Baguettes or French Bread

Baguettes or French Bread

The classic bread is demystified. If you have the time, here is the secret recipe taught me by a friend. It is not truly authentic unless sourdough yeast is used, but here and there throughout the world, it is simpler and more expedient to use commercial bakerís yeast. I prefer the dried granulated stuff in a big bag, which is put in a sealed jar in the cooler after opening.

Donít rush this, unless you are making it for an audience. Even then, take some time to enjoy the experience. Pound that dough by hand!

Ingredients:

6 cups of sifted white flour
2 cups water
3 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg white
1 tablespoon cold water

Preparation:

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C, or 425 degrees F.

Making sure that the water is at room temperature or slightly above, but no more than 100 F or 35 C in temperature, dissolve the yeast in a half-cup of the water in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes in a warm, dry place. The yeast mix should get bubbly and spongy looking, and this is when you add the rest of the water and stir it in with one of those wire whisks to add some more air. Then add one cup of the flour and whisk that in as well. Then with a large spoon stir in the flour one cup at a time until itís too thick to stir.

Pour it out on a floured board and start kneading the rest of the flour into the ball of dough. Kneading is the key. If your arms canít take it use the cuisinart. Just make sure it gets kneaded for at least several minutes until it develops that snappy texture and itís smoothly elastic and only slightly sticky.

Place this blob of dough back in the bowl and let it rise in a nice warm place for at least two hours.

After it's risen and doubled in size or more, punch it down and knead the dough again for several more minutes. Then form the loaves, separating the dough into two pieces and rolling them with your hands into the long baguette shapes, but not longer than your pan! You may use a sharp knife, and cut long strips the length of the loaf on the top, or short side-to-side diagonal slits into the top for decoration. Let them rise again in that same nice warm place for at least another hour to develop that yeasty flavor, and the fluffiness the French love inside the loaves.

Now is a good time to start preheating that oven. Here in Europe I have a convection-type oven with a huge fan that really moves that hot air around, and things bake quickly. You may have to adjust your timing if you use a conventional oven.

Place a pan in the bottom of the oven, and pour two or three cups of boiling water into it. The steaming action helps develop the crustiness. Then carefully place the pan with the loaves onto a middle rack above the water, but not at the top of the oven, and donít slam the oven door! You donít want those loaves to flatten out.

Bake at the high temperature for just fifteen minutes, then pull it out and brush the surfaces of the loaves with a mixture of 1 tablespoon cold water and egg white. Reduce the heat to 180 C or 375 F and bake another fifteen minutes.

Remove from the oven when that hollow sound is heard in the loaf when you tap it. Let them cool on a rack for a half hour. These loaves should be the perfect baguettes to take down to the river, along with some Brie, and a bottle of wine.

Recipe by Martin Trip, Copyright 2003.





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