Sunday, 16 August 2009

French Baguettes: BBA Challenge

The 14th bread in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge is French Baguettes. This French bread utilizes a Pâte Fermentée or pre-ferment to bring out the flavor and improve the structure of the bread.

You can use the pre-ferment on the same day you make it, but according to Peter Reinhart, giving it an overnight treatment brings out more flavor. I made the Pâte Fermentée Saturday morning and let it rest in the refrigerator until Sunday afternoon when I was ready to bake.

"The baguette was said to have been invented during Napoleon's Russian campaign when he ordered a new shape of bread that could be carried down his troops' trouser legs. In fact, it was introduced in the 1920s after a new law banned bakers from working before 4am. They did not have enough time to bake a fresh boule for breakfast, so they created the baguette."
---"Marching on its stomach," Sam Coates, The Times (London), August 19, 2004, Home news; 6. Source:

You might also enjoy these other French Bread Recipes

French Baguettes
Makes: 3 small baguettes
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

Pâte Fermentée
  • 1 1/8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/8 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, at room temperature

Final Dough:
  • 3 cups Pâte Fermentée
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, lukewarm
  • Semolina or cornmeal for dusting

Making the Pâte Fermentée

Stir together the all-purpose and bread flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl or you can use your stand mixer if you prefer. I decided to do this bread by hand to get the Artisan experience.  Add 3/4 cup of the water

Stir until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball. Adjust the flour or water as necessary to ensure the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff.
Transfer the dough to a work surface sprinkled with flour. Knead the dough until it is soft and pliable; it should be tacky but not sticky. This will take about 4 to 6 minutes by hand or 4 minutes using the stand mixer.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and roll it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it ferment at room temperature for an hour or until it swells to 1 1/2 times its original size.

Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas it, then return it to the bowl and recover with plastic wrap.

Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days, or you can freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months. I kept mine in the refrigerator for a couple of days until it was time to bake.

Making the Dough

Remove the Pâte Fermentée from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough.

Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for an hour to take off the chill.

Stir together the flours, salt, yeast, and Pâte Fermentée pieces.  Add the water and stir until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball. I used the Danish dough whisk and it worked really well.

Adjust the flour or water if necessary so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff.  Transfer the dough to a counter sprinkled with flour.  Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky, and all the pre-ferment is evenly incorporated. I love this part. The dough feels so good!

Fermenting the Dough

Transfer the dough to a lightly oil large bowl and roll it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to begin the fermentation.  Let the dough ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

If it doubles in size before 2 hours, knead it lightly to degas. Then let it rise again, covered, until it doubles from the original size.



Shaping the Loaves

Gently remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured counter. Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces with a pastry scraper taking care to degas the dough as little as possible.


Form the pieces into baguettes

First, we'll form the loaves into a batard shape. From there, we'll form the baguettes. According to Peter Reinhart, that the batard shape is a good intermediary shape for making other forms. Once you make the batard, you are part of the way there and will need less effort to finish the extension after a short resting period.

Gently pat the dough into a rough triangle.

Being careful not to degas the dough, fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creating surface tension on the outer edge.

Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over.

Set the batards aside to rest to relax the gluten.

After the batards have rested, lift the dough and gently pull it out from the ends.

Crease the dough down the middle and fold it like a letter.

Seal the crease against the counter to create surface tension.

Working from the center of the loaf and moving to the outside edges, gently but firmly rock and roll out the dough to extend it to the desired length.

Set aside the loaves for proofing.

Proofing the Loaves

Prepare the loaves for proofing.  I decided to use the parchment method rather than making a couche.

Proof at room temperature for 45 to 75 minutes, or until the loaves have grown to about 1 1/2 times their original size. The loaves should be slightly springy if you poke them with a finger.

Prepare the oven for hearth baking
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Score the baguettes. I painted the loaves with water first so that the lame wouldn't get stuck in the dough.

I scored them a little differently than what the book describes. It ended up deflating the loaves a little bit.

Baking the Loaves

Dust a baker's peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and very gently transfer the baguettes to the peel or pan. I used a baking pan without sides and sprinkled it with cornmeal. I have semolina but it's in the freezer in the garage so the cornmeal was easier to get.

Transfer the baguettes to the baking stone. Pour one cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the oven door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat 2 more times at 30 second intervals. Then lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F. and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the loaves for even baking and continue baking another 10 to 20 minutes, or until the loaves are a rich golden brown.

If the loaves are getting too dark but are not hot enough internally, lower the oven setting to 350 degrees F. (or turn it off) and continue baking for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

I turned my oven down because the bottom of the loaves were burning but they never really did brown on top. It's probably due to the flour. Peter Reinhart recommends using diastatic malt powder to help it brown.

Cooling and Serving the Bread

Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 40 minutes before slicing or serving.

The texture and flavor of these baguettes were good even though they didn't brown as much as I would've liked.

Storing the Bread

Store the loaves in a paper bag to keep them crisp. They should last a few days.

Happy Baking!

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