Easy Baguette A l’Ancienne

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There is baguette, and baguette. I don’t want to offend anyone here, but it is difficult to find great baguettes here in the US. Not everything that is long, brown and narrow is a baguette.

In fact did you know that a baguette is defined by French law? A standard baguette has a diameter of about 5 or 6 centimetres (2 or 2⅓ in) and a usual length of about 65 centimetres (26 in), although a baguette can be up to a metre (40 in) long.

So if  it is smaller or larger in size, it will carry a different name. For example, a short, almost rugby ball shaped loaf is a bâtard (literally, bastard), another tubular shaped loaf is known as a flûte. A thinner loaf is called a ficelle(string). A short baguette is sometimes known as a baton (stick).

The word “baguette” was not used to refer to a type of bread until apparently 1920,but what is now known as a baguette may have existed well before that. The word simply means “wand” or “baton”, as in baguette magique (magic wand), baguettes chinoises (chopsticks), or baguette de direction (conductor’s baton).

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Though the baguette today is often considered one of the symbols of French culture viewed from abroad, the association of France with long loaves predates any mention of it. Long, if wide, loaves had been made since the time of Louis XIV, long thin ones since the mid-eighteenth century and by the nineteenth century some were far longer than the baguette.

It seems however that right baguette appeared with the introduction of  deck ovens, or steam ovens. Deck/steam ovens are a combination of a gas-fired traditional oven and a brick oven, a thick “deck” of stone or firebrick heated by natural gas instead of wood. The first steam oven was brought (in the early nineteenth century) to Paris by the Austrian officer August Zang, who also introduced the pain viennois (and the croissant) and whom some French sources thus credit with originating the baguette. Wikipedia

Deck ovens use steam injection, through various methods, to create the proper baguette. The oven is typically heated to well over 205 °C (400 °F). The steam allows the crust to expand before setting, thus creating a lighter, airier loaf. It also melts the dextrose on the bread’s surface, giving a slightly glazed effect. Wikipedia

An unsourced article in The Economist states that in October 1920 a law prevented bakers from working before 4 a.m., making it impossible to make the traditional, round loaf in time for customers’ breakfasts. The slender baguette, the article claims, solved the problem, because it could be prepared and baked much more rapidly, though France had already had long thin breads for over a century at that point. Wikipedia

The law in question appears to be one from March 1919, though some say it took effect in October 1920:

It is forbidden to employ workers at bread and pastry making between ten in the evening and four in the morning.[7]

The rest of the account remains to be verified, but the use of the word for a long thin bread does appear to be a twentieth century innovation.Wikipedia

French bread is required by law to avoid preservatives, and as a result bread goes stale in under 24 hours, thus baking baguettes is a daily occurrence. The “baguette de tradition française” is made from wheat flour, water, yeast, and common salt. It does not contain additives, but it may contain broad bean flour (max 2%), soya flour(max 0.5%), wheat malt flour (max 0.3%)”. Wikipedia

To me a baguette has to smell like one, taste like one, and it should have texture. Most baguettes found in the States are made industrially and therefore lack taste and texture. I don’t know if you have a baker in your hometown, but it is difficult to find a good baguette if there is not a baker around.  The closest that I know lives several dozens miles away.  So if you are in my case, you have two solutions: go to France and enjoy what is there ( hard and expensive but worth it;-), or try to fix your own at home. It is fairly easy to do and you do not need a bread machine.

Did you know that there are millions of baguette recipes? Even in France, when you go to a boulangerie you have a variety to choose from: Baguette Viennoise ( mix between baguette and brioche- my favourite for breakfast, Banette, Baguette traditionelle.

My sister is a baker by trade and I thought I would try some of her recipes. This baguette is what you would call baguette a l’ancienne.

Ingredients for 4 baguettes:

  • 6 1/2 cup of flour ( all-purpose bleached or unbleached)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of active yeast
  • 1  tbsp of salt
  • 3 cup of warm water. 
  • more flour to sprinkle
  • about 4 cups of water to create moisture in the oven
  1. In a large bowl, pour the flour, the salt and the active yeast and mix well.
  2. Add the water and with a spoon or your hands, knead the dough. The dough should be sticky.photo 5
  3. Then knead the dough again by folding it on itself. Do this step 40 times.photo 2
  4. Place the dough into a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and place the bowl in a warm place in your kitchen. You may use your warming drawer if you have one for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.photo 3
  5. Take the dough out of the bowl. Place on the roul’pat and divide the dough in 4.
  6. Flatten the dough flat.photo 4
  7. Then fold it over itself and roll it out so that it makes a thin cylinder.photo 1
  8. Place the dough onto the baguette silform that you would have placed onto a perforated sheet, and with a sharp razor blade, make indentations into the baguette every 2-3 inches.photo 2
  9. Cover the dough with a plastic film and let it rise again for 40 minutes.
  10. Turn the oven at 450.
  11. Place a metal sheet pan at the bottom of the oven and pour in 2 cup of water to create moisture and steam since our oven does not have steam on it.
  12.  When the oven has reached the temperature, throw about 2 cups of water into the metal pan again.
  13. Throw some flour over the bread, and place the bread tray into the oven and cook the bread for 20-25 minutes or until it is golden.photo 1
  14. Enjoy while it is warm or the following day. It will still taste great. photo 5photo 4

So what did I think of this bread?? Well it really brought me back home for a minute. It tasted much like those Baguette a L’ancienne that I love. The bread was crispy and the inside fluffy. It was not light  and airy like a Parisian baguette, but it was exactly like those Baguette a l’ancienne. It smelled very good as well. It smelled like a baguette, or a bread, not like yeast.

Conclusion: A winner. My husband even suggested that i sell them to the local restaurants. What a compliment;-)

I hope that you will give it a try.

Bon Appetit and Happy Cooking!!!