The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Help with my sad poolish baguettes

noahg's picture

Help with my sad poolish baguettes

Any help appreciated I just can't seem to get a decent crumb, crust, or ear :)

220 AP flour/220 water
Pinch of yeast

Final dough:
220 water
425 AP flour
3g yeast
13g salt

68% hydration

Knead 10 minutes with slap and fold method, dough is still tacky and windowpane seems kind of weak
Bulk 1:45 with stretch and fold at :30 and 1:00
  - dough about doubled in size with some bubbles on surface and some small bubbles on the sides

Divide and preshape lightly 
Rest 30
Shape into baguettes using Ciril Hitz method:
Proof 1:15

Bake at 475 on a baking steel for ~20 minutes with steam in the first 10 minutes (just a cookie sheet with hot water
poured in)

Under proofed?  (or under bulked maybe...?)  Very round profile, scores completely disappear.  Oh also the crust gets very soft quickly...

Thanks for any help!


rondayvous's picture

Gluten formation sounds weak for the amount of water you are using. What kind of AP flour are you using? With a properly structured gluten your dough should be able to triple in volume. When I bake ciabatta, I’m at 100% hydration and I can easily handle my dough with a little flour. My guess is you most likely knead :0) more work on the dough. Not all AP flours are created equally, you might want to look their as well. King Arthur’s AP has plenty of protein and gluten, about as much as some other companies bread flours.

noahg's picture

Thanks - I'm using some random store brand AP flour.  I do notice that during kneading the dough will go from a formless mass, to starting to smooth out after a couple of minutes, but by the end the smoothness is gone and I started seeing lots of tearing (?) on the surface.  Dough is maybe doubling in volume during bulk, if gluten is weak could I be underbulking?  i.e. do I need to add some time and maybe a few more S&F during bulk?

Incidentally, is there a straight poolish (no SD) recipe you think is pretty good?  And/or do the overall times (~1:45 bulk, 1:15 proof) seem ok?  I know there's variation with room temp (maybe about 70F) and protein content, etc. but at a high level wondering if my times seem ok

rondayvous's picture

I'd start with flour that is known for making good bread. Your random store brand AP flour may just not be up to the task. At least, that is what it sounds like to me based on your kneading experience.

If you still have issues after using flour that produces good results ...

Target (I don't know if there is one near you) carries King Arthur's bread and AP flour) I'd get and try both and see which you like better. From there, you can have a reference to compare other flours. You can also buy it online but it costs more.

When troubleshooting, I try to eliminate one variable at a time.

noahg's picture

Thanks - not a bad idea to look at a different flour - to be honest I was thinking the first order of business for me would be to see what people think about my bulk/proof time and whether the images indicate over/under proofing, as adjusting timing would be the variable I might try first since I still have 10lbs of my AP flour to go through. 

Are there any indicators you can see that my bulk/proof time might be off?  It does sound like my gluten is underdeveloped so I need to work on that.

rondayvous's picture

but the way you described the dough breaking down after kneading made me suspect the flour. More gluten will give you a chewier crumb, but it will also be easier to get the physical results you are looking for.

idaveindy's picture

Welcome to TFL!

Thanks for the great photos. You included all the right shots.

I'm not a baguette baker, but the baggie experts will need to know the following info. So I'll put forth some questions, then back off to let them offer advice.

This will help to get you started:

- What country are you in? (It matters for the flour.) Members here are located all over the world.

- What exact brand and type (trade name) of flour are you using?

- What type of yeast?  There are 3 common types. Active dry, Instant dry, fresh (cake).

- Who's recipe is this?  Link, please. Or book and page #.

- What was the ambient temp and time for your poolish's fermentation? 

- What was the ambient temp for your bulk ferment and final proof ?

- Describe your oven and what settings you use. By the look of the crust, I'm guessing convection with top heat, which is not optimal for bread, but I'll let the baguette experts tell you how to adjust.

And Congrats on your bread journey.

noahg's picture

Thanks!  I'm in the US, using random store brand AP flour, not sure of protein content.  

Instant yeast.  Recipe is similar to

Ambient temp maybe 70F, not sure of dough temp.

I have a convection oven but not using the convection setting (I thought that might draw out teh steam or something, but could be wrong).  Oven is preheated to 475F for 30 minutes before bake, a smallish cookie sheet in teh bottom of the oven gets about 1 cup of water when the loaves go in.

Does the profile pic indicate anything?  It seems very round, should it actually be just a tiny bit more triangular (i.e. have a slightly wider base)

idaveindy's picture

Gas or electric oven?

If electric, where are the heating elements: at top, at bottom and exposed, at bottom and hidden, or back wall of oven?

This needs clarification:

"a smallish cookie sheet in teh bottom of the oven gets about 1 cup of water when the loaves go in."

Do you mean the cookie sheet is on the bottom rack, or is the cookie sheet on the floor of the oven?

If you do not see a "bottom heating element" and the oven lets you turn off convection mode, that means there IS a bottom heating element, but it is covered.

If that is the case, putting the steam pan on the floor of the oven interferes with heat and makes the top element turn  on too frequently and sets the crust too soon.

Again, I am not a baguette baker, but the "hidden mystery bottom element" does trip up new bread bakers once in a while, usually when people put a steam pan on the floor of the oven.

noahg's picture

Thanks!  Electric oven with optional convection, the cookie sheet was on the lowest rack I misspoke when saying it was on the bottom of the oven, the baking steel is on a rack above the cookie sheet.  I only see a top heating element but based on what you said (since Im able to turn off convection) it sounds like there is a covered bottom element as well.

idaveindy's picture

You're almost all set, with most of the needed info for the experts to work with when they get here.

I'm going to pick up on something Rondayvous brought up - the quality of the no-name store-brand AP.  It is a major point. Here's why...

First I have to explain, in the south east US, All-purpose flour is "sometimes" different than AP flour in the rest of the country, except for the big name brands, General Mills, King Arthur etc.  

"Southern" AP  is even lower protein, and is intended more for biscuits, cookies, etc. It could be it just ain't a "bread" flour.  Not saying for certain, but it's a possibility. Like Ron mentioned.

So, it would still really really help to know, A) what state you're in, and B) the exact brand and trade-name, and C) maybe even a picture of the whole front of the package.  Clues would be if the bag advertises or promotes its use for biscuits and such, and only mentions "rolls", but not bread.  Or lists bread last.

With the brand name and trade name, it can be looked up online to see what the details are. 


And one more.... what is the clearance front/back/sides of the steel to the walls/door of the oven? If it is too close, it can prevent heat circulation, and that is another possible cause of the upper element coming on too much, and doing a number on the crust and ears.

noahg's picture

I'm in southern California - the flour is Kroger AP Unbleached, which I think is around 10%.

As much as I'd like to think it was an issue with the flour (and undoubtedly this may have an impact), I'm pretty certain the issue is with my own timing.  Using the same flour I get different results (slightly better ear, crumb) but very inconsistent....


idaveindy's picture

AFAIK, Kroger AP is good.

idaveindy's picture

In Oct 2020 there was a "Community Baguette Bake", ie many people baking their own take on the same product.

Bookmark this link:

Then download the PDF file (red link near top of page) of the 4 best bakers and their recipes.

Here's a link to page 7 of the pdf, that contains an index of the recipes using only Instant dry yeast or Active dry yeast. You're in luck, there is a bunch.

I did not participate, but I followed along, and I was impressed how the group effort and feedback took baguette-newbies and made them experts.

There are over 2,000 comments on the post, so that is why Alfanso collected the best of the best for the PDF file.

Good luck, and bon appétit, amigo.

Ming's picture

I am not a baguette expert but would consider myself a baguette lover. Your baguettes look fantastic with a good round profile and an airy crumb, I wouldn't complain too much if my baguettes were this good. It looks to me like your dough had a great structure with a good development technique, they could have more pronounced ears, perhaps try to proof less next time. Good job!!!

MTloaf's picture

and want to turn that frown upside down then I would add more water (5% or more) while kneading it in intervals.  As for the mixing when it starts to tear you should stop before it unknits and let it rest before mixing again. Don’t overdo the slap and folds and maybe only one fold during the bulk. A 74 dough temp is what I aim for. 
I think your bulk is too long so maybe try a 50% increase instead of doubling. Let the pre shape rest seam up and also shorten the bench rest to shape them while they are on the move. You will get more ovenspring and ears if they are slightly underproofed. 
I realize that some of my advice will run contrary to what others may suggest but that’s how I roll.

If you like your recipe then stick with and work it out. I never had much success with the poolish versions and prefer the Bouabsa recipe made popular here. There are many fine examples from other members. 

rondayvous's picture

FWIW, Sounds like good advice to me.

noahg's picture

Thanks for the advice - I hadn't considered the possibility it was overproofed tbh because of the side photo  being so round, but I should try a shorter bulk and see what happens.  I'll check out the Bouabsa recipes, thanks for the heads up!

Abe's picture

What often happens with slap and folds is the gluten begins to form but then starts to deteriorate. However if you carry on with the slap and folds it forms again but this time it's stronger.  

Use at least a 12.6+ % protein flour and increase the hydration to 70%. At this hydration, for a white flour, slap and folds work very well. 

You've also used a high percentage poolish. Be careful not to over ferment. This will make the dough weaker. Your poolish should still have a strong gluten network. 

Having said all that I still think your baguettes look delicious. Yes you might not have that open crumb you desire nor an ear but that's more like icing on a cake. I'd be well happy if I made baguettes like yours. 

noahg's picture

Thanks - I'll try upping hydration a bit and getting a higher protein flour.

MTloaf's picture

“What often happens with slap and folds is the gluten begins to form but then starts to deteriorate. However if you carry on with the slap and folds it forms again but this time it's stronger”

Stronger yes but that is to the detriment of an open irregular crumb. Additional hydration will allow for more extensibility but powering through and shredding the dough will shorten the strands so to speak. That’s my theory anyway and why I recommend minimal kneading just until it comes together and then build structure with folds. Yes, sure a higher gluten flour will tolerate more intensive kneading but baguettes are better with a thinner crust and a softer chew when lower protein AP is used. 

Abe's picture

Not only develops the gluten but adds in air. 

The slightly higher gluten will tolerate more water.

Depending on flour used and how it's handled one can get an airy crumb with both AP and Bread Flour. 

rondayvous's picture

What is unknown here is the characteristics of the flour used. Softer flour (relatively speaking) will IMO yield a nicer crumb, but a stronger flour will be more forgiving and might be easier to get the results the OP is trying to achieve. Getting a feel for the dough gets easier after one gets the results they are looking for.

foodforthought's picture

Your formula is not unlike the one I’ve been using, though I include 10% King Arthur bread flour…down from 50%. Your dough I generally machine knead, then counter rest for an hour with a couple of stretch and folds. Then into fridge for at least overnight or up to 3 days. Next day, preshape cold dough and counter rest for 20 minutes. Final shape then proof for 30-45 minutes and bake. 

Lately I’ve been playing with turning off the oven for the first 7 minutes per a few youtube suggestions and I like the results. Sounds nuts but I‘m pretty sure I get another 10-20% oven spring with this method. Goes something like this:

  1. Preheat oven and stone to 500.
  2. Just before loading, reduce heat to 450 and generate steam.
  3. Turn off the oven and load your bags.
  4. After 7 minutes turn oven back on (I use convection 450). Generate more steam (possibly irrelevant).
  5. Continue baking for another12-18 minutes to achieve desired crust tone.

Bon chance,


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Even at 70°F a poolish can overferment.  That is why the description varies so much "from 6-18 hours" at room temps.  All the temps are important and influence the length of time a poolish with any particular flour is allowed to ferment. Get to know your flour and how much punishment your poolish can take before it ferments too long.  Might want to make a little experiment with the poolish having various standing times: 1 hour (control,) 6 hrs, 8 hrs, 10, 12, etc. to see how it behaves. All you have to do is check on it, poke, pinch, try to lift gently with a spoon, describe activity and aromas every two hours without disturbing it too much.  Keep it loosly covered and place the bowl in your favourite normal location.

I would half the poolish recipe and half the pinch of yeast if possible. One way to half a pinch would be to use the recipe amout of water, let's take 220g water, add the pinch of yeast, stir well to dissolve and then use half the water or 110g to be combined with 110g poolish recipe flour.

A large percentage of poolish has great influence on the dough.  Pay special attention to its texture before adding to the dough.  The only poolish recipes I've seen with fixed timing for poolish were those that were refrigerated during the ferment.  

I think your baggies look great.   Yummy crust color and shape, cross section delight!  

A tad underproofed might help the scoring open more. Also more slant to the knife blade. Try cutting to lift the skin, really a flat angled cut.  Weigh your dough before and after kneading to judge the amount of extra flour worked into the dough. (If applicable.)  It's good to get some idea of hydration changes during kneading.