The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Saturday Baguettes - Week 9: A tale of three bakes

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

Saturday Baguettes - Week 9: A tale of three bakes


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,



wally's picture

Ryan- Neither of the pictures of your poolish attempts shows an overripe or even a  nearly overripe poolish.  By which I mean, that even with an additional hour of fermentation I doubt they would have been overripe.

I'm including below a picture of a fully ripened poolish:

Notice there are a lot of very small bubbles, and you can also see rivulets in the center of the poolish.  Yours shows much larger bubbles.


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler


Thanks for the comment and the very helpful picture; I was starting to wonder if that might be the case, and you've confirmed it.  I'm now wondering if the "fluffy" texture and lacking flavor I've been getting all along (most weeks) is due to under-ripe poolish, rather than the reverse.  Certainly the over-floured couche can explain some (all?) of the color issues I've been having.


wally's picture

Ryan- An underripe poolish could be responsible for a lack of flavor, though not for texture issues.  As for the consistently pale color of your baguettes, I suspect this is a baking/steaming issue.

Are you baking these at 460 F with steam, and if so, is your bake sufficient (should be in the neighborhood of 20 minutes or more)?


Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

I should say that I haven't been getting consistently pale color; rather just some of the last few batches.  The three batches in this post were baked the same amount, with the same steam, but the last was the only one with good color.

FWIW, I've been baking for 26 minutes (with steam for the first 10), and then turning off the oven and opening the door to let the outsides crisp for 5 minutes.  I don't believe my oven's thermostat at the higher ranges, so I actually have been baking at what my oven thinks is 485 F.  Baking at 460 (according to the oven) took a good 30 minutes to finish that batch of baguettes.  It's certainly possible that my oven's 485 isn't actually 460, but usually that produces a nice color after 26 minutes.

As for steaming, I recently switched to SylviaH's towel-based steaming method, but before that I was pouring hot water into a preheated sheat pan.