Struggling with baguettes

Baguettes are one of those iconic French symbols. They conjure up idyllic scenes of the French countryside and a moustachioed man wearing a striped shirt and a beret with onions in one hand and a baguette in the other.

Nothing can beat a warm, freshly baked baguette but sadly these things only seem to exist on the Continent. In my local Sainsbury’s we have to settle for bake off baguettes which say they’re artisan, but actually are just a typical industrial loaf disguised by a deceptively rustic looking crust.

I long to be able to make beautiful baguettes, but as with the ciabatta it took 3 attempts to produce something which could acceptably be called a baguette. The first batch, we shan’t dwell on for very long, as they were so hideous I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph. My fatal mistake was using cling film to cover my lovingly shaped loaves for the final proving. As any bread baker out there can probably imagine the cling film got stuck to the dough and in the process of trying to remove it my poor baguettes were completely mangled and misshapen. I baked them anyway and whilst they tasted pretty good they looked a bit like giant, mutant breadsticks.

I’m not one to give up easily so I tried again.  The recipe which I have used for all 3 batches is from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s book, How to Make Bread. Baguette dough is a fairly wet dough, not as wet as ciabatta, but still more challenging to work with than your regular bread dough.

Batch 2

Meet Batch 2. This time I lightly dusted the baguettes in flour and covered them with a tea towel. The upside is that it didn’t stick, but the downside is that the dough dried out slightly. I have since learned that this is the result of having a dry tea towel on top of the dough and also leaving it too long to prove. It caused a thin crust to form on the outside of the dough, meaning that when in the oven there was no “oven spring” (the initial rapid rising of the dough as the heat of the oven gives the yeast more oomph to work). Because of this, Batch 2 had quite a tight texture and (as you can see from the photo) the slashes down the length of the baguette which are supposed to help increase the rise from the oven spring, are completely closed and kind of look like tears in the surface of the bread. Those slashes should be smooth and should begin to open up pretty much immediately, even before the bread is in the oven.

Batch 3

So, onto Batch 3. Third time lucky right? This time I covered the dough with a damp tea towel, something which quite a few recipes do, and for some reason I had never tried. But it worked a treat. After about an hour of proving the dough was risen, and still oh-so-soft and moist. I slashed the loaves and sure enough the cuts began to slowly open up. I only wish I had slashed them a bit deeper. I’ve read that when slashing loaves it pays to be confident and just cut away… I was a bit hesitant and nervous, but next time I think I’ll have the confidence to just go for it :)These are the finished baguettes. The texture is much better, but I think towards the bottom it gets a bit dense. I believe this can be rectified by a liiiitle bit longer proving, and perhaps slightly longer in the oven. You can probably also see a crack along the side of the bread. I believe this is from where I didn’t seal the seam of the bread properly, and so as the dough expanded in the oven it kind of ripped a tear in the side of the loaf.

Overall I’m fairly happy with the outcome, but being a perfectionist, there is always something that can be improved. Baguettes will be revisited again at some point in the future.

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