So, What Is a Baguette?
Classic French Bread comes in many shapes and sizes and one favorite is the baguette. The traditional French baguette is around 250 grams (9 oz.) and 600 millimeters in length (24 inches) so it is long and skinny by design. Since the baguette is more of a breadstick than a loaf it can be torn into pieces and consumed immediately without the use of a knife and cutting board.
This made the baguette very portable.
This long, thin loaf is baked quickly and at a high temperature so it doesn't retain much moisture. The crust is thin and crisp, and the crumb is light and airy. The end result is an on-the-go bread that has a very short shelf life. Without much retained moisture the baguette goes stale more quickly than a traditional loaf, so it is intended to be baked and consumed within a day's time.
In the United States the baguette has gained weight, as with most other things American. We adapted the loaf to be shorter, wider and heavier, and our baguettes now run around 350 grams and 550 millimeters. This provides a larger surface to support our way of eating, whether it is a slice of a baguette with butter or half a baguette with meat, cheese, and an assortment of vegetables (the sandwich).
While we may think that the baguette has a long history in French baking the fact is that it was introduced and perfected just after World War I. Highly-refined flours were reserved for the wealthy and the common folk were left with the denser and darker whole grains. With the advent of mixing machines and fast-acting yeasts instead of the slower natural levains, darker flours could be "whitened" through whipping the dough (oxidization) and a more open crumb was created by the yeast. In this way commercial bakers could offer baguettes that had the visual appeal of a refined flour but lacked the flavor of long fermentation times. The public accepted the trade-off.
Here at Brickyard Bakers we use refined flours and natural leaveners in our baguettes. We use both a sourdough ferment and a yeast ferment (poolish) that generally mature over a 12-hour period. These ferments are then mixed together along with more flour, water, salt and a bit more yeast. We do not aggressively mix the dough but instead gently stretch and fold the dough over several hours. Flavors improve as fermentation continues then its onto dividing, shaping and proofing before the baguettes are baked in a hot deck oven. The end result is a flavorful, well-shaped baguette with a colorful and crispy crust and an open crumb.