After a few successful loaves of Tartine country white bread, it was time to attempt Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread baguettes. As any baker will attest, the baguette is a tricky loaf. To achieve smooth, crackling crust and a holey crumb, the dough requires careful handling. Creating the long, skinny, symmetrical shape isn’t easy with a wet dough, and a thin, shattering crust won’t develop without generous steaming during the first few minutes of baking.
Robertson’s baguette recipe suggests a (novel to me) technique to generate copious steam: saturate kitchen towels, and place the wet towels on a half-sheet pan on the oven’s floor. Except that it doesn’t work: in my oven, the towels dried out and caught fire (see photographic evidence at right).
I don’t know if my towels weren’t wet enough, or if I was supposed to fold the towels flat, or if I was supposed to use terrycloth towels. I do know that my entire house filled with smoke, requiring me to open all the doors and windows in August, to run the central air conditioning on “vent” for 45 minutes, and to throw out two charred towels. The sheet pan needed a thorough scrubbing with Bar Keep’s Friend.
The baguettes turned out okay, though. The crust was a bit too thick: it could have used more steam.