A Tale of Three Baguettes

In class last Friday, we mixed three doughs. These gave us plenty of opportunity for the all-important hands-on baguette practice, of course. They also illustrated the relationship between mixing time (and corresponding level of gluten development) and fermentation time, and the effects that these parameters have on the bread.

(These are my very own baguettes. You can see that my shaping and scoring needs work. And as the middle one clearly indicates, I cannot count to six.)

3-bags

3-bags-crumb

Let’s compare these babies, shall we?

Left Center Right
Dough Parameters
Level to which the gluten was developed on the mixer low medium full
Bulk fermentation time 3 hours 1.5 hours 20 minutes
Number of folds during bulk fermentation 3 or 4 1 0
Amount of instant yeast (weight relative to flour weight) 0.2% 0.6% 0.8%
Hydration (water weight relative to flour weight) 72% 68% 65%
Bread Characteristics
Loaf volume smallest medium largest
Crumb color creamy creamy white
Crumb texture most open and irregular open, irregular tight, regular
Flavor most complex good bland
Shelf life longest good shortest

General principles at work here:

  • Longer mixing on the mixer gives a more organized structure to the gluten. This yields a tighter crumb (smaller holes) and greater volume to the loaf.
  • Longer mixing on the mixer yields a whiter crumb, because the dough is oxidized to a greater degree. Oxidation breaks down caretenoid pigments that lend a more creamy or yellowish color to the crumb.
  • Longer mixing on the mixer (and hence more oxidation) compromises the taste of the bread, because those caretenoid pigments also contribute flavor.
  • Shorter mixing on the mixer yields a more disorganized gluten matrix, and hence a more irregular crumb.
  • Shorter mixing on the mixer yields a weak dough that must be strengthened through a longer bulk fermentation. Strength happens through 1) folding the dough one or more times at intervals; 2) the acidity that is a by-product of fermentation; and 3) the development of gluten that occurs spontaneously over time.
  • The longer the fermentation, the better the flavor.
  • The longer the fermentation, the less yeast is required.
  • The greater the hydration, the more open the crumb.

Moral of the story:

  • For a pretty, voluminous baguette that is quick to make and doesn’t have much flavor, develop the gluten fully on the mixer and use lots of yeast. For something tastier, use one of the other two methods.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Compared to mine, these all look amazingly perfect! Thanks for summing up the information so neatly in the chart, really helps to get a feeling for the relation between gluten developlement / fermentation time / folds / yeast amount!

  2. says

    Simply wonderful! A very good way to show the differences, now my awful bread will be no so terrible. :)

    I have following you since last year congratulations! Great blog-site!

    Roberto

  3. says

    I am saving this post forever, I will print it out and stick it on my kitchen wall… I am not kidding, you summarized everything I wanted to know, and some of it I “suspected” by had no idea I was in the right direction.

    I feel I’m going to learn a lot through your experience!

    Cannot thank you enough for posting this!

  4. says

    I *heart* bread geekery – how awesome is that? I must admit, I’d love to do this experiment, but then I’d feel compelled to eat all three baguettes. And I’m just not interested in having to buy an all new wardrobe, a size larger :)

  5. says

    This is so familiar, I remember one of our last baguette days in my own Artisan I class, my really nice bags were heisted when we lost track of where they were placed and some anxious students heisted them!!!

    As for the gringne and count, like Jimi Hendrix’s song if 6 was 9, one more or less, ahhh faget bout it!

  6. says

    I have to say that you might need more practice, but those loaves look pretty good.

    Glad to learn from you. I so want to take the same course but can’t afford it right now.

    Keep on teaching us.

  7. says

    GREAT post …. thank you so much for sharing – it’s the only way I’m ever going to get close to the course you are doing

    I hope that you are enjoying it, and that you carry on finding time to share some of it with us

    Joanna

  8. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I’m really working on my home bread-making, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate both the comparison photos and your analysis. I’ve experimented just once with the stretch and fold myself, and was quite pleasantly surprised by the results!

  9. says

    Very informative! Thank you SO much for this post (and all the others, really). Your baguettes are still miles ahead of mine, but every iota of information helps me to improve. This post will save me additional months of trial and error!

  10. Janknitz says

    Thank you so much! I am loving this vicarious experience.

    You are so generous with your time and energy to share with us in the blogosphere. Your loaves will be full of love and good karma ;o)

  11. says

    I love the photos, your comments and the comparisons you’ve made. One small personal wish/thought to share with you – don’t let it become so much of a science that it ceases to be fun for you.

  12. says

    nothing compares to usable facts, except, of course, the time-consuming-let’s-get-it-just-right PHOTOS – THANK YOU for your time and energy (and your husband’s!) so we can explain our own confusion

  13. Joey D says

    Great entry! (as we’ve come to expect. ;) ) Lot’s of useful info in there. Look forward to continuing to follow your journey. And I echo Mary’s entry… don’t forget to have fun! Cheers!

  14. Charles says

    Susan,
    Thank you for the thoughtful post. Can you tell us the mixing times for each of the doughs: low, medium, and full. I use the Micro Spiral Sp5. Thank you.

  15. says

    Susan – I didn’t think your site could get any better, but this is truly brilliant. I admire your generosity and devotion to this blog almost as much as I admire your baking. Tell us more about the textbook, please. Is it a book that an amateur in a domestic kitchen can benefit from? Does it make good sense on its own, or do you need an expert teacher to guide you through it? (In a nutshell: Should I buy it?)
    Many many thanks.

  16. says

    Wow, I’m happy so many people are finding this helpful! Thanks for all the very nice comments.

    Mary, are you kidding? What could be more fun than bread science? :)

    Charles, the mixing time varies by mixer and by batch size. It’s really better to go by gluten development than by time. When we made these again in class on Monday, there were four groups mixing, each on a different mixer, and the mixing times were all different, even for the same dough.

    Chris, I think the book, Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas, is very accessible to anyone interested in the science and technical aspects, as well as the art, of baking. It covers bread, pastry, and other desserts, and includes lots of formulas. I have had the book for a while (although so far I’ve only read the bread sections), so I can say that an amateur in a domestic kitchen can definitely use it.

  17. says

    This was a great help with my baguettes!!! Thank you again!

    Mike
    (French bread goes with French Wine!…There’s a site on the net that reviews them…click my name if you’re interested!)…

  18. says

    Haven’t been here in a while, but when I get back I see beautiful baguettes. These are my Waterloo!
    An extra score make a difference, Susan? I’m not an expert so I say all 3 look pretty good to me though I can see the monir differences you pointed out now. :)

  19. says

    Excellent chart, Susan!!

    I’m very jealous of your scoring technique!! (I can’t count past 4 so I didn’t notice the difference in numbers of slashes until you pointed it out.) If you get a chance, I hope you’ll spell that out as well.

  20. says

    Wow, fascinating!! Thank you so much, Susan, for sharing all this. I love love love the chart.
    I have a question, though. Do you think that medium gluten development is the best compromise for both volume and flavor, or would you go with minimal development for maximum flavor? Another question: What would happen with medium gluten development but longer bulk fermentation and more folds (a combination of the first and second approach)? I think the center loaf looks the nicest, and wouldn’t the flavor improve with more fermentation and maybe greater hydration?

  21. says

    What a great comparison. I read about it in “advanced bread and pastry” but doing somethinig is always more impressiv then reading! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  22. says

    Susan, A most excellent, timely post. I have had my travails with making baguettes. A $10,000.00 loading conveyor and a $50,000.00 steam injected deck oven always helps… but… a poor workman always blames his tools…ya don’t go out to sea in a canoe. If my “successes” looked like your “failures” I’d have it made.
    From the ashes grow the roses of success.
    Best, David

  23. says

    This is so cool!! While I am one handed (stupid accident with a paring knife) my husband has been making bread. He was very enthusiastic about kneading though and he resulting bread was somewhat dull. We just tasted his most recent loaves using the knead less and fold more technique. Wow. What a difference. The bread is fabulous.

    Thank you, Susan!!

  24. Noel Labat-Comess says

    I would have left nothing of the left. A beautiful baguette in every way. one you can taste just by looking at it.

  25. says

    I’ve been making baguettes daily for the past year and have settled into a couple of additions to KAF’s basic recipe: substitute 2oz of whole wheat and add 3 Tblsp of diastolic malt powder. Keep the dough very wet and don’t overmix (as per this original post). The flavor is to die for… although they’re not ‘official’ French baguettes. French law dictates that baguettes contain water, flour, yeast and salt. Not a speck of cornmeal (for the peel or stone), not an ounce of anything else…. If you’re entering a visual contest, dust ‘em with flower, slash them crosswise and bake ‘em hot. They will come out chestnut brown and stunningly beautiful.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>