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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Baguette

Some might say that the French Baguette as we know it today might symbolize something. Truth is, it was simply a story of simplicity and convenience, due to a law that was passed in March of 1919 and which took effect in October 1920. This law forbid bakeries to employ workers between the evening hours to 4am. This made it impossible for bakers to make the traditional bigger loaves of breads which the customers were accustomed to. The baguette was then created as a long thin loaf of bread for fast baking. Here's a few stats.

-It is a thinner version of the many traditional "pains longs" which were popular then.
-It contains fresh yeast added directly in the dough compared to poolish used in artisan bread.
-Although the baguette is a symbol of France, it was developed in Vienna (19th Century)
-Made from basic lean dough
-Must have a very crisp crust and a soft consistency inside
-Has slits to enable proper expansion of the gases inside the baguette
-Usually 60cm long and weighs 250 grams (not regulated by law in France)

French bread is required by law to avoid preservative. Due to that, the baking of baguette is a daily occurrence for every baker, including myself. The recipe used by myself in the bakery where I work, can not be disclosed but many recipe books will contain a basic bread dough recipe or maybe even a baguette recipe which you could try. Most of all dough recipes used in bakeries will not even contain a specific measurement for water. This is because a recipe can then be adjusted to different altitude elevations. Combined with the level of humidity in the air, this will effect the amount of water needed to achieve the perfect texture for the baguette dough.

My first attempt at making a French baguette was only in December of 2009. Since the baguettes are made fresh on a daily basis I get to improve my skill everyday. Timing, technique and sheer experience will improve my baguette making skills. As they say, practice makes perfect! Here are a few pictures and basic steps.

1. Once you have mixed your dough, let it rest on a lightly floured counter to not incorporate too much flour in your dough. If the dough was over mixed and is tougher, let it rest longer to relax the dough and get rid of its elasticity. 2.Once the dough has rested for about 10-15 minutes, form it into 400g balls of dough and knead it into balls.

Let the balls rest under a plastic bag to prevent the dough to dry out while it relaxes.
3. Once it has relaxed for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the temperature of the room, take one ball at a time and place it upside down so that seal (which you created while kneading) is upwards. Press down into the ball with the lower part of the palm of your hand. Fold over the dough to form a large log and roll it out. Press it down at the seam again and roll out to a long cylinder shape. Form it by repeatedly folding the dough and pounding it with the heal of your hand to remove any air bubbles of pockets. Then gently roll the string between your hands and the table until it has reached the length desired. Feel free to browse YouTube for video demonstration on how to form baguettes.

4.Place on a floured surface, lightly flour top of shaped baguettes and place a plastic on top ( can use a CLEAN garbage bag.

5. Once the loaves have rested, risen and are light, soft and do not stick to the surface, transfer to a floured baking tray if you do not have a deck oven (which I realize, not many people have one in their home). Make diagonal slits along the baguette.
6. If you can get your hands on a spray bottle (mostly found in dollar stores) spray some water into your 450 degree Celsius oven to create the humidity needed in the oven for the baguette to succeed.
7. During the baking you may notice a few things happening. Mostly unevenness in the loaf. This is due to the dough not having rest enough before baking. Make sure that the formed baguettes have a warm environment in which they can rest enough for baking. Resting can sometimes take up to an hour or two to get optimal results. Make sure they do not dry out during the resting period.

Of course if you have the opportunity to practice your baguette making skills on a daily basis, you should improve rather quickly. Hopefully this posting has given you a quick informed overlook about the baguette making process and gave you interesting history bites about France's 25 million baguettes which are sold daily in France!

Eat well, sleep well and till tomorrow!


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