la baguette est reproducible, non?

I have a baguette I make that is finicky. But when it comes out as planned, it is amazing! Razor sharp, thin crust that crackles as it exits the oven with a tender, moist interior. It's not an artisan bread. It's a quick prep, a straight dough. However, it is the most irreproducible bread I prepare. I'm on the verge (I always am) of fixing this problem. I'm afraid this entry may be boring but it's more for my memory than your entertainment. I have to record these observations somewhere, or I'll lose them. Several recent observations guided my most recent success (last night):

1. Flour choice. I don't exactly know which specification(s) is responsible for the flour I find success with. I judge a flour by the way the resulting dough feels when I mix it in a ratio of 1:1.5::water:flour (w/w), e.g., 200 grams water and 300 grams flour. When mixed this way, the dough should not feel tacky. Some flours, no matter
how dry or slack they're mixed result in a tacky dough - not good. Don't know the significance of the observation, just saying when I use flours that exhibit this property, I have a good run. My latest favorite is called Montana Sapphire, unbleached white, 10 lb bag, protein, 10% (purchased from Giant-Eagle).

2. Yeast. I had a series of successful breads recently whose success I attributed to using Pillsbury's all-purpose flour (had "that" quality). But was it actually the yeast? I used Fleischmann's Bread Machine yeast in the 8 oz. bottle. But, interestingly, using the same flour throughout the series, by the end of the bottle, my loaves had less volume at the end of the first rise. I do my mix and first rise in a machine, so the conditions are pretty controlled. The first rise volume is also a pretty reliable indicator of final product success. In the near future, to eliminate any possible aging effects of the yeast, I'll be using the same brand of yeast but in the individual foil packets.

3. Enrichment (the purists cringe). The classic baguette, according to, e.g., Reinhart, is the "60-2-2". Based on a 500 gram flour recipe this corresponds to 60% water (by weight, 300 grams), 2% (10 grams, fresh) yeast and 2% (10 grams) salt. This is a pretty standard starting point for most of my breads. From here, I enrich them for American style white and wheats and keep them lean for European crusty versions. Recently, however, I enriched a lean recipe with butter and honey and instead of cooking the American style white in a pan, I baked it as a baguette and it was fascinating. Not super crackly crust or anything, but rich and satisfying with good exterior color and nice crumb. I started to realize that enrichment with shortening and sweeteners simply provides an unlimited number of variations between a lean crusty baguette and a Duncan Hines cake. My most recent baguette was simply a 60-2-2 with a near catalytic amount of butter. This butter enabled the interior to stay delicate, moist and tender while I got a good crisp crust.

All the ecstatic babbling for now. In the meantime, I'll be doing validation runs and trying to figure out the critical variables.

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