies for dessert. And she included a small loaf of heat and serve sourdough. My family really enjoyed the meal. But not one of us could eat the bread beyond a single bite!

I took a bite of it and put my piece down. But I didn’t say anything to the rest of the family because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. But then my wife asked my son, “Do you want my bread? I can’t eat it. I like Dad’s bread more.”

Then she turned to me and asked, “What do you think of it?” I replied, “I can’t eat it.” My wife laughed and said, “We’ve gotten really spoiled with Daddy’s bread.” We all had a bit of a laugh at that remark, but it’s true. To all of us, store-bought bread’s taste and texture simply pale in comparison to what I can produce at home. But that’s not the only thing…

It’s well-known that commercial bread and bread products have additives. But did you ever consider what the nature of these are? Honestly, I was blissfully ignorant of these for years. But once I started successfully making my own bread and doing a lot of research on home versus commercial baking, I was shocked at some of the things I discovered.

Did you know that lots of bread labeled “sourdough” isn’t made from an actual sourdough starter? They inject acetic acid in the dough to give it its sour taste! Furthermore, manufacturers enrich bread with all sorts of chemicals to help the dough be fluffier or give it longer shelf life or give it a better color. And especially in the US, commercial bread makers add chemicals that have been linked to cancer and even banned in other countries. Click the link I provided above. It’s eye-opening.

The FDA argues that the parts-per-million amount of these chemicals is so small as to be negligible. But what does that mean? Is that negligible against an average response? What about those people whose systems will react at just the slightest amount?

That said, I’m not going to eschew commercial bread entirely. If it’s the only thing available, I’ll eat a bit of it, though I will limit my intake going forward. But if I have access to artisan bread, either made by me or someone else, I’ll choose the artisan alternative.

Surgery Recovery? Here’s My Remedy: I Baked Baguettes Dammit!

I’m actually pretty amazed at how mobile I am just three days after full hip replacement surgery. And I have to admit that my relative comfort level has quite a bit to do with the pain meds I’m on. But irrespective, since I’m capable of moving around and to avoid getting bored, I decided to bake baguettes!

I just pulled those baguettes out of the oven a few minutes ago! You’ll notice the ears on one loaf and just nice openings on the others. I was experimenting with my scoring and wanted to see what a shallow score would produce. I’ll stick with the deeper score. πŸ™‚

Now normally when I bake baguettes, I make a poolish the night before I bake. But I was pretty exhausted last night, so I decided to make a straight dough this morning. Here’s my recipe:

FlourWaterSaltYeast
500 grams365 grams (85ΒΊ-90ΒΊ F)12 grams7 grams
This will produce a 73% hydration dough
  1. Measure out your flour into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the water and mix until no dry ingredients are present and you form a shaggy dough.
  3. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes (autolyse)
  4. Sprinkle the salt and yeast evenly over the surface of the dough.
  5. Thoroughly mix the salt and yeast into the dough.
  6. Dump the dough onto an unfloured surface
  7. Knead the dough until it just starts getting smooth (about 5-8 minutes). Do NOT overwork it! The moment you start feeling tension in the dough (it feels like you’re fighting it), stop kneading.
  8. Transfer the dough back to your mixing bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  9. Now do a stretch a fold and form the dough into a ball, then turn it over onto the folds.
  10. Allow the dough to rise from 1-2 hours. Check after an hour – you want the dough to have expanded at least 50%. You should see some bubbles formed on top and the surface should be nicely domed. At about 50% rise, you have room for proofing/final rise which I found is critical with baguettes.
  11. If you don’t see much activity, which typically happens on cooler days, do one more gentle stretch and fold and let the dough rise for an hour. But check it at a half hour because sometimes all the little beasties needed was a nudge. πŸ™‚ Again, you want to see some bubbles, but not a preponderance of them.
  12. Gently remove the risen dough from the bowl onto an unfloured surface.
  13. Portion out the dough into four equal pieces. By weight, the pieces should weigh about 213-215 grams apiece. Alternatively, you can portion out into three for a little beefier baguettes (I do this when I’m making baguettes for sandwiches).
  14. Lightly sprinkle the tops of the portioned dough with flour, then pre-shape each into a nice, tight ball.
  15. Flip the balls over on their folds, sprinkle a little more flour on top, then cover with a cloth and bench rest for 15 minutes.
  16. Shape the balls into baguettes. Here’s a simple, yet effective shaping technique from Markus Farbinger. But just take note: When you fold the dough, you want to make sure you’re creating good tension on the skin without tearing it! You don’t want to be lackadaisical with the folding because you won’t get any spring.
  17. If you have a couche, transfer the shaped loaves to the couch (or you can use a well-floured towel) and let them proof for an hour. This is why you don’t want to over-ferment in the bulk fermentation stage.
  18. Preheat your oven to 480 degrees.
  19. Once proofed, transfer the loaves to your peel, score with nice longitudinal cuts, then bake for 15 minutes. Provide steam for the first 15 minutes, then remove the steaming container. Then turn your oven down to 450 for 10 minutes.

You might be wondering why I’m using 7 grams of yeast. You can definitely use less, but it lengthens the timeline. I came up with this recipe specifically because I wanted to produce the bread relatively quickly with limited manipulation because I was literally three days out of total hip replacement surgery. But you know what? I like this process because it produces great results!

What About Using a Poolish?

You can absolutely use a poolish, and that’s my normal method of making baguettes. Typically I use 25% of my total flour for the flour I use for a poolish, and I make the poolish at 100% hydration. I do this the night before I bake and give it about 12-16 hours to ferment. At 12 hours, it will not be sour, but at 14-16 hours, it will get nicely sour, so if you vary the times of the poolish, you can make different flavored baguettes.

If you do use a poolish, you have the option of bumping up the fermentation activity with some yeast, or just let the poolish be the only leavening agent. If you do decide to use a bit of yeast, use no more than 2 grams of yeast because you have a lot of active microbes already in your dough, and you just want to give it a little kick.

Yet Another Word on Flour

If you read this blog with any regularity, I’m pretty obsessed with flour. Now even though I occasionally make my baguettes with white flour, you all know that my flour of choice is a 75-25 blend of high-extraction flour and white whole wheat flour (the second picture); and specifically, flours produced with the Unifine milling process. I prefer the darker crust it produces (the picture at the top) but more importantly, the nutrition those flours provide.

If you venture into high-extraction flour (Type 85 and above), do not expect to get the kind of open crumb you get with white flour. It just ain’t gonna happen. The particulates in high-extraction and whole wheat flour cut the gluten strands. And if you think working the dough to build more structure will help, it won’t. The strands you do create will be so tight, you won’t get any holes!

This is why I advocate for doing a shorter bulk and a bit longer final proof. This allows the dough to really relax so when you place the loaves in the oven, the final activity before the microbes die will allow for better gas pocket formation.