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