They can be challenging but the perfect combination of timing, fermentation and fine scoring can make an extraordinary baguette: crunchy on the outside and light in the middle. The failures taste good too though, so treat these as work in progress and revisit them often. This formula uses an overnight bulk and the baguettes are shaped and baked the following day.
For stage 1: refreshment
10g (¼ oz) strong white bread flour
10g (¼ oz) water
5g (⅛ oz) wheat starter (8–10 hours after last refreshment)
For stage 2: second refreshment
91g (3¼ oz) strong white bread flour
30g (1 oz) water
For stage 3: dough mix
444g (15½ oz) white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
353g (12¼ oz) water
9g (¼ oz) sea salt
5g (⅛ oz) malt syrup or dark brown sugar
sunflower oil, for greasing
rice flour, for dusting
Place all the stage 1 ingredients in a 500ml (17fl oz) Kilner jar or container with a lid, mix, cover and leave at warm room temperature for 8–12 hours.
Add the flour, water and sugar for stage 2 to the jar containing the stage 1 starter, mix, cover and leave at warm room temperature for 6–8 hours.
Combine the flour, water and salt for stage 3 and all of the starter in a large bowl and mix with a spoon or your hand until no dry patches of flour remain visible. Use one hand rather than two; at this stage the dough is sticky and you are better off keeping one hand free of dough to hold the bowl.
Develop the dough in the bowl by hand mixing for 5–8 minutes. Or, in a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix for 2–3 minutes on a low speed then 2–3 minutes on a medium speed.
Use the sunflower oil to grease a large mixing bowl or a rectangular flat bottomed glass or plastic container with a capacity of at least 2 litres (3 pints). Transfer the dough to the bowl or container, cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Fold the dough firmly three times, with 30 minutes between each fold, then give the dough an additional ½ hour to rest.
Transfer the dough to the fridge, in the container, for 12–36 hours.
Divide the dough into 3 x 300g (11 oz) pieces, shape into rounds and place on a lightly floured surface, dusting the top of the rounds with some flour then allowing to rest for 30–40 minutes.
Dust 2 tea towels liberally with rice flour and arrange on a tray the intended length of your baguettes.
Take a round of dough, it should still be a little cold which helps to get enough tension in the shape, and turn over onto a lightly floured surface so the top, floured side is now touching the work surface. Pull gently into a slight oval shape with one of the longest sides closest to you. Fold the dough from one longer edge into the centre, repeat with the other longer edge so they meet in the middle. Then fold the dough in half so the two long edges meet. Seal the edges by pressing
firmly with your fingers to create a seam. Turn the piece of dough so the seam is underneath, touching the surface and with lightly floured hands begin to roll out from the centre to the ends with both hands applying even pressure as you roll your hands outwards. Press more firmly at the ends of the baguette so they are a little tapered. They can be long and thin or short and fat as you prefer but it is practical to bear in mind the length of your baking tray when shaping them. Dust a towel generously with rice flour and place seam-side up on the tea towel and arrange the cloth with folds coming up between each baguette; this method allows the baguettes to maintain the shape you have just formed and they support each other during the final proof. The baguettes should not touch each other, only the floured cloth. Dust the
baguettes with more rice flour once they are all on the cloths.
Leave to prove for 1–2 hours at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 240ºC/475ºF/ gas mark 8. Place a baking tray or baking stone in the oven to preheat and place a metal roasting tin or deep tray in the bottom of the oven.
Line a baking sheet (with no sides) with baking parchment. Turn your baguettes out onto the lined baking sheet and score quickly down their length, either with one long cut angled at 45º or 3–5 shorter overlapping cuts.
Load the baguettes into the oven as soon as you can after scoring them.
Use the tray to transfer them on to the preheated tray or stone on the parchment – this requires a shuffling action, you want to take care to keep your baguettes straight, as they go in the oven, so a short sharp movement to load them in will work best. Pour some water into the preheated tin in the oven, reduce the temperature to 225ºC/425ºF/gas mark 7 and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the tin of water, and bake for an additional 5–10 minutes until the desired colour is reached. Cool on a wire rack.
A recipe from Modern Sourdough by Michelle Eshkeri (White Lion Publishing).
This article was originally published on House & Garden UK
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