This is my first attempt at baguettes, using the recipe in Richard Bertinet’s Dough. (Bertinet is a Breton, who trained in Paris, worked at some award-winning pubs in Britain, and now runs the Bertinet Kitchen, in Bath.)
M Bertinet starts by dismissing British techniques for handling dough – we make it too dry, we abuse it with rough kneading, apparently. My past few years of baking have taught me not to add too much flour, and, when kneading, use the Dan Lepard technique where you simply oil the work surface slightly, rather than flouring it. Plus, I also already use a kneading technique that doesn’t involve half an hour of rough tugging and squashing. But Bertinent’s very wet dough is initially a little hard to get used to.
Bertinet’s technique involves lifting and slapping over the very wet, porridgey dough, to incoprate lots of air and encourage the formation of the nice, open structure. Luckily, the book comes with a DVD to explain this, as it’s a pretty feral process. He insists the dough will come together into a neat ball even with this high quantity of water, even without flouring the surface at all, but mine remained pretty recalcitrant, even after several minutes of kneading, so I succumbed to flouring the work surface just a wee bit. After that, it formed a ball nicely and became very manageable.
Before you get stuck into the messy kneading, he also uses an interesting technique where you rub fresh yeast into the flour dry, like rubbing fat into flour for scones or a crumble. I can’t see that this is any more effective than whisking it into the water, but it seems to work fine.
My ordinary domestic oven isn’t quite big enough for the stonking great long-as-your-arm baguettes you can buy commercially, but Bertinet encourages you to work small, make mini baguettes and whatnot. Which is fun, and good for mastering the techniques of shaping, folding, forming the spine of the dough so it retains an even shape on cooking (one of my baguettes came out a bit twisted so I’ve got to work on this!).
His also emphasises how important it is to use a baking stone and a peel, along with misting the inside of the oven. I didn’t have a baking stone or a particularly heavy baking tray to use instead at this point, and I didn’t trust myself to try and replicate the action of sliding the uncooked loaves off a tray (in lieu of a peel). So these are just a step in the right direction, risen and baked on a room temp baking sheet; the next batch I do I’ll use my new baking stone (actually a granite worktop saver – which only costs around a tenner) and report back with how that affects the texture. These weren’t bad for a first go. The crust was nice and crusty, and the flesh was open and light.
Oh, and the ones that aren’t actually standard straight baguettes are “epis” – you cut the raw baguette at intervals, turning the sections to alternate sides, making bits that can be broken off when sharing. The loaf resembles an ear of wheat – and indeed epi is the French word for the wheat ear. (Bit more about epi here). Rather nice.