The traditional french baguette
Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had some good times over the holidays. I think I enjoyed being lazy a bit too much. Going back to school has felt especially exhausting.

We’ve been having back-to-back 12-hour days at school and it’s taking a toll on my feet. And this is supposed to be a vacation compared to life in a real kitchen! I can’t believe that this 5-month vacation will end in a week. There’s only 2 more days of class and after that, we have a 3-day trip to the south of France.

Now that I’m in the finals days of school, I’m starting to panic about my stage (internship). I haven’t acquired working-level French yet, I’m still physically weak, and how will I ever get used to 16 hours on my feet? While my mind accumulates unproductive anxious thoughts, I will start clearing the backlog of posts. Sorry about the 2-week hiatus!

Todaywe had our bread baking exam which consisted of making 4kg (flour weight) of traditional french baguette and 1 kg of a bread of our choice. We had 5 hours which is supposed to be plenty. Normally, we do 3-4 types of breads in double the quantity within the same amount of time. However, as with most exams I take, they never go too smoothly. Maybe I should’ve warned my partner- sorry LN!

After kneading the dough, I noticed our baguette dough was very wet. We thought maybe it’ll fix itself after it rests for an hour so we put it away and moved on to the next recipe, whole wheat bread. After an hour, it was still very wet and sticky. Something must have gone wrong.

I knew why and I had noticed while measuring my second batch of ingredients. There was a scale that wasn’t working properly. But since Chef had told me to use it earlier, I did. I should’ve known right after kneading that the dough was not right. So we started all over again and it turned out fine this time. But with my whole wheat bread, I must have done the worst scoring job (cutting the lines on the surface) ever. It was so ugly. Anyways, it’s done and we all find out how we really did on Monday.

As a tribute to our last bread class, today’s post will be all about making the traditional french baguette. I know, I haven’t done a bread post yet. So far I’ve had 5 classes, missed one due to my finger burn back in October.

Compared to pastry class, bread making class is a lot more relaxed and much less hectic. There’s lots of break time while your dough rests and rises. The cleaning is also a lot easier. And there’s also a real satisfaction when you see all your baguettes come out of the oven golden, crusty, and flavourful just like any local boulangerie. I can’t imagine what I’ll do when I can’t get a fresh baguette right out of the oven, a block away from home.

Batch after batch of piping hot baguettes coming out of our ovens in the last hour of class. The baguettes are sent in and out of the oven on stretchers which can move up and down, left and right for each level of the oven.

So here it is, how to make a real traditional french baguette. And yes, there’s a difference between traditional and regular baguette. The two types are sold in all boulangeries in Paris.

The regular baguette (left) has a whiter interior, fewer bubbles, thinner crust (thus shorter shelf-life), less flavour and acidity, and softer texture (less dense). The traditional baguette (right) has a more yellow interior, more bubbles, thicker crust (thus longer shelf-life), more flavour and acidity, and chewier texture (more dense).

We begin by weighing out all the ingredients. The basic recipe is just flour, water, salt, yeast, and maybe a little additive (only used for regular baguette). The additive helps speed up the fermentation and make the dough rise faster but compromises the flavour. By varying the type of flour and yeast used, you can make different types of bread with different flavour and texture profiles. No preservatives are allowed to be added in baguettes in France so they’re always fresh and become hard after a day or two.

Clockwise from top: flour, old dough (pâte fermentée), salt, and yeast.

This is old dough (pâte fermentée). The old dough is added to give the flavour of the bread more complexity as the dough has been allowed to ferment longer. The ratio of old dough to flour is about 1:3 with a little less yeast used.

This is poolish, a liquid mixture of equal amounts of flour and water with a pinch of yeast that is left to ferment overnight. This is added in replace of some of the flour in a baguette recipe to give it more flavour. It creates a baguette with a thicker crust which is good for preservation. Not used here.

We put all the ingredients into the mixer, called the axe oblique. Different types of mixers (thus, kneading method) will have different kneading profiles (time and speed), and temperature of the water.

Before adding the water, we have to calculate exactly what temperature of water we need to use. We need to know what type of machine will be used to knead the dough, the temperature of the flour (usually colder than the room) and the kitchen. We mix hot and cold water until we reach the right temperature and then measure out the volume for our recipe.

Here's the dough at the end of kneading. With this machine, we need to knead the dough on low speed for 8 minutes, and high speed for 8 minutes.

After kneading, we rest the dough in a plastic container, covered with a plastic sheet, for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, we turn the dough, which just means putting it onto your wooden work surface and giving it a few folds and returning it to the container to rest for another 30 minutes.

Here's the dough after resting for 1.5 hours.

Now we divide the 10kg of dough into 350g portions which makes 1 baguette.

After dividing the dough, we gather it gently into a ball and let it rest, covered with a plastic sheet, for another 30 minutes in a draft-free environment.

After resting the balls of dough, we can start shaping them into baguettes.

We flatten each ball of dough into an oval, releasing some of the bubbles.

Then, fold over the top and press gently with the palm of one hand.

And repeat 2 more times.

And repeat for a fourth time and you should have a sealed, long piece of dough. Then, we roll it longer gently from the centre.

Place the baguette on a cloth to rest for another 30 minutes. It should be about 2-3 times the length of your hand. The one of the very left is way too long. If you put too much pressure when rolling and create a long baguette, you will have a baguette with fewer and smaller bubbles.

After resting for 30 minutes, we transfer them to the stretcher to be sent into the oven. It's quite neat how the stretcher works. The cloth you see in the picture will go into the oven with the baguettes, but then you pull it out quickly and it slides under the baguettes nicely, leaving them in the oven.

And this is the result! Here's a perfectly cut baguette. It has a nice high ridge on each cut. Our Chef taught us to look for this when buying baguettes.

Well? Let me know what you think. Write me a comment below!