Sunday, 19 June 2011


In many ways, well-made baguettes are the epitome of white bread. The contrast of the crispy, crackly crust and the mellow, soft crumb, combined with a hint of chewiness and a gentle, mildly sweet and lingering flavour, the whole brought out with some cool unsalted butter, is, I think, one of the really great eating experiences.

Perfection comes at a price, though. Baguettes have perhaps the poorest keeping quality of any bread; after only a few short hours the crust is leathery, and the crumb stiff, and like all white breads, they have only modest nutritional benefits and all the undesirable health consequences that come with a high glycemic index. For these reasons, I generally eat them only as an occaisional treat. Since my baking ambition is to make great everyday breads I haven't been much fussed about making them either.

Some bakers, however, are very fussed about making them, and these include many for whom I have enormous respect, and to whom I have to acknowledge a debt of gratitude for knowledge shared. Jeffery Hamelman is perhaps foremost amongst these; in addition to his superlative book bread (covering everything from baguettes to Vollkorn Rye), he has a series of videos about baguette making viewable online and is a world champion baker. So although I don't have much interest in turning out 300 bags every week, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a decent baguette should be part of a serious baker's repertoire.

Every so often, then, I have a go at improving my baguettes. Below is my current recipe. It yeilds a crispy crust:

and a soft, open crumb:

and it makes me feel like a real baker. I'm so shallow!

Mini Baguettes:
(makes 8 200g baguettes)

50g strong white flour
50g water
20g wholemeal rye chef

Ferment 4 hours at 28C.

155g Strong white flour
85g Water
100g starter (from above)

Ferment 12 - 16 hours at 16C

850g Strong white
620g water
340g leaven (from above)
15g salt
25g olive oil

Mix flour and water, and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Add leaven, salt and oil and knead to a medium level of development. Ferment 4 hours at 24C, with folds at 50 and 100 minutes. Divide into 200g pieces, round and rest for 20 minutes. Shape, and prove for 2 hours. Bake 30 minutes at 240C with steam.

Fermentation temperatures indicate the desired temperature of the dough, not the surrounding air. I have written about how to adjust the water temperature to achieve this here.

This is very much a bare-bones recipe because a lot of detail is not easily conveyed in writing. I strongly recommend watching Jeffery Hamelman's baguette videos, linked above.

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