Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Recipe: Great Bake-At-Home Baguettes

Good bread defies description. There's also something about tearing bread that has always felt honest and base to me. I guess bread is a food that makes me wax romantic.

Today, the world gives us a bread recipe that found its origins in the kitchens of Polish bakers working in Vienna. Sure, it is most identified with France, but much of the great bread of France can be traced back to Vienna. So, from Vienna to your kitchen.

Though this isn't a "sourdough" bread, I do use a sourdough kicker in the beginning, but it's just to add some oomph and character and well, I kind of had to improvise because of an oversight. More of that in a bit. That's what sets this recipe apart from the original I used. The original required making a conventional starter using some regular bakers yeast, a little flour, some water and about 20 hours resting time.

Well, the night before I originally made this bread I kind of had a little too much red wine and forgot to do the conventional starter. As I needed some fresh bread for dinner and I always have a sourdough starter going in the fridge, I decided I'd try that instead of the conventional starter and see what happened. Well, it was really good. It was good for dinner, good for sandwiches, good for freezing, GOOD! So I guess that overindulgence was a divine intervention, or at least that's what I'll tell myself when I forget things because of too much red wine.

I also made a few adjustment to the "punch down" process during the dough rise that seemed to help me get the kind of stick bread I was looking for.

Also, baking really is a pretty simple and easy process. It's not hard and when you tally up the actual active time the bread making requires it comes out to about 25 minutes. This recipe and my other bread recipes may seem really long and involved. That is only because I am trying to be a descriptive as possible if the processes and tricks involved. Don't be intimidated. Read the directions through a few times. Do a little research online of the techniques and you'll see that baking bread, no, baking GREAT BREAD in your home is EASY!

Great Bake-At-Home Baguettes

1 cup sourdough starter
1 tsp instant yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 egg white
1 cup of warm water

In a large bowl or your mixer bowl with the paddle attachment, add the sourdough starter, yeast, water, flour, and salt, and mix and knead them together until they become a solid cohesive mass. Then if you like you can use the bread hook on your mixer and knead it an additional 10-12 minutes. Or, you can do what I prefer to do and knead it by hand. Kneading bread by hand is more fun than it would seem and it really give you a great feeling for the dough. It'll teach you how to make better bread a lot faster than the machine. It's you choice.

How to knead by hand:

Turn the dough ball out onto a lightly floured surface and knead. (I've found the best way to knead dough is to push down and forward into the dough mass. Pick it up, return it to its original position and then repeat the entire action three times. Then turn the dough ball 1/4 of a turn and repeat the entire procedure. Continue doing this for 10 to 12 minutes. You're looking for a dough that is soft and pliable and tacky but NOT sticky. If you're not familiar with working with dough, be patient. Dough responds slowly to changes in moisture. Make small adjustments and give it time. If the dough seems a little dry, moisten your hand with a little water or milk and continue working it. If it seems wet and is sticking to the kneading surface, dust the surface and dough with a little flour and continue kneading. Again, the resulting dough after kneading should be smooth, pliable and tacky but not sticky. With this particular dough a little roughness on its surface is desirable.

After kneading, form the dough into a rough ball and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to relax for 10 minutes.

While the dough relaxes find a suitable bowl or container that is large enough for the dough to easily double in size. Coat that container with a thin layer of oil. (I find a plastic food container of about 5 to 6 quart capacity with a cover is ideal).

Allow the dough to rise for one hour. Then take the dough out and GENTLY knead it down with your knuckles (don't push forward, just gently downward). Take one end of the dough and fold it midway over itself. Take the other end and fold it over that. Knead GENTLY down again. The dough should still be soft and spongey, it should form a rough rectangle. Repeat the folding and then knead gently one more time.

Place it back in the oiled container and allow it to rise again for one hour. Then again, take the dough out and repeat the gentle kneading process again.

Return the dough to the container and allow it to rise for one more hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Carefully divide the dough into three 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 or edge of your hand. Don't flatten all the dough, just the outermost edge being sure to get a tight seal.

Then flatten it slightly again, and fold and seal again.

Then With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and GENTLY begin roll the dough out into a log shape. Remember when you were a kid and you would roll Play-Doh into a snake on the table. Well, just like that only VERY GENTLY and without flattening your log or making it dense. GENTLY!

You want them to get to about 15". I have found it is best to do this in 2 to 3 steps. Roll it out a little. Cover it and let it rest while you start another. Then come back and roll it some more.

When finished, place the logs onto a waiting baking tray that has been lined with parchment and then sprinkled with some cornmeal or semolina. Cover them again with some lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise until they have become quite puffy (about 60 to 90 minutes depending upon room temperature).

Preheat your oven to 475°F; if you're using a baking stone, place it on the second or third lowest shelf. On the lowest shelf, place an oven-proof NON-GLASS pan (A small cast iron fry pan is ideal,) on the bottom shelf.

When the baguettes have risen, brush them with an egg white mixture (1 egg white, one tablespoon of cool water).

Then using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8” vertical slashes about 1/4" deep in each baguette.

Spritz them heavily with warm water, as this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.

Place the baguettes in the oven. Add the warm water to the heated pan on the bottom shelf. Spritz the sides of the oven with about 6-10 shots of water and close the oven door.

In two minutes, open the oven again and spritz the loaves and the sides of the oven again.

In two minutes repeat that same procedure. Then lower the oven to 450°F

Bake the baguettes for about 10 minutes, then take out them out and rotate them 180° and place them back in the oven for 15 minutes.

Bake them until they're a deep, golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the a very crispy crust, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2 inches, and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.

Let them cool for about 30 minutes before eating.

Recipe: Great Bake-At-Home Baguettes from Chop Onions, Boil Water by Henry Krauzyk

1 comment:

  1. Great post - especially about how to knead by hand. Cheers!