Let me begin by saying this is my first post, and I have learned a tremendous amount from so many of you. I am an amatuer baker...serious, but time constrained. One of my major curiousities has been how people get bakery quality breads with home equipment. I have learned many great tricks from you all. I hope I can share one with you.
One particular interest of many on this website is baguettes. Many of us spend alot of time perfecting the formulas and shaping of baguettes. But given the length of most people's stones (usually 15") and standard baking pans (around 18") I see that many of us end up with only about 15-17" baguettes. Most of the retail baguette pans are 16-18". These tools often create very nice looking (and nice tasting) loaves, but given that the standard home oven is nearly 24" wide, I was frustrated with my inability to make better use of that space, and the potentially more dramatic loaves that space could provide.
So I set about finding a fairly easy, and even more importantly, cheap, solution.
I began with three cheap aluminum stove pipe pieces purchased from Lowe's. I was not able to find them at Home Depot.
As you can see, these cost a whopping $3.34. I bought three for $10, and used the first one for "practice."
Make sure the pipes are not galvanized, as these are problematic. You want plain aluminum.
These pans are about 24" long, and after you use a hacksaw to cut off the ribbed ends, will be 22-23".
The diameter of the pipe is about 4", which means the width, if stretched, would be a little over 12". If you can find a flat 12x24 sheet, that would work. But I wanted the "curve" to be partially formed already, and this pipe piece fit the bill.
The next part is a little difficult, but "about right" is as okay as perfect. You want to divide the pan into three sections lengthwise. I used a flexible fabric tape measure, and tapped indentations into the metal with a hammer and nail punch. If you tap three indentations, each the same distance from the edge, then you will have a sort of "line of dots" the length of the pan. Measure first from one edge, and then from the other. This will give you two "lines" of three indentations each, which essentially creates three lengthwise sections to the pan. Note that I used about 4 1/4" as my distance. This means the baguettes are a little thicker that those bought from a bakery, but thinner than most of us create free form. You could potentially try to create four-loaf pans, which would require approximately 3" measures.
The next step is the initial bending of the pan seams. The indentations create a "line" on the outer part of the pan. Using the edge of some sharp piece of wood, position the pipe along the indentations. Using your fingers, press near the indentations and bend the pipe sort of "around" the corner of the wood.
Continue this bending along both lines. From here, you simply do your best to create semi-circle rounds that will hold the baguettes. I used two strategies to continue forming the pans.
The first was to use a long thin tool for spreading wallpaper or edging paint. You could use a variety of things, such as a thin board, or even a stiff piece of cardboard (those of you who have a baguette flipping board...here is another use). Simply place it underneath the partially bent pipe joint, and bend as far as you can, pinching the bend with your fingers.
My next strategy was to use a rolling pin to continue the bending process. The goal is to make the groove as near a semi-circle as possible.
This did not work that well, and I ended up just using my fingers to bend the aluminum as best that I could. The final results can be seen below.
Does this work? Well, my results are below. I just put parchment paper lengthwise on top, and made some sourdough baguettes. For these approximately 22" baguettes, each baguette's dough was about 15 oz. The recipe is based on the Proth5 65% hydration dough. As I mentioned earlier, these baguettes are a little wider than I prefer. They are about 3" in diameter. But they are still nice.
The reason I like these pans is that 1) they are cheap; 2) they allow one to bake multiple long large loaves; and 3) they are easy to make and maintain.
Many of the retail pans out there are expensive, and waste some of our oven width. You could make three of these for $10, and if you mess up the first few, then no problem...spend $10 more and make them better. Making these two pans (plus one practice pan) took about 45 minutes.
Many of us are looking for longer, grander, easier to handle baguettes. I know that many of the posts I've seen discuss the difficulty of shaping and transferring baguettes. I hope these pans fill a void that many of us have surrounding baguettes. They take full advantage of all of our oven space, allowing me to cook six 22" baguettes in one baking cycle. They avoid the problem of poor surface tension on free form baking pans or collapsed loaves after transferring from couche to stone. In addition, they allow for the use of higher hydration doughs that don't hold their form as well.
The bottom of baguettes baked in these pans are quite soft. I have adjusted for this inevitability by removing the loaves from the pans and baking directly on the rack the last 3-4 minutes of baking.
These pans are weak and flimsy. I place them on upside-down baking sheets when using.
Also, the edges can be slightly sharp, so be careful.
Finally, the loaves are rounded on the bottom. I think it is possible to bend or form the bottom of the pans more squarely, I just haven't done so.