This is my favorite sourdough bread recipe which I’ve been tweaking for the past couple of years. I am obsessed with making presentable baguettes, but it also makes excellent and reliable boules and batards for sandwiches and everyday use. It was inspired by Maggie Glezer’s description of the Acme baguettes in Artisan Baking, though I’ve replaced the yeast with sourdough starter and made a few other tweaks. You’ll end up with about 1200 g (2 1/2 lbs) of dough, enough for one miche or two boules or four baguettes.
Ingredients (more on proportions later):
All purpose flour (I use King Arthur brand)
White sourdough starter at 60% hydration
Method: this is a leisurely prep that evolves over several days. Timing is extremely variable and depends on how lively your starter is and how warm the room is. As Jeffrey Hamelman says, “man drools, bread rules!” meaning you have to be guided by when the dough is ready for the next step.
Day 1: simultaneously make the pate fermentée (unless you’ve done this before and have some “old dough” from a previous batch), poolish and refresh your starter.
Pate fermentée: dissolve a pinch of starter in 60 g warm water. Mix in 100 g flour and a pinch of salt. Knead with your fingers until ingredients are incorporated and some gluten development is happening. Cover and set aside.
Poolish: dissolve a generous dollop (about 5 g of starter) in 147 g warm water. Add 148 g all purpose flour and mix thoroughly. Cover and set aside.
Starter: refresh your 60% starter (after removing the pinches for the poolish and pate fermentée) with 90 g water and 150 g all purpose flour. Cover and set aside.
Day 2 (or possibly later on Day 1): when the poolish has turned from a paste to a liquid covered with tiny bubbles (see photo) you are ready to move to the next step. Add 120 g of refreshed starter to the poolish, reserving the rest for future use. Add 287-315 g* lukewarm water and mix thoroughly, dissolving as much of the solids as you can. Add 500 g all purpose flour and mix thoroughly. Autolyze 30-60 minutes, but before you do this tear the pate fermentée into scraps and place on the top of the dough along with 2 t kosher salt.
After autolyze, proceed through several stretch-and-folds according to your preferred technique until there is good gluten development and the dough is starting to puff up. For me, this takes half a dozen stretch-and-folds over an hour or a bit more. As you do this, taste the raw dough for salt and adjusted as needed. I’ve deliberately under-salted the initial recipe expecting you will add more. The final dough will be slightly on the salty side but not overwhelmed by salt; the salt will be offset by the sourness of the finished bread.
Cover and set aside for bulk fermentation for a couple of hours. You just want the process of rising to begin.
Now, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and toss it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. If the dough has risen significantly during the bulk fermentation, punch it down first so it doesn’t climb out of the bowl.
Day 4: after 48 hours or so (you can adjust the timing by a few hours to fit your schedule) remove dough from refrigerator. Remove 150 g dough for pate fermentée, label and reserve for next time. Divide the rest of the dough into loaf portions and preshape. Recipe will make four 300 g baguettes or two 600 g boules/batards or you can just make one giant loaf.
After preshaping, let the dough rest a bit, especially if you are making baguettes. Once it comes up to room temperature (possibly 45 minutes or an hour) shape into your final loaves then place in bannetons or on couche for final rise. When it starts to puff out and fill seams created by shaping, turn on the oven to 500 degrees and preheat dutch ovens/baking sheet/baking stone depending on how you are cooking. Dough is ready when it’s puffed up enough that you can make an impression with your finger and it will slowly recover; if the dough pops right back then it’s unfortunately overproofed.
Load the bread and turn the oven down to 480 degrees. Manage steam according to your preferred method; I use a cast iron dutch oven for boules and remove the cover after about 20 minutes. For baguettes, I now use this method and have also had recent success dumping a bunch of ice cubes into a preheated aluminum tray in the oven. Continue to cook until bread is rich brown but not yet charred, maybe 45 minutes. Remove, cool, enjoy!
- This apparently small range of water amounts makes a huge difference in the final result. At 287 g it’s at 67% hydration which is a very manageable dough that’s fine for batards and boules. 315 g is an upper range over 70% that will be difficult to handle but can produce attractive open crumb in baguettes. My advice is to start the low end of hydration and add more water as you feel comfortable with it.
** Variation: for extra sweetness and complexity, I’ve been substituting about 10% spelt flour by total flour weight, which is 80 grams or so.