The Baguette Challenge – #1

I was in Versailles, Fr last month and had what was undoubtedly the best baguette of my life. The crust had the exact right crunch and the interior was soft and light. Then and there I decided I needed to perfect my baguette baking to at least approach this level of perfection.

My go-to recipe is from King Arthur and it served me well. Upon returning home I searched for differences in recipe ingredients and methods keying on authors who tauted the bread qualities that I wanted.

From what I understand the hydration level, (this recipe is 72%) at least in part, determines the size of the holes in the bread. By using the stretch and fold technique with a long rest (45 min) between each helps develop the gluten. These two properties contribute to the characteristics I desire.

This is the first attempt of “perfecting” my baguette. Do you remember my five attempts at baking an acceptable rye bread? Well, here we go again,

Classic French Baguettes

INGREDIENTS

• 500 g all purpose flour
• 360 g water
• 10 g salt
• 3 g instant yeast about 1 tsp
• 25 g honey about 1 Tbsp

METHOD

  1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
  2. Stretch and fold every 45 minutes and repeat at 3 times, flipping the dough upside down after each set. The rest time between stretch and folds is important.
  3. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight for about 12-14 hours.
  4. Turn the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 3 equal parts and gently shape into rectangles without knocking the air out of the dough. Cover and let rest for 45-60 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 500F, with a baking stone positioned in the upper half the oven. I like to use a small cast iron skillet with water to provide steam. Add the water below when the loaves are put into the oven.
  6. Stretch each dough rectangle slightly and fold into a cylinder, sealing the seams as you roll. Using your hands, roll the cylinders gently stretching them from the center towards the ends to desired length, about 14-15 inches.
  7. Place each loaf on a lightly floured couche, seam side up. Cover and proof at a room temperature for about 30-60 minutes, or until the dough has sufficiently proofed. Press dough with a finger. If it springs back slowly it is properly proofed. If it never springs back it is over proofed and if it springs back quickly it is under proofed.
  8. Transfer the baguettes to a piece of parchment paper, seam side down and dust off excess flour. I like to use a serrated break knife to make 5 scores on each baguette. Don’t cut straight across the loaf, but with a shallow long cut down the length. Each cut should be 4-5” longWhen scoring, use a swift and firm motion to ensure nice and clean cuts.
  9. Carefully open the oven, and slide the rack with the baking stone out. Slide the baguettes off the parchment paper and onto the baking stone. Add a cup of water to the cast iron skillet, close the oven and reduce temperature to 475F. Bake for 15 minutes.
  10. Remove the water pan, rotate the baguettes, drop the temperature to 450F and continue baking for another 10- 15 minutes, Check how brown the baguettes are after 10 minutes and every couple of minutes thereafter. They should be a nice dark brown, but not too dark. Over baking will make the crust and interior too hard. Experience will tell you when it is Goldilocks just right.

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