French Baguette

Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods – James Beard in his Introduction to Beard on Bread

Clearly, Mr. Beard knows what he is talking about. I mean, seriously, have you ever tasted a slice of freshly baked bread that was so good with a little bit of salted butter on top of it that you just couldn’t stop eating? Last Saturday, I had this experience.

It was not the first time for me to bake bread. On the contrary, back in Germany, I had a brick oven in the front yard of my parents’ house. I would bake several batches of bread (10 loaves at a time) in there as often as possible. Despite all my experience, I am a little nervous every time I bake bread, be it an old recipe that I’m used to, or a completely new one.

Baking bread remains a challenge, even for the very experienced master of bread baking (according to my baking master, back in Germany…) Bread dough is alive. Seriously! There are all kinds of microorganism in there, and you have to treat them correctly, so that they help you get the final product that you desire. They probably won’t have a bad day, or a bad temper. But they rely on the surrounding conditions. You have to make sure that those little creatures are as comfy as possible. And that can be difficult, depending on the other ingredients, and even the weather conditions. It is always very rewarding if a bread turns out just like you imagined it to be – or better.

For our Garlic and Herb Crusted Beef Rotisserie Roast, last Saturday, I decided to bake some French baguette. Turned out that, of course, Bo Friberg has a recipe for baguettes in his Professional Pastry Chef. So, that gave me the opportunity to get another recipe done.

As usual, we start with the Mise-en-Place. It is remarkable, how few ingredients can make good things: Yeast, Water, Flour, Sugar (to feed the yeast and flavor the bread), and Salt (to slow down the yeast and flavor the bread).

Yet again, my little KitchenHelper does all the hard work for me. I’m really glad I have her (yes, her; the KitchenAid is feminine in German). She makes my baking live so much easier. On the other hand, I don’t get my regular work-out, anymore…

The dough, slightly oiled, ready to proof and rise. Oiling is a very nice way to prevent skin building and cracking of the surface.

Can you believe that? Just half an hour later, and the little organisms in the dough have farted enough to cause the dough to “blow up” to double its size! Yes, the sugar does help them to create the necessary gases.

After punching down the dough, the baguettes are formed. There are several ways to form loaves or baguettes. Fortunately, I learned the forming of baguettes from a master who has worked in France. It is a series of steps one has to see and experience for himself. You can’t really describe the process, capturing it in pictures is equally hard. The best way to gain prestidigitation in baking is to have your hands guided by an experienced baker during your first attempts.

Well, after another half hour, the baguettes have risen. It is always very pleasing to see that it actually worked: the dough has again doubled in size, and formed a skin that will help create a nice crust.

When it comes to baking baguette, it is imperative to use steam in the oven. Since my oven is not equipped with a steam injector, I used a very efficient method that Chef Bo suggests in his book: I used a pan filled with ice cubes underneath the rack carrying the sheet with the baguettes. The melting ice cubes form a nice, dense steam. However, I made a mistake: I didn’t use my baking stones. Not even one of them. At the moment, I only have two round pizza stones that would not fit next to each other on a baking rack. I will have to get oven baking tiles. They even sell them on Amazon, these days! And they’re not too expensive.

Anyway, despite the not too pleasing appearance, this bread exceeded my expectations, tastewise. As a matter of fact, I believe that this was the best tasting bread I’ve ever made (and eaten, for that matter…) I will definitely be making these baguettes, again! And I will work on the appearance because after all, you eat with your eyes first!


The final product in “artistic” presentation.

Best tasting bread I’ve ever made/eaten.

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~ by Benedikt on February 24, 2010.

One Response to “French Baguette”

  1. […] and salt in the house. And a faucet. Earlier on this blog, I have written about Bo Friberg’s French Baguette. While that tastes totally amazing, it’s a kind of “fancied up” version of French […]

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