baked goods · Recipe Reviews

Paul’s Baguettes – GBBO Review

I chose to begin my new video series with Paul Hollywood’s baguette technical challenge.

Why?

Well, there’s only four ingredients in this recipe: bread flour, salt, water, and yeast – plus some olive oil for greasing. So, if you don’t have all the ingredients, at least you don’t have to buy much. It scores points for that right off the bat.

I’m also fairly sure most people have eaten a baguette before, so we all have a fair idea what they should look and taste like. No sense in starting off with something no one’s ever eaten before.

Of course, it’s a bread recipe, so it’ll be time consuming and perhaps tricky for the uninitiated. You’ll be working with yeast, and you know what they say, working with kids or animals is troublesome.

And, there’s a corollary; the fewer ingredients a recipe has, the more difficult it is to master. Your technique needs to be spot on, because there’s no flashy extra ingredients to hide behind.

In terms of hardware, this recipe doesn’t require anything too unusual. Almost everyone should be able to find a mixing bowl, a plastic container, and some reasonable facsimile of a roasting pan. The recipe calls for a standing mixer, but you can just use a wooden spoon if you don’t have one. You’ll just need to use more elbow grease, but hey, bonus workout!

The only piece of hardware you might look askance at is the linen couche. What’s a linen couche?

So, I had to Google this. I’ve been baking almost my whole life, but I had never heard of a linen couche before. It’s basically a thick piece of fabric used to proof shaped loaves of bread.

You’re supposed to settle the baguette loaves between the folds of the couche while they proof and the fabric absorbs excess liquid. This is supposed to help the loaves develop a nice crust.

As you might imagine, I don’t have a linen couche. If you’re in the same boat, worry not. You can just make a substitute with parchment paper, like I did. I used the instructions here.

The recipe uses metric measurements and Celsius temperatures. If you’re baking in the United States, which I assume is most of my audience, you’ll need to convert the oven temperature to Fahrenheit. Obviously, you can use Google to easily convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, but I got nostalgic and found this super awesome conversion formula.

Back in my grad school days, I used to teach a food science lab, and our lab manual listed oven temperatures in Celsius, but all our ovens were in Fahrenheit. That’s right. Every time our students wanted to use the oven, they had to use the conversion formula – helpfully printed in our lab manual – to find the right oven temperature setting.

So that formula takes me right back to my early Austin days. Good times.

Anyway.

I used a digital scale to get the right amounts of flour and salt. If you don’t have a digital scale, I guess you could try to convert to volume measurements, but I’d encourage you to invest in a digital scale. It’s more accurate, and you’ll have better results with non-US recipes.

Some additional provisos: The recipe calls for a 2.4 L square plastic container, but I have a 3.07 L container, so that’s what I used. Also, my packets of yeast are 7 g each, where the recipe calls for 10 g of yeast. I didn’t want to leave half a packet of yeast all to its lonesome, so I just used 7 g of yeast for this recipe.

Since I reduced my amount of yeast, I also reduced how much salt I used. The recipe calls for 10 g of yeast and 10 g of salt, so I used 7 g of each.

I may have added the water too quickly when mixing my dough. When the recipe says add it slowly – add it SLOWLY. I’m not sure if my little snafu affected the end product or not, but it probably did.

The bread gods are neither kind, nor forgiving.

The dough rests twice; once after you knead it, and again after you shape it. The recipe is pretty clear and easy to follow up until this point. After the second resting, you have to preheat the oven (and convert to Fahrenheit), heat some water, and put a roasting tray on the bottom rack of the oven.

So far, so good. But then, the recipe doesn’t tell you what kind of pan the bread should be baked on, or whether it should be lined or greased. So I just used flat cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. I docked the recipe some points for missing that.

Once the loaves are dusted with flour, CAREFULLY pour water into the heated roasting pan in the bottom rack before putting the dough in the oven. The water will probably hiss and splash all over, so watch yourself.

The steam is supposed to help the bread achieve that last rise in the oven by keeping the skin from drying out too quickly. It’s also supposed to give the bread a shinier crust.

Well, that didn’t really happen for my first two loaves. They’re brown on top, but definitely under-done and not shiny at all. I left the second batch in the oven for about 27 minutes, and they looked browner and more done – still no glossy crust, though. Clearly, something went wrong.

How did they taste?

Like bread, pretty much. The under done loaves were blander than the browner ones. The crust on the browner loaves was definitely more well-developed and firmer, and the crumb structure was more of what you’d expect from a baguette.

So on the whole, this was a successful recipe, even though things did not go according to plan. I’m not an experienced bread-baker, and my baguettes didn’t turn out terribly, even if they didn’t quite turn out well.

I’d say you could probably use this recipe as a measuring tool for your bread making ability. Since there aren’t enough ingredients to hide behind, your skills will make all the difference in the appearance and quality of the finished product.

The good news is, you’ll have bread at the end of the day. Might be funny-looking bread, but it’ll still taste like bread. Even if you’ve never made bread before, or if you tried once, but it was a complete disaster and you don’t want to talk about it, you’ll have some variety of bread if you follow this recipe.

The ratings:

Prep time: 2 out of 5. Not instant. You’ll be here a while.

Taste: 5 out of 5. Tastes like bread!

Ease of construction: 4 out of 5. Baguettes are pretty easy to shape.

Conclusion: Give it a try! I had fun. So will you.

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