The baguette. French stick. Whatever you want to call it, is there any better icon of French cuisine? While it came from humble beginnings, and is now considered an everyday staple, it’s also truly special. It’s hard to beat a beautifully crusty, chewy baguette, preferably slathered with butter, brie, or jam.
But not all baguettes are created equal, with the less uniform, traditional baguette commanding higher prices than its modern industrial cousin. In fact, there are even French articles about how to identify a good baguette. Naturally, I wasn’t aiming for the inferior industrial version. Instead, I wanted to make a sourdough version, because, well, I like sourdough. There’s the chewiness and the flavour that it brings, while the supposed health benefits are a nice bonus. See my source recipe.
As is often the case, there are so many different things I could chose to focus on in this post. I could talk about flour types, tricky expressions that came up, the list goes on… But these weekly posts are not intended to be exhaustive. Because, quite frankly, that would be exhausting. For you and me both.
A special technique that needs to be described
My source recipe refers to a technique of kneading or folding, called faire les rabats (‘make folds’). It didn’t provide any other details, apart from the fact you’re meant to do this every half hour, over a three hour period. So I had a bit of a google. I found this website (in French) which describes the process, and this video which is great for showing the technique (in French, but there are only a handful of words – still handy for English speakers).
At this point, I'd gained an idea of what I needed to do when making my bread. But I was still unsure of how to translate it. I had a look around online and in my English sourdough bread book. This technique, or similar techniques seem to be referred to as the ‘folding technique’, or ‘stretch and fold’, ‘slap and fold’ or even ‘French fold’. But I think one of those terms alone probably doesn’t mean much to the average British baker, unless they’re quite experienced.
So I decided to describe the process myself, as follows:
Scoop up a portion of the dough from one side, gently stretch then fold it into the middle of the bowl. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat four or five times.
If this were a real translation job with an actual end-client, it would be good to could check the exact process with them. You could ask, how many folds exactly? Should the dough be ‘slapped’ or merely ‘folded’?
The recipe itself isn’t complicated. But it is very time-consuming! The trickiest bit was shaping them. Mine ended up long and skinny, then I realised they were too long to fit in the oven, so I had to divide them up further. This meant they were more like flûtes, or maybe even ficelles than baguettes. Which meant mini sandwiches! But really those complaints are minor. The taste and the texture were amazing. Even my French friend and resident cultural consultant gave her seal of approval.
If anyone's wondering, the slashes on top are a little all over the place because my makeshift lame was blunt – might be time to buy a proper one I think!
Recipe ideas and substitutions
There’s very little to baguettes. Flour, salt, water, and yeast of some description. That’s it! So substitutions aren’t really a thing. You can of course make them with a range of different flours. I’d advise you find a recipe specifically for that flour though, rather than just winging it.
There are a lot of recipes in English out there, so I’m sure you won’t have trouble finding one you like. This one looks closest to my source recipe (many others are much faster to make).
I have THREE weeks left of this challenge. How is that possible?! I think I’ve lined up the remaining recipes, a mixture of simple and comforting, and elaborate and challenging. Stay tuned!