Voilà: La Fabuleuse Baguette Française
Continued from the Spring issue of Country Zest & Style Magazine
By Daniela Anderson
Country ZEST Food Editor
Baking the baguette in a steam-injected oven also is very specific to this loaf. The steam allows the surface of the bread to remain moist so the yeast in the loaf can finish expanding within the first 15 minutes of baking (oven spring).
As the loaf continues to cook, the steam is removed and the characteristic, crunchy crust forms while the interior remains soft, airy and chewy. The home baker can achieve this by placing a pan of boiling water on the bottom rack about 15 minutes before baking. Saturating a small, rolled dishtowel and placing it in the pan of boiling water helps to regulate the steam. After 10-15 minutes of baking, the pan of water is removed, the temperature is reduced and the baguettes are rotated for even baking. The loaves then continue to develop their crunchy, golden crust. If you are worried about scalding yourself with boiling water when placing the pan into the oven, you can use water at room temperature, but the water must come to a boil in the oven before you put the loaves in the oven. Prep your supplies and preheat you oven for a full hour minimum before baking.
Once the loaves come out of the oven, resist the temptation to eat them hot. The flavors continue to develop as the baguettes cool.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS: TO LEVAIN OR NOT TO LEVAIN, THAT IS THE QUESTION….
How you ferment the dough as well as how long you delay it, proof, shape, score and bake your baguette all contributes to how your final loaf will look and taste. Up to a century ago, French bakers used a natural leaven (wild yeast starter). More recently, they have adopted a blend of baker’s yeast and a “levain” (correct term for the wild yeast starter). The result is a lighter, more open crumb. The natural, wild yeast produces a variety of wonderful flavors and it is worth it to experiment with your own starter. The recipe in this article uses only the baker’s yeast so you can get your feet wet. Additional info on how to cultivate your own wild yeast, make a starter and use it in baking baguettes can be found online on our website.
To get a full understanding of the whole process, please read the recipe thoroughly before starting to make the baguettes. It will aid greatly in understanding the timing and techniques.
Your family and friends are going to be wowed when you serve up THE perfect baguette that looks and tastes just like it came out of a French Boulangerie. Let’s get baking.
TRADITIONAL FRENCH BAGUETTE RECIPE
90g warm water
90g all-purpose flour
1g instant yeast
Active dry yeast can be used in place of the instant yeast. If using the active dry yeast, increase the amount of rest time between each stretch and fold round to 45 minutes. Total fermentation time will be 3 hours instead of 2 hours.
275g all-purpose flour
165g warm water
6g plain, table salt
Large mixing bowl
Saran wrap or kitchen towel to cover the dough
Wooden spoon or spatula
Scale for measuring ingredients
Containers to measure ingredients on the scale
Counter or table space to knead and shape the dough
Well floured Couche for final proofing of shaped loaves (a clean pillow case can be substituted)
Lame or very sharp knife for scoring loaves prior to baking
Wooden peel/flip board or a rectangular piece of cardboard covered in foil wide enough and long enough to accommodate your loaf.
Oven proof metal pan and small kitchen towel to create the steam station that will go into the oven (can also use cast iron pan or skillet).
Baking stone or metal sheet pan large enough to accommodate your loaves
Parchment paper to place under baguettes so you can slide the loaves directly onto the baking stone or inverted sheet pan (DO NOT USE WAXED PAPER)
Wooden pizza peel or flat metal sheet pan without edges to support the baguettes and slide them onto baking stone.
Oven mitts to pull the baguettes out of the hot oven
Make the Preferment (starter).
There are three types of preferments. French baking traditionally uses a Poolish, which is a highly fluid, baker’s yeast cultured “starter dough.” The entire poolish will be used when making the final dough. The other two preferments are the Biga (same type of starter that has much less water and is more of a sponge) and the Levain (wild yeast starter that is fed regularly and can be kept alive indefinitely). A small piece of Levain can be added to the baguette dough to produce more complex flavors. It is optional, so we will not be using it in our recipe. You can read more about Levains and how to cultivate your own wild yeast on our website.
A traditional poolish is made using equal parts water and flour (100% hydration) and a pinch of yeast (about 1 gram). Only use a pinch, as a high level of yeast fermenting at room temperature for several hours will overferment.
Mix 90g all-purpose flour with 90g warm water and add 1g of instant yeast in your large bowl. Ingredients in bread making should be weighed instead of measured since flour can absorb moisture over time, making it heavier than fresh flour. Weighing eliminates this issue. Mix by hand until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap held in place with a large rubber band. Pop a tiny hole in the middle of the saran wrap to release pressure and leave the container for minimum of 6-8 hours at room temperature. 10-12 hours is ideal. The poolish is ready when the surface is covered in bubbles.
Step 1: Autolyse
Traditionally, the water and flour are mixed together and allowed to rest for a period of time before adding the salt and the yeast. This is called Autolyse. The water hydrates the flour completely, which encourages the enzymes to begin gluten development. The dough is easier to manipulate and shape later in the process and you get better texture and flavor. Length of autolyze can be anywhere from 10 minutes to 5 hours. A typical autolyse for home baking is about 10 minutes.
I am adapting this baguette recipe so all levels of bakers can turn out perfect loaves with fewer steps, so we are adapting the autolyse and adding all of our ingredients to the poolish at once (Step 2). This particular dough has a high percentage of hydration and relies on periods of rest (fermentation) and brief rounds of stretch and fold (develops the gluten) instead of kneading.
If you decide to autolyse traditionally and add the yeast and salt later, you will need to knead the dough to incorporate those ingredients thoroughly before moving on to Step 2. You can do this in the bowl using your hands (dampen them so they don’t stick to the dough).
Step 2: Add the rest of your ingredients and combine to form dough
Add the following ingredients to the bowl containing the Poolish: 275g all-purpose flour, 165g warm water, 6g plain table salt, 1g instant yeast. Use handle of a wooden spoon to incorporate the ingredients until the mixture comes together and becomes a wet, sticky, shaggy dough. It should pull away from the sides of the bowl. You can knead the dough with your hands if you need to hydrate all of the flour. Wet your hands to keep them from sticking to the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and allow to ferment at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Step 3: Stretch and Fold and Resting Period
This next step is done in the bowl. This is the portion of the process that really develops the gluten (stretch and fold) and the yeast fermentation (resting time). You will deflate, stretch and fold the edges of the dough over itself a total of 3 times over 2 hours. First, deflate (de-gas) the dough by gently pressing down with your hands. Next, you are going to pull up on the sides of the dough and fold those edges in towards the center of the dough, left over right and right over left. Then fold the top edge over bottom and bottom edge over top. Repeat the process twice in the same sequence, turn the ball over so the folds are on the bottom, cover with a damp dish towel or plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Uncover your bowl, de-gas gently, repeat the stretch and fold sequence only once, roll the ball over so the folds are on the bottom, and cover for 30 minutes.
Repeat the process above one more time and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
At this point, you either can continue with the shaping and baking of the baguettes or you can cover the dough in a bowl tightly and place it in the refrigerator overnight for a minimum of 12 hours for slow fermentation using cold retardation to intensify flavors. The dough will double in size. If not quite doubled, take it out and let it rest in a warm place for 1-2 hours. If you opt to let the dough slow ferment overnight and it has doubled in size in the refrigerator, bring the dough to room temperature before starting with Step 4.
For the purposes of this recipe, we are going to continue with the shaping and baking on Day Two.
Step 4: Preheat your oven
Position one oven rack on the bottom rung and one rack in the middle position. Place your baking stone (or sheet pan) on the middle rack. Place an oven proof metal pan filled with water and a small, rolled up kitchen towel (optional, but it helps regulate steam) on bottom rack. If water boils down too much before baking the loaves, add more water. Preheat your oven to 500 F. for at least one hour before baking the loaves.
Step 5: Pre-shape your dough
Carefully remove dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured counter or table. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Take one piece of dough and press it gently into a rectangle. Stretch the short ends out by pinching the edges with your fingers and pulling outward, then fold both ends into the middle of your dough. Press with your fingertips to seal. Then fold down each long end into the center and seal by pressing down with your fingertips to form a seam. Place that piece aside and repeat the pre-shaping procedure for the second piece.
Step 6: Rest your dough
Cover both pieces with plastic wrap or a damp, kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes. This will help the dough relax for the final shaping.
Step 7: Prep your equipment
While the dough is resting, set up your well floured couche (or clean pillow case) on your counter for final shaping. Place a piece of parchment paper large enough for both of your shaped baguettes onto your pizza peel or unrimmed cookie/baking sheet.
Step 8: Final shaping
Take your first piece of dough and place it seam up on your lightly floured counter. Keep some flour on the side in case you need it to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or the counter. Flatten the dough gently into a rectangular shape. Fold the top edge into the center of your dough lengthwise all the way across, using your fingertips to press the edge forward and down into the dough to seal the edge and start creating tension on the roll. Turn the loaf around so this fold is at the bottom. Fold the top two corners in towards the center of the dough. This will help to keep the roll from becoming too long before you are done with the initial shaping. Take the remaining top edge and fold it ½ way down to the middle of your dough. Again, press your fingertips along the edge, down and forward to tension the dough. Repeat the half fold all the way across the top edge of the dough, always pressing down and forward with your fingertips. Repeat one more time if the dough needs more tensioning. You basically are folding up the loaf into a very tight roll. On the final fold, bring the dough down over your thumb with the other hand. Use the heel of the hand making the fold to seal the seam as you work your way across the dough. Continuing to fold the top edge over your thumb and sealing the edge with the heel of your other hand. When you are done, you will have a tightly rolled log with a sealed seam. Using your hands, roll the log to form a long, uniform piece. The length should be shorter than your baking stone or sheet pan so it fits in your oven. Apply more pressure to the ends to taper them slightly. Repeat the shaping process with the second piece of dough.
Step 9: Placing the baguettes into the Couche and final rising
Place shaped loaves seam side up in a well floured couche using a series of folds and tents to help dough hold its shape. Place the baguette at one end of your couche and form folds on either side to help the loaf keep its shape. Place the second loaf next to the first baguette and form a second fold on the open side to cradle the loaf. Flip the remaining piece of the couche (or damp towel or plastic wrap) over the baguettes and let them rise until double in size – this will take 45-60 minutes.
Step 10: Transfer the baguettes
Use the end of the couche closest to the baguette to flip it lengthwise onto your baguette peel/flipping board so it ends up seam side down. Slide the baguette seam side down off the peel onto the parchment paper that has been placed on a pizza peel or unrimmed sheet pan.
Step 11: Score the loaves
With a baker’s lame or sharp knife, make angled cuts going vertically down the length of the baguette, overlapping slightly with the slash before it. Cuts should be about ¼ inch deep. If the baguettes slide around, hold one end gently with your hand. The faster you make the slash, the easier and more cleanly you will make the cut.
Step 12: Bake
Slide the baguettes and parchment paper onto the baking stone or upside down sheet pan in your 500 F. oven. Make sure the water in your steam pan is boiling so the steam immediately hits the loaves when you place them in the oven. Close your oven door and turn the oven down to 475 F. Bake with steam for 15 minutes. This gives your baguettes time to expand quickly (oven spring) while the steam keeps the surface of the loaves moist and elastic. Remove the hot water pan and rotate the baguettes. Reduce the temperature to 450 F and bake for another 15 minutes without steam to develop the crunchy crust.
Step 13: Check and rotate
All ovens bake differently, so you need to check the baguettes after 20-25 minutes so you can pull them out when they hit your preferred crust color and crunch. They should sound hollow when tapped. Baguettes traditionally have a dark crust.
Step 14: Cool
Remove baguettes carefully from hot oven using the pizza peel and/or oven mitts and place on cooling rack. Wait for loaves to cool before slicing since they continue to develop flavor as they come to room temperature.
Baguettes are best eaten on the day they are baked, but you can freeze any leftovers or wrap them tightly in foil at room temperature for up to 2 days. Avoid putting them in the refrigerator, as this will make them go stale (the same holds true for any baked good placed in the fridge).
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