The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baguette w/Poolish

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Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Victory is mine!  If you haven't been following my occasional series of posts, six months ago I set out to improve my baguette skills by making a batch Hamelman's "Baguettes with Poolish" every Saturday and blogging about it here.  I haven't been entirely rigorous about the blogging, but I've kept up the baking, skipping only one weekend in all that time.  Here's what I said I wanted to achieve in week 1:


My objective: produce a reliable, tasty and beautiful baguette through practice, trial and error. I don't really imagine that I will truly master the baguette--better home bakers than I have tried in vain, I know. But I'm hoping to turn what is usually a hit-or-miss process into something I can do over and over again well, if not perfectly.


I submit to you that I have achieved this objective.


Exhibit A: Last week's bake (week 26 if you're counting)




What is notable about this batch is not how well they turned out, per se (though they aren't bad, eh?), but the fact that I did several things wrong, and they still came out quite well.  The plastic wrap stuck to the baguette in the middle, making it hard to score, I forgot to turn the oven down from the pre-heat temperature for the first 6 minutes of the bake, and I purposely omitted the "leave in the oven with the door cracked" step because I needed the oven.  And still they were good.  Crust was a bit chewy, but it was thin, the crumb was nice and the flavor was great.


Exhibit B: Todays bake


Exterior


 


Crumb:



 The scores didn't come out quite perfectly--the baguettes took longer than usual to proof, and may have stil been a little under-proofed.  But everything else was spot on.  Crust was thin and crisp, crumb open and creamy, flavor sweet and nutty.  If every baguette I ever make again is like this, I'll be happy.


More to the point, if every baguette I make again is a random draw from the last 4-5 weeks of baguettes, I'll be more than happy.  There is still room for improvement, but at this point I think the benefit of making my baguettes a little bit better is less than the benefit of making a wider variety of breads (or even a wider variety of baguette recipes), and much less than the benefit starting a new quest (I have a couple in mind, but that's for another post).


Thanks to everyone who has followed along with my occasionally long-winded adventure, and thanks especially to those (Larry in particular) who helped point me in the right direction early in the process.  It has been a wild ride the last 6 months (not least due to the birth of my daughter in week 6).  Sometime soon I'll write up a post specifically reflecting on the lessons I've learned from Saturday Baguettes.


Happy baking, everyone,


-Ryan


 

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

This week I made the dough for Hamelman's baguettes with poolish yet again.  This time, instead of making three 11-13 inch baguettes, scaled at 250g, I made one 750g loaf.  Since the 250g baguettes would be called demi-baguettes, clearly this was a mega-baguette. Clearly.


Okay, fine, I made a batard and scored it like a baguette.  Still it came out pretty nicely.



Crust Crackles, too!



No bursting between the scores! Though on a batard that's kind of cheating.  Anyway.


No crumb shot this time--we had company over for dinner and I wasn't quite willing to beg their patience while I snapped pictures of the bread, the way I regularly do with my wife.  Moderately open crumb, comparable to my recent baguette efforts.  Good flavor, nice crust, though a little chewy.


It will be back to baguettes next week.  Happy baking, everyone.

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Really?  Week 24?  Something like that, anyway.


Ahem.


Yesterday I made yet another batch of Hamelman's Baguettes with Poolish, continuing my baguette quest.  For those of you who have been following along, two weeks ago I made a batch which I didn't get around to blogging about, and last week I was busy on Saturday and forgot to make a poolish for Sunday.  In past weeks, I've gotten good results in crust, crumb and flavor, and decent to excellent grigne, but my scores keep bursting in the oven.  This week I was influenced by the video BelleAZ posted of Cyril Hitz slashing baguettes.  Hitz says in the video that the scores should overlap by a full third of their length, something I don't think I was doing very well, or at least not very consciously.


Ahem.  To the breads!


Exterior



Crumb



Y'know, I think I could be pretty happy with this. It's not perfect.  There's still some bursting, especially on the baguette on the bottom.  But that one just wasn't scored very well in general.  No bulging in between scores like some past weeks. Flavor and mouthfeel were quite good, as they've been for several weeks.  Crust was a little chewy, although I think this has more to do with the fact that the baguettes came out of the oven at noon, rather than later in the after noon.  Longer sitting seems to correlate to chewier crust.  No biggie.


I'm going to stick with this formula a few more weeks (I'd like to try it as two mini-batards or one large batard, just for yucks), but I think this quest is nearing completion.


Happy baking, everyone.


-Ryan

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I do believe I am closing in on my goal of a tasty, presentable and above all reliable baguette, folks.  At the very least, the results have been reliably tasty of late, which will do for a start!


Anyway, here was last week's bake.  Still a lot of bursting between cuts despite loading the steam pans a couple minutes before loading the loaves.  Great ears though.


Exterior



Crumb (For the loaf on top, I believe)



Moments Later, as BLT


 


 


For this week's bake I switched over to the King Arthur Bread Flour (instead of AP), primarily because my wife did the shopping last week and that's what she picked up.  Worth a try, anyway.  I also threw a cup of water onto the floor of the oven after loading the baguettes, to get some extra steam.  Also, by accident I forgot to take the steam out of the oven, so I had steam for the full 26 minutes of the bake.  Oops!


Exterior:



 Crumb



 


Not bad, eh?  Not as much ear as past weeks--probably at least in part because of the flour.  But only a little bit of bursting.  The baguette on the bottom is just about perfect (this one is pictured in the crumb shot).  Though I'm also quite proud of the one in the middle.  It won't win any beauty contests, but the plastic wrap stuck to the top of that one during the proof, leaving a sticky, slack surface.  The fact that I got any kind of regular looking score on it is a victory I wouldn't have had a few months ago (this victory brought to you by TMB baking ).


Crust was good although a little...leathery, for lack of a better word (this sounds worse than it was).  Probably because of the excess steam during the second half of the bake.  Crumb was fantastic: open, creamy, flavorful.  If I could bake baguettes just like this every time, I'd be happy.  I could bake them like this but with the ears from last week, I'd be in home bakers' heaven.


Happy baking, everyone.

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Well, dear readers, despite my recent silence on the subject I have not given up on my baguette quest!  For the last few weeks, however, I'd gotten a little sick of blogging about it.  This week was fairly successful, however, and so I want to share, and request some feedback.


The main change from previous bakes is that a little over a week ago I got a shipment of baking toys, I mean, equipment from TMB/San Francisco Baking Institute.  I got 2 yards of 18-inch linen couche, a lame/blade holder with razor blades, a proofing board (which I've been using as an all-purpose bench board), and a flipping board.  With these, I was certain, many of my problems would be resolved (specifically, excess degassing when shaping and transfering, and ragged scoring).  The first bake with the new equipment (last week) was a little rough, but this week I had things sorted out.


Exterior



Crumb - First Half



Crumb - Second Half



I'm getting there!  The slashing wasn't perfect, but it went much smoother with the new blade, resulting in at least two ears per baguette big enough to lift the loaf with.  Crust was decent if not exceptional, flavor was good.  Profile was nice and round, a nice change from some recent flatter bakes.  Crumb varied within the baguette I sliced (the one in the middle, up top) from good to great.


Here's where I'm looking for feedback: I'm still having problems with the crust bursting between cuts -- is this the result of under-proofing?  Or something else?  I could swear this batch was fully proofed, but I'm not necessarily a good judget of these things.


Happy baking, everyone,


-Ryan

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I'm still at it.  We were at my parents' place on Saturday (Christmas day), and while I did end up baking a batch of Italian bread for Christmas dinner, there were no baguettes.  But we got home Saturday night, and I actually felt in the mood for baguettes.  I made up the poolish, increasing the yeast slightly from last week so it would ripen before late afternoon, and sunday I made yet another batch of the Hamelman Baguettes with Poolish.


While mixing, I realized that last week, and at least one previous week, I'd been adding too much yeast to the final dough--Hamelman says to use .13 oz of instant yeast for a full batch, and last week I definitely used .13 oz in my half batch.  Heaven knows what that's been doing to my baking.  Last week I think it turned out okay (well, better than okay) in part because the poolish was so sluggish.  Anyway, this week I used the correct 0.067 oz yeast (yay for having a scale accurate to the 0.001 oz eh?).


Besides the yeast adjustments, no changes from last week.  I used Cyril Hitz's rolling method for shaping again, but was better at it.


Exterior


 

Crumb

 

Needless to say, I'm very pleased with these baguettes.  Great caramelization of the crust, decent ears and placement of the scores.  Crust was pleasantly crisp, although not as perfect as last week.  Nice open crumb, with a nice nutty flavor.  Only downsides: a bit flat (and with tight crumb) in between scores, and the bottoms got over-dark (and tasted a little burnt).

I think perhaps I under-proofed as well--there's a little bursting in between the scores on one baguette, and I seem to recall having the bread "bulge" at the scores is another indication of under-proofing. I still have yet to master the "poke" test, it seems.

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

If you've been following this series of posts, you might be wondering, "what happened to week 11?" Well, last Saturday my mother in law invited us over for a Chrismas cookie baking day.  I was distressed at the notion of missing my regular baguette bake, and foolishly decided to mix the dough at home, then bring the dough with me and bake it at my in-laws.  Long story short, it did not go well.  Moving on.


This week brought three changes to my baguette routine.  First and most importantly, I switched by to KAF Bread Flour from the Stone-Buhr flour I had been using.  Partly this was because I ran out of Stone-Buhr, and my local stores have stopped stocking it.  But I think the flour is to blame for the sub-par results I've been getting.  Last week I was looking through my past blog posts, and was struck by the stark difference between, say Week 4, or Week 6, and more recent bakes.  Ever since I started using the Stone-Buhr flour (Week 8, if you're keeping track), my crumb has been underwhelming, flavor has oven been lacking, and I've struggled to get the baguettes to color sufficiently, even as the bottoms reliably burnt.  Not that I was hitting all those points every time with the KA flour, but I was getting much closer.


I also tried two suggestions from comments from last week:  I used Ciril Hitz's rolling technique for final shaping (thanks to Daisy_A for the pointer), and tried leaving my steam pans in for 13 minutes instead of 10 (thanks to realcasual for the suggestion).


Results: Exterior


 

Results: Crumb

 

I was really quite pleased with these baguettes.  I didn't quite get the hang of Hitz's rolling method, although I might with more practice.  As a result, the baguettes were a little lacking surface tension, baking up somewhat flat and resisting slashing.  Despite that, the crumb was decently open, and the flavor was good.  The crust was simply fantastic.  Crisp, thin, flavorful just enough chew to hold together--perfect.

Next week (well, next time--between Christmas and New Years I may end up taking a couple weeks off of Saturday baguettes), I'm going to try the Hamelman "over the thumb" shaping method again with the King Arthur Bread Flour side-by-side with the Hitz method, see which I like better.

Happy baking everyone,

-Ryan

Ryan Sandler's picture
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.

Ryan Sandler's picture
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.

 

Ryan Sandler's picture
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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