In the past week I've been trying out baguette recipes, four different ones to be precise. The main reason for this is that the ones I can buy here are OK, but nothing more than that, and the ones I baked in the past ranged from so-so to only decent. So I bought a big bag of type 550 flour, took out my baking books from their shelf and got to work. I'm still far from getting a baguette I like, so no recipe or method this time. Hopefully that will happen sometime in the near future. On the other hand I've made two important (for me, and maybe for other baking nerds like me) discoveries:
1) I'm never going to use cup measurements again. NEVER, EVER! If I do kick me in the shins. Please :-). From now on, only mass units here.
2) You can use kids building blocks to build your own baguette pan, at least for proofing. IF your son/daughter lets you ;-).
First of all the "measuring with cups" half disaster. The first two recipes I used come from Joe Ortiz's book The Village Baker. I have had both successes and failures (in part my fault) following the recipes described. I noticed though that following the recipes closely is quite important for getting good results, so that's exactly what I did. I measured everything out (Note: IN CUPS), measured water temperature and started. Soon enough I noticed something must be really wrong. The dough, which was supposed to be "soft, moist and sticky", was actually a batter. So I added just enough flour to get the whole thing together, kneaded it a bit further, as instructed, and proceeded with the recipe. The end result was an hybrid between a baguette and a ciabatta... a bagu-atta or a ciabb-ette :-). Tasted quite nice though.
Frustrated, I leafed through the book and found out that hey! there's a professional baker section at the end of the book with percent of weight figures (flour is 100%). I used these numbers the next day and got a "soft, moist and sticky" dough, as expected which baked into a pleasant baguette (the ones depicted at the start of the post). The moral is: cups are just too unreliable. When a recipe says 2 cups flour for example... is that tightly packed or loose? Are my cups really measuring 1 cup or not? Are my measuring cup UK or US cups? No clue. So I'll just stick to grams from now on. If you want to have even further info on why scales are better you might want to read The kitchen scale manifesto (via eGullet).
Now to the baguette pan. Most artisan baguette recipes call for a rather soft dough and for the use of a baguette pan for proofing and baking. Some do mention that you could let the baguette proof free-form. I've tried this a few times before and inevitably ended with a quite wide flat-ish loaf since during the proofing stage the loaves expanded in width instead of in height. Since I have no baguette pan I had to resort to some other solution. After some thought I ended up with a "baking paper-building block" creation:
How to make this? First take a piece of baking parchment and fold it to obtains as many "half-pipes" (yep, like the skateboarding ones) as baguettes. On the outer sides place a row of building blocks you nicked form your son's toys box. Be careful not to let him see you otherwise he'll come and want them back. And, as every parent should now, in these cases the little ones can be very persuasive :-). Once finished shape the baguettes and proof them in the hand-made baguette pan. The only limitation is that you can't really bake with this, so before going in the oven you'll have to remove the building blocks and increase the space between the baguettes a bit. I guess it's quicker to buy a baguette tray if you can find one ;-).
P.S. Now excuse me but I'll go home and see where Daniela is going to take me out for my birthday tonight :-)
PP.SS If anyone has a nice tried and tested baguette recipe: your help would be really appreciated!