Saturday, January 30, 2010

Batard/baguette shaping: Gérard's method

Last time I was up in Vermont, Gérard demonstrated his way of shaping a batard. I guess there are as many ways as there are bakers but I liked his way. Unhurried and gentle, it looked as if it were dictated by the dough itself.
At that point the student who was apprenticing with Gérard that week asked to be shown how to shape baguettes. Gérard evinced surprise at this request as he was clearly under the impression that he had been demonstrating it all along. That's when I realized that what he calls a "baguette" is what we Parisians call a "bâtard". The confusion probably stems from the fact that he learned his trade in the Savoie region (a section of the French Alps that is close to both Switzerland and Italy) at a time when the Parisian baguette was an oddity outside the capital. Outside Paris, truly skinny breads were considered with suspicion. They were a "fantaisie" (a whim), not true bread. As Gérard says (only half-jokingly), real men didn't eat baguette then and still don't. His bakery isn't equipped to produce baguettes, it lacks wide-enough boards and couches. He produces batards which he will call baguettes if pushed. No Parisian would call them that.
Gérard suggests that the beginner identify and count his or her movements when shaping batards and then analyze them one by one in order to eliminate those which aren't truly necessary. Sometimes we overwork the dough out of sheer nervousness or excitement or because we think we need to rush. Just as you don't compete in the Tour de France when you first learn how to bike, in the same way, one cannot expect (or be expected) to roll out hundreds or even dozens of batards or baguettes a day before one has assimilated the basics. So take your time and get a feel for the dough (what it looks like and what it feels like). With experience, shaping becomes a second nature. Only then does it make sense to try and speed things up. That's Gérard's advice and I like it. By the time I was done shaping a dozen or more "baguettes" his way, my seams looked way better than they ever did before. Gérard was pleased and said I should be a baker! That comment went straight to my heart...


  1. Thank you so much for posting all these videos. So precious information!

  2. This reminds me of my tai chi class - some things are very tangible, the tao revealing itself maybe? others I suspect only come with experience and reflection and I am a child compared to you both. Thank you for posting these clips and sharing this with us.

  3. Well, in my opinion, you are a baker and a very generous one! Thank you very much for all the time you have put into posting these updates about Gérard and the video clips.
    I keep coming back to his emphasis on making one bread really well. Daniel Leader in his 'Local Breads' book also mentions making a 'signature bread'.
    I love experimenting, but I really want to make the best bread.
    Thank you very much.
    Esther in Ottawa

  4. MC,
    It is so interesting to see and read about all the different approaches to making the perfect loaf. He has great hands...not a wasted movement.

  5. Thanks for the very insightful videos, MC! I was wondering what time of day did you filmed this procedure? Was it late at night or early in the morning? I agree with Gerard that we need to analyze our shaping techniques so as to eliminate wasteful or unnecessary steps.

  6. Please check my blog, there is an Award for you darling.

  7. What an interesting thought about counting moves while shaping bread.

  8. @Zeb, you are right on. There is something very zen in the way Gérard bakes...
    @Esther, thank you so much! Yes, there is definitely something to be said about making one bread over and over until one gets it exactly right.
    @Judd, thanks for your visit.
    @Carl, these particular videos were filmed in the morning (a morning when Gérard didn't have to make bread, so he had time to teach).
    @Mamatkamal, thank you very much. I am greatly honored.
    @Aparna, yes, isn't it? It helps understand that dough is alive and that each of our gestures has an impact.

  9. MC,
    I love the Tour de France analogy, another favorite sport next to bread making!


  10. Thank you! In reading your post with the videos, I realize I've been doing just what you said to avoid: working the dough too much out of nervous concern I'm not getting it right. When I tried slowing down and not worrying it came out much better. Last week I learned the same thing about scoring: instead of an anxious attempt to get the perfect cut, which always dragged and never looked right, I just did it with conviction. No dragging, great scoring.

    I also watched your Noah Elber's Maple bread video. I suddenly realized I was getting a bit seasick from watching the big industrial blender turning and turning and had to look away. Still, interesting to see how it is done by bakeries.

    1. Hello anonymous! Funny you should say that about scoring. When I visited Cliff Leir in Victoria, BC, back in May, he said the first thing he had to teach his apprentices is to hit the bread running as you score. He said the scoring movement should already been in progress as the blade touches the dough...



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