In addition to giving us the grand tour of the bakery, Chef Matthew McDonald took us through the process of making a baguette from shaping to baking. We became nervous students when we found out it was hands-on but whom better to show us the ways of Bouchon Bakery’s bread than the head baker himself.
Here Chef Matthew is using his favorite Ikea scissors to create what I call the “fingers” of the epi baguette before placing them in the oven but let’s go back a couple of hours to the shaping.
The bread-shaping essentials: bench flour, scraper and proofing board
Regular vs Organic Flour
The bakery uses Gold Medal Harvest King Flour. At one point they did a taste test between regular and organic flour and found the bread made with the organic flour was more white and not as flavorful.
When Chef Matthew started shaping the baguette, I was surprised by how he was handling the dough, or lack of because he was so gentle with it. All the talk I’ve heard about people taking their aggression out on by punching the dough had to go out the window.
The book has a nice step-by-step diagram on shaping but here are some key take-aways on shaping baguettes:
When rolling out the baguette start in the middle, have your hands on top of one another and apply gentle pressure on the dough to stretch it out. When your hands are no longer touching, your finger tips and heels of the hands should be touching the board and your palms are in contact with the dough. The hands should be slightly arched.
Use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the board. Too much and it will be too slippery for the dough to stretch and not enough, the dough will tear.
All of our baguettes. We just need to practice oh a few thousand more times.
We took a short break so the baguettes could proof before baking them off. Earl an avid bread baker from our group had brought Chef Matthew a loaf of bread to test and critique. Chef’s Tip: when you think the bread is at the right color of doneness, leave the oven door ajar for about 10 minutes to release the steam and any moisture left in the bread.
After the shaped baguettes had time to sit, it was onto the scoring, the final step before they would go in the oven.
Scoring Epis: Keep the scissors at a 20 degree angle and snip almost all the way through the dough. Gently let each “finger” fall to the side rather than pull them to either side which could make the shape look forced.
Epis ready for the oven
Chef Matthew explained that the firmness of the dough determines how deep the scoring will be. For softer dough it will be shallower and for harder dough it will be deeper.
Scoring Baguettes: Hold the scoring blade or lame, as close as possible at an angle parallel to the surface. These demi-baguettes will be scored three times. Note: it is not called slashing; you will get a funny look from Chef Matthew if you say that
After baking and cooling, they are ready for display. From left to right: baguette, multigrain baguette, epi, paladin, herb paladin, sourdough batard
To cap off our day we went next door to Bouchon Bistro for a late lunch. We enjoyed crispy baguette croutons topped with salmon rillette and warm epis with butter. I could have just kept going on bread alone but we feasted on croque monsieur, gnocchi, French onion soup and truffle fries to balance the sweets we had earlier in the day.
Thank you to Chef Matthew McDonald for imparting his wisdom on bread with us. While the book is an excellent guide for bread, there is nothing like experience of learning alongside the chef that created them all.
Part 1: A Day at Bouchon Bakery
Part 2: In Conversation with Pastry Chef Janine Weissman
Photography credit: Jenn Yee