Put aside for a moment the current atmosphere of gluten-phobia, and join us in our reverie of a simpler time. Return with us to the blissfully uncomplicated pleasures of crunchy crust and airy crumb, and indulge in an examination of the latest tool for home baking.
Crafted with the clay, water and sand of Marcigny, France, the Emile Henry Baguettes Mould – in matte black or glossy red – is designed to replicate the interior of a traditional, domed, stone oven. The lid traps just the right amount of steam, the perforations allow the carbon dioxide to escape, and the earthenware offers excellent, even heat diffusion.
We asked baker Simon Blackwell, owner of Blackbird Baking Co., in Toronto, to define the perfect French baguette. “For me, a perfect baguette must have an open, irregular crumb, full of tiny and big air pockets. The crust has to be thin, crispy and very dark golden; it should crackle when you bite into it.” And the method? “Handle the dough gently, don’t overknead, and let the dough ferment (proof) twice, using a levain or polish along with the yeast, if possible.” Blackwell bakes his loaves in a hot oven – 240 C (about 460 F), and makes five cuts in the top to allow for proper expansion in the oven.
When I put this handsome mould to the test, the results were delicious and, indeed, perfectly French. The crust was golden, thin, crisp and crackled when cut, and the crumb was soft, moist, light and open. One problem? The recipe is variable; yeast is a living thing and depending on temperature and other factors, the dough can end up being too big for the mould. Ours stuck to the sides and bottom, and to each other, which made for a wrestling match to extract the loaves and some un-browned and soft sides.
$150, visit browneretail.com to find a retailer.
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