Baguette Making Adventures
The French Baguette is iconic. So many wonderful images come mind where I think of baguettes. Mainly of my Paris trip with a dear Belgian friend, Lieve, when we both started working. We drove to Paris from Brugges. Just starting out professionally from school, we weren’t rolling in the dough, so we stayed at the hotel chain, HotelF1 and ate as cheaply as possible. But we were in Paris and that’s all that mattered. Why I remember this in detail? It was the most unique hotel I’d ever been in… the showers and loos were all automated and self-cleaning. My fear was I was going to get stuck in there and go through the sanitizing process. The weather was so hot, we resorted to washing our t-shirts and dresses in the sink every night hanging them to dry anywhere they would fit. In the morning, baguettes and jam were offered as breakfast. They were so good. And we would keep some for later.
Fast forward twenty or so years and my local brewery had a stand for the visiting Alimentaire Wholesome Bread. Franke had delicious baguettes for sale. I got the last one I think. Perfection. Of course, it got me thinking about baguettes. The French bread or baguettes you can get in the grocery stores are rubbish honestly and have no relation to the real ones.
I wanted to make baguettes. Real ones. Like in Paris and what Franke makes. Luck would have it Great British Bake-Off’s Master Class on breads. I would need all the help I could get in making the baguette. And I should have been watching as I made them. They are tricky. I made a few mistakes along the way. My first mistake was not finished the kneading by hand then putting it in a warm place. My house was too cold for the bread dough to raise so after three hours, I had to bring it into the living room and turn the fireplace on then it raised. My second mistake was in the rolling out stage. I did not start in the middle and work outwards. And I need a good surface to roll them out on. Lastly, I need to either make smaller ones or get bigger baking trays.
It was an adventure in baking, but I learned a lot about the process. While my baguettes will not win any beauty contests, they were tasty.
Paul Hollywoods French Baguette Recipe
- olive oil, for greasing
- 500g bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 10g salt
- 10g fast-action yeast
- 370ml/13fl oz cool water
- Lightly oil a 2¼ litre/4 pint square plastic container with olive oil. (It’s important to use a square tub as it helps shape the dough.)
- Put the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook (don’t put the salt directly on top of the yeast). Add three-quarters of the water and begin mixing on a slow speed. As the dough starts to come together, slowly add the remaining water, then continue to mix on a medium speed for 5-7 minutes, until you have a glossy, elastic dough.
- Tip the dough into the prepared tub. Cover and leave for 1 hour, or until at least doubled in size.
- Dredge a linen couche with flour and lightly dust the work surface with flour.
- Carefully tip the dough onto the work surface. Rather than knocking it back, handle it gently so you can keep as much air in the dough as possible. (This helps to create the irregular, airy texture of a really good baguette.) The dough will be wet to the touch but still lively.
- Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Shape each piece into an oblong by flattening the dough out slightly and folding the sides into the middle. Then roll each up into a sausage – the top should be smooth with the join running along the length of the base. Now, beginning in the middle, roll each sausage with your hands. Don’t force it out by pressing heavily. Concentrate on the backwards and forwards movement and gently use the weight of your arms to roll out the dough to 30cm/12in long.
- Lay a baguette along the edge of the linen couche and pleat the couche up against the edge of the baguette. Place another baguette next to the pleat. Repeat the process until all 4 baguettes are lined up against each other with a pleat between each. Cover the baguettes with a clean tea towel and leave for 1 hour, or until the dough has at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger.
- Preheat the oven to 430F and put a roasting tray in the bottom of the oven to heat up.
- When the baguettes are risen, remove them from the couche and dust lightly with flour. Slash each one 4 times along its length on the diagonal, using a razor blade or a very sharp knife. Transfer to a large baking tray.
- Fill the heated roasting tray with hot water, to create steam, and put the bread into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the baguettes are golden-brown and have a slight sheen. Cool on a wire rack.