Baguettes by zerox147o
Everyone loves bread. If I am working from home, or if I wake up at home on a weekend, there is a very high chance something is going in the oven that day. Sometimes I do sweet potato buns, other days I'll do a little focaccia, but most days it turns into a baguette. It is a bread with the simplest of recipes and is entirely technique/process. Personally I have settled on 68% hydration, with a +/- 1-2% compensation for humidity if it feels particularly wet or dry. The thing I'm currently playing around with is oven temperature/cooking time, heavily considering building a small brick oven in the backyard depending on how much longer I am going to live where I am now. Currently playing with 450F for about 18-20 minutes with another 2-3 minutes after applying an egg wash. Also, I didn't have time to do a poolish as I threw this dinner together day when I found out my sister was going to come over for dinner. Usually do a 30% of total flour with equal volume water/flour overnight for a poolish when I can plan ahead.
Get your bread flour, salt, yeast, and warm water together. If you're going to get into bread, grab a scale. Being able to accurately measure your flour is pretty mandatory.
Weighing out my flour. Zero the scale and add yeast. Using a fork or other little whisk like object, give the yeast a good mix so that it doesn't come into direct contact with murderous, delicious salt. Zero the scale again and add salt. Forkwhisk again for distribution. *I use 2% of both salt and yeast
Add your warm water. I find it easier to actually base my scaling off of volume of water than volume of flour. If you grab 400g or whatever of flour you're going to need to break out the calculator and check to see how to hit your % hydration, and then break out a measuring cup or bowl and weigh it out. Meanwhile you can simply remember the weight of water is roughly 125 grams per half cup and do it backwards. (1/2 cup = 125ml = 125 grams)
I still will zero the scale when adding it and make sure that it comes out right.
Everyone say hi to Stanley, my stand mixer. He is going to be doing the heavy lifting as this is a double batch (well, a 1.5 batch-- but I'd rather make 2 medium loaves than 1 super large one, why that is later!).
Anyway, you're going to want to set this thing to its lowest setting with the paddle attachment on until everything combines. Once everything has begun to resemble a loose dough let it rest for 5-10 minutes before swapping out for a lightly oiled dough hook attachment.
Pump up the speed and knead until it is "smooth and elastic". This is a term many bread recipes throw around as when you will know the dough is ready, but is something you will have to play with before being able to actually pick it out. Practice makes perfect, and even bad homemade bread is probably better than whatever your supermarket puts out as fresh.
There's a little tearing and the dough still feels a little bit tacky. At this point I'll take it out of the stand mixer and finish it up by hand until it feels right.
Once I'm happy with it I get a nice tight ball formed and set it seam down in a bowl that been lightly rubbed with olive oil. This bowl will be covered and set aside in a warm spot for an hour or so to double in size as the yeast are given life and gorge themselves. Yes, when you bake bread you are playing god.
Ended up being well over an hour by the time the dough was ready for shaping because this house is cold and drafty. Despite my love of fall/winter for soup and stew, it really does create a hostile environment for yeast baking. Once the furnace turns on I will start placing things in its vicinity, though it does require a little more active monitoring. Alternatively, if you've got the time you can just wait out the cold rise and let some more complex flavors develop. See, so many options without touching the recipe.
Grab a bench scraper or a solid metal spatula and divide the dough in half. Or into however many individual loaves you're planning on baking. Take each piece and gently pull it out into a rectangle where the long edge is roughly the length you'd like the final baguette to be. Be careful not to tear the dough and ruin the gluten strands you've worked so hard to develop. Also be careful not to evacuate all of the air from the dough as they will translate into a nice airy texture later.
If you have a canvas cloth or some kind of baguette pan, lay out your shaped loaves on them for support for their secondary rise.
Once ready, transfer to your baking surface. Today I'm baking on a silpat, though usually I just roll the loaf off the canvas onto a peel and right onto a stone in the oven.
That little bread pan filled with water will be doing into the oven as a mister to keep the crust of the bread soft. If you want a crunchier bite on the crust, omit it. Some people throw ice cubes in, some people use a spray bottle while the door is open as the trays go in, I use a bread pan.
Get a SHARP knife (I really need to buy a proper lame) and score the loaves with 3 light diagonal slashes. Be careful not to deflate the dough while scoring it. This will allow steam to escape during baking, and more importantly, gives you something to pull apart the loaf by later. Seriously, there is little in this world more satisfying than ripping apart a still warm baguette by the seams and devouring it.
Depending on your temperature/cook time, this bit will change. I pulled the loaves at about the 19 minute mark this time and applied an egg wash. Just crack egg whites into a bowl, add a tbsp or so of cool water, whisk until frothy, and apply over the baguette. Throw back in the oven for another 2-3 minutes to finish.
Pull from the oven and set aside on a cooling rack. The one in the back stretched a little bit when moved from the canvas to the baking sheet, but the one in front kept a nice uniformity. If you listen you can actually hear the crust squeak and crackle. It sounds like magic. During this 10-15 minute period it is probably a good idea to stay nearby. The amount of times that I have gone upstairs to do something else and come back to a missing baguette is sad to think about. No baguette left behind.
Tear off the goul/heel/whatever your home calls it, take a look at the crumb, and devour for quality assurance purposes while you finish whatever else happens to be on the dinner menu. If there is anything else on the dinner menu, quite a few meals have gotten the axe while making the bread because it would just detract from the bread (this happens mostly with sweet potato rolls). A good baguette can be eaten straight with no oil or butter and stand on its own, but that won't stop most of us.
In my house the goul (how is that word spelled? I've never had to before) is the best piece of bread and as such it has always been designated that my father gets it, and since I've started baking the bread I've laid claim to the other unless we have one of my older uncles or something present at dinner as well as him. In this case, my sister was in town for 1 night and I made the second loaf so that there would be additional honorable pieces to go around. The little family traditions in who gets what piece of bread add to it for me.
I've played with adding in whole wheat flour, adding in semolina flour, doing cold rises (both primary and secondary), cooking for longer at 375F as opposed to quickly at 450F, shaping the baguette in different manners than rectangle + rolling + pinching the seam, baking on sheets/silpats/stones, the actual kneading process-- there really is a lot of tweaking to be done in the technique for such a simple recipe. Anyone have their own tweaks to baguette baking? Brick ovens where you can make a single loaf whose length = your height (if yes, when can I visit)?
And yes, turning my iPad sideways during photo taking didn't seem like a good idea until the last two frames. I lack common sense and am way, way too lazy to pull out my DSLR for the kitchen AND upload them. That's like two steps. Plus this kitchen is shiiiiiny, damn glare.