Category Archives: crust

Sourdough-risen Baguettes, Regular and Whole-Wheat

not quite as long as traditional baguettes, because my oven isn't as long as commercial ovens

A “French” Bread from Austria

There are conflicting accounts about the origins of the baguette—the thin rod of bread with a crisp and chewy crust and soft, yielding inside with large, irregular holes that most Americans associate primarily with France. Indeed, baguettes or at least something baguette-shaped is usually what English-speaking people have in mind when they refer to “French bread.” Nonetheless, according to The Food Timeline and Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1979), the baguette actually originated in Vienna, where steam ovens were invented in the 19th C. “True French bread,” according to David, is “the old round or cylindrical hand-shaped ‘pain de campagne’ [country bread] or pain de menage’ [bread of the household, or common bread], plump, and crossed with cuts so that when baked the crust is of many different shades, gradations and textures and the crumb rather open and coarse.” That explains why in France, and still occasionally elsewhere, things that look very like baguettes are called “Vienna bread.”

large-ish, irregular holesHowever, baguette-shaped loaves were common in France nearly a century before Viennese steam-blasting ovens were adopted. According to Jim Chevallier, the author of a self-published book on the croissant, by the 18th C. “the default shape [for bread] was already long and narrow, and Malouin refers to the round shape as how ‘bread was shaped in former times’.”

Both David and Chevallier suggest that the shift from round balls to long batons was caused not by the steam oven, but instead by the increasing use of soft doughs (molle or batarde, meaning in-between or “bastard”), which relied on two inventions: a more refined flour sifted to remove most of the the fibrous bran and germ and the use of brewer’s barm or dried yeast. The resulting breads were much softer and lighter than the older style of bread made with whole grain flour and leavened with old dough (levain, which is basically a kind of sourdough starter). The older styles, called pâte briée or pâte broyée, were so dense and coarse that they were traditionally kneaded with the feet or pounded with long iron sticks.

the whole grain version has fewer large holes and is just slightly denser, but still soft in the middle, crusty on the outside, and flavorful and pleasantThe shift from hard, whole grain dough to soft, refined-flour dough also prompted a proliferation of interest in crust. Before the 18th C., the crust was considered the least desirable part of a loaf and often grated off and sold separately as bread crumbs. But the lighter loaves, when not burned by the uneven wood-burning ovens of the day, developed a golden-brown exterior with a rich, toasted flavor that was still soft enough to  chew. Instead of getting rid of the crust, bakers started to develop ways to maximize it, including new shapes and slashing techniques, like the fluted pain long, which if not a “baguette” proper certainly looked a lot like one.

Ultimately, whether we believe David that the baguette is a 19th C. invention or Chevaillier that it dates to the 18th C. may come down to the definition of “baguette." If you take the name “baguette” to refer primarily to the shape of the loaf, it seems clear that it pre-dated the Industrial Revolution and Viennese steam-blasting oven. However, if you think “baguette” refers only to the specific kind of baton that’s 2-3’ long and about 2” in diameter with barely-there insides and the kind of crust you can only achieve by blasting it with steam periodically during the baking process, then it’s a far more recent invention.

I No Can Haz Steam-Blasting Oven, Oh Noes!

seriously, how French does this kid look? I mean, he *is* French, but does he have to be SO FRENCH? From Salut! by Stacey in France, click for sourceSo, as suggested above, it’s true that the kind of baguettes that instantly make anyone holding one look impossibly-French get their characteristic crustiness from steam-blasting ovens. I’ve discussed this issue before.

I can’t create quite the same dramatic seam-splitting and crustiness in my standard dry-heat oven, and I imagine the best home results probably rely on a specially-shaped lidded ceramic baking dish like this La Cloche, which traps the moisture from the dough just like the covered pot used in Jim Leahy’s no-knead method. However, I have not been disappointed with the results I get from overnight refrigeration, a pizza stone, a cast iron pot, and a spray bottle. Mine turn out a little breadier than a traditional baguette, but they also last a bit longer without getting stale and still have a nice crisp, chewy crust.

Further blasphemy: even though the baguette was created specifically for the special characteristics of refined flour—the quick-rising, seam-splitting, ethereal insides and shattering outsides that depend on the dough being composed almost exclusively of easily-digestible starches and not a lot of indigestible fiber, I think I get pretty good results even using almost-entirely whole wheat flour as long as I add a little more gluten and sugar. Sure, my whole wheat loaves are a little denser and a little chewier, but not, I think, unpleasantly so. As you can tell from the pictures, they rise almost as much as their refined-flour counterparts, although the crumb isn’t quite as open and irregular. They still seem unmistakably baguette-ish to me.

What follows should be in no way construed as a “traditional” baguette recipe—if anything, it’s probably closer to the 18th C. predecessors than the modern baguette. Nevertheless, it is shaped like a baton, crusty on the outside, soft and flavorful on the inside, and just right for serving alongside a few wedges of cheese or slicing on a bias and topping however you like for canapés.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Baguette (makes 2 loaves about 2’ long) both batches of dough mixed and ready to knead; I let them rest in the bowl instead of turning them out onto my silpat, so that's always an option too

  • 1 cup refreshed 100% hydration sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 3-4 cups bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. white sugar
  • extras: 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour, wheat germ, cornmeal, rolled oats, seeds, fried shallots or garlic, salt, or a combination

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Whole Wheat Baguette (approximately .78-.83 whole grain)

  • 1 cup refreshed 100% hydration sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 3-4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 T. vital wheat gluten
  • 1 T. malt extract or maple syrup or honey or any other sweetener
  • 1 T. white sugar
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • extras: 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour, wheat germ, cornmeal, rolled oats, seeds, fried shallots or garlic, salt, or a combination

Instant yeast adaptation: Instead of the sourdough starter, use 1 package (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) Active Dry or Rapid Rise yeast. Add an additional 2/3 cup flour and 2/3 cup water. The first rise should only take about one hour, and you can take it out of the refrigerator just 30 minutes before baking.

Method

ingredients in, ready to mix1. Combine all ingredients except the “extras,” using the smallest amount of flour called for, and stir with a large spoon or spatula just until it comes together and starts to pull away from the bowl. If using whole wheat flour and added gluten, whisk the gluten into the flour before adding it to the moist ingredients.

2. Turn onto a lightly-floured surface, cover with the mixing bowl, and let sit for 5-15 minutes to let the flour absorb as much moisture as possible.

3. Knead for 10-15 minutes, adding as much of the additional cup of flour as needed to prevent the dough from being too sticky to work with. It should be sticky, just not so sticky that it sticks to you more than it sticks to itself.

4. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size (2-12 hrs, depending on your starter; 1 hr if using instant yeast)

before rising 5-6 hours later

5. Generously dust a kitchen towel with flour or whatever else you want to use to coat the loaf—you must use something, or it will become permanently adhered to the towel and when you try to unroll it onto the pan, you’ll completely destroy the shape and be stuck trying to scrape the dough off with your fingernails. Sometimes when I’m dusting it with something coarser than flour, I still dust the towel with a layer of flour first just to be sure it won’t stick. Sticking is very bad.

towel generously dusted, dough rolled out; you can see it sticking to the silpat; imagine trying to get it off something other than silicone

hard to see here, but I did dust the towel with flour before sprinkling it with oats

6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a long rectangle and then roll up, jelly-roll style, into a long tube. Place on the prepared towel and dust the top side with whatever you’re using to prevent the loaf from sticking to the towel.

7. Roll the loaf in the towel, place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to a week. ready to be rolledall wrapped up and ready to spend the night in the refrigerator

8. Take the loaf/ves out of the refrigerator 1 1/2 hrs before you want to bake it/them. 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F with a baking tile on one of the racks and a cast iron pot on the oven floor.

9. Just before baking, gently unroll the loaf onto a piece of parchment paper, and slash diagonally every 3”-4”.

if you wanted, you could just bake one at a time. in fact, if you made up a double-batch of dough on the weekend, you could have a freshly-baked baguette 4 days of the week the oats are a little harder to cut through; a super-sharp knife is invaluable for this

10. Slide the loaf, parchment and all, onto the baking tile and quickly pour 1/4 cup water into the cast iron pot and close the oven. Another optional step that will create even more steam (and thus a crisper crust) is to spritz the walls of the oven 3-4 times using a spray bottle full of water.

11. Bake for a total of 20-30 minutes or until the crust is golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. After 5 minutes and 10 minutes in the oven, add another 1/4 cup water to the pot and/or spritz the oven walls again to create more steam.

does this make my blog look impossibly-French? no? bummer