The baguette and the story of French flours
Anyone who knows me from back when, knows that one of my goals as a home baker in France was to make a great baguette. I went through a series of trials and found that the technique used by Anis Bouabsa gave great results. French bakery baguettes, much like the photos you can see in Calvel's book, are pretty much basic French baguettes and in my opnion, not that fabulous. The BEST baguette in France is either called baguette "Tradition" or a house name, such as Baguette "Catalane". The baguettes respect strict rules about their production, made only with high quality T65 without additives (unauthorized ones) and at least part of the process must be hand done (usually the shaping and oven loading). They often have sourdough in it but spiked with yeast and if there is no sourdough, the dough has probably gone through a longer fermentation period to help develop flavour and a better crumb. Not all bakeries offer this type of baguette because it is more expensive to produce and therefore more expensive to buy, usually turning around 1,05€ vs ,75€ for a regular one or even less in a supermarket. In some areas, French people don't want to spend the money and so the baker just doesn't bother with them. In general they have a more rustic appearance, either pointy ends or sometimes squared off ends, not always slashed as a usual baguette but something more creative. These are the only baguettes I find edible in France.
Now, about flour. There has been a LOT of discussion in this forum regarding French flour and the famous T55. How to get the same result in the States. Well, first of all, there are two types of flour in France... regular people flour and baker's flour. I have always used organic, stone ground flour. This provides inscredible taste but it is hard to get light, great oven springed bread. My baguettes are always on the squashed side even if the crumb is open. I prefer to eat mostly organic foods and so I didn't really look in to other options.
But as an avid home baker, I have "professional" curiosity and so I went about testing baker's flour. Now, you have to know that baker's flour is another ball game. There are a number of different millers to choose from and each bakery has the choice of either being fully independant or affiliated with a flour company (like Baguépi, Banette, etc) The bakery get's advantages when they have a contract wiht one of these companies through free training, loans for starting up a bakery, free packaging, etc. I have had the opportunity to bake with these flours and some are good and others not. I have made a decent baguette with Baguépi but I injected it with sourdough and put it through a cold retarding.
These baker's flours have some common ingredients: Wheat flour, malted wheat flour, sometimes malted barley flour, gluten, fungal amylases, ascorbic acid.
I have seen a T65 baguette flour with additions of corn flour to make the flour more cream colored!!!!
So, I have been playing around with this flour...but a special type called T55 gruau which gives the qualities of a whiter flour but has much more gluten in it... probably around 11-11,5% (I have to check but don't have the bag because I bought it from a baker). This isn't a flour you can buy at the store and it is hard to find on the internet. Bakers have easier access and much better prices on raw materials. I payed ,74€/kilo! Not bad for a specialty flour!
I have made bagels and some other simple breads to get a feel of the flour. The I made some baguettes using Steve's double flour additon technique where the poolish (in this case sourdough starter at about 100% hydration) and only a bit of the flour and water are combined and then whipped for a minute or so. You can see his ciabatta recipe here Steve's Ciabatta. I made a dough with a 250g starter for 600g flour at 73% hydration. I then added the rest of the flour and water, did an autolyse of 20 min. Added the salt and then kneaded with a Kenwood at 2-3 for about 10 min. The dough was AMAZING! It looked alive, was silky with perfect gluten development. I let it rise about 2hrs, then did a preshaping but not too tight. Then shaped the baguettes. The dough was elastic but easy to roll out. They rose very nicely, keeping their shape. I was scared they were over-proofed as I was outside playing with the kids and sort of forgot them, but in the oven they got good oven spring. I waited til they were cool to cut (hard to do, but I managed!) I could feel the air pockets in them. Here's the result:
I bake my baguettes dark on purpose, I think the crust has better taste and crunch. Baguette tradition has a slightly thicker crust and a crumb with more chew to it. I don't like cottony baguettes.
Anyway, I hope that maybe we can clear up some stuff about what that famous French T55 or 65 is all about. I do think you can make great baguettes in the States without having to have our flours over here. A very good quality flour that is around 11% protein (maybe with some added malt) should do the trick, which I assume is the case since there are some bakeries making great baguettes over there. The way they are baked counts, too. They need to be on a hot stone or four à sol. The ones baked on racks just aren't as good.
I had to type this out fast, it's Wednesday over here... kid day. So excuse the style. Just wanted to share with you!