Pssst, Want to Score Some Baguettes?


By my count, I’ve made around 100 baguettes in class over the past two weeks. Tomorrow I have practical exam in which I have to mix two doughs and make roughly 15 baguettes from each one. The next day is more practical exam, and that means more baguettes. I am tired at the end of each day, and if I’m being honest, I’m a little tired of baguettes too.

So what did this tired on tired translate into last night? When I got home, did I take a hot bath? Watch a little TV? Catch up on my reading? How about on my sleep? Well, no. I made a few more baguettes. I can’t explain this entirely. It had something to do with wanting to know if I could make a baguette in my own kitchen that looks as good as the ones we’ve been turning out in class.

The answer is no, I couldn’t. Or at least I didn’t (see below photo). However, because I am presumptuous by nature, I will presume to tell you what I know, or I think I know, about scoring the damn things.


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Drying a Starter

If you’re moving across the country and want to take your sourdough starter with you, or want to mail some to a friend, or want to save a backup of a particularly well-loved starter as insurance against accidental loss, drying your starter can be the way to go.

Drying a liquid starter is simple and fast, and reviving it to baking strength takes less time, and is easier, than starting a new one from scratch.

Before drying your starter, make sure it is strong and vibrant. If you normally refrigerate it, take it out and feed it for a few days, as you would before using it in a dough.

When it is good and strong, feed it a final time, then ferment it for about half the time you would normally go until the next feeding. You want the yeast to have something left to feed on while they are falling asleep.

Then, using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of starter on a piece of parchment, put it somewhere where it will be free from flying debris, and wait for it to dry completely. This will take approximately overnight, but the exact time will vary according to the hydration of your starter, how thickly your smear it, and the temperature and humidity in your house. Make sure it is completely bone dry, or you run the risk of mold.

Here’s how mine looked just after spreading it out to dry:

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Do-It-Yourself Conversions

Have you noticed that most of my recipes list ingredients in grams? I often receive email from people asking if I would convert the grams into ounces, or into volume measurements. I’m sorry I cannot do this on request, but here are some tips that may help you, if you want to do the converting yourself.

I strongly recommend weighing ingredients, especially flour. The reasons for this are explained in my post about scales and weighing. Many scales can switch between avoirdupois (ounces/pounds; the US system) and metric (grams/kilograms; the sane system) units.

If you do not have a scale, or your scale does not have metric units, you will have to do some math. (Remember when you rolled your eyes in 5th-grade math class and complained that you couldn’t imagine when you would ever need this stuff in real life? Now would be a good time.)

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Shaping Ciabatta: Video

I have seen different methods for shaping ciabatta; the method I use is really more cutting than shaping.

In contrast with most other doughs, which are assertively de-gassed during shaping, ciabatta wants to be handled very gently to maintain all those lovely bubbles that have developed during fermentation.

(If you can’t see the video here, view it on YouTube.)

Folding a Wet Dough: Video

Folding is a powerful technique for strengthening a dough. Wet doughs such as ciabatta can particularly benefit from folding, but can also be challenging to fold. The key is using plenty of flour on the counter (go ahead, make a mess!); excess flour should be brushed away so you don’t get streaks of unincorporated flour in your loaves.

(If you can’t see the video here, view it on YouTube.)

How to Use a Flipping Board: Video

The folds of a couche (a piece of stiff linen) are ideal for cradling and supporting proofing baguettes and batards. But how do you transfer the proofed loaves onto a peel so you can get them into the oven?

Flipping board to the rescue. A flipping board is nothing more than a narrow piece of wood onto which the loaf is gently rolled off the couche, and from which the loaf is then either rolled or slid onto the peel.

In the video below, I use a 27 x 4-inch board to transfer baguettes onto a piece of parchment on my plywood board “peel.” (I will slide the parchment, loaded with three baguettes, onto the baking stone in the oven.)

These baguettes have been proofing seam-side-down in the couche, and I want them to wind up seam-side-down on the parchment. To do this, I lift the edge of the couche to roll the baguette onto the flipping board, so it’s now seam-side-up. Then I roll the baguette off the edge of the flipping board onto the parchment, so it’s seam-side-down again.

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(If you can’t see the video here, view it on YouTube.)

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