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For a lot of bakers, it's an important milestone to learn to make a good baguette. I have been asked many times both at my Chinese blog and TFL what the "trick" is for those big holes in the crumb. The truth is that, there's no trick. It's everything: appropriate flour, S&F rather than intensive kneading, appropriate fermentation, precise shaping, clean scoring, good steam and high temperature baking. I have yet to make a baguette that I am totally happy with, probably it's the chase that keeps me making it again and again. For that reason, I hesitate to call this post a tutorial - how can a student in bread baking offer a tutorial at all. However, I did write it up for some of my blog friends who are new to bread/baguette baking, and in need of a simple recipe to get started. This recipe contains lessons and notes learned from many many many baguettes I have made over the years, hopefully it will be helpful to others.
Since this recipe is meant for newbies, I intentionally kept it as simple as possible. No sourdogh, just dry yeast. No long cold fermentation, just straight method. No whole grain flour or addins, just white AP flour. By taking out all those variables, hopefully it's easier to follow and repeat. Even with such simplification, as the pictures show, the crumb still can be very hole-y, and the crust still can be very crisp, however, the flavor does suffer. Its taste is not nearly as complex as my favorite 36 hour baguette formula and its many variations (see here). Therefore, once you are comfortable with this straight method, I would definitely encourage you to move on to more complex recipes.
Note: makes 4 baguettes, each 220g, 40CM in length
AP flour (I used King Arthur AP flour because most people can get that easily and reproduce the recipe with the same flour), 500g
water, 375g (this means the dough is 75% hydration, yes, it's wet, but trust me, it's managable, especially after a few tries)
instant yeast, 2g
1. Mix everything together. No need for kneading. Just mix everything into a rough dough.
2. Cover the container, rise at room temp (22C-25C) for 3 hours. At 45, 90, 135min, do Stretch and Fold (S&F). TFL handbook has good explanation on S&F. For a dough this size, I find it's the best to water/oil/flour my hands, lift the dough out and do S&F directly in my hands. That's two quick movements, one in horizontal direction and one in vertical direction . The hand/dough touch time is so brief that sticking is not an issue. By the end of 3rd S&F, the dough magically becomes very smooth. And by the 3rd S&F, you can feel the dough offers resistence when being stretched out, that's a sign of gluten developement. Rember how the dough feels, because you want to remember how "elastic" (i.e. gluten strength) yet extensible of a "good baguette dough" should be. Oh yeah, keep the container oiled and covered the entire time.
3. Dump the dough out and divide into 4 portions. Try to have less small scrap pieces. I have practiced enough to eyeball and cut 4 equal portions without too much weighing and adjustment. I find each detail in preshaping and shaping affects final crumb, in general the less I touch the dough (yet still get all the tasks done) the better crumb is. Roll each piece into a colum, with tight skin surface . This is my version of preshaping, there are other methods. Again, the key for less sticking is lightly flour/oil/water hands and surface, AND MINIMAL TOUCHING. Cover and rest for 25-30 minutes.
4. Shaping the baguette. Now there are so many good ways to do this, my method below is just what I am used to. As long as you can shape the dough into desired size/shape with minimal handling, your method is good. The key here is 1)keep skin surface tight, AND 2)don't destroy too much of internal bubbles. Be gentle yet effective.If you find it hard to roll the dough long enough, the dough is too strong, S&F less next time or use a weaker flour. If you find the dough to be limpy, extensible but offers zero resistence when being rolled long, can't keep a tight surface, the dough is too weak, use a stronger flour or S&F more next time.
a. Lightly pat the preshaped column into a rectangle, roll the top edge down twice
b. Turn the dough 180 degrees, and fold the now top edge to middle
c.Fold in half again, top edge meeting bottom edge, seal. Roll it to 40cm long. "Light", "firm", and "even" are the key words while rolling out. Start rolling from the middle, move both hands outward until the ends, while applying light force downward and outward. If the skin of the dough is tight enough, it should be enough to just lightly flour the surface for the dough not to stick. Most of the flour should end up on skin, rather than inside of the dough anyway. If you find the dough slipping while rolling, you might be flouring the dough and surface too much. Put them on lightly oiled parchment paper (and the whole thing sits on the back of a baking sheet), with middle part of the parchment paper srunched up to act as dividers. Note that there are people who prefer bakers couche such as this, and I have seen/used it in a class using profession oven with great success, HOWEVER, in a home environment, I much prefer to use parchment paper so that I can slip the dough along with paper together into the small home oven onto the steaming hot stone. I don't want risks associated with moving the dough onto a peel, then moving the dough again from peel onto stone. It's just safer, neater, and quicker.
5. Cover and proof at room temp (22C-25C) for 30-60minutes. The dough should have grown noticably but still have enough bounce left. If you dough does not grow much in oven, you have over-proofed, proof for less time next time. If the dough grew too much in oven, resulting in bursting seams and uneven distribution of holes, proof longer next time. Score. For tips on scoring, please see this great tutorial from David. For baguettes in general, the dough is pretty wet, which means you need to be quicker and firmer with your movement for the blade not to drag and stick. Dipping thd blade in water before each cut sometimes help. Furthurmore, David's tutorial mentions "classic cut", which is done by cutting at a shallow angle to get "ear/grigne/bloom". With a 75% hydrated dough, you might at first have trouble cutting at the shallow angle without sticking, don't worry, just cut perpenticular to the surface for now, once you get all the other components correct, you can then start cutting at an angle and try to get "ear" for your cuts. The dough may seem deflated somewhat when you score it, don't worry, a well executed baguette dough would recover and expand beautifully in the oven.
6. Bake at 460F for 10 min with steam, then 15min without steam. Turn off oven, crack the door open, and keep baguettes inside for about 5 minutes. Take out and cool. Note that I preheated my stone at 500F for an hour to make sure the oven is hot enough, only reduce the temp to 460F when the dough is loaded. There are many ways to steam and load, each oven seems to prefer a different way. I use the most common method for my very ordinary electric home oven: a cast iron pan on a rack below the stone with some rocks inside; it's preheaded along with the stone; once the dough is ready to be loaded, I pour a bit of boiling water onto the cast iron pan (steam comes out, watch out!), close the door and get the baking sheet (with the dough/parchment on top) in hand; open the door again and slide parchment paper along with dough onto the hot stone; pour another cup of boiling water into the cast iron pan (watch out again, more steam comes out); close the door. The whole operation is pretty intense, my husband is still amazed that I haven't lost a finger loading bread doughs ... yet. However, it does get easier with practice.
Comparing to my 36 hour baguette doughs, this dough is much easier to score!
Crumb is decently hole-y, and even. :)
Crust is thin and crispy. If they are baked enough, they should be singing for a long time while cooling, which means a lot of tiny cracks on the crust.
However, I am never completely happy with my baguette. Holes can be bigger, more even, and I can live without the line in the middle of the crumb coming from the seam at the bottom. But hey, like I said at the begining, the fun is in the chase. :)