Baguette a l’ancienne in progress

I was perusing the forums at eGullet and noticed an interesting “demo”. A member posted his (her?) process for making baguettes a l’ancienne, also known as slightly sour, naturally yeasted baguettes.

Now I was immediately impressed by the photos of big, uneven holes and a lovely crispy crust. Though the recipe takes a few days, it is a very low maintenance dough. All you need is about a tablespoon of sourdough starter, which doesn’t have to be fed, or a small hunk of dough from an already proofed loaf. My results tasted great – moist, open texture and a fabulously crispy crust. I ended up simply brushing the baguettes with water before slashing them to avoid tossing water into my oven. Did I mention how great the crust was?

I am not great at shaping baguettes. They will sometimes “poof” out all over the place in the oven. But I will make every effort never to complain about it again because the uglier baguettes turned out to have the more open, highly irregular crumb I was looking for. Though I have made this recipe a few times now, I will add a bit more water in the future, as I don’t want the dryness of Southern California to mess with my results. The high hydration of the dough is important for the texture of the bread and the crust.

I highly encourage you to head over to the eGullet forums and read the original post. I am going to take the advice of the poster and tweak this a little more until it is as good as I can get it. And I won’t say no to any of the trial runs.


  1. That looks so great! I would love to make my own breads. I usually just make the ones with regular yeast coz I don’t have a sourdough starter…and I don’t think I will be making bread often enough to justify keeping a starter…actually I am clueless here and would appreciate some advice. Is there a way of making a starter that is just “per batch”?

  2. Joey – The best way of working “per batch” is just to pinch off a piece of dough each time you make a loaf and use it to start the next one (as in this baguette). The starters don’t take a lot of work, though, and only need to be fed once or twice a month. If you bake bread on a regular basis (or need motivation to), I would highly recommend it.

  3. Mmm…I was just telling Matt I should make bread this weekend; thanks, Nic!

  4. Wow that looks good. The last time I made a baguette it was so salty no one could eat it!

  5. joey, can I recommend King Arthur’s recipe for a sponge raised country boule along with nic’s source? It’s a wonderfully easy way to get started. The dough is made in a bread machine (a food processor or stand mixer would work as well) from a sponge (also made in the bread machine).

    The recipe has directions (no visuals like nic’s excellent source) for hand forming and oven baking a country boule. What they don’t suggest – but I will – is that you pull off a handful of dough before shaping your loaf. You could use this as old dough or “levain” to make any other recipe you care to do next. It won’t be quite as acidic as a sourdough starter but it will be just as lively, will add a nice kick to the flavor and each “old dough” you pull off will get better and better.

  6. GORGEOUS loaves! Lovely texture! Fantastic reference!

    Do you use a conventional oven? What do you do for steam?


    Nic, I would love to see you write a post on the proper care and feeding of a starter. Nancy Silverton’s LaBrea book makes it seem like a commitment just slightly less imposing than having triplets.


  8. Such a tempting looking loaf! I love a chewy bread with big holes – this sounds wonderful!

  9. That is LOVELY! Perfect crumb…all I can say is wow!

  10. Rainey – Thanks for adding the great suggestion. I love KA recipes. They’re a great resource. I do use a conventional oven. In the past, I have spritzed a water filled bottle into my oven once or twice, but in this particular instance, I simply brushed the loaves with water.

    Barrett – I agree with you. She definately makes it sound intimidating! That’s a great idea, though, I’ll get to work on one!

  11. They look beautiful and crusty. I am not sure about using a sourdough starter. I want to try it and so I am heading right now to egullet.

  12. Thanks Nic and Rainey for your helpful tips!

    Would love to read a post on “starters” and how it is all done as Barrett suggested :)

  13. Nic – thanks for the link to eGullet. I am impressed with not only the information, but how seriously it approaches the job it set itself. As a devotee of the Slow Food movement, I am impressed.

    Also – to back to your last bread pudding post, around Mother’s Day – I made your exact recipe Sunday night (I usually improvise with what I have on hand, I just happened to have everything on hand), and it was a triumph! I served it with creme anglaise (recipe from NYT Cookbook called custard sauce) which was the perfect foil for those brandy-soaked cherries!

  14. Joey – I’m on it. Hopefully it won’t take too long….

    dksbook – Sometimes you just get lucky and stumble across some really useful information. I love it when that happens.
    I’m so glad you liked the bread pudding. Creme anglaise would be wonderful with it!

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