Tag Archives: baguettes

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.]

Couche cloth proving

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A couche cloth is a specialist piece of heavy linen cloth, made especially for the final proving of sourdough bread (couche = ‘laying down to sleep’). I’d wanted one for ages but for some reason never got myself one. Isn’t it weird how there are certain things that are perfectly affordable and yet they are regarded as luxuries and we never buy them for ourselves? The couche cloth came under this category for me, even though it only cost a tenner and I’ve easily wasted ten pounds on loads of other crap.

You can of course use a dish cloth in a bowl for proving sourdough, and lots of people do. But, for me, it’s not really the same as it’s clumsy and the dough can stick to a dishcloth, no matter how dusted with flour. I have umpteen bannetons now – hence why the couche cloth seemed like a luxury. But I sometimes wanted to make sourdough baguettes and rolls, just some different shapes occasionally, and I couldn’t do those in the bannetons, because the shape of the banneton determines the shape of the final loaf. And most bannetons are round or baton shaped. Here is a pic of my sourdough rolls, after they’d been proved in the cloth, and on the flipping board about to be flipped onto the baking tray, to go into the oven.

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Then one day, I was talking to my mother and she told me about how she and my grandmother  used to make bread when she was a girl, and she was telling me all about how they used to lay the shaped dough down in a piece of linen cloth and pinch the cloth up so that the dough held its shape. And I recognised that of course, she was talking about a couche cloth.

Well. Now I knew it was part of my heritage, I knew I had to get one. And with a couche cloth you need a flipping board or planchette. So I put both on my birthday list and I got both. They were bought from the fabulous Bakery Bits.

I got my couche cloth by the metre, going for the 60cm by 1m length, which, weirdly, ends up cheaper (£10.14) than the pre-cut cloth of the same size (£14.40).

I immediately realised that I’d got my couche cloth too big, but that’s no biggie as I cut it in half. The thing with couche cloth proving is that you then either need to keep the dough out for proving or put it in the fridge. And if you put it in the fridge you need to make sure you have a tray big enough to hold your shaped dough AND that, then, your fridge and your oven are big enough to hold the bread when you prove and then cook it. No point making a 3ft long baguette if you then can’t get it into the fridge to prove and then the oven to cook it.

Here are two great videos, that Joanna from Zeb Bakes put me onto, ostensibly to help me with shaping my baguettes (more about baguettes another time). This one shows you a couche cloth in use and this one shows you the flipping board in action.

I dust couche cloths with rice flour. I find it much better than the usually recommended rye flour – my loaves never stick – and also it gives a lovely contrast on the crust of my cooked loaves. And when I’m done, I brush the cloth with a grouting brush which I keep just for that job (being a grouting brush it has stiff bristles). Then I hang them out in the glorious sunshine to dry.