Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Mighty Baguette

I fancy myself a decent baker, but nothing fancy. Cookies, scones, pies: I get no complaints from friends, family, and neighbors. My breads tend to be pretty good, too - they hold up well to soups and stews - but they do not have the crispy, twisty, chewy goodness of a fresh baguette. I look longingly at the seemingly effortlessly good and consistent results from the local Bread and Chocolate bakery or, failing at that, Panera. Part of the problem could be that I lack an oven that can hit 500 degrees and inject supercharged steam. I've pored over my cookbooks, but I think that my results have plateaued in the last few years.

For Christmas 2010, my dear sister gave me a gift certificate to the King Arthur Baking Education Center. This is a fancy word for the bake school in King Arthur's flour headquarters in Norwich, VT. It sat around for a while. The better part of a year, actually, before I realized that this is stupid, and I really need to get my act together. In my defense, the class schedule is not entirely made for us 8-5 working stiffs (not a lot of weekends), and it tends to be booked a few months out. Picking some weekend when I might be available several months out is does not come easy.

Procrastinate no more! I went to their "Taming the Baguette" class today. Good move! The results speak for themselves.

Like most cooking shows, it helps that there was a lot of stuff prepped ahead of time. The poolish, or semi-fermented starter, was made by our instructor at 3 that morning. Finished dough was available for us to work on our baguette-forming techniques. It explains how we were able to get a decent baguette education in a four-hour class.

Ah yes: the super awesome oven. They have an awesome 20-foot long gurney-type work surface that they use for loading the bread in place of a peel. The surface of the gurney is a long loop of canvas that they roll out from underneath the loaves to deposit them in the oven. Their oven can accommodate six such loads in a single go, well over 100 baguettes at at time.

Here are the baguettes made by the class from the pre-made materials. All in all, not bad. We also went through the process of making the dough and forming loaves from that, too. All of this came home with us: five baguettes apiece.

The teacher showed off a bit and made this fancy focaccia with the same materials.

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