It’s been said that the baguette, although one of the simplest breads (being comprised of only flour, water, yeast and salt), is perhaps the most difficult bread to make well. A good baguette has a thin, crisp crust, a light and airy crumb having a distribution of both large and small air pockets (alveoli), and a slightly sweet, almost nutty flavor. Being the perfectionist that I am, I would also add that a good baguette has to look enticing, being a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
The baguette formula used here is a modification of the Baguettes with Poolish formula described by Hamelman on page 101 of Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes (see book for baker’s percentages). The main changes were in the method of mixing (see Musings on Mixing…), the amount of yeast used in the final dough and the elimination of the folding step.
- 10.6 oz. King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
- 10.6 oz. Water
- 1/8 tsp. Instant Yeast
- 1 lb., 5.4 oz. King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
- 10.6 oz. Water
- 0.6 oz. Salt
- 1 tsp. Instant Yeast
- 1 lb., 5.2 oz. (all of the above) Poolish
Prepare the poolish the night before baking. Mix the flour, water and yeast together until the mixture is the consistency of a smooth, thick batter. Cover and let it ferment overnight at a temperature of around 72oF until mature (about 12 hrs).
The next morning, prepare the final dough by combining the flour, yeast, salt, water and poolish, just until all the ingredients are mixed and well hydrated (I find a dough whisk to be particularly suited to this task). The water should be at a temperature which will give a final dough temperature of around 76oF (more on this in a later post). I also used less yeast than the Hamelman formula calls for because of the high temperature of my kitchen at this time of year (the higher temperature would shorten the first fermentation time, and hence compromise the flavor, if the quantity of yeast was not reduced). Depending upon your conditions, you may need a bit more or less yeast.
After the ingredients have been fully incorporated, the dough is mixed by hand (see Musings on Mixing…) for about 10-15 min., until the dough develops a smooth skin which doesn’t tear while mixing. The dough is then placed in a lightly oiled, covered container and allowed to ferment. This first fermentation is judged complete when the imprint of a finger poked into the dough remains. In this particular case, the first fermentation lasted 1 1/2 hours. In addition, the dough was judged to have developed sufficient strength after the hand mixing so that the folding step during the first fermentation suggested by Hamelman was not needed.
Once the first fermentation was judged complete, the dough was divided into 4 equal pieces, by weight, and each piece was given a gentle round pre-shaping. The dough pieces were then covered with plastic and allowed to rest for 20 min. After the rest, each dough piece was shaped into a baguette and then nestled within the folds of a linen couche, as shown below:
The shaped baguette dough is then covered with the remaining linen and allowed a second fermentation time of about 1 hr. The second fermentation is judged complete when a finger press results in an impression that lasts for 2-3 secs.
After the second fermentation is complete, the baguettes are scored with a lame and baked in a 450oF oven for 20 min., with steam being supplied during the first 10 mins. via a hand steamer and an inverted buffet tray with a small hole drilled into it (details of the steaming technique are described here):