Baguette or not baguette that is the question..

I have never managed to produce the baguette of my heart’s desire. I produce baguettes with tasty chewy crusts with the sort of holes that are representative of what sourdough gets up to in a hot oven.  What I want are baguettes with a brittle crust, that make me think I am in France. What’s the secret?

I made a few of these  earlier in the week with Mick’s Pain de Campagne dough. Sometimes I feel as if I go round in circles with this bread baking lark. In the meantime, apricot jam on fresh baguette is still pretty tasty!

37 thoughts on “Baguette or not baguette that is the question..

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      On one level I’m perfectly content too Amanda! But I would like to have a ‘french’ style baguette formula and methodology up my sleeve for the times I want that sort of bread….

  1. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    I wonder if the secret is bakers’ yeast? The few recipes I’ve seen have had a slightly softer flour (00) and none were sourdough? I make holey sourdough ones as well, and call them baguettes, even though I secretly suspect they’re not quite right.. :)

  2. gillthepainter

    They look absolutely wonderful my end.

    Have you got the French flour, Joanna?
    I made baguettes and they were not far off, but I’ve only tried once. They even staled very quickly!

    Shall we make it a project to perfect our sourdough baguettes ? My thoughts to improve mine were:
    1. the mastery of the different French kneading & stretching technique
    2. a very slow/ retarded rise
    3. a very very wet dough, wetter than Dan’s
    4. softer flour, our flour’s hard grain – I’could put some plain flour in my next attempt

    What other thoughts do you all have?

  3. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Hi Celia and Gill!

    The whole 00 thing is a bit of a minefield as it refers to how the grain is ground, i.e. very fine, rather than the specific type of grain. There is a whole range of 00 flours, some suitable for breads, some more suitable for pasta, depending on what wheat it is milled from. I wish that it was made clearer in baking books….

    I have a couple of bags of T55 in the cupboard, which Shipton Mill market as their French flour and I will try that but it may have to be yeast, I’m not sure it can take the long prove times of the sourdough. I would like the best of both worlds!

    I don’t see how I can make the dough really really wet and still manage to slash it and get proper ears either…. Will try soon and let you know how it goes :)

  4. heidi

    I think it is the yeast, as well. The flour and proving time is important, but the yeast and the moisture in the oven at the time of baking seems to make the most difference in the crust. I make a pretty mean French baguette and use only yeast- no sourdough- because it consumes more flour than a plain yeast dough. ( Or at least that has been my experience. (BTW- I think your bread looks perfect the way it is!- What I wouldn’t give to sit in your garden and eat a slice slathered with jelly, and have a nice visit!)

  5. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Happy to try it any which way. Any chance you can send me your formula Heidi? And we have so much jam/jelly please come anytime and have jammy sandwiches :)

  6. drfugawe

    I have a different perspective – Sorry! But my loaves with thin, crisp crust come from baking boules in a pot. And that produces much more humidity than baking on a stone in a hot oven – but you can’t put a baguette in a pot. A professional baker has the advantage of having an oven with steam injectors, but the closest we can come to that is by using a hot pan in the bottom of the oven, and a cup of boiling water at the time the loaves go in – or spraying in the first 5 minutes of baking. But it’s not the same.

    So, I think thin crisp crust comes from injected steam at the inception of baking, and unfortunately, we’ll never duplicate a real bakery oven at home.

  7. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Don’t be sorry – all perspectives welcome :D Maybe some enterprising business person should create a deep large tin with a side handle, with a one way valve, so that one can put the baguettes on the stone, cover them over and then squirt steam in or hot water anyway…. what do you reckon?

    Or I should save up and buy a home oven with steam injection – they do exist….

    1. drfugawe

      I do know of home bakers who use a large lid from a roasting pan, which they use to cover their loaves during the first half of baking – however, using that approach would mean your baguettes would have to be small(er), and the lid would need to fit nicely over your stone, so as to capture the moisture inside. I searched down a very large an aluminum disposable lid, however it is larger than my stone – I suppose one could use this technique over a baking sheet, but then you’d lose the advantage of the stone – oh well.

      Just another variation to add to the endless list!

  8. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Ahh I love it when all my favourite bread geeks get together :-) No idea, but will happily follow along. Nothing nicer than a crunchy baguette and a little cafe au lait.
    Joanna your pictured baguette looks lovely, especially with the gorgeous apricot jam.
    (I have dreams of that steam injected oven…sweet dreams!)

    1. Amanda

      I lust after the steam-injected oven, too. I had one in my sights for this year – until the roof sprang 5 different leaks. Sigh. The roof looks great now, but whenever I look at it I just see the oven I don’t have.

  9. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Hello she who bakes mermaids ! Thanks for dropping in to geek world, the trouble is that I can’t get a decent French baguette in Bristol. I’ve said it now – and just sometimes I hanker after a memory. My baking has always been motivated by taste memories of breads eaten in other countries and this is one of them.

    Amanda, a dry head and feet are pretty essential for one’s well-being, though no fun to finance…

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I keep seeing photos of many fine Cornish baking cyclists on Twitter… maybe one of those will set up a bakery one of these days for you Choclette ?

  10. firebeard

    I love the pic beautiful open crumb and slashes.
    The crust thing is all about steam, the oven needs to be saturated with moisture. As soon as the cold dough enters the oven condensation forms on its surface. (it is important that the dough has not dried and formed a skin before baking) This water reacts with starch in the dough which changes the character of the crust. If the steam is vented from the oven and the bake is finished off in a dry heat the resulting crust is short and crispy. In the old books this style of baking is called Vienna bread. I need to dig out some of my books and read through them again as I do not rember all of the technical detail.
    I am going to Sheffield first thing in the morning to pick up my new oven, with steam!

  11. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Steam and Vent! Could be the name of a new band maybe?

    New oven with steam !! Congratulations Joe! And thanks for liking the pic too :D

    I think I recall Susan of Wild Yeast always leaving the oven door open at the end of her bakes, maybe that’s why…. Doomed to failure then….

    ‘ ..for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” ‘ R L Stephenson

    ‘We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.’ T S Eliot

    Do you think I could apply the Eliot quote to my baguette thoughts?

  12. sallybr

    I think your baguettes turned out great, Joanna!

    I do think baguettes are THE most difficult type of bread to master, so I sympathize with you completely – I think only making them again, and again, and again will help us… :-)

    next month I’ll attack this serious problem, and maybe we can commiserate together…

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I would love that Sally! But I suspect Doc and Joe are right and it’s all in the application of steam and then getting rid of the steam at the key points in the bake – still, we can have fun trying :D

  13. Andrew

    Hi Joanna,
    We use Hamelman’s poolish recipe for our baguettes which is yeasted and uses T55 (we use Shipton’s flour as you know). It gives a pretty good result and a splinteringly crunchy crust. We do have steam injection though.
    I have recently been baking with a couple of french bakers who have been impressed with our baguettes – particularly as they are unimproved (?!?). Yes, shock horror, a lot of bakeries across France improve their doughs for their baguettes – not all are as trad and artisan as we might imagine.
    However, one of said bakers said that for the ‘baguettes traditionnelles’ in the bakery he trained at in Reims they would add some sourdough levain to the dough so it was part yeasted, part sourdough.
    I plan to try that approach when next I experiment with baguette development.

    Will let you know.


    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hi Andrew, I think that the Hamelman poolish one is the one I have had the best results with for a yeasted baguette too. But I haven’t used the T55 yet with any of the recipes. So I think I will revisit that one and see what the domestic oven does with that combination of flour and formula…. x Joanna

  14. azelias kitchen

    I wish I remembered where I read about baguettes being proved for a long time…and there was more detail too about them…you know how you end up in a blog through other blogs then forget where you saw it?

    I will bring it to your attention if I find it again :)

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      No worries Azelia, thanks for thinking of me. I too have read a lot of blogs and sites on baguette making as well as baking books. Joanne has a thing called a clay baker, not a Romertopf, which Celia says doesn’t work for bread, and I wonder if small baguettes would do well in one of those. Trouble is I don’t think anyone stocks them here… (here I go again, grass greener baking syndrome) :)

  15. C

    I have no advice to offer, but wow, they look like fabulous loaves whatever you want to call them!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks C! I must pop over to your blog and see what you’re up to, I lost loads of my links when I got the new computer and am frantically chasing my tail still. Woof… :)

  16. spiceandmore

    I love the look of that apricot jam – you have captured summer in that jar!
    I just ate the last piece of a fantastic sourdough baguette that I made quite by accident. It had the perfect crust and the perfect crumb….and that apricot jam would have gone perfectly with it too! Ah well. I know I won’t be able to repeat the experience since I am such a hap hazard baker. One thing I did differently this time was to pop the shaped loaves into the fridge overnight because I could not be bothered staying up to wait for them to bake. That extra long and slow second prove in the fridge seems to have done something lovely for the taste as well as the texture.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Funny you should say that, the very first attempt I made at mini baguettes was when I made some sourdough and shoved it in the fridge overnight, but I still remember they had chewy substantial crusts, even though we wolfed them all down. I’m not that fussy, but I just hanker after a certain quality of crust that I never get, a wish rather than a need, if that makes sense? We had some grilled apricots last night, first time I’ve done that, halved, sprinkled with vanilla and brown sugar under the grill and yoghurt and a sprinkle of biscuit crumbs to serve. I felt very virtuous!

  17. emilydev9

    I’m glad I caught up and read all the comments, Joanna…sounds like, even if the crust doesn’t have that perfect crackle you can only get from lots of steam, it’s still pretty darn nice! I ate the world’s loveliest baguette this past weekend in Grenoble, a religious experience, and I am now a true believer, for ever and ever, Amen. (Ramen if you worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)

    1. Joanna Post author

      The loveliest baguette in Grenoble will be a hard one to live up to, but have fun trying, I think that’s the secret, just keep trying and one day….

  18. yash amin

    hi there i found your picture of the slashed baguettes, and wanted to know if i can cut and paste and use as a teaching tool, for my students(prospective future chefs).

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Yash, that would be fine. Please put a credit link back to the post if you are intending to use the image on your site, saying shown with permisison from Zeb Bakes. Thank you for asking, not many people do that. Happy Baking, Joanna

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