While I do a ton of baking, I don't often make bread. I consider myself a little intimidated by it even though every time I attempt a bread recipe it comes out just fine. Maybe it's just the reputation yeast has of being difficult. I never seem to have a problem with yeast either though. So I told myself to get over whatever it was I needed to get over and tackle baguettes.
I went to my trusted source for bread recipes -- King Arthur Flour -- and found a baguette recipe. I was thrilled to see that the recipe would yield three baguettes. Who wants just one baguette when you can have three?
I figured out my timing. It's important to read through all recipes a couple of times so you know what you're getting into, but it's especially important to do this with bread recipes. With breads, it's all about timing. With this recipe, the starter needs to sit out overnight, then the dough needs to rise for 3 hours, then the dough has to be divided into three pieces and those pieces need to sit for 15 minutes, then the baguettes need to be shaped and rest for an hour, and last of all they need to bake and cool. All of this takes a lot of time. I made the starter one night when I knew I would be around the next day to give this recipe the time it requires.
Classic Baguettes (adapted from King Arthur Flour)
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1/2 cup cool water
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
All of the starter
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Make the starter: Mix the starter ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth.
Cover with plastic wrap, and leave the starter out at room temperature overnight (or about 14 hours).
Prepare the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the starter, yeast, water, flour, and salt. Run the mixer on low until the dough is smooth and soft with a somewhat rough surface, about 5 minutes.
Place the dough in a large, lightly buttered bowl, and cover it with lightly buttered plastic wrap.
Let the dough rise for 3 hours. After 1 hour and 2 hours, gently deflate the dough and turn it over. (You don't want to "punch down" the dough -- I learned this at a King Arthur Flour baking class.)
|After 1 hour|
|After 2 hours|
|After 3 hours|
Turn the dough out onto a lightly buttered counter top. Divide the dough into three pieces. (I weighed the pieces to divide them more evenly; each weighed almost 300 grams.) Shape each piece into a slightly flattened oval.
Cover the pieces with lightly buttered plastic wrap, and let them rest for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, lay a dish towel in a 12-by-17-inch sheet pan and rub it with flour. You'll put your shaped baguettes on the towel and coddle them in the folds of the towel. Line another 12-by-17-inch sheet pan with parchment. (You'll use this pan to bake the baguettes on.)
Shape the dough: Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough, fold it in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Flatten the dough again, fold it in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Then with the seam side down, gently roll the dough into a 15-inch log. (Repeat with remaining two pieces.)
Transfer the logs to the sheet pan with the floured towel. Cover them with lightly buttered plastic wrap, and let them rise until they become puffy, 60 to 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roll or carefully lift the baguettes onto the sheet pan lined with parchment. Make sure to turn them floured side down.
Spritz the baguettes with water. If you don't have a spritzer, do what I did: Fill a small bowl with water, dip your fingertips in the water, and flick the baguettes with the water. Also, fill a pan with ice cubes, and place it on the bottom rack in the oven. (This will create some steam; the steam is what helps the baguettes develop a crackly-crisp crust.)
Using a very sharp knife held at a 45-degree angle, make three 8-inch vertical slashes in each baguette. (I should have angled mine just a bit more.)
Transfer the sheet pan to the oven, and bake the baguettes for 25 minutes. (I rotated the sheet pan after 15 minutes.) Turn off the oven and leave it open a crack, and let the baguettes cool in the oven for a very crispy crust. Otherwise, transfer them to a rack to cool.
I pulled a piece off the end of one baguette and happily listened to the crackling and crunching.
I slathered some honey butter on the little heel of bread and took a bite. Pure bliss. First I encountered the crunch and then the chewy texture and finally the oozy sweetness of the honey butter. I loved the chewy texture best of all.
It always amazes me that some flour, water, yeast, and a little salt can produce something so incredibly satisfying. If only I had time to make bread more often!
For a great spring recipe using these baguettes, be sure to check out my post on Recipe Relay today! (It uses local ricotta and pea shoots!) And one more reason to head over there? Four words: King Arthur Flour giveaway!
Does bread baking intimidate you?