KEN'S BASIC SOURDOUGH BAGUETTE RECIPE

I recently typed up this recipe and instructions for a few friends who wanted to make bread while cooped up for the foreseeable future. You'll find that it's fairly informal compared to what you might find in a cook book. I learned to bake bread from my grandmother, and this is how she would have done it. 

1 cup warm water (lukewarm, maybe 100 degrees)

2 1/2 - 2 3/4 all purpose cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt (maybe a little less depending on how salty you like your bread)

1 1/2 cups sourdough starter

If you follow these instructions it will probably take about 4 - 6 hours from start to finish.

 

In a mixing bowl mix the warm water and one cup of flour. Stir in the 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter. (The starter can be right from the fridge, or room temperature. Also, the exact amount of starter you use is not critical. The more starter you use the faster the bread will rise, but even 1/4 cup will work.) Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap. Let this sit for an hour or two until it looks bubbly on top. Once it bubbly, stir it up a little and refill your starter jar, no more than 3/4 full. Store the jar of starter in the refrigerator. Don't tighten the lid too tight as the starter may still be fermenting and you don't want to trap the co2 inside. (I know from experience that you can have a minor sourdough explosion when you open a jar with pressure trapped inside.)

*Special instructions to get a more sour bread: Basically, the longer the bread takes to ferment and rise, the more sour it will be. You can slow down the initial fermentation as outlined in the paragraph above by starting with cold water from the tap and adding just a couple tablespoons of starter. You'll want to do this the night before you want to make the bread. Then in the morning go ahead and follow the rest of the directions below, except that the rising times will be much longer. It might take 3 - 4 hours for the first rise, and that long again for the bread to rise after you shape it into a loaf. (This is assuming you're rising the bread at room temperature. A cooler temperature will slow it down, and vise-versa.) Even doing it this way you won't get bread that tastes like S.F. sourdough. The flavor of sourdough varies by location, depending on the native yeasts in the air.

 

Add the salt and 1 more cup of flour to the  mixing bowl and stir with a spatula for a few minutes until the ingredients are at least partially incorporated. At this stage it will start to come together and look like bread dough. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto a counter or cutting board that has been well dusted with flour. Time to knead. The dough will probably be sticky at this stage. Dust your hands with flour, sprinkle some flour on the dough and start kneading. As you knead and the flour you just added is incorporated, the dough will get sticky again. Sprinkle on some more flour and/or pick up the dough and spread flour on the cutting board. Keep kneading and adding more flour as needed for ten minutes +/- (exact time isn't  critical). As you knead you can scrape up any dough that sticks to the board with a spatula and add it back to the dough ball.

 

Kneading would be easier shown than explained, but basically you fold the dough in half, press down on it, then turn it 90 degrees and repeat.

 

At this stage the question is how much flour to add as you knead. I can't tell you exactly how much I typically add, as I just keep adding flour until the dough feels like the right "stiffness" to me. I usually make the dough pretty firm, which makes chewy bread with small holes. It will probably take about the full 2 3/4 cups flour to get a firm dough, maybe even a little more. To make the artisan style bread with big holes in the finished loaf, you leave the dough much "looser" i.e. wetter/stickier. (It's kind of a badge of honor thing in the artisan bread world to see who can handle the wettest dough.)

 

When you're finished kneading, form the dough into a ball, put it back in the mixing bowl, cover and let it rise until doubled is bulk. (Just estimate "doubled". It's not critical.) I'm guessing this will take an hour or two.

 

Once it's doubled, dump it back onto a floured surface and knead it just a few times. Now you shape it into a loaf. I would typically make one baguette from this recipe. Just roll the dough on the board with your hands until it's about a foot long or a little longer. You'll probably find that the dough won't roll out to the full length at first. When this happens let the dough "rest" for three or four minutes and then try rolling again. The dough will relax and be easier to work after it rests. Put the baguette on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, or grease the pan it you don't have parchment paper. You could also put the dough in a loaf pan if you'd rather make a regular loaf. Cover the baguette/loaf loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled.

 

To bake the baguette preheat the oven to 475 degrees. The rack should be one notch higher than the middle of the oven. (Every oven bakes differently, so you might find that the bread comes out too dark on the top or the bottom. Adjust the position of the rack accordingly on the next batch.) Make a couple slashes with a sharp knife or razor blade diagonally across the top of the baguette. It may deflate a little after you do this, but don't worry about it. The slashes let the bread expand more as the crust starts to get hard as it bakes. Put the bread in the oven and let it bake at 475 for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 425 and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes until it's as dark as you like. Take it out of the oven and put it on a cooling rack for at least twenty minutes or so before you cut into it, as it keeps cooking on the inside as it cools.

 

I'm not sure about time/temperature if you bake in a loaf pan since I haven't made loaf bread in a long time. Rough guess, 400 degrees/40 minutes.

 

If you want to make a sandwich loaf in a bread pan you might add a couple tablespoons of oil or melted butter when you add the salt and flour and start mixing. Bread with some fat in it will stay soft and fresh longer than without. A baguette like from the recipe above is best eaten within a day or two.

 

I usually double this recipe and make two baguettes at once, but it's probably easier to start with one. You can also use whole wheat flour, though I would try 50/50 white/whole wheat and go from there. I like to add 1/4 cup each of sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and ground flax seeds to a double recipe. You'll need to use a bit less flour if you add the ground flax seeds.

The starter needs to be used at least once every week or two to keep it alive. If you're not going to use it for awhile, pour half of it out and replace that with equal measures of flour and water. 1/2 cup each should be about the right volume. Let this sit at room temperature for at least a few hours, or overnight, and then put it back in the fridge. 

Something to keep in mind when using sourdough is that it's not as predictable, time-wise, as using commercial yeast. For example, the time it takes for dough to double will vary depending on three or four factors like the temperature of the water you use, the temperature where/when the dough rises, how frequently and recently you used your sourdough etc.

 

I hope all that makes sense. There are a lot of finer points and different ways to make bread, but this basic recipe, with a bit of luck, will make some good bread.

 

Let me know how it turns out.

 

Stay well.

 

Ken

© 2020 by Ken Altman