Saturday, May 31, 2008

Marie, the baguettes! (name that movie)

I don't know anyone who doesn't love baguettes (and if you don't, just be quiet about it). Honestly, that crisp crackly crust and meltingly soft insides--especially if you have some nice sharp cheese to go with it...just doesn't get any better than that. Plus there's only four ingredients, and there's something very magical about that. Flour, salt, yeast, and water. Alchemy, I tell you.

I've tried a number of baguette recipes, and this one (my own hodge-podge between Julia Child and Williams-Sonoma Breads) is a winner. You can have fresh baguettes in about 2 hours with a minimum of steps (and let me tell you, it takes all day to make it the way Julia describes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although she cut it down considerably in subsequent years. Trust me, I've done it all). Although I recommend MTAOFC's description of how to fold and roll the dough (more on that later).

In theory, you should have baguette pans. But if you don't--like me--it works just fine. So I'm giving non-baguette pan instructions, which also means you don't have towels getting floury. Oh, and we're not going to hang them in floured sacks either. Or even use a rolling pin! And I'm assuming you're using an electric stand mixer (like a KitchenAid, and if you don't have one, it's worth the money. And I'm not just saying that because Neil interned there--although he did build ours himself on an intern field trip. Cool, eh?)
And yes, I know this is long, but Julia Child takes like 25 pages to explain it (I'm not exaggerating) so I think you're getting off easy, okay?

Ingredients (for four loaves. Can easily be cut in half)

5-5 1/2 c. flour
2 t. salt
2 1/4 t. quick-rise yeast
2 c. lukewarm water (110 F)
1 egg white beaten with pinch of salt, for glaze

In the mixer bowl, combine four cups of the flour with the salt, yeast, and water. Stir until blended, and allow dough to knead in the mixer for about ten minutes. Add flour as needed so that the end dough is elastic and doesn't stick to the sides, although it will still be soft.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for one minute. Form into a ball, and transfer into a clean (I use Pyrex so it doesn't flavor the dough) bowl. At this stage, I also lightly grease the bowl so the dough doesn't adhere. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled (45-60 minutes).

Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and knead briefly (about 30 seconds). Return to bowl for second rise, 20-30 minutes (until doubled). Cover again with plastic wrap.

Punch dough down and divide into equal parts (4 for the whole recipe, 2 if you halved it). Roll into balls and let rest for five minutes. Grease a nonstick cookie sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.

On your floured surface, take each ball of dough and flatten it into a rectangle. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Fold into thirds like a letter, and begin rolling the dough into a long rope about 16 inches long. Okay, now here's where Julia Child really comes in! Most cookbooks will just rope the dough at this stage, but I like to work it a bit more to really get some good gluten and bubble action going. In fact, as you flatten the dough you should be hearing teeny bubbles pop. In any case, as I am rolling the dough into a rope, I find that it tends to flatten out. This is good! Simply pinch up the sides, folding it over back into a rope. Continually flattening and then smashing back into a rope incorporates air back into the dough, which is really important for the formation of a light, airy interior. I find that as I am transitioning the dough from the "letter" to the "rope" I fold and smash about 3 times.

Once the dough is in a 16-inch snake, place it on the cookie sheet. Allow to rise for about 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 450 F. When the oven is preheated, take your sharpest knife and make three 1/4 inch deep diagonal cuts on the top of the bread, allowing the dough to puff out from its gluten cloak as it bakes.

At this point, WS says to put a pan of boiling water on the floor of the preheated oven under the bread. This sounds dangerous to me, since I can imagine myself spilling boiling water everywhere, so I go with a modified Julia Child approach--I put the baguettes in, then quickly throw 1/4 c. of steaming water into the bottom of the oven, then slam the door shut. LEAVE THE DOOR SHUT while the bread bakes for about 20 minutes.

And then enjoy.

I'm going back to the kitchen. There's a baguette waiting for me. And some cheese. And grapes.


Laura Hanson said...

Beauty and the Beast, of course.

kiteskitesyay said...

Rachael, it's Ryan Calme from high school. I don't know if you were aware that I read your blog. But then again, it's likely that you were the one to tell me about it.

You do such a good job of making food look good, it seemed like I should try and follow your lead. The French bread did not work. Looking back, I suppose it has something to do with the fact that Boulder Colorado is a mile above sea level.

They turned out more like overgrown bread sticks
But hey, who doesn't like bread sticks?

Perhaps with all that spare time of yours between the cooking, cleaning, working, and being a mom, perhaps you can find how Julia Childs recommends changing said recipe for high altitude.

Anne said...


This recipe will work pretty well, if you change a couple of things.

1) Use a little less salt, you don't need it at our altitude because the bread rises too quickly.

2) I don't know if you're doing it by hand or not, but...

a) Use 2 and 3/4 flour at the beginning, when you do the first knead, add until it stops being really sticky. Let it rise, at our altitude you're going to need a lot less time, around 20-25 minutes will get you to the first rise.

b) Rising = harder here to find a good warm place. I usually set my oven to warm, let it heat, turn it off and keep the door open for about 2 minutes and then set it to rise inside (with the oven OFF and the door OPEN.)

Again, it'll only take 20-30 minutes for your first rise. If you want to do a second, punch it down REALLY hard and add extra flour if it's too sticky.

I usually just let it rise once and then let it rise again when the oven is heating up.

The recipe I use for Denver (where I live) is:

2 and 1/4 teaspoons of yeast. and then 1 and 1/4 cups of hot water. Stir it together, let it bubble - if it isn't bubbling, the yeast is dead(about 5 mins)

2 and 3/4 flour, add it in, stir it around until it's well mixed, but not a ball yet. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

Flour a surface, dump it out and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt on it and get 1/2 a cup of flour and start kneading, adding a few pinches at every knead. When it isn't sticking too much to the board or your hands, it's at a decent flour level, stop adding and keep kneading until it's stretchy, but not too smooth.

At this time, warm the oven, turn it off, keep the door open.

Make a ball of the dough and stick it in a bowl or pan that will let it get bigger than double its size. Spray it with nonstick cooking spray (more is better than less) and roll the dough around so it's coated, that way it won't get crumbly. Put a damp paper towel over it, stick it in the oven (remember to keep the door open) and forget about it for about 20-30 minutes.

Go back, look at it after 20 mins, if it's doubled in size, or a bit more, all is good. If it hasn't yet, let it sit until it has. Be careful here, you don't want to let it over rise.

Now, punch it down. Literally. Push it down hard and make it into a ball again, it'll be bigger this time. If it's really sticky, gently knead some more flour in, return it to the bowl and cover it, let it set about 5 minutes.

While it's doing its thing, get a baking sheet out and sprinkle it with cornmeal.

Now, take it out and rip it into two equal sections and flatten one out into a rectangle around a foot long and 8 inches wide. Fold it down (so it gets thinner, but stays the same length) and push down the edges so they meet. Then do it again. Now roll it gently and make it slightly tapered at the ends and place it seam down on the tray. Do the same with the other piece.

Spray the tops of the bread with the nonstick cooking spray again and make 3 slashes diagonally in the bread (1/4 of an inch down.) Heat your oven to 450 and let the bread just sit. Once it has doubled in size again and your oven is at 450, throw in some water into the oven (literally) and put the bread in and let it bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven.

Now, to make a nicer glaze, you can lightly mix an egg and some salt or sugar and brush it on top *shrug*

The most important thing is to make sure your bread is rising correctly. When you bake it it won't get any larger, so you need to make sure that it's properly rising and is the right size before it goes into the oven.

Hope this helps.