I can make a loaf, some rolls, a brioche, a pizza base. I’ve been baking bread for nearly 50 years although I’ve never considered myself particularly good at it. I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to put myself on YouTube showing people how to do things.
It took me 70 years before I even attempted a plaited loaf.
But because I had a conversation, probably, about bread, and my phone overheard me and reported me to Google, who reported me to YouTube, a video about making baguettes popped up in my feed.
I watched it. Which means I will be punished forever more by bread making videos, but still.
Recipe (as specified in video)
- Day 1
- 450g bread flour
- 245ml water
- 1/4 tsp dried yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- Day 2
- 500g bread flour
- 300ml water
- ½ tsp dried yeast
- 2 tsp salt
(Note that I ended up using more water than this, making it up to about 65% of the dry weight – so approx 620ml water – how much you use will very much depend on the flour and/or humidity etc.)
So it’s this super-confident Irish baker, who demonstrates a 3-day recipe. A starter dough, followed by a main dough, followed by the day you actually shape and bake the loaves. So I thought I’d give it a go. After all, it was mostly just about time. You ended up with something like 1.5kg of dough, so it was a lot, but needs must.
The first bit is the poolish or starter, or whatever people call it. A tiny amount of yeast, flour, water, salt. Left in the fridge for 24 hours or so.
I was immediately unhappy at the amount of water in the geezer’s recipe, which seemed inadequate. Different flours absorb different amounts of water, and his 245ml to 450g wasn’t anywhere near the 65% I usually use. I was using Waitrose’s Canadian flour, which could probably stand even more than 65%. I added more, but still wasn’t happy.
The resulting dough ball was too hard and dry so I compensated next day by using a different flour (my pizza flour) and more water in making up the finished dough. I kneaded in the mixer for about 8 minutes, and then for a couple of minutes by hand. I tested for the “window effect” and I think it was pretty spot-on when it went into the fridge for the second time.
I got the dough out of the fridge and left it a bit in a warm place to come up to room temperature. I then put it out on the side to fold it a few times and then divided it into 6 obtangular balls, which I then left to rest for a bit before final shaping. As the video says, 15 minutes is enough to relax the dough and make it easy to shape.
Now, we hit the problem I’ve always had, which is a lack of manual dexterity when it comes to shaping bread. I did my best, and the dough was pretty stretchy and not too sticky. But my hands just don’t seem to be able to make it do what the bloke in the video does. I also tried to recreate his technique for setting the loaves to prove, which was to kind of set them in cloth to keep them separate but encourage them not to spread. Unfortunately, I’m a complete duffer at this kind of thing, and after haphazardly shaping the loaves, I made the mistake of setting them on a damp linen tea towel.
Which was a mistake, because the dough just stuck to the material, and I ended up having to abandon ship after an hour and reshape the loaves from scratch. I think it was this extra hour that did the damage.
So I ended up with disappointingly shaped loaves that then didn’t really “bounce” in the oven. I mean, they rose, and the texture was okay, but not the nice bubbly open texture I was rooting for.
I cooked them in a hot oven with added steam (a baking tray in the bottom filled with hot water) and they were good and crunchy and tasted good, and were nice and chewy. But they didn’t look very much different from my usual one-day baguette.
But I’ll give it another go, because the only thing that went wrong was my own fault, so I think I can do better.