SFBI Video: Shaping a Baguette

The San Francisco Baking Institute, from which I graduated earlier this year, has launched a series of baking videos as a companion to its comprehensive textbook, Advanced Bread and Pastry.

I can’t comment on the series in general as I haven’t seen it, and there is an annual access fee, but one of the free sample videos is on shaping a baguette. It’s worth a look. It explains the process in clear detail, but starts from the point where the dough (about 350 grams) has already been preshaped into a cylinder.

Read on for how to preshape the dough…

Going Wild

One of the questions I get asked most often is how to take a bread recipe and substitute sourdough starter for baker’s yeast.

The short answer, in my humble opinion, is: you can’t. Do I hear gasps? Can Ms. Wild Yeast be advising against using wild yeast?

No, she isn’t. But let’s think about this a minute. You have a recipe you like, and it uses baker’s yeast. (You do like the recipe, don’t you? Otherwise why would you want to keep it around?) Now you want to simply take out the the baker’s yeast and replace it with wild yeast. Simple, right?

But with sourdough starter, you’re not only adding yeast, your’re adding flour, water, bacteria and the acids they produce (these are what make sourdough sour), alcohol, and other compounds that are products of fermentation. And in so doing, you’re potentially going to be changing (for better or worse) some things: dough consistency and strength, fermentation time, keeping quality, and, of course, flavor and texture of the bread, to name a few.

So, what was it you liked about that original recipe, anyway? If you care to, you can read more of my thoughts on tweaking recipes. It pretty much boils down to this: if you do things differently, you may well wind up with a different result.

That said, I don’t want to make it sound like you can’t or shouldn’t use a baker’s yeast recipe as a starting place to develop a different, sourdough-leavened, bread. What I can tell you is where I would start If I were going to do this (and I have, plenty of times). What I can’t give you is a pat formula — and that would be boring anyway, wouldn’t it?

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Dragon Tail Baguette Shaping Video

I posted these dragon tail baguettes a while ago, and  here, as promised, is a video showing the shaping technique. I love it because it yields a connected string of easily-break-off-able, single-serving-sized rolls, without having to individually shape each one.

Note that the final shaping, which is shown here, is done on a fully proofed baguette just before it goes into the oven. The shaping of the original baguette is not shown here, but I’m planning to have a video of that soon, too. For a 50-cm (20-inch) baguette, eight or nine segments is about right.

Continue to video…

Sourdough with a Twist

A good sturdy sourdough is fabulous on its own, but it also serves nicely if you happen to be in a twisted frame of mind. Flavor twists such as olives, roasted garlic, or herbs are easy and keep things interesting. And then there are the simple twists of shape that add even more excitement to your life. Well, they add excitement to my life. It could be that I need to get out more.

For these crusty, twisty rolls, I tossed a bit of chopped fresh rosemary into a batch of Norwich Sourdough. With this pungent herb, about two or three tablespoons (4 – 5 grams) per kilogram of dough is enough to provide a distinct rosemary  flavor without overpowering.

The twist shape (tordu, if you’re feeling French) is a bit time-consuming, but this can be a good thing if, like me, you cherish hands-on time with your dough (did I mention I might need to get out more?).

Read on for shaping tutorial…

Small-Scale Thinking

In the past I have recommended (OK, scolded, ranted, pleaded) that you weigh your baking ingredients. Are you doing that?

Do you have a kitchen scale that gets a workout every time you bake? Yay!

Are you using that scale to weigh all of your ingredients? Not so fast.

Most kitchen scales have a resolution of one or two grams. That means that if you need to measure in small amounts, which is common for things like yeast and salt, it is very difficult to be accurate.

If you needed, say, 2 grams of instant yeast, and you tried to measure that on your 1-gram-resolution scale, you could wind up with anything from 1.5 to 2.5 grams. That’s a 25% margin of error, even assuming the scale is perfectly calibrated. If you’re weighing only one gram, the margin of error goes up to 50%, and if you need less than a gram, you might as well just let lemurs weigh it out for you.

Being the conscientious baker (ok, the phrase “compulsive geek” could come to mind) that I am, this is not okay with me. (Maybe it’s okay with you, and I’m okay with it being okay with you, but it’s still not okay with me. Okay?)

I’m really liking this new Admetior spoon scale. It’s fairly inexpensive, compact, and spot-on accurate, as corroborated by my earlier MyWeigh Axe, which I also like but is a little pricier. Both have 0.1-gram resolutions and can handle up to 300 grams.

Until you can get your hands on one of these little gems, I suggest using good old-fashioned measuring spoons in most cases where you need 10 grams or less. Here are some conversions for ingredients commonly called for in small amounts:

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Osmotolerant Yeast

saf-goldEspecially during the holiday season when sweet breads abound, you may run across recipes that call for osmotolerant yeast (also called SAF Gold, as it comes in a gold-colored package; SAF is the brand.)

Osmotolerant yeast is a special strain of instant dry yeast that performs better in high-sugar doughs than other yeasts do. In small amounts, sugar enhances fermentation, but when the amount of sugar exceeds about 5% of the flour weight, it impedes fermentation by pulling water away from the yeast. (If you’re a science geek, you probably know that sugar creates osmotic pressure, and if you’re not, you probably don’t care.)

SAF Gold is available from a number of online sources. However, if you can’t get it and have recipe that calls for it, you can use regular instant yeast (SAF Red, for example), and just increase the amount by about 30%.