Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Snippets from Life in France - la baguette

What can be more quintessentially French than seeing a baguette tucked under an arm, protruding from a basket or strapped onto the back of a bicycle?  Scrumptious, long, thin, crusty. A challenge for aging gums – so I am told.  

In true French style, the land of red tape has a law governing the ingredients of the authentic baguette dough.  Slight variations are allowed in the length and width of the loaf as well as in the proportions of some of its components. The small dimples on the bottom of the loaves made by the linen on which the dough sits while proving, reassures the purchaser of this infamous loaf that it has been baked by une boulangerie artisinanale.
The baguette as we know it today is a product of the 1920's, descending from a long and proud history of French bread making. Apparently baguettes were created as a result of a new French law which was introduced in 1920, forbidding bakers to start work before 4.00 am. This meant that the traditional, round bread loaves would not be on the boulangerie shelves in time for breakfast. And so the baguette was born.  The baguette's large surface area to volume ratio allows it to be prepared and baked more quickly - ready for the early morning customers. 

The boulangeries are the heart of the community. If, as in our village, there is more than more than one, each boulangerie will have its own loyal band of followers. For the many surrounding small villages and hamlets without a resident baker, a mobile boulanger visits daily announcing his arrival with a “tout, tout” of the van’s horn.

Early risers in our village will see a large white van backed up to the door of the Flourentin boulangerie. Members of the baker’s family scurry to and fro stacking their mobile shop with baskets of baguettes and other artisan-baked delights to sell via the vehicle’s side window. For many the boulangeries serve another important function  -  disseminators of local news and gossip........ Some things never change.

My heart lept when I spied these old mouldy linen-lined baguette baskets at our local vide – grenier. To Mr R’s relief, practicality over-rode emotions so reluctantly they were left on the side of the road for some other purchaser to scoop up and rescue.

The following recipe was given to me from a delightful dame française. Although the ingredients and instructions are simple, there is a definite art for producing an authentique baguette artisanale. Bonne chance!

FRENCH BREAD (2 loaves)

Preparation time: 25 min           

Cooking time: 30 min           

Total time: approximately 180min



2 cups warm water 
(40 0 C or 110 0 F )

1 tablespoon of  yeast

1 tablespoon of  sugar

2 teaspoons of  salt

5 cups plain (all-purpose) flour


  • ·      Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in large bowl.
  • ·      Allow yeast to proof or foam (approximately 10 minutes).

  • ·      Add 3 cups flour and salt; beat for 2 minutes.

  • ·      Stir in 2 cups flour to make a stiff dough.

  • ·      Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it smooth and elastic (about 8 -10 minutes).

  • ·      Place the dough into a greased* bowl, turning the dough to coat all surfaces.
  • ·      Cover the dough in the bowl (using plastic film or a damp tea towel) and let it rise until it has doubled in size.

  • ·      Punch down the dough then divide it in half.

  • ·      Shape dough into two long, thin loaves.

  • ·      Grease* and sprinkle with cornmeal.
  • ·      Place loaves on a baking sheet  or in pan or a French bread baking tray and make some superficial diagonal cuts on top of the loaves.

  • ·      Cover and let rise until each loaf had doubled in size.

  • ·      Bake at  190 0 C or 350 0 F for approximately 30 minutes.

  • ·      Note: For a very crunchy crust, sprinkle or spray water onto the loaves during baking.
    * Use a pastry brush dipped in butter or a light oil such as grape seed oil