Its not the only way. It may not be the best way. You need to experiment to "dial in" the method to suit your environment, flour, starter and personal taste.
However I hope to show some basic techniques that have general application for handling very wet doughs. The dough can also be used for other breads and rolls.
This is a home recipe, but could be scaled for restaurant or small shop use, making a few dozen baguettes. Industrial scale production has different issues.
I like big uneven holes and an open texture. To achieve this we need to break some of the rules, which were designed to make the even textured bread thought desirable in the past.
This demonstrates my version of the "a l'ancienne" style, where the dough is mixed cold with a long cold fermentation to allow the enzymes to break down the starches in the flour to sugars before the yeast becomes active, so when the dough warms up it is exceptionally lively. Combined with short proof times to give lots of oven spring the result is an open texture.. The problem is that the acid in the sourdough degrades the protein and the long starch molecules, making the dough very wet.
Step 1: Build the sponge
1 Tbs "clef"
The "clef" (key) is the mother sourdough starter. I store it in a jar in fridge. You can see it seperates into two layers. That is OK, just dig though the liquid layer.
I'm actually making a double recipe, since the clef is running a bit low, and the excess will go back into the jar.
I'm using a 11.8% protein (actually measured by the nitrogen content) organic white supermarket flour, after some discussion on the sourdough baguette thread, since this approximated to the french type 65 flour. However flour in France is classified by the ash content when burnt at 900C that is they indicate the mineral content (in milligrams) per 10 g flour. In Germany they measure the same thing, but per 100g, of flour, so German flour types are ten times as much and have three digits, such a type 405. Thus a type 65, a common baking flour, has 0.65% ash. Mineral content is roughly a measure of the extraction rate, or amount of the grain in the flour, since most of the mineral content is in the husk. http://en.wikipedia....ur_type_numbers. However this only loosely correlates with gluten and protein content. Traditionally french baguette flour is quite soft. There are some books that indicate french flour has about an 11.5% protein content, so that is today's experiment.
Why they indicate in several places on the bag that flour is suitable for vegetarians is unclear to me, It states it only contains wheat flour. What would non-vegetarian flour have in it? Ground bones? Weavils?
Mix together. Ferment for 18 hours at 30C. Temperature is important.
Just mix it until its more or less even - time and the bugs will do the rest.
This is in bakers terms a 100% dough, that is the water content (hydration) is 100% of the flour content. Note its like a thick batter, just holding together. This is a wet sponge or poolish.
18 hours later...
Ths sponge is bubbly and alive. It has thinned out a lot, now like cream, since the acid in the sourdough has attacked the long starch molecules and the gluten in the flour. The long sponge development time gives lots of sour flavour to the finished baguette.
Stage 2: Make the dough.
Flour 500g 83% Sponge 200g 33% Salt 12g 2% Water 330g 55% (iced) Vit C 5g 1% Total flour 600g 100% Total water 430g 72% Total dough weight 1047g
The percentages are bakers percentages, that is relative to the total amount of flour, including the flour in the sponge.
Whizz together, without the salt in a food processor for 20 seconds, then add the salt and whizz for another 20 seconds. This short intensive mixing makes a softer dough. Don't mix a lot more, or you will overmix the dough. If you use a conventional mixer, mix on high speed until the dough clears the bowl. You can also hand mix the dough - again just mix to an even consistency, no need to knead, and I tend to hand mix larger batches.
I have experimented with leaving the salt out until you come to shape the dough, and that works well, and gives the bread a saltier taste.
Weigh everything. There is no substitute for precision if you want to be able to make the same bread again. The colour is a bit off in the picture - the dough is light cream, rather than orange.
After the second mix. This is a very extensible dough that windowpanes well.
Turn out into a bowl, cover and put in the fridge overnight (12 hours plus) Timing is not very critical. I mist the top with a hand pumped EVOO spray, which is the silver cylinder to the left. The trigger pump sprays that cleaning products come in, well washed out, also work well to spray oil.
The worst part of this is the cleanup. The dough is very sticky. A rubber spatula and lots of hot water helps.
Next day not much seems to have happened, but if you look closely uyou will see lots of bubbles in the dough. To get it out of the bowl cleanly ease it all round the edge with your fingers (oiled or floured), then lift it out in the piece. You can only sucessfully handle the mature dough when it is very cold.
Put it on a lightly floured (or oiled) pastry board, and fold sides to middle and top to bottom, like a turn in puff pastry. This gently stretches the dough, and because of the coating of flour or oil makes it easier to handle.
Divide into three baguettes with the traditional weight of about 320g. Use a square dough scraper, and press rather than saw the dough. Let the pieces rest for 15 mins.
The objective is to make a half-length baguette that gets stretched later, but one where the outside layer is stretched and tight, like the skin on a balloon.
Take each piece, flatten a little and again make a turn, long sides to middle. You will need some flour on the board to stop it sticking but not too much, since we don't want the flour pickup to unbalance the formula.
Now flaten the top edge a bit (assuming the dough is in the orientation shown), and taking the flap pull it out to stretch and fold it over pressing it down as you go along.
The do the same with the other side. Its to work form the top edge, the edge away from you, forming the baguette.
Normally, at this point one would put the dough into a couche, folded floured linen to prove. Mine is an old oven cloth in a half sheet pan, and a short rolling pin.
However I'm experimenting with very short or no proof times for this method, instead using intensive mixing and Vitamin C in the dough to provide aeration, so we are going to bake immediately. Let me again emphasise you can ony handle the dough cold, so we need to get it into the oven befoe it warms up and becomes liquid.
At this point he oven should be pre-heated to around 500F/250C, with a layer of tiles, brick or pizza stone to bake on.
Make yourself, if you do not already have some three baguette boards, the length of your desired baguette, usually what will fit in your oven. Put some baking parchment on it, and put the dough on it.
Stretch the dough to the desired length. Repeat for the other baguettes. Slash them and using the boards slide them into the oven so that the baking parchment under the dough is in direct contact with the hot base or stone. Steam, mist or put a cup of water into a pre-heated heavy pan in the oven to provide a burst of very hot steam that gelatanises the outside and gives a shiny crackly crust. (caution scald danger and oven glass or light can shatter if not protected). Close the door.
The slashes form the "grigne" (grins) on top of the loaf. Traditionally bakers use a lame, or razor blade on a stick. Cut at an angle, not staight down. and nearly parallel to the loaf. 5-7 slashes along the length is usal, each just overlapping the previous. I did not slash these.
Bake 30-40 minutes or until the desired crust colour looks about right.
Texture is OK, but not as good as that made with softer (9% protein) flour.
As I said at the top, I'm still experimenting, and I encourage you to do so too, and post your results. Ther are lots of variables: flour, hydration, mix times, bulk ferment time and temperature, proof time and temperature. Maybe this stronger flour needs longer proof times. I've put the couche with a baguette from this batch in the fridge (in a plastic bag) overnight, and will try baking it tomorrow to see if that makes any difference.