Friday, April 3, 2009

Rustic French Baguette

I have always equated good homemade bread with impossibility. My mom had a bread machine when I was a kid, and maybe I just got the impression that you have to be a goddess in the kitchen to make a good loaf of bread by hand. Since I recently had success with sushi (what, you can make that at home???), I decided to break the bread barrier! I baked a French baguette. And I liked it. And my husband and I ate it all in one sitting. Mmmm. It didn't turn out exactly as I had hoped, but the texture was soft and fluffy, and the flavors were surprisingly complex for a simple bread recipe. I'm already thinking about sourdough next!

The recipe I used is a fusion of two recipes I found that looked relatively simple. Here it is:
Rustic French Baguette
1 tsp yeast
1 c. warm water
1 tsp salt
2 c. white flour
1/2 c. wheat flour
1 egg, beaten

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Set in warm, draft free place (I put it in the sun on the countertop) and allow to dissolve for 10 mins. You should notice a few bubbles on the surface of the water. In a large bowl, mix the yeast water and the salt. Slowly stir in the wheat flour, then 1 c. of the white flour. Turn dough onto well floured surface and begin to knead, adding flour until the dough is slightly sticky but doesn't cling to your hands (I ended up using 1 c. flour). When the dough is the right consistency, knead an additional 8-10 mins. Oil a glass or ceramic bowl and place the dough ball in the center. Make sure the dough is also coated with oil so it doesn't stick to the bowl. Cover with cloth and allow dough to rise in a warm, draft-free place approximately 1 hour, or until dough doubles in size (I waited 1.5 or 2 hours). Punch down dough and divide in two equal parts. Form each lump of dough into a long baguette shape, and place on a baking sheet (preferably a baking stone).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cover baguette dough with cloth and allow to rise another 20 mins on the baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg (this will give a brown, crunchy crust).

Baguettes need moisture to bake in the oven, so I recommend taking a metal 13x9 pan (glass may break) and filling with 1" water. Now place the water pan in the bottom rack of the oven, and put the baking sheet with baguettes on the middle rack. Bake for 20-25mins until the crust is golden brown.

My baguettes were golden and crispy when I removed them from the oven, but an hour later they had softened considerably. Now the crust is soft and golden but still tasty. One recipe suggested removing the baking dish with water after 15 mins. Maybe I'll try that next time, or I'll just bake the bread a little longer. I was hoping to make bruschetta with the baguettes, but discovered that these are better for sandwiches, soups, or just to be eaten warm with butter and honey. Mmmmmm.

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