Baguettes Beyond Belief…
Figure 1, Freshly Cut Baguettes...
Most of the people that I know love to cook in some form or another. Most of them are reasonably good at it too. Their entrees are routinely complimented and deserts are swooned over. The technical skill and practicality of my friends never ceases to amaze me. However there is one food Item that the majority of my friends tend to run from as if they are being attacked by a bear. That item is bread.
For some reason most of my kitchen cohorts are somewhat curiously afraid of tackling this most essential of food items. I mean nearly all forms of bread are avoided as if they were boiled okra, white, wheat, baguettes, quick, flat, sweet, enriched… any form of bread. I have actually had many of them state that “Why bake when you can buy bread that is just as good?”. Well, my answer is invariably “you can’t”.
In this day and age you will find your neighborhood supermarket filled with bagged breads and fresher bakery goods. Many of these Items are tasty and cost effective but they are also mass produced and full of chemical enhancements, chemical enrichments, and preservatives, even the bakery items.
Nothing can compare to a real loaf you prepare in your own kitchen, by your own hand. Your kitchen is the only place where you can control all that goes into the bread, and also receive the pleasure of claiming the creation.
One of my favorite breads to create is a lean baguette. Simple baguettes are a pleasure to behold and sublime to savor. Baguettes that are visually stunning, light and airy, perfect crispy crust with a nutty, grainy aroma and a warm nutty flavor are amazingly easy to prepare.
This is a recipe that produces simply outstanding baguettes and is not awfully hard to prepare, in fact it is downright easy! The most impressive thing about these baguettes is their flavor, nutty and rich with a light airy texture. Once you learn the method I am quite sure you will prepare them repeatedly and often…. And once you hear the “ooooo’s” and “Ahhhhh’s” from your family and friends at the dinner table you will be hooked just like me!Baguettes Beyond Belief…
6 cups unbleached bread flour
2 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 ¾ teaspoons of instant yeast
19 to 24 ounces of ICE COLD water
1 handfull of coarse yellow corn meal for dusting (grits)The Method:
This method is a unique bread recipe in that we are going to delay or retard the fermentation for at least 8 or 10 hours before allowing the dough to rise. We do this buy employing ICE COLD water and once the ingredients are mixed we place the entire dough ball in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours. The yeast will still ferment the dough but it will do so very slowly. Slow fermentation like this produces deeper, richer flavors than traditional fast fermentation.
So, you must plan the baking of these baguettes in advance. I always bake these baguettes right before a meal, so plan to mix the dough at least 12 to 15 hours in advance. Lets say you want them for lunch the following day. It would be wise to mix them up and place them in the refrigerator the night before. I also prefer to mix these baguettes in a stand mixer.Mixing the dough…
Place all the dry ingredients, flour, salt, yeast in a stand mixer and affix the paddle attachment. Mix briefly to incorporate all the dry ingredients.
With the paddle attachment still affixed, on a low speed, slowly dribble the ICE COLD water into the dry ingredients.
After you have gotten about 1 and a half cups of the water incorporated stop the mixer lift the head and clean off the paddle attachment and switch over to the dough hook.
Continue mixing and dribbling in water until the dough clears the sides of the mixing bowl but still clings to the bottom.
Never spin the dough hook faster than medium. You just want enough action to incorporate the water and mix the sticky dough with a little kneading action. Anything faster will heat up the dough and we want to avoid this, as it will prematurely activate the yeast.
Once mixed and you have a sticky dough that clears the side of the bowl while still sticking to the bottom, transfer the dough ball to an oiled bowl. Flip the ball around in the bowl to coat with oil, cover the bowl and put it in the fridge.Fermentation…
The next morning (or 8 to 10 hours later) check on your dough and remove it from the fridge. It should have risen slightly but should not have doubled. In fact if everything was done correctly it should have risen about half. If you started with about one liter of dough you should now have a liter and a half.
Place the dough in a warm spot to rise, de-chill and continue fermentation. The dough should double or even triple in 2 or 3 hours. Do not let the dough go farther than tripling in size, in fact doubled is fine.Shaping the loaves…
Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured kneading surface, but do not knead. Be gentle with the dough and try not to de-gas it or deflate it too much. You will deflate it some just handling it but be careful and deliberate when handling the dough.
Gently coat the entire dough ball in flour. Carefully form the dough ball into an “8 by 6” rectangle and then allow it to rest for 5 or 10 minutes.
Once finished resting the dough, use a dough scraper or even a plastic ruler to cut the dough lengthwise into two “3 by 8” rectangles. Gently press the cutter or ruler, trying not to “Cut” but rather “pinch” the dough into two pieces. You are trying to seal the cut edge this way.
Once again cut each “3 by 8” into “1.5 by 8” rectangles employing the same “pinching” technique.
Once you have four equally sized “1.5 by 8” inch pieces gently roll each cut edge underneath the baguette and stretch each baguette out to about 18 inches in length. Be patient and take your time. Move from the center out to each end and use a light pinching motion. Do not pinch so hard as to de-gas the dough, but rather to elongate the baguette. If the dough refuses to cooperate fully do as much as you can and let it rest 5 minutes then return to stretching them to size.
Once you have achieved the proper length, cut a piece of parchment paper (do not use waxed paper) to fit a heavy 12 by 18 cookie sheet and place it on the sheet and dust liberally with corn meal. Gently and quickly transfer the baguettes to the sheet, reshaping them after placement, until each has been placed on the sheet. Dust each loaf lightly along the sides with flour and form the sheet to cradle the loaves as shown in the picture. Cover with a linen towel and allow the dough to proof for no more than 30 minutes (see figure 2, 3, and 4).
Figure 2, Forming the baguettes during proofing...
Figure 3, Close-up of parchment form...
Figure 4, Cover while proofing...
Figure 5, Proofed, separated and ready for baking...
While the dough is proofing, place a shallow baking pan on the bottom shelf of your oven and place a cooking rack in the center position. *** PRE-HEAT the oven to 500 degrees ***Baking…
When the dough is proofed to your liking, has swollen slightly and taken a nice shape, and the oven is really, really hot you are ready to bake.
Pull the parchment sheet folds out to let the loaves rest apart from one another, by gently pulling on the parchment paper edges until all the loaves are evenly distributed on the sheet.
Spray mist the loaves lightly with water (see figure 5).
I always bake directly on my baking stone, but if you do not have this luxury simply bake the baguettes on the heavy cookie sheet they are already on.
If you have a stone simply slide the baguettes, parchment paper and all, off of the sheet directly onto the stone.
If you are cooking on the sheet place the sheet on a center rack, parchment paper and all.
Pour a cup or two of water in the baking pan on the bottom of the stove and close the door.
Do NOT open the door again for 10 minutes.
Do not worry about the paper, it will not stick and it should not catch fire because we are only baking for 20 minutes or so.
In 10 minutes open the oven door quickly and determine if the loaves need rotating for even baking. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. Watch them closely but try not to open the door at all. The loaves are finished sometime after 20 minutes and should register 205 to 215 degrees in the center. They should be a deep nut-brown and feel light and airy when lifted. If they feel somewhat heavy or are under temperature allow them to cook a little while longer.
When you are satisfied with the loaves, remove them and place them on a cooling rack and allow them to cool for 30 minutes or so.
Be patient and let them cool their flavor matures and blossoms while cooling.
Do not forget to clear all the parchment paper from the oven and turn off the heat.
These baguettes keep for three or four days, but trust me when I tell you, they will not last that long!
Figure 6, cooling on the rack...