Makeshift "Couche" & How-to-Shape High Hydration Sourdough Baguettes [edit mode]

February  1, 2013
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  • Makes Three or four baguettes per 1000 grams dough
Author Notes

Shaping wet dough can be tricky. Adding flour to the work surface can help but it makes the bread drier. So I like to use oil. And when using wild levain sourdough as the sole leavening agent one should handle the dough as little as possible. So "cheating" with parchment can actually reduce the amount of handling that baguettes require when using a transfer peel.
I have been experimenting and this process is my best solution so far.
[I will be finessing this and adding pics soon.] —Sadassa_Ulna

What You'll Need
  • 1 batch dough ready for shaping
  • olive oil
  • big sharp knife for dividing dough
  • 1 sheet parchment paper, approx. 15" x 24"
  • plastic wrap or bags (optional)
  • serrated bread knife with big teeth (or a lame) for slashing
  1. MAKE COUCHE: Fold the parchment in half lengthwise. Fold back to start an accordion pleat that overlaps about about 1-3/4". Continue folding accordion style until you have seven fold lines. This will create three valleys on one side - or four on the other. Spread out the parchment and place weights at two opposite corners. See photos.
  2. DIVIDE DOUGH: Oil up your work surface and cutting utensil. Turn out dough onto surface. Make indentations to guess where you will cut to make three or four even pieces of dough. The center portion(s) will be narrower than the sides! Cut through and turn dough slices so that "skin" is on the oiled surface - this will make it less likely to stick. It is best to just work with whatever size pieces you made, but if they are way off in size then slice off small pieces from the larger and lay on top of the smaller.
  3. SHAPE BAGUETTES: One by one, gently pull the cut portions into an oblong of even thickness; again, the less handling of dough the better. Fold lengthwise and seal edges with the heel or side egde of your hand. Gently roll out to make longer and narrower.
  4. COVER (or not): Cover with plastic wrap. If this is your first time working with high hydration dough and/or slashing is a challenge for you then NOT covering the baguettes might be helpful. The surface will dry out a little and this will making slashing less difficult. Allow loaves to proof.
  5. POKE TEST: Stick an index finger into the loaf. If dough springs back and dent disappears they are not ready, or under-proofed. If dent stays and does not spring back at all then loaves are over-proofed and will not rise fully. But if the dent fills in about halfway then they are ready to bake. Heat oven and baking stone.
  6. SEPARATE: Cut along top creases of parchment so that each loaf has its own little lily pad (?) of parchment.
  7. PREPARE TO SLASH: The goal of slashing is allow bread to rise in height through planned slits - otherwise it will burst at the seam you made when shaping, which is now on the bottom of the loaf. The slits should be ALMOST PARALLEL to the length of the loaf. The slits should overlap slightly and only be about 3/4" apart at the overlap. [I will get a photo up].
  8. SLASHING (directions for right-handers): Oil up the serrated knife. Position baguette so it is at 11:00; knife will be at 12:00. Use left hand to provide resistance. Angle top edge of knife to the right and close to bread (so you can see your fingernails). Cut through 1/2" of skin of loaf; use a sawing motion if necessary. This part of breadmaking takes the most practice in my opinion.
  9. BAKE! ; The beauty of the parchment paper is that the bread can be transferred to the baking surface on its paper very easily. About halfway through cooking the paper can be pulled out.

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Recipe by: Sadassa_Ulna

Growing up I was the world's pickiest eater, that is, until my children were born. Karma. Neither of my parents were much into cooking; it was the height of eating fat-free or anything with oat bran added. I taught myself some basics, mostly baking, following the guidelines of a well-worn copy of Joy of Cooking. I was a ballet dancer and a teacher suggested I lose weight. As I began reading about diet and nutrition I became interested in natural foods, which led to a job at a macrobiotic natural foods market in Center City Philadelphia; this was way before Whole Foods came to the area. I learned a lot about food in general. I ate strictly vegan for a while, although I don't now, but I still like it when a recipe can taste great without butter or bacon! In short, my approach to cooking is idiosyncratic, and I don't know very much about cooking meat or proper technique. I love to bake and I am still working on expanding my palate and my repertoire. The hardest part is getting the whole family to try new things! So aside from my food status, I am an architect who likes to garden and play music. I'm married with two kids, and I hope to get a dog someday.

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