French Baguette starts in the bread machine, ends in the clay baker
I have recently be on a quest to bake a baguette at least as good as those available from a local artisan baker, called "Terra Breads," here on the west coast of Canada. It began with the purchase of a bread machine, which some would consider a bad start. I made it an absolute requirement because I wanted a sustainable bread making method, one that I would not abandon six months or a year from now. The bread machine bakes bread in a rather ugly block shape with an unappetizing crust. So I knew I would be finishing the baking outside the bread machine. The bread machine would just do the dirty work. Was it possible?
I learned that steam is key to getting a well-browned crust, a feature of professional ovens. After experimenting with the hot stone and water in a pan method, I watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen and discovered how to simulate a professional steam baking oven. ATC used a large dutch oven, but a little research revealed the existence of the Sassafras Clay Baker, which has the right shape and the right material for creating a red hot, steamy environment for creaking a crackly crust on bread. (See it here.) I tried a Peter Reinhardt recipe in the clay baker and it came out with a very good crust, and a soft crumb but no big holes! I also made the mistake of using bread flour rather than All Purpose flour. Here is the Reinhardt loaf...perhaps a little too long in the oven! And the slashes are not at the right angle!
Ultimately my search for a recipe landed me here on "The Fresh Loaf" and Anis Bouabsa's recipe and cold fermentation method for the perfect home cooked baguette as interpreted in the dmsnyder blog: here.
I decided to adapt David`s recipe to my own method. I added the water and salt to the bottom of my bread machine pan and then added the flour and finally the yeast. I used a local favourite, Roger`s All Purpose, made entirely of hard wheat and excellent for bread making. Then I mixed the ingredients using the bread machine`s dough cyle. I only mixed it in the bread cycle until the dough was in a big wet ball, canceling the rest of the cycle and placing the wet ball of dough into a bowl and into the fridge.
I followed David`s steps until it was time to put the ficelle in the oven. Forty five minutes before baking, the clay baker went into the oven set at 500 degrees F. When it was ready, into the baker went the dough. I figured correctly there was no need to add water to the clay baker. After ten minutes I spun the baker around to make sure the loaf baked evenly. After another ten minutes out came the loaf and I measured the loaf`s temperature. Perfect. 208 degrees f. What was more: the crust and crumb were perfect.
There are those holes I had so missed in earlier attempts. I think the dough was wetter than it should have been (probably because David`s flour absorbs more water). The baguette did not expand as much as I would have wanted but the crumb was otherwise perfect. So the next batch I try I am going to reduce the amount of water slightly. However, I can tell you the loaf was absolutely delicious, with a nice clean wheaty taste and a wonderful mouth feel. The crust was nice and hard, making it difficult to insert the instant thermometer at the heel of the loaf. Perfectly chewy with a soft, light crumb.
An excellent method for a sustainable baguette loaf which is every bit as good as the best artisan baguette available locally. Thanks to the person who originally got the recipe from Anis Bouabsa, and for David Snyder for sharing the recipe.