The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Newb Questions re Baguettes

sk8uno's picture

Newb Questions re Baguettes

I made my first loaf a couple weeks ago.  It was a no-knead recipe and it went pretty well.  Today I decided to try my hand at baguettes.  I'm not too happy with the way these baguettes turned out, however (photos can be seen here: I would have liked something with a darker, flakier crust and a more airy crumb. These baguettes taste just fine, but aesthetically they are terrible. I used the easy French bread recipe from Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" book. Some relevant information:

  1. I baked the bread on a greased (with olive oil) baking sheet. Bad idea? I don't have a baking steel or baking stone yet. I preheated the baking sheet, is that necessary?

  2. I used a second baking sheet on the lower rack to create steam by pouring a cup of boiling water on it when I first put the loaves in. Then, after about 5 minutes of baking, I sprayed some water on the walls of the oven to create more steam. Should I have made more attempts at creating steam? Should I switch to the rocks method?

  3. Per Bittman's recipe, I lowered the oven to 350 when I put the bread in. Should I not have done so? My gut is telling me a higher temperature would have given me a darker crust.

  4. Did I take the bread out too early? I let it bake for about 35 minutes, I think. I wanted to leave it in for a darker crust, but I was beginning to worry it was going to be overdone.

  5. After initially mixing the ingredients in the food processor, I let the dough rest for about 2 hours. After shaping, I let the dough rest for about an hour before putting into the oven. Any change here that could result in a more airy crumb? I suspect the bigger loaf may have a better crumb, as it rose more after shaping.

  6. Any other tips for getting a more airy crumb?

  7. I kind of mangled the loaves when I was trying to move them from their resting place to the baking sheet. Any advice on how to do this without ruining the shape/rise?




MisterTT's picture

cheat! This is what I occasionally do and the baguettes come out pretty well: take two long bread tins, shoot for ones as long as your baking sheet (the longest I've got is 39 cm). Shape baguettes so that they would fit under the bread tins with them acting as a cover. Preheat oven to desired baking temperature, put baguettes on baking sheet (just two will fit probably), cover them with bread tins and bake for about 15 minutes and then uncovered for 10 minutes or until the crust gets nicely and evenly brown.

You'll notice that this is pretty much the same as the dutch oven method for baguettes -- the cover will trap moisture in the form of steam and will let the baguettes expand as much as they can.

Is this as good a proper bake with a stone? Probably not, but trying it can't hurt and it is easy enough -- no pesky lava rocks, towels or water pans required :)

For a better quality of crumb and bread in general, you are probably better off not using the mixer at all. Plus I'm not that enthusiastic about the Bittman formula -- baking baguettes at 350F, come on! Check out some of the formulas for simple yeasted baguettes -- there are lots -- and keep at one until the result satisfies you.

richkaimd's picture

Let me say, just in case you don't know, that the making of baguettes isn't the first or second thing novice bakers generally try.  It's truly hard to do, even over years of trying.  So much to learn for just one kind of bread.  My brother's been working for over a decade to make what for him is the perfect baguette.  

You ask great questions for a beginner. Your instincts are correct in most of them.  Let me suggest this:  back up and start from the beginning using the experience you've just been through.  What I mean is this:  collect all the information you can by studying several bread cook books and text books on the subject of baguettes, at a minimum; watch all the videos you can find using the video link at the top of this page and on Youtube, sorting through them for ones on the making of baguettes; and, if possible, find a local baker who can give you his/her time to let you watch his choreography.  In the end you might also consider taking a brief course from a local expert.  Such a course might only taking 4 hours.

I recommend these books which might be in the local library:  DiMuzio's Bread Baking, Hamelman's Bread, Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Beranbaum's The Bread Bible.

It sounds like a lot of reading but there's lots to learn to make sense of making baguettes.  While you're accumulating increasing amounts of knowledge, practice, practice, practice.  

All this is so much fun, especially as you get increasingly educated and experienced and watch your products improve.


richkaimd's picture

You might start by watching Hamelman's baguettes videos.  On Youtube search "King Arthur Flour Baguettes".  I think there are at least 6 in a series.  Note how the dough looks, feels, moves.   Listen to how they describe the dough.  Watch how they move the dough around.  Note the direction of the slashing movements down the middle third of the risen dough just prior to baking.  Note that the angle of the slashing blade (the "lame" is the blade) is not vertical.  So many details can be learned just by watching this series, and it's often stuff that's not in the books.

sk8uno's picture

Thank you both!  I plan to read the Bread Baker's Apprentice and will do so soon.  I'll also watch some of those videos you pointed me to, rickhaimd.

dabrownman's picture

take your 2 heaviest jelly roll pans and put them together and overturn them on the rack of the oven to simulate stone or steel.   This will give you a larger, heavier surface to bake on.

No lava rocks - no problem - use Sylvia's steaming pans instead,  I know it sounds weird, but roll up a kitchen towel  and put it in a loaf pan and fill the pan half full of water.  When your oven beeps it is at baking temperature preheat (500 F) put (2) of these pans on each side on the bottom rack of your oven.  In 15 minutes your oven will be properly pre-heated and the the steam will be billowing.

For folks new to baking baguettes, i refer them to King Arthur Flour's web site and use their recipe for baguettes that is 67% hydration.  This is a great tasting and good looking baguette inside and out.   A great way to practice, gluten development,  shaping slashing, etc... with a dough that isn't too wet for beginners.  As said above watch JH's videos on how to make baguettes from start to finish on YouTube.

Happy baguette making.   Don't give up.  Baguettes are not too hard for a beginner to try to master.  It just takes practice and before you know it - you aren't a beginner

Happy Baking,