Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sourdough Starter and Bread Adventure: 7 Sourdough Baguette

Last weekend, with Bastille Day approaching, I made a plan to prepare some French food and decided to give the baguettes from the Breads from the La Brea Bakery book a go. This is the one bread that had me completely intimidated. It’s such a simple thing. They’re everywhere. Why so scary? Well, I had read about how tricky it can be to create a great baguette with the right crust, a good texture, and some flavor, and I had no idea what kind of results I could hope to expect. In the intro to this recipe, Silverton describes in detail what she believes makes a good baguette and the difference between fluffy ones and the rustic sourdough variety. Her recipe, and what you see here, is the latter. The classic, airy baguette is made with commercial yeast, but many of those contain added conditioners and extra yeast in an attempt to prolong their shelf life. Rustic sourdough baguettes have a caramelized brown exterior and pointy, irregular ends rather than smooth. The crust is slightly thicker and should shatter when you bite into it. The bread should compress as you bite it and then slowly rise back into shape. As usual, I followed the instructions in the book exactly, with a lot of uncertainty, and winged it.

This happens to be the same dough recipe that I followed for my first ever use of sourdough starter. There is no additional commercial yeast, just sourdough starter, bread flour, raw wheat germ, water, and salt. It was February when I made that first bread, and the house was several degrees cooler. Since then, my starter has developed better flavor, and the warmer temperature in the house this time around had a great affect on the dough rising. It worked so much better this time I was amazed. After the first rise, the dough was split into four pieces which were allowed to rest for 15 minutes. Then, each piece was folded and then rolled and shaped into a baguette. The rolling was actually easier with no flour on the board. It’s necessary for there to be some friction for the dough to be lengthened into the proper shape. Speaking of the proper shape, these are not skinny, classic baguette batons. Silverton points out that you should create the loaves to fit your oven, so for most home ovens, they will have to be shorter than commercial baguettes. I actually made mine the length of my baking stone, so they weren’t even quite the full size of my oven. The shaped loaves were nestled into a floured cloth, covered with another cloth, tucked into a plastic garbage bag, and left to rest in the refrigerator overnight.

The usual baking procedure was followed the next day. The loaves were removed from the refrigerator and allowed to come up to room temperature while the oven was heated to 500 F. The loaves were slashed, and I really need a good razor to do this because a knife just doesn’t work very well, the oven was spritzed, the temperature was reduced to 450 F, and in went the loaves. More spritzing ensued during the first five minutes, and the total baking time was about 30 minutes.

I was almost afraid to look in the oven at the end of the baking time. What if there was no caramelized brown crust? What if they were pale, sickly, distant cousins of a rustic baguette? And, then, I opened the oven door. And, then, I started dancing around and screaming about how pretty they were, and then I had to wait before I could taste them. Finally, I picked up a bread knife. The crust seemed good as I cut a piece. After a hurried photo shoot, I finally tasted it, and I realized this was the best bread I’ve made yet. All of that information about how the crust should shatter and the bread should compress was exactly what I experienced. I couldn’t believe it, and I think I have the weather to thank for it. I’ll definitely be baking baguettes year-round, but I have a feeling the summer bread will be hard to beat. This bread alone is worth the effort of maintaining a starter. I almost forgot, most importantly, I have the French to thank for inventing baguettes. Happy Bastille Day!

I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting, hosted this week by Nick at imafoodblog, where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.


33 comments:

  1. woohoo - I share your excitement, nothing better than seeing a beautiful loaf of bread that you made yourself!

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  2. stop, just stop right now...you are going to cause me to want to make bread with these beautiful loaves of yours - its too hot to fire up the oven!

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  3. OMG that baguette looks so crispy I could eat it alone!!!

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  4. Beautiful baguettes!! Congratulations :-)

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  5. Your bread-making skills really are progressing - I'm impressed and envious. I still haven't tried doing sourdough again, not since I had to throw away the big glass jar because the black crust was creeping over the sides... Lesson? Manage your starter or it will manage your kitchen!

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  6. Lisa, you have done a GREAT job!
    Thumb up!!

    Angie's Recipes

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  7. I've always wanted to makes my own sourdough bread, but I wasn't always sure what ingredients were in them. I'll keep this starter in mind. It would definitely help a lot!!

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  8. OMG, it looks so good! Perfect loaves! Better than at the bakery...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  9. thanks lisa!

    Your sourdough looks amazing!!! I wish I wasnt too lazy to try making my own!

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  10. I love bread with lots of holes! Looks so amazing.

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  11. Wow Lisa, you really beat me here. I still haven't tried my hands on baguette. Well done. Love the crumb!

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  12. I've been looking for a baguette recipe. Thanks!

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  13. Quite a perfect crust. Just the kind of baguette to slide in a paper bag and trot off to work with. Mmmmm.

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  14. These look perfect! You did a great job!

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  15. Sourdough is one of those things that I am still afraid of trying. Maybe I'll man up before the year ends, LOL.

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  16. Your sourdough baguettes are picture perfect. I am so impressed that you made these. I swear, they look as good as those at the finest French bakeries.

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  17. wow, that crumb is amazing. Great job!

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  18. I am so impressed by your skills! I love to eat only sourdough bread but I have never made it before myself!! You did an excellent job!

    MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM,...!!!!

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  19. Perfect baguettes! I wish I know how to make one.

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  20. your baguettes look quite similar to the sourdough loaves i know and love to make. my crust isn't usually that crispy, and now i want it to be. :)

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  21. I'm sure it has a wonderful smell in the whole house while baking. Even that smell is enough to get excited. Looks great!

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  22. Lisa, bravo...the bread looks wonderful. I wish I could smell it as it baked.

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  23. These are truly wonderful Lisa. On my wish list of things to achieve one day!! ♥♥♥

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  24. It looks amazing with that jelly!

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  25. Perfect bread and perfect descriptions. My birthday is at the end of this month and I am compiling a list of the things I would like to accomplish in the coming year. Sourdough starter is one.

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  26. This is gorgeous! I particularly like the shots of the crumb and of the bread smeared with jam. Now I'm hungry!

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  27. I think you stood up well to the challenge!

    I never get these things scored correctly - even when I use my extremely sharp straight razor (that I use for shaving). I have been told on good authority by Joe, of joepastry.com, that a serrated shun utility knife he has it better than any professional lame he's used. Still haven't tried it myself.

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  28. I have the la brea bakery book and I've been to intimidated to use it. I think you just talked me into making baguettes. Yours look wonderful!

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  29. Your baguettes look great! Like Nick I am never satistfied with my scoring even when I use a razor blade. Maybe it is a matter of practice?! But your scoring looks great.

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  30. Wow. So perfect looking. Great job!

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  31. This looks fantastic! I've just started bread baking and have had some success.I've been looking for a great French baguette recipe. Isn't baking your own bread so satisfying?

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  32. These sourdough baguettes look perfect, right down to the slits on top! I would not have been able to show the restraint you did - one loaf would have been consumed immediately out of the oven! At least, there was another to be photographed!

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  33. I just started my first sourdough starter yesterday. I am hoping that I have as much as you did. Any tips you can provide for the feedings, etc?

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