As I’ve often mentioned in the past, baguettes are my favorite bread to make. Nothing gets me in the zone as much as making baguettes. The reason for this is that though they seem so easy to make at first blush, they’re actually incredibly difficult to get right. For me at least, making baguettes requires me to be on my game every step of the way; forcing me to be absolutely mindful of what I’m doing because one misstep can result in total disaster. Which explains why I haven’t released a sourdough baguette recipe until now. I’ve had quite a few disasters and I didn’t want to publish a recipe until I had a few successful runs.
As with all my baguettes, I make them for the express purpose of being a platform for sandwiches. But they work just as well for tearing up and dipping into olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They’re also optimized for baking in a domestic oven, so they’re more demi-baguettes than full-sized 60-80 cm loaves.
Also, these use a hybrid rising technique using a levain and some yeast. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear the sourdough purists out there screaming, but I prefer the results of the hybrid technique over a pure levain-risen dough. I’ve baked several permutations and I have to be honest: While I love the flavor profile of a pure levain-risen dough, it’s far too extensible, and backing off the hydration creates too tight of a crumb. The small amount of commercial yeast used here helps open the crumb. But that said, you still can choose to not use any commercial yeast. The process will take longer and the crumb may not be as open.
This can be up to a two-day process, depending on how long you want to do the bulk fermentation. But unlike a poolish baguette where you make the poolish the day before then mix, shape, and bake the final dough the next day, with this you’ll build the levain and mix the final dough on the same day, then either bake that day or cold ferment overnight. Let’s get to the formula:
|Preferment Flour % of Total||25%|
|Levain Required for Recipe||385|
|Total Yield||~1374g total dough|
4 X 340g loaves (60 cm)
6 X 226g loaves (40 cm)
|Optimal Dough Temp||76°F|
Levain. Build a levain to yield the amount you’ll need for the bake. With these baguettes, the flour of the levain represents 25% of the total flour needed in the recipe, which would be 192.5g out of a total of 770g. Your levain will be ready when it passes the float test.
As far as the type of starter to use, for baguettes, I normally use one based on AP flour as I want less sourness in my dough. But you can use any flour to evoke different flavor profiles.
NOTE: I’m not going into building a levain as there are plenty of resources available for making and building a 1:1 (flour:water) starter. As for how much you should make, while the requirement for this recipe is 385g of levain, make more than that – like 400g – to account for evaporation and levain sticking to your mixing utensil.
Initial Mix/Autolyse. Reserve 50-75g of the water. In the remaining water, break up the levain until it’s fully dissolved, then add the flour and combine well, being careful not to develop the gluten much. Autolyse for at least 20-30 minutes on up to an hour (remember, there’s starter in this, so you don’t want fermentation to progress too far).
Final Mix. Sprinkle the yeast over the dough. Dissolve the salt into the reserved water, then mix in the, salt, and reserved water into the dough until well incorporated with no large lumps. The dough should be shaggy.
The rest of the process can also be seen here in my Master Baguette Recipe.
Folding. Gently stretch and fold 3 times in the first hour at 20-minute intervals. By the third fold, the dough should be smooth and supple, with bubbles forming. When you do your stretches, try to be as smooth as possible, but do make sure to stretch the dough to its full extent. This is important, especially with baguettes because you only have a narrow window – one hour – in which to build dough strength.
I love this part of the process because the dough goes from this ugly, uneven mass and transforms into a smooth, luxurious and structured dough.
Bulk Fermentation. 1-2 hours depending on room temp. Or you could pop the dough into the fridge for a long, cold nap. In either case, take the dough out to about 75-80% and NOT doubled as you might see in other recipes. You don’t want to take it too far.
Divide and Shape. Pour dough out onto a floured surface and gently tug it into a rectangle of even thickness. Scale out 4 X 340g pieces. Letter fold each piece, making sure to stretch the sides out when folding, then roll each piece out into a jellyroll shape, and seal the seam. Place seam-side-up on a well-floured couche and let relax for at least 20 minutes (maybe more depending on how tightly you rolled the logs). After resting, shape the logs into baguettes.
Final Fermentation. 1-1½ hour. This could be shorter in warm weather.
Bake. Transfer loaves to a loading board or baguette pan. Score, then bake at 500°F for 8-10 minutes with steam (baguette should just start getting color). Remove your steaming container, then bake at 425°F for 12-15 minutes on convection if you have a convection setting, otherwise bake at 435°F for 12-15 minutes. Bake longer to a deep russet color, but beware that because of the acid in the dough, you don’t want to take these out too far as the crumb will dry if baked too long.
NOTE: You could technically leave out the commercial yeast, especially if your levain is super-active. With its flour representing 25% of the total flour, there will be plenty of yeast to rise the dough. However, if you do this, lengthen the time between folds to 30 minutes and be super gentle with your folding. Consider doing a coil fold for the final fold. Pure sourdough dough is much less forgiving than one that has commercial yeast. Also, final fermentation time will increase as the density of yeast in a levain is much less than that of commercial yeast.