Beating the fourth place winner in the search for the best baguette recipe by quite a margin comes the recipe for baguettes from the Week End Bakery. These baguettes taste great, have a pleasant crumb, and a nice thin crust.
However – my hat goes off to whoever can shape these with plain flour. I could not. At all. If I had had a better flour I may have been able to do to, and I will try again when my flour delivery arrives from the USA. (Didn’t know? I am in Mexico at the moment and the choices are utterly rubbish, industrial milled AND bleached flour from Mexico or imported 11% protein organic flour, stone milled from the USA. Rewriting and testing all the recipes for the upcoming book Perfecting Sourdough wiped out my flour stock. Returning to the land of readily available wonderful flour (aka the UK) in 9 days. Not that I am counting.)
If you have completely rubbish flour, don’t expect to be able to make a baguette with this recipe. However, do expect to be able to make rough, cigar shaped loaves that look rather plain but have great flavour and texture (even with rubbish flour). Don’t bother slashing them. They don’t have the strength to hold a cut. If you have fabulous flour, this recipe will still be a challenge because it calls for 80% hydration (this makes it hard) and the poolish is 90% of the total flour weight (this makes it harder). However, we all love a challenge and the worst thing that can happen is that your baguettes are rather ugly but as we here at the global HQ of Virtuous Bread always say: everything is good toasted. Even if it’s ugly.
For the poolish:
380 g flour
304 g water
3 instant yeast
For the dough:
380 g flour
304 g water
12 g salt
1.5 g instant yeast
Total dough weight: 1384.5 g. This makes 4 big baguettes but you may want to do 6 or even 8 smaller ones so they all fit into your oven.
Dough statistics (percentage of total flour weight):
Poolish hydration: 80%
Total dough hydration: 80%
Poolish as % of total flour: 90%
12-24 hours before you want to bake your baguettes, stir together the ingredients for the poolish. Cover it and leave it for 1 hour at room temp and then stick it in the fridge for the rest of the time.
When are are ready to bake your baguettes, Weekend Bakers asks you to measure all of the dough ingredients (including the poolish from the fridge) into a big bowl and mix them together and then do a lot of waiting combined with stretching and folding. I just cannot be bothered with that – but PLEASE DO if you can be – and so here is what I did:
Mix everything together except the salt. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the salt and knead well for 10 minutes, using a machine or by hand. If you are using a machine you may need to turn the dough over by hand a few times to make sure all the flour is kneaded in. If you are kneading by hand you will want to use a scraper to help you scrape everything together as you knead. Once you have kneaded, return the dough to a bowl, cover it and let it rest for 2 hours.
Remove the dough from the bowl, put it on a floury surface, and divide it into at least four (if not six or eight) pieces. Let these sit on little floury islands for 15 minutes. Take each one and gently stretch them out into a small rectangle. Fold the top edge to the middle and gently press down. Fold the bottom edge to the middle and press down. Now fold the top edge right over to the bottom edge and, using the heel of your hand, press down firmly to seal the sides and the bottom edge, cupping the dough as you do this so that it keeps its round shape. Pick up the dough and move it away from you. Roll it toward you applying pressure with your hands to the sides to stretch out the dough. Don’t apply downward pressure – just stretch the dough out sideways. I don’t like pointy ended baguettes so I leave them rounded so that the entire baguette is the same diameter.
Place the shaped dough on a heavy cloth or tea towel that you have heavily floured and let it rest for 30-45 minutes.
After 30 minutes poke it with your finger. If the indentation comes out within a minute, the dough is ready for the oven. If not, leave it for another 10 minutes or so. Pre heat the oven to 230 celsius. Humidify the oven by lavish use of a plant sprayer. Slash the baguettes and put them in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes and then remove. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
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