In recent weeks I tried a couple of new recipes for baguettes, but neither of those really delivered the results I wanted, either. What to do?
I put my thinking cap on, looked carefully at both recipes and techniques, and thought I could combine what I liked about each of them and discard the parts I didn't like.
Made my first effort last week, with small round loaves, and while I didn't bake them long enough for some weird reason, they had a good sourdough flavor and were easy to do. So I tried again this week.
Last week's under-baked round loaves.
The other recipe, the one from Paris, was a good bit more complex, which was fine. The nice part was it used a large stand mixer to knead the dough, which I really liked. Did a great job, no work on my part. But after that the recipe was much more complex, more like some earlier country loaves I'd tried. Much larger percentage of starter was used in the dough, and it fermented overnight in the refrigerator, then had a rather complex baking procedure involving a baking stone and a pan for adding water to create steam. I found that this one didn't rise as well as I expected, though it tasted good. Much better flavor.
One thing I didn't like about either dough was they they were both soft, spread out on cooking rather than rising into nice loaves. So I used my own proportions and ended up with a thicker, more workable dough that gives super results.
Please check out the Paris instructions and compare my recipe to her recipe. She has great step-by-step photos and I followed them up until the fermentation/baking point.
Here's my recipe:
8 ounces very ripe starter
22 ounces white flour (I use Bob's Red Mill, unbleached all-purpose)
13-14 ounces bottled water (chlorine keeps the natural sourdough yeasts from multiplying)
2 tsp salt
I let my starter get riper than she seemed to suggest, timed it so it would be ready to mix into dough in the evening, so it could sit overnight and be ready to bake in the morning. I like the flavor this gives.
These steps are essentially the ones she shows: Combine the flour, water and starter in your mixer bowl. You can mix by hand or 20 seconds or so with the dough hook on the mixer. Mix until all the flour is incorporated. I've not used the full 14 ounces of water yet, but close to it. Sorry -- best direction I can give here. I suspect that using the full 14 ounces would work fine, keeping the dough the way I want it.
Then, let it sit for 20-40 minutes in the bowl. This is the autolyse step, which lets the flour absorb all the water. At the end of this period, add the salt, knead with the mixer on low speed for 5 minutes. Cover bowl with a towel and let it sit for an hour.
At the end of the hour, fold the dough from the bottom over itself on the top, about 12 times. Re-cover with the cloth and let sit another hour. Repeat the folding process. Here's where I diverge from the Paris methods. Rather than putting the dough into the refrigerator, I put it into a lightly-oiled glass bowl, cover tightly with press & seal plastic wrap to keep air out, and leave it on the counter overnight. In my cool kitchen this takes at least 10 hours, could probably go longer. Clearly, the olive oil is not traditional with french loaves, but it's common with other yeasted breads and theoretically makes it easier for the dough to expand up the slippery sides of the bowl. If you want to be a purist, don't use it.
Form into loaves -- either baguette or round, as you prefer. If you don't have a good method for forming baguettes that works for you, I recommend viewing the video on the Paris blog. While today's loaves were on the sloppy side for me, the methodology he shows is terrific and easy. And to be totally correct, they were more batards than baguettes. Partly because I was too lazy to keep them long and skinny, and partly because I actually like larger slices of bread. Make any shape you like.
I put the loaves directly onto the sheet pan they'll bake on. Let them sit for 25-30 minutes while the oven heats to 425F.