Adventures in Bread Baking Part 2: The Baguette

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Everybody RISE! RISE!

For my second whirl with the Vatinet baking book, I wanted to try something a little more flavorful but not complicated (I wasn’t quite ready for the Kalamata or Beaujolais recipes just yet).  I also wanted to try out my new couche, so I decided on a whole wheat recipe flavored with just a touch of honey, shaped into baguettes.  This involved a certain amount of flipping back and forth between the recipe and the baguette-forming instructions, as well as some adjustments on my end to make up for my less than industrial kitchen.  For example, Vatinet wants you to bake the baguettes on a big stone, but a big stone I hava no.  What I did have was a brand spankin’ new Chicago Metallic baguette pan, so that was going to make its debut as my baking vessel of choice (I also have CM’s French bread pan – damn those Amazon “frequently bought together” deals).

The dough creation process was more or less the same as in making the boule.   The big difference was the addition of whole wheat flour and that little touch of honey.  My honey had crystalized, so it needed a brief nuke in the microwave and then time to cool before it could be used, so I reviewed recipe, kneading technique and proper baguette formation and assembled the ol’ mise en place while I waited.

Because of the whole wheat flour, the dough was a good bit stiffer and took a little longer to work this time, especially using Vatinet’s pinch-and-pull kneading method.  The results were still very pleasing – this dough smells good.  I popped it into its floured bowl and left it to rest.  Once again, it didn’t rise as much as I thought it should (this could be because John and I keep our house on the cool side), but after an hour it had doubled, just barely, so I forged ahead.

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Voilà le pain en la couche.

Forming the baguettes was fun.  First you form the dough into a rectangle (and Vatinet is very specific about how you do this, just as he is specific about every step in the baking process), then you use your fingers to create a kind of dog-bone shape, and then both hands come into play as you roll the dough longer, into the traditional baguette shape.  I wished for a larger working surface, such as a big table, but I was NOT going to prep bread on the Stickley.  The longest counter top in my little galley kitchen had to suffice.  Then I put the two baguettes on the couche, lifting a couple of folds between the loaves.  The couche was big enough to then cover both baguettes for the second rising.

(A note.  Every time I try to type couche in this blog, I type douche instead.  I don’t know what that says about me or my typing skills, but it’s making me giggle.)

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Pan for le pain.

The baguettes didn’t rise a whole lot, but then, they’re baguettes and compared to the boule recipe, use very little yeast.  They looked adorable – so adorable that I spent time admiring them instead of taking their photo, once they had been panned and slashed with the trust razor blade.  A photo of the brand spankin’ new baguette pan will have to suffice.  Pretty, no?  I wish you could have seen those baguettes cuddling in it, side by side.  Adorable.

Since I didn’t want the baguettes to over-bake, I used my instant-read thermometer to test them for doneness.  They baked very quickly and smelled spectacular when I took them out of the oven to cool.  Well, in theory they were supposed to cool, but when I showed them to John he demanded hot bread, then and there.  Vatinet does NOT want you to eat hot bread.  He wants you to let it cool completely before you eat it.  Well, in our house Vatinet was swiftly outvoted and John and I ate one entire baguette, hot,  and it was DELICIOUS AND WE WOULD DO IT AGAIN.  We had half of the second one with our dinner, cool, and it was delicious as well but not DELICIOUS.

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DELICIOUS, I tell you.

So I highly recommend A Passion for Bread to both the novice and experienced baker.  I did find some of Vatinet’s methods a little too persnickety for a casual (and often irreverent) baker like me – I did not bother with a dough log, weighing the ingredients or tasting the dough for salt, for example – but I found his kneading method effective and will probably use it again.  The banneton, couche (yep, did it again), Chicago Metallic pans and even the humble razor blade did their jobs well, so they were worth the not-much I paid for them and have been added to the plethora of specialized cooking implements in my already stuffed-to-the-rafters kitchen.  I’m looking forward to trying more involved recipes, just as soon as that confluence of time, ingredients and inclination hits again.

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