My take on Mr. Nippon's baguette formula - after 6 trys
This book and this particular baguette formula was first brought to our attention by Ｓhiao－Ping here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/16213/mr-nippon039s-baguette-formulas  , Eric later did a fabulous take on it too: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/16252/nippon039s-baguette-formula  . I happened to have the book (in Chinese translation, DH got it for me from China when he was on a business trip there), the concept of 12hour autolyse is intriguing, and the wonderful pictures in the book, as well as Shiao-Ping and Eric's photos made me eager to try. However, I had such trouble with it. The first 3 times, they all came out flat. Really flat. Flatter than anything I've baked before. After the third time, I sat down and started from scratch. Read up on autolyse and what exactly happens during it. Read on different flours, even asked my friends to investiage the Japanese flour used in the book. Converted a part of my liquid starter to firm, because some have mentioned that firm starters may work better - then read up on the difference between the two. Let's just say, I applied all my research skilled from school and work to studying breads! It was fun though, I learned a lot, and this 7th try was my best one so far, I am finally sort of happy with the results.
So what's the magic bullet? Well, suprise! There aren't any! Other than the old lesson of "obey the dough (not the book even if it's written by a great Japanses baker who specifies every little detail!)". Same liquid starter, I simply fermentated until the dough is ready (4 hours as supposed to 3 in the book), and did 2 more sets of S&F during bulk rise. I think the culpit is that the book really spelled out the exact temperature, time, even PH values, so in the begining I was trying to match everything in the instruction. During this past 2 months, temperature in Dallas has been perfect for making this bread: night temperature is right around 60F, which is what the autolyse temperature should be. The day time termperature in the house is a perfect 22C, matching the fermentation temperature exactly. But I forgot one thing - wild yeasts, unlike instant yeast, have personalities. They don't go on the same schedule. Mine apparently is a bit slow going, by about an hour for bulk rise. Once I realized that and experimented with different bulk rise/proofing time, the breads started looking decent. So, long story short, LISTEN TO YOUR DOUGH!
Please see Shiao-Ping's original post for the exact formula, the changes I made are: 4 hours of bulk rise rather than 3; S&F at 20, 40, 60, 90, 120, 180, 240 minutes, so 7 in total rather than 5 in the instruction; final proof was 50 minutes rather than 60; flour used was KA bread flour. As for the bread itself, very nice indeed. Open crumb, chewy crust, a noticable sweet taste due to the long autolyse, but not sour at all though. It only has 15% of starter (100% hydration) and 0.1% instant yeast, hence the long rise times, as well as the nice flavor.
There are 34 other baguette formulas in that book, I am sure I will attempt more of them. In the mean time, I am glad this bread is finally out of my mind, I can now shift my focus onto other things - like tax returns! Sigh, not nearly as fun. ;)