Baguettes

If you’ve read the “About Me” section of this blog, you’ll know that my husband and I are recent transplants to Oregon, moving from Northern Virginia.  As new Oregonians, we wanted to explore the state as much as possible.  A few weeks ago, we spent a day driving through the Willamette Valley’s wine country, sampling some of the fantastic wines produced in the region.  That trip gave me the inspiration to try my hand at making baguettes – after all, what better baked good is there to bring along to a winery?

It was certainly a daunting task, but by the end, I discovered it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and the outcome was absolutely delicious!  This recipe requires a starter, so don’t think you’re going to be able to do this recipe in a few hours!

Also, it required some special tools that I didn’t have at the house, so I had to order them.  A couche (a large linen or cotton sheet of fabric used for baguettes) and a baker’s lame (a razor-like tool used to score the top of the loaves) made this recipe feel more authentic.  If you want to buy them, here’s where I got mine:

Couche

Baker’s Lame

Alright, before I get into the photo-filled step-by-step, here’s the full recipe from the King Arthur Baker’s Companion:

Poolish (Starter):

  • 1 and 1/4 cups (5 and 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup (5 and 1/4 ounces) cool (approximately 60 degrees Fahrenheit) water
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Poolish Ingredients.jpg

Directions to make the poolish:

Combine the flour, water, and yeast in a medium-sized mixing bowl and mix just until blended.  Let the poolish rise for 12 hours or so (overnight is usually just fine).  It should dome slightly on top and look aerated and spongy.  Try to catch it before it starts to fall, as it will be at its optimum flavor and vigor when it’s at its highest point.  On the other hand, don’t make yourself crazy about this; we’ve used plenty of starters that are either pre- or post-prime and they work fine.

Dough:

  • Generous 2 and 1/2 cups (10 and 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2/3 cup (5 and 1/4 ounces cool (approximately 60 degrees Fahrenheit) water

Dough Ingredients.jpg

For the dough:

Place the flour, yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl, the bucket of your bread machine, the work bowl of a food processor, or the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the poolish and water and mix the dough until it just becomes cohesive, about 30 seconds (it’s okay if there’s still flour in the bottom of the bowl).  Cover and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.  This resting period allows the flour to absorb the liquid, which will make kneading much easier.  (If you’re using a bread machine, simply program it for dough, then cancel it once the ingredients are fairly mixed.)

Knead the dough, using your hands or a mixer, until it’s cohesive and elastic but not perfectly smooth; the surface should still exhibit some roughness.  You’ll want to knead this dough less than you think you should; while it will shape itself into a ball, it won’t have the characteristic “baby’s bottom” smoothness of a fully-kneaded dough.  You aren’t kneading this dough all the way because you’ll give it a nice long rise, and during that rising time the gluten continues to develop.  If you kneaded the dough fully before rising, the gluten would become unpleasantly stiff during the long rise.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl (or oil your mixer bowl and leave it in there).  Cover and let rise for 2 hours, folding it over after the first hour (or more frequently if the dough is very slack or wet; folding helps strengthen the gluten).  To fold the dough, lift it out of the bowl, gently deflate it, fold it in half, and place it back in the bowl; this expels excess carbon dioxide and redistributes the yeast’s food.

Divide the dough into three pieces and gently form them into rough logs.  Let them rest for 20 minutes, then shape them into long (13- to 14-inch) thin baguettes.  Proof the baguettes, covered, in the folds of a linen or cotton couche until they’ve become noticeably puffy, 30 to 40 minutes.  If you don’t have a couche, place them in a perforated triple baguette pan, or on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and cover them lightly with a proof cover or greased plastic wrap.

Preheat the oven and baking stone to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  (Baguettes baked on a stone will have a crispier crust, but those baked on a pan will be just as tasty, if not equally crunchy).  Just before putting the loaves into the oven, use a lame or sharp serrated knife to gently make four diagonal cuts in each loaf.  These cuts should angle into the dough at about 45 degrees (in other words, don’t cut straight down) and should be a good 1/4 inch deep.  Be gentle but quick; if you hesitate and d rag your lame or knife through the dough, it will stick rather than cut.

Spray the loaves heavily with warm water; this will somewhat replicate a steam oven.  Put the loaves in the oven.  Reduce the oven heat to 475 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the loaves for 20 minutes or so.  Remove the loaves from the oven when they’re a deep golden brown and transfer them to a wire rack to cool.  Listen closely just as you take the loaves out of the oven; you’ll hear them “sing,” crackling as they hit the cool air of your kitchen.  Let the loaves cool completely before slicing; if you can’t wait, understand that the texture of the loaves where you cut them may be gummy as they still contain moisture, which will migrate out as they cool.


Ok guys, are you ready to see how I carried out the “King’s” recipe above?

First thing was to make the poolish.  I started it at about 8 PM so I could get the baguettes going the next morning.  I dropped the flour, water, and yeast into my King Arthur crock, but a medium-sized bowl would be completely fine too.  I took a whisk and mixed the ingredients until they had just combined.

Poolish in crock.jpg

I then put the cover on the crock and let it sit on the counter top overnight.

The next morning, it had a spongy appearance, which was what I wanted!

Poolish next dat.jpg

I then placed the dry ingredients for the dough (flour, salt, yeast) into the bowl of my Kitchen-Aid mixer.

Dry Ingredients.jpg

Next, I added in the poolish and the water, and (using the bread hook) mixed it all up for 30 seconds on medium-low, turned off the mixer, and let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 20 minutes with a clean kitchen towel placed over the top.

I then put about a tablespoon of oil in a medium-sized bowl and rubbed the oil all over the bowl to coat it.  I took out the dough from the mixer and dropped it into the oiled bowl.  Here’s how it looked:

Dough in bowl.jpg

I covered the bowl with the kitchen towel and let it rise for an hour.  At the hour mark, I took the dough out of the bowl and folded it over onto itself.  I then placed it back in the bowl and let it rise for another hour.

Once that time had elapsed, the dough looked like this:

Dough Rise.jpg

I then removed the dough from the bowl and weighed it on my kitchen scale to evenly divide it into three pieces.  Once I had my three pieces of dough, I formed them into rough logs.

Logs.jpg

I draped my kitchen towel back over the logs and let them rest again for 20 minutes.  While they were resting, I decided I’d look online for the best way to form the logs into a proper baguette shape.  I came across this video from King Arthur Flour, which helped me out a lot.

Once the baguette “logs” had rested for those 20 minutes, I followed the video instructions by forming the logs into three smooth dough balls:

Dough balls.jpg

I then flattened the balls into a rough rectangle (with the length of the dough about three times longer than the width).  I folded the dough (long end to long end) and sealed with the ball of my hand.  I then rotated the dough 180 degrees and repeated the process.  I flattened it and repeated the process a second time, and the dough was finally starting to look like a baguette.  I flipped the dough over so the seam was on the bottom and used my hands to form it into a shape I was happy with.  As much as I’m trying to explain it in words, I really want to stress that watching the video helped a ton!

I then took out my couche and covered one side in flour.  I took the couche over to the sink and lightly dusted off the excess flour.  Next, I placed the formed loaves onto the couch, leaving enough room (4-5 inches between each) so that I could create ridges in between each loaf.

Couched up.jpg

I then draped the kitchen towel over the top of the loaves and let them rise for another 40 minutes.  Here’s how they looked afterwards:

Rise in couche.jpg

Next, I preheated the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, placing a clean cast iron skillet on the very bottom rack.

While the oven was preheating, I moved the loaves to a baking pan lined with a silicon baking mat (you could also use parchment paper).  I then took out my lame and slashed four diagonal cuts in the top of each loaf.

LAME.jpg

I then put half a cup of water in a saucepan and started heating it to a boil.  While I was waiting for the water to boil, I spritzed the loaves with warm water.

Ok, now here’s the “fun” part (AKA the part where you need to be VERY careful so you don’t get a steam burn – an extra set of hands is great if you have them available).  Once the water came to a boil, I opened the oven, placed the baking pan with the loaves on the center rack, then poured the boiling water into the heated cast iron skillet still on the bottom rack.  (Long oven mitts were a real lifesaver here!) As soon as the water hit the pan, it started making steam, so I shut it as quickly as possible after getting the empty sauce pan out of the way.

After the door was shut, I reduced the temperature in the oven from 500 degrees Fahrenheit to 475 degrees Fahrenheit and set a timer for 20 minutes.  Hopefully your oven has a window in it, because you don’t want to open it up at all during those 20 minutes and potentially let any steam out.  After 20 minutes, here’s how the baguettes looked (note the cast iron skillet on the bottom rack):

Loaves oven.jpg

After the 20 minutes of baking, I removed the baguettes from the oven and let them cool completely on a wire baking rack.

Cool.jpg

As you can clearly see in the image above, the middle one was the beauty pageant winner, but I assure you that all three tasted delicious!  They had a beautifully crisp crust on the outside with a soft, tasty center.

Baguette sexy.jpg

If you try this recipe out, let me know how it goes by leaving a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Good luck, and happy baking!