Husband and I love bread. We just do. I’m pretty sure that were we ever to be forced into the South Beach Diet, we’d be the mischievous rascals slinking into the panaderia during “toilet breaks” at work, tiptoeing out of bed in the wee hours in the morning, and squirreling away our stashes in the deepest darkest of closet corners.
We’ve tried a lot of breads. We’ve
liked loved a lot of fresh, warm loaves. But baby, this baguette is beyond any other. The inside is airy yet chewy. The crust, magnificently thin yet crisp. Overall, this is bread at it’s best. The one shining baguette recipe that I will make time and time again. The texture is perfect for submarine sandwiches, French toast, croutons, panzanella, and my personal favorite..a thick slice slathered with real butter. No margarine here, kids.
I won’t lie. This bread takes time, but it is time extremely well spent. Most of the process is waiting between rises, which means this is not a laborious effort, just one in which you must keep your eyes on the clock.
Pain (Extra)Ordinaire Careme (A Daily Loaf)
From: Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads
Yield: 4 baguettes, boules, or couronnes. * I halved this recipe and made two 13″ baguettes.
6 cups bread or unbleached flour, approximately I used AP
2 packages dry yeast (4 1/2 t.)
2½ cups hot water (120-130 degrees F)
2 teaspoons each salt and water
Baking Sheet or Pans: 1 baking sheet, teflon, Silpat-lined, or greased and sprinkled with cornmeal, or 4 baguette pans, greased.
By Hand or Mixer: (10 mins)
The early part of this preparation, beating a batter, can be done by an electric mixer. However, don’t overload a light mixer with this thick batter. If by hand, stir vigorously for an equal length of time.
Measure 3 or 4 cups of flour into the mixing bowl and add the yeast and hot water. The mixer flat beater or whisk should run without undue strain. The batter will be smooth and pull away from the sides as the gluten develops. It may also try to climb up the beaters and into the motor. If it does, push it down with a rubber scraper. Mix for 10 minutes. When about finished, dissolve the salt in the water and add to the batter. Blend for 30 seconds or more.
Kneading (10 mins.):
If the machine has a dough hook, continue with it and add additional flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough has formed under the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl. If it is sticky and clings, add sprinkles of flour. Knead for 10 minutes.
If by hand, add additional flour to the beaten batter, ½ cup at a time, stirring first with a utensil and then working by hand. When the dough is shaggy but a solid mass, turn onto a work surface and begin kneading with an aggressive push-turn-fold motion. If the dough is sticky, toss down sprinkles of flour. Break the kneading rhythm occasionally by throwing the dough down hard against the countertop – an excellent way to encourage the development of the dough. Also a great stress reliever!
First Rising (2 hours):
Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and leave at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough will more than triple in volume – and may even be pushing against the plastic covering.
(If prepared with a new fast-rising yeast and at the recommended higher temperatures, reduce the rising times by about half.)
Second Rising (1½ hours):
Turn back the plastic wrap and turn the dough onto the work surface to knead briefly, about 3 minutes.
Return the dough to the bowl and re-cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Allow to rise to more than triple its volume, about 1½ hours.
Shaping (10 mins)
The dough will be light and puffy. Turn it onto the floured work surface and punch it down. Don’t be surprised if it pushes back, for it is quite resilient.
Divide the dough into as many pieces as you wish loaves. One-quarter (10 oz) of this recipe will make a baguette 22″ long and 3″ to 4″ in diameter.
Allow pieces of dough to rest for 5 minutes before shaping.
For baguettes, roll and lengthen each dough piece under your palms to 16″ to 20″ , and 3″ to 4″ in diameter. Place in a pan or on a baking sheet or in the folds of a long cloth (couche). Check this video for shaping help.
This loaf’s characteristic couronne or “crown” can be made in several ways. One is to flatten the piece of dough, press a hole through the center with your thumb, and enlarge the hole with your fingers. Another is to roll a long strand 18″ to 24″ and curl into a circle, overlapping and pushing together the ends. Yet a third way is to take 2 or 3 shorter lengths of dough and join them together in a circle, not overlapping top and bottom but pressing the ends together side by side into a uniform pattern – this one will be irregular but attractive.
Third rising (1 hour)
Cover the loaves with a cloth, preferably of wool, to allow air to reach the loaves and to form a light crust. Leave at room temperature until the dough has risen to more than double its size, about 1 hour.
Before preheating the oven to 450 degrees F (very hot) 20 minutes before baking, place an old metal pan on the floor of the oven or bottom rack so it will be there later. Five minutes before baking, pour 1 cup hot water into the hot pan. Be careful of the burst of steam – it can burn.
Baking: (450F for 25-30 mins.)
Carefully move the loaves in baskets and in couches to the baking sheet. Make diagonal cuts down the lengths of the long loaves is desired. I omitted this step today.
Place on the middle shelf of the oven.
The loaves are done when a light golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Turn one loaf over and if the bottom crust sounds hard and hollow when tapped, the loaf is done.
(If using a convection oven, reduce heat 50 degrees.)
Place on a rack to cool.