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!”

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.”

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.