Thursday, November 22, 2012

Baguette a la Bouabsa

Qu'est ce qu'une baguette? De la farine, de l'eau, du sel et un levain.... et beaucoup de technique.

What is a baguette? Flour, water, salt, and a levain... and lots of technique.


When I was in college, my professor, who was a walking swearing machine, snob French woman who didn't seem to care about how she looked and dang she looked so effortlessly pretty, always talked about her home town. Well, of course I had to listen. My major was French literature and I needed to get a good mark on French history if I wanted to get my degree. Back when I was 20 years old, I couldn't care less about how she described the real French baguette and how she could never find something even remotely close in Jakarta; said that any long bread is called baguette here. But the present me remembers verbatim about the romance of that particular bread she raved about and by God I just have to nail a baguette!

I have been meaning to make this particular baguette since the first time I saw the name. Baguette a la Bouabsa. Who is this Bouabsa, why is everyone in the bread region of blogosphere talking about his baguette? Googled his name, and WHAM! Anis Bouabsa was the winner of Paris Best Baguette in 2008. What makes his baguette so famous?

Before I tell you why I got hooked on Bouabsa’s baguette, allow me to explain about the annual competition called Grand Prix de la Baguette de Paris. It is held annually in Paris and the winner will supply baguette and other bread for one whole year for Palais de l'Élysée. The baguette that can enter the competition has to be 55-65 cm long and weigh between 250-300 gr. It should use only white flour, water, salt, yeast, and no other ingredients. Is that it? Nope. The crust should be crispy with open crumbs. The technique will be judged also. 

Knowing the prize, who would just give away a golden recipe? Oh, who are we kidding? Best baguette in Paris? There are thousands of boulangeries scattered all over Paris and each one of them wants to have the title.

Picture this; that pretty singer Carla Bruni and her husband, you know.. he’s just THE French President at that time, that Nicolas Sarkozy, nibbled on his baguette.  They have presidential breakfast, lunch, dinner, party, and the bread served were the ones from his bakery. He could be quite cocky and had every right to be so. But nevertheless, this Bouabsa guy, you should definitely google him, opens his boulangerie for people who want to take a closer look and sometimes take pictures of his kitchen filled with apprentices baking bread.

How kind!

This is the post you should be checking out about a bread enthusiast who came to his boulangerie, Duc de la Chapelle, in Paris; She tried his recipe and it was a success. It does seem easier than done.  Truth be told, I have been searching for a perfect baguette recipe and some just didn’t work according to my taste.

Anyhow, Bouabsa's baguette looks quite to almost very charred. Not like the ones we usually see. It is unusually appealing to me. It looks.. unbelievably rustic. Like from an old world, or something you'd find Gandalf munching on, or like the bread the travelers in the medieval times carry in their sack. If you know me well, then you know I'm hooked because of it.

For months I have been pondering, googling, reading, lacking sleep just thinking whether I have the guts to attempt his baguette or not. But since I like to think that I’m a mad scientist with an artistic flare, not mentioning a geeky home baker, I just have to get this over with and get to my lab, i.e: kitchen. Thanks to NCC Breadweek, I have an excuse to force myself to the limit. Give a task to a virgo and consider it done.

500 gr all purpose flour
10 gr salt
¼ tsp instant yeast
375 gr water

Let's tackle this recipe!

-Mix all the dry ingredients, make a well in the middle and pour just 325 gr of the water. 
-Incorporate everything and let it rest for 30 minutes covered in plastic wrap.

-After 30 minutes, slap and fold the dough on your working table for a minimum 200 times. More if you can handle it. 
-Pour the rest of the water, 50 gr, into the bowl then stretch and fold the dough until all the water is incorporated into the dough. You will have a wet dough. Let rest for 1 hour with 6 to 8 times stretch and fold for an interval of 20 minutes. So that'd be 3 times doing the stretch and fold within an hour. Keep the dough in the fridge covered in plastic wrap for 21 hours.

-After 21 hours, take your dough and let it warm in room temperature for 1 hour. 
-Divide the dough into two and make an oval shape. Cover with plastic and let  them rest for 15 minutes. 
-Shape into baguettes.
-Rest them on a floured couche for 45 minutes.
-Transfer them to the baking pan.
-Bake for 20 minutes in a 250C oven. Don't forget the steam tray. 

Okay..Now this is the part that I get really shocked and frustrated I couldn't even managed to shed a tear. I foolishly tripped on my way to the kitchen. The pan fell abruptly, the baguettes scattered flat on the floor. They poofed already then just laid flat in front of my very own eyes. Fighting back the anger and tears, I took them and put them back on the pan, made just little slashes, afraid to degas them even more, and baked them.

Here's how they looked like.

Do you see the misshapen parts?

But to my surprise, they didn't let me down. They did spring in the oven, kept their gorgeous length. I proudly measured 50 cm, just a 5 cm short, and the color was nicely golden. I let them cool completely before cutting to see what the fall may caused to my baguettes. Would my crumbs be tight?


I couldn't believe my eyes. The crumbs were looking good with big holes here and there. If this was what I got from fallen baguettes, imagine what I could have if I didn't trip!

Now let's take a look on the color...

Yes they look just how I wanted them, but I want them to be as dark and charred as Anis Bouabsa's. Look at the part I circled. I want THAT color!

So there I was, making another batch. Slap and fold, slap and fold, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, stretch and fold, stretch and fold, and put in the fridge for 21 hours.

I am not a quitter. It's a perfectionist's curse.

I made three this time, one long and two medium sized. I was more confident this time and I allowed myself a little luxury of modifying the size. In fact, I was in such a great mood making it, knowing that luck was on my side.


Still shy on the slashes because of yesterday's nightmare.
But hey, the crumbs...

I think I don't have to tell you how crispy the crust is. But despite the crispy crust, the crumb is soft and slightly chewy. I Love the taste so very much even it occurred to me that I could perchance live on this baguette and water alone. So little yeast and no sugar but this bread is sweet. How lovely science is. I would stop myself from explaining further why it is sweet without any sugar because I might bore you to death.

Am I happy with this recipe? Very much indeed.
Have I found the perfect baguette recipe? No. I haven't.

But how can a mad scientist be happy to find perfection? I'll be out of experiments. This is why baking bread is more fun than baking cake or anything else. You won't find two identical bread much like you'd never find two identical zebras. 

I'd say let's never find a perfect recipe. So we can always continue the fun of seeking and experimenting.

Merci beaucoup Monsieur Bouabsa, vous me donnez beaucoup de bonheur!

Stumble Upon Toolbar Pin It

1 comment:

  1. Amy, your baguettes look divine. The holes inside, the crust... oh how much I want to reach out and grab a piece. Thanks for sharing the adventures in your quest for the perfect baguette.