The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

San Joaquin baguettes I

algebread's picture

San Joaquin baguettes I

For my first attempt at baguette-making, I tried dmsnyder's San Joaquin baguettes.


I followed the process detailed on the San Joaquin page as written,. Starter was being a bit slow, so bulk took 7-8 hours at ~72F, but got there eventually.

Only half of the formula was made for this first run-through. I don't have a baking stone or other large-area heat source (I usually use a dutch oven), so I baked these by placing them atop a large cast-iron frying pan. They drooped off the sides a bit and the fit was fairly tight, so this isn't a great long-term solution. For steam, I placed a baking sheet with a cast-iron pan on it in the lowest rack of the oven, then poured boiling water over it when the loaves were placed in the oven.

Getting the loaves into the oven was also a little difficult. I rested them on top of parchment, to which they stuck, so I ended up just putting the parchment paper into the oven with them.


Only one loaf photographed because the other one got cut up and frozen before I remembered.

Less oven spring than I might have liked, probably due to a combination of the strange baking set-up and my lack of shaping practice. There are some strange features: why is the crust blotchy? Why did it burst at each end (circled in red below)?

Crumb was better than I expected given the brutality of my baguette first-timer's shaping technique.

Strange browning patterns on the bottom crust. What is up with this?

The long bulk (cool temperatures + a slightly sluggish starter) meant that flavor was a bit on the sour side for a baguette, but not unpleasant as a flavor for bread. The crust was thin and crisp on top, but a little soft in the pale areas shown in the image above.


Questions & future work

The slogan here is "more practice needed" to improve my shaping and handling of such long bread. I will also experiment with some other baking setups, as the frying pan approach wasn't great from a results or ease-of-use perspective. I will try to get some lava rocks for improved steam when it is convenient to do so.

Some questions:

Q1: Why did the loaf split?

My current guess is that this is just an artifact of the ends drooping over the frying pan's edges, but perhaps there is another reason?

Q2: What is causing the strange coloration of the crust? The bottom has  a dark stripe and pale edges, while the upper surface is all splotchy.

Thanks to alfanso, txfarmer, and dmsnyder for their many helpful baguette-related posts. They've been good reading.




alfanso's picture

and that first step is typically the hardest.  The pictures from it are usually worth keeping around for posterity to remind yourself where you've been and how ar you will have come - if you keep trying!  Everyone has been there and some keep their own "hall of shame" pics to prove it!

Thanks for the tip of the cap.  

Sadly, txfarmer is not a presence on TFL anymore, although she may still tune in, her last post is now long ago.  She was prolific and tenacious making croissants or baguettes day after day to hone her skills.  And her expertise is missed.

Congrats on taking the first step.  

My first question.  Is your oven gas or electric?  Gas ovens, for obvious safety reasons, are notorious at venting, hence drawing out the precious steam that we need in the first step.  Dutch Ovens and similar bakeware maintain their own own sealed baking environment.

You may wish to get a more "efficient" steam generator.  I, and many others including David Snyder, go beyond the simple pan with water for steam.  I use a ~13"x9" metal baking pan filled with lava rocks, but one can use any other type of object (like stones, nuts  bolts, Aunt Tillie's old jewelry, etc.) to create mass for generating a lot of steam.  The pan lives in my oven and gets the 45-60 min heat treatment the entire time the oven is turned on.  I pour 2 cups of very hot water into the pan after loading the dough.  And it dissipates over the first half of the bake.  Others seem to swear by half as much time for steaming, but my personal preference is a 13 minutes initial period of steam.

It may be difficult to come by, especially these days, but if you have access to a stone countertop fabricator you may be able to have them cut a baking deck stone to size for you.  Mine is granite and maybe 3/4" thick and cost USD $20.  It also lives in the oven for the pre-heat stage.  If you do, ensure that it doesn't go "wall to wall", but leave a little space on all sides to allow free flow of air inside the oven box.

You temp solution of a large frying pan seems to work.  However, I've seen and read where metal surfaces are more likely to scorch the bottom of the bread, and you may have experienced this in you D.O. at some point.

On to specifics...

The red circled splits in your baguette are caused by "poor" (read as mostly inexperienced) seam "control".  When rolling out the dough it is essential to keep the seam side straight and sealed well, and not let it get twisted. As soon as it gets exposed, it will be happy to split, being the weakest point of the dough's outer sheath.  I've been there.  The way that I keep tabs on where the seam is, is that I roll the baguettes while always trying to maintain the seam side up, so I always am aware of where it is and how straight it is.  Some folks proof their baguettes seam side up (Abel Sierra) and some down, as I do. But it is is essential to keep it straight and make sure that it is completely in contact with the oven deck.

No issue with parchment, as it is designed to be in the oven.  I always place parchment paper onto my baking peel, load the dough onto it and then slide the entire paper and dough into the oven together.  Makes life simple and efficient.  The paper is removed at the half-way point when the steam is released and the bread rotates in the oven to ensure even baking. 

Scorched bottom.  The scorching is inconsistent, and  it looks as though the entire baguette was not in contact with the baking surface.  Especially where it cups toward both ends.  I can also see where the seam is off center in the bottom picture.   The beginning of a split just off the top center where the seam apparently runs.

Scorched top indicates one or more of these: too high an oven heat, hot spots in the oven, insufficient steam.

"Crumb was better than I expected given the brutality of my baguette first-timer's shaping technique."  I don't imagine that the dough was under proofed, although there are rather large holes and some dense areas, which typically indicates underproofing.  This appears to be the top half of the loaf.  Did the bottom half also exhibit similar characteristics?  I'll take a guess that both are the results of inexperienced shaping, which is another skill that most need to figure out over time.  As David wrote many times, and I've repeated many times, shaping baguettes requires "an iron hand inside of a velvet glove".  Getting the correct amount of pressure across the entire dough when shaping takes practice.

In general your scoring is on the right track, better than most first-timers.  Try for more overlap on each score, and review David's tutorial on TFL again.

A lack of better oven spring is the result of everything above. 

Good luck, and keep trying!

algebread's picture

Alfanso VII of Baguette: just the person I was hoping would comment on this.

It was also my impression that txfarmer had disappeared, but I thought that mentioning her name might route people to some of her beautiful bakes that still linger on the forum.

My oven is electric, but vents noticably. The vent seems to be routed through one of the burners, so for this bake, I covered up the burner with a bowl. When I removed the bowl around the 9 minute mark, some steam began coming out, so the oven wasn't completely dry, but the steam level was probably lower than in a Dutch oven. I'm planning to pick of some cheap towels the next time I need to go grocery shopping so that I can try out a "Sylvia's towels" setup. I may try to get my hands on some lava rocks later on, but until then, perhaps I'll try using some random small ones from outside (hopefully without explosions).

Another steam-related thought: one of my baking sheets is relatively thick aluminum, so perhaps I could preheat it atop the frying pan, transfer the loaves onto it, then place a second baking sheet upside-down on top. I think the combined height of the edges of the two sheets might be enough to avoid the loaves being squished, and the baking sheet sandwich might trap steam acceptably, especially if I dropped an ice cube or two in along with the loaves.


The interior shot is of the bottom half of the loaf. You are correct about the dough being a little underproofed---the cool temperature meant that this dough could probably have taken another couple hours of bulk, but I mistimed things and needed to go to bed. The degree of underproofing wasn't enough to make the crumb feel gummy in the mouth, but was noticable.

Your seam-related remarks are very helpful---I will heed them carefully next time.

Thank you very much for all of your sage advice. I'm looking forward to further practice and experimentation!

alfanso's picture

Take a look at the way that he scores his beautiful baguettes.  Basically almost the same as I do, with that ~1/3 overlap.  Where you see scores that are incomplete it is the result of 1 of 2, or both, things.  Either the scores were too close together, and the oven spring just burst through them, or the oven spring on some breads is so profound that it will still break through a score.   I see it often enough on my breads.