One of the first things we think of when someone mentions France is the baguette. Baguettes are long baton-like sticks of bread. By French law, a baguette must be made with only flour, salt, water, and yeast. The baguette was included on a list of France’s intangible cultural heritage in November 2018. Even though baguettes are associated with France and iconic French food, it appears they were actually created by Vienna-born baker named August Zang in 1839. Zang was the first baker to introduce steam into the baking process, which allowed for breads to be crispy on the outside while remaining fluffy and soft on the inside.
Baguettes are long, thin, wand or baton-like loaves of bread. Their long, thin shape dates back to 1920 when a law was passed preventing bakers from working between 10pm and 4am. This made it impossible to make the traditional larger bread loaf in time for customers’ breakfasts. Baguettes are traditional French breakfast foods. The longer, thinner baguette solved the problem because it could be prepared and baked more rapidly. There are even different kinds of baguettes. There is the regular baguette and then there is the French baguette, even though both are iconic French breads. Like with many foods though, the differences are very subtle, but they are different enough to recognized by the French government and baking regulatory standards. The French, as well as many other European food and beverage regulatory agencies, take their foods and beverages very seriously and there is no room for exception. French bread is wider and longer than a baguette, with a much softer crust. It doesn’t require any special equipment to make and it’s just as versatile as a baguette, but its soft outside makes it perfect for toast or garlic bread. The Italians have a very close relative to the baguette, which they call filone. The only difference between the two is the Italians add olive oil to the dough.
Even though the French are very particular about the ingredients that can be used to make their traditional French baguette, they do allow for some variations in shape. One of the allowed variations is to make the pain d’epi, or “ears of wheat” bread. Pain d’epi are baguettes that have been cut at the sides to form bread sticks that resemble wheat stalks. These are easy to pull apart to make more individual portions without having to slice the bread.
I love baguettes, but then again, I love all breads. There is something unique about the baguettes to me though, that really give them a special place in my heart, as well as my taste buds. Many moons ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I was poor; so poor that I took the bus into work everyday rather than the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and walked about 1-1 1/2 miles to and from work from the bus station because the tickets were about 1/4 of the price of the tickets for BART. Every morning, en route to work, I would stop in at Boudoin’s Bakery and get a mini baguette for breakfast. I had it timed just perfectly, so when I walked into my building, I was just finishing my last bite.
I ventured into the world of baguette making yesterday, something I really hadn’t done since my culinary school days, and I made some pain d’epi. Mine however, didn’t exactly look like wheat stalks they were supposed to represent, but they sure did taste good, especially smeared with rich, creamy butter. I guess I am a bit rusty on this particular rustic bread and need more practice. This is a challenge I readily accept. 🙂
Even though my form was a bit off, I stuck with the French baking tradition, however, when it came to the ingredients. The only ingredients I used were flour, water, salt and yeast.
Baguettes or Pain D’Epi
2 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1 2/3 cup lukewarm water
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
Combine the yeast and the water together and let rest for about 5-10 minutes, or until it becomes frothy.
Combine the flour and salt together then make a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture into the center of the well and draw in as much of the flour as needed to make a soft paste. Cover and let rise for about 20 minutes to make your sponge. This is rise #1. There are 4 rises for this bread.
After the first rise and the sponge is ready, gradually bring in the rest of the flour and form the dough into a soft, sticky dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until a soft dough ball has been formed. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover to let rise again for about 1 1/2 hours, or until it has doubled in size. This is rise #2.
Punch down the dough and recover to once again let it rise and double in size yet again, for about 45 minutes. Rise #3.
When the dough is ready, divide it half and shape into long, thin baguettes, about 12 inches long. Everything is the same up to this point for the pain d’epi, but now, cut the dough with sharp scissors. Cut at an angle and cut down to about 3/4 of the way through the dough. This is where I screwed up. I actually cut them completely then reattached them to the dough.
Place the dough logs onto a baking sheet dusted with flour and let rise again for the final rise, for about 50 minutes, or until they double in size once again.
Preheat the oven to 475*F of 240* C.
Slash the tops of the loaves or pain d’epi with a sharp serrated knife. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until they are golden brown and hollow when tapped on the bottom. Allow the bread to cool for a few minutes before eating, then smear with butter and Bon Appetit!
Have a great day Everyone. Stay warm, stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.