It’s been a while since I wrote about bread on this blog. There was a vacation, failed (though promising) recipe or two, and the typical excuses of a busy life. Our staple’s just to easy to fall back on. But you knew it couldn’t last, right?
These loaves were, oddly enough, inspired by a recent trip to the freezer. Things have been getting a bit spare in there, since we started eating from the garden, so, as you might expect, weird things are suddenly emerging from its depths. No, I’m not talking about decade-old steaks or anything quite so petrified. I’m talking about flour.
A rye blend and buckwheat flour, to be precise — both begging to be used. Now, you’re probably wondering what rye and buckwheat have to do with the lovely looking baguette pictures I’m posting here. Unless, of course, you’ve taken a tour through Paris with Daniel Leader, and found Eric Kayser’s buckwheat batard recipe in among the typical Parisian fare.
You’ll need a sourdough starter, which is where the rye blend comes in, and plenty of buckwheat for this recipe. You also need to let go of the idea that this bread will behave. Buckwheat, as it so happens, is not your normal flour. It’s the seed of a plant that happens to be related to rhubarb and sorrel, and doesn’t actually have much gluten to speak of. It will take high gluten flour, a nice, active sourdough starter, and some patience to make this recipe work.
Now that I’ve scared you off, I’ll tell you that it’s worth every bit of trouble. The 10-day sourdough process, the long kneading times, and the expensive high gluten flour (which we get directly from King Arthur), are all forgiven once you taste these loaves. The buckwheat? It comes through in its characteristically nutty, smooth way. The flavor is distinctive and fascinating somehow. It’s certainly not your everyday baguette. And the crumb? Well, decide for yourself.
I think it turned out pretty damn well for a first go, don’t you?
Makes 4 mini-baguettes
You will need liquid levain (instructions for making this below) for this recipe. I should also warn you — the recipe as Daniel Leader wrote it, and as I made it, produced far more buckwheat levain than you need in the recipe. I turned the rest of mine into some sourdough buckwheat waffles (add an egg or two, a bit of sugar, vanilla, all purpose flour, a couple of tablespoons of butter, and milk until you have a batter), but you can also safely double the recipe without doubling the levain. This recipe will take two days, and you’ll need to be around for the second day, so plan ahead.
Finally, remember that buckwheat has very little gluten. You need bread flour or a mix of all purpose and high gluten flour (like I used here) to achieve the light crumb structure you probably want for these loaves. You also need to make sure you actually develop that gluten structure properly, so don’t skimp on the kneading.
- 1-1/2 c. (10.6 oz) liquid levain (see below)
- 2 T. (1.2 oz) water, tepid
- 3/4 c. (4.4 oz) buckwheat flour
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. It should have increased in size nearly twofold, and look like this:
- 1-1/3 c. water, room temperature
- 2-3/4 c. (15.9 oz) unbleached bread flour or a mix (~1/2 and 1/2) of all purpose and high gluten flour. This bread needs the gluten in order to form the open crumb you want, so I would advise against substituting all purpose flour for bread flour.
- 1/2 c. (1.8 oz) buckwheat flour
- ~2/3 c. (4.4 oz) buckwheat levain
- 1-1/2 t. (0.4 oz) sea salt
Mix the flours and water together until you get a rough, crumbly dough. It should look something like this:
Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so, and then add the salt and buckwheat levain. Mix together (with your hands — that’s easiest), until the dough comes together, on a lightly floured surface. You can put some olive oil on your hands if you want to keep them from getting caked in dough.
Knead for 10-12 minutes, until the dough is soft, supple, and stretchy. Tear a golf-ball sized piece off and stretch it; it shouldn’t tear easily. If it does, keep going for a minute or two, and then try again. Your final product should be a little bit sticky; this dough is wet, so it’s not necessarily the easiest to knead, but you’ll get there. Use olive oil more than flour to keep it from sticking to the countertop.
Once the kneading is complete, coat a large bowl lightly with a bit of olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 3 or 4 hours, until it almost doubles in size. Mine didn’t quite get there — It increased to ~1.5 its original size — but maybe you’ll have more luck.
Next, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop. Handle the dough minimally to avoid deflating it!!
Cut the dough into four long rectangles. Stretch them into snakes and place them on a baking pan or peel lined with parchment. Cover with a tea towel and let sit for 1.5 hours. Remember to preheat your oven about 30 minutes before baking time.
Slash the tops of the baguettes with the sharpest knife you own. You want to slice the bread diagonally, all along the surface (check out the baguette pictures if you’re confused). Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle from the surface of the bread, and cut in a smooth, confident motion.
Place in the oven, preferably on a pre-heated pizza stone or hearth. Spray water on the floor and / or sides of the oven, to create a steam bath for the bread, and close the oven door. Don’t peek for 20 minutes! After that, you can check for doneness. The bread should be a nice dark brown color, sort of like glazed pottery, and should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Let cool on a wire rack, and THEN enjoy. Or not — I can never wait for that to happen either.
Liquid levain is basically a batter-like sourdough starter. You can either acquire some, and adjust the flour / water ratio to make a levain with the consistency of pancake batter, or you can make your own. Making your own isn’t actually that difficult; you just need some rye flour, all purpose flour, and some patience. Mix 2/3 c. filtered water, at room temperature, with 3 T. all purpose flour and 3 T. rye flour in a large, lidded container. The next day, mix in 1/3 c. each of all purpose flour and filtered water (or, you can use a rye blend like I did, though it’s not necessary; I really need to get rid of the stuff…!) Stir until the flour is completely hydrated, cover, and repeat every day, once a day, until the starter smells and tastes sour, and has small bubbles covering its surface. It shouldn’t take more than a few days to see at least some tiny bubbles on its surface. Once your levain is active, you should start throwing out (or giving away) all but 1/4 c. of your starter. You also only have to refresh it once a week, if you store it in the fridge. To refresh, mix in 3/4 c. water and 3/4 c. flour, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 8-12 hours. Return to the fridge.
Or you could just do what my dad did and stick a mix of rye flour and water in the fridge for a week, while he went on vacation. He had his own starter when he returned!