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Baguettes are my regular (usually Saturday) bake. I've been attempting these for years now and, whilst the flavour and texture is usually acceptable, I'm yet to be really happy with the appearance. I'd like to get them more even in shape and... what I really want is some nice, even "bursts"!
My ingredients are:
  • Strong White Flour (by preference, one from the wonderful Waitrose - range)
  • Fresh Yeast (L'Hirondelle, see Baking Bits and Bobs. Otherwise, just ask at the bakery section of your local supermarket)
  • Salt (Malvern Salt usually, ground with a pestle and mortar)
  • Water
  • Sourdough Culture.
I gather my ingredients close to hand- together with some important tools:
  • Digital Scales- weigh everything; no cups, TSP, TBS, pints or anything like that. Just Grammes.
  • My Bertinet scraper- a fantastic yet simple polythene tool. Curved one side, straight the other. You can see this in the bowl with the flour
  • A good-sized stainless steel bowl with ample space to do the initial mixing of ingredients.
You can also see the polythene container of my Sourdough starter on the left; I refresh this each week that I bake and, if I really am too busy, I try to refresh it every other week. More details on the starter elsewhere.

My usual Saturday bake is 2kg flour and to raise this, I use a 42g block of L'Hirondelle yeast. This is supposed to raise 1kg but the basic Bertinet recipe suggests 20g per kilo of flour so this is near enough perfect for my purposes. I use the dinky blocks because the packaging keeps them nice and fresh- even beyond the nominal "use by" date. The Sourdough starter is, in the case of my baguettes, purely for flavour.
Here's the scraper- ready for action. Rest assured, I do take the wrapper off the yeast before I use it. If your local "Big Two" supermarket has an in-store bakery, they will sell you quantities of fresh yeast. Bear in mind that their yeast is faster-acting than L'Hirondelle so I'd suggest that you use less than the 20g/kg. Your dough would rise more quickly, but a slow rise and prove allows the flavours to develop.

Hand-mixing the dough is, for me, highly therapeutic. I use Bertinet's method (see his books and their DVDs). Using this and the magic scraper, the dough develops quickly. The dough is a lovely creamy texture and is nice and smooth:

I cover the dough (sponsorship would be welcome....) and leave it to rise for an hour.
As you may be able to see, the dough is rising on top of the stove. The oven is heating up, providing some warmth but I take care not to place the bowl over the vent as this would be too hot. Remember: Scott made bread in the Antarctic. If it's cold, the yeast just takes its time. If it's too hot, the yeast turns up its toes and your bread won't rise.

After one hour:
The instruction is usually to "let the dough double in size" but I do it by time, look and feel. In this case, the dough is warm and "puffy"- it's a very distinctive texture. From this point, try to handle it gently to preserve as much of its internal texture as possible, even when shaping.

I divide my dough- from experience and habit- into 150g pieces. As much as possible, I keep the "Good" side uppermost- that is, the side that would have been part of the outside of the risen dough:

Here, I deviate from the standard Bertinet method do the traditional pre-shaping of each divided piece into a ball:
Because of the extra handling, the dough needs 10-15 minutes to rest before final shaping. If you compare this picture with the previous one, you will understand why my loaves have tended to be more even in shape since I stared pre-shaping on a regular basis.

The shaping of thirty-five odd baguettes is fairly intensive and leaves the hands pretty sticky; I have no pictures of the process, nor of the loaves as they started proving. However, this is how they look when they are proved and ready to go onto the peels (two of which you can see on the left). The loaves really are a bit too close together, meaning that a few of them "kiss". Separating them tends to cause a bit of damage to the shape and structure of the loaves, and definitely spoils the finish of the crust.

At the risk of repeating myself, here is a picture of the finished article: