Deconstructing ‘Bread’ – Part 2 Baguettes with Poolish

This is Part 2 of a 2 part post. Part 1 is here. It refers to the 2004 Edition of Bread, not to the new Edition.

Jeffrey Hamelman has really tried to make these formulas accessible to everyone by giving separate columns for those working in US lbs, in the Metric system and for home bakers who like to use the volume system of cups and spoons. The trick is to figure out which column is easiest to work from for you.

At the top of the page under the title of each recipe are two little lines that give you some important information

  • the first line tells you how much pre-fermented flour is in the recipe – useful for comparing recipes which look similar at first glance.
  • The second line tells you how much dough you will get from each of the three columns of figures that JH provides and an estimate of the number of loaves.

Put that together with the following totally thrilling factoid, not obvious to me at all and only discovered recently hidden away in the intro to the Miscellaneous Breads section.

The three columns are built up as follows:

  • US = is always based on 20 lbs of flour
  • Metric = is based on 10 kgs of flour
  • Home = is based on 2 lbs of flour or 7¼ cups of flour

The final weights of the doughs made from the formulas will vary of course depending on what else goes in the loaves, but from this simple fact you can see that the Home column will nearly always give you two large loaves of around one and a half to two pounds in weight or three medium ones.  The Misc Breads don’t follow these rules though.

Each time I tackle a new recipe I have to decide as follows:

Either I weigh out the ingredients in ounces  using the Home Column and then press the convert button on my scales and write it down in grams in case I want to make it again some day.  Very boring.

Or I use the Metric column and divide all the numbers in it by 10 and end up with a dough weight that is very similar to the Home column. Very boring too.

If it is a recipe I am not sure whether I am going to like or worse that I am the only one who is going to eat it, then I halve the quantities again and get myself down to the equivalent of one large loaf.

It is all too easy to make mistakes and the best thing is to just grit your teeth and write the whole lot out before you start. If you are like me you will regularly swap the water figure for the flour figure and then you are in trouble. This is not a book to have beside you on the worktop with a light dusting of flour and bad light.  On the other hand it might be a great book to have on a Kindle or an iPad.

This is what I did with the Baguettes with Poolish recipe.

To make baguettes that fit into my oven which isn’t that wide I had to scale down the Home Column by a half. I then converted it to grams for future reference.

I made notes when I made these last time that went something like this : I wish I did this for every bread from this book, it’s a bit like writing a book from a book.  I read the recipe through, converted the numbers into something I could work from and stuck my note on the worktop. I try to always weigh everything out before I put it together, that way I don’t forget the salt!

  • Make a poolish with 150 grams of water, 150 grams of bread flour, and a pinch (1/8 tsp)  of active instant yeast.
  • Mix it up and leave it for 12 hours. Then add the poolish to 150 grams of water, 300 grams of flour, 10 grams of salt and a 1/2 tsp of active instant yeast.
  • Mix as per instructions if you have a stand mixer. If mixing by hand, do what you know how to do. Desired Dough Temperature 76 F. Fold a couple of times during the first prove to improve the strength of the dough.
  • This will make three thin baguettes, or two bigger ones.
  •  Leave to bulk prove for two to three hours, depending on time and temperature, if your dough is cooler than the DDT it will take more like three hours to prove.
  • Shape to fit your oven space,
  • Leave for another hour or so for a final prove on a floured tray or couche cloth, heat your oven up to 240 C.
  • Make sure your steam tray is in there.  Pour boiling water in the tray before you put the baguettes in and then again after you have put them in. You want lots of steam.
  • Slash the loaves properly, spray water on the tops and particularly in the slashes themselves and bake for 18 minutes or so. Little baguettes only have room for four or at the most five slashes.
  • If you can figure out how to introduce more steam during the first five minutes of the bake then that is a good idea! Remember to wear oven gloves, it’s very hot!

Whatever recipe you choose to make, if you use the home column or the Metric column divided by 10, you will end up with, somewhere from three and a half to a bit over four pounds of dough.

A bit about converting fresh yeast to dry yeast

When you read these recipes you will notice one key thing. For the big quantities the US and the Metric columns JH gives us the yeast measurements for fresh yeast, but for the Home Column he gives us instant dry yeast. But the percentage doesn’t change. Now I don’t know about you but my scales don’t measure to 0.1 of an oz very accurately but don’t let this put you off.

The information is in the book, you just have to remember where you saw it.  Have a look at P 358 of the book and there our author gives the conversions of dry yeast ounces to teaspoons.  So 0.1 oz is 0.9 tsp.  He also gives the conversion of fresh yeast to dry yeast as 0.33. This means that if your recipe has fresh yeast you take a third of that in dry yeast.

My other warning is that it is incredibly easy to turn over two pages instead of one and as many of the recipes usually start on the right hand page and finish on the next I have often ended up in the wrong recipe. Kind of exciting though!

My this is dry stuff, I can feel my own eyes glazing over and  at this point I wonder why I recommend this book.  I would love to redesign it for readability and usability and I suspect many people feel the same way.  Maybe I won’t recommend it in future. I don’t know, how do other people cope with this book? I think I look on it as an encyclopedia more than a stand by me in the kitchen sort of a book. I suspect that I joined Mellow Bakers to force myself to come to grips with it as I knew that the recipes held treasure that I wanted to bake. OK that’s it for now. I promise that I will be shorter and snappier next post. The photos here are all mine, but they are from various batches of baguettes I have made, not all of them with poolish, some sourdough, some paté fermentée. For the proper baguettes with poolish photos,  pop back to this post.

If you want to read a totally brilliant blog post by the way, head over to thekitchensgarden and read the story of how Celi melted her mother’s silver teapot. It’s great!



Celia has asked me to add a direct link to the errata pdf that is on the Mellow Bakers forum for this book. So I have uploaded it to the Library on this blog. Please help yourselves.  Hopefully more recent editions of this book which has been reprinted numerous times will not have these errors any more, but if you get an old copy it is worth having the errata pdf to refer to. It’s not as bad as it looks!

PPS April 2013

Please Note:  There is a new and updated edition of this book that came out in 2012 in the USA and at the time of writing is available in the UK too from the usual online source. So unless you are using the original edition, this post may not be relevant to you. 

August 2015 I think the Mellow Bakers forum site has now been put to rest, so apologies if anyone follows any links and they don’t go anywhere. As and when I revisit old posts I will edit them accordingly.  If you want to ask me something about my bread baking,  the best place to find me is on Twitter @Zeb_Bakes. 

28 thoughts on “Deconstructing ‘Bread’ – Part 2 Baguettes with Poolish

  1. Misk Cooks

    Jo, it isn’t dry in the least. I’m reading it all but will study it thoroughly after I return from holiday. Personally, I think this is a brilliant couple of posts.

    1. Joanna Post author

      They are really journal posts, I’m trying to figure out why I rate this book so highly despite all its readability issues. If I put people off it because the book doesn’t synch with some people’s preferred learning styles then that is a good thing in my view. You know that thing when you say a film is great and people come out having seen it because you said it was great and are disappointed. I feel a bit like that about this book.

  2. ceciliag

    Thank you so much for mentioning my story on your pages,how wonderful and your french sticks look lovely. One of my favourite breads! and i have never been able to make them, so i am looking forward to that.. c

    1. Joanna Post author

      Your stories are a delight and I am enjoying them so much that I want everyone to see them too :D

  3. heidi

    That is gorgeous bread.
    I might be willing to slog through the book to make it.
    But wait! Thanks to you- I don’t have to- I’ll just follow your recipe!
    Thank you once again, Joanna!

  4. teawithhazel

    wow..amazing deserve an honorary doctorate for working through all that complicated material..:) i can tell that the book is going to challenge my patience but that’s a good thing because i am notoriously bad at reading instructions for anything..if i can’t wing it i will resort to getting out the manual but under great sufferance..

    1. Joanna Post author

      It’s a challenge and I should have tried to write this pair of posts earlier I think. There are other books I can suggest which have less text and are easier to get into than this one. We already talked about Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf, didn’t we? There’s Rob Reinhart’s books and Bertinet’s books which are less complicated and very popular and many others on the Baking Shelf in the Bookstore. There is also Mick Hartley’s self published book Bethesdabasics which is an excellent intro to sourdough baking, ebooks by some great bread bloggers and forum contributors, countless wonderful blogs. There are links to some of these in my menu tabs and on my links page too. I try and avoid writing negative reviews, in fact I try not to write reviews in general as that isn’t my thing, but I guess that just by writing about recipes by particular people that is in effect a review. Just remember I’m a very ordinary unpaid person, who reads a lot and writes too much x :)

  5. Abby

    I’ve loved both part 1 and part 2. Still trying to figure out my relationship to this book…you’ve definitely highlighted some sections that I either didn’t read or read and forgot… ;) There is so much good information (and good bread formulas!), but I would 100% support you in writing a more user-friendly version! :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      One of the problems from working through a whole book as a group is that we literally cover every recipe and I can’t possibly justify writing out each recipe in my own words for this blog as adapted or not, it would be a serious infringement I think of the author’s moral copyright. I would love to do it though as it is such a shame that the readability of this book prevents people from access.

      As you say one either reads or misses bits altogether and then forgets. We are not good at remembering stuff anymore, there’s lots of research saying that we rely on the net as the repository of our information these days. It could well be that books like this are simply outdated in their style. Sad thought though :(

  6. Ann Hall

    Brilliant work, Joanna, and amazing looking baguettes! I have Reinhart and Lepard and did once consider getting Hamelman’s book but was put off by some of the reviews on Amazon which said it was rather complicated for the home baker. Thanks for doing the hard work for all of us!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Ann, but I have only touched on a few things here. It would require more space and a lot more patience on my part to really do what I would like to do. As I have mentioned, it really depends on people’s learning style, some people are hands on learners, some are visual learners, some like text. Cook books increasingly have fewer words and more visuals and I think overall this suits more people who want to use the books as they cook rather than as a book to sit down and study.

  7. Keely

    Sounds like hard work! You should see my recipe books – smudges of mystery can be found all over them – whoops.

    1. Joanna Post author

      It is hard work you are right, there are scribbles in my copy, bits of paper falling out all over, Celia’s little book dart page markers and still I can’t find anything in a hurry in there. :)

  8. Anne

    Hi Joanna,
    I really enjoyed reading your last 2 posts: laughed at your comments and discoveries/misadventures whilst reading JH and taking notes about the yeasted baguettes with the intention of doing them soon (as soon as I leave the office !). Not sure I will get the book though …☺

      1. Anne

        Hi Joanna,
        I did the baguettes over 2 days with the first prove in the fridge. (I also subtituted 100g of wheat for spelt flour which I really like). Baguettes came out nice and crunchy : lovely sound when I cut with the bread knife. 3 comments though: I need to practice more to get a more open structure(your baguettes are too good looking to be compared to mine…), I need to buy some lames (perfect : there’s a post about them !!!!), I need to make my boys eat more baguettes so I can have the pleasure of practising more often!!!!

        1. Joanna Post author

          Wonderful Anne ! :D The baguette holes always look bigger if you slice the baguette horizontally, try it on one of yours, you might be surprised ;) As to the lame, whereabouts are you based? A razor blade with a holder is really what you need or someone suggested Thai vegetable carving knives as being wickedly sharp. You can use just a plain razor blade but there is always the Health and Safety issue for me with them. If you have access to coffee stirrers and double sided razor blades you can make a nice curved lame, perfect for slitting the baguette ears with. I think I added extra picture to the L…is for lame post.

          All this talk of baguettes – I had better make some soon x

          And I just wanted to add a link to this fab post from my friends at the Weekend Bakery, with beautiful detailed photos of folding and shaping baguettes the way they do them. Another one for me and you to try !

  9. Melanie

    I loved reading these lasts 2 posts Joanna! I enjoyed reading your honest opinions of aspects of the book and I chuckle because I have had many of the same thoughts. I certainly wouldn’t recommend the book to every one, but I’m glad I have it in my blossoming library of bread books. It is a little dry, OK, very dry at points, but I’ve learned alot from it and every time I pick it up, I can flip to a section that I don’t remember reading before and I learn something new! It is true its not a very user friendly cookbook, but I know he does ‘know his stuff’ and some of the recipes have produced some really wonderful tasting loaves for me.

    I love looking at your baguettes. I avoid trying to make them, because mine never look that nice.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Melanie ! That’s a lovely comment to get and actually you put it a lot better than me. That’s the point isn’t it? that the recipes and techniques produce some wonderful bread but it can be a bit of a struggle to figure it all out :D

    1. Joanna Post author

      Ah a fan of holey bread ! I am always in two minds about very holey bread, on the one hand it looks great, but on the other if you toast it and put lots of butter and jam on it, then it tends to end up on your lap as it melts and drips through ;)

      1. emilysincerely

        I am a fan of toast that has cooled down so the butter or peanut butter doesn’t run all over. It definitely helps when eating holey toast!

  10. spiceandmore

    Loved the post – thank you. Sigh, I am always so envious of your perfect looking baguettes. I am going to try this recipe – and your slashing instructions. Fingers crossed I manage to crack it this time!

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