This post is about baguettes. The rest is extra.
For a while now, I’ve been baking bread and have held the baguette in utmost esteem amongst its glutenous brethren. There is something very magical about a great baguette. The bread you can eat on its own. The texture and flavors enough to satisfy the palette. And, yet so versatile. And difficult to make right.
Having gone to grad school in France, I am extremely comfortable reading French, and took to scouring the web for recipes from the source. I stumbled upon this [in French], a site that caters to artisanal bakers.
According to the site, the method to achieving the baguette is fairly straight forward. And there is a specific ratio of ingredients to adhere to. In fact, the mumbo-jumbo below the recipe is a copy of the French law (YES, Law!) that stipulates that in order to call a bread “de tradition francaise” it must only contain the following: flour, water, salt and yeast. No additives, no extras, no additions.
Here, the ratios are important. The basic numbers to remember are these: 1kg flour. 700g water. 25g salt. 15g yeast.
Now, as you probably already know there are different kinds of flour in the world. The flour used by the French is a Type 55 flour which has about 10% gluten. This does not exist in the US. The closest thing I have found is King Arthur’s French-Style Flour, which I gather is really somewhere between types 55 and 65 French flours and has about 11.5% gluten. I am by no means an expert in all of this, so check out this site or this site for more information about the differences in flour.
Back to the ratio. I cut the base ratio in half and the recipe worked just fine. Using my kitchen scale, I was able to make sure all the numbers were exact.
The recipe I found on that French site has 8 steps:
1. Measure your ingredients: 1kg flour (preferably French Type 55 or French style flour, but a bread flour will do even though it is much higher in protein), salt, yeast, and water.
2. Mix VERY LITTLE! The fact that the dough is mixed very little is part of the identity of this bread. If you are using a mixer, the recipe says: maximum 5 minutes. If mixing by hand, just until you have a smooth dough. I definitely recommend the mixing by hand method here. It’s important with bread baking to learn about how dough should feel. I could tell how these breads were going to turn out well from the second my dough was in its first ball, my sense of feel told me so. Also, hand mixing will avoid overworking the dough.
3. Weigh the dough while it is at 25 degrees celcius. This is presumably to know that you are within the correct proportions to conform to the law. I more or less skipped this (for now).
4. Let the dough rise for three hours. The first hour, fold the dough over itself several times every twenty minutes (thus, on three separate occasions). After the first hours, let rise for an additional two hours. Do not fast track the rising here. Part of the character of this bread is a full, slow fermentation.
5. Divide the dough evenly. Here, I weighed the dough and divided the weight by three to make sure my three baguettes were going to be even. I also like to make small balls out of the divided dough, then let them sit for about 15 minutes under plastic wrap before I shape.
6. Roll into shape.
7. Proof in shape for 30-40 minutes.
8. Bake in a 250 degrees Celcius (which is roughly 485 Fahrenheit) oven for 25 minutes. Here, the recipe stipulates you must only use a stone oven. Naturally, I used my new French baking stone, the newest addition to my arsenal of bread making items.
While I am no master baker, the three loaves I made came out light and airy with a nice crispy crust that shattered like glass. Before I even had a chance to ask Joseph if he liked the bread, we had basically eaten an entire baguette plain. I guess I had the answer.
For dinner, we ended up making steak sandwiches on the baguettes. We grilled a nice NY Strip with just a little salt, pepper and cardamom on it. To serve, we spread some roasted garlic on toasted baguette, then added slices of grilled peach, fresh tomato, the steak, a shaving of Pecorino and some fried sage. Serve it with a nice green salad and homemade vinaigrette for a great meal de tradition francaise in your own home!