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Ryan Sandler

Hopefully this isn't seeming too much like a broken record.  This is now my 10th week of baking Hamelman's Baguette's with Poolish.  After my slightly ridiculous post last week, I'll keep it brief.  This week I used my new postal scale to get exactly 0.067% yeast in my poolish (0.1 grams).  I also decreased my preheat temperature slightly to prevent burned bottoms from an overheated stone, and kept a closer watch on final proof, checking every 5 minutes once the baguettes had proofed 55 minutes.


Poolish after 12 hours


 

Exterior

 

Crumb 

 

Crust could have been darker--I tried baking for an extra couple minutes (28 total) before turning the oven off, to get a more caramelized crust, but I think I just overbaked them.  Crust a little chewy, but not bad.  Crumb decently open, although not consistently throughout the baguette we had with dinner.  Flavor and texture were good, although the outer edges of the crumb seemed dry (hence my suspicion of overbaking).  A little flatter than some weeks--I tried doing just two "over the thumb" folds in the final shaping, and I think that wasn't sufficient surface tension.

Next week, I'm going to try making my oven a little hotter.  My oven seems to bake cooler than it should, and while I've been assuming that a setting of 485F approximated the desired 460F, that may not be the case.  That, and practice, practice, practice at shaping and scoring.

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Ryan Sandler

 


Alternate titles for this post: "Saturday, Sunday and Monday Baguettes", or "Why my wife thinks I'm crazy, but fortunately isn't sick of baguettes yet".


 


So following my recent attempts to master the Poolish baguette and the frequent failures which could be attributed to the poolish, I went off and bought myself this scale, which is graduated to 0.01 gram or 0.001 oz. increments (and was selling for an appealing $12.50 last week), more than accurate enough to measure the perishingly small quantities of yeast needs for my 10 oz of poolish, and surely more accurate than trying to eyeball a half-full 1/8 teaspoon.


This is where the madness began.  I was so sure that things would work out beautifully if I could just get the poolish fermented correctly.  When they didn't, I just had to figure out why not.  My long, sad story follows, but if you want to cut to the chase, I think the pictures probably tell most of the story.


Friday night I mixed poolish #1 at 10:30pm with 5.3 oz flour, 5.3 oz water, and 0.3 grams instant yeast, weighed on my shiny new scale.  5.3 oz ~= 150g, and Hamelman specifies 0.2% yeast in the poolish, so 0.3g was the right amount. This was, in fact, wrong, but I hadn't figured that out yet.  Read on.


By 6:30am the poolish was super-active (and maybe already a goner), and when I gave in and mixed the dough at 7:30, it was over-ripe.  I did not realize this until the dough was already mixed, and so I forged ahead.


Saturday Batch: Exterior (They were much paler than they look here)


 

Saturday Batch: Crumb

 

Chewy, tough, pale crust, tight, pale crumb, lousy flavor much like last week, although slightly better in each respect.

I was certain I could do better.  After all, I had a scale!  So I gave over my "free" Sunday bake to another batch of Hamelman's baguettes.  Poolish #2 was mixed at 10pm, with 0.25 g of instant yeast.  This was still wrong, but I still hadn't figured it out yet.  This time I took some pictures of the poolish as it fermented--one at 10pm, another at 1am (up with the baby), and a third at 8am, just before I mixed.

10pm: Just mixed

 

1am: 3 hours in

 

8am: 10 hours

>

 

I screwed up when mixing this time (did I mention I was up with the baby at 1am?) and added too much salt.  As I'd sprinkled it over the flour, I tried to fix it by scooping up and discarding the top layer of flour, then replacing the flour and starting over with the salt.  I should have just discarded all the flour.  Did I mention I was up with the baby at 1am?

The dough behaved rather strangely--it rose slowly, and was very loose when I was shaping.  Still, it worked, mostly.  I tried experimenting with different shaping methods (two "over the thumb folds, three folds, and the Back Home Bakery "Roll and tuck" method), but promptly lost track of which baguette was which.  I don't think it made much of a difference.  They went into the oven...and came out very pale.  But with nice looking slashes, save for perhaps being under-proofed.  I was, to say the least, puzzled.

Sunday Batch: Exterior

 

Sunday Batch: Crumb

 

Again with lousy, pale crust. But there was hope.  The crumb wasn't amazing, but wasn't bad (chasms non-withstanding).  Flavor was actually quite good, although they tasted a little salty. 

There was such potential here.  I wasn't sure if the poolish was over-proofed, but it may have done a little, and it certainly was ripening too fast.  I had certainly screwed up the salt, and that was fixable.  I had to make another batch.  Immediately.

I probably would have worked from home Monday anyway (as a doctoral student, I can do that most days if need be), but now it was for sure.  Poolish #3 was mixed at 10:45pm with 0.16 g yeast.  This was still wrong.  I still hadn't realized it.   I took a picture of the poolish at 7:45, but mixed it at 8:45.

Poolish #3

 

As I was setting up my tablecloth couche after pre-shaping, I realized that part of the paleness of my recent batches of baguettes was an over-thick layer of flour, imparted by my couche.  Tip: if you can scrape flour off your couche with a bench knife, it is over-floured.  I shook the silly thing out over my balcony before shaping the baguettes.  You almost wouldn't have recognized it afterward, with only the lightest coat of flour left over.

I shaped this last batch of baguettes oh-so gently, and let them sit en couche for 65 minutes. They felt...different when I transfered them to parchment for slashing.  Rounded and light, but strong.  A little too light, truth be told--they didn't want to slash easily.  I think over-proofed, in fact--I let time get away from me and didn't for done-ness at 60 minutes.

And the final results:

Monday Batch: Exterior

Monday Batch: Crumb

 

Nice, richly colored crust that was nicely crisp to the tooth.  Crumb wasn't as open as I'd like, but the flavor was decent.

After this batch was out of the oven, as I was perusing Hamelman's Bread for insight, I finally, finally realized what was going wrong with my poolish, even with my scale.  0.2% yeast is for fresh yeast.  For active dry, you'd need to use 1/3 as much-- 0.1g.  D'oh!.  Suddenly it all made sense.  Poolish #1, with 3 times too much yeast, was done in 8 hours and a goner at 9.  #2 did a bit better, but may have been  little too ripe at 10 hours.  #3 actually may not have actually been fully ripe at 10 hours, but would have been over-ripe by 12, no doubt.

Next week: The correct amount of yeast in my poolish, a lower preheat temp (my bottoms keep charring a bit), and a more watchful proof.  Victory will be mine!

Happy baking everyone,

Ryan

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Ryan Sandler

Well, this week was a little disappointing one in baguette land.


I only made two seemingly minor (intentional) changes from last week:  First, I endeavored to proof until the baguettes "felt ready" (about 65 minutes this week), rather than waiting for a 75 minute proof.  That I think went well.  Second, I switched from KA Bread Flour to Stone Buhr White Bread Flour.  I generally prefer the Stone-Buhr, but my local grocery stores stopped stocking it.  Last week,  all of a sudden Save-Mart had a small supply with a "Close-Out" price-tag, and I snapped up 3 bags while I had the chance.  In the past, I've gotten much more sweet, nutty wheat flavor out of the Stone-Buhr in breads that rely heavily on the flour for flavor, such as baguettes. In particular, Stone-Buhr gave better results than the KA, Gold Medal, or the Sunny-Select store brand with Peter Reinhart's formula for pain a l'ancienne, which I used to make pretty frequently.  For several editions of my weekly baguette quest, when I've liked the shape and scoring, but not the flavor, I've wondered if a little Stone-Buhr would fix everything.


Anyway, the big problem this week is that the poolish over-proofed after only 10 hours on my counter--I could smell the booziness of it but forged ahead, and ended up with somewhat pale, chewy bread. Ah well. The big question is this: why did it overproof so fast?  I have a few potential theories:



  1. The flour is to blame: Perhaps Stone Buhr has more free sugars, which explains my experience of great flavor, and a fast proof.

  2. The yeast is to blame: I may have over-yeasted the poolish.  I've been trying to approximate 1/16 teaspoon of yeast by half-filling a 1/8 teaspoon measure, and it isn't easy.

  3. My apartment is to blame: The apartment was a bit warmer than usual Saturday morning when I took temperatures in order to figure out the right water temp.


Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Anyway, here are the results.  Only two baguettes are pictured because I sent one home with my parents (who had stopped by to see their grand-daughter) prior to taking a picture.  Take my word for it that baguette #3 looked much like #1 and #2.


Exterior


 

Crumb

Crust was pale, and very tough and chewy.  Scoring placement was pretty good, although I'm thinking part of the problem is that I'm not scoring deep enough.  Crumb was moderately open, but oddly dry.  Flavor wasn't too bad despite all that.

At least I had more luck with my Sunday bake, a rendition of dmsnyder's lovely San Joaquin Sourdough.  Haven't sampled the inside, but the outsides look nice and they smell phenomenal.  Still, for a picture I decided they needed a cute-ness enhancer.

 

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Ryan Sandler

Staying home and looking after my wife and new baby has given me all kinds of time to bake, which includes my weekly batch of baguettes.  This week was intended to be the same as last week but without the errors imposed by my wife going into labor, but let me take this opportunity to reiterate my formula and process:


Poolish



  • 5.3 oz. bread flour

  • 5.3 oz. water

  • 1/16 tsp yeast


Final Dough



  • 10.7 oz. bread flour

  • 5.3 oz. water

  • 5/8 tsp yeast

  • 0.3 oz. salt


Process:



  1. Mix Poolish night before, let sit ~10 -1/2 hours 

  2. Mix all ingredients with wooden spoon, let sit 5 minutes  

  3. Mix in mixer ~2 minutes until the dough windowpanes

  4. 30 folds in the bowl with a rubber spatula

  5. Ferment 1 hour, stretch and fold

  6. Ferment 1 hour more, divide into 9 oz. pieces, pre-shape oblong (I do a modified version of Hamelman's pre-shaping technique for boules--fold in half, then tuck the dough into itself with the fingers.  For an oblong, on the last tuck I twist my wrists inward such that it turns into a stubby torpedo shape)  

  7. Rest 10-20 minutes

  8. Shape as baguettes--I've been doing the "fold over the thumb and press" technique, twice in one direction and then once in the other, sealing the last against the work surface.

  9. Place on couche, cover with the folds  

  10. Proof 1 hour, 15 minutes  

  11. Pre-heat oven and stone to 535 degrees at least 45 minutes before baking. Place two metal loaf pans in the oven on a rack below the stone.

  12. Transfer baguettes to parchment on a sheet pan, score.  

  13. Pull the loaf pans out of the oven.  Soak two towels in a bowl of very hot water (my tap water gets plenty hot), transfer to the loaf pans  

  14. Slide parchment onto stone, load steam pans, lower temp to 485.  

  15. Bake 26 minutes, removing the steam pans and turning the baguettes around after 10.


This week's results:


Exterior:


 

Crumb

From Food

 

Bottoms

 

I find this week's results puzzling.  The exterior had a good color, but burnt on the bottoms.  I had good placement on the slashes, but either not enough depth, or not enough angle, or a little overproofing.  Flavor was good, though last week's was better.  Crust was still a bit chewy, not like the lovely crisp crust I got in week 5.  Crumb was fairly tight (the section in the picture was as good as it got--most of the baguettes were tighter than this)  Linked to the quality of the slashes?

 I'm thinking that I overproofed just slightly this week, and possibly degassed a bit much when I was making my slashes.  Last week when I got such good results I didn't know for certain how long I'd proofed, but I think it may have been closer to 65-70 minutes rather than 75.  Or the baguettes just proofed faster this time.  I need to watch the dough, not the clock, I guess.  This would be consistent with my results in week 5 as well--burnt bottoms, hit-or-miss appearance of gringe.  But I don't really know what I'm talking about, so feel free to correct me.

Next week then, a slightly shorter/more sensitive proof, and I think I might experiment with alternate shaping methods, see if one of those gives me better results.

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Ryan Sandler

Last Saturday I made my sixth consecutive attempt at baking Hamelman's Baguettes With Poolish.  My report on it is very late, and my procedure had a couple of forced errors (for a very good reason I'll get to in a moment), but I got some very good results nonetheless.


The key factor affecting both the late report and the minor errors in production is that when I measured my poolish at 10:30pm on Friday night, my wife at that time was exactly 40 weeks pregnant.  Her water broke a little before 7am on Saturday.  We were off to the hospital and I was more than ready to write the poolish off as a loss, but the midwife sent us home to wait for labor to begin in earnest, and so when we got home at 10am, I set about making my baguettes to pass the time.


So I had a poolish that was slightly overfermented (if you haven't been following this series of  blog posts, I've found that I need to start the final dough after 10-ish hours for best results).  I went ahead anyway, prepared to toss the whole thing if we had to run to the hospital.  As it happened, I got the baguettes made and out of the oven while my wife was still having sporadic contractions.  As with last week, I tried extending the final proof to 75 minutes (up from 60 in previous bakes), although I may have been off by a few minutes, since my wife and I went for a long walk during the proof in order to get contractions going, and I didn't pay close enough attention to the time (I'd set the timer for 60 minutes, and it had gone off when we got back, but that was all I knew).


We headed out to the hospital for real just before dinner time, but I ended up cutting into one of the baguettes and scarfing it down while my wife was on the phone with the midwife.


The Results: Exterior


The Results: Crumb

The baguettes were a little pale, and the crust a little chewier than last week--both results of the poolish over-fermenting, I'm pretty sure.  The cuts are much improved, though I still need to put a little more angle on them so they don't merge so much.  The crumb on the baguette I cut was great in some places, but a little tight in others.  However, the texture of the crumb was just lovely--finally creamy rather than at all fluffy.  The flavor was up a couple notches from previous weeks as well.   I think if I do everything the same, but get the poolish right next week, I should be well on my way (though it will take much more practice to get the cuts and crumb reliable, I'm sure).

So I'm fairly proud of these baguettes.  That said, I am infinitely prouder of the other "bun" pulled out of the oven last weekend, my beautiful daughter Miriam Bell Sandler, born at 12:18 pm on November 7th.

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Ryan Sandler

I didn't get around to posting yesterday, but I made my 5th weekly batch of Hamelman's baguette's with Poolish.


I had a whole story about what I changed from last week and why, but accidentally hit reload and lost it all.  So I'll be brief.  The changes this week:



I forgot to turn the oven on when I meant to and did a final proof of 75 minutes instead of 60, while raised the preheat temperature to 550 for only 30 minutes to compensate for the stone being cold.


The Results: Exterior


 

Results: Crumb

 

I had a lot less luck with scoring this week--the lame kept dragging rather than cutting cleanly.  I'm not sure if this was from proofing longer--I also didn't cover the baguettes as thoroughly with the folds of my make-shift couche as I have been doing.  Crumb is clearly pretty tight, which is probably my fault; I still need more practice at being sufficiently gentle with these baguettes (or could that be over-proofing too?).  That said, the crumb had a nicer texture to it than I've been getting, and better flavor as well.  The crust was great--crisp all around, and just a little chewy.  A little over-dark on the bottom on account of overheating the stone, but even that wasn't too bad.  If I never get my crust any better, I think I could live with that.

I'm really not sure if this week's batch  was overproofed, or if other problems led to my scoring and crumb issues.  I'm going to stick with the 75 minute proof and see what happens if I do everything else right.  So my plan for next week is to change nothing except a) Be even more gentle when shaping, and b) be more careful about covering the baguettes while proofing.  I'll see how it goes.

Happy baking, everyone.

-Ryan

 

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Ryan Sandler

The adventure continues!


In this weeks edition of Hamelman's Baguette's with Poolish, I made three modifications to the process from last week (well, more like two and a half:



  • Reduced the yeast in the poolish.  I've been preparing a half batch of dough relative to Hamelman's "Home" proportions, but until now I haven't reduced the yeast in the poolish,  which sounds quite foolish until you realize that the yeast measurement is 1/8 tsp, and nearly every yeasted preferment in the book calls for 1/8 tsp of yeast, regardless of size.  Anyway, I've been feeling like there's a degree of flavor and texture missing, as well as the presence of a pronounced alcohol smell about the poolish (and then the finished dough to some extent).  So I approximated a 1/16 tsp of yeast in 5.3 oz. each of flour and water.  

  • Tried to handle the dough more gently during shaping and preshaping. 

  • Last week I forgot to turn the oven down after loading the baguettes, so this week I made sure not to do that!


 


After 11 hours the poolish was bubbly and had a pungent aroma with just a hint of maybe some alcohol in the background.  It's possible I could have fermented it even less with no ill effects.  One of these weeks, I may try making three tiny batches of dough with three tiny batches of poolish, and test just what results I get from different amounts of time and yeast.


The Results: Crust



 

Crumb:


I was pretty happy with this batch.  Definitely better than before, although clearly not there yet.  I'm not sure if it's clear from the picture, but the crust was definitely a darker color than previous batches, with the same amount of baking time.  This lends some credence to my notion that the poolish was overfermenting somewhat before (or so I understood it from Larry last week--I'm happy to stand corrected on this!).  My slashing is getting more consistent, although unfortunately the scores are consistently too close together as well! Believe it or not, the one in the middle actually had four discrete slashes before it went into the oven...

Crumb was definitely better than last week, although not quite up to where I want it to be.  Texture-wise, also a bit less fluffy and more creamy than before, but still somewhat fluffy.  Flavor was also better--I'm finally starting to get some of the nice nutty notes that I remember from my lucky breaks with this dough.  Just some of them, however.  Crust was thin and crisp on top, but thick and chewy on the bottom--I think you can even see it in the picture.  Not sure what that's all about--possibly a result of leaving the baguettes in to crisp a little more with the oven turned off?

Next week: Further reduction of the yeast in the poolish -- worst case scenario it isn't ready to go when I want to start mixing at 9am, and I start the bread a little later, right?  Also, time to start experimenting with steaming methods.  I'm really intrigued by the steaming method SylviaH posted earlier this week. I would have tried it today, but I didn't want to conflate the results of not goofing up the oven temperature with the effects of the steaming method.

As always, any tips, comments, or smart remarks are welcome and appreciated,

-Ryan

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Ryan Sandler

In this third installment of my weekly attempts to bake a passable baguette, conflict, drama, and a rather too hot oven arise.


Where we last left our heroes:


My weekly goal is to master (sort of) Hamelman's Baguettes with Poolish. Last week's baguette possessed only a so-so flavor and texture, a crumb that was somewhat too tight, crust that was a tad chewy, and irregular scoring.  This week I added a few modifications:



  1. I fermented the poolish for only 9 hours instead of 12.  I'm making only a half batch compared to Hamelman's Home measurements, and it stood to reason that if 1/8 teaspoon of yeast in ~21 oz of poolish is ready in 12 hours, the same yeast in half the poolish would take less time

  2. By accident, I left the oven temperature at 535 degrees (probably more like 515 measured by a more reasonable oven than mine) for the first 6 minutes of the bake.

  3. After the baguettes had finished baking, I turned off the oven, propped the door open, and left them in for another 5 minutes, in hopes of a crisper crust.


The Results: External Shots


Crumb: 

As you can see, the crumb was relatively tight, and the scores very shallow, and so in that respect this batch was pretty disappointing.  On the other hand, at least the slashes were a little more consistent?  However, the flavor was somewhat better, and although the crumb lacked big open holes, it had a creamier texture than past weeks.  The crust was also nicer--although a little chewy on the bottom, the rest was thin and crispy.

As for why this happened, I have a few thoughts, although if anyone else has some I'd love to hear it.  I think the poolish is still over-fermenting.  Although it wasn't as bad, I could still smell the alcohol, which isn't a good sign.  I can't reasonably let a poolish sit overnight for much less than 9 hours, so I'll have to either cut the yeast (tricky when I'm starting from 1/8 tsp), or make extra poolish and throw some away.  I also think that goofing up the oven temperature may have hampered the ability of the cuts to open, although I think primarily I just didn't slash deeply enough.  I also wonder if I might be degassng too much when I shape the baguettes.

I think next week I'm not going to vary anything except to change the yeast proportion in the poolish, and skip the goof on the oven temperature.  If I still get a tight crumb, then I'll examine other factors.

-Ryan

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Ryan Sandler

My quest for a passable baguette continues.  To recap: In an attempt to improve my baguette skills, I'm making the Baguettes with Poolish formula from Hamelman's Bread every weekend until I get it right(-ish).  Following my experience from week 1, I made two changes:


First, I increased the baking temperature.  Last week the baguettes were simply not browned enough after the 26 minutes recommended by Hamelman.  This surely has as much to do with my oven as anything else--I've always had problems with it's notion of just how hot 450 degrees is as compared to mine.


Second, I resisted my home-baker's instinct to spray exposed surfaces of the dough with spray oil at every opportunity, and for the final proof of the shaped baguettes, I mostly covered the dough with the folds of my trusty tablecloth-couche, and then with plastic wrap.


The Results:


 Exterior 


 Crumb 

The Debrief

Crust was nice and dark but could be more caramelized still.  My scoring was still pretty irregular, but somewhat improved from last week.  More importantly, as a result of omitting the spray oil for the final proof, the scores were easier and the blade dragged less.  On a few of the scores started to get the feel for how the lame ought to bite into the loaf.  But although I got about 2 good scores per loaf, that's not quite enough.  I also clearly need to work on keeping the scores separate from each other.

 The crumb, as you can see, was somewhat underwhelming; the more creamy, gel-like texture still eludes me.  Flavor was good, but not what I know this formula is capable of.  Crust was crisper than last week, but still a bit chewy.

For Next week:

I have a few ideas:

  • Start trying variations on the "turn off the oven but leave the bread in" to get a crisper crust
  • Try to do exactly 4 scores per baguette; I think part of my problem is varying length and number
  • Change the Poolish fermentation time: So far I've had 1/8 tsp yeast in 5.3 oz. each of flour and water, fermented for 12 hours (and I've actually been pretty good about keeping it to 12 hours, not longer or shorter).  Since Hamelman suggests a similar quantity of yeast for twice the Poolish (I'm doing half a "Home" batch), perhaps a shorter ferment is in order.

Any other suggestions, diagnoses, or critiques greatly appreciated!

 

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Ryan Sandler

This is a three bake weekend for me, and I thought I'd offer this shot of the midpoint of it all.


From right to left: Poolish Baguettes, fresh out of the oven.  A bag of sourdough bagels (the BBA formula), baked this morning for breakfast.  And a batch of dough for Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain, currently in the bulk fermentation stage to be baked tomorrow.


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