Sunday, December 4, 2016

Easy, delicious sourdough baguettes

I've tried a number of sourdough bread recipes over the past year or so since I got my starter started. Country loaves, baguettes, other things. Most were either too time-consuming or too much of a pain in the neck, without offering up the delicious, robust breads I had in mind.

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.

One of the recipes was super-simple. The dough was sticky, had to be mixed and kneaded by hand, but used a small proportion of sourdough and a short fermentation period. But there were no tricks to the baking process. Just put it in the oven and bake.

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.

This is what it looks like in the morning. Not a lot of sourdough-looking bubbles on top and while those might increase with time, I tend to use it this way so it doesn't overferment, while it still has lots of spring to it. It has more than doubled in size.

Doesn't show too well here, but there are lots of bubbles on the side of the bowl and on the bottom. It's well-fermented.

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.

When ready, use the tool of your choice (a single-edge razor blade works for me) and slash the loaves in a way that works for you. As I've been trying these recipes, I've finally learned that when they say 'slash', they mean deep slashes. Much deeper than the timid efforts I made the first time around. The deeper you slash the more the bread can expand and puff up. As you can see, the dough was already expanding here, moments after I slashed the last loaf. Note: the two loaves on the right were not formed well and were too close together, so during baking time I had to separate them. Be more careful than I was.

After about 20 minutes of baking, I removed the loaves from the pan and put them directly on the oven rack. This seems to give them stronger, better heat. Then I left them until they were well-browned, a total of just over 30 minutes.

Beautiful! Nice crumb, well-risen. Exterior is crisp, interior is moist and chewy and very reminiscent of San Francisco sourdough. Strong flavors, great texture.  This is a winner and a keeper. I ate the loaf I cut, put the others in the freezer. Now I need to find somebody to give them to!

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