08 March 2011

I bet it's the terroir

'Übung macht den Meister', they say in Germany, 'With practice comes mastery'. Or, a little less stilted, 'practice makes perfect'.

Apparently, though, there are things that need much more practice than one might think to achieve even a modicum of mastery. Making baguettes seems to be one of those things, at least for me.

Ever since I started baking bread, baguettes had been on my mind. Wouldn't it be great being able to make those legendary breads at home? So many memories of my childhood, revolving around baguettes with rillettes, or with cheese, or just with leftover vinaigrette when there was nothing else I could see myself eating from the grown-ups' table.

So for the better part of a year now, I've been trying to bake baguettes.

The recipe below is deceptive simple, it's definitely authentic and everything. And yet, my baguettes still don't perfectly taste like the real thing.
They've sure got the look, and even that crust with bits of it flying all around the kitchen when you try to cut it.

But apparently, something is still different. Next time I'm in France, I'll check extra carefully to find any discernible differences. Maybe it's the flour. Or the yeast. Or something as intangible and sadly immobile as 'le terroir'.
I bet it's the terroir.

Still, despite the (percieved) lack in taste and my personal shortcomings in shaping and scoring baguettes, this recipe is way too good to be kept in the closet. After all, this already has become the go-to white bread in our household, and they turn out beautiful and reliable despite my sometimes rather creative scheduling.

Try it, for despite everything, it's so damn worth it.

(adapted from Anis Bouabsa's recipe via David Snyder here)
(makes two small baguettes)

500g hight-gluten flour (German type 550)
375ml cold water
1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
10g salt

One day before baking

Combine all ingredients and mix until the dough is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Leave the dough to rest for an hour, mixing again each twenty minutes for about a minute each.

Transfer the dough into a small(er) bowl and cover airtight. Leave to rest in the refrigerator for 20 hours.
I've retarded the dough for anything between 10 and 36 hours and have to say that 20+ hours works best for me.

On the day of baking

Take the dough out of the fridge and preshape into two rough rectangles.
The dough won't have risen by any noticeable amount, that's okay and no reason to worry. Also, I usually fold the dough a few times as if doing a 'stretch and fold', just to add some more stability.

Leave to rest at room temperature for an hour. Then shape into baguettes.
Shaping and scoring a baguette is an art in itself that I haven't completely mastered myself. Yet.
Luckily, there's tons of video's about the subject on youtube and its ilk. Here's my favourite.

Preheat the oven to 250°C. Leave the baguettes to proof for 45 minutes.

Score the baguettes and bake for 15 minutes at 250°C with a lot of steam. Then open the oven to let remaining steam escape and lower the temperature to 190°C for another 15 minutes. Leave to cool on a rack.

Keeps nicely for a day or two, then it'll get rather tough.

Goes with everything you'd put on a white bread.^^

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