#9, French Bread (Baguette Baby)
Two days off, the house completely free to myself, I think it’s about time I tackled the classic Baguette. Though in hindsight I now feel a little guilty in making one of the most desired and ideal daily breads with everyone else out of the house, but another way to look at it is that no one’s here to see me fail if that does indeed happen! But I wanted to put these few beginning lessons, tricks, and ideas/theories of my own into practice and see what I can produce. So I’ll be applying my idea of splitting the dough up before the bulk ferment, shaping a little faster and more comfortingly, and finally getting a good hearth baking experience for my bread.
That said, I’m actually planning on testing out something else today too; many recipes will make mention that, during the first rise/fermentation stage, if the dough ‘doubles in size before the allotted time’ (so if it says 2 hours to rise, but it only takes it 1 hour) to briefly punch down and knead the dough, de-gassing it, and covering again to continue rising for the duration of the time. I have yet to actually do this myself, so I’m going to de-gas one of my divided doughs halfway through to see if that helps even MORE with the gas pockets’ stability while shaping, hopefully help even more in getting that perfectly not-so-tight crumb that I had experienced in a couple previous projects.
Just realized that this would really be the perfect bread to fill this beginning section with something about its history or other interesting facts… oh well! Maybe the next time (I’m sure this won’t be my only baguette recipe).
3 cups/16oz Pate Fermentee (recipe follows)
1¼ cups/5oz AP Flour
1¼ cups/5oz Bread Flour
¾ tsp/0.19oz Salt
½ tsp/0.055 Dry Yeast
¾ cup + 2Tb/6-7oz Water, Lukewarm
- Take Pate Fermentee from fridge 1-2 hours before use, cutting into 10 pieces and covering as it warms up.
- Stir pate, Flour, Salt, and Yeast together in a bowl. Add Water, mixing on low with a paddle attachment in a stand mixer, starting at ¾ cup and adding any more as needed until everything comes together in a coarse mass that is neither too sticky or stiff.
- Switch to a dough hook, kneading on medium speed for about 6 minutes until soft, tacky, not sticky, and all the pate fermentee has been evenly distributed. It should pass the windowpane test (which I felt mine did beautifully, though it’s hard to see when you can’t stretch with BOTH hands, darn camera work!).
- Divide into 3 or however many different loaves one wants to use for the recipe. Transfer to lightly oiled bowls, covering with plastic wrap.
- Bulk Ferment for 2 hours and until the dough has doubled in size. If it reaches this state notably early, lightly punch down and knead to degas, letting it rise again (still covered) to the desired point.
- Gently transfer to floured counter and start to turn into baguettes.
- First very gently shape into Batards as described for Ciabatta, let rest for five minutes.
- Once slightly relaxed, pick up by the ends, letting it naturally stretch a little further.
- Using the edge of your hand, slide a crease of sorts down the middle. Use this as a pivot to fold ‘letter style,’ folding one edge over half of the loaf, pressing with thumbs to start stretch the dough a bit. Follow this by folding the other side completely on top of the just-folded dough, lightly stretching again.
- Crease the edges down against the counter with your thumb/hand, gently sealing it closed while stretching the dough one last time.
- From here, gently rock the dough from the center to the edge, using the edge of your palms, to lengthen it to the desired size and thickness.
- Set up a couche as also described in the Ciabatta recipe, setting the loaves inside the pockets/sleeves and misting with spray oil. Leave to Proof 45-75 minutes, until risen 1½ times their size.
- Prepare oven for Hearth Baking, setting a steam pan on a lower shelf, baking stone in the middle, turning to 500F, and getting a mist sprayer set up along with 1 cup of water hot.
- Sprinkle Cornmeal/Semolina on a pan or baking peel and very gently transfer baguettes to it. Carefully slit your dough at a sharp angle, or however else desired.
- Quickly slide bread onto the stone and dump the cup of hot water into the steam pan. Close oven door, wait 30 seconds, and mist the sides of the oven with water. Repeat this twice more in 30 second intervals, turn oven down to 450F, and bake for 10 minutes.
- Check, turn baguettes around if needed to ensure even baking, and continue for another 10-20 minutes, until a rich golden brown and cooked throughout (tested with that hollow thumping sound).
- Remove from the oven, cooling over rack at least 40 minutes before slicing…
- Or cut open immediately, slather with butter, and eat it at its best.
1 1/8 cups/5oz AP Flour
1 1/8 cups/5oz Bread Flour
¾ tsp/0.19oz Salt
½ tsp/0.055oz Dry Yeast
¾ cup+2Tb/6-7oz Water, Room Temp
- Stir together Flours, Salt, and Dry Yeast.
- Slowly add ¾ cup water, mixing with hands or stand mixer paddle attachment until it comes together in a coarse, slightly sticky ball/mass.
- Knead about 4-6 minutes, by hand on floured counter or with dough hook, until soft, pliable, and tacky.
- Lightly oil a bowl and transfer, rolling to coat. Cover Plastic and ferment 1 hour, until about 1½ times original size.
- Knead lightly to degas, return to covered bowl, and refrigerate overnight or until ready to use, up to 3 days (3 month limit if frozen).
What Have I Learned This Time?
Seriously, this recipe is the exact same as pate fermentee; it’s just that half of it is made ahead of time for overnight-fermentation-flavoring and then the rest in the same proportion is added in later. Makes me curious about making it in full and just doing super-long proofing/fermentation. I think that’s actually more traditional.
When slitting bread before baking, don’t use the whole length of the blade, which can cause the dough you just cut to drag more. Instead only use the corner for the best results; also, I feel like the ideal result might be less individual cuts, longer lines, and perhaps even DEEPER than what I just did… will have to see with my next cut bread. Sadly haven’t been able to reproduce the effect in real breads, the question then being is that from the cut or, more likely, lack of dough/gas development and/or proper structure.
Some of my book recipes don’t seem to mention some steps that, I’m guessing, by that point are probably supposed to be ‘too obvious.’ In particular today, it didn’t mention doing anything to the bread in the couche while proofing besides covering, but I can tell afterwards that I should have gotten some spray oil on top since it developed a thin skin of sorts (you can sort of see the effect of it in my slicing picture).
I am DEFINITELY making sure to de-gas/punch down all my bulk fermented hearth/gas-reliant breads halfway through their first rising process from now on. It’s hard to definitively say if the final result in crumb was any better than the ones I didn’t de-gas, though it looks like it did indeed have a better collection of slightly bigger holes (still not as awesome as proper baguettes though), but what I CAN say is that there was an obvious difference in how well I could shape it while it kept its bulk, which you can easily see in the previous pictures of the shaped and proofed batards/baguettes (the de-gassed loaf is the one on the right).
I’m so gonna use half of one of my loaves to make a ‘Fool’s Gold Sandwich,’ (see my Twitter for a couple other pictures of this) something I just learned about in a video concerning Celebrity Foods. Elvis Presley’s TRUE love, it’s a loaf of French bread, re-baked until brown and crusty, brushed with butter, sliced in half with the soft insides scooped up. The cavities are then filled with peanut butter on one side, some sort of jam on the other, and piled with bacon. Yeah that’ll send me to my grave a bit early, and it’ll be damn worth it.
Overall this has seemed to be one of my most promising bread results yet; not perfect, but darn good. Really makes me curious to try recipes outside of the book though, see how much the results are shaped by me vs the formulae.
Does the Dough Like Me Yet?
The hearth breads seem to be cozying up to me a bit more… like a cat