Monday, December 14, 2009

Poolish Baguettes

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When I was trying to think of a new bread to make this weekend, it occurred to me that I hadn't made a baguette in a very long time. I found this recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and it looked like I'd be able to bake it on Saturday while I was writing a brief. It worked out very well--I sat at the counter and typed away on my laptop (about what the burglary statute means by a "person in lawful possession") while occasionally checking the progress of this slow-rising dough.
All I had to do on Friday was mix up the poolish until it started its bubbling action, and then put it in the refrigerator overnight.

I made a whole recipe of poolish, and didn't realize until Saturday that I only needed a cup of it. The poolish was so lively and gluteny that I couldn't bear to throw it away, so I googled "freezing poolish." According to a source, whether reliable or unreliable I have yet to find out, poolish can be frozen for up to three months and used successfully if it's brought back to room temperature. We'll see.
The real fun started when I tried to approximate something called "clear flour." Reinhart says that you get this by sifting whole wheat flour and leaving behind the bran. He also says, not particularly helpfully, that most home sifters don't have fine enough holes to separate the flour from the bran. (Is this anything like separating the wheat from the chaff?) If there is not a sizeable amount of bran left behind in the sifter, he says, you'll know it's not working.

I sifted out only two pieces of bran from over a cup of flour, so I could see that this wasn't going to work. I searched my kitchen for something with finer mesh than a sifter, and came up with an ancient tea caddy. This actually worked pretty well.

However, since I could sift only about a tablespoon at a time, I got tired of it before I sifted through the entire 8 ounces, so I filled in with extra bread flour. (This is what Reinhart suggests if you can't sift away the bran, so I felt I had permission to do it that way). I did get a nice mountain of very finely sifted flour.

The dough came together nicely, and went into a bowl for a two-hour rise.

It looks a little like an angry mask, doesn't it? But after the first rising, and a little hand-kneading, it loses its angry appearance and just looks like bread dough.

Another few hours, and the dough is ready to divide and shape.

The dough scraper is one of those little gadgets that, once you have it, you don't see how you ever did without it.
The dough almost shaped itself into three baguettes.

I loved the way these baguettes looked when they came out of the oven--just the right deep brown color, and the kitchen smelled exactly the way your house is supposed to smell if you're trying to sell your house: warm, homey, yeasty, delicious.

Because it looked so beautiful, it was a bit of a letdown to taste the bread. It was good. It had a very nice wheaty flavor, but it didn't have the open, chewy texture that I was hoping for.

It wasn't bad at all, but I would have to say that it wasn't worth the time spent sifting flour through a tea caddy. I'd like to try something made with authentic "clear flour" sometime to see what this bread is supposed to taste like. Meanwhile, I'll look for other recipes to use up my frozen poolish, and hope I remember to do it sometime in the next three months.

Poolish Baguettes
--adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart

1 cup (7 ounces) poolish*
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, sifted (or use all bread flour except for about 2 tablespoons of unsifted whole wheat flour)
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. (.37 ounce) salt
3/4 tsp. (.08 ounce) instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups (9 to 10 ounces) water

1. Stir together the flours, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the poolish pieces and the water, and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball. Add more water or flour as needed, to create a dough that is soft but not sticky.

2. Knead on medium speed with dough hook about six minutes, until dough is soft and pliable. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, coating all over with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Let rise about 2 hours, or until dough is nearly doubled in size. Remove dough from bowl and knead about a minute. Return to bowl and cover again.

4. Let rise another 2 hours until dough is doubled in size.

5. Divide dough in 3 pieces on a floured counter. Shape into baguettes. Putting them in a three-baguette pan works perfectly. Let rise another hour.

6. Preheat oven to 500. Place baking stone on lower third of oven. Slash baguettes with knife or razor blade, and put in oven. Create steam in oven by putting either about 1/2 cup ice cubes or 1 cup hot water in preheated pan on rack below the rack with the baking stone.

7. Spray additional water twice on oven walls at 30-second intervals, if desired, and then lower heat to 450. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate pan, and bake for another 8 to 12 minutes, until bread is golden brown.

8. Remove bread from oven and let cool on a rack.

*Poolish (Makes about 23 ounces)

Stir together 2 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour, 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water, and 1/4 tsp. instant yeast. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temp. for 3 to 4 hours, or until bubbly and foamy. Refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Remove from refrigerator an hour or two before using.


Cathy (breadexperience) said...

Your baguettes look beautiful! I love the Poolish Baguettes. Are you participating in the BBA Challenge?

evil cake lady said...

well, they look pretty even if they aren't quite what you were hoping for, and after all that straining through a little tea strainer!! Since they look better than they taste maybe you should varnish them and use them as decoration during buffets and potlucks :)

doughadear said...

The baguettes look so professional! I really thought you would be singing the praises of this bread and especially since it came from Peter Reinhart. I have the same strainer and now I know what not to use it for.
Evil Cake Lady's comment about varnishing them cracked me up, no wonder I love this blog!

Jenn said...

Marie - I've been making the basic Hearth Bread from Bread Bible and the Raisin Pecan Bread. They're so good! I do need to branch out and try other recipes, want to try the Ciabatta (though this require more time preparation - sponge needs to be made 6 hours to 3 days ahead).

breadbasketcase said...

I am not, although I've read about it. I've got all I can handle with the cake challenge (, but I'll certainly be baking more of the BBA breads.

I love the idea of shellacking them for posterity--or just for decoration--but they were certainly worth eating. I've got one loaf left, in the freezer, and I think it will be eaten, although it is about the prettiest looking bread I've ever made.

That's why I love it too!

A friend of mine got The Bread Bible on my recommendation and she makes the basic heart bread once a week, but she likes it so much she's never been able to get beyond that one recipe. I like to try new things, but there's a lot to be said for finding a great recipe and sticking with it.

Jenn said...

Marie - it all depends on what one likes and what makes one happy. I think it's very awesome when people take time to cook/bake (can you tell I don't have many cooks/bakers in my circle of life? :)) I have been making the basic boule (from "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day") for a year - never dared to try another bread recipe. Until stumbling upon your bread blog here (and with your encouragement), I got the Bread Bible and now am more courageous to try new bread recipes. Now I do believe that bread making is easier than cake baking. I'd much rather bake bread than decorating a cake!

breadbasketcase said...

Baking bread is my first love, much as I love the cake project, and the people who I'm baking with, and the new challenges every week.
Thank you for telling me that I encouraged you!

Melinda said...

I think your baguettes look excellent. Are you sure you aren't being too modest about them tasting fabulous too?
Have you had your cookie baking frenzy yet? I always enjoy seeing what you decided to make.

While I am here I will wish you a Merry Christmas and wonderful things for you in 2010. Cheers to you, friend! (and to tiny Jim, too!)

breadbasketcase said...

I'm really not being too modest--they tasted good, but not fabulous. We did our cookie-baking frenzy on Friday. It was such a frenzy that I didn't even take pictures, but I made cardamom-orange sugar cookies and Polish apricot cookies; Cathy made chocolate-mint and something called Melting Moments; Joanne did raspberry-almond bars and a chocolate-apricot shortbread. We used to do three cookies apiece, but we're down to two each. We're slowing down.
Merry Christmas to you too. Tiny Jim may be a little huffy about his new nickname, but he will join me in sending you best wishes.

Mendy Greenstein said...


I've been baking through Bread Bakers Apprentice.

I also thought these were not as tasty as the regular french baguettes in BBA. However, the Pain à l'ancienne really really is the most tasty and also the easiest to make (I've made it a number of times now.)

I found that the 'clear flour' aproximation sifts differently depending on the quality of whole wheat flour you are using. The bad quality whole-wheat flour is almost all bran. Even though the clear flour approximation did not seem to make such a difference with the poolish baguettes they did seem to make a difference with when making rye bread. The rye bread seems just a bit richer and more flavorful as well as softer (not sure how that works...)

I am very impressed at your cuts, mine always look sort of weird. I can never seem to get that slicing motion or something. I have mostly converted to the scissor now even though it must not work as well...

I also miss much bread baking because of the Heavenly-Cake Bake. However, it is a worthy cause and a good push to make some cakes that are a bit daunting.

Here are my poolish baguettes:

And my clear flour approximation:

french baguettes:

Pain à l'ancienne:

breadbasketcase said...

Thanks Mendy,
I've been wanting to try the pain l'ancienne for a while, and your recommendation should be enough to get me going.
Thanks for the photos--you've been busy!

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pinknest said...

Poolish! What fun to say, and even more fun to eat.

Thorsten Schulte said...

I recently bought the BBA, 15th anniversary edition. The Poolish Baguette was to be my first bread (perhaps a bit ambitious?)
I made the poolish two days which turned out nicely. Consistency of a thick batter and it rose very nicely as expected.
Today I started the baguette and everything turned to $#@& !
I used the recipe on page 223 and took great care to measure the quantities in grams. But the dough turned out to be more like a sticky paste and just ran out on the kitchen counter. I had to add almost the same amount of bread flour as what the recipe calls for initially to get something like a ball of dough that doesn't stubbornly stick to my fingers.
Has anyone else encountered these massive problems with this recipe? I expected to maybe sprinkle a bit of extra flour onto the dough to assist with kneading but not to double the quantity of flour.