Monday, January 4, 2010

BBA Challenge #26: Poolish Baguettes

First of all, I'm apologizing for the gap inbetween posts. I began this post in early December, and tried to finish it the week before we left for vacation, but the week became too busy. I did manage to write it on the airplane on the way over thanks to the Apple MagSafe Airplane Adapter and's advice. However, I was sick for about 12 of those 14 vacation days and am still now recovering. I'll have a full report on what I ate, including, I hope, a post on churros, unless I burn my fingers off attempting to make them.

So here we go, Bread #26 of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge.

When I lived in Brooklyn I tended to avoid French Bread. The bread was always had a bone dry but crispy crust with the whitest interior I'd ever seen. I tended to avoid it because I, after all, made far superior bread. No, no baguettes for me.

The very first time I attempted making French Bread, as in, bread shaped like a baguette was in university. Unknown to me at the time, but actually fairly evident, was the high hydration. I remember stirring the dough. Not kneading, mind you, but actually stirring until my arm hurt. The dough eventually came together, but I thought it was going to pull my arm off with it.

Everyone loved the bread, and even said it tasted like French Bread, though I can imagine that everyone was using store-bought French Bread as a comparison. At the time, I hadn't been to very few good bakeries. And even then, what had interested me more were the baked goods- muffins and cookies in particular. So, of course I was paying no attention to the bread, so even I didn't have a marker on which to base my failure or success with the recipe. Because of this experience, I decided to stick to my basic bread recipe.

So after the near failure of the French Bread and the success of re-doing it, as well as the consistent awesomeness of the Pain a l'Ancienne, you would think that I would have an easy time making Poolish Baguettes. Well, yeah, sort of.

I always place the liquid into the DLX first, then proceed with the mixing. Here is the water, flour, and poolish in the bowl of the mixer. The formula utilizes a large portion of poolish as well as a bit of whole wheat flour. As a comparison, Daniel Leader, in his very excellent Local Breads, gives his secret ingredient as corn flour. Not corn meal, mind you, but corn flour, which is finely ground and apparently turns the bread golden.

The dough came together fairly quickly, but still needed a bit to go. I actually want to make a video of the kneading action of the DLX just to show how the bread comes together. Then again, never having seen a video or real life demo of a complete knead in any machine, maybe my methods are completely wrong.

Eventually, the bread comes together into a ball and there you have it. Windowpane (not shown) and all.

The dough rose beautifully.

And then I decided to try my hand at stretch and folds. It is often described in the bread community as stretching the bread one side over itself like a letter, though whenever I think of a letter fold, I think of folding paper to make an envelope, not the fold up and fold down that is characteristic of this fold.

Here's the dough turned 90 degrees and folded again.

Also, in Germany it is customary to use window envelopes in DIN Lang size (equivalent to business size envelopes) and fold the piece of paper in thirds like a "Z" so that the address, on the letter, is showing through the window. It's rare, even for small businesses, not to use this type of fold.

I put it back in the bowl and let it rise again.

I think I might have erred in this in that I did the stretch and folds not in steps, but only once in the middle of the rise. Recently, I made a double batch of the Pain de Campagne using stretch and fold throughout the rise. The dough rose beautifully and the gluten structure was stronger than I've ever experienced it.

So here. Maybe here is when everything began to go horribly wrong. You see what I did? I began as any normal baker would. With a batard. Except they were too thick in the middle and too tapered at the ends. If I were making batards- and I really should have stopped here- they would have come out marvelously.

But no! I went fearlessly forward and decided to do as the recipe said, despite the size of my oven and the conditions I was working with.

I actually wanted them pointy, but it didn't really work, as they were a bit too pointy and thus too long. In the end, some of the points were hanging off the baking sheets, and I had to smoosh them back so that they would still be on the sheet.

As the shaped loaves were rising, I also made a different bread. I know I've mentioned this over and over again, but on my trip to Paris I became obsessed with the Poilâne miche. So I decided to make this recipe over and over so that when the real one came, I'd be ready.

This also dovetailed with my experiments using sourdough. Even I was astounded by the crumb. In the past, with a store-bought starter I had very flat very thick bread. This was the second loaf of many to come that I made with Beatrice.

Now, you might look at the results and say, "Mon dieu! those baguettes look amazing." But- and here's where my perfectionist streak comes out- I didn't like them. Not because they didn't have the wonderful flavor or aroma of the Pain a l'Ancienne baguettes. Not because of that. And not because the flavor was very reminiscent of the Pain de Campagne. I mean, it was a similar recipe, no?

No. What I didn't like was the crust. Somehow I used too much flour when dusting the couche and not enough water in the hearth baking. Or maybe the linen wicked too much moisture from the crust. The crust was too dry and too crunchy.

Or maybe it was because I had to bake them on a blue steel baking sheet instead of directly on the stone itself. My oven is a city oven, and is relatively small, so I can fit a 30x40cm baking stone in there but with poor air circulation. Also, the rack in the oven is only 30 cm deep, so I'd have some stone hanging off the rack and fears that chunks of the stone would collapse under the weight of the bread.

Still, if you look at the crumb there are very decent holes.

Though this bread might be authentic somewhere, it was not what I wanted- a shiny crust with no flour on it. Looking back, I should have misted the breads. Or increased the hydration. Yeah. No.

I'll try these again, but perhaps when I began baking out of Leader's Local Breads. Then I'll get everything right.

I really can't argue with the flavor, though. Since this formula included some whole wheat, the bread had a much richer wheat flavor. Still, the bread was not as good as the Pain de Campagne, which is slowly becoming my go-to bread when making breads out of yeast.


  1. Great story! It's too bad that you didn't like the crumb on your poolish baguettes. I liked the crumb on mine but I didn't bake them long enough to get too brown. My oven would burn them.

    I like the idea of using corn flour. I'll have to try that. I've been wanting to try Dan Leader's techniques. I think I'll get his book.

  2. I'm sorry that you were sick! I look forward to your churros post ~ You achieved some nice holes and flavor in spite of the crumb. Bread baking is a mystery sometimes, eh?

  3. I think the bread looks amazing! And even if the perfectionist in you didn't like the result, at least you learned something for next time!

    On another note, I got super-excited when I found Leffe at a local liquor store. I practically screamed.

  4. I am blown away that you were sick 12/14 vacation days. I am sorry.

    It is nice to have the skills to become a bread snob.

    Anne Marie

  5. Even if you didn't like the crust - the crumb looks great!

  6. The loaves and crumb look great; I agree this recipe makes mediocre(taste) bread.

    Sorry to hear you were sick while on vacation.

    I can't wait to read about the churros.:)

  7. I was disappointed with my poolish baguettes, too. Maybe it has something to do with the German flour???!!!