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Baking Homemade Baguettes

by Saara

This post tells the story behind these baguettes. They look pretty good and the taste was amazing thanks to sourdough poolish & slow process. But baking homemade baguettes is far cry from the bread magically baking itself when you have a vision in your mind.

Disclaimer: this post includes affiliate links, meaning that I get a commission if you choose to make a purchase through the given links. Read full disclosure here.

I recommend investing in quality tools so that you can achieve beautiful and crispy baguettes. Check that you have

In this post, I’ll share why these tools are essential to succeed and break down how I like my baguettes taste and appearance wise.

I hope this post helps you!


How do I like my baguettes?

I have a love and hate relationship with baking baguettes. I absolutely love the beauty and the sound of the thin crispy crust of freshly baked baguettes. The delicious golden crust! And then, the soft chewy crumb with small airy bubbles. It’s so dreamy to soak a piece of baguette in a bowl of soup, don’t you think?

What we can gather here is that I like my baguettes to have certain kind of mouthfeel and aesthetics.

To be more specific, I’m hoping a homemade baguette will have

  • amazing depth of taste
  • a thin crust over a thick hard crust
  • soft & airy crumb over too dense or too open crumb
  • golden color and contrast but not too dark finish
  • even thin long shape and pointy ends
  • beautiful scoring

Achieving this certain (personal) ideal look requires a lot of attention to detail. As a relaxed sourdough baker that I am, this really is challenging for me. And is this really possible to achieve with sourdough or should I just continue baking them with fresh yeast-based poolish?

When it was time came to bake baguettes for #sourdoughmonthlychallenge, I left my expectations to the door. How so? Well, let’s tackle that above list and see how these pictured baguettes meet the criterion. If you enjoy blabber on techniques and pitfalls of homebaked baguettes, have a cup of coffee and enjoy this read.

Tools for sourdough baking and bread making

Ingredients, the process and the tools for baking homemade baguettes

I’m in the team ingredients – always choose quality flour. But I also firmly believe that having decent tools take you halfway with the process. Before diving into the wanted taste profile and nitty grittiness of the process, let’s see how the baking essentials are in check. These quality tools are investments worth little money for a person to whom baking homemade bread is a lifestyle.

Get yourself a baguette pan

Having a baguette pan was the game changer for me when it comes to achieving the thin crust. I bought this Chicago Metallic Non-Stick Perforated Baguette Pan for 3 baguettes* two years ago. Before this pan, I was counting on a secure 60% hydration recipe and baked the baguettes on a normal baking tray. I don’t have experience with baking baguettes on a baking stone since my baking stone is round and hence not long enough for baguettes.

I was afraid that this 16″ x 9″ (40,5cm x 22,8cm) baguette pan for three would not be suitable for standard European ovens. But it works and fits without problems. I bake the baguettes by placing the pan horizontally on top of the metal wire rack. With my old not so efficient oven, I placed the pan on top of the round baking stone for more even heat.

With limited space in the kitchen, it’s always a well-weighted decision to get new gadgets for baking. But having a baguette pan is worth it if you bake baguettes even on a yearly basis. The striking crispy crust you get with the pan will probably invite you to bake more often with it from baguettes to bread rolls. That’s right, I also bake bread rolls on it!

The Chicago Metallic Non-Stick Perforated Baguette Pan* is not expensive and has a lifetime warranty. I’ve been happy with the non-stick surface. I wipe the pan with a kitchen towel after use. When baking other types of sugary bread with it, I recommend handwash only despite the pan is also dishwasher safe. I keep it clean and it’s in mint condition.

Get yourself a big enough work surface

Baguette is not a baguette without the long shape. For shaping and rolling long baguettes, you need a wide enough working surface.

When baking baguettes for a 16″ x 9″ tray, I was even troubled with my marble slab*. Unfortunately, that pastry slab went into pieces when we moved into the new flat. At the time of baking these, I was faced with the reality of using a smaller wooden cutting board which you can spot from the photo below.

I really need to find a new marble pastry board. It preferably is bigger than the one I previously had. I like to use marble as a work surface thanks to its naturally non-stick feature. Our wooden dining table could sometimes work as a surface, too, but the finish needs to be redone and somehow getting a new marble board feels easier than renovating the table. Okay back to the point which is:

If you don’t have big enough space to patiently roll and stretch the even baguette shape, chances are that you won’t achieve the pointy ends and the baguette will chubbier in the middle.

Choose flax linen kitchen towels or proofing couches

Baguettes need to be firmly supported from the sides to ensure a vertical rise. Don’t prove your baguettes in the baking pan. Rather, build the rise station to a normal baking tray that fits in the fridge. Cover it with a flax linen kitchen towel to support the sides of the baguettes.

Kitchen towels and proofing couches made out of natural flax linen are best because they are sturdier. I’ve found vintage linen towels from the flea markets and am happily using those. Similar modern versions are easily available from specialty stores and online. For example, these couches by Saint Germain Bakery on Amazon*.

This time it happened so that every linen towel I own was in the laundry. And so, I had to go with the cotton version. Some cotton kitchen towels are stronger and can support the rise, not a problem. However, there’s another kind of challenge with the choice of the towel when you give the baguettes an overnight proof. Soaking!

The fibers of the flax plant are not only stronger but also highly absorbent. Because I did not use linen towels, my baguettes soaked in the cotton a bit during the cold-proof.

Building up baguette flavors in 3 steps

1. Baking baguettes with poolish

I basically learned to bake bread from Swedish bakers whose books I’ve baked from cover to cover thanks to my mother’s cookbook library. Both Jan Hedh and Heléne Johansson bake baguettes with the poolish.

What is poolish?

Poolish is a baking method originating from Poland and dates back to the mid-1800s. A Poolish combines equal parts of flour and water (by weight) with a small amount of yeast.  You can prepare the poolish the traditional way with yeast, and here’s a recipe for that. Or you can make the pre-dough with sourdough, find the recipe end of this post.

I use a slow ferment for the poolish, I let it bubble up and increase its volume. I find that the longer fermentation creates an amazing aroma & depth of flavor. The poolish plays a role also in the final golden color of the baguette.

Some argue that you get a thinner crispy crust with yeast. I was happy with the crust of these baguettes. The crust is thicker in the twisted pointy ends in comparison to the middle parts. This is because the tips soaked and dried in proof! Should have had those flax linen towels, damn it.


2. Adding whole grains

The choice of flour is essential for me. I rarely bake bread without whole grains because I want to eat healthy bread. Baguettes are no exception.

Adding whole grains bring more flavors and affect the color of the bake. However, playing with whole grains is a balancing act because different grains and flour absorb water differently.

For this batch of baguettes, I added a little bit of whole grain rye and graham flour. The coarser texture of these flours I substituted with fine typo 00 wheat flour from the total amount the wheat. All ingredients and steps are listed in the recipe end of the post.

3. Cold proof overnight in the fridge

After shaping the baguettes, I let them build more flavor in the fridge. Sometimes I bake baguettes the same day when I make the dough, but those loaves definitely are not as tasty and the scoring the warm raw bread can be a nightmare.

Overnight sleep in the fridge was problematic this time. When the baguettes rest supported on the tray, the choice of materials comes to show its efficiency. Since I had a cotton towel, the dough surface facing the towel soaked a tiny bit.

The proofing basket or dish of your choice should always breathe and let the moist out. Obviously metal does not breathe but linen couches would have performed better as a mediator in comparison to cotton. Invest in proper flax linen kitchen towels. For example, these couches by Saint Germain Bakery on Amazon* or try to find vintage linen kitchen towels.

I can’t blame the materials alone. I was sloppy too because I did not cover the baguettes with attention. I should have covered the tray with my reusable plastic bag for bread but felt lazy. I told myself “the cotton towel will cover enough”. Well, it didn’t and it’s noticeable especially in the dough of the pointy ends being dry after the proof. The middle part of the baguettes was okay.

To make the dried pointy ends look nicer, I twisted them before the bake for the rustic look. See, twisting baguette ends a camouflage trick! Suppose I was a heavy-duty baguette baker, I would now invest in a big proofing box with a proper cover. But that is just the limit for me, a big proofing box takes just too much space at this moment.

On the bake day

Scoring Baguettes

I was happy with the scoring this time! I buy simple surgeon’s knives or men’s razor blades from the pharmacy. They are affordable and handy for all kinds of art stuff and paint scratching. I’ve been happily using them for slashing bread since the beginning of my sourdough journey. Separate knives for every job, obviously.

If you want to be fancy pants, of course, you can have handcrafted lames with wooden handles*. Whatever makes one happy. Scoring is my Achilles heel and my biggest problems with it are a) slashing without a plan or vision and b) a dull blade.

But with baguettes, I know what I’m supposed to do. Moreover, I had a new knife to snap from the package. Let’s forget about the fact that baguette lame should be curved. Let me just be happy about this scoring achieved without the curve. 😀

The choice of steaming when baking baguettes

Steaming is crucial when baking baguettes if you want to ensure a crispy crust. You have been working on it from the beginning, don’t give up now even if there have been challenges. Steam will delay the crust formation and give time for the baguettes to rise.

Over the years I’ve used many methods to steam. This year I’ve been relying on ice cubes a lot. It’s a new oven, I need to bake my way with it before other methods.

With ice cubes, I place an extra baking tray in the lower rack when I start heating the oven. When I transfer the baguettes for the bake, I then toss 4-5 ice cubes on the extra tray beneath them. With my old oven, I had to place and extra tray on the top of the baguettes, too, to hold the steam. After 15 minutes, I let the steam out by opening the oven door a couple of times. Watch out the HOT steam!

I was happy with the oven spring and overall round body shape of the baguettes. The timing was also great for the bake. Let’s have a conclusion with the full criterion.

CONCLUSION

  • Depth of taste / 5
  • Thin crust / 3,5
  • Soft & airy crumb / 4
  • Golden color and contrast / 4
  • Thin even shape & pointy ends /3
  • Scoring / 4,5

My baking pitfalls this time were twofold. Shaping space was too small and I gave the baguettes a sloppy overnight proof in the fridge which resulted in both drying & soaking problems. Troubleshoot done, baguette baking journey continues! It would be interesting to bake two sets to compare the thinness of the baguette crust between yeast-based poolish and the sourdough pre-dough used here.

Baguette Recipe with Sourdough Poolish

The baguette recipe below is designed for the baguette pan of three*. If your pan is of different size, do scale the recipe accordingly. Happy baking!

Baking homemade baguettes with sourdough

Sourdough Baguettes with Poolish | My Vintage Cooking

This post tells the story behind these baguettes. They look pretty good and the taste was amazing thanks to sourdough poolish & slow process.… Bread baguettes, poolish, sourdough European Print This
Nutrition facts: 200 calories 20 grams fat

INGREDIENTS

POOLISH

30g active bubbly starter

150g water (24°C / 76°F)

150g strong wheat flour (13% protein)

 

BAGUETTE DOUGH

10g active bubbly starter

170g water (24°C / 76°F)

all of the poolish

220 strong wheat flour

65g typo 00 wheat flour

15g rye flour

15g fine graham flour

8g sea salt + 40g water

METHOD

MAKING THE DOUGH

Feed your starter overnight so that you can prepare the poolish in the morning.  Mix 30g of fresh bubbly starter with equal amounts of water and wheat flour. Cover the poolish with cling film and set aside to ferment for >6 hours in a warmer spot.

When the poolish is ready, prepare the baguette dough. Mix 10g more active starter with water, then combine the poolish. Build the dough by adding the specialty flour and wheat flour in three stages. Either gently work the dough with your hands or knead with a mixer at low speed. Let the dough sit covered for  >15 minutes.

Finally, add the salt with 40g of the reserved water. Stick your fingers into the dough and mix in the salt thoroughly. Knead and fold the dough for at least 5 minutes until it's quite smooth and elastic. 

BULK IN ROOM TEMPERATURE & SHAPING

Prepare another mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Transfer the dough into this new bowl to build strength and rise. You can give the dough a couple of sets of folds every 30 minutes if needed. Then, give the dough 3-4 hours bulk covered with a kitchen towel in room temperature.

When the dough has risen, set your shaping table ready. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and give the dough pieces a gentle ball shape on a lightly oiled working surface. Cover the dough balls and let them sit under a towel for 10 minutes. Then, carefully shape each piece into a rectangular shape: fold the piece’s both edges into the middle so that it now forms a square. Let the pre-shaped baguettes sit 20 minutes and then repeat the folds into the middle.  Finalize the long baguette shape by slowly rolling from the middle to the ends simultaneously stretching and giving more pressure to create the pointy ends.

COLD OVERNIGHT PROOF

Shape each baguette at a time and transfer them to a baking tray with a floured kitchen towel. Place the baguettes seam up. Support the baguettes from the sides so that they rise upwards. Cover well with another kitchen towel so that the surface of the dough doesn't get dry. Use a plastic bag to cover the top if necessary. Let the tray sit at room temperature for a while. Then, transfer the baguettes for a cold overnight sleep in the coldest level in the fridge.

THE BAKE DAY

In the morning, pre-heat oven 240°C (460°F) without the fan. Just before the bake, take the baguettes out of the fridge. Carefully roll each baguette on the sleeping tray from a seam up position to a normal position. Then, transfer baguettes into the baguette baking pan. Score the baguettes right before the bake. Dust a little bit of flour before the cuts for a rustic look. Make  4-5 vertical lengthwise slashes with a 45° blade angle to the surface. Go forward with the steaming method of your choice (I had an extra baking tray in the lower rack to which I added 5 ice cubes after I transferred the baguettes in).

Once in the oven, lower the temperature to 220°C (428°F). Let the steam out after the first 15 minutes. Bake the baguettes in the middle rack until golden, approximately 30 minutes. When ready, remove the baguette pan from the oven and place it on a tray to cool. 

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1 comment

Traditional French Baguettes | My Vintage Cooking 2020-07-05 - 12:50 PM

[…] Baking Homemade Baguettes with Sourdough Poolish 2020-02-23 – 6:31 PM […]

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