A complete guide to crusty homemade sourdough baguettes!
I was on a mission to finding the secret or holly grail to making perfect sourdough baguette at home. In a bakery, this would be a no big deal with all the state-of-the-art mixers, proofers and ovens. But it can be quite challenging at home.
First of all, a baguette is nothing but a type of bread in the form of a long stick. The main reason for shaping the dough into a long stick is to get more of the crust. Baguettes are usually broken by hand rather than sliced and served with stews. If not they are split lengthwise used to make sandwiches. There are a few characteristics to a baguette:
- long stick like shape
- Crusty exterior
- Very open crumb
So in-order to achieve the above, we need to make sure to do the following;
- Shaping/molding to create tension
- Use steam while baking
- a higher hydration ( above 70% is recommended)
You can use a basic bread recipe and turn it into a baguette. The only differences are in retarding and shaping. It is best to let the dough retard as a bulk. If you shape the baguettes and try to retard, they tend to lose their shape and sometimes, become too wet or soft to handle. This makes it harder to score and transfer to the oven. So the best practice is to bulk retard the dough and shape prior to baking.
I have figured out, with time, the less you knead the dough, the better. Gluten is developed over time. And we will only use stretch and folds at intervals to create the strength. This will require no mixer at all.
With all the basic sorted, lets get to the steps
A first step is to get the starter ready. Feed the starter 6-7 hours before making the bread. Use a 100 % starter, meaning 1 part water to 1 part flour to feed the culture.
e.g: 50 g flour, 50 g water to feed 1 tsp starter
This is how my ripe start looked like at it’s peak
More about starter
Mix the flour, water (leave 3 tbsp of water for later) and starter in a large plastic bowl. Mix only to combine everything just like shown in the picture. Now close the lid and leave for about an hour to autolyze.
Gluten will be developed during this time, without our intervention
After about an hour, add the salt. Dissolve the salt in the left out water and add to the dough. Mix until a smooth dough is formed. Place in the plastic bowl, cover and leave to rest for 45 minutes until the first stretch and fold (s&f).
we will do 3 s&f during bulk
Stretch & fold
Give a stretch and folds (s&f) at 45 minutes and repeat two more at 45 minute intervals. At every fold, you should see the air bubbles on the outside. With every s&f, the dough will start to feel more elastic and stronger. At the end of 3 rd s&f, rest the dough for about 2 hours .
Then, cover with a well-fitted lid and refrigerate for several hours/ overnight
On the following day, take out the dough and leave at room temperature for 4-5 hours, until you start to see air bubbles and the dough is risen considerably
Tip the dough slowly on to a floured surface and form a dough ball, without knocking out too much air. The dough should be wobbly and full of air pockets. let this rest for about 5-10 minutes.
This step will make it easier to handle the dough when you try to divide and pre-shape
This is important to create the necessary stretch of the outer skin. Divide the dough in to two pieces, and shape each into a log shape.
Cover with a light dusting of flour and leave uncovered for about 30 minutes to rest.
Traditionally a couche is used for this purpose. But you can substitute this with a thick clean tea towel. Dust it with flour and semolina generously.
This is where we are going to proof the baguettes
Shape the dough into baguettes and place on the prepared tea towel. Let these rest and proof for about an hour or 1 1/2 hours. Preheat the oven in the meantime.
Check the video attached below for shaping
Transfer the proofed baguettes on to a peel or on to a tray lined with parchment as shown in the picture.
Dust the baguettes with a little flour and score the top using sharp blade.
Once the oven is ready place in the oven, on the pizza stone/skillet along with the parchment and bake according to instructions below.
This is what I use to generate steam. A bread loaf pan with a tea towel tucked in. Pour boiling water until tea towel is covered and place this during the last few minutes of preheating
- Preheating and baking instructions
- Get a oven thermometer, this is your best friend. Place it in the oven.
- Place a pizza stone or a large enough cast iron skillet on a rack placed at the top half of the oven
- Preheat oven. I had to set digital display to 520 F and heat for 45 minutes to get to 500F on the oven thermometer inside
- Get a bread pan, lay a tea towel and fill it with boiling water(check image above)
- Place this pan in the oven on a lower rack during the last few minutes of the preheating
- Let temperature reset, if it dropped when you opened the door
- Be careful when you open the door next, the oven will be full of hot steam, waiting to be released
- Transfer the baguettes on to a peel
- If you don’t have a peel, place a parchment paper on the back of a cookie sheet or a large tray and use this to transfer baguettes to oven, along with the parchment
- Score the baguettes while on the peel/parchment
- Place the baguettes in the oven on the pizza stone and close the door
- Temp will plummet right down (450F on thermometer) but that’s okay, it will come back up to 475 F. Maintain at 475 F.
- Keep an eye and bake at 475 F for 15 minutes
- Then reduce the internal oven temperature to 450 F(thermometer will read something around 450 – 430)
- Remove steam and bake for another 12 minutes
- When you remove the stream, the temperature will drop, so keep an eye and adjust accordingly
- Then, switch the oven off and bake for a further 10 minutes, with the residual heat
Cool baguettes on a wire rack.
There you have it. This is everything I have learnt and I hope you will find answers to you questions/problems in this post. When it comes to baguettes, the recipe is only 20 % of the whole process. It is the timing, dough consistency, bulk proofing, shaping and most importantly baking is what matters most.
Following is a simple recipe for two baguettes which I used for experiments. Once you have mastered the technique, feel free change the recipe and try something different!