Nov 7, 2011

French Baguettes with a Poolish Starter

Lately, I've been branching out and lending more effort towards learning more advanced techniques used by true bread artisans and adding to my own repertoire of bread making. So I wanted to give a hand at making true "French" baguettes. A type of bread that is usually shaped into a long thin loaf and has that chewy-crispy-hardy type crust on the outside with a tender-stretchy inside that was full of holes and crevices. I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour web site and just had to try it. 


It begins with making a poolish (or pouliche in French), which is a yeast starter, that is made a full day in advance. Basically, it's a method of pre-fermentation of part of the bread ingredients. This gives the yeast time to eat, grow and develop flavor for the baguettes. Now, some would call this a "sourdough" starter, but it's not really a true sourdough. Although, you mix the poolish starter ahead of time, and this bread does have more flavor than a traditional yeast dough, it isn't given the amount of time it takes for the flavors to get really strong as in the case of a true sourdough starter. So call it a "poolish", it is what it is. LOL (I'll go more into making sourdough starter and bread in later posts).


You do have to make the poolish a full 12-24 hours beforehand and the timing is a bit tricky, catching it just at the right time for making the dough. Also, on bread baking day, it may need more time than the average traditional yeast dough to rise, a little extra care in the shaping of the loaves, and an extra step or two in the baking process.... so plan accordingly.


For the Poolish (yeast starter):
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup cool water (approximately 60°F)
a pinch of instant yeast


Making the poolish: Before you begin, the water that you use needs to be de-chlorinated. This is so the chlorine (found in tap water) doesn't inhibit the yeast and interfere with the fermentation. So either use bottled water, or, set some tap water out at room temperature for about 24 hours before using. Then, in a clean plastic or glass container, combine the flour, water and yeast; mix until well-blended. It will be a bit thick, like biscuit dough.


Set the container somewhere in a warm place and either cover with a clean towel, or cover with a lid but do not seal the lid completely. You do want some air flow that will help to encourage the yeast along. 
Let the poolish rise, covered, at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The time will vary according to your kitchen environment. My kitchen is always warm and it only took about 14 hours.


Poolish (starter) ready!
It should just about double in size, dome slightly on top, and look aerated and bubbly. Try to catch it when it is most active, but before it starts to fall, as it will be at its optimum flavor and vigor when it's at its highest point. If you try to use it too soon, your bread won't have very much flavor plus it won't rise properly because the yeast isn't active enough. If you wait too long, the yeast will have lost it's "umph" and your bread texture will be off. The key here is obviously, to use it when the yeast is still active and bubbly! Now you're ready to make some dough....

For the Bread Dough:
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
all of the poolish
3/4 cup cool water (approximately 60°F)

Place the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of your mixer and combine. Next, pour some of the measured water around the edges of the poolish in its container to loosen it. Pour the poolish and the rest of the water onto the flour. Using the flat beater paddle, mix the dough on low speed for 3 minutes, adding more flour or water if necessary to bring the dough together. The dough should look a little sticky, but should clean the sides of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook, knead for 4 minutes, cleaning the dough from the hook at the 2-minute mark. (By the way, you can by all means mix and knead this by hand.) 

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl or greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel, and let the dough rise for 2 hours, folding it over onto itself in the bowl after the first hour (or more frequently, if the dough is very slack or wet; this folding helps strengthen the gluten)

Shaping the loaves: Divide the dough into three pieces and gently pre-form it into rough logs by first flattening out a piece into a short rectangle. Gently pressing, being careful not to let out the air bubbles. 

Next, fold the top 1/3 down, then down again. Gently press edge with hand and cover all of the logs with a towel. Let it rest for 20 minutes. Resting will help you to be able to shape the baguettes easier. They will continue to rise and bubbles in the dough develop. 

With keeping the other two logs covered, take one log and gently press it out again into a longer, more narrow rectangle. Use the side of your hand to make an indentation and without pressing too much. You don't want to "kill" all of your bubbles. Those bubbles are going to grow up to be the holes and crevices in your bread ;)

Fold the top half over and pinch edge with side of hand. Or your fingers. This "pinching" will help the loaf to stay together and not unfold, or burst out while baking.

Next, pinch the end edges so they stay together. Finally, gently roll the log back and forth to form a long baguette. Notice how I have the seam facing upward? This is so I can check and make sure it is totally sealed, centered and I know how to place it on the baking sheet. 

Now carefully place the baguettes, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet.  
Proof the baguettes, covered, on your baking sheet or baguette pan until they're puffy looking, 30 to 40 minutes. (they may not rise double in size, but close) Alternatively, you can place them on a heavily floured towel or sling to proof. Then when it's time to bake, gently roll them off onto a baking sheet, baguette pan, or baking stone.

Meanwhile, set a large pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven (I use my heavy duty lasagna pan). Now preheat your oven (and your baking stone, if you have one) to 500°F. We start off with a very hot oven because this gives bread a boost, allowing it to rise more quickly. (often referred to as "oven spring")

Speaking of oven spring, just before putting the loaves into the oven, slash the tops several times. Hold a very sharp knife (or razor blade) at a 45° angle to the dough's surface, and slice long diagonal lines quickly and decisively, about 1/2-inch deep. This will help the loaves to keep their shape.

Prep your oven: Spritz the loaves with water (optional), place them in the oven, directly above the pan of steaming hot water, and reduce the oven temperature to 475°F. The steam will help the loaves obtain the crusty outside and chewy inside texture that is indicative of French baguettes. Alternatively, you can spray the inside of your hot oven with water in a spray bottle. I just used the pan with water and found it sufficient. Whatever you do, choose at least one of the steaming methods, it really does make a difference in the texture of the crust.

Baking: Bake the loaves for 18 to 24 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven when they're a deep, golden brown, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Allow air flow completely around the loaves if you want to maintain that crispy texture. Also, you can allow to completely cool, then wrap in aluminum foil wrap and store in the freezer. Makes for a quick and delicious garlic bread, or add some sauce and toppings for pizza bread, or cut into thin slices and toast for crustini. 

If your interested in an easy printable version (and the original recipe without my ramblings LOL) you can find it here:


4 comments:

Patti T. said...

Not sure where my other post went. Welcome back to the land of bloggers. What a great recipe to start with, I had never heard of poolish, I can't wait to try this. You might want to know, I had to switch to classic from mosaic to be able to post.

DDpie said...

Thanks patti! and thanks for the heads up. Yeah, found some other probs with this template too. I might be changing back.

Cathy W said...

I'm so glad you're back!! I love what you did with the blog--I have questions for you--will message. The bread looks fantastic, but then I don't expect anything less from you! :)

Nelly said...

Love love love this post! So many tips and secrets that I never knew before! Thanks DD x