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Sourdough Baguettes

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Makes 4 baguettes.

Note: For pictures, videos, and author’s notes see her website (below). She’s in Paris, so some of her notes are fun (and make me want to go back). But I digress…


200 grams (7 ounces) ripe “100%” natural starter
600 grams (21 ounces) wheat flour or a mix of flours
400 grams (14 ounces) purified water
1 tablespoon powdered gluten (optional, but useful if you’re working with French flours, which tend to be on the soft—i.e. low-gluten—side; you’ll find it in natural food stores)
10 grams (2 teaspoons) sea salt (I use unrefined gray salt from Guérande)

Useful (but not mandatory) equipment:
a flexible dough scraper
a plastic shower cap (the kind you get in hotel bathrooms)
a dough cutter (you can use the straight edge of the dough scraper, but a dough cutter is sharper and more efficient)
a linen kitchen towel you will reserve for your bread-making
a square or rectangular baking stone
a pizza peel
a baker’s blade


0. Day One: Check that your starter is ripe.

Your starter is ready for use when it looks a little puffy and has some bubbles on the surface, but not too many. (Start with 65 grams starter and feed it 70 grams flour plus 70 grams water, which results in 205 grams ripe starter—the extra 5 grams account for what will stay on the sides of the bowl and on the spatula).

1. Day One: Prepare the dough.

In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flours, water, starter, and gluten if using, until the mixture forms a shaggy mass and all the flour is incorporated. (I stir by hand with the dough hook first, then run my KitchenAid mixer on speed 1 for 20 seconds, just until everything is combined; you could use a dough whisk or a simple wooden spoon.)

Let the mixture sit for 20 to 40 minutes. This is the autolyse step: it allows the flour to absorb the water before the salt has a chance to draw it away.

Add the salt, and knead with the dough hook on low speed for 5 minutes. If you’re working by hand, and don’t feel comfortable kneading such a shaggy dough on the counter, you can simply “fold” the dough over itself with a dough scraper, as demonstrated in this video, for about 7 minutes.

2. Day One to Two: Ferment the dough.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest at room temperature for 1 hour. After an hour, fold the dough over itself about a dozen times—this helps give oxygen to the yeasts in the dough, it develops the flavors and builds a well-structured crumb—and cover with the kitchen towel again.

Let rest for 1 hour and fold again as above.

(At this point, I transfer the dough to a different bowl—2 liters/quarts in capacity—because the bowl of my KitchenAid does not fit in my fridge, but this is optional.)

Apply a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the dough, and a shower cap around the rim of the bowl. Push the shower cap down until it touches the plastic wrap—you want the cover to be somewhat airtight—and place the bowl in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. (Note: when I’m all done baking, I let the plastic wrap dry so I can shake off the little flakes of dough, and save the plastic wrap and the shower cap for use with my next loaf.)

3. Day Two: Shape the baguettes.

Remove the bowl from the fridge; the dough should have about doubled in size.

Remove the plastic wrap and replace it with the kitchen towel. Let the dough come back to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Place a square or rectangular baking stone on the middle rack of your oven and preheat it to 300°C (570°F) or whatever the highest temperature setting is on your oven, for 30 minutes. If you don’t have a baking stone, preheat the oven to 240°C (460°C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Have ready a well-floured linen kitchen towel that you will reserve for this use (no need to wash it after baking; the more you flour and use it, the less it will stick).

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface (I dust an old silicone baking mat heavily with flour). Divide it into four pieces of equal size; it’s hard to get them to be identical, just do your best, or use a scale to adjust. Shape each piece into a log. This is called preshaping. Give the logs a short rest, 5 to 10 minutes.

Roll each log on the counter to elongate their shape, but make them no longer than the width of your baking stone (or cookie sheet). After shaping each baguette, place it on the floured kitchen towel and pull the cloth up on each side to form a ridge that will support its shape. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for the remainder of the preheating.

4. Day Two: Create steam in the oven.

During the last 5 minutes of preheating, insert a rimmed baking sheet in the lowest rack of the oven, underneath the pizza stone. Bring about 360 ml (1-1/2 cups) water to the boil in the kettle. Just before you’re ready to insert the baguettes in the oven, make sure you wear something with long sleeves and put on an oven mitt. Using a vessel with a pouring spout (such as a measuring jug), pour half of the boiling water into the rimmed baking sheet—it will sizzle and steam and it will be a bit scary—and close the oven door right away. This is to create a nice, steamy environment, to foster the formation of a nice crust. Be careful not to burn yourself as you do this—that is what the long sleeve and oven mitt are for—and keep kids and pets out of the kitchen for this step.

5. Day Two: Slash and bake the baguettes.

If you’re using a baking stone, place 2 of the baguettes on a well-floured pizza peel; if you’ve noticed your baguettes are not quite all the same size, start with the two biggest ones. Slash each of them 3 times with a baker’s blade or a sharp knife, working the blade at a 45° angle. Slide them onto the pizza stone, working quickly to prevent the heat and steam from escaping.

Repeat with the 2 remaining baguettes. Pour the remaining water into the rimmed baking sheet, and lower the temperature to 220°C (430°F).

If you don’t have a baking stone, arrange the four baguettes on the prepared cookie sheet. Slash them as directed and insert into the middle rack of the oven. Pour the remaining water into the rimmed baking sheet, but don’t lower the temperature.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rearranging them after 15 minutes so the ones at the front of the oven will be in the back and vice versa, until the baguettes are golden brown, and sound hollow when tapped at the bottom. If the color is good but they sound like they could use a little more baking, turn off the oven and leave the baguettes in for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool for an hour before eating.

©Clotilde Dusoulier

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