Baguettes

I have made baguettes before using the bible of all bread baking at home, Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice. It’s an amazing recipe and I got great results. But I’m also somewhat obsessed with chef Thomas Keller.

It was at French Laundry that I was first introduced to truffles. I was sitting in a room drinking wine with my friends, while waiting for the next course to arrive. We were served pasta, and with the pasta arrived a man holding a locked box. He proceeded to open the box and shaved some truffle onto our pasta. The whole room transformed. The delicious fragrance of truffle was everywhere and we had, none of us, experienced such sheer magic. That moment will always stay with me.

Chef Keller’s recipes are very exact and very tricky to make in India, as he calls for ingredients that are quite local, and hence cannot be easily substituted or replicated in another country. I remember reading a blog a few years ago by a person who cooked her way through the French Laundry cookbook. And I was in awe, and a little jealous – that’s something I’d love to do.

ANYWAY! I loved this recipe. This is a master baguette dough formula for a batard, but I went ahead and made baguettes.

A few notes:

* French breads seem to like low-protein flour, so I use all-purpose flour that has 10% protein content for all my French breads. Try not to use flour that has more than 10.9% protein content, especially not bread flours.

* I did not have Instant Yeast, so I had to use Active Yeast. They are not the same, and work differently, but I really didn’t have a choice.

Baguettes

(Originally from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel)

Poolish:

  • 146 g all-purpose flour
  • A pinch (or 0.1 g) of Instant Yeast
  • 146 g water, at room temperature (~24 deg C, 75 deg F)

Dough:

  • 437 g all-purpose flour
  • 279 g water, at room temperature
  • 0.9 g Instant yeast
  • 12 g fine sea salt

First make the poolish:

Combine all the ingredients for the poolish and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon. Mix until you have a pancake batter consistency. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12-15 hours.

For the dough:

Mix the flour and yeast first in the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook, until yeast is evenly distributed.

Add the poolish, and the water and mix on low speed until everything has been incorporated.

Sprinkle the salt over the top of the dough, and mix on low for a minute for the salt to get distributed. Then continue to mix on low speed for 20 minutes. This seems like a lot compared to other doughs, but let me tell you it’s worth it. The dough will still be fairly wet and will not form a ball or pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Fermentation and Stretching and Folding:

Remove the dough from the bowl. It will be very sticky, use a scraper if too difficult to handle. Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and pat gently into a rectangular shape, and remove any large air bubbles. It’s okay if it sticks a little to your fingers.

For the first stretch and fold: Bring the top of the dough two-thirds towards the bottom and the bottom up towards the top edge, like you would fold a letter. Do the same from left to right too, bringing the left side two-thirds towards the right edge, and the right edge, all the way to the left edge.

Lift the dough, and put it seam side down into a lightly oiled bowl. Leave aside for one hour.

After one hour, repeat the same stretch and fold as above. Again place it seam side down in the bowl. Again, leave it for an hour.

Repeat the stretch and fold. And leave for a final hour. That is, you would have done 3 stretch and folds, in 3 hours.

Before the final hour is up, preheat oven to 237 deg C/ 460 deg F. I use a pizza stone in the middle rack of the oven, to get that great baguette crust. And I keep an empty tray in the bottom rack of the oven, to pour in water to create steam.

Remove the dough from the bowl. Divide into two equal portions for long 24″ baguettes, or 4 portions for smaller 12″ baguettes. I did 12″ because of the length of my pizza stone. Most home ovens will only be able to get 12″ baguettes.

Shape each portion into a baguette. The book has detailed instructions, but this is a great video to shape the baguettes.

Transfer the shaped dough onto a couche.

(This is what I do – because I’m not proficient at using a pizza peel. I cut strips of parchment paper, and put the shaped baguettes on the strips. After proofing, I transfer each strip onto the pizza stone in the oven. This works for me, but if you are able to use the peel, that would be ideal.)

Cover the shaped dough with plastic wrap or a thin muslin cloth and allow to proof for an hour. After the proof, score each piece (make cuts using a sharp knife or blade) – diagonal cuts evenly spaced.

Transfer the dough, one at a time, to the oven. When all four baguettes are in the oven, pour hot water into the tray at the bottom of the oven, and quickly shut the oven door. This creates the necessary steam for the crust.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, and the bread is a lovely golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on a cooling rack. The bread continues to cook outside the oven, so do wait until completely cooled before eating. And enjoy the lovely aroma of the fresh baked bread in your house!

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