Wife had expressed an interest in bread baking prior to her birthday so I added to the gifts I was getting her a baking stone. That was last week and as of this morning it had sat in the bottom of our rather arcane oven unused. As I am bad at not playing with other people’s toys at their houses, the likely-hood of my not playing with a new toy in my own oven was slim to none. I was proud of myself for letting it go a whole week. So today I decided to learn how to make a baguette.
These days, when I am breaking uncharted culinary earth, I turn to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, having left the old standby of my youth, The Fanny Farmer Cook Book, in dad’s charge years ago. Bittman has really come through with very solid starter recipes, and he backs them up with fundamental methodology you can run with. So far, he has delivered on all the things I have turned to him for. This proved true for baguettes as well.
Bittman explains that the basic elements are white flour, water, salt, and yeast, and that’s about it. He goes on to discuss additions, like rye flour or seeds. Having read his intro on the basics of bread, which I also suggest you do if you are interested in trying it, I decided on my approach and set about my first experiment in the land of home-baked bread. I used:
3 cups King Arthur unbleached bread flour, 4g protein per ¼ cup
½ cup Arrowhead Mills Kamut flour, 5g protein per ¼ cup
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp saf-instant dry yeast
a heavy 1½ cup NYC tap water
All of this went into the food processor with a metal blade for a quick whiz, and I added water slowly. As the last of the water went in, 1½ minutes give or take, the dough started pulling away from the sides and I turned it all into a large metal bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and left it for four hours.
When it was finished proofing, I poured the now larger blob of dough onto a floured cutting board and divided it into 4 pieces. I rolled these out with a pin in rectangles, folded them into thirds, squeezed the seam together with my fingers, and put them on a side towel seam-side down. I covered this with another side towel and left them on the countertop to proof again.
1½ hours later, I transferred the baguettes onto a floured peel, scored the top with a razor blade, and inserted a probe thermometer in the center of the largest one, sprayed the internal walls of the oven with water, and threw them on the baking stone on the floor of the gas oven that had been preheating to 425 for the last ½ hour. I overshot the back of the stone by about three inches and wiggled them back as best I could. I set the probe for 210 and waited for the alarm.
Five minutes into cooking, I sprayed the oven walls again with water.
The internal temperature of 210 was achieved in 10 minutes. I figured better to wait a little longer since the loaves were still white.
I learned there is a hot spot in the middle of my oven, because the two center loaves were scorched on the center of their bottoms.
The bread itself had a denser crumb then I would have liked, and it represented more salt than I would have liked. I was pleased with the crust, though, so next time I’ll fool around with it a little. Stand by.