Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Baguettes (August)

For August, the Mellow Bakers have a choice of two variations of baguette: one made with a poolish and one with a pâte fermentée, both pre-ferments that help develop the bread's flavor.

Inspired by the ever-funny Steve (Burntloafer) who described how he made both versions for a taste test, I decided that this will probably be my last opportunity to do that for quite a while (with school starting in just a couple of weeks). So I got out two sets of bowls and set to work, making half batches of both recipes.

In his post, Steve also talks about forgetting which batch was which at various stages of the process ~ something that I have totally done in the past! So I was extra, ultra, mega careful about only working with one batch at a time and making sure my labeled cling wrap was on top of the proper batch at all times. It worked out pretty well.

Last night, I made the pre-ferments. The poolish is equal amounts flour and water, a tiny bit of yeast, and no salt. The pâte fermentée is a firmer dough, with less water and a little added salt. Both (clearly labeled!) sat on the counter overnight, for a little over 12 hours. (Unfortunately my camera batteries were dead, so I didn't get pictures of the process.)

Starting with the poolish version, this morning I mixed the rest of the ingredients together, let them rise with one stretch-and-fold, shaped three 250 gm baguettes (once again using this excellent video), let them rise, slashed them, and then baked them for about 18 minutes, steaming them at the beginning.

I went through the same process with the pâte fermentée version, only about 20 minutes behind the first one. Due to how long various parts of the process took, this version actually got about 10 or 15 extra minutes in the final fermentation, just enough time for two of the loaves to grow slightly together ~ argh! Luckily I was able to separate them without too much damage.

And here they are! (poolish on the left/blue plate; pâte fermentée on the right/green plate)

With the exception of the preferments, the two doughs looked, felt, and behaved in the same way through the entire process. After baking, they were the same color and looked the same inside. (I was surprised by the lack of big holes....)

Tastewise, however, they were incredibly different. The one made with the poolish tasted like one of the best baguettes I've ever made: deeply flavored, creamy, chewy, crackly crust. The one made with the pâte fermentée, however, tasted like regular ol' pretend baguette from the grocery store (= white bread) and was nowhere near as chewy.

I have a theory. I wanted to start the two versions at the same time, but when I mixed them this morning, the poolish was very active and bubbling with a very obvious "active" smell while the pâte fermentée looked like it had developed only slightly overnight. I went ahead anyway, knowing that several of my starters with Hamelman have not had obvious development in the mornings. But I'm wondering if I'd let the pâte fermentée sit for another five or six hours, if it would've deeped the flavor of the bread. Any Mellow Bakers out there care to weigh in?

Whatever the reason, we enjoyed four of the six loaves today, as snack, dinner, and at bookclub, all doctored with homemade butter ~ yum!

More Mellow Bakers' excellent August breads can be found here.


  1. Thanks for the kind words, Abby! It's easier when you have two spoiled little dogs with 'character' as models.

    To weigh in, the pate fermentee possibly had not developed.

    The post I did was deceptive, in that it did not really give a good picture of the 'old dough' in the morning - it is just another shot of the night before. I think that when I posted that picture twice I was hung up on how dry it was. It had ripened, and although I do not have access to a picture right now, it had gotten all puffy and had a 'domed crater' look.

    I really appreciate you doing the taste test as well. Now, if asked to make baguettes again I will lean more toward the poolish!

    By the way, did you see Joanne's technique of painting the scorings with water? Pretty interesting.

  2. When I checked your blog to see if there was a new post I was really surprised to see another one... Wow, you've kept yourself really busy!!! I really appreciate your experiment because I was leaning towards the pâte fermentée version - now I might have to reconsider it and make the poolish version. Hmm...

  3. I have to say that I am really impressed by all the baking you have done in this heat! I have definitely taken a little break, and I miss it. But it's not worth turning the whole house into an oven right now! Those loaves look great!!!

  4. Great post--I love comparisons of different techniques. I haven't had much time for MB lately, unfortunately. But if I can find time for the baguettes, I'll definitely try the poolish version. I wasn't that excited by the BBA ones that use pate fermentee; I'm hoping I'll like the flavor of the poolish ones more.

  5. Great post, being experimental scientist I just love this little kitchen experiments ;-)

    I aggree with others saying that the pate fermentee was probably not fully developed.

    Now to the little story :-) :

    This year I was with my family on Corsica. We stayed for a couple of days in Bocognano (nice small city in the mountains) where we were buying baguettes at a great wood-fired bakery. After a day or two we realised that morning baguettes are far worse than the ones we bought in the evening. We asked nice lady working there what was going on, and it turned out that the master baker prepares all the breads in the morning and leaves them in the fridge. Then during the day, the lady who sells there, just put them in the oven and bakes them. So the "evening" baguettes ferment in the fridge for about 12 hours more then the "morning" ones. And that made huge taste difference.

    And I must admit that my wife (not me) was the one to notice it first ;-)