Baguettes: Double Fed Levain Technique

I am slowly baking my way through Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, by Ken Forkish. The book includes a recipe for ‘Double-Fed Sweet Levain Bread’ in the ‘Advanced Levain Doughs’ section of the book. In the recipe, Forkish talks about “feeding the levain two times, just a few hours apart, before mixing the final dough… The idea is to build up an active population of yeast in the levain culture with two feedings using very warm water, to limit the buildup of sour flavours”.

I tried the recipe out last weekend, and the result was a levain bread with a great crumb structure and lovely flavour. This weekend, my mind was busy connecting dots…what if I applied this double feeding technique to baking baguettes as per the method described in Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson?

The short answer is that this produced the result that I’ve been searching for when baking baguettes; a light, bubbly dough which produces a finished loaf with a crispy crust and distinctive slashes. When sliced, the inside has a good crumb structure and irregular air pockets.

I’m never looking back – when it comes to making great bread, the two-times feeding method and use of a young levain is the way forwards!

Ingredients

Makes 4 baguettes

Poolish

  • 100g all-purpose flour
  • 100g water
  • 1.5 grams active dry yeast / 3 grams fresh yeast

Baguettes

  • 300g leaven
  • 250g water (74 to 76F)
  • 300g poolish
  • 325g white plain flour
  • 175g bread flour
  • 12g salt
  • Rice flour, for dusting

Method

  1. At 7am, feed your levain. Discard everything but 50g of the levain. Add 50g wholemeal flour, 200g white flour and 200g water at 35°C.
  2. Make the poolish. Mix 100g white plain flour, 100g water and 1.5g active dry yeast in a bowl. Let it stand in a warm place for a few hours.
  3. At 10am, give your levain a second feed. Discard all but 250g levain. Add 100g wholemeal flour, 200g white flour and 400g water at 29°C – 32°C, dependent on the season.
  4. Autolyse. After 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours, use a sieve to sift the 325g white plain flour and 175g bread flour into a large container, which has a lid. Add the 250g water and mix by hand until just incorporated. The dough will be pretty shaggy and dry at this stage but that’s ok. Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Mix the final dough. Sprinkle the 12g salt evenly over the top of the dough. Add the 300g leaven and 200g poolish. When ready, the poolish will be bubbly, have a fruity scent, be domed on top and have just slightly receded. Mix by hand, squeezing any dry / floury bits of the dough between your fingers alternating with folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients. The final mix should be consistent in texture and will be pretty sticky, but that’s ok.
  6. Bulk fermentation. Baguettes require 3 to 4 hours of bulk fermentation. During this time, the dough needs four folds. It’s easiest to apply the folds during the first 1 ½ to 2 hours after mixing the dough. By the end of the third hour, the dough will feel aerated and softer. A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the container when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be divided and shaped into loaves. If the dough seems to be developing slowly, extend the bulk fermentation time. Watch your dough and be flexible.
  7. When the bulk fermentation is complete, use a dough scraper to pull all the dough out of the container onto a floured work surface. Lightly flour the surface of the dough and use a bench knife to divide the dough into four pieces. Shape each piece into a rectangle with rounded corners.
  8. Bench rest. Let rest on the work surface for 30 minutes. Make sure the dough is not exposed to drafts, which will cool it too much. A draft can also cause a dry skin to form on the top of the dough, compromising the final shaping. You may need to lightly flour the dough and cover it with a kitchen towel.
  9. Meanwhile, during the bench rest, drape a baker’s couche over a baking sheet and dust it with rice flour.
  10. Shaping. Working with one dough rectangle at a time, fold the third of the dough closest to you up and over the middle third. Holding the ends of the dough, stretch it horizontally so that it doubles in width. Fold the third of the dough farthest from you over the middle of the elongated rectangle as if closing the flap of an envelope. Press on this flap to develop tension in the dough. Using your palms and fingers together, roll the dough towards you; with each successive roll, press with the outer edge of your palms and fingers to further develop tension in the dough. You should end up with a cylinder of dough shaped like a French rolling pin. Place both palms on the dough cylinder and roll it back and forth, stretching the dough to elongate the shape and taper the ends, while keeping in mind the size of your oven.
  11. Final proof. Place the loaves of the floured couche seam-side up and separate them with folds in the fabric. Bring the sides of the couche over the loaves to support the outer edges. Let rise at a warm room temperature of about  21C – 24C (70 to 75F) for 2 ½ to 3 hours, or wrap it inside a proofing / clear polythene bag and place the tray with the couche and the baguettes on it in the refrigerator for a longer time period (i.e. overnight).
  12. Bake. When you are ready to bake the baguettes, place a baking tray on the middle rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 260C (500F). When baking baguettes, the trick is to saturate the oven with steam when you start baking. The best way to get as much steam as possible into a home oven is to place a rimmed baking sheet lined with water-soaked kitchen towels in the bottom of the oven as it is preheating. As the oven heats, the moisture in the towels produces steam. Ideally, you want the oven to be steaming for 15 minutes after you load the baguettes to bake. Take care to get the baguettes into the oven quickly and shut the door; the more steam that stays in the oven during the first part of baking, the better the oven spring, or volume, of the finished loaves. The steam will also help develop a thin, crisp crust with a slight sheen.
  13. With a razor / lame, score each loaf down the centre with a series of slightly overlapping lines.
  14. Make sure your oven is fully saturated with steam; you’ll notice steam escaping from openings around the oven. Oven the oven door, remove the preheated baking tray. Place the baguettes onto the tray and place back in the oven. Be quick to shut the door as quickly as you can to retain as much steam as possible. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 245C (475F).
  15. Once the baguettes start to colour, after about 15 minutes, carefully remove the pan with the kitchen towels, which should be dry. Continue to bake the loaves until a deep golden colour, 5 to 10 minutes. Allow the baguettes to cool slightly on a wire rack and serve warm from the oven.
Baguettes, made using the double-fed levain method
Baguettes- crumb shot
Boule crumb shot, using the double fed levain method

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s