While this lockdown may have gotten in the way of many things, it was famous, for a while at least, for encouraging people to homebake. I’ve been homebaking bread for a long time, but this break in proceedings has led me to perfect one or two things.
I can now make pretty good sourdough flatbreads (the sourdough starter has been mine for three years or so, although I believe it can trace its ancestry back many years before that), but the crowning glory has been the baguette style that I’ve developed. I can now make baguettes quickly and easily, but they are good – they have a very open, moist crumb, sponginess and a real flavour.
How to do it? Night before I set a poolish of equal amounts of water and flour, plus just a small bit of instant yeast. Leave it overnight; they say 12 hours – in this weather 10 hours is easily enough.
Next morning I add another equal amount of water, plus 2/3 of that of sourdough starter (that’s the trick you don’t find anywhere else), with twice the amount of flour, plus salt and more instant yeast – about a half a teaspoon per 300 grammes of total flour.
So, for a normal batch, 150g water and 150g flour, plus a pinch of yeast, for the poolish; 150g water and 300g flour, 90g sourdough and half a teaspoon of yeast (and a teaspoon of salt) the next morning.
Now I cheat. Bread machine. Once through the mix routine, then once round the knead routine. Then into a bowl/rectangular container for an hour or so; stretch and fold once, and rise for another hour. Shape quickly (no fuss – I don’t chase perfection) into three baguettes and leave another hour to rest. And here is another new trick – my old baguette pan was about to be thrown out as it was no longer non-stick, until we got a baking mat (sold as a washable replacement for baking paper). Drop the baguettes onto the mat on the baguette tray, and you’re laughing. Leave, in a plastic bag, for another hour or so.
Just before cooking I cut the slashes or scores using scissors (yup, traditional razor blade lame would be better), then bake for 10 minutes or so at about 210/230 Celsius.
Crusty on the outside, squidgy on the inside. Okay, so today’s weren’t quite so wide crumb – not sure why, overproved? Slightly-underhydrated by mistake? – but let’s face it – water, flour, yeast, salt in roughly the right ratios, left in the same place for a few hours and then baked is going to make something fine, isn’t it?