I think I have baguette envy

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I'll admit it. In the past, I always thought that size mattered. When confronted with the baskets full of baguettes at the grocery store, I would usually choose the large, soft and fluffy loaf that at the time, seemed like such a better bargain than those almost runt-like, heavy, dense loaves. After being elbow deep in baguettes for the last week, I now realize I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

To say the fluffy baguette is in some way superior to it's smaller, chewier counterpart, is absolute poppycock. Sure, I like a good piece of highly-mechanized dough slathered with butter-like, garlic flavored product as much as the next guy. Anyone who's stepped inside a grocery store recognizes this silver wrapped loaf who's fumes tempt as the last impulse buy before loading groceries onto the conveyor belt. But, the next time you (or I) try to purchase such a thing, shame on thee!

We've been working with different mixes of similar basic dough formulas. Nothing more than water, flour, yeast and salt (and a wee bit of malt for ahem - scientific purposes). It's been rather enlightening to see just how the mixing and interrelated fermentation process can affect the final product. Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D, I am not, but for you kids who haven't been in class getting your gluten formation on, allow me to break it down.

In one of his many life lessons (this one not quite as exciting as me learning to light a spoon dipped in motor oil afire), my dad once told me that in order to create a solution to a problem, you have 1) good 2) cheap and 3) fast. You could apply any of these 2 items to a problem, but not all three. In essence, the triple threat is an urban legend which defies the laws of nature, just like El Chupacabra. Seriously, wild dogs sucking goat's blood in the middle of the night, UFOs mutilating cattle, the Cracken, pull it together people! Getting back on track...

The solution can be good and cheap, but it's not going to be fast.
The solution can be good and fast, but it's not going to be cheap.
The solution can be cheap and fast, but it's not going to be good.

Does the conveyor-belt bread in a bag ring a bell here?

A kick ass loaf of chewy, tasty, artisan bread isn't going to be discount store cheap. Nor is it going to be produced in a manner that this drive through and impatient world is used to. Creating that perfect loaf takes time and time.

Take a gander at these 3 lovely loaves in a row. From left to right, we have:

1) Dough that has been highly processed using a mechanical mixer and not much room to develop much flavor or texture due to little fermentation. Directly related to it's lack in flavor is it's white and tight 'crumb' which resembles most bread found in the grocery store.
2) Dough that has been somewhat processed using a mechanical mixer but has had much more fermentation time than the first allowing for a more moist crumb, more open texture and a bit more flavor than the plain, boring bread in position #1.
3) Dough that has been minimally processed using a mechanical mixer and allowed a fermentation time that puts loafy #1 to shame. A combination of minimal mixing time and a long fermentation make for the golden crumb color, texture and taste. As our instructor said during the end of a class critique - "winner, winner, chicken dinner!"

Things of course, get much more technical than this snippity description. If things were truly this simple, you'd invariably be asking, "Rachael, just what the hell do you DO all day in that school of yours?" The answer is learn. Learn a lot and have fun while I'm at it!

Some pictorial proof...

Pretty sure I had just taken a hunk out of this beauty before I snapped this. Can you blame me?

The class bakes enough bread each day to feed an army....and this is only half of what we baked today (note the second table of baguettes).

My most acceptable looking batch of baguettes baked today. Loaf No. 2 has a few...shall we say...problems? I had a difficult time today 'connecting' with the dough, we were just on two different pages.

A wee bit too close to the oven and drooping off of the edge of the loader. Comments to yourselves! Only because we had plenty of comments swirling about over this one already...

The 'wonkys'. Meet candy cane wonky, bulbous wonky and wee wonky enjoying a bit of wonky time.

Not too shabby.


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