Begin the Baguette


This blog post contains bread porn. It my not be suitable for hungry viewers. 

A particularly nice crumb on last week's loaf

A particularly nice crumb on last week's loaf

I've gotten pretty good at making homemade boules, with my sourdough starter and three kinds of organic whole grain from a local farm. I buy the grain six pounds at a time, and find that about a pound of grain makes two loaves (in other words, my grain order is good for six baking days, or twelve loaves, just about). I have begun to feel so confident about these boules that I've started changing up some things; for instance, I eliminated the cold retardation in the refrigerator, and started to bake the loaves the same day I mixed the dough. Then I decided to add different ingredients, like raisins, cinnamon, and a little sugar to one loaf each baking day. We enjoy that a lot, as the raisin toast is especially good for breakfasts, while the plain sourdough loaves are good with soup at dinner or for packed lunches. 

a raisin loaf

a raisin loaf

But Kate has stopped eating the bread. I think part of it is the shape - I cut each boule (about 12-14" width) in half, then make slices from each half - and the slices are somewhat thick, as it's hard to get a nice thin cut. Kate likes sourdough baguette when it's store-bought, but of course that's white flour, not whole-grain like mine, and I'm sure that informs her decision too. Still, I wondered if Kate would eat my bread if it was in a baguette rather than a boule? She's 14, I'm not fooling her or anything, but I'd so much prefer she eat my fresh, whole-grain bread, then white bread (albeit delicious local white baguette) from the store. I decided to try my hand at it.

Baguette isn't easy, as anyone has tried to make it knows. There are two glaring problems that a home baker needs to address right away: 1) Steam, and 2) Cooking implement.

Most commercial ovens have a steam feature which helps make the crackling crust and moist interior that we're used to. I get around that, when I make boules, by baking them in cast iron dutch ovens with the lid on for the first part of its bake. As baguettes wouldn't fit in a dutch oven (natch), I'd have to find another way to create steam. I decided to put a large baking dish (like a lasagna pan) full of water on the bottom rack of the oven. I let it heat up while the oven was heating up (I preheat at 475 degrees for a full hour). 

The only baking stone we own is round, for pizza, and its ingenious for that, but it wouldn't do for baguettes. A cookie sheet wouldn't hold enough heat. Then I remembered our cast iron griddle. Made to go on the stovetop, it is long and thin. I decided that would do.

I didn't alter my recipe in any way, I simply shaped the loaves differently, and let them sit awhile on the counter before baking.

That's rice flour I'm using for the shaping and dusting, and a cheesecloth for covering them while they rest.

That's rice flour I'm using for the shaping and dusting, and a cheesecloth for covering them while they rest.

The loaves didn't quite fit on the cast iron griddle, and I found myself scrunching them a little to get them on there, kind of like an accordion. It gave the loaves an unfortunate pleated look at finish, so I'll have to make four smaller loaves next time, thinner and shorter, and do two bakes. 

I also didn't know how long to bake them; I bake boules at 475 covered for 25 minutes, and uncovered for a further 20 (although I bake the raisin loaves for five minutes less). I decided to put these in for 25 minutes and check them. At that time I decided to add another five minutes. 

And I think they look nice. I haven't cut into them yet, as they need to cool for quite a long time before slicing, but there is a nice hollow sound when I knock the bottoms, and they smell amazing of course.

They might be slightly underdone, but for a first try, I'm pleased. I think they next batch, smaller and thinner, will be much more appealing. As always, bread takes many, many tries before it begins to look right. So I'll have to practice much more until I hit on a method I prefer. Do any of you home bakers have a method that you have found works well?

Now, the true test: We'll see if Kate eats these tonight with our fish and fennel stew. :)