Updated: Jan 12, 2020
It has been my mission to recreate the perfect baguettes I had in Paris. Seriously, nothing beats a crispy, warm baguette paired with a cafe au lait in the morning. My version includes a wonderful whole wheat flavor that magnifies the long, cold fermentation process even more.
Since this mix has a good bit of whole wheat and a touch of rye flour, and since we want a fairly open and light crumb in the baguette, we will hydrate a little more than usual. Have no fear, as it is quite easy to hand mix and add a good bit of water into your mix if you do it slowly and have patience.
What You'll Need (for levain build)
100 grams mature sourdough starter
50 grams King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat Flour
150 grams King Arthur Organic Bread Flour
170 grams warm water
What You'll Need (Final Mix)
500 grams King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat Flour
100 grams King Arthur Organic Bread Flour
350 grams King Arthur Organic All-Purpose Flour
50 grams Arrowhead Mills Organic Rye Flour
20 grams Kosher Salt
210 grams levain
Up to 850 grams warm water
Rice flour to dust
Cloth or couche
First thing you'll need to do is build your levain by mixing together the above amounts for the levain build. Since I incorporate a lot of mature starter into the mix, it is ready to use in about 3-4 hours, when it is in its "young" stage. You'll know it's ready to use, not just because of the volume increase, but because when you pull at it you can see a web-like structure has developed. This is my cue to start mixing. Thus, you have to keep an eye on the structure and not just rely strictly on the clock. My ambient temperature is usually between 72-75 degrees Fahrenheit at home.
I recommend using up to 850 grams of water in the final dough mix for these baguettes due to the amount of whole wheat flour, and the fact that you'll want to get a nice open crumb and crisp light texture.
If you are new to baking, you can even use as little as 650 grams of water for the final mix amount. This will allow you to get comfortable handling dough and understanding fermentation. The more water you incorporate, the more possibility of a soupy mess you can get. So, the amount of water you want to use is depending on your ambition or skill level.
I will use a total of 850 grams of water, but I will start with only about 650 grams of warm water and slowly incorporate the rest. I will break the steps down in a numbered list to make it easy to follow:
Add about 75% of your total water into a bowl.
Dissolve the 210 grams of levain into the water. It may not dissolve completely, which is fine.
Slowly add your flour with one hand while mixing with the other. You will, at some point, need both hands. Your goal is to incorporate the water into the flour. Once it starts to come together and feels dry, let it rest for 5 minutes.
Proceed to slowly add the remaining water, but save about 10-20 grams for when we add the salt in step 6. I usually will add 50g at a time, mix, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Once all of your desired water is added and there is no dry flour, transfer to another tub or bowl and let rest for an hour. It's wise to transfer from the bowl you mixed in because you will start to get dried up flour particles interfering with your folds later on.
After an hour has elapsed, add the salt and the last bit of water. Squeeze the water and salt into the dough, but don't tear at it. The water and salt will absorb with squeezing and gentle folding for about 5-10 minutes. Trust the process and be patient, as at first, it does not seem like the water will incorporate.
After the salt is incorporated, perform a gentle "stretch and fold" every 30 minutes, for a total of 4 times. With the whole wheat and lower protein all-purpose, you'll want to manually build strength into the dough via stretch and folds.
Depending on your ambient temperature, your dough may need up to 7 more hours to finish its first fermentation. Signs to look for are a smooth surface, bubbles, elasticity when you pull at the top, and a slight web-like structure at the bottom when you turn the dough out of the table. For baguette, I like to let the bulk fermentation push as far as possible so that there is sufficient strength built-in for the shaping process. Dough without proper strength is very hard to shape into a baguette - I've yet to get away with shaping under fermented dough the way I can with other types of bread.
After the initial bulk fermentation, transfer the dough into the fridge for 10-15 hours. This long, cold period will help develop flavor in your baguette.
Once you complete your cold fermentation, pull the dough out of the fridge and let rest for 30 minutes. Flour your work surface liberally.
Turn out the dough and divide into 400g rectangular pieces if you are using a pizza stone. Believe it or not, you CAN make tiny baguettes in a cast iron combo cooker. Scale out 200g of dough if you want to give that a try.
I don't pre-shape my baguettes, but the key is to be able to divide your dough as close to 400g without having to add pieces to it. Simply pat down each rectangle and use the outside of your pinky fingers to pull one side into the middle and push it forward to create tension. Repeat this until you have a tight log. If your dough sticks, dust with a little flour.
Once you have a log, place the palm of both hands on the middle of the log and make a gentle back and forth motion. While making the back and forth motion, slowly spread your hands apart and elongate the log until you achieve your desired baguette shape and length.
Transfer to a cloth or a couche (seam side down) that is coated with whole wheat/rice flour and let proof for 1-2 hours. You'll know when they are ready as the shape will round out a bit, and it will be a bit bouncy when you press at it.
Preheat your oven to 500 Fahrenheit after putting them to proof. Make sure your stone or cast iron is inside the cold oven.
If using a pizza stone, I transfer my baguettes onto a long, flowered cutting board and use it as my loading vessel. Steam your oven by using a spray bottle and spraying the sides and back of the oven.
Score the baguettes when on your peel or board, and load onto the stone. Turn the heat down to 450 Fahrenheit and let bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, open the oven door to let the steam out and finish baking for another 15 minutes or until you achieve the desired color.
If your oven lets steam out, no worries - simply put your baguette in the oven seam side up to create its a more rustic opening.
Baguettes are best when hot out of the oven so, feel free to dig in when they are done. Enjoy.