Sam Fromartz Teaches Y&H a Thing or Two About Baguettes
Apologies for the late start today. I spent the morning and early part of the afternoon making baguettes with my bud, the writer Sam Fromartz, who recently spent a week in Paris studying at a boulangerie. Today's session was just a warm-up for an upcoming Young & Hungry column in which we'll take a studiously close look at the commercial baguettes produced in this area.
Let me tell you, making a good baguette is as much an art as a science. Fromartz has not only personalized his dough—it includes both sourdough and a small percentage of whole-wheat flour—but he also stands sentinel over his home oven, ready to pull the loaves the moment they reach the exterior caramelization he desires. He has his recipe broken down into precise mathematical formulas, which he prints out on a sheet of paper for easy review. He can shape and roll and taper a baguette without ever ruining the internal bubble structure of the dough. He wields his lamé like a sculptor, slashing gashes into his raw dough with swift, fluid motions. He knows by sight exactly when a dough is ready for the oven.
It's all pretty goddamn intimidating for someone who's made most of his loaves in a (gulp!) breadmaker.
But as most of you know already, working with dough is a sensual, tactile pleasure, no matter how technical/geeky it gets. Baguette dough is moist and sticky; it clings to your fingers as you work it in a most pleasurable/disgusting way. The sound of thwacking dough on the counter, during your second and third folds, is so violently satisfying—on a level you may not like to acknowledge. And the smells! The yeast, the toastiness, the sourdough.
If you can't tell, I think I just experienced a conversion this morning. I cannot go back to the dry, meaningless experience of commercial loaves. Damn you, Sam Fromartz!
Below are more pictures from this morning's baking.
The raw baguette dough, bubbles and all
My attempt to work the sticky dough.
Fromartz shows me the proper way to form baguettes.
I'm starting to get the hang of this shaping technique.
Sam gets the loaves ready for the oven.
The finished products