Troubleshooting Baguettes

When baking bread, it is best to be flexible in your approach.

When it comes to bread baking, you might sometimes feel trapped inside the paradox of aiming for perfection in an imperfect world. You have your formulas, and you’ve got the math down — but when external factors such as unpredictable weather conditions or a huge last-minute order throw a wrench into the plan, what can you do?

The mission and goal at King Arthur Flour is to inspire, educate and bake, and in doing that, the company works to maintain the traditions of artisan baking. Martin Philip, bakery operations manager at King Arthur Flour, has some tips for navigating a few less-than-ideal scenarios when baking baguettes

1. The preferment is overripe

Quickly reformulate to reduce the amount of preferment in the final batch.

Say you’re in a situation where you have a sourdough levain that you’re working with in a setting that’s out of your normal conditions, and it has to sit out longer than you’d planned. The gluten bonds will start to denature, and you’ll have too much acidity.

If your preferment has an aggressive portion of formula’s total flour, think about scaling back on the preferment. “So if the formula you’re using calls for 50% prefermented flour, you want to use only a portion of the levain, and rescale the final dough,” Phillip says. “There are times when, if a preferment is overly active, it makes sense to quickly reformulate in order to save the product.”

2. Dough is too warm at finish of mix

Reduce the amount of bulk fermentation, or adjust for the ambient conditions.

For baguette, at the end of mix, you’re ideally aiming for 75° F out of the bowl. But if you come out warm at the end of mix, the fermentation is clearly happening faster than what you would like. So instead of having, say two hours of bulk fermentation, try 45 or 50 minutes, then a fold, and another 45-50 minutes, depending on how warm the dough is out of the bowl.

Another quick fix — if you’re working with a smaller batch that’s only slightly too warm — is to find cooler ambient conditions, such as in a cooler spot in the bakery, to try and slow the fermentation a bit. 

3.Product is about to be overproofed

Control the amount of steam.

“So, it’s hotter than heck, things are moving like gangbusters and you’ve got a rack of 140 baguettes looking at you and one person at the oven,” Phillip says. “You’re trying to be accurate and make beautiful bread, but those baguettes are staring at you, and you see them start to peek over the top of the couche” What next?

The easiest fix is to reduce the steam in the oven by about 15-20%. By putting the loaves into a slightly drier environment will restrict the dough and keep it from expanding past its full potential. Just be careful not to reduce the moisture too much, or the crumb structure will come out too tight.