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), 😉 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):
By using a substantial amount of AP flour, we lower the protein content slightly. The one thing I found about baguettes is that you don’t want a real tight internal gluten structure. You want a nice, taut skin when shaping, but internally, you don’t want nearly as much dough strength as you would a boule or batard.
- Azure Market Organics Unbleached Bread Flour, Ultra Unifine, Organic – In its place you can use a Type 85 flour or another high-extraction flour. And make sure that the flour is ground fine- to extra-fine. I don’t recommend 100% whole wheat unless it is extra-fine ground. If you can’t find any high-extraction flour, no problem. Just use regular bread flour. However, one of the main reasons I suggest using high-extraction flour is that it retains the natural yeasts, oil, and microbes that are essentially removed from white flours; not as much as whole grain flour, but certainly much more than white flour. They will add more complexity to the overall flavor of the bread!
- AP Flour – I struggle with this because technically you could use standard grocery store brands like Gold Medal or store label AP flour. But those flours are generally 10% protein and lower. King Arthur, Bob’s Red Mill, and Azure Standard are 11.5% to 11.7% protein. It’s really not that much difference in protein amount, but it makes a world of difference in oven spring! So I recommend using AP flour that has 11%+ protein.
Bleached or Unbleached Flour?
My preference is to use unbleached flour which is aged naturally as opposed to bleached flour which uses chemical agents to speed up the aging process. From a taste perspective, you shouldn’t notice any differences. Texturally, it is said that unbleached flour has a denser grain and tougher texture, but I’ve only used unbleached flour, so I couldn’t tell you the difference.
|250 g Unifine Bread Flour -or-|
250 g High-Extraction Bread Flour -or-
250 g Extra-Fine Ground Whole Wheat -or-
250 g Bread Flour
|250 g||0.4 g|
|350 g Unifine Bread Flour|
400 g AP Flour
|500 g||19 g||6 g|
|1000 g||750 g||19 g||6.4 g|
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.
- Mix the bread and AP flours, about 400 grams of water and salt together and let autolyse for 20-30 minutes (yes, it’s a salted autolyse but no fermentation is taking place).
- Pour the reserved water into the poolish along with the yeast and use a whisk or fork to liquefy the poolish a bit (it makes it easier to mix).
- 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 or feel lumps.
- 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.
- 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.
- Note that at this point, you have a choice to make. You can go ahead and finish the fermentation (step #5) 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) after the second S&F, 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. Or I make the dough in the late afternoon, then pop it in the fridge.
- Preheat your oven to 480-degrees Fahrenheit (250-degrees C)
- Gently turn out dough onto an unfloured surface and divide it into six equal pieces. I use a scale to measure out approximately 285-295 grams each.
- If you have a standard domestic oven, you’ll probably roll your loaves out to about 14-15 inches. You will immediately notice that your loaves will be a little “fatter” than traditional baguettes. This is by design because I like making sandwiches with my baguettes.
- Alternatively, you can divide into 8 loaves at about 220-221 grams apiece.
- Using letter folds, gently pre-shape the pieces into rough logs.
- Once the pieces have been pre-shaped, lightly flour them and cover with a cloth and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
- 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!
- 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.
- Let proof for 30-45 minutes (on particularly warm days, this may be even shorter). 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 them out to full proofing because that will affect the oven spring.
- Transfer loaves to a loading board or square peel and make sure there’s at least 3/4″ between each loaf.
- Score the loaves. Here’s Chef Markus again, demonstrating how to score baguettes.
- 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.
- If you do use a baking sheet, line it with parchment paper otherwise your loaves will stick!
- 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).
- After 12 minutes, remove your steaming container, and vent the steam.
- 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.
- Remove loaves and let cool for 30 minutes!
Using a Sourdough Starter
People have asked if they could use a levain in place of a poolish. Of course you can! But to make it easier, here’s my recipe for sourdough baguettes.
What If I Can Only Bake Half the Shaped Loaves at a Time?
If you don’t have room to bake all the loaves at once, then pop the other loaves into your refrigerator while the other loaves bake. Once your oven comes back up to temp after the first batch, remove the extra loaves from the fridge and place them on your board.
You could also pop them in the freezer, but I don’t recommend doing that for more than 30 minutes.