Le levain d’Heidi – Baguette au levain

My lovely and adorable acupuncturist, Heidi gave me some starter that is supposedly 250 year old, can you imagine? Maybe Thomas Edison ate bread using the same starter…Heidi is amazing, she is not only a sweet and great doctor but she is an excellent baker. So if you need a good acupuncturist, go see Heidi, you will not regret it, she will relax you while giving you tips on how to make great bread!

I have to admit that I don’t consider myself to be a great baker but growing up in France, I am a baguette snob and addict. Eating bad bread in a restaurant can ruin my meal. I tried making baguettes, here and there but I never managed to make bread like the one you get at the boulangerie. I never made bread using a starter before, only fresh yeast. I thought why make bread when you can buy good one. Well, in France you can, almost all the boulangeries make great baguettes, you just walk down the street and get your baguette, end of story. In the US, it’s not always the case but I still didn’t want to go through the trouble of bread making, that’s as simple as that…but always thinking, “oh that would be so great to make my own baguette”…such a conflictual thought!

After buying Tartine’s book called “Tartine Bread” (for those out of town who don’t know Tartine Bakery, it’s a famous bakery in San Francisco whose country bread is simply incredible) and reading some of it, I got once more a little discouraged about all the details and the process in making levain and its bread. So after I got the starter from Heidi, I figured I would use her starter (levain) and use a few ideas taken from Tartine Bread book. I have made baguette using poolish, traditional French baguettes don’t use a starter. Poolish is basically a yeast starter, it’s the same process than a regular starter, but you put same quantities of flour and water, and a little tiny quantity of fresh yeast and let the mixture ferment.

In this baguette, I used half starter and half yeast, so you can taste a little bit of the sour flavor of the starter, but it’s very subtle. I have never really liked sourdough baguettes, I thought the flavor is too strong and the bread too compact, not airy enough..Maybe I am used to the traditional French baguettes…

So if you are in the mood for a long process and are committed to it, go ahead and try this, you will love these baguettes. Kneading and touching soft dough, is even more relaxing than a massage! BUT WARNING….You need to be patient and not in a hurry so this is not for the impatient types. If you have no patience, do not start this process, you might get frustrated. But if you’re up for the challenge, don’t think twice! Crunchy crust, the inside is moist, wonderful nutty flavor…After eating all this bread this weekend with cheese, I will avoid getting on the scale.

Ingredients for 4 baguettes

For the poolish

  • 200 g water
  • 200 g flour
  • 10 g fresh yeast (dissolved in lukewarm water)


Prepare the poolish the night before. Dissolve yeast in water and in a small container, mix with flour to obtain a smooth and semi-liquid batter. Cover with a towel and let it rise for one hour or two, then place in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, using a large mixing container, mix starter and poolish, then add flour, water and salt. The quantity of water depends on the texture, you need enough water to make the dough soft and slightly sticky. Knead (your hands will have dough sticking to them) for a little while, then let it rest and rise for one hour. Then every 30 minutes, knead the dough lightly to “chase” the air. Repeat the process for 3 hours (every 30 minutes a beating).

Remove dough from container, and cut in 4 equal pieces, add flour to work the dough if necessary. Make rectangle shape dough pieces. Fold dough taking one end folding it up. Repeat the process about 10 times. Form baguettes, place on a baking stone and let rise again for about 2 hours.

Pre-heat oven at 500F, and at the same time, place a small metal container filled with water in the lower level of the oven.

Using a razor blade, make cuts on top of baguettes crosswise.

Place baguettes in oven and cook for about 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown.