The sliced baguette on the menu at Poole’s may not grab as much attention as, say, macaroni au gratin, but it’s been just as much of a constant. Since Ashley took over Poole’s more than 8 years ago, baguette with butter and sea salt has been a fixture of the chalkboard. We sourced our baguettes from Tribeca Oven, a great commercial bakery in New York City. It arrived par-baked and frozen, allowing us to bake it fresh every day.
But this week, we made a switch that’s been years in the works: our pastry team, headed up by executive pastry chef Andrew Ullom, has taken over making all the baguette for Poole’s in house.
The baguette marks the last stage of launching our AC Restaurants bread program. Over the last few years, we’ve switched the sandwich bread at Joule to housemade sourdough, and put the hot chicken sandwich at Beasley’s between two slices of housemade buttermilk bread. Death & Taxes has had a bread program since it opened, with loaves like benne-rye gracing the tables.
But we held out on Poole’s for a couple of reasons. First, making excellent baguette is very tricky. Says Andrew, “they’re completely different than pan loaves or larger hearth loaves. There is a bigger learning curve in figuring out how to shape them in the characteristic long baton shape.” Andrew and his team spent six months workshopping the baguette recipe, developing the new Poole’s version through lots of trial and error.
It wasn’t just the technical hurdle, but also cultural one. “The baguette is such a standard at Poole’s,” Andrew said, “so we wanted to make sure that we were creating something that regulars and fans of the original baguette could get behind.” And who better to test for consistency than the longtime Poole’s team? “The first version that I brought to the servers didn’t work—they were quick to point out that it was too different.”
The winning loaf is the result of a three-day process: On day one, we feed our starters (mixture of flour, water and yeast that makes the bread rise). The next morning, we mix the dough and let it proof. After the dough is properly proofed, we slow down the fermentation overnight in the cooler to develop great flavor and texture. On the third day, we scale out the dough and shape, and play the waiting game until it's time to bake. The baguettes are baked in an oven on a baking stone, with additional steam.
The finished product has a combination of pillow-y crumbs and a crust that shatters with each bite. Says Andrew, “A good baguette should make you feel like eating the entire thing isn't much of a challenge. That's the feeling we're chasing every day.”