This Baguette recipe goes over making the dough and forming loaves to bake perfect baguettes with crispy crusts. If you are completely new to bread making, check out my Bread Class.
Baguettes are fascinating. They require two kinds of leavening and as a result, rise faster and bake faster than other loaves. For this bake, we are going to use a sourdough starter alongside dry active yeast. For directions on how to make and feed a sourdough starter, go here. Working with two kinds of leaveners creates a really great flavor profile, but an even more delightful texture.
The first baguette loaves of bread were developed in France during the first industrial revolution when shelf stable active dry yeast was first made available to bakers. Bakers took advantage of this speed boost for their fermentation to create long, thin, quick baking bread, and voila! The baguette was born.
The baguette is an enriched bread. Technically, enriched bread refers to any bread with ingredients other than flour, water, and salt. This baguette dough is enriched and fortified with a secondary kind of leavening agent, with two different pre-fermented yeast cultures. In future recipes in this class, we will go over enriching our doughs with additional ingredients like milk, oil, and sugar.
This baguette bake yields a really scrumptious snack bread or even sandwich bread! My favorite way to eat this loaf is simply thinly sliced with butter, or a really good brie cheese. Here's a link to one of my favorite podcasts that touch on the impact of the Industrial Food Revolution on the great history of bread, and the debate of butter vs margarine which includes a study about 5000-year-old butter that was discovered in an Irish Bog. It would be a perfect listen while you mix your dry ingredients.
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Step 1: Tools and Ingredients
To follow along with this lesson you will need the following kitchen tools
- Mixing bowls
- Bench scraper
- Cutting board
- Baking stone or cast iron baking surface - cookies sheets work in a pinch, but yield a milder crust.
- Kitchen towels
- Plastic wrap or oven bags if you live in a dry climate
- Cooling Rack
Ingredients needed for this lesson
Poolish (Prepare the night before)
- 80 grams all purpose flour
- 80 grams water, 80-84 degrees Farenheight
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
Leaven (~150 grams of prepared sourdough starter, prepare the night before - reference the sourdough lesson)
- 1 teaspoon mature starter
- 80 grams 50:50 sourdough feed flour mix,
- 80 grams water, 74-78 degrees Farenheight
Bulk Ingredient Mix
- 150 grams leaven
- 150 grams poolish
- 150 grams water 80-82 degrees
- 215 grams all purpose flour
- 125 grams bread flour
- 8 g salt
- rice flour for dusting
Step 2: Building Your Pre-fermented Leaveners
This recipe has two kinds of leavening and uses all purpose flour in conjunction with white bread flour. First, let's look at the leaveners. To raise this dough we are going to use our sourdough starter as well as a secondary pre-ferment called a poolish. A poolish is made with equal parts flour and water, and a small amount of dry active yeast - no salt.
By using two pre-fermented leaveners in conjunction with one another, we are able to achieve the following:
- get a faster bulk ferment without sacrificing flavor (since it is developed more in the pre-ferments),
- produce a stronger dough structure.
Adding all-purpose flour to this recipe, which has a slightly reduced protein content than white bread flour, helps us unlock a slightly crunchier crust and less chewy bread during the bake. The inner crumb will be soft, but the crust will be perfectly crispy and flaky.
Step 3: Mix Poolish and Leavain
First, we will prepare the poolish mixture which is water, yeast, and all purpose flour. Mix the poolish the night before and allow to stand covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator overnight. For the purpose of tracking this recipe, I mixed the poolish at 10PM.
Measure out the yeast and water and begin to combine. Mix until yeast is completely hydrated before incorporating all-purpose flour to the poolish. We use only all purpose flour for this mixture instead of our sourdough feed because the whole grain flour in the 50:50 mix we feed our sourdough would take longer to fully ferment with the dry active yeast.
Use a dough scraper to get as much of the mixture co-mingling in the bowl. Before placing in the fridge, place bowl in a bag, or cover with plastic wrap.
Make the Leaven the way we demonstrated in this Sourdough instructable, but leave it cool place overnight.
The poolish will have the consistency of a bubbly paste when it is ready, and the leaven will look similar to our leaven from the sourdough lesson.
Step 4: Bulk Mix
There is one sure fire way to know your sourdough starter leaven and poolish are ready for use, it's called the float test. In a glass of water, very gently extract some of your starter and poolish and add drop it into the water. If your preferments are bubbly with carbon dioxide and yeast activity, they will float. Careful not to knock so much air out of your preferments that it sinks. If they don't float, allow to bench rest on the countertop for a little bit longer. If you notice that the preferments begin to ever so slightly shrink in their bowls, they are ready for use. If they dramatically sink, (you'd have to let a lot of time pass) your pre-fermented leaveners have been over-proved and will just need to feed them more flour and water before they are ready for use.
Note: If your preferments have consumed all the water and flour you fed them the night before, feeding them a few tablespoons of water and flour is a great way to quickly reintroduce yeast activity into the preferments. Wait until you see noticeable activity and bubblingg before weighing out the desired amount into our bulk mix.
Measure out 140 grams of 80-degree water into a bowl. Then add 150 grams of poolish and 150 grams of starter leaven into the water. Break it apart with your hands, feeling around for the gluten strands in the mixture and then massaging them until they are dissolved. If you don't want to use your hands you may use a whisk, but the mixture can be deceiving without feeling it.
Add the bread and all-purpose flour and mix completely. I like to start with a dough whisk and end with my hands, so I can be sure that all the clumps of dry flour have been completely broken up and worked into the mix.
Allow dough to bench rest for 45 minutes covered with a damp towel, or plastic wrap. For this dough's first turn in its bowl, we will add the remaining 10 grams of water and salt. Instead of massaging the water and salt into the dough like demonstrated in this Sourdough Instructable, we're going to just fold it in with the turns slowly. This gradual incorporation of water and salt helps throttle the speed of fermentation and flavor the dough.
Step 5: Turns and Bulk Ferment
Complete one turn every 20 minutes, performing three turns in total. This dough proofs quickly and it will feel full of air, but also very strong. Handle it carefully when performing the turns, and be patient with the stretching and folding. You may want to wet your hands between each stretch and fold.
After the final turn, cover with a towel or place in an oven bag to finish bulk fermenting. Because this dough can proof so quickly, I like to jam a thermometer into the center of the dough and let it sit in there during the rise to make sure it hit's it's ideal temp of about ~76 degrees. This way, it is easier to monitor the fermentation speed within the dough, making sure it won't overprove or overheat.
Allow dough to double in size, about another two hours depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen. The dough should feel taught to the touch, as if you can feel the air moving behind the surface when you poke it.
Step 6: Divide and Preshape
Turn out the dough and allow to rest for five minutes.
Divide the dough into four mini doughs, they should all be even in weight. So weigh your dough, cut each chunk to weigh between 185 and 200 grams.
Preshaping the dough before our second proofing is key, it allows you to have a more even shaping from loaf to loaf. We are about to give the gluten network a big workout, so this is like a little warm up before we really stretch and form our dough and go into our long rise.
The yeast in this dough is super active, and our dough is really strong. Quickly and firmly slap each dough piece to de-gas them before pre-forming. This ensures better malleability for our preform.
To preform these baguettes before their final shaping, pull in the corners and roll away from your body, creating tension across the outer surface of the dough as you roll it away from you. Transfer the doughs to a floured cutting board, cover with a barely damp kitchen towel and wait 20-30 minutes, or until noticeably puffy again.
Step 7: Final Shaping
Base the desired length of your baguettes on the size of the baking stone or pan you are using. In my dreams, I would have a 3-foot long baguette, but my oven is quite small, and the baking stone I use is only 17 inches long, so no Guinness Book baguettes for me. I scooped out a 16" long shallow pile of flour as a guide for how long I would need to make each baguette.
Remove a preformed dough from the cutting board. De-gas the dough again and quickly pull into an oblong rectangle. With a gentle tug away from you, fold top third down towards the middle of the dough. Turn 180 degrees, and then repeat with the unfolded top. Fold this new shape in half, pressing the seam shut with your hand or against the bench. With your hands at a slightly turned out angle, roll out the dough from the middle until the desired length is reached. Finally, dip the entire length of the dough in flour before transferring to a cutting board for your final proof.
Step 8: Final Proofing
Bakers have developed a pretty clever way to proof shaped baguette doughs. Using a piece of fabric called a couche, the doughs are lined up parallel to one another, with a fold of fabric separating each dough. You can buy a special linen couche just for making baguettes, but a kitchen towel does the job just as well.
Place a rolled up kitchen towel on a cutting board, and unfurl it 6 inches or so. Heavily dust the exposed kitchen towel with rice flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel. Be sure to use a woven towel, not a terry cloth towel.
Transfer your dough to the part of the kitchen towel you dusted with rice flour, seam side up. Gather up a fold of fabric next to the baguette dough so that it is supported by a fold of fabric on each side. Repeat until all doughs are resting side by side.
If you live in high humidity, this final proof can happen without the doughs being covered. If you live in a drier climate, sprinkle the loaves with rice flour and cover the loaves with a slightly damp kitchen towel. It's so dry in my climate, that I just put the whole cutting board, loaves'n'all, into an oven bag and tape it shut. Blue masking tape belongs in every kitchen. :D
These doughs will take an hour to an hour and a half to double in size. Begin preheating your oven 30 minutes after you are done shaping your loaves.
Step 9: Score and Bake
Preheat the oven to 425, with a baking stone within it. If you don't have a baking stone, you can complete this bake on a cookie sheet, but put down a generous layer of cornmeal in the pan to prevent sticking. For this bake, we are also going to need a more humid oven.
Baguettes get a great chewy crust when they are baked in a steamy oven. There are lots of methods to steam an oven, you can put shallow jelly roll pan full of water and put it on a lower rack in the oven, you can use a spray bottle on the crust every 5 minutes or so, but you lose oven heat by opening the door, and some bakers go as far to use industrial Hudson sprayers to periodically spray the walls of the oven. It's really up to you as a baker, and half the fun is experimenting.
The method I prefer is to take some clean dish towels and place them into a shallow baking pan, letting them get soaked in about a half inch of water. You end up 'baking' the water out of the cloth, and it is easy to add more water if it is getting too dried out in the oven. Begin steaming your oven at least 10 minutes before you place your baguettes in the oven.
Transfer the loaves seam side down onto a pizza peel or cutting board that has been dusted generously with rice flour. Quickly score down the center of the tops of the loaves, making straight lines that slightly overlap one another.
When your oven is up to temperature, and your baking stone is very very very hot, slide the baguettes onto the stone carefully with a pizza peel, or slide them gently off a cutting board that has been dusted with rice flour. Reduce the cook temperature to 375 degrees immediately after sliding them in the oven.
These 'lil guys cook pretty quickly, so keep an eye on them through your oven door to make sure they are doing well. After about 10 minutes, remove the steaming pan, close the oven and cook for 10-13 more minutes, depending on how crusty you like your baguettes. Remember, we are looking for the crust to have the right color, a deep golden brown, with a nice sheen.
When cooking is complete, transfer the baguettes to a cooling rack. These doughs can be served almost immediately, pretty much as soon as they are cool enough to be handled they are ready to be cut into.
Step 10: Serving & Storing
These baguettes are perfect for sandwich bread or turned into toasted rounds for bruschetta, or just plain by itself.
If you aren't going to eat these baguettes right away, I recommend freezing them. To fit in the baguettes in a freezer bag, cut them in half. Be sure to wrap them in aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn.