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French Baking

May 23, 2012

Today I continued my baking/coping mechanism marathon and did something I have never done. I decided to try making a true French Baguette. The crispy crunchy outer crust and fluffy textured inside are my favorite things when it comes to a good baguette. I found a recipe on Five and Spice that looked pretty straightforward so I figured why not try it??? Happily I can report that after following each step diligently I was rewarded with 3 perfectly crunchy and delicious baguettes, along with a confidence boost that I could actually bake good bread!

French Baguette
yield: Three 16″ baguettes

1/2 cup cool water
1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup  flour

1 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
all of the starter
3 1/2 cups  flour
1 1/2 tsp  salt

Make the starter by mixing the yeast with the water, then mixing in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have risen and become bubbly.

Mix active dry yeast with the water and then combine with the starter, flour, and salt. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you’ve made a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. Knead for about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a stand mixer.

Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-size bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let them rest for 15 minutes.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Flatten it slightly, and fold and seal again. With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15″ log. Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans.

Cover them with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they’ve become very puffy, about 1 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450ºF (240ºC).

Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8″ vertical slashes in each baguette. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water; this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.

Bake the baguettes until they’re a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2″, and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.

As I mentioned they turned out great, the only issue I had was that they flattened out while baking. I asked the gal of Five and Spice for any tips on how to get them to stay risen and she said to use a baguette baking sheet, ha, which of course I don’t have. Either way they were delicious and comforting and overall very easy to make!

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