Okay, people, the holidays are over. Back to work! And for me, back to the blog. I have been remiss, loyal readers. But onward we go, resolved to do better. (This blogging thing is HARD!) And so…
The Baguette. Behold its might. Tremble before its majestic awesomeness. Cower when confronted by its esteemed and storied history. And break out in a cold sweat, fearing that yours WILL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH, that French people will mock you as they hit you over the head with your pitiful attempts to conquer this classic. But, as the omelet is to the chef, so the baguette is to the bread baker. A test of one's mettle and skill. Are you up for the challenge? LET'S GO! Eep.
Baguettes were on my "must to avoid" list for the longest time. I tried them once when I first started baking and the results were so epically bad–a baseball bat had a better crumb–that I slunk off in defeat, vowing never to subject myself to this humiliation again. Fast forward to a couple of years later to my Artisan Bread course at French Culinary Institute and…gulp. There I was, face to face with baguettes again. The results this time weren't half bad, actually, thanks to the watchful eye and excellent tutelage of Chef Brynne, a commercial bakery kitchen and wall full of giant professional deck ovens. Back on the home front though, the intimidation factor set in again and my baguettes turned into bats once more. Le sigh. My baguette phobia isn't so much because of the dough as it is the shaping. It's the one big thing I really have work at–not only for baguettes–and given my short attention span (Oooh, look! Something shiny!) and low tolerance for frustration, I tend to stomp off in a snit if things aren't Just So.
So why am I back for more torture? Three reasons. One, the January theme for #TwelveLoaves is a New Year's Challenge–anything you want to take on–and baguettes are definitely that (see above). Two, I just added Crust by Richard Bertinet to my library and it not only has a really nice, only semi-daunting recipe for baguettes but it comes with a spiffy instructional video as well. (Here's a link to the video but it's definitely worth buying the book.) And three, completely out of the blue I remembered a favorite sandwich from about 30 years ago, when I was living the corporate life in midtown Manhattan and we used to order in lunch from this little cafe that I can no longer remember the name of–chevre, sundried tomatoes and watercress on–you guessed it, a baguette. I was determined to recreate this simple yet stellar sandwich experience in my own kitchen, baguette fear be damned! (It also helped that memory told me that the sandwich baguettes in question were very rustic, so I had a built-in excuse if things came out less than perfect. "It's RUSTIC! It's supposed to look that way!") My January challenge baguettes are indeed rustic, at least the way I made them, and I'm okay with that. I'm at peace. It's been a healing process, this. And cheaper than therapy.
Bertinet's baguettes are made with a fermented dough and a bit of rye flour. You make the fermented mix on day one, final dough on day two. True, it's a bit of a wait for the impatient ones among us but it's definitely worth it. The resulting dough is easy to work with and very flavorful. I was even able to shape some passable baguettes and only got tripped up because not only was my baguette flipping board way too long for my sheet pan but I also made the baguettes a bit too long to fit in my oven. Result? RUSTIC! But crust-, crumb- and taste-wise I was a very happy camper. They were everything a baguette should be: light, airy, creamy, crispy and crackly.
Now about that sandwich. It's one of those things that I've thought of fondly, lo these many years. Why I've never made it before, I'll never know. I mean, it's not like I had to chase a goat down the Long Island Expressway or something to get the milk to make the chevre. Or dry my own tomatoes (I have plans). Or grow my own water cress (haven't gotten that bog thing together yet). I guess I just had the memory of it as the perfect sandwich and figured nothing would live up to what I had in my head. Well. I've been proven wrong. The sandwich I made from these baguettes was every bit as good as I remembered. Basically, you take a baguette and cut it in half length-wise. Spread the bottom with a healthy amount of chevre, top with oil-packed sundried tomatoes and water cress (or in this case, baby arugula because I couldn't remember where I saw the cress), top with the other half of the baguette and VOILÀ! There you have it. It couldn't be simpler and it couldn't be better.
Fermented White Dough
- 10g fresh yeast
- 500g white bread flour
- 10g salt
- 350g water
- 950g white bread flour
- 50g dark rye flour
- 720g water
- 600g fermented white dough
- 20g salt
- white flour for dusting, plus semolina for dusting the peel
- For the fermented white dough, add the flour to medium mixing bowl, crumble the fresh yeast into the flour, then add the water and salt and mix until you have a rough dough. Turn this dough onto a work surface and knead until it everything is incorporated.
- Lightly flour the mixing bowl, return the dough, then cover and let rest overnight in the refrigerator until it's doubled.
- For the bread dough, add the bread and rye flours into a large bowl, then add the water and mix until you have a rough dough. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.
- Cut the fermented dough into pieces and add to the bowl, mixing until it starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
- Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix in thoroughly, about 3 minutes.
- Fold the dough into a ball, place back in the mixing bowl (flour lightly), cover and let rest in a warm spot for about 1 1/2 hours.
- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface, fold, then return to the bowl, cover and let rest for another hour.
- Lightly flour your work surface and turn the dough out, then divide it into 12 equal pieces (about 185g each). Cover the dough so it doesn't dry out as you're working.
- Line a baking tray with a couche or lint-free cloth (you may need more than one tray) and dust with flour.
- Shape each dough piece into a baguette (about 14" long), place seam side down on the floured couche or cloth and pull up a pleat between each baguette so that they don't touch as they rise. Cover the trays and let rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
- Place a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 500°F.
- Dust your peel with a bit of semolina, then transfer two baguettes at a time to the peel, seam side down, and slash several times with a sharp knife or lame.
- Open the oven door and mist several times with a water sprayer. Quickly slide the baguettes from the peel to the baking stone. Spray with water again and close the door. Repeat until you have 6 baguettes on the stone.
- Bake for 12–15 minutes or until the baguettes are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely on wire racks.
- Repeat with the second batch of baguettes.
Adapted from Crust by Richard Bertinet (Baguettes with Fermented Dough)
I got obsessed with finding fresh yeast for this–not an easy feat. Four stores later, I finally found some but it's really not necessary. You can easily substitute active dry or instant using this handy-dandy converter.
The stage one dough (fermented white dough) makes way more than you'll need for this but it will keep for a few days so you can use it for other things.
I've gotten into the habit of snipping a mass of pre-dough into smaller pieces when adding it to a mix. Just seems to help incorporate it more thoroughly when you're working with bits instead of a blob.
I screwed up by making these way longer than they should have been. 14" seems to be a good length.
I have a large rimless cookie sheet that I use as a peel for longer breads. I was able to load 6 baguettes at a time and transfer them to the baking stone fairly neatly. Okay, somewhat neatly. Okay, neat is in the eye of the beholder. I should have done fewer at a time but I'm impatient. There's a lesson here.
I baked these in batches, which is what you have to do unless you have two large baking stones. They bake quickly so nothing's in danger of overproofing.
12 is a LOT of baguettes, even if they're on the smallish side. I froze some but I'll definitely halve this next time.
Shape the baguettes according to your preferred method, or try a new one! Bertinet's method aside, there are about a bazillion videos on baguette shaping out there on the interwebs. The techniques are all basically the same but it's still interesting to see the little variations that each person brings to table. Here's one that's pretty good.
- Ginger Brioche Loaf with a Lemony Drizzle from From My Sweet Heart
- Japanese White Bread from NinjaBaker
- La couronne des Rois from Ma che ti sei mangiato
- Pretzel Buns from Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Rosca de Reyes from girlichef
- Rustic Baguettes from A Shaggy Dough Story
- Soft Pretzels from Never Enough Thyme
- Sweet Pretzels from Cake Duchess
- Whole Wheat Cranberry Orange Muffins from Rhubarb and Honey
If you'd like to bake along with us this month, share your New Year Challenge bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!