Who doesn’t love a baguette, and I’m not talking about the type you buy in a petrol station in every county in Ireland. I’m talking about the crust, that saliva inducing smell, and that recognisable shapely length of carbohydrate heaven. Mind you I’m still struggling with the kneading and shaping. Anyway, I got my French on today.
For me, the Baguette is the epitome of French bread, a little like the soda bread in Ireland. And it evokes memories of smell, taste, flavour and most importantly a taste that is unique and not replicated in any other bread. This is due to it’s crust, and more importantly, the “ear” or cut along the top of the bread that is made just prior to baking.
So not only do you have to contend with making the perfect dough, rising for the perfect time, shaping in the perfect way- there’s a very important slice to be applied to the top of the loaf.
The French Lame
This blade, makes a far superior cut to the top of the dough than the sharpest of knives. And after the obligatory- don’t touch these or you will surely die- talk from Richard, he showed us how to use one. And showed us again, and again. And the group got more and more nervous. It was like a group of brain surgeons operating for the first time. The sweat was pouring off us, and not just due to the heat. The lame used to cut the long baguette is curved- the blade is held with the concave surface facing up, and used in one continuous and confident slice. A flap of dough is created then in the oven that will lift up to create an “ear” as the loaf expands and, by lifting gradually, slows the expansion of the loaf. This prolongs the time during which new areas of dough are exposed to the direct heat of the oven and results in greater overall expansion – a larger “bloom.”
A better crust, and tastier, and more importantly easily digested bread. Its the chewing of the crust that makes our saliva activate, this in turn gets our stomach juices flowing, making this beauty the most easily digested bread you’ll ever eat. The shallow cut, interestingly, creates a better flap than a deep cut, which would result in the flap being too heavy to support it’s own weight. Also if the cut is vertical, the bread opens too quickly exposing too much of the crust at once, and this bread is also more evenly coloured indicting the incorrect cut. Sounds complicated? Well it is. And a little like a child learning to write there name, I think I’ll be practicing my bakers signature for a while to come.