Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Classic Baguettes, Made Easy for the Home Baker

Like a Little League Player, who hits their first home run-- or a beginner golfer who hits a hole-in-one, that's how I feel about making these Classic Baguettes. I have been longing to learn how to bake more Artisinal Breads, ever since I bought Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice".

I'm not the least bit afraid of working with yeast. I love baking cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls and traditional bread loaves. But learning how to shape crusty breads is something that I imagined would take a lot of practice and time-- and I've procrastinted taking the plunge in these uncharted waters, for me.  So, here I am, enjoying one week of our school's Fall Break and I've intentionally kept my calendar commitments to a bare minimum. The weather is still in the 70's, but the mornings have a bit of a chill and the evenings are becoming a little chillier. Last night, King Arthur Flour posted that October 16th would be "World Bread Day".  I'm on vacation, so why not? I was ready to try.

The first step was in making the starter, which was quite easy. I used SAF instant yeast, King Arthur Unbleached Flour, and water and mixed it with my Danish Dough whisk.  Easy peasy, less than five minutes. Done. Time to go to bed. The starter needs about 14 hours to become bubbly-- like thick pancake batter.
This morning, I peeked at my starter. What a relief it was to find that the starter was a success.

I used my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and added more bread flour, instant yeast, water and salt.  The mixer kneaded the dough for about five minutes. Of course, you can knead the dough by hand-- and sometimes I do that, because I enjoy working with my hands. Today, however, I took the easy route.

I really like dough buckets, because I can visually see how much my dough rises. They can pull double duty, for marinating meats-- as long as they are properly washed, of course, to kill any bacteria. But an oil-lined bowl, covered with plastic wrap works just as well.  The dough needs three hours for the yeast to do it's work.

I don't have a fancy proofing drawer, so I turn my oven into one. I simply turn it on WARM for 2 minutes, then shut it off. I do this while the dough is kneading.  The dough needs three hours of proofing, total.  However, at one hour, I had to gently deflate the dough, flip it over and leave it alone for the remaining two hours. So far, easy, right?

In the meantime, I had a field day watching various You Tube videos on shaping baguettes. There is quite an art to this, and professional bakers have a clear advantage with professional ovens, a baking couche (that I don't own...yet), peels, special bread pans and various tools-- and years of experience, of course.  I had to think of what tools I did own that could work (more on that later).

Three hours later, it's time to shape the baguettes. Gulp. I learned that wetting my hands, a bit, helped to handle the soft dough without it sticking. I can see that the yeast is doing it's job, by the bubbles.

The dough stretches very easily.  That's a good sign. So, using my bench scraper (a tool I can't be without), the dough is divided into three pieces.  Um, I should weight the pieces, I know. I don't. Close enough.

I use a non-stick baking mat for just about everything.  With a light dusting of flour on the mat, and on my hands, I began to shape the dough into baguettes. Not too hard!  I decided to make my own baking couche by heavily flouring a clean linen towel.  I used the folds to cradle each baguette.

I sprayed some plastic wrap with olive oil spray (otherwise it can stick to the rolls) and let them proof for 1-1/2 hours.  The loaves aren't meant to rise a LOT-- just get a little puffy. What I was most nervous about was transferring the shaped baguette dough onto my baking stone.  I can't tell you how many mishaps I've had, where I've missed. This isn't fun when it comes to making pizza, trust me. Today, I finally bought the pizza peel I've always wanted, but I'm going to show you how you can improvise using a baking sheet and parchment paper.

You can't really see it, but I have a couple of clear white plastic flexible cutting mats.  By carefully lifting my makeshift "couche" I gently rolled a baguette onto the cutting mat (since I didn't own a baker's "transfer board".  It worked!  From there I gently rolled each baguette onto an inverted baking sheet, covered with parchment paper. TIP: one of the baguettes stuck to the towel. I used the bench scraper to, very gently, unstick it.  Success!

Using my bench scraper, I shaped each roll to be as even as I could.  Last, the slash marks.  I used a serrated knife, dipped in water and quickly slashed one loaf. 1-2-3.  That didn't work as well as when I switched to a very sharp knife, dipped in water. Much better! Easy, peasy.

To get a crusty exterior, I sprayed the loaves with lukewarm water. Plus, I filled one of my small cast-iron skillets with water. That was placed on the very bottom rack of my gas oven, and my baking stone was preheated one level above it at 450F.  I love my baking stone, by the way. I bought it from King Arthur Flour, and have used it for several years.  No more soggy pizza crusts! I always leave it in my oven.

THE FINAL FRONTIER:  The inverted baking sheet works, somewhat, like a pizza peel. I pulled out the baking rack, with the pizza stone. Very carefully, I aligned my baking sheet of shaped rolls and very carefully I slid the parchment paper filled breads onto the baking stone. Success!  However, I really did order the aforementioned pizza peel. I think it'll take the stress out of doing this, in the future.

25 minutes later, the aroma of freshly baked bread got my son's attention.  What a feeling!

 Look at my first baguettes!   

Can you imagine how excited I was? 

I couldn't wait more than ten minutes, and I just had to slice into a loaf.  While the baguettes weren't a lot of labor to make, they were time-intensive waiting for the yeast to do it's magic. I wish I had a pot of Beef Bourguignon so I could use the bread to soak up that delicious sauce!

Just at the moment I had buttered a few slices, my husband walked in the door (from the office). He was both impressed with the way the bread looked and the way it tested. Crusty on the outside, chewy in the middle. Next time, I'll use the King Arthur Tip of cooling the bread in the oven, turned off, for an even crustier exterior.  

For all of you who say "I'm afraid of working with yeast", I say "I dare you"! Seriously, do it!  Instant yeast is really easy to work with.  I've never taken a bread baking class, in my life. I've learned by doing-- and I no longer own a bread baking machine.  There is something really therapeutic, to me, when working with bread dough. It's fun!  

I want to mention that this recipe is very similar to the Artisan Bread is 5 Minutes A Day, that I posted a while ago. This winter, I'll be back to using this recipe since it's a speedier way to make bread.  I would be remiss in not providing the King Arthur Flour link that shows how they make this recipe, which was developed by them.

I'm so happy to have the time to bake, photograph, edit and share this recipe with all of you. I hope I can inspire someone to take that leap of faith, and try baking your own bread. My next plan is to make a sour dough version and a few different variations. 

Tomorrow, I've got a hankering for pumpkin and too many ideas in my head on what to make. Let's see what inspiration finally wins!

Baked with Fun and Love,

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Big Dude said...

They look perfect and I'm surprised you could even wait 10 minutes :-).

bellini said...

The rewards are many when you bake bread.

Sam Hoffer @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Wow, you really did hit a home run Debby. They look as good as if they came from a French boulangerie.

Susan said...

Debby, this project turned out perfect. I am wondering if using bread flour makes a great bit of difference compared to using regular flour. I have never made my starter the night before. That is one thing I love about these blogs. You can always learn something new.

Renee said...

Gorgeous! I am going to give this one a try, they look so yummy.

Karen said...

They look beautiful!

Lynn said...

I've made yeast breads for years but not a baguette! I'm going to try these.

Kate said...

Way to go...they look wonderful. I think I would have my tub of butter and a knife in action before the ten minute mark!

Joanne said...

These are some beautiful loaves! you did such a great job!!

Sue/the view from great island said...

I need this recipe in my life, bread making still spooks me, but if this has your stamp of approval, I'm in!

Jane said...

I'm going to try this!!! Thanks so much for posting. Can't wait for your sourdough version!