What makes a great baguette? Well, first of all, what's a baguette? It's a post-war, "we're sick of tough pain au levain, we want what the American's have", loaf of very light, white bread. It's made with yeast, very white flour that is very often, believe it or not, a mix of French soft and American hard wheat. Most French bakeries "cheat" and use white flour with stuff in it like ascorbic acid which produces an even light loaf. The baguette "tradition" is the no-cheat version, made with only flour, water, yeast and salt, no additives.
I'm not a huge fan of the baguette but it definitely has its uses. It makes great sandwiches, it sops up sauce very nicely and when it is very, very fresh, still warm out of the oven, it is quite heavenly!
But it's darn hard to find a really good one these days and no bakeries around where I live make a decent one.
It isn't that hard to make a baguette-style bread. There are loads of recipes, either straight method, on a poolish or even a sourdough version. But the question some of us have been asking is, How do you get those that really light, airy, big holed crumb? Is it the flour? The preferement? The fermentation? The kneading? The proofing? The baking? All of the above?
I have no clue really. I have ideas, suspicions. So, the only thing to do it TRY!
For my first test I simply took the recipe for Baguette Tradition from the web site of the INBP, L'Institut National de la Boulangerie Pâtisserie. I thought I'd try their very straight method before doing some of my own experiments.
Well, I was actually impressed with the results. They don't LOOK that beautiful, but they were very tasty and very light. They look sort of heavy but when you pick one up, it is much lighter than you imagine. The crumb is light and melt-in-your-mouthish. The crust is crackly.
I used organic T55, tap water, Guérande salt and yeast.
Here's the recipe:
Poolish: 150g T55 flour, 150g water, 2 pinches yeast - 15 hr ferment
Dough: poolish, 300g T55 flour, 140g water, 8g salt, 1tsp yeast
The recipe called for fresh yeast and since I forgot to take it out of the freezer, I guessed on the regular yeast.
There is no autolyse. 10 min on first speed, 3 min on second (that's what the recipe says!)
30 min rise, fold, 30 min. Mise en couche oblong shape. 30 min rest, form 3 baguettes, proof 1 hr.
Incisions then 20 min bake with a medium steam at 250°C.
So, I let the baguettes proof until I found they were nicely risen and I could see the air pockets under the "skin". I sliced quite deeply, but at baking they didn't get that much spring which I found strange. I followed the instructions and baked at 250°C but wondered if a lower temp wouldn't have been better.
I think the basic recipe is definitely a good one and I'm going to try again changing the variables to see what I can get out of it. Longer/shorter proofing, longer mixing (I read in a French site that baguettes need "agressive kneeding) Any suggestions are welcome!