The Perfect Baguette

The Perfect Baguette

 It’s weekend!! Finally!!!  And as usual, I gleefully head to my kitchen sanctuary to work on this weekend’s projects. Since it was so busy last weekend with Rebecca’s birthday party, I decided  to take it easy.   I start off with my obligatory Saturday standard, homemade baguettes.  Yes, home made baguettes, I said. Before you “Ooh” and “Ahh” like I’ve just proposed to walk a high wire over a pit of flaming lava, I have to let you in on something.  About a year ago, I got into a sort of obsession to make the perfect French baguette.  I mean, I’ve spent tons of time creating poolishs (pre-fermented dough), and triple kneading methods.  I’ve translated recipes from French, Italian, and even Russian.  I’ve used regular flour, bread flour, wheat flour.  Used milk, starter, special pink Himalayan salt, fresh yeast, dried yeast… Yes, I’ve paid my dues for this cause and usually ended up in varying states of failure.  That is until I came across a recommendation on a book from my favorite resource, The Mother Earth News. (Ok, I admit, I’m a closet tree-hugger).  The book is called “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” by Zoe Francois and Jeff Herzberg.  What they propose in this book is a manner to make bread dough without kneading and by using the simplest of ingredients: regular flour, dry yeast, salt and water.  “No kneading needed?” you ask.  We’ll it seems that in order to make fluffy and high bread, you need to convince the dough to get the gluten strands in the flour to lengthen. Apparently this happens in 2 ways; either by vigorous kneading, or over time. Now, I love kneading.  It’s rhythmic and lets you take out a week’s worth frustration on a little soft piece of dough, which in turn thanks you for your effort by producing fluffy white (or wheat) loaves. It just takes soooo long to get a result.  If I want fresh warm bread for breakfast, I’m going to have to get up at 4am.  Ahem…I love my family, but the only thing I plan on doing at 4am on a Sunday morning is sleeping.  For this, a mix-and-wait method is a real boon.  Not to knock Jeff and Zoe’s efforts, but this mix-and-wait method is also not new. From what I read it has also been around for a while.  I remember an aunt that did the same thing and her dinner rolls were just delicious.  They did, however, make a lovely book. 

Nowadays, if someone would ask me to name 3 things that are always in my refrigerator I’d say:  white wine (from the Alsace, of course), zucchini pickles, and bread dough.  I love this recipe.  I can make the perfect baguette in the same time it takes me to go to the store and buy one.   I finally found a recipe that is so laughingly easy that we can have great bread every weekend or even every day for that matter. (In a pinch, it can also make pretty good pizza dough and bagels too.  But those are other stories) To bake off your baguette; simply sprinkle the surface of the cold dough with flour. Grab a fistful about the size of a grapefruit. (*-see bottom footnote)  Take the blob of dough and plunk it down on a lightly floured surface, floured side down.  Push it into a rectangle form.  Roll into a log a bit shorter than the baguette form pan. Roll the log to smoothen and lengthen it. Pick up the dough at the ends and put it in the form.  

 Even though I have a pizza stone, I bake my baguettes in a baguette pan so the baguettes come out straight and round.  This is a pan with slots for 3 baguettes made by Chicago Metallic. I think I bought it from someone at Amazon.com.  I love this pan. It can bake 3 loaves but I always bake one at a time.  This way it gets evenly brown all the way around and I don’t have 3 loves ‘calling’ to me.   After it’s in the form, wait 20 minutes and then slash the loaf on a steep angle (about 30 degrees) and about ¼ inch deep.  There are fancy knives and razors that do this, but I find that any small sharp serrated knife works great.  I use a tomato knife by Henkel’s. Then again, I love this knife and I use it for everything.   Just be decisive and slash away, just like Dexter would.  It should look like this:  

Slash at 30 degrees

 

 

Add a cup or so of hot water to the drip pan and let ér bake for about 30 mins.  The crust should be darker than golden brown and have even darker spots on it.  It’s ready!  Try or should I say I DARE you to wait until it’s totally cool before tearing into it.  If you wait,  you will be rewarded with it singing to you.  That’s the sound the crust makes when it starts to cool. The delicious crackles of fresh baked bread.  Mmmm. 

This dough is said to be able to stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  But I find that it gets runny after about a week and a half and makes not very good bread after that. My suggestion is that if you want bread for the weekend; start your fresh your dough Wednesday evening. A batch makes about 3 good sized loaves.  If you like that sour-dough taste, then don’t wash out the dough container.  Just scrape out any hard, crusty bits and make the next batch right in. The result will be a greyer dough, a nice custard crumb with that characteristic tang of sour dough and NO CLEAN UP   🙂  

Storing bread tip:  Never ever, ever store baguettes or boules in paper or plastic bags.  This causes the crispy crust to be soft and gummy.  If on the off chance that you have leftovers, simply leave it on a cutting board and cover with a cotton towel, just like they do in France.  Good bread will stay crispy for a day or two. 

Since I am such a fan of this book and bread, I will leave it to you, kind Readers, to support Zoe and Jeff by purchasing your own copy. However, I just feel inclined to share my metric equivalents for the recipe with you. 

No-Knead Baguette or Boule  dough for the metrically inclined

Adapted from ‘Artisan bread in Five minutes a day’ by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzburg

700 ml warm (not hot) water

2 packages of dried yeast  (about 4 teaspoons)

1 tablespoon salt

1 kilo white unbleached flour

Equipment:

1  plastic storage box with lid about 5 to 8 liters (closed but not airtight).  About the size of a large shoe box.

1 wooden spoon

Baguette pan, baking sheet or pizza stone

Mix water, yeast and salt in the box.  Add flour and mix until all the flour is incorporated. No kneading…just mix.  Cover and set at room temperature about 2 hours until double in size.  Put it in the refrigerator at least overnight and up to a week and a half.

* By the way,  this is also nice for boule dough.  A boule is a round bread.  Simply shape the floured dough into a ball by stretching the floured surface and gathering the loose ends on the underside.  Let sit on a floured (or cornmeal) board for about 40 mins.  Slash decoratively and bake for about 40-45 mins directly on the pizza stone or a sturdy baking sheet.

One Response to “The Perfect Baguette”

  1. Marie Says:

    Thank you! Have put the book on my wish list for Christmas. Used to make bread frequently in my bread machine, easy for an old lady but not as tasty. Know I have a Corning glass round tube thing for baking. Wonder if that would do… However do have a double baking pan. Will see.