The perfect baguette

IMG_2932Although I’ve  been baking bread, by hand, for three and a bit years now, I had yet to crack the perfect baguette. Or indeed, any sort of baguette. I suspected – and I was correct – that you needed a couche cloth to make a sourdough baguette and after I got a couche cloth as part of my birthday presents (I’m not a girl who needs an underpaid worker to go into a mine and get me a diamond) I set to work.

The first thing making baguettes taught me is that you really do need to nail your shaping. If you don’t properly prepare the dough for shaping (give it a final knead, then let it rest for about 20 mins before shaping it) it won’t shape so easily and if you don’t shape it properly, it won’t have the surface tension to hold its form. If it can’t hold its form properly then it will be hard to slash and if all those things happen you will get bread that is perfectly lovely and edible. But it won’t look good as it could be.

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My first four baguettes, tasted great but shaping and slashing not great.

IMG_2403Next two. Better but not there yet.

Dan Lepard and the lovely Joanna from Zeb Bakes helped me with shaping and other tips. Joanna linked me to some shaping and slashing videos on line. Dan reminded me to put the bread into the hottest oven possible for the maximum amount of oven spring.

[The shaping video is here and the baguette shaping starts at 2.25. The scoring baguettes video is here.]

Because I really do think a baguette has to be made of white flour, I don’t really attempt to make it too healthy. But I did have, what I thought was a master stroke of genius and (because I just really struggle with adding 100% white flour it seems so unhealthy) I added 50g-ish of rye to my 450g of white flour. Okay so it’s not much but it stops it being made completely from white flour. I say this is a master stroke of genius in this way because after I did this, I read that Dan also recommends doing this to add a bit of nuttiness and flavour to an otherwise white loaf. So, you know, I felt really very clever.

Adding a bit of other flour doesn’t detract from the white-ness but it does add a certain something. I also find that sprinkling both the baking tin with polenta (so that it coats the bottom of the baguette), and the top of the baguette, lends even more certain somethingness.

The other thing to note is that with baguettes, I’ve found I really do need my grignette. So I had to find it in the back of my drawer. The videos I link to above show you how to do the slashes, as they’re quite particular. I can’t use a bread knife slashing baguettes.

Anyway. I’ve now got it so that I wouldn’t say I’ve perfected the art of the baguette, not by any means, but I’ve got it so that I can make a pretty good one which, with some butter and apricot jam and a bowl of caffe latte, makes a pretty perfect breakfast. A bit naughty, without descending into something so bad for you, you want to start slashing at yourself.

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Do look at the videos for shaping and practise. It’s really worth it.

[The recipe I use is Dan’s standard white sourdough recipe from his The Handmade Loaf book, with 50g of rye added to the 450g of white bread flour instead of 500g of white bread flour.]

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11 thoughts on “The perfect baguette

  1. Emily

    Oh yum. Baguette is up there for me as a must do one day soon. Perhaps not with a teething baby! Are cloches very different to tea towels? Not that I ever avoid buying kitchen gadgetry, but dh will want an explanation. As for the look of bread, IMO it really is so important, of course the taste is vital but a beautiful loaf is something very special. Dh worries that I will break our oven by attempting to turn it into a steam oven, but he just does not get that it makes a huge difference to the loaf and the colour and the look. He does enjoy the bread and I just attempt to not steam it up when he is around and watching!

    Reply
  2. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    Hello lovely girl. Couche cloths are very heavy linen and they hold their shape in a way that the tea towels I have, don’t. You can also make rolls with them…I’m sure a really stiff linen tea towel would work well too.

    Reply
    1. Emily

      Interesting. Shall add to my birthday wish list – my dad was particularly interested in me making baguettes, perhaps he will supply the products! Just drooling over all the new things on the bakerybits website…
      Reminds me, have you previously blogged about which baking trays you use? I really need new ones but want something heavy and long lasting – any suggestions?

      Reply
  3. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    A couche cloth only costs about £10, tbh I don’t know why I hesitated. I really want a Pullman tin next for those squidgy white bread sandwiches which are completely unhealthy, I know.

    The baking trays I’ve had for years and years are Mermaid ones. They cost about £20 each so not cheap but they have done really good service. Unfortunately, they have, at various times in their lives, been left on a lit hob so they have buckled slightly. Silverwood is also good and I love the cleaner lines of them so am about to drop some dosh on some new ones from there..Let me know if you need me to link to any of them. I cook all my bread on Mermaid trays.

    Reply
    1. Emily

      I didn’t realise you cooked all or your bread on baking tins, in fact I was coming back to ask which, if any, stones you use. Good to know that the mermaid ones stand up to bread baking – do you preheat them and do they hold the heat well, like a stone would? I was thinking I wanted new baking trays for things like cookies etc and new stones, for bread baking. I used to have some makeshift stones which worked really well for oven spring but they cracked after a couple if years and were really hard to take in and out if the oven. Which meant they often lived in the oven, making it take forever, and cost a fortune, to preheat for something like biscuits. So if I get new stones, they need to come in and out of the oven easily. Which I guess baking trays would. Was also wondering about cast iron baking trays or pizza stones, lodge has some which I am eyeing up, once I win the lottery! Lots to think about.

      Reply
  4. Caroline

    Last year we went on holiday to France and we loved every baguette we bought, whether from a supermarket or a local boulangerie.

    Since reading your blog I’ve got seriously addicted to making bread, particularly sourdough although I haven’t come close to mastering shaping yet. We went back to France again this summer and OMG, I’ve turned my whole family into bread snobs! They all sniff their bread before eating it, several supermarket baguettes were dismissed as ‘disgusting’ and the one they liked best was a ‘traditional’ one because it was apparently like my sourdough. Unfortunately this meant 4km hikes to get bread every day – I’m not sure whether to be pleased or not!

    I will be watching the shaping videos avidly. My bread NEVER holds it shape properly. Not sure whether it’s my shaping technique, that I add too much water or that the flour is poor quality (expensive ones seem no better)????

    Reply
    1. Emily

      I agree, it is great that they know good bread. Mine complain now if it is not mummy bread, as they call it. Which is usually a nice compliment, however right after I had given birth I was hoping for a short break from cooking and baking. Once the freezer stash of my bread had run out, dh bought some ok bread (ok in terms of ingredients and for toasting, nothing special in terms of taste) – the children moaned and complained and it was back to bread baking I went!

      Reply
  5. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    I was a bit ‘meh’ about shaping for a long time Caroline. But it doesn’t take long to master (well, I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it but ykwim) and it’s worth it. I only ever use a certain type of flour so I’ve never tried it with anything else. Sourdough is a fairly ‘frisky’ dough, but good shaping and a banneton/couche cloth should help? I think it’s great your family have got so choosy about bread. I think it’s important!

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Sourdough rolls, or panini | Pane Amore e Cha Cha Cha

  7. Pingback: Sliced sourdough from Waitrose. The best sliced white ever. | Pane Amore e Cha Cha Cha

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