Sourdough Baguettes: My Approach

I know, I know… I have several baguette recipes on here already. Despite that, I really only use one method: pointage en bac or the slow rise method, and I only vary it by the type of leavening agent I use. And whether I use yeast or starter, the process is exactly the same.

As for all the different recipes I have for baguettes, I’ve always been compelled to experiment. In Jeffrey Hamelman’s book, Bread, he has several recipes for baguettes and I’ve baked them all and shared those recipes here. But for my own baguettes, I riff on the original method I learned from Master Chef Markus Farbinger. It’s straight-forward and invariably yields me GREAT results.

Now the interesting thing about these baguettes is that the acid in the starter acts as both a dough conditioner and a preservative. Even after a couple days, the crumb is still supple and pliable – even if left in the open at room temp!

So here’s the basic formula for the baguettes:

Baker’s %Example
Flour*100%644
Water76%462
Salt1.8%14
Yeast0.07%.53
Preferment35%227
Optimal Dough Temp75°-78°FYield: 1346
*I use a blend of flour which is basically 40% unbleached high-extaction flour and 60% AP flour.

I deliberately used the word preferment instead of sourdough starter or levain because you can use a poolish for this formula as well, which I have done. But for this discussion, we’ll focus on a levain.

Using the example numbers above, this will yield 4 baguettes scaled at 335g apiece, leaving a few extra grams of dough for loss during processing, which almost always happens, so I always calculate a few grams more than I actually need so I can scale my loaves to the exact weight I want them.

Make the Levain

Though I listed the levain as being 35% of the flour, I need to clarify where I got this number. I didn’t just pull it out of thin air. Assuming I’m using a 100% hydration levain, it turns out that if the flour of the levain represents 15% of the total flour of the recipe, the levain’s total weight comes out to be just a smal fraction over 35% of the flour weight.

I factor in the flour of the levain as part of the overall flour because a levain is simply part of the overall dough development. I do this to calculate my yield as I now bake according to the amount of dough I need for a particular bake. This keeps my loaf weights absolutely consistent.

In any case, using a mature starter, make a liquid (100% hydration) levain (like a 1:3:3 or 1:5:5) and let it activate until it passes the float test.

Make the Dough

  1. Dissolve the levain and yeast in the water. The water should be at the appropriate temp to get the dough to the optimal temp. At this time of the year, that’ll probably be around 90°-95°F.
  2. Add the salt to the flour and mix well, then gradually add the liquid to the flour and mix until you form a shaggy mass with no dry ingredients.
  3. Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl and let the dough rest.
  4. Initial Fermentation: 1 1/2 hour. During this first hour, fold the dough every 30 minutes, making sure to pay attention to building up the gluten. After the second fold, rest the dough for another 30 minutes, cover and put in the fridge for 12-16 hours, or until the dough has at least doubled in size.
  5. Divide and scale the dough. For demi-baguettes, weight should be around 250g. I make 20″ baguettes scaled at 335g. Roll each piece up like a jelly roll and rest for 30 minutes seam-side-up on a well-floured couche or tea towel.
  6. Preheat your oven to 500°F.
  7. Once the dough has relaxed sufficiently (it’s normally 30 minutes for me, but sometimes it takes longer if I pre-shaped them tight, remove the pieces from the couche, the shape into baguettes, moving them back to the couche to do their final fermentation from 30-60 minutes. This step is important. You want to do a finger-dent test after 30 minutes. If it’s still really springy, let it go. But if your dent comes back but remains, it’s ready to bake.
  8. Score the loaves.
  9. Bake with steam at 500°F for 12 minutes, then 12-15 more minutes at 450°F dry.

These baguettes really benefit from a full bake to ensure a nice, crisp crust. I’m not a big believer in taking the crust out to chocolate as I do with my boules and batards. But a deep, golden-brown above yields a delicious crust.

Recipe: Biga Baguettes

I needed to make lunch for the family tomorrow and I didn’t figure out what I was going to make until too late. I knew that I wanted to make sandwiches, but I wanted to make them on baguettes. But since it was late afternoon by the time I was going to start making them, my recipe options were a bit limited. I couldn’t make my normal Pointage en Bac baguettes which require an overnight cold fermentation (I had to have the sandwiches prepared early in the morning). That also left out making a poolish.

But what I did have on hand was some nice, ripe biga that was in my fridge. So I pulled it out of the fridge, let it warm up for an hour or so, and started preparing the dough. They turned out fantastic! They’re so good that I thought I’d share the recipe.

Biga

Make the biga the night before you bake. This will make a lot, so put the unused portion of the biga in the fridge in an airtight container. It’ll keep for over a week. It’s actually much more flavorful a few days old. The biga I used for my baguettes was five days old and had a rich and slightly sour flavor. Here’s the formula:

Flour500g100%
Water390g78%
Yeast0.25g0.05%
Biga will be ready to use when it has doubled in size and is slightly domed at the top.

Final Dough

AP Flour500g100%
Water* (warm)390g78%
Salt10g2%
Yeast4g0.8%
Biga200g40%
*Target dough temp is 78-80° F

The process we’re going to use here is loosely based on Hamelman’s Baguettes de Tradition which is a great recipe for making straight dough baguettes.

  1. Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside then mix the biga and water together until biga is broken up. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly, making sure there are no lumps (there’s shouldn’t be if you sifted the dry ingredients together). Mix until you form a shaggy mass. Don’t worry if it resembles more of a batter than a dough. It’ll all smooth out and come together nicely.
  2. Bulk ferment for 3 hours. During the first hour of bulk fermentation, fold the dough every 20 minutes. I recommend doing stretch and folds as opposed to coil folds as this is a fairly fast fermentation and the commercial yeast will expand the dough nicely. By the third fold, the dough will have built up plenty of strength with noticeable bubbles. Try not to degas the dough too much with the third fold. Let the dough rest for 2 hours or until it has nearly doubled.
  3. The yield will be about 1100g, which will give you 4 20″ baguettes at about 276g apiece. If you’re using a 15″ length, it will make 5 baguettes at 220g apiece. Divide and scale out the size that works for you. With each piece, lightly flatten, then letterfold it, then gently roll it into a compact log. Place each piece seam side up on a well-floured couche or tea towel. Bench rest for 20-30 minutes or until the dough has relaxed.
  4. Shape into baguettes and let rise for 1 hour or until loaves have reach about 75-80% fermentation.
  5. Bake at 485°F for 12 minutes with steam, then 425°F for 8-12 minutes. Note that the baguettes will not be very dark.

What amazed me about these baguettes is that despite the fact that I baked them for much longer than the final 12 minutes they didn’t get darker than when the time was up. But no matter, the crust on these baguettes is thin but very crisp and the crumb is super-soft. The crumb isn’t really open and pockmarked with holes, but it it’s super-light – almost like a banh mi crumb.

When I pick up a baguette and it feels as if it has very little weight, I know it’s going to be a great baguette, and these baguettes are great!

Happy Baking!

Dividing and Scaling Baguettes

One of the most important things I’ve learned about baking is striving to achieve consistency; that is, doing things the same way time after time to achieve consistent results. When bake a certain type of loaf, I expect it to fit a particular ideal I’ve established in appearance and taste. And as long as I haven’t strayed from the basic formula and process, it’s reasonable to assume that ideal will be met.

One way I achieve consistency is working with different ratios. After all, bread formulas are all about ratios. And working with ratios eliminates guesswork, and a lot of it you can do in your head. For instance, if I want to create a 75% hydration dough and I use a kilo of total flour, I automatically know that I’ll need 750g of water.

So given that, I worked out a ratio for scaling baguettes that ensures that I’ll get consistent results from bake to bake. Essentially it works like this:

Target Baguette Length (centimeters) X 5.5 = Portion Weight (grams)

Where did I get that “5.5?” I actually got it from Chef Markus Farbinger’s Baguette series on Vimeo. He scales out 220g portions for 40cm (~15 1/2 inches) baguettes. So given that, I took the weight of the portion and divided it by the length to give me grams per centimeter and that works out to 5.5g/cm. Because I have a nice baking stone, I bake 60cm baguettes (I used to do 40 cm), but I was able to easily scale up to 60cm and I know that each portion should be 330g. Easy, right?

I make four different types of baguettes: Baguette Traditional (straight dough), Pointage en Bac (straight dough with a slow bulk ferment – the one I bake the most), Levain, and of course, a Poolish baguette. No matter the type, I scale them the same. I may not bake them the same; for instance, the levain baguette gets a lot more oven time to get color into the crust. But they’re all scaled the same. For me, as I mentioned above, it takes the guesswork out of things.

The less you guess, the more consistent your results!

Happy Baking!

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Poolish Baguette (Adapted)

It’s no secret that I love making baguettes. In fact, I made a batch of sourdough baguettes based on Hamelman’s Baguettes de Tradition from his great book “Bread” this morning. Technically, Baguettes de Tradition is a straight dough. But I love the processing technique and it’s difficult to make because the hydration is 76%. And using a levain further exacerbates things because the acid in it makes the dough more extensible – and sticky.

But after I made them, I wondered what the chef’s poolish formula was like, so I looked it up and was a little shocked by his formula. A 66% hydration dough? That couldn’t be right. It’s commonly accepted that baguette dough is around 75% hydration, give or take a percentage point or two. It’s a fairly wet dough. But 66% is getting close to stiff!

But the kicker for this recipe is the long bulk fermentation at 2-2 1/2 hours and the long final fermentation at 1-1/2 hours. This gives the dough plenty of time to form lots of air bubbles, which is what you want with baguettes plus, the long periods of rest in the bulk fermentation give the dough plenty of time to relax. With a moderately stiff dough like this, you want to give it plenty of relaxation time if you can.

As my title indicates, this is an adapted recipe. The reason for this is that in the book, the quantities are all listed in kilos and pounds, which leads me to believe that this recipe really is geared towards a full-fledged bakery. But everything can be scaled if you work out the percentages properly. Also, the chef uses fresh yeast in his final dough, but I adapted the recipe to use regular, instant dry yeast for both the poolish and final dough. There’s no difference in what either does. You just use less granulated yeast. Here’s the formula:

PoolishFinalTotalBaker’s %
Bread Flour3306701000100.00%
Water330330*66066.00%
Salt0.0020202.00%
Yeast0.704**4.700.47%
*Target dough temp is 76-78°F so adjust water temp accordingly.
**If you have fresh yeast and want to use it in place of the granulated yeast, just divide by 0.4.

Poolish

  1. Mix all the ingredients together until smooth. I like mixing the yeast into the flour first to distribute it, then adding the water. Let ferment at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours or until the top is highly pockmarked and bubbling and ever so slightly domed.
  2. When the poolish is ready, dump everything thing into a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. If using a mixer, incorporate ingredients at low speed for a couple of minutes, then increase speed to second speed and run for 1-2 minutes to break up any large lumps. Once the dough starts to pull cleanly off the sides, stop. If mixing by hand, thoroughly mix until moderately smooth being careful not to knead the dough too much.1
  3. Bulk ferment the dough for 2 hours, gently folding it after the first hour and being careful not to degas it too much.
  4. Divide2 the dough and lightly shape it into rounds, then bench rest (covered) on a lightly floured surface seam side up for 10 to 30 minutes depending on tightly you preshaped them. I recommend having a fairly light touch as you don’t want a skin to form.
  5. Once the dough has relaxed, shape them into long cylinders then set them on a well-floured couche or tea towel seam side up.
  6. Let the shaped loaves do a final fermentation for 1-1 1/2 hour. This is VERY important because shaping the loaves will have degassed them a bit and this long, final fermentation allows the gluten to relax and reform bubbles.
  7. Preheat oven to 460°F. When the loaves are ready, bake them for 24-26 minutes applying steam for the first 15 minutes.

Notes

  1. Whether using a machine or mixing by hand it’s important to NOT knead a baguette dough too much. You want the fermentation process to naturally form the gluten bonds and not force it by kneading. This will really tighten up the dough which you don’t want.
  2. Since I bake on a stone, I divide the dough into five pieces at about 336g apiece and 20″ long. You can do 8 pieces at about 14-15″ long as well to fit on a baking or baguette tray.

I’ve been writing this post while smack dab in the process of making these baguettes. I have to admit that I was really surprised at how supple the dough was when it ready to shape. It wasn’t nearly as pliable as my normal, high-hydration baguettes, but it was still pliant and luxurious.

And because it was rather cool in my kitchen, I let bulk fermentation go for almost three hours. And even at that point, it was easily less than 80% fully proofed. But that’s okay because it gave me plenty of runway for final fermentation, which I’ll probably take to a full 1 1/2 hour to ensure the loaves are close to fully proofed. This is definitely a recipe where I need to let everything that happens before baking get most of the work done on the dough!

Happy Baking!

Recipe: Chef Markus Farbinger’s Pointage En Bac / Slow Rise Baguettes

Okay, I admit it. I’m a baguette freak. I make baguettes at least once or twice a week. And up until this past week, I’ve been experimenting with different methods from baguettes made with a poolish to pate fermente to levain. But to tell you the truth, my favorite baguette to make is based on the slow rise or pointage en bac method; a method similar to the one Master Baker Markus Farbinger teaches in his baguette and ciabatta video series.

So what is the pointage en bac method? Simply put, it’s a straight dough that slowly rises in the fridge; specifically, it’s retarding the shaped dough. This technique has its roots in busy French bakeries where bakers wanted to provide baguette throughout the day. After all, baguettes are best eaten within in the first hour or two of baking – and they’re MUCH better warm! So they’d make a batch of dough, then shape them then pop them into their retarders.

As Jeffrey Hamelman puts it, the close cousing to this technique is to retard batches of bulk fermenting dough, then when ready to bake, the dough’s shaped, allowed to do its final fermentation, then baked. This is the method that Chef Markus Farbinger teaches in his baguette video series, though he ony makes a single batch.

I prefer this technique simply because it keeps things simple: Throw all the ingredients into a mixing bowl, let it ferment for an hour, fold the dough, cover it, then pop it into the fridge for 6-18 hours. I’ve even used a third of the amount of yeast called for and let it ferment for over 24 hours to develop flavor. It’s a very flexible technique that can easily be adjusted to acccomdate different schedules.

Formula

IngredientBaker’s %Example
AP Flour (11-12% protein)100%1000g
Water75%750g
Salt2%20g
Yeast0.6%6g
Target dough temp: 78-80°F

Yeast amount can be varied. I use the full 6g when I want a simple, overnight bulk ferment of about 8 hours @ 39°F. Otherwise, I’ll use as little as 0.5g and let the dough ferment for a couple of days.

Process

This is one of the few doughs that I make where I mix entirely by hand.

  1. Mix dry ingredients together, then sift into a mixing bowl. The sifting is ultra-important if you’re mixing by hand. If you’re using a machine it’s less important, but I still recommend it.
  2. While stirring the flour with a slightly cupped hand with fingers together (imagine your hand is a wooden spoon), slowly add the water, gradually incorporating the flour from the edges.
  3. Mix into a shaggy mass, making sure all dry ingredients are incorporated, then cover and let rest for an hour. You want to make sure your dough temp is in the 78-80°F range, so place your covered bowl in a place where you can maintain that.
  4. After an hour, fold the dough until taut and the dough doesn’t want to be folded any longer. A sure sign for me is when I can pick up the entire mass and it all comes up, then I know there’s strength in the dough. Let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.
    1. See “Alternate Process” below
  5. Retard in the fridge for 6-18 hours. Using the full 6g of yeast, 8 hours is probably the max you should let it rise.
  6. For dividing and pre-shaping, Chef Markus recommends dividing into 8 pieces at about 225g each. These will make 40cm loaves. Pre-shape the loaves into simple logs, then place on a couche or well-floured tea towel, and bench rest seam side up for 30 minutes.
  7. For shaping, there’s no better video than this. Let proof for 30 minutes.
  8. Transfer loaves to a transfer board or directly on a baking sheet if you’re not baking on a stone. And score the loaves.
  9. Bake at 480°F/250°C for 12 minutes with steam.
  10. Remove steam container, then bake for 8-15 minutes at 400°F/200°C (or until deep golden brown). Some folks like to bake until the scored edges are black. I never go that far.
  11. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting. To me, baguettes are best eaten while warm!

Happy Baking!

Alternate Process

Chef Markus’ technique is a very low-touch technique. You fold once, then pop it into the fridge. I employ this technique regularly because it frees me up to do other things while the dough bulk ferments that first hour. However, I’ve also taken a real liking to Hamelman’s Baguette de Tradition technique where the dough is folded 3 times, every 20 minutes for the first hour, then allowed to finish bulk fermentation. Though more interventive, it ensures really good gluten development.

I’ve actually been using this technique for my last few baguette bakes where I’ve used nothing but AP flour. Normally, I’d use a higher gluten content flour combined with AP flour, so I don’t worry too much about gluten development with Chef Markus’ low-touch technique. But AP flour is a different animal altogether, and to me, needs to be worked a bit more, however gentle.

Recipe: Baguettes de Tradition

The way I learned to make baguettes was from Master Chef Markus Farbinger, who uses a slow rise or pointage en bac method. It is a straight dough, but bulk fermented and retarded overnight. This allows the amino acids and lacto- and acetobacillus bacteria to develop, while retarding the activity of the yeast. The results, as shown in the picture to the left, are pretty magnificent.

But I recently learned another technique called Baguettes de Tradition from Jeffery Hamelman’s book, “Bread” that he learned from Japanese bakers. This is a straight dough that differs rather significantly from the slow rise baguettes. First of all, these baguettes are baked in just a few hours from final mix, so you’re working with room temperature dough. Second, where I would normally use an 11.7% protein AP flour mixed with about a third high-extaction flour, this recipe calls for 100% bread (strong) flour. And finally, this is a wetter dough than what I’m used to using at 76% hydration.

As Hamelman puts it: “…a baker could be excused for concluding that the dumpster and not the belly is the destination for the bread.” This is because mixing is done gently, so after mixing – even using a stand mixer – there’s virtually no gluten development! The dough just comes apart. But with the folding schedule, the gluten develops quickly, and by the last fold, the dough is luxuriously smooth and supple – and strong.

Chef Hamelman warns that this is a challenging bread and certainly not one for beginners. I can attest to this as the dough at this hydration using pure bread flour is tacky and will easily stick – especially since you’re handling a room temperature dough. So keep your hands floured when shaping and use quick motions!

But the end result is pretty fabulous. You will notice right away when the loaves come out of the oven, that you will not get pronounced ears. This is because with these particular baguettes, you minimize the creation of a skin during shaping. The crumb is significantly different from my other baguettes in that there were not many huge voids. But that could be more of a function of how I handled them during shaping. But in spite of that, the texture of the crumb is magnificent, redolent with numerous pockets.

Formula

I’m going to provide the bakers percentages, so you can scale the recipe up and down as required, but will also provide example amounts.

IngredientBakers %Example Amount
Bread Flour100%1000 grams
Water76%760 ml
Salt1.8%18 grams
Yeast.75%7.5 grams

Before you get started, I highly recommend sifting your flour to avoid creating lumps which are a pain to get out, especially if you’re mixing by hand.

  1. Add all ingredients to your mixing bowl and combine all ingredients until fully incorporated. If you’re using a stand mixer, Hamelman recommends 400 to 450 revolutions at low speed (a KitchenAid 5-quart mixer’s RPM at the first notch is 60 RPM) – about 7 minutes. If mixing by hand, make sure everything’s fully incorporated. You’ll probably end up with a bit of a shaggy mass. Just make sure you don’t stretch the dough too much. You don’t want the gluten to develop!
  2. Let the mass rest for 20 minutes, then perform a stretch and fold of the dough. Repeat this 2 more times every 20 minutes over the course of the first hour. By the end of the third stretch and fold, the dough should be strong and velvety-smooth to the touch!
  3. Let the dough rest for 2 hours or until it has nearly tripled in volume. But you’ll know when it’s ready when the dough is like jello when gently shaking and the top surface of the dough has plenty of bubbles. For me, this can actually take as short as 30-45 minutes.
  4. Divide and pre-shape into rough cylinders and let rest for 15 minutes (it may be shorter or longer depending on the dough being sufficiently relaxed), then shape the dough into baguettes, being careful not to tighten them too much to avoid creating a skin and doing your best to be gentle but firm to not degas them too much. Transfer each baguette to a well-floured couche.
  5. Hamelman list the final fermentation as 1 hour, but use the finger dent test to make sure, bearing in mind his times were for much more dough and larger loaves.
  6. Bake at 485° for 12 minutes with steam, then 8-12 minutes at 425° or until the crust is a deep golden brown. A full bake is recommended to ensure the crust is crispy.

Baker’s Notes

  • As with any high-hydration white flour dough, this dough is tacky! I can’t stress enough the quick, definitive movements I had to make to work with this dough. I also had to make sure that during shaping I was dipping my hands in my pile of flour to prevent sticking.
  • I think the next time I make these, once the dough is close to finish bulk fermentation, I’m going to pop it into my fridge for a few hours to help develop flavors. As a friend of mine who lives in Paris complained, “I’m so sick of the bland baguettes made from pure white flour here in Paris.” So a little flavor development, no matter how small, will help plus, pre-shaping will be much easier with a cooler dough. Though I’m used to handling high-hydration dough, that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. 🙂
  • I will also use my normal flour blend of 1/3 high-extraction flour and 2/3 AP flour. This will get me to the same protein content as King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour at 12.7%. But also the bran in the high-extraction flour will add a nice nuttiness to the flavor profile. That said, I will have to tweak the process a little and do an autolyse step to ensure the flour is fully hydrated, and I may have to up the hydration by a percentage point or so.

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.

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), 😉 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

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.

Poolish

FlourWaterYeast
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 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
500 g19 g6 g
Totals (w/Poolish)
1000 g750 g19 g6.4 g
The total yield on paper is 1775.4 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.

Day 2

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  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 or feel lumps.
  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. 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.
  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 285-295 grams each.
    1. 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.
    2. Alternatively, you can divide into 8 loaves at about 220-221 grams apiece.
  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 (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.
  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!

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.

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!”

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!