“What are they?”
“Baguettes, it’s the technical bake from the Bake Off.”
“Oh dear. They don’t look like baguettes.”
Jon was right. They didn’t. They didn’t taste like baguettes either. They were flat, chewy and tasted as I imagine wallpaper paste would taste. They reminded me of the rubber bricks you have to pick off the bottom of the swimming pool while wearing pyjamas. I was so embarrassed, I had to give them a second go.
There wasn’t a baguette recipe in my usual books, so I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe from the Great British Bake Off website.
I was in trouble from the start really. The first instruction is to oil a 2.4 litre square plastic container. Now, we have a whole cupboard full of Tuppaware, but it doesn’t include a 2.4l square tub and, not wanting to increase the number of boxes and lids that slide out of the cupboard every time I open it, I decided to use two smaller, rectangular, containers instead of making a trip to Tesco for a square one (I don’t suppose Tesco would have had one either).
I put strong white flour, salt, fast-action yeast into the KitchenAid and mixed it with three-quarters of the recipe amount of water. The recipe stipulates “cool” water – I suppose this means not hot, or tepid, or cold. I used water from the tap – would this have been too cold? Who knows? Once the mixture started to come together, I added the rest of the water and ended up with something resembling lumpy porridge. I mixed for around ten minutes before the lumps disappeared and the dough became elastic. The recipe says it should take between five and seven, and that the mixture should be elastic and glossy. I never got to the glossy stage, but I’m always very wary of overworking, and the dough didn’t look as though it was going to turn glossy any time soon, so I stopped. It was very wet. Sloppy and slippy, said my three-year old. I carefully tipped the dough into my tubs and left it to prove for an hour.
The next instruction in the recipe is to dredge and linen couche with flour. A what? I had seen the Bake Off on Wednesday, so I knew this was coming, but I hadn’t really given it much thought. Would a tea towel do? What about greaseproof paper? Based on the option that would create the least washing, I decided to go with greaseproof.
Totally wrong decision (which I would have known, had I clicked on the Top Tip section at the bottom of the recipe – “a couche”, it says ,”is a heavy linen mat used to shape bread while it proves. It absorbs some of the moisture in the dough, this helps develop a skin, keep the shape and develop a crisp crust”).
So, from here on in, my baguettes were doomed. I struggled with the dough – which was still very sloppy – until I had three rough baguette shapes on my paper (I gave Matthew the dough for the fourth to make something. He slung it about for a minute or two, but then PC Selby (Postman Pat’s policeman friend) called and he had to attend an emergency). I covered the baguettes with a tea towel and left them for another hour to prove again.
Next on the list was heating the oven. Easy you would think. The baguettes should be baked at 220° fan. The oven I use for baking only goes up to 200° on the fan setting. It has a lot of other settings that will heat to a higher temperature, but they all have fancy names, like “Circo fan” or “Thermo heat” – even in my head I say them a film trailer voice. I wasn’t sure which one would be most like a conventional oven. I had a stab in the dark and put it on the setting that was supposed to heat the top and bottom of the oven equally at 240°.
My poor baguettes were still very sloppy – probably something to do with the greasproof paper – and I couldn’t get them off the paper onto a baking tray. I also didn’t have a knife sharp enough to make the all-important slashes across them – we do have one somewhere, but I couldn’t find it and, by this stage, I just wanted to get the things into the oven. I just lifted them onto baking trays in the greaseproof paper and put them into the oven. I did manage to fill up the roasting tin that I’d remembered to put into the oven with water to create a bit of steam. This was the only thing I did right.
The baguettes were supposed to be in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I had two trays on two shelves. At the end of the cooking time, the top shelf baguettes were golden brown, the baguettes on the bottom shelf weren’t cooked at all. I took the top ones out and, while they were golden brown on the top, they were pale and pasty on the bottom. By this time I was past caring, so I put them onto to wire rack, moved the bottom shelf baguettes to the top, fiddled with the oven temperature a bit and left them for another ten minutes. Eventually, they too came out golden brown on the top, pale and pasty on the bottom. Not the best afternoon’s baking.
I tried another batch this morning. I decided to make half of the recipe. I’m not sure whether I put in less water this time, but the dough wasn’t quite as porridgey as it was yesterday. I left it in the Tuppaware for longer that the stipulated hour. Crucially, I hunted for something a bit more linen-like to act as my couche and, in the end, used an old muslin square. I also found a stanley knife which made it easier to make the slashes in the baguettes. I used our small oven for the baking. It does go up to 220° on the fan setting. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t have a very good light, so I couldn’t see that my baguettes were golden brown before my 20 minute timer went off. The baguettes I’ve ended up with are a bit on the crisp side, but at least they’re recognisable as baguettes – sort of.
Taste-wise, though, I’m disappointed. They’re a bit too salty for me and the texture, which is really important with bread, is on the chewy side. I think baguettes are something best left to the experts, or at least, to Marks and Spencer.