Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Curly Ficelles

Yep, that's right, curly ficelles! That's what I got for not paying attention!
Since we are trying to eat more whole grains daily, I hadn't made our favorite baguette recipe (Nancy Silverton's in Breads from La Brea Bakery) in quite a while when I suddenly got the urge. Unborn baguettes were calling to me from the bag of flour (just as a slab of marble calls to a sculptor, they say) and I simply had to help them out.
But I set my conditions. First, I would modify the recipe and use 30% white whole wheat (to make the bread more nutritious). Second, I would make ficelles and not baguettes as the latter are more propitious to undesirable girth expansion (ficelle means "string" in French and a ficelle is basically a skinny baguette). Eating skinny keeps you skinny, everybody knows that!
So I made the dough. The mixing was uneventful. I didn't even have to add more water (which I thought I might have to do since I was using whole wheat). The dough was supple and slightly tacky. It smelled delicious, as usual. I set it to rise for a while on the counter then I retarded it in the refrigerator overnight.
First thing upon getting up in the morning I got it out of the refrigerator (it had risen very nicely during the night) and I set it on the counter to lose some of the chill.
Then I preshaped the ficelles into rough cylinders (for baguettes I would divide the dough in four pieces, for ficelles I divided it in eight).
Twenty minutes later or so, I started rolling out the ficelles. The dough smelled heavenly. Working it was like letting a genie out of a bottle. I was transported back to my baguette days at SFBI this winter. I could see Frank teaching us how to shape a proper baguette, feel the heat of the big ovens, hear the rumbling of eager stomachs. I folded and refolded and squeezed and pinched and rolled, rolled, rolled. The ficelles were coming to life under my fingers, basically shaping themselves, jumping onto the flour-dusted couches and begging to go proof until they were ready to dance into the oven.
So I obliged them. I shaped eight beautiful ficelles while the oven was heating up.
And the ficelles rose on the kitchen table inside two big plastic bags and then the oven was hot and I poured water in the waiting metal pan and I dusted the ficelles with flour and scored them and the first batch was going into the oven when I realized...oh no! that I had made them the size we had been taught to make at SFBI and most definitely NOT the size of my oven!
Their heads and feet were hanging on each side of the baking stone. A sorry sight if there ever was one! The only way to rescue them was to make them into curlicues. Which I did...
They came out crunchy, tasty and healthful but in a bakery environment, it would have been a hard sell to pass them off as regular ficelles!
I have been making loaves of bread to the size of my baking stone/oven for close to 20 years without this ever happening... Tell me the truth, is it age?

  • 345 g white starter
  • 672 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 300 g white whole wheat flour 
  • 518 g water 
  • 52 g raw wheat germ 
  • 22 g salt 
Method: If you have the Silverton book, please note that the recipe is the one for Country White, albeit with 26% whole wheat flour instead of all white. It can be mixed by hand, in a bread machine or with a stand mixer. I used my old stand mixer with the dough hook.
  1. Put the flours, most of the water (remember to set some aside in case all of it would be too much), the wheat germ and the starter in the bowl of the mixer
  2. Mix on low for speed for 5 minutes. If the dough needs more water, let it dribble in slowly
  3. Stop the mixer, cover the bowl with a towel or proofing cloth and let the dough rest for 20 minutes (autolyse)
  4. Add the salt and mix at medium/low speed about 5 more minutes. The dough should feel smooth and resilient and it should pass the window-pane test (wet your hands, pull a piece of dough from the mass and gently turn and stretch it. If you manage to create a "window" in the dough without tearing it, it is ready)
  5. Transfer the dough to a slightly oiled dough bucket or big bowl, oover it and let it ferment at room temperature for 3 1/2 to 4 hours (when the dough is ready, if you press it with your fingertip, a slight indentation will linger). In my case, as described above, since it was late and I was tired, I let it rise about 1 1/2 hour at room temp before putting it in the refrigerator for the night
  6. In the morning, after it had lost some of its chill, I divided it into 8 pieces which I pre-shaped as cylinders and let rest about 20 minutes
  7. Then I did the shaping proper (for a photo tutorial on how to shape baguettes, please click here)
  8. When the baguettes or ficelles are shaped, let them proof seam-side up on their floured couche inside an tied plastic bag for about 1 hour (if, instead of retarding the first fermentation, as I did this time, you decide to retard the proofing, as I usually do, then you need to put the baguettes/ficelles inside the refrigerator at this point and let them rest overnight. In the morning, you would take them out, leave them at room temp in the plastic bag for about 2 hours and proceed with the scoring and the baking)
  9. About 1 hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F/260 C after placing in it a baking stone and an empty metal pan
  10. When the baguettes or ficelles are ready, take them out of the plastic bags and slightly dust them with flour
  11. Flip each of them gently seamside down onto a a half-sheet pan covered with semolina-dusted parchment paper (I can fit about 4 on my baking stone. It is best to avoid crowding to maximize even heat distribution and prevent "oven-kisses") and beginning about 1/2 inch from the end of the baguette, just to the left of center, make straight cuts (not diagonal ones) about 5 inches long and 1/2 deep at a 45 degree angle (each one starting 1/4 of an inch below the center of the previous one)
    (photo taken at SFBI this winter)
  12. Pour one cup of water into the empty metal pan inside the oven (taking care to protect your hands and your face)
  13. Slide the baguettes - still on their parchment paper - right onto the baking stone
  14. Spray the inside of the oven a couple of times with a mister, close the door and reduce the temperature to 450 F/232 C
  15. After 10 minutes (ficelles) or 15 minutes (baguettes), check the loaves and rotate them if necessary to ensure even baking. Baguettes bake for a total of about 30 to 35 minutes, ficelles for a total of 15 to 20 minutes
  16. Remove to a cooling rack and enjoy with your favorite pâté, cheese, jam or honey!

These curly ficelles have been submitted to Susan, from Wild Yeast, for her weekly Yeastpotting feature. Yeastspotting turns one this Thursday. Thank you, Susan, for being such a gracious host to all of us bakers and for inspiring us with your beautiful, fun and instructive blog. Happy Birthday, Yeastspotting!


  1. MC, the first thing I thought when I saw the photo of your curly ficelles was that you had spelled out a word. If you had curled the ficelles to spell the word "Bread", no one would have thought that an error had been made!

  2. Well seen! Unfortunately, at the time, I had my head in the oven trying frantically to rescue these poor ficelles and it didn't occur to me to try to write with them!

  3. I always have the same problem, ovens aren't made for baguettes, so usually I make demi or mini bags or ficelle! Though the other day I made 280g poolish baguettes and I had a curly end, still tasted good, beautiful crumb, ugly shape!

  4. What hydration was the starter?

  5. What I don't like about baking stones is that they "shrink" further our already small home-ovens...

  6. Adorables ces ficelles tordues :-)

  7. MC, you may have started a trend here! These definitely look like a party to me. If you hadn't told the story we would have thought you planned them that way. Thank you so much for your kind words and warm wishes!



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