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3rd attempt at baguette perfection: Your help is appreciated!

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JT's picture

3rd attempt at baguette perfection: Your help is appreciated!

Hello again everyone!

 My apologies for not being around for a month or so. I hate it when real life gets in the way of bread making...

This weekend I continued my pursuit for the perfect baguette (OK, "perfect" is a really loaded word. I should say "perfect to me," meaning crispy flaky crust, very open crumb with soft texture and a mild, yeasty taste).  I have altered my recipe from past experience and input from wonderful people like all of you, and I'd like to share today's outcome and hopefully get more suggestions. I'll tell you what I did differently this time, and put my questions in bold. Any feedback you can give would be greatly appreciated!

 My basic recipe is a combination of Floyd's terrific basic recipe and the Danielle Forrester baguette recipe. This time, a tried a poolish of 1 cup water, 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon yeast. I put it in the frige overnight for 10 hours and brought it to room temperature for two hours. It looked like pancake batter, and didn't rise much at all:


Is this too thin? Should it not be refrigerated?

The, I did an autolyse of the flour for the next part of the recipe: 2 cups flour, half-cup water. I was hoping to get a higher hydration level than last time, and hence a more open crumb. I was surprised at the visual and textural result of the autolyse. It ruened out to be loose and crumbly, lumpy and not held together at all:


Again, I was surpised by this. I expected it to be more like a paste. I let it rest for 40 minutes.

Should I have used more water?

Then I combined the ingredients - the poolish to the autolyse, with the remaining 3/4 teaspoon yeast and the 1 1/2 teasoons salt. Combining the salt and yeast concurrently seemed counter-intuitive...isn't sal added to stop yeast's development?

The resulting mix was a lumpy oatmeal dough:


Honestly, I was a little freaked out. So I decided to do a frissage to try and work the lumps out. It was a messy, difficult process, but I didn't want to just throw it in the Kitchenaid. My idea is to do less handling than before.

Was that a stupid idea? Should I allow technology to take the lumps out, or did I screw up from the begining and no amount of motorized labor would rectify matters?

Here's what it looked like after frissage, or apres-frissage, pour tous les Francaises...

After frissageAfter frissage

Not a significant difference, but I think it worked out pretty well. So next I let it rise for two hours, and I must say it didn't rise as much as I thought it would. I was a bit worried the yeast had gone bad, but I did a French fold anyway to see how things would develop. I used the French fold method found in this video, and I must say I am born again on the no-knead, French Fold method:

The second rise went much better. This time I went 2:45 and the dough had risen significantly and looked good. So I went for another fold and let it rest another hour before I shaped the loaves.

My shaping was pathetic. I got distracted and messed it up, so I won't say anything more about it except, well, I won't ever do it again :)

I did notice that my baguettes seemed flatter than normal. Was this because the dough didn't sufficiently rise? Was it a product of higher hydration?

After baking, here's what the loaves looked like. Pardon that one that looks like a pig's fell off the wheel before it got to the stone. I hate when that happens:


As for the crumb, I was quite pleased. Just the way I like it!


And I very much enjoyed the taste, though I wish it was a little more yeasty. Because of the lack of rising and yeasty taste, should I add more yeast? As you can see by the size, this almost turned out to be like a ciabatta.

 And that's about it. What do you think?

Thanks in advance!

sphealey's picture

I don't claim to be the baguette master, but I have had some success with both the King Arthur and Rose Levy recipes.  I would say that you are on the right track.  For a poolish of 150 g flour and 238 g water I would say to use 1/8 tsp or less yeast and leave it out overnight; don't use the refrigerator. 

Then for the dough - don't be afraid to handle the wet dough.  You won't be kneading in the classic sense; more of a sloppy stretch-and-fold.  I do it all in a large bowl using a plastic dough scraper as my third hand.  The King Arthur "Artisan Bread" DVD does a really good job of demonstrating this technique.  At the end of that process the dough should be a lot smoother although it won't exactly be silky!  Then 3 or 4 folds at 30 minute intervals and the magic of yeast will smooth it out.  Note that the first, and maybe the second, fold will be more like chasing a thick pancake batter across your countertop than a fold as we think of it with drier dough.

But as I said you are on the right track.  Keep trying!


JT's picture

Thanks sPH!

 One question for you - do you autolyse the remaining flour before adding it to the poolish? If you do, do you try and knead out the lumps before the first rise?


sphealey's picture

=== One question for you - do you autolyse the remaining flour before adding it to the poolish? ===

If I am using the King Arthur receipe, or just modifying Floyd's Daily Bread, I mix everything together (water, poolish, flour, yeast, and salt) until it is a "shaggy mass", let that sit covered for 20 minutes, then start kneading (which is more like in-bowl folding).

If I am using Rose Levy's super-precise recipe then I follow that exactly, but I don't remember what order the steps are in that one. I do recall it includes both a poolish and a biga so she may not have an autolyese.


proth5's picture

You will hear this over and over, but you will do yourself well by getting a scale and weighing your ingredients.  Your baking results will improve. I resisted for quite a while - I was wrong - I have seen the light.

When you make a poolish at 100% hydration you always add it to the autolyse.  If you do not, there is not enough moisture to do a true autolyse. 

Yeast will work in the presence of salt, else our bread would not rise.  In the mixing method I use (which is similar to the French fold method, but not identical) I add my yeast and my salt at the autolyse phase.  This makes sense, as my gentle mixing would not be the best way to incorporate salt at a later stage.  As a nod to the "yeast and salt are enemies" contingent, I  mix my salt with the flour to avoid "direct contact."  One must develop one's own mythology, n'est ce pas?

You might also wish to use less yeast, not more.  In general, a quality baguette wants to have the taste of fermented wheat - not that of yeast. I work with commercial yeast so seldom these days, but when I do, I find that my results are better when I use somewhat less yeast than is quoted in most formulas.

At very high hydrations with minimal mixing, you may find that one or two additional folds will add a lot of strength to your dough.  This will give you a better chance of getting good shape in your loaves.  

Hope this helps.

JT's picture

All of this is very helpful - THANK YOU! Also, I will definitely be getting a scale soon to start measuring out in weight instead of volume.

One more question: You mentioned above that you do 3 or 4 folds at 30 minute intervals. Does this mean that your entire riswe time is about 2 hours, or do you allow for a "2nd fermentation" of an additional two hours after that?

 Thanks again.

proth5's picture

The question was not addressed directly to me, but I will weigh in with what I know. 

There are folds and then there are folds.

There is a technique to use folds to mix the dough.  Time spent between these does not count as part of the bulk fermentation time.  It "counts" (as it were) as mixing time.

Then there are the folds that are made during bulk fermentation.  These are done for many reasons, the two most common are to redistribute the growing yeast and to add strength to a dough that was underdeveloped during mixing. (If you are an old time home baker, you will remember "punching down" your dough halfway through the bulk fermentation - although we didn't call it "bulk fermentation" back then either. Ah! What a long, strange trip it's been!)

For these folds, the desired total bulk fermentation time is divided by the number of folds so that the folds are evenly spaced along the bulk fermentation time.  For example, if you had a bulk fermentation time of 90 minutes and wanted to do 2 folds, they would be done at 30 and 60 minutes into the bulk fermentation time.  I have seen these folds work miracles on high hydration underdeveloped doughs.

Hope this helps.