The Fresh Loaf

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Saturday Baguettes, Week 3 - Two steps forward, two steps back

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Saturday Baguettes, Week 3 - Two steps forward, two steps back

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


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.



wally's picture

Ryan - I've done a fair amount of commercial baking of baguettes using poolish.  It is a very tricky perferment to use - if it's overripe it will destoy the gluten structure of your baguette and there is nothing you can do to compensate.  Typically, though, baguetttes made with overripe poolish don't hold their shape well and tend to have an almost par-bake color.

I don't see this in your photos.  However, the easiest way to determine if your poolish is overripe is to look for a high-water mark on the container you've fermented it in.  If it has receded from this mark, then it's probably overripe, and there is nothing you can do except start over.

The classic signs of a ripe poolish are lots of very small bubbles (some of which you can actually watch coming to the surface), and rivulets they form on the surface.  The temperature ideally should be in the low 70s F.

What I suspect might be the issue here, however, is your shaping (and perhaps pre-shaping).  Baguettes are the hardest bread to do well because of the exacting requirements they impose on shaping: too hard a hand and you'll wind up with a tight crumb.  Too gentle a hand and you'll never achieve the surface tension needed to produce a beautiful 'stick.'

I would certainly watch your poolish in future endeavors, but I'd also spend as much or more time working on your shaping techniques.  As for slashing, it takes a lot of practice to be able to make consistently good slashes - and yes, this too can impact the crumb structure, especially if the crust forms before the loaf achieves maximum oven spring.

Keep at it!


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

That's good to know about the poolish; you're right about the color, and I certainly didn't observe any problems with the baguettes holding shape.  I still feel like I ought to be getting a more nutty flavor out of the crumb though.  This may be because I recently switched from Stone-Buhr bread flour to the King Arthur brand, due to my local stores failing to stock Stone-Buhr any more.  I always got better flavor from the Stone-Buhr than the KA.  Ah well.

I will certainly pay more attention to my shaping (and preshaping as well, though the particular baguette I cut into was preshaped more lightly than the others).  Slashing, of course, is ever a work in progress.

Thanks for the encouragement.  I shall persevere!


Franko's picture

Hi Ryan,

Baguettes are just about the most difficult breads to to do in a home environment, and one that I've had little if any success at doing. You however are very close to achieving the result your looking for, so as Larry says, keep at it. Not sure what kind of flour you're using but I've had my best results using a fairly low protein flour, between 10% and 11% which gives a more shattering crust and makes a dough that's a little more cooperative when shaping. Baguettes typically need a whack of steam as well when they first hit the oven and I'm not sure if it's possible to give them enough using a domestic oven so give them as much as you can in the first minute or so. You're so close!




Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Thanks Franko; I'll have to try out the King Arthur all-purpose the next time I buy a bag of flour--it seems like a lot of people on TFL prefer it.