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Friday, April 29, 2011

French Baguettes

I want to be one of those people who knows everything about something totally useless. Like knowing all the vice presidents of the United States, in order. Or maybe being able to name all the fish living in the Gulf of Mexico. Or I could know how to count to ten in fifty different languages. Wait, I like that last one, maybe I’ll be one of those people. So far I can count to ten in five languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian & German), I’ve got some learning to do. If you speak other languages leave me your one through ten in the comments! I’d be forever grateful.

I’m sure you know people who are bastions of useless information. I’m sure that you have an immense amount of information in your head about one topic or another. Boyfriend knows lots about string theory, he could go on for hours about it. Why is this strange? He’s a businessman, not a physicist. My brother could go on and on about fruit trees and bushes, he’s an IT professional. I could retell the entire series of Gilmore Girls for you, right down to my favorite quotes.

In working toward the goal of knowing too much about something, I’m about halfway through my Bread Bakers Apprentice challenge. Today I present you with French bread! I put off making this bread for a while because I thought it was tricky. The dough itself is so soft and the instructions are so long I kept flipping past it in the cookbook. Rather than put it off anymore I decided to dive right in and I was not disappointed.

I wouldn’t recommend taking on French bread as your first yeasted bread. It takes a little understanding of yeast and you need to have a feel for dough. So, if you have been putting off French bread, don’t wait any longer. And don’t leave it under the broiler for ten minutes, unless you like smoke.

French Bread

This is a two-day process. Day one you toss together the pate fermentee and day two you make the bread, then you eat it all! Slathered in butter, topped with chocolate or as I did, spread with a copious amount of goat cheese, its yummy.

Pate Fermentee (day one)

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups bread flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp water

Mix together the dry ingredients. While still mixing, slowly add water until the ingredients come together in a ball. A little sticky is okay, you can always add more flour while kneading.

Knead on the countertop for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the dough registers 77° to 81° F. Spray a bowl with oil and toss dough ball in. Roll dough around in the oil until its well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until 1 ½ times its original size.

Gently degas the dough and recover in plastic wrap. Place dough in the fridge overnight.

French Bread (day two)

Pate fermentee
1 ¼ cups bread flour
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp yeast
¾ cups to ¾ cups plus 2 tbsp water

Take pate fermentee out of the fridge and chop up into ten pieces. Allow the dough to come to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine pate fermentee, flours, salt and yeast. Begin stirring and slowly add in water. Only add enough to bring all of the ingredients together (I used all but 1 tbsp).

Knead 10 minutes by hand or 6 minutes by kitchenaid. Once finished kneading, place dough in an oiled bowl and roll it around. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size.

Remove from the bowl and carefully cut dough into three pieces. Try not to deflate the dough. Stretch the dough out lengthwise. Crease the dough down the middle (lengthwise) then fold the dough in half. Pinch and seal the dough. Using the palms of your hands, roll to stretch the dough.

1. The freshly cut dough 2. Stretched and creased dough 3. Folded and sealed baguette

Gently transfer the loaves to a “couche.” I made one out of a kitchen towel. Allow the loaves to rise until 1 ½ times their size. While rising, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with some cornmeal. When ready, transfer the bread dough to the baking sheet. Heat oven to 500° F and place a large METAL pan in the top or bottom of the oven.

This is my couche, doesn't my dough look comfy?
 Place baking sheet in the oven and add 1 cup water to the metal pan. Close the door and wait 30 seconds. Open the door and quickly spray the walls of the oven with water. Close the oven and wait 30 more seconds. You’ll want to spray down the walls three times in total. After the final spray, lower the oven temp to 450 and bake for 10 minutes.

Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for 10 to 20 more minutes. Once golden brown and 205° F in the center remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for 40 minutes. Slice and enjoy!
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