Eureka! They said a pure sourdough baguette couldn’t be done, but sometimes that’s the best impetus for me to make something happen.
I’ll be honest with you, it was reading George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) that made me seriously question my grain-free life choices. The way he writes bread (usually with butter, honey or cheese) really illustrates it in a true light: it’s a staple, a tradition. Food is culture & bread is a hub to the western wheel.
“In a heartbeat, a thousand voices took up the chant. King Joffrey and King Robb and King Stannis were forgotten, and King Bread ruled alone. “Bread.” they clamored. “Bread, Bread!”‘
But I wanted to eat bread in some way that was healthy. I’d had troubles digesting wheat and wasn’t a fan of the carbohydrate load behind bread. It seemed somewhat impossible to get easily digestible, low carbohydrate bread that was healthy. But as I mentioned, sometimes impossibility is the best impetus to revelation.
Behold: sourdough! I learned very quickly that this staple wasn’t traditionally bad for us—we are now preparing it in a way that not only robs it of nutrients, but alters its digestibility. The outcome of cutting traditional corners in bread-baking are the negative affects we collectively attribute to bread itself. It’s not bread’s fault, it’s our love of convenience & our disregard for tradition that birthed this folly. Sourdough white bread is heaps better for you than a whole grain yeasted loaf, and it’s equivalent to whole grain quinoa on the glycemic index. The fermentation process unlocks nutrients in the grain, like sprouting can, and makes them bioavailable to you when you digest. Plus, the probiotics in the fermented loaf are excellent for your body, like yoghurt.
The best defence for respecting tradition I’ve ever heard was that we no longer remember why we started doing things a certain way!
Baking sourdough is… a bit more involved than a yeasted loaf. One of the challenges is texture. A fermented loaf changes texture as it breaks down; it becomes more liquid and softer. The easiest way to bake a cultured bread is in a contained vessel, like the crock pot used in my amazing recipe here. Not only does a vessel contain a loaf regardless of texture, a softer more liquid loaf is easier to get a rise out of. The challenges to making a free-form loaf, like the artisanal style loaves and baguettes (both baked on a stone) are: a. Getting the dough at a perfect moment of fermented-but-still-able-to-hold-shape & b. Getting it to rise while being firmer in texture.
Baguette crumb (the inside yums of the loaf) are notoriously full of big air bubbles—they need a looser freedom to rise. And they are baked on a stone—without any walls to hold them in. So they are especially hard to make 100% pure sourdough. I was told to add yeast to them. That’s the silver bullet. Apparently that is how they are made at every sourdough bakery in France—even those committed to sourdough levain use a bit of yeast. I’m stubborn. I’d just found my magic formula for healthy bread and I wasn’t straying course without a fight. I found another silver bullet, and it was the most unsuspecting one I could imagine: gluten.
I’ve literally spent I-don’t-know-how-many years avoiding gluten—now I’m suddenly adding it to my recipes?! Haha. Yes! I am. I add a tiny bit (less than any recipe I’ve seen) because I’m still averse to it (change is hard) and I found a crispy crunchy crust gets a little harder with more gluten. But just a teaspoon or two in a batch of 4 batons is enough to keep a nice firm bind allowing the dough to stretch out without collapsing—letting big air bubbles form—adding springy texture to the crumb while being little enough to still get a super crunchy crust. I’ve also taken to fridge fermentation now. Although it takes a bit longer, you get a better ferment in the cooler temperature. I appreciate a very sour loaf. It’s healthier, not to mention damn tasty. Plus, the dough keeps longer so I can make a week’s worth of bread in one batch and it will keep getting better as it ages in the fridge.
Here is my recipe (makes 4 batons):
200g Organic Wholewheat Flour
500g Organic White Flour
400g Very Warm Water
1/2 – 1Tb Gluten
Sea Salt (a Tb or 2)
- Combine your starter with almost hot H2O.
- Add Flours and loosely mix. Let sit for 30 minutes (this lets the flour absorb the water before the salt comes to lap it up).
- Add salt. Play with it a bit (aka knead). Let sit an hour covered in a bowl (a tea towel works fine).
- Play with it again. Just work the dough in your hands, the bacteria like air. Let sit for another hour.
- Play with it one more time before laying a piece of clingfilm (saran wrap: my teen years in the UK sometimes show) directly over the dough. So, push it down to touch the dough and tuck it in like a wee fermenting baby.
- Let sit for 24hrs. You can use after 12-16 easily, but I like a really sour loaf so I tend toward at least 24hrs.
- Your dough will have doubled. Slice it in half, put half back in the fridge.
- Halve your half again and shape into loaves.
- Place your loaves in a little baby bread basket made from a well floured tea towel. Pic below. (Keep this tea towel for this purpose. I save mine in a glass container with the plastic wrap to reuse as well!) You want them to come up to room temperature before putting in the oven. It could take 1 to 2 hrs.
- Heat up oven to highest temp possible (500+). I use a stone, if you do not have one, flour up a baking tray. Put a pan in the bottom rack of the oven for steaming.
- Slit batons (or don’t, one time I rolled a baby loaf onto its top in the oven so the slits were on the bottom and it came out with the most beautiful explosion down the centre), put in the oven quickly and pour water into the hot pan creating a super steamy environment for your BBs. Close the door and watch the magic through the window… you should be getting an awesome oven spring (that’s the jump of joy the bread makes while baking)!
- They should be done around the 25 minute mark!
- Cool on a rack. In my house, that’s the toaster oven rack thing.
The rest of the recipe will get better with time in the fridge. But I wouldn’t leave them longer than a week! Super easy to have fresh sourdough baguette always. Note: the longer your dough ferments the less oven spring you’ll get (the amount it rises in the oven) so baguettes made later in the week will have to start in larger segments to get them the same size. They will also be a bit softer as they’ve broken down so much, but they’ll taste wonderful. Note: a super active culture is how I got the big bubbles in the pic with the avocado breakfast. A starter that has been fed even a Tb of flour with its equivalent in water around 4 times in 2-4 days before using will produce the most active culture. Otherwise, a culture fed 6hrs before using will be active enough to produce the bubbles in main header pic. It’s totally up to you and the time you have! For a more traditional loaf style, and adding flavour to sourdough loaves, you can check out my article here. I made an amazing turmeric, sage & black pepper loaf.