baguettes at home

February 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Sourdough bâtards and baguettes

Yesterday was a bread bake day, and our “house bread” is sourdough. I have a starter from my culinary school days, when I was a student (not an instructor). And since I was one of those “career changers” (from the software industry to the food industry), my starter is only thirteen years old. Considering all the changes in my life over this time, I’m happy that my starter’s still with me. It’s happy, since I’m baking bread at home pretty often now. Of course, we don’t try to eat this much bread at a time, so loaves are always shared with friends. Love it!

I have a few sourdough recipes I rely on, depending on whether I want to use a loose wet starter (like a heavy pancake batter) or a drier stiff starter (like bread dough) as I did in the previous Sourdough Sunday post. If I want to speed up the process or am looking for milder flavor, I’ll build a wet starter from my refrigerated storage starter (also know as a “mother”). My starter keeps its activity pretty well in the refrigerator, and I usually only have to feed it once before it’s ready to act as a leavener. But most recipes suggest two feedings to build up your starter’s bulk and activity if you’ve refrigerated it more than a week. You can tell that these loaves still had plenty of “push” in them when baked, as they burst through some of the score marks compared to the ones I baked on Superbowl Sunday. I should have scored them deeper this time to prevent that; deeper cuts would also have given them a more open crumb and better oven rise too. Don’t be afraid to be bold when baking bread!

Starter ready to work

Very Important! Don’t forget to save a little and feed it to store in the refrigerator for the next bake!

Starter in the mixer bowl

Mix room temperature water into the starter

Add flours (I used 3 parts white bread flour, 1 part mix of whole wheat and rye)

A rough mix with the flat beater

Cover and rest (autolyse)

Pause for some nerdy technical detail: Autolyse (which means “self digest” or “self destruct”) is when you mix the flour and water (including wet starters or “pre-ferments”) of a bread recipe and let that rest for a time. The flour and water are mixed enough so they are incorporated but you stop before developing gluten by kneading. During this early rest time the dough becomes stronger and more extensible, able to stretch without tearing. The well-hydrated flour proteins form stronger gluten strands, while the protease enzyme (in the flour) breaks down some of the gluten for better extensibility. Since this happens without mixing, less oxygen is incorporated into the dough; oxidation bleaches color, whitening the natural cream color of the flour, and causes loss of the wheat’s flavor in the bread (à la industrial white wonder breads). We also learn when TWD’ers made “White Loaves”, that long and fast kneading burned out KitchenAid mixers and occasionally caused them to walk off of counters when unsupervised. This is why I opted for a very looong autolyse this time (almost an hour), as a tripled recipe probably exceeded the capacity of my 6-quart mixer.

Sprinkle the salt evenly before kneading

After a minute on low speed 2, gluten develops quickly and the dough climbs up the hook. Yup! Too large of a batch for my mixer.

Dough turned out onto floured board after first bulk rise

Dough after folding in thirds in both directions (“punch down”)

Final bulk rise; keeping track of time

Dough turned out after final bulk rise; note its increased volume and “billowiness”

Start to divide and pre-shape to make two large loaves and three baguettes

Pre-shapes resting under plastic to prevent a dry “skin” from forming here in Colorado

Final shaping done; loaves and baguettes ready to proof (since it’s winter I can retard them overnight in the cold garage)

The next morning, proofed baguettes on floured couche (heavy cotton cloth folded to keep loaves apart and absorb moisture)

At this point I have already baked off the two large batârd loaves, so the oven is already hot and steamy from the pan of water I used in that bake. As I replenish the hot water in the pan, I realize that my baguettes are too long to slide onto my baking stone. Sacrebleu! So I transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet to get them into the oven.

Baguette has been lightly floured before rolling over onto the flip board

Baguette now right side up on flip board

Transferred to pan. Whoops! Should have used the scale when I divided the dough yesterday; the skinny one will be done first

Scored and ready for the oven

Scores didn’t open into classic “ears” but good oven rise and color

Nice open crumb, slightly chewy crust

Remember the starter?

Here’s starter that I saved and fed when I made the dough yesterday. I keep it as a drier stiff starter so it takes up less room (this is a small pint-sized container) and doesn’t over-ferment while refrigerated between baking days, about ten days apart.

Hana approves!

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