Okay, I admit it. I’m a baguette freak. I make baguettes at least once or twice a week. And up until this past week, I’ve been experimenting with different methods from baguettes made with a poolish to paté fermenté to levain. But to tell you the truth, my favorite baguette to make is based on the slow rise or pointage en bac method; a method similar to the one Master Baker Markus Farbinger teaches in his baguette and ciabatta video series.
So what is the pointage en bac method? Simply put, it’s a straight dough that slowly rises in the fridge. Traditionally, it was retarding the shaped dough. The technique has its roots in busy French bakeries where bakers wanted to provide baguettes throughout the day. After all, baguettes are best eaten within the first hour or two of baking – and they’re MUCH better warm! However, that had an issue of the shaped loaves collapsing, so to prevent that, the bakers would add dough conditioners to help the shaped loaves maintain their structure. Not a fan.
However, as Jeffrey Hamelman put it in “Bread,” the close cousin to this technique is to create a huge batch of dough then separate it into several batch buckets and allow the individual batches to bulk ferment in a cold environment. From a production standpoint, this has huge advantages because all the baker has to do is pull a bucket from the retarder, then shape and bake as opposed to whipping up another batch of dough. This is the method that Chef Markus Farbinger teaches in his baguette video series, though he only makes a single batch.
I prefer this technique simply because it keeps things simple: Throw all the ingredients into a mixing bowl, let it ferment for an hour, fold the dough, cover it, then pop it into the fridge for 6-18 hours. I’ve even used a third of the amount of yeast called for and let it ferment for over 24 hours to develop flavor. It’s a very flexible technique that can easily be adjusted to acccomdate different schedules.
AND if you’re going to be baking in separate batches, it’s an ideal method. For instance, in the next couple of days, I’m going to have to make a few batches for an upcoming graduation party. I’m going to make a huge batch of dough, then separate it into separate batches. When the dough’s ready, I’ll take a batch from the fridge, shape it, then bake it. While those loaves are in the oven, I’ll remove the next batch from my fridge, shape them, then let them go into their final fermentation. By the time the previous batch is finished and the oven comes back to temp, the next batch should be ready to bake.
What makes it possible is retarding the dough. Yes, the later batches will be slightly more fermented, but there shouldn’t be too much of a flavor difference between the batches. Let’s get to the formula/recipe, shall we?
Note that the final dough will produce 4 loaves at 330g apiece. With the baking method, the finished loaves will have be approximately 250 grams, which is the official French weight for a baguette (those French are very exacting about their bread standards).
|Ingredient||Baker’s %||Final Dough|
|AP Flour (11-12% protein)||100%||751g|
|Optimal Dough Temp||76°F|
Yeast amount can be varied. Go up to 4g if you intend to just bake them that day, but 2g and an overnight cold rest yields the best flavor!
This is one of the few doughs that I make where I mix entirely by hand mainly because I only make enough dough to make 4 X 330g pieces for a single batch. I use a mixer if I’m doing multiple batches.
Mixing. Use a mixer or mix by hand and mix to a shaggy mass with no large lumps. As I mentioned above, I almost always mix by hand for a single batch, though I use a Danish dough whisk – that’s a must-have tool. Make sure though to sift the flour if you mix by hand.
Bulk Fermentation: 6-18 hours. 1 hour @ room temp, the rest of the time in the fridge.
Folding. Fold 3 times at 20-minute intervals for the first hour to develop the gas-retention properties of the dough. This is gentle folding. Though I do stretch and folds I do my best to not press down on the dough too much when folding a flap over. After the third fold, pop the dough into the fridge for a long, cold rest, or until the dough has expanded around 50%. It’s best not to let it go too much further than this.
You may notice that this folding schedule is different from my original instructions of letting the shaggy mass sit for an hour, then doing a single fold and popping it into the fridge. But once I started making Baguettes de Tradition, I’ve preferred this folding schedule because it ensures equal distribution of the yeast and salt AND the dough develops lots of strength, especially if I mix by hand so I now use this folding schedule for all the baguettes I make.
Divide and Shape. Dump your dough out onto a lightly floured surface, tug the dough into a rough rectangle with even thickness throughout, then scale out 330g pieces. Preshape each piece by letter folding it, then rolling it like a jelly roll into a log. Seal the seams, then set aside on a well-floured couche – seam-side-up – for 20-30 minutes to relax the dough (this could be longer if you rolled the log tight, but don’t go over 45 minutes). After resting, shape the dough into baguettes, returning each piece to the couche, giving ample room for the loaves to expand.
There’s technically no official weight and length, though in general, the accepted final weight and length of a finished loaf is around 250g and 60cm in length. After a lot of tweaking with different weights, I found that a 330g dough weight is optimal to achieve the 250g finished weight.
Final Fermentation. 30-minutes – 1 1/2 hour depending on ambient temp. This is where feel is extremely important. While traditionally “doubling” is a decent visual cue, that will take the loaf close to full fermentation and leave very little room for expansion in the oven. And with a dough like this, which is wet and narrowly shaped, the finger dent test isn’t revealing because when you poke into it, most of the time, the dent will remain – even in the early stages of the final fermentation. So it’s best to check the loaves at 30 minutes. When you do the finger dent test, you want to look at the rate that the dent pops back. If it pops back really quickly and the dent only partially remains, then the loaf isn’t ready (note: The dent will not go away right away). If it initially pops back up quickly, but immediately slows down and the dent is still pronounced and then slowly comes back, then the loaf is ready.
Score. Score the loaves according to the diagram below. Do not score on the bias! Even though the scoring may appear to be on the bias, the slashes are actually fairly parallel, with just a few degrees of deflection down the middle third of the loaf. Though there’s no rule governing how many slashes you make, aesthetically, an odd number looks better.
Bake. Bake at 475°F/250°C for 12 minutes with steam. Remove steam, then bake for 12-15 minutes at 435°F/225°C, or if you have a convection setting, 425°F/220°C. These baguettes really benefit from a full bake. You don’t want them to be blonde!