The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

"Passive Steam" for Baguettes

Janknitz's picture

"Passive Steam" for Baguettes

I prefer using a "passive steaming" method for my breads--that is covering the dough for part of the baking time rather than adding water, ice, or wet things to my oven.  For boules I have a lovely clay baker, and I cover other loaves with a deep enamel turkey roaster I got for $3 at Goodwill.

But nothing I had worked for baguettes.  I have a baguette pan that's 16" long, and I could never find anything big enough.

We don't have a Smart and Final in our town, but when you google "Smart and Final" and put in our town, a store called "Cash and Carry" comes up.  It's owned by the Smart and Final people and seems to have similar stock.  They have steam table pans that would be long enough, but to be deep enough the prices are getting "up there" out of my budget.  However, I found Aluminum foil steam table pans, 5 for $7 that were just long enough for the baguette pan there.  I brought them home, planning to put one on top of the other, "clamshell" style, but that did not work because the aluminum foil pans are just slightly warped and would not stay together.  Cutting off the rim on one was worse because that rolled foil edge is what stabilizes the shape of the pan.  Hmmmm . . .

Googling around (is that a verb?) I found that the size of baking sheet I need is a "3/4 sheet pan".  I headed back to Cash and Carry and found nice, sturdy,  3/4 sheet pans for $8.  The overturned foil steam table pan fits on it just perfectly like a lid.  I have a large enough oven, that these fit nicely in my oven with plenty of air circulation around.  I do not think these would fit in a smaller wall-mounted oven, though. 

It works great!  I preheated both the sheet pan and a foil steam table pan (not sure that was really necessary) and baked my baguettes covered for 1/2 the baking time, uncovered for the rest.  I did not take photos because I was not pleased with my baguette shaping and scoring (need more practice) but I was very happy with the results of my passive steaming with these items.  The crusts were nicely crisp and browned and the oven spring was generous. 

Now I need a better formula for baguettes.  I used the ABED lean dough, but found it rather bland.  Or maybe just better flour???

davidg618's picture

There are only four ingredients in basic baguettes, and only two of them contribute to the desired flavor profile: white flour and salt.

Use quality, fresh flour. The difference in price is not that big. I'm not suggesting the mail order artisan flours that cost an arm and a leg, I'm saying there is a big range for quality in flours available in your supermarket. There are endless discussions about white flour qualities here on TFL. Use the search engine.

Secondly, if you look at the various baguette formulae TFL members advocate they seem to have two things in common: 1) obviously the ingredients, and 2) long (12 or more hours), retarded autolyse or bulk fermentations. For examples, check out David Snyder's (dmsynder) take on Anis Bouabsa's formula, or Mr. Nippon's Baguette formula, or Reinhart's pain a l'Ancienne in BBA, or my own Overnight Baguette formula. Others coax flavor out of the wheat using a poolish preferment.

Some bakers use sourdough levain, but that's a whole different flavor discussion because of the acid-producing bacteria present. The same caveat covers doughs that contain rye, whole wheat, etc. that are shaped as baguettes.

These long, slow bulk fermentations are mainly controlled by using less initial yeast, cool temperatures, and salt.

Don't skimp on the salt. 2% is nominal in most recipes (Ciril Hitz prescribes 3% in his Baking Artisan Breads ). Salt, of course contributes to the flavor directly, but it is essential for other reasons. Salt slows down the fermentation, leaving undigested sugars converted by amylase enzymes during bulk fermentation. Those sugars, in turn, contribute to the baguettes' flavor in the crumb, and, carmelized, in the crust as well. Salt also tightens the gluten in wheat doughs. If your worried about your high blood pressure, leave the salt out of the green beans, not your bread.

David G