JUMP TO RECIPE -
I must confess that the very first bread in my house was baked by the Weather Man. About ten or twelve years ago (where does the time go???) I remember I went away for a few days and came back to find a home-baked loaf! No, it wasn’t sourdough and yes, it was rather stodgy but to give the Man his due he was a trail-blazer.
My first breads were fairly simple, following recipes religiously, the recipes found here and there, better and worse. Then I got a bread making machine and we both kowtowed to it every time we set it on, marvelling at the miracle of flour, yeast and water turned into cheese sandwiches. Then I became plucky and intrepid, using the machine just to knead the dough and throwing my artisanal loaves recklessly into my reliably unreliable oven.
I came into my own after the revelation that was Andrew Whitley’s book ‘Bread Matters’ which I read like bestselling fiction and then re- and re-read, and still haven’t quite made all the breads it features (pirozhki, your time will come). I tackled sourdough, spelt, rye bread and even Borodinsky with reasonable success. But I kept tripping over a particular Achilles’ heel: baguettes.
I know, I know - the industrial oven. The steam. The special bannetons to prove and/or bake in, or the swathes of heavily floured linen cloth. I tried it all bar the oven (see above about oven) and invariably the outcome was decent but meh.
Until this brilliant inspiration from txfarmer at The Fresh Loaf. I’ve made these baguettes three times now - completely successful, and just look at those air bubbles…
- 425g flour, strong bread or French type 55
- 300g iced water
- 150g sourdough starter
- 10g sea salt
The recipe for those who have a sourdough starter stashed away in the fridge – any wheat starter will do, at about 100% hydration so fairly sloppy. If you need to make it up first, here’s the recipe for the San Francisco starter, and this is the pineapple juice starter – which I used as that one had been sitting in the fridge.
Refresh the starter, if you need to, on the day you make the sponge, but at least 8 hours earlier. Possible timing guidelines:
Day 1 midday – refresh starter
Day 1 night – make the first mix
Day 2 morning – add starter and salt, work the dough
Day 3 morning – shape and bake
On the night of day 1 mix the flour and water roughly, to make shaggy dough. Cover and put in the fridge for 12 hours. If you’ve refreshed the starter earlier, also put it in the fridge overnight.
The next morning add the sourdough starter and the salt to your mix and hand mix it in well, it will be fairly sticky. Cover and leave at room temperature. For the next 2-3 hours (depending on the ambient temperature and how quickly the dough will revive), every 30 minutes pick the dough from the bowl with oiled hands and stretch and fold it on itself until it resists to stretch any more. Put it back in the bowl and cover. At the end of this exercise the dough should feel almost as warm as body temperature and should be significantly smoother and springier. Cover and return it to the fridge for about 24 hours (don’t wait quite as long if the dough doubles in volume; mine went to the fridge about 11 am and I took it out at 8 the next morning).
The following morning take it out of the fridge first thing to bring it back to room temperature and to complete the rise, for about 2 hours. After that time turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in three or four pieces. Flatten each piece to a rectangular shape and roll up quite tightly. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Shape the baguettes: flatten the roll of dough into a rectangle again, fold top half to the centre, then fold its corners on top, like ears. Turn the dough round 180 degrees and do the same with the other side. Now fold in half stretching the outer surface and seal the seam. Roll from the middle outwards to aim for 40cm length. Place the baguettes on parchment folded upwards between each two, to help keep their shape. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 30-40 minutes.
In the meantime preheat a baking stone or a heavy baking sheet in an oven set to 220C/450F/gas 8. Place another baking dish at the bottom of the oven, or prepare a spray bottle to inject steam.
Using a baker’s lame, razor blade or a very sharp knife, cut several slashes lengthwise in each baguette. Transfer the baguettes with the parchment onto the preheated stone or sheet, throw a very wet cloth onto the bottom tray or spray the inside of the oven with water and close it immediately. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the steam source and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn the oven off, leave the baguettes in for a few minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack.