Built for Speed

All my girls need extra sleep this morning, so I’ll take the opportunity to blog while I may. One thing that I think is interesting to examine is the role of a baguettes’s shape in its preparation. A long, skinny form with lots of surface area obviously lends itself to rapid heat penetration, which means quick dough expansion and that light texture I’ve been talking so much about. However, the same characteristics that lend themselves so well to a baguette’s trademark texture also have a down side. I’m talking of course about the process that begins virtually at the moment a bread is removed from the oven: staling.

Contrary to what most people think, staling isn’t really about bread “drying out”. In fact it’s caused by the crystallization of starch molecules, i.e. like molecules locking together in hard masses. The longer bread sits, the more opportunities the starch molecules have to link up with one another. Any non-starch substance that manages to insert itself between those starch molecules as they start to interlock will inhibit staling, and water certainly qualifies. Yet water is prone to evaporation, and it does so much more readily from a long skinny stick with lots of surface area than it does a fat round boule with comparatively little.

But then unlike a fat round boule the sleek and small baguette is a bread that wasn’t designed to sit around. It was created for fast-paced city life. You make it fast, you eat it fast. If the one you bought this morning is getting stale and tired, just nip back down to the bakery and grab another one. That’s life in a fast-burn, waste-intensive fast food culture. Thanks a bunch, France!

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