Yesterday, I wrote a post saying that I had some issues with the Tartine Bread baguette recipe, especially with the yield, which was much more than the two or three baguettes that the recipe said it would produce. It was more like seven or eight baguettes. Not a bad thing, but the inconsistency kind of bugged me. I was also a little dubious about the hydration being only 64% and that the poolish used a seemingly large amount of yeast for such a small poolish amount.
But despite my issues, these baguettes totally intrigued me because Chad Robertson employed both a levain AND a poolish. And unlike most poolish baguette recipes that add a little yeast to the final dough, the rising potential with both types of preferments completely eliminates the need to use any extra commercial yeast other than what goes into the poolish!
Using two preferments was all I needed to know to want to make these baguettes. Chad’s reasoning was that they’d contribute tons of flavor to the bread – they do – but also give the dough lots of extensibility and a longer shelf-life (and I could attest to that because my pure sourdough baguettes will last a week).
But I didn’t want to make as much dough as the recipe in the book yields, so I had to scale it down. To scale it down I had to get the overall formula, then figure out my ingredient weights from that. I shared all this in my previous post, but I’ll put it down here now:
In Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson says to use a tablespoon of mature starter – it’ll be somewhere around 30-40g of mature starter.
~14.25% of total flour
The book says to use 3 grams of yeast for 200 grams of flour and water each. Even if he meant fresh yeast, that’s an awful lot for such a small amount of flour (instant yeast weight would be 1.2g – that’s an insane amount). It’s not necessarily wrong, but the poolish will mature much faster than 3 hours with that amount of yeast and the aim is to get both preferments to peak near the same time.
~14.25% of total flour
|Optimal Fermentation Temp.||78°-80°F|
4 X 330g 60cm loaves
6 X 220g 40 cm loaves
|Optimal dough temp||78°-82°F|
Note the relatively high dough temperature of 78°-82°F. This is consistent with Chad Robertson’s method of a warm bulk ferment. You can achieve this by placing your bulk fermentation container in a cold oven with the light on. The light bulb will provide enough heat to maintain that temperature range. But keep an eye on the temp. You don’t want it to get too warm. Propping the door open with a dish towel or oven mitt will help control the temperature.
This is a fairly straightforward formula. BTW, in case you’re interested, both the Poolish and Levain flour contribute 14.25% each to the total flour. So if you want to scale this up, you can use that percentage to determine how much flour you’ll need for both. Without further ado, let’s get into the dough development!
Make the Preferments
One thing to note is that both preferments should be made from predominantly AP flour. The reason for this is that whole grain flours will have much more fermentation activity.
Build the Levain
For the levain, take about 30-40 grams of mature starter and mix it with 150g each of flour and water. Your starter should have enough activity where the levain will be ready in three to four hours. Or if you have a regular schedule, try to coincide the peak of the levain with the peak of the poolish.
With the poolish, thoroughly mix all ingredients together. Set aside in a warm place to promote yeast activity. Poolish will be ready when it is heavily bubbled on the top.
Both preferments should pass the float test to ensure optimum activity.
Initial Mix/Autolyse. Set aside 50 grams of water. Measure out what you need from both preferments and place in a mixing bowl. Liquify the preferments with the rest of the water, then sift all the flour and add to the liquid. Mix well until there are no dry ingredients and no large lumps in the mix. It’ll be shaggy. Cover and rest for 30-60 minutes.
If you’ve made baguettes previously, you will notice how stiff the dough is. Don’t be alarmed and add more water! The fermentation action of the starters will soften and aerate the dough.
Final Mix/Bassinage. Sprinkle the salt all over the dough mass, then add the remaining 50 grams of water. Note that for this small amount of dough, I just mix it by hand, squeezing the salt and water into the dough. Mix until all the water has been incorporated.
You could use a stand mixer for all the mixing. But if you do, mix only on the lowest setting! I’ve found that with baguettes, you actually don’t want to develop the gluten too much in the mixing stage. You’ll do all that through the folds.
Bassinage is a term you’ll occasionally hear from bakers from time to time. The literal translation of the word is “bathe.” From the perspective of dough development bassinage is the process of folding reserved water into an already mixed dough; basically bathing the mixed dough. You hold back some water (typically 5%-10%), then mix the dough with the remaining water to start the gluten formation. At a later time, you add in the reserved water.
The idea behind it is actually kind of ingenious. The thinking is that the initial mix will get gluten formation started. Then when the reserved water is added, though some water will obviously combine with the remaining flour, other water molecules will get trapped in the gluten matrix, thus forming little pockets of water, which in turn will help in the formation of a more open crumb.
Given that, especially with a moderately stiff dough like the Tartine baguettes, bassinage conceivably will help with creating an open crumb as the trapped water molecules will form steam bubbles during baking.
Bulk Fermentation. 3-4 hours. As with Chad’s basic country loaf, you’re looking for about 25-30% dough expansion. Even though it was pretty warm in my kitchen, I let the bulk fermentation go for about 4 hours.
Folding. Fold every 30 minutes within the first three hours for a total of 6 folds. Truth be told, I got to the fourth fold and the dough had plenty of strength, forming a nice windowpane. As with any kind of bread, you should never be too parochial about the folding suggested in a recipe. Once you’ve developed enough strength, stop folding. Continuing will just degas the dough.
To be honest, having made these a few times now, I’m not convinced the dough needs this many folds. The hydration is so low that the gluten bonds form rather quickly. I’ve never gone past four folds. The bulk fermentation does take four to five hours though. With that in mind, I’d perhaps suggest doing four folds every 45 minutes instead of six every 30 as is written in the book.
Divide and Preshape. Gently turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and tug it into a rough rectangle, then scale out four 330g pieces for 60cm baguettes, or six 220g pieces for 40cm baguettes. With each piece, letter-fold the dough in an east-west direction, then roll it up like a jelly roll and seal the seam and ends. Take care not to roll too tightly. Add just a little tension! Place seam-side-up on a well-floured couche. Rest for 30-45 minutes depending on how tightly you rolled the pieces. With this low-hydration dough, you need the dough to be well-relaxed.
Shape. I always use Master Chef Markus Farbinger’s baguette shaping technique. But if you have a shaping method already, feel free to use it. One thing that Chef Farbinger doesn’t mention in shaping is that while rolling, your fingertips and the heels of your hands should have contact with your board as you roll the dough out, essentially forming a natural cup. To lengthen the log, you simply flatten your hands a bit – not completely – and the dough will push out to the sides.
Final Fermentation. Up to 3 hours. Yes, you read that correctly. Remember, this is a stiff dough, and after shaping, you want to give it plenty of time to relax. I felt my dough was ready in about an hour and a half. It was a really warm afternoon when I baked and I didn’t want to run the risk of over-fermenting the loaves. In hindsight, I probably could’ve let it go out to about two hours. To tell if the loaves are ready to bake, if you do the poke test, the surface should give fairly easily. And once you press a little deeper, the interior should have a little more tension, but it should give as well. Once you remove your finger, observe how the dough springs back. It should spring back slowly.
Bake. During the last hour of final fermentation, warm up your oven to 500°F. I use a stone to bake, but you can bake on a sheet or even a dedicated baguette pan. Use lots of steam! When I bake baguettes, I use both a broiler pan that I put hot water into, plus two loaf pans that have well-soaked terry-cloth towels in them to provide a really steamy environment (NOTE: Your oven should be steamy when you place the baguettes in it). These are in the oven for about 10-16 minutes before I pop the loaves in (allowing my oven to come back to temp). Quickly place your loaves in the oven, then immediately turn it down to 475°F. Bake for 12-15 minutes on steam or until the crust just starts getting color. Remove the steaming containers, turn down the oven to 425°F, then bake for another 12-15 minutes until the loaves turn a deep golden brown.
Cool on rack. You can eat these warm!
- The crumb, while open, is very much like a sourdough crumb. It’s tender, but a lot more chewy than the baguettes I normally make. I realize that that could be a function of the flour I used. The next time I make these, I will probably use all AP flour – most probably Central Milling flour as it is only 10.7% protein. This should lend itself to a much lighter crumb texture.
- While I appreciate the romanticism of baking on a stone, I always use parchment paper on my transfer board to get my loaves into the oven. Especially with baguettes, since I have to put them in along their long sides, I’ve had too many mishaps where the loaves roll off my board! So I use parchment paper. When I remove the steaming containers, I also remove the parchment paper from underneath the loaves.
- The loaves probably could’ve benefited from a longer final fermentation. As you can see in the pictures, they turned out fine, but I think I could’ve had them even puffier had I let the final fermentation go longer. That said, I will have to monitor their progress carefully if I use low-protein flour.
- Once the final fermentation is complete, I cannot stress enough that you handle the shaped loaves as gently as possible.
- I have to admit that I’m still a little bugged by the yield in the original recipe and the recommendation to break up the dough into 2 or 3 pieces. But despite that, I will relegate that to a copy editing oversight.
When you see the Real Bread loaf mark, it indicates that this recipe produces bread with no artificial additives, and is leavened either by a natural starter or commercial yeast.