One cannot think of France and not think about a baguette, and vice versa. The loaf is burned into our consciousness as part of something truly French, and the French, great cultural marketers that they are, have firmly anchored their bread culture around it.
Interestingly, the baguette as we know it only showed up with any regularity in the 1920s and since then has become standardized across the country - the French are fiends for regulation - as to weight and content. This makes sense as white flour - something we take for granted these days - was a luxury reserved for the very rich.
I find the modern Parisian baguette airy to the point of being almost tasteless, and certainly not having the punch one comes to expect with sourdough breads. In fact, most baguettes are made using commercial yeast, sometimes with a little sourdough levain for flavor. Paris real estate is so expensive that many central bakeries have their loaves par baked or even baked at another location, which changes the end product.
When I was at baking school a couple of years ago, the instructor pointed out a machine standing in the corner of the kitchen. Japanese made, it could crank out perfectly shaped baguettes using volumes of proofed dough. This struck me as a distillation of the Japanese fascination with all things French (about 1 MM visit Paris annually): take the essential French food and automate its production.
This Saturday's Bake
I will be baking 100% sourdough baguettes, whose dough has been proofed for 24 hours, deepening its flavor. The dough has 5% rye and 5% high extraction flour, giving the bread a substantial taste and crumb. My baguette shaping skills are still developing, so your loaf will likely look a little rough.
To my mind, chocolate and its source material cocoa, is one of those miraculous flavor right up there with vanilla (How does an epiphyte produce such an amazing, subtle aroma?) and saffron (A little earthy, metallic, full, fragrant but not sweet.) Well, coffee gets in there too. And chocolate is one that our friendly biome helps make more tasty.
Seeds from the Cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) are hulled, fermented - using naturally occurring yeast and bacteria - and roasted and then ground, with the cocoa being separated from the cocoa butter (oils.) If the powder is treated to neutralize its acidity, it is known as "Dutch" cocoa.
The Mayans and Aztecs drank chocolate - xocolātl - as early as 1750 BC and the crop is still produced in Mexico and Central and South America. Most of the world's chocolate today comes from West Africa where, sadly child labor continues to be used to harvest and process the crop. A good article here in a recent issue of Fortune magazine, details the intractability of the child labor problem.
This Week's Bake
This is one of my experimental weeks: I am going to make you a chocolate brioche. Brioche is a dough made with flour, sugar, salt, eggs and butter and is the base for breads like Challah and Panettone. It can be, but isn't necessarily sweet (I have been experimenting with a savory brioche that uses olive oil in place of the butter.) This recipe includes cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips and a little chili powder. As always with my breads, is uses sourdough as the leavening agent.
Your Canadian Baker