French Baguette

Adapted by StarChefs.com
March 2014

INGREDIENTS:

Poolish
673 grams water
2 grams fresh yeast
673 grams Sir Galahad all-purpose flour
Baguette Dough
926 grams water
4 grams yeast
1.684 kilograms all-purpose flour
38 grams salt
oil

METHOD:

For the Poolish:
In a large bowl, combine water and yeast by hand; then mix in flour. Cover the poolish and allow it to ferment 8 to 10 hours, as close to 74ºF as possible. The final temperature should be between 72ºF to 74ºF degrees. The poolish is ripe when small bubbles in various stages of de-gassing appear on the surface, and a “wrinkle” begins to form, then slowly collapses in on itself. Smell the poolish. Touch it. Taste it. It should smell yeasty at first and feel a little hot from the small amount of alcohol fermentation generates. The poolish should also feel a slightly sticky and slimy and taste shockingly sweet, followed by nutty and fruity flavors.

For the Baguette Dough:
In the bowl of a spiral mixer, dissolve yeast in water. Gently pour in flour. Add 1.347 kilograms poolish and mix on low speed 1 minute. Add salt and continue mixing until water and flour have cleaned the bowl and the dough is a solid, uniform ball that spirals and climbs with the mixer revolutions. This should take 4 to 6 minutes (8 minutes in a planetary mixer). Increase mixing speed to second position. This is the gluten development phase. Depending on the flour, the ripeness of the poolish, the dough’s volume, and the mixer, it may develop quickly or take a little more time. Mix dough until you can stretch a small piece into a smooth, translucent window between your fingers. Don’t be afraid to stop the mixer, tear off a hunk of dough and give it the window pane test. If it fails, mix longer. You can always mix more if it’s underdeveloped. You can’t mix less when it’s over mixed. When the dough has passed the test, transfer it to an oiled tub. Cover the dough and place the tub in a 74ºF to 76ºF.

For the Bulk Fermentation:
Ferment dough 1 hour; then fold the dough. Imagine the dough has four sides. Starting with the end farthest from you, with both hands, take the whole end and gently stretch it upwards and then fold it over the end closest to you. Repeat this motion with the other three sides; then flip the whole dough over and allow it to ferment 1 more hour. If the dough comes out hot, cut the fermentation time down, if it comes out cold, increase it. Let the dough tell you what kind of day it’s having. 

For the Divide:
There should be small bubbles forming on the surface of the dough. It should feel a little gassy and warm. Flour the surface of a wooden table and the top of the dough. With a bench scraper, cut a 4-inch-wide strip from the dough. Cut the strip in to 400-gram, squares. Repeat with remaining dough.

For the Pre-shape and Bench Rest:
Fold each 400-gram piece evenly by taking the edge farthest from you and folding it into the middle. Repeat until you have shaped the dough in to a baton. Flip the baton onto its seam. Put the pre-shaped loaves on boards (or a floured sheet pan). Slide boards into a covered speed-rack. Rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

For the Final Shape:
Baguettes are tough; they’re picky, finicky, downright prissy sometimes. Shaping them is not easy. You are either adding strength or talking it away (possibly ruining it) every time you touch the dough. It’s better to have under shaped bread than dead bread. Take a pre-shaped baton and lay it on a lightly floured table, seam up. Move the baton so it’s both close to the edge of the table and parallel to it. Begin folding the baton in the same manner used for the pre-shape, but in much smaller increments. Repeat the smaller folds about 7 times. You should have a much skinnier, longer, stronger baton. With both hands, gently coax baguettes to desired length. A blunt ended or a pointy ended baguette? It’s you choice.   

For the Proof and Bake:
Proof the baguettes at 78ºF with 70 percent humidity. Heat oven to 475ºF. Line a sheet tray with fire bricks (to simulate a hearth) and heat bricks 1 hour. Score baguettes with a lame. Hold the lame at a 30º angle in relation to the top of the baguette and make the scores parallel to the length of it. With a peel, transfer baguettes onto the heated bricks. Spray baguettes with a generous mist of water. Bake until very dark golden brown. The baked baguettes should feel much lighter and have a very crisp but thin crust.