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.
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…