The Fresh Loaf

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Baguette woes

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Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Baguette woes

I have tried and tried and tried, and I am just not getting it.


I've tried a no knead recipe, I've tried a recipe by Peter Reinhart that was touted to be "fool proof".  It's just not working for me.


The NK recipe I used was at:


http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=1616


The Peter Reinhart recipe was at:


http://niftyfifty.me/2010/02/foolproof-french-bread/


In the case of the NK recipe, at first I thought I was doing ok.  Then I did the final forming of the baguette and left it on the parchment paper to proof.  When that was done, the baguettes had stuck to the parchment paper and I was afraid they would bake into the paper, so I restled them loose which flattened the loafs.  So when they came out sort of flattish I wasn't too surprised.  I put off further experiments until I could come up with a way to get the loaves into the oven without collapsing them.  Plain old parchment paper wasn't going to cut it for me.  I know, now, that the bread wouldn't have stuck to it, but it was only rated to 375 anyway.


I found something called Super Parchment which I am now using,  Instead of putting the loaves for the final rise on a "couche", I use the Super Parchment with towels rolled up to make the folds.  I can put 2 baguettes on the super parchment, which is on the peel, this way, and let them do the final rise.


Again, at first everything seemed to be going fine.  But I made several mistakes.  Firstly, I left the yeast out of the first step of the "foolproof" French bread.  However I caught the error shortly after I started kneading, and added it (well dissolved) with the remaining 2 T of water that hadn't been added yet.


The dough rose just fine so I figured I dodged that bullet.  I ended up kneading it for something like 12 to 15 minutes because of the late entry of the yeast, but according to the recipe, you can't knead it too long, so I didn't worry.


Put it in the fridge overnight like the directions said, it doubled in the fridge.  Cut it up and added it to part 2 of that recipe as instructed, kneaded it for the 6 minutes recommended, did all the steps to the best of my ability.  Let the loaves sit on the parchment paper with the ridges folded into it for about 50 minutes and the loaves were looking good, really good.  Increased in 50% in size as per the instructions and popped them in the oven, did the thing with the water in the pan to steam the oven. 


However I forgot to slash the loaves until 2 or 3 minutes in.  They had already developed a thick crust or skin at that time.  They popped up so that the bottoms were rounded instead of flat and they tended to roll around while being handled.


They came out with a really fine crumb - no nice big holes.  My first shot was better than this.  And a very hard, very thick, very unpleasant crust that only browned where it had been in contact with the pizza stone.  It tasted OK, if you ignored the dense interior and the thick hard shell of a crust.  Kinda hard to ignore those things though.


I'm really losing heart here.  I've done pretty well with pizza dough in the past, but bread is really whippin' my butt.  My son must think I'm an idiot by now, this'll be the 4th batch of bread that hasn't come out and in fact it's worse than my first attempt.  It LOOKED better at first, but the first batch at least had a larger crumb and though the crust was thick and too hard, it wasn't the hard shell-like exterior this latest batch ended up with.


What am I doing wrong????  Other than everything, apparently.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

BTW, I'm using a KitchenAid K5SS with the mixing paddle and the C-hook for mixing and kneading; I have a scale but both those recipes were in terms of volume measurements anyway; I'm using the Super Parchment, a baking stone, and a metal peel.  I have a heavy duty roasting pan to toss the water into to make the steam.


Here's info on the Super Parchment:


http://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Supply-Co-2575-Parchment/dp/B000QJEYPW


Also, this last time I used bleached AP where it called for unbleached in the first half of the recipe by accident; but I used the unbleached AP in the 2nd half.


My bread flour is Gold Medal and it doesn't say bleached or unbleached; but it's not as white as the AP bleached flour so I assume it's unbleached.


That's the flour I have.  I'm having trouble with the idea that I can't make bread with bleached flour.  My grandmother did it all the time.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Really good baguettes are probably the hardest challenge of all for a bread baker. Lots of folks that have been baking several times a week for a year and so are quite good at most things still can't produce a satisfactory baguette. Periodically TFL hosts a sort of "baguette bakeoff", as just that one style of bread is a pretty good overall measure of a baker's skill. Cut yourself some slack. Bake some other kind of bread for now. (Or at least postpone the baguette shape for now, and instead use that dough to make some other shape, like just a couple boules from a whole recipe's worth of dough.)


Quote:
... and left it on the parchment paper to proof ...

I love parchment paper and use it all the time. But for baguettes I've found it's not an adequate substitute for a couche. The cloth couche wicks away moisture from the surface, which in my experience is pretty important for baguettes.


Quote:
... parchment paper ... was only rated to 375 anyway ...

The "ratings" on parchment paper are ridiculously conservative. Provided only that you take some reasonable precautions -like trimming it with scissors to only extend a couple of inches beyond the loaf- you should be able to quite safely put it directly onto a baking/pizza stone in a 500F oven. Even if you really abuse it, it just gets scorched brown (or maybe dark brown in the worst cases:-) and too crinkly to reuse, but I've never seen or heard of it catching fire or melting chemicals into the bread.


That's the whole point of the usefulness of parchment paper: you can put it directly in the oven without having to move anything. (If you only use it outside the oven and always move things off of it, wax paper will work equally well and is lots cheaper:-)


Quote:
I'm having trouble with the idea that I can't make bread with bleached flour. My grandmother did it all the time.

My grandmother never wore a helmet on her bicycle either, but now most states mandate them by law. And my mother never got past the feeling that "whiter" food was "better" food. I'll just ignore her health problems now that she's old.


Sometimes the old way was indeed better  ...but other times the newer way really is an improvement.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

"The cloth couche wicks away moisture from the surface, which in my experience is pretty important for baguettes."


Really?  Because one of the things I was told is that getting that hard thick crust like that is due to "skinning", or the baguette OVER drying.


I really want to make baguettes.  Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated.


 

Chuck's picture
Chuck

I find a slightly lower hydration on the surface both helps the loaves retain their shape and makes slashing straightforward, without having any noticeable effect on the taste or mouthfeel of the finished loaf.


I too try pretty hard to avoid lots of skinning, which messes everything up.


I think of it like the three bears porridge: one bowl is "too hot", and the second is "too cold", and the third is "just right". Unfortunately knowing where "just right" is is beyond me; fortunately my experience is I don't have to think about it, as just using the couche cloth normally automatically gets my loaves to "just right".


 

MadAboutB8's picture
MadAboutB8

I made the baguette first time last weekend as well. Mine went alright, not great, a few mishaps, but generally okay.


I also had some troubles after I transferred the loaves to parchment paper and wanted to adjust the spaces between two baguettes. The loaves stuck onto the paper!


Then, I remember reading from Peter Reinhart's book that the silicone baking paper only is a non-stick paper when it's heated up. It's a sticking paper when it's out of the oven!


Sue


http://youcandoitathome.blogspot.com/


 

Chuck's picture
Chuck

In my experience parchment paper does a fairly good job of being non-stick (it doesn't stick to my peel or counter or baking stone)  ...but sometimes it's not good enough. In particular even mildly sticky doughs can't be moved easily to a different place on the parchment paper.


So if I think I might have to "scootch" a loaf, I coat the parchment paper with oil (or flour or semolina).

mcs's picture
mcs

I'm going to have to agree with Chuck on the necessity of a couche/cloth/canvas, or whatever for proofing baguettes (both between preshape and final shape and for the final proof).  I would go straight from the final rise in the couche to the transfer board, then drop it right on the baking stone.  Skip the parchment if you have a baking stone.  For something like an epi, I'd final proof a skinny baguette in the couche, transfer it with a board to a piece of parchment on a peel, do the cutting, then slide the whole thing onto the stone.


-Mark


http://TheBackHomeBakery.com

bnom's picture
bnom

That doesn't really work if you have more than one baguette does it?  If you have more than one baguette, isn't it better to transfer them from couche to a parchment sheet and then slide them all at once onto the stone? That's the only way I've managed to maintain the baguettes' nice straight shape--and minimize the amount of time the oven door is open.

mcs's picture
mcs

...it depends on how quickly you transfer the baguettes from the couche to the board to the stone.  If you have your stone preheated, it's not going to lose a whole lot of heat from the door being open a few extra seconds. 


-Mark

Chuck's picture
Chuck

IMHO, a mandatory part of education for making baguettes is the forty-year-old Julia Child video, showing how to do it in her own kitchen with her makeshift tools and her home oven. If I remember right :-) it's the French Bread episode on Disc 3 of the set "The French Chef With Julia Child 2", which hopefully your library will have (it's kinda expensive to buy a new copy from Amazon). Among other things, look closely at how she uses a "transfer board"; in my experience it's almost impossible to handle baguette dough well while being sure to keep the loaves straight without this tool.


(There are lots of makeshifts around, one of which will hopefully work for you. For lots of info and suggestions, search for "transfer board" here on TFL. Just a few of the things that work are: a piece of wall paneling, a thin piece of plywood, a piece of masonite, even foil taped over cardboard.  It should be comfortably longer than your longest baguette yet shorter than your oven is across, around 8-10 inches wide, thin and light yet stiff, and smooth and dense enough you can make a non-stick surface out of it [by oiling it or flouring it or whatever].)




(However, at risk of beating a dead horse: in my opinion there are lots of better places for non-masochists to start than baguettes:-)

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

I'm using the Super Parchment (which I REALLY REALLY LOVE) as a "couche" - with flour towels rolled up to make the folds.  It does not get soggy like real parchment paper.  It's some sort of silicon treated film.


Are you saying using cloth makes a difference?  What is special about letting it rest on a cloth as opposed to on the Super Parchment?


Sorry if that's a totally ignorant question, I'm really trying to get this baguette thing working or die trying!


Also, I have no idea what an "epi" is.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Quote:
I'm using the Super Parchment ... It does not get soggy like real parchment paper. It's some sort of silicon treated film.

Sorry to be such a hardass, but all "parchment paper" is silicone treated paper; that's the very definition of parchment (kudos to the very clever --and now universally accepted-- name).


The parchment paper I bought at my supermarket does not get soggy. Parchment paper that gets soggy is probably extra-thin or extra-cheap or both (in fact I suspect "Super Parchment" [a term I haven't heard before] is a marketing ploy to boost the sales of the cheaper stuff too:-)


(BTW, I'm told that serious bakers that wind up using lots of parchment paper often find it significantly less expensive to obtain it elsewhere [often either a restaurant supply or a baking supply] and usually in sheets rather than a roll.)


Quote:
Are you saying using cloth makes a difference?

In my experience, yes.


(BTW, i] the best source of linen couche cloth is probably SFBI (start with their website, then telephone them to order), and ii] I just saw a post on another thread here on TFL about some cloth napkins being more readily available and cheaper and easier to handle and clean and just about as good.)


Quote:
What is special about letting it rest on a cloth as opposed to on the Super Parchment?

A good cloth wicks a bit of moisture away from the surface (not so much moisture as to form a "skin", which would be a problem). In my experience this slightly lower surface hydration is fairly important both for helping the loaf to hold its shape and for minimizing hangups when scoring/slashing.


Quote:
I have no idea what an "epi" is.

"epi" is a French term for the head of a stalk of wheat. In bread lingo it means a "loaf" shaped like a head of wheat. Usually it's formed by making a very thin baguette, using scissors to make fairly deep angled cuts on opposite sides (the cuts are most but not all the way through), and pulling out the cut bits to form the "kernels". Once in a while its formed by shaping a bunch of dinner rolls each separately but then stacking them together for proofing and baking; once baked each separate roll can be pulled off without leaving the remainder of the loaf looking bedraggled.


(A Google Image search for "epi bread" turns up a bunch of nice illustrations.)


 

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

OK I get what you meant by "epi", I've seen that before.


The Super Parchment is not paper.  It's something else.  It's like a super thin and flexible SilPat, except you can cut it to size.


Here's an amazon link to it:


Super Parchment


Its sort of expensive on Amazon, I paid like $8 for it at the kitchenwares place in town.


Apparently I'm having problems with skinning so I'm not really ready to give up on using the Super Parchment for the final rise, then moving the whole thing direct to the oven.  I am going to try the foil tenting someone else was using in the oven.  I will also try to make sure I cover my baguettes with saran wrap while rising instead of trying to lay plastic bags across them, and see if that cuts down on the skinning problem. 


I'll continue to look for more hints from people who have gotten it to work.  I will not be beaten by a baguette!  Especially since being beaten by some of the baguettes I've turned out of late would really really hurt.

dscheidt's picture
dscheidt


Sorry to be such a hardass, but all "parchment paper" is silicone treated paper; that's the very definition of parchment



Er, no. Parchment is merely cellulose that's been treated with sulfuric acid to produce a nifty high-density cross-linked paper. Release coatings are an optional part of the process, but are common on papers intended for baking use. Silicone is one option, but quilon is probably more common, at least in terms of volume of paper produced. Vegetable parchment paper (as opposed to parchment made of animal skin) dates to the 1850s. Silicone has only been commercially available since the 1950s. Silicone treated papers have better release properties, and most of what's sold in the super market is silicone treated.

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I use perforated baguette pans for my baguettes. The breads proof on the pan, and don't have to be moved around.


Only epis I proof - and bake - on a parchment (silicone).


Karin