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 baguettes throughout the day. After all, baguettes are best eaten within in the first hour or two of baking – and they’re MUCH better warm! However, that had an issue of the shaped loaves collapsing, so to prevent that, the bakers would add dough conditioners to help the shaped loaves maintain their structure. Not a fan.

However, as Jeffrey Hamelman puts it, the close cousin to this technique is to create a huge batch of dough then separate it into several batch buckets. From a production standpoint, this has huge advantages because all the baker has to do is pull a bucket from the retarder, then shape and bake as opposed to whipping up another batch of dough. 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.

AND if you’re going to be baking in separate batches, it’s an ideal method. For instance, in the next couple of days, I’m going to have to make a few batches for an upcoming graduation party. I’m going to make a huge batch of dough, then separate it into separate batches. When the dough’s ready, I’ll take a batch, shape it, then bake it. While those loaves are in the oven, I’ll shape the next batch. By the time the previous batch is finished and the oven comes back to temp, the next batch should be ready to bake.

What makes it possible is retarding the dough. Sure, the later batches will be slightly more fermented, but if I time it right, it shouldn’t make too much of a difference.

Formula

IngredientBaker’s %Example
AP Flour (11-12% protein)100%774g
Water75%580g
Salt2%15g
Yeast0.3% – 0.5%*2-4g
Optimal Dough Temp76°F
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.

*During warmer weather, I recommend using the smaller amount of yeast.

Process

This is one of the few doughs that I make where I mix entirely by hand mainly because I only make enough dough to make 4 X 340g pieces.

Mixing. Use a mixer or mix by hand and mix to a shaggy mass with no large lumps. With the small batches I make, I almost always mix by hand, though I use a Danish dough whisk – that’s a must-have tool. Make sure though to sift the flour if you mix by hand.

Bulk Fermentation: 6-18 hours. 1 hour @ room temp, the rest of the time in the fridge.

Folding. Fold 3 times at 20-minute intervals for the first hour to develop the gas-retention properties of the dough. This is gentle folding. Though I do stretch and folds I do my best to not press down on the dough too much when folding a flap over. After the third fold, pop the dough into the fridge for a long, cold rest.

You may notice that this folding schedule is different from my original instructions of letting the shaggy mass sit for an hour, then doing a single fold and popping it into the fridge. But once I started making Baguettes de Tradition, I’ve preferred this folding schedule because it ensures equal distribution of the yeast and salt, especially if I mix by hand so I now use this folding schedule for all the baguettes I make.

Divide and Shape. Dump your dough out onto a lightly floured surface, tug the dough into a rough rectangle with even thickness throughout, then cut into 340g pieces. Preshape each piece by letterfolding it, then rolling it like a jelly roll into a log. Seal the seams, then set aside on a well-floured couche for 20-30 minutes to relax the dough (this could be longer if you rolled the log tight, but don’t go over 45 minutes). After resting, shape the dough into baguettes, returning each piece to the couche, giving ample room for the loaves to expand.

There’s technically no official weight and length, though in general, the accepted final weight and length of a finished loaf is around 250g and 60cm in length. After a lot of tweaking with different weights, I found that a 340g dough weight is optimal to achieve the 250g finished weight.

Final Fermentation. 45-minutes – 1 1/2 hour depending on ambient temp. This is where feel is extremely important. While traditionally “doubling” is a decent visual cue, that will take the loaf close to full fermentation and leave very little room for expansion in the oven. And with a dough like this, which is wet and narrowly shaped, the finger dent test isn’t revealing because when you poke into it, most of the time, the dent will remain – even in the early stages of the final ferment. So it’s best to check the loaves at 30 minutes. When you do the finger dent test, you want to look at the rate that the dent pops back. If it pops back really quickly and the dent only partially remains, then the loaf isn’t ready (note: The dent will not go away right away). If it initially pops back up quickly, but immediately slows down and the dent is still pronounced and then slowly comes back, then the loaf is ready.

Happy Baking!