There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.~ Mahatma Gandhi
After a year of having a go at it, I am just slowly beginning to take pride in my bread baking skills. But then my confidence would endure a slapdown every time I peruse through the weekly contributions on Wild Yeast blog's "Yeastspotting" (I can't help torturing myself). Compared to all those artisan breads, my quickfix, yeasty creations only deserved a place at the periphery of great bread-dom. In fact, my breads are probably among the lowest of the bread castes. There are so many rules in bread baking, and because I'm naturally not good with rules, the thought of baking with starters, multiple proofings steps, employing various hydration methods/ratios, etc all tend to make me shudder.
Then one day, I came across these beauties called Dragon Tail Baguettes and I felt my heart leap out of my chest (or a very close sensation to it). Susan of Wild Yeast herself posted about these and more than anything else, I wanted to replicate them. But once I saw the recipe, my heart sank because it called for the use of poolish and diastatic malt powder. Okay, what on earth were those?
I did a bit of research and poolish is apparently a type of fermentation starter. According to Wikipedia, "a pre-ferment and a longer fermentation in the bread-making process have several benefits: there is more time for yeast, enzyme and, if sourdough, bacterial actions on the starch and proteins in the dough; this in turn improves the keeping time of the baked bread, and it creates greater complexities of flavor." So there you have it. I could do poolish. In this case, the poolish required 0.1g of yeast, which meant I would need some seriously precise weighing equipment.
Delicate machines like the above. Luckily, I have a digital scale at home, but even that doesn't go below 1g. As it happened, when I moved house about two months ago, my friends gave me some cool kitchen-warming gifts which included a digital spoon scale that measures down to one decimal point! Thank you again KJ, Eyezar and Layloo...you guys are the best! So if you want to know what 0.1 g of yeast looks like, that's it in the above right picture. Can you see the yeast grains? To be practical, you can actually use your fingers to take a very small pinch of yeast. No real need for all this ultra-fancy stuff. But wait, to measure out the flour and water, you would need a digital scale as the weights are very precise. It's artisan, people. Creating true art is never going to be easy!
Look at that lovely grains and my bubby poolish!
I had no idea where to get diastatic malt powder but the bread gods must've been looking out for me because I suddenly remembered seeing a pack of organic malted grain bread flour in my pantry. It was about to expire in 2 months' time, so this recipe had come along at the right moment. I substituted a cup of regular flour with the malted grain flour and then made up the whole mixture to 425g using regular flour. It's roughly a 1:4 ratio, I think.
I started the poolish the night before and 12 hours later, it was all happily bubbling at the surface and ready for use. My baguettes were not as long as I wanted it to be because my baking sheet was not that big, so I placed each loaf diagonally across the sheet. Just before baking, I scored the baguettes with a pair of scissors and pulled the cut dough bits over itself to form a series of 'tails'.
You can see how I did it above, but if it's still not clear, here is an excellent video showing you how:
I'm really glad I made these. Hardly artisan-class just yet, but the baguettes were so delicious it was worth whiling a whole Sunday afternoon away to bake them. Thanks, Susan for sharing the recipe. I'm going to send this post back to Yeastspotting and I'm crossing my fingers that you'll approve!
These were so good and crusty when they were fresh out of the oven.
Look at those yummy grains!
I was not a child of the 70s, but I know all about the trends of that era - bell bottoms, halter necks, thick hair with bad partings (and now we have Justin Bieber), neon-like sweets laden with additives... Here's another very good thing to come out of the 70s - Bread's "I Want To Make It With You". Yes, the choice is perfectly intentional, but what a great tune! You can sing along to it while you're kneading your dough, and should you desire, change the chorus to "I want to bake it with yoooooou....." Anyone within earshot would be none the worse for it.
Malted Grain Dragon Tail Baguettes
(Adapted from Wild Yeast)
219 g flour
219 g water
0.1 g (a small pinch) instant yeast
425 g flour (I used 1 cup of malted grain flour and made up the weight difference with all-purpose flour)
219 g water
3 g (1 teaspoon) instant yeast
12.7 g (2-1/8 teaspoons) salt
All of the poolish
Before baking day:
The day before prepare the poolish. In a bowl, combine the ingredients for the poolish. Cover and let ferment for 12 – 15 hours, or until the surface is creased and pebbled with bubbles.
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook, combine all of the final dough ingredients but with 90% of the water. Mix on low speed to incorporate the ingredients, add the remaining 10% water as needed to achieve a medium dough consistency. Continue mixing to a low-medium level of gluten development.
2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Cover and ferment at room temperature for about one hour and 15 minutes.
3. Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter. I divide the dough into three pieces. Pre-shape each piece into a cylinder, cover, and let rest for 20 – 30 minutes. Shape the dough into baguettes and place them on parchment or silicon baking sheet. Leave to proof again for the second time, covered, for about one hour, or until the indentation left by a fingertip in the dough springs back very slowly.
4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 240ºC. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking. I placed a cake pan with hot water at the bottom of the oven.
5. Just before baking, make the dragon tails following the method shown in the video above. When the loaves are in the oven, reduce the temperature to 230ºC. Bake for 7 minutes with steam, and another 10 minutes or so without steam (take the cake pan out). Then turn off the oven and leave the loaves for another 5 minutes, with the door ajar, to let the loaves dry for a crisp crust. Cool on a wire rack.