Recipe: Sourdough Baguettes

As I’ve often mentioned in the past, baguettes are my favorite bread to make. Nothing gets me in the zone as much as making baguettes. The reason for this is that though they seem so easy to make at first blush, they’re actually incredibly difficult to get right. For me at least, making baguettes requires me to be on my game every step of the way; forcing me to be absolutely mindful of what I’m doing because one misstep can result in total disaster. Which explains why I haven’t released a sourdough baguette recipe until now. I’ve had quite a few disasters and I didn’t want to publish a recipe until I had a few successful runs.

As with all my baguettes, I make them for the express purpose of being a platform for sandwiches. But they work just as well for tearing up and dipping into olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They’re also optimized for baking in a domestic oven, so they’re more demi-baguettes than full sized 60-80 cm loaves.

Also, these use a hybrid rising technique using a levain and some yeast. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear the sourdough purists out there screaming, but I prefer the results of the hybrid technique over a pure levain-risen dough. I’ve baked several permutations and I have to be honest: While I love the flavor profile of a pure levain-risen dough, it’s far too extensible, and backing off the hydration creates too tight of a crumb. The small amount of commercial yeast used here helps lighten the crumb.

This is a two-day process. On the first day, you create the levain and mix the final dough. The second day, you shape and bake. This is in contrast to the traditional poolish-based baguette where you make the poolish the night before, then mix the final dough the next morning and bake.

Day 1

Levain

Mature, Active Starter150 grams
Whole Wheat Flour25 grams
Unbleached Bread or High-Extraction Flour300 grams
Water325 grams
I’m assuming your starter is 100% hydration. If it’s a stiffer starter, it’s not a problem. Just do the calculations to create 100% hydration levain.

NOTE: In the table above, I provide what I used to make my levain – at the time I originally wrote this. But now that my wild yeast starter is really mature and active and dense with microbes, I use far less of it, like 50 grams. The point to this is that you want to create a 100% hydration, 800-gram levain (400 grams total water/flour each).

Making the levain will take several hours, especially if you have to wake up your starter from the fridge (which is why I keep and maintain a couple of room temp starters). I don’t mix the final dough until the afternoon. You can push the process a little bit by putting your container in the oven with the door cracked so the oven light provides a little heat.

Final Dough

Levain800 grams
Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*600 grams
Water (90° – 95° F) ꝉ350 grams
Salt20 grams
Instant Yeast3 grams
* I recommend either King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill AP flour, or another brand as long as the protein content is above 11%. Most generic, grocery store AP flour is around 10%, while Bob’s and KA are around 11.7% protein. It may not seem like much of a difference, but believe me, it makes a world of difference.

ꝉ Though I provided a temp, the idea is to get the final dough temp to be around 75°-80°
  1. (autolyse) Mix the levain, AP flour and 300 grams of the water together until no dry ingredients are present. This should be a shaggy mass. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the remaining water, then pour over the dough, then evenly sprinkle the yeast over dough as well. Mix thoroughly until the salt and yeast are fully incorporated. The dough will still be a little shaggy.
  3. Rest for 30 minutes, then do a stretch and fold of the dough to build strength, making sure that you do enough stretches and folds to where the dough fights you a bit. This is important! If you can, flip the dough over onto the seams.
  4. Rest for another 30 minutes, then do another stretch and fold of the dough. Then once you feel confident you’ve built up good strength, flip the dough over onto its seams, cover your container with plastic wrap or lid, and pop it into your fridge for 12-24 hours.

NOTE: What you’re looking for in the overnight bulk fermentation is at least a doubling of the dough. However, don’t keep it in there so long that you get a high water mark on your container and the dough has collapsed!

Day 2

Whew! Still with me? I know, this seems like a long process, but it’s not complicated. There are just lots of steps and things to consider and I want to make sure I cover as much as I can. Here are the steps for shaping and baking:

  1. Preheat your oven to 480-degrees Fahrenheit (250-degrees C)
  2. Gently turn out dough onto an unfloured surface and gently pulling on the dough to shape it into a rough rectangle, then divide it into six equal pieces. I use a scale to measure out approximately 295 grams each.
  3. Using letter folds, pre-shape the pieces into rough jelly-roll-like logs.
  4. Once the pieces have been pre-shaped, lightly flour them and cover with a cloth and let rest seam side up for 20-30 minutes. If you have a couche, put them on the couche to rest.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. Let proof for 30-45 minutes. Note: You want the loaves to be ever so slightly under-proofed, so when you do the finger dent test, you want the dough to have just a little spring, though the dent still remains. It is important you don’t take it out to full proofing because that will affect the oven spring.
  8. Transfer loaves to a loading board or peel and make sure there’s at least 1/2″ (1 – 1.5 cm) between each loaf.
  9. Score the loaves. Here’s Chef Markus again, demonstrating how to score baguettes.
  10. Transfer the loaves onto a baking stone. If you don’t have a baking stone, a flat baking sheet will work as well.
    1. If you do use a baking sheet, line it with parchment paper otherwise your loaves will stick!
    2. Also, it’s quite possible that you will not be able to fit all six loaves on your baking sheet at once. In that case, place your extra loaves in your fridge on another baking sheet so you can just pop them in after your oven reheats after your previous bake.
  11. Apply steam to the loaves for the first 12 minutes of the bake. I use the bottom portion of a broiler pan on the bottom rack and put a cup of scalding 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).
  12. After 12 minutes, remove your steaming container, and vent the steam.
  13. 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.
  14. If you want a really crunchy crust (I love that, btw), then turn off your oven and crack the oven door with an oven mitt (see the picture below). This will slowly release the heat from the oven and cure your crust.
  15. Remove loaves and let cool for 15-30 minutes! Baguettes are meant to be consumed warm and fresh!
Curing the crust after the bake using an oven mitt to slowly release the heat from the oven.

1 thought on “Recipe: Sourdough Baguettes

  1. Pingback: I Think I’ve Got It! My Master Baguette Recipe | The Dawg House!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s