Deconstructing the Baguette
By Mark Schimpf
The baguette is
at once the simplest of breads and the most difficult to perfect. It is the
most demanding test of a bread bakers skill.
In recent years
the secrets of professional bakers have been drifting out to the general
population of amateur bakers. Techniques can be gleaned from variety of
sources. Bread baking cookbooks today do more then provide recipes; they
explore and explain the process. Bread baking courses for amateurs are
becoming more popular at professional cooking schools and even being offered
by some bakeries. Articles appear in magazine and newspapers with a different
take on some aspect of the process.
will attempt to distill this wealth of information to present the techniques
required to produce a professional looking and tasting baguette. Four
elements are considered: flavor, crumb, crust and appearance.
Flavor develops with time. There are several ways to achieve this but
long fermentation is necessary to develop the complex flavor of the well made
baguette. Two techniques are commonly used to develop flavor; use of a
pre-ferment and use of a long (overnight) primary fermentation.
A pre-ferment is a starter that has been
developing over time. A simple starter like a Poolish is made by mixing equal
weights of flour and water with a pinch of yeast and allowing it to stand at
room temperature, covered, at least 24 hours. More complex starter recipes
abound that use different kinds of flour, different fermentation times, wild
yeast versus packaged yeast, etc. You can also keep a starter going by
reserving a little of the unbaked dough from each batch.
The second method used to develop flavor is the
long (overnight) primary fermentation or first rising. Most recipes will tell
you that the first rising is complete after the dough has about doubled in
size. This is reasonable advice for the overnight fermentation as well. To
slow down the rising process a slightly cooler dough and smaller quantity of
yeast in the dough are necessary. This can also be accomplished this by
storing the dough for some part of the primary fermentation in the
These two techniques can be combined; a
preferment with a long primary fermentation.
The crumb refers to the distribution of holes in the finished bread.
The random distribution of holes of various shapes and sizes is desirable in a
baguette. This is achieved with high hydration level in the dough and short
kneading time. These two factor work together. Kneading is generally
required to develop the gluten in the bread. Gluten will also develop over
time with shorter kneading time if the dough has sufficient water to allow
movement of the gluten strands.
Hydration level of 68 - 75% is recommended.
The convention for the ratio of ingredients in bread baking is to relate all
ingredient weights to the weight of flour used. Flour weight is always given
as 100 %. Water at 70% means that for every 100 grams of flour used in the
recipe 70 grams of water is used.
Remember that for a final hydration level of
70% the hydration level of the starter must be included. If a Poolish with
100% water (equal weights water and flour) is used, the dough mix weights must
be calculated to achieve a final water of 70%.
Dough with high hydration level can be very
sticky and more difficult to work with. Resist the temptation to add flour or
work the dough longer.
Professional bakers also make use of a
technique called autolyze. The bread dough is mixed, with or without yeast,
and without salt just barely long enough to form a wet, sticky dough. Allow
the dough to stand in the mixing bowl or kneading surface for from 10 to 30
minutes before adding the salt (and yeast if it has been left out).
Kneading time of 1 - 2 minutes is sufficient if
the dough is sufficiently hydrated. It is intuitive that a random
distribution of holes and hole sizes in the final bread comes from short
kneading time. The more you knead the dough, the more homogeneous the dough
will be. This may be desirable in sandwich bread, but not what we want here.
When shaping the final loaves for proofing
before baking, do not work the bread more then necessary in order to preserve
the air pockets developed during the long slow fermentation.
The crispy, chewy crust characteristic of the best baguettes is a
result of the way the bread is baked. The basic design of the professional
baking oven includes the following features.
Stone Deck with Low Profile Chamber
Hearth style breads are baked directly on the stone deck. No bread
pans are used. Special tools are used to load multiple loaves to the deck.
The home baker can approximate baking on the deck by baking on a pre-heated
baking stone. Loading loaves to the baking stone is most easily accomplished
by forming the loaves on parchment paper and then ferrying them to the oven
with a pizza peal or on the bottom of a baking sheet.
The professional baking oven consists of series
of decks stacked on top of each other, each accessible via its own door. It
is in essence a series of low profile ovens stacked one upon the other. The
clearance height in the oven is sufficient to load and bake bread, no more.
Steam Injection with Controlled Venting
Bakery ovens have a built in steam generator that allows the baker to
inject superheated steam into the oven at the start of baking. This slows
down the caramelization of the sugars on the crust and provides for a good
final spring in the oven before the crust sets.
The low overhead clearance discussed above also
serves to concentrate the steam injected at the start of baking by minimizing
the internal volume of the oven chamber.
Part way through the baking process, the baker
vents the steam so the bread is finished in a hot dry oven. This combination
of steam injection and controlled venting provides the light airy loves with
crispy, chewy crust we expect from the professionally baked baguette.
Attempts to mimic this steam generation with
controlled venting have been developed by frustrated home bakers. These
techniques range from misting the sides of the oven to pouring hot water into
a pan on the lowest shelf in the oven (under the baking stone). These
techniques dont really come close to approximating the steam generated in a
professional bread baking oven.
There is a product available from The Steam
Maker Bread Baker Company (www.steambreadmaker.com)
that closely approximates the conditions in a professional baking oven. It
combines handheld electric steam generator with a baking chamber that fits
into the typical home oven. The baking chamber is a baking stone and lid that
contains the steam during the initial part of the baking process. In the
interest of full disclosure, this article is written by the President of the
Steam Maker Bread Baker Company.
The appearance of the loaves is a result of the formation process,
scoring the loaves immediately prior to baking and the actual baking
(discussed above). Formation of the loaves requires attention to two somewhat
competing goals. First, we want a tight or stretched outer crown to the loaf
during final proofing. Second, we want to minimize handling so as to not
degas the loaf after the primary fermentation.
The following is one technique that can be
employed to shape the loaves into the final desired shape of a 14 inch long,
Start with 9 10 ounces of unbaked dough.
Gently flatten the dough into a square approximately 4 x 4 inches. Fold the
bottom and top thirds on to the center. After folding each third press the
seam together with your fingertips. This begins the process of forming a
tight outer surface. Let the dough rest ten minutes at this point.
The dough should look a little like a long
roll. The goal now is to elongate that roll to the baguette shape (about 14 -
15 inches long for 9-10 ounces of dough). Form an indent in the loaf along
its entire length, then fold the dough over lengthwise pressing the ends
together to form a seam that runs the length of the loaf. Roll the dough
back and forth on the work surface with to form the desired torpedo shape.
Repeat the process a second time; fold the dough lengthwise and press the seam
together before rolling on the table under both hands. After the second time
this process is completed, the loaf should be approaching 14 inches. Finalize
the process by rolling to the final desired length.
Note the location of stretched surface of the
loaf and the pressed together seam. When the loaves are fully formed and
placed on what ever surface being used for the final proofing, the final seam
created should be down on the surface and the stretched outer surface will
Keeping in mind the desire to minimize handling
of the dough, the process of folding the dough and pressing the ends together
should only be done twice. The loaf should be uniform thickness along its
entire length so it bakes evenly.
Professional bakers use controlled temperature
and humidity environments for final proofing. Misting the loaves and covering
loosely with plastic wrap will prevent them from drying out during proofing in
an uncontrolled environment. The process of misting and loosely reapplying
the plastic wrap may be repeated once or twice during the final proofing,
depending on the humidity level in the kitchen and the length of time required
to reach the size desired for baking.
The extended primary fermentation time
described above will necessitate an extension of typical final proofing time.
The loaves should grow by at least half, if not double in size. This can take
1 1/2 to 4 hours. Remember, if you are using the Stream Maker Bread Baker,
you will get a good final spring (expansion) in the oven.
Preheat the baking stone in the oven for an
hour at 425 - 450 degrees before loading the loaves. Immediately prior to
loading the loaves to the oven, score the loaves along the top surface with a
razor blade or other very sharp blade. A typical pattern is three diagonal
scores that each cover approximately one third of the length of the bread.
Bake the bread until it is a deep golden
brown. Do not remove the loaves early. If the Steam Maker Bread Baker is
used, follow instruction related to steaming time and the time to remove the
lid from the oven in order to finish baking in a hot dry oven.
Professional bakers spend a long time learning and perfecting their
craft. The baguette is among the most difficult of breads to perfect. Do not
expect professional results with the first attempt at making baguettes. Like
anything else worthwhile the quality of the results achieved at home is
determined by the level of effort and amount of time dedicated. The advantage
we enjoy today is the wealth of professional level knowledge at our
The recipe below will provide a starting point
for baking professional baguettes at home.
All purpose flour 100 grams
Water 100 grams
Yeast pinch (0.5 grams)
Mix and let stand at room temperature at least overnight.
All purpose flour 375 grams
Water 225 grams
Yeast 1 grams
Salt 10 grams
Final Dough Percentages
Flour 475 grams 100%
Water 325 grams 68.4%
Yeast 1.5 0.3 %
Salt 10 grams 2.1 %
Mix poolish, flour and water until just mixed.
There is some disagreement about whether yeast should be added before or after
the autolyze. You decide. Let stand for 10-30 minutes. Add salt (and yeast
if not added before autolyze) and knead for about 1-2 minutes. Final dough
temperature should be 70 degree maximum.
Lightly oil bowl and turn dough to coat with
oil. Cover bowl and mist interior of bowl to create humid environment. Let
stand 12 - 24 hours. You want dough to about double in size. If dough is
expanding too rapidly, process can be slowed by placing in refrigerator for a
few hours. You do not want the dough to reach the stage where it collapses
due to over-rising.
Remove dough from bowl and divide into three
equal parts, each 270 grams (9.5 ounces). Form dough for final baking, proof
and bake as described above.
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