Look at the picture above. What is wrong with the three sourdough baguettes you see? Not much, some of you will probably think. And I agree. There is nothing wrong with them. They have a nice golden brown crunchy crust, and they tasted just great.
But if you are an experienced baker you may point out that there is not much oven spring to theses baguettes. And that is the problem.
Let’ face it. Oven spring adds an aesthetic touch that is hard to ignore. Compare my baguettes with these ones.
We both know which ones you had chosen, right?
But what happened to my baguettes? I think they fell victim of the gruesome sickness called over-proofing, caused by a sloppy baker (aka me).
But I was not so sloppy this time. I made the finger poke test several times. Still, I did not get the result I wanted. Most of you probably know what the finger poke test is, but for those who don’t, here’s a brief description.
You make a little imprint on the top of the loaf by pressing your finger on it.
If the imprint springs back and fills up quickly, the loaf is probably under-proofed.
If the imprint springs back partly, the loaf is ready to be baked.
But If the imprint doesn’t recover at all, you probably have an over-proofed loaf.
The imprint on my sourdough baguettes bounced back halfways, indicating that the timing for putting them into the oven was perfect. I won’t claim that the test failed me completely. There was some oven spring. But not enough.
This problem has occurred before, especially when I’m trying to bake sourdough baguettes. I realized that I had got a mission. The mission to crack the code about baking baguettes (with lots of oven spring).
I knew I couldn’t blame my starter this time. My starter can be an obnoxious creature that doesn’t want to cooperate far too often. But this time it had been extremely bubbly and lively. It was also something I noticed during the bulk fermentation as the dough was rising very quickly. So I could only assume that I had over-proofed a little during the final rise.
But believing is not enough. I wanted to know.
I remembered that I used to use the double size test before I learned about the finger poke test. You try to measure the size of the loaf with your eyes. When it has doubled in size, it’s time to put it in the oven. This method is very unreliable as it’s very hard to tell when a loaf has doubled in size if you let it ferment in a banneton. It’s easier if you have it in a bread pan, but that’s not an option if you want to bake baguettes.
But there is another way. You can place a small piece of dough in a straight glass. If you mark the initial level of the dough with a rubber band, it’s easy to measure when it has doubled in size. This test is far more reliable because the dough can only expand in one direction and that is upwards.
I decided to use both tests for my next trial.
SECOND BAKING SESSION
My second attempt didn’t start that well. From being very lively and active, my starter returned to a grumpy, sleepy behavior. Everything looked good the day before when I mixed the poolish. But I also used some amount of the starter to a batch of sourdough breakfast rolls that we were going to eat for breakfast the next morning. Obviously, my starter thought that was enough. It was not in a mood for any more baking adventures, and all I could see was some tiny bubbles on the surface. But after feeding it and placing it warm, it was in a better mood again after an hour or two.
I followed the same procedure as last time except that I placed a small piece of dough in a high straight glass for both the bulk fermentation and the final rise. I marked the starting level with a rubber band and placed it next to the main dough.
The poolish had already developed a lot of taste and sourness, so I didn’t want long fermentation times. This is, of course, a matter of taste. Personally, I don’t want my sourdough baguettes to be too sour. So I let the dough and formed loaf ferment in a warm environment, about 77ºF /25ºC. Total fermentation time was 4.5 hour. 3 hours for the bulk fermentation and 1.5 hours for the final rise. After that, both the finger poke test and the dough-in-glass-test indicated that it was time to place the baguette loaves in the oven. Besides, I want to point out that I agree with all that thinks that dough-in-glass-test is a ridiculous word. Feel free to come up with a better suggestion.
I studied the baguettes through the window in the oven door. But after a few minutes, I realized that I wouldn’t get that profound, nice oven spring I sought for this time either. I have to admit that I was disappointed. Everything looked so good when I shuffled the loaves into the oven. But I have to realize that I haven’t cracked the Baguette code yet. When it comes to oven spring, that will say. Because what these Baguettes lacked in oven spring they made up for in taste. They turned out to be exactly how I want my sourdough baguettes. A soft an airy crumb with lots of taste and a hint of sourness. The crust was a dream of cracker-like crunchiness. So I suppose I should be satisfied after all.
If I could only get a little better oven spring.
Next time, maybe.