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How to shape baguettes?

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Mr. MacGuire,

I've read descriptions about shaping baguettes but I can't seem to wrap my head (or fingers) around the concept.

Could you explain the basic motions and possibly share any tips?


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I'm sorry for the delay in answering this question. I've been trying to think it over.

Professor Calvel always says that to shape loaves, a baker must have an " iron hand in a velvet glove ": the shaped loaves must be crease and wrinkle free, with only one seam ( more of a belly button on round loaves) which should end up on the bottom surface when the loaves are baked. They must be taut and well-rounded, and all of this has to be accomplished without pounding out the so extremely desireable large bubbles.

Before shaping comes the decision on when to shape. During the fermentation, the organic acids produced as a by product of the fermentation have an increasingly firming effect on the dough, and as with everything involving French bread, there is the Goldilocks phenomenon: everything has to be not too much, not too little, but just right:

Not enough fermentation, and the loaves will lack the structure to hold their shape, and instead will flatten-out and spread.

Too much fermentation and the dough will be too taut, nervous and difficult to shape and prone to tearing.

Well-fermented doughs will become tense every time they're handled, and therefore after being handled they need a rest. The shaping is done in two steps, therefore:

As the dough is divided into pieces ( which are weighed in bakeries, but this is a good idea at home, too. Classic baguettes are weighed at 350g so that they weigh just over 250g when baked. Inspectors used to show up at a bakery and put ten baguettes onto the scale. They had to total at least 2,500g ), they are given a " pre-shaping": pieces to be turned into round loaves are given a cursory shaping into a round shape, and baguettes and other long loaves can be shaped slightly oblong, a bit like a football to give the long shape a headstart.

>>>>>>>>>> Did you know that French bakers are called boulangers because they shaped loaves into balls?!<<<<<<<<<<<<<. In both cases, the pieces should be seamless and nicely rounded, the one seam or "belly button" placed under the loaf. These preshaped loaves should be placed on a floured surface and protected from draughts so the don't form a tough skin.

The resting time varies dependind upon the dough's texture, but ten to fifteen minutes usually seems right. Round loaves are then given a firmer version of their first cursory shaping.

Long loaves are shaped with their length parallel to the worktable. Flour the back portion of the work surface, and place the preshaped loaf on it, rounded side down, seam up. Flour the piece, and pati t down with a flat palm using a firm tapping motion ( almost as though you were spanking it. Don't let it get thinner than about 1 inch. The piece should be between a rectangle and an oval.

I find the rest very difficult to describe and suggest you have a look at a book with pictures, bue here goes:

Lift the back edge of the piece toward you, folding it over itself until it covers half the surface of the piece ( i.e, 1/2 two ply, 1/2 as before). With a slightly rounded palm this time, tap down the two ply section to form the beginnings of a cylinder with that portion.

Roll the cylinder toward you so it covers even more of the single layer, tap with an even more rounded palm, and repeat. Toward the end of the process, it should be a fairly simple matter to pinch the seam shut by banging with the heel of your hand.

By now, the cylinder will probably be approximately 2/3 of the desired length, and can be lengthened by using the hands with arched fingers rolling the loaf back and forth using very gentle pressure and at the same time contrary motion of the hands ( i.e. the hands begin side by side at the center of the loaf each heading toward opposite ends of the loaf).

The seam is usually placed underneath the loaf for the second rise ( a clair) but can be, for more rustic looking loaves, be placed seam-up on a lightly floured "couche", and turned back upright just before slashing and baking.

Hurried best wishes


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