Making Baguettes at Home

As I mentioned before, I am trying to bake at least once a week since we arrived in Alaska. I not only love the way it makes our apartment smell and having fresh good bread to eat, but I also like the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment that baking provides. It is one more way Alaska is reminding me how people used to live. I love the stories my Gram and my Mom tell about my great-grandmother in the kitchen. She had eight children and was one of those people that cooked without recipes. I wish I could sneak into her kitchen now and absorb her knowledge. It amazes me when people can cook by feel, and I hope someday I am that comfortable and confident in my own abilities. But I do feel lucky that I get to bake because I like it, rather than because I have to.

My baking education is a mix of my time eating good bread while working for The Bread Bakers Guild of America, reading, and watching videos online. This is by no means a full education, but I feel like I get better each time I bake. This week I wanted to make baguettes. I have made baguettes once before. Our kitchen here is small. The oven is not as large as a normal home oven, and I am limited in equipment to one large bowl, one small baking sheet, and one loaf pan. No mixer. I have for the last several years been playing around with the no knead baking method made popular in 2006 by Jim Lahey in a New York Times Article. I have been working from the recipe found on  Breadtopia, a website dedicated to home baking. Over the course of time my version has changed a little from what is presented on this site; it was a great jumping off point though. But for baguettes, I needed more than a recipe. I needed to know how to best shape and bake as well. I found what I was looking for in a you tube clip of Julia Child and Raymond Calvel, both culinary/baking rock stars. The clip also provides a recipe which I did not use, instead I stuck with my no knead version. I did use the methods for shaping, resting, and baking that begin about 12 minutes into the clip. If you can picture someone, hands covered in flour, hunched over a laptop watching this video then bouncing back to the counter to pat and shape dough, then back to the laptop, you can get an idea of what my Tuesday looked like. Overall, the bread was yummy and didn’t look to bad. At the end of the day seeing the two demi baguettes sitting on my counter felt pretty great. Below you will find the recipe and video if you want to give it a whirl!

No Knead Bread

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur Flour)

* You can also use whole wheat flour but you will need to add a little more water.

1 packet active dry yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 3/4 cups warm water

First, mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, I usually use a wooden spoon but any utensil will work. Then add the water. Mix with the spoon until ingredients start to clump, lightly knead the dough in the bowl until it sticks together as a unit. The dough should be smooth but not sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic (I use a plastic grocery sack and tie it.) Let the dough sit at room temperature for 18 hours (longer if it is cool in your house).

After it has proofed for 18 hours, the dough will have expanded, the surface will be sticky and have small holes (this is good). Use your hand (well floured) to scoop the dough onto the well floured counter.  Once on the counter, sprinkle the dough with flour and gentle pat. Then fold the dough in thirds, like a brochure. Finally fold it in half, like a hotdog bun. Let the dough rest on the counter for 15 minutes. Use a new bowl, or clean the same large bowl, and lightly flour the inside using your hand to spread it up the sides of the bowl. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

After two hours, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. This is when you will want to reference the you tube video clip. I will also provide a brief overview, but it is definitely worth watching the video.

Place the dough on a well floured counter. Cut the dough in half (this is different than the video, she cuts hers in thirds, but I recommend half). Take one of the dough pieces and pat it down. Then fold the bottom and the top in, again like a brochure, patting after each fold. Seal the seam by pressing along the edge of the dough with the palm of your hand. Then, down the center create a small trough using the side of your hand (almost like a karate chop). Finally fold the dough in half (along the trough) and seal the seam again with the palm  of your hand. Now it is time to roll it out. Start with your hands in the middle of the dough and roll towards the outside. Make sure you don’t make it too big to fit on your baking sheet or pizza stone. Lay the dough on a floured canvas or towel for the final rest, until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.

After the rest, roll the dough onto a baking sheet so the bottom side is now facing up. You are ready for the final steps, to score and bake the bread. To score use a straight razor to make 3 or 4 (depending on the size of the baguette) horizontal cuts on the bread. You want to make quick cuts. After it has been scored, spray or coat the bread with water. Then place it in the bottom of the oven. If you have a spray bottle, spray the bread at minute 2, 4, and 6. At minute 6, you will also want to move the bread to the middle oven rack where it will remain for the rest of the bake. Bake the bread for a total of 25 minutes. I usually leave the bread in for an additional 5 minutes with with oven turned off. When the bread comes out tap the bottom, it should sound hollow, this means it is done. And enjoy!

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