Thursday, October 20, 2016

French Baguette Bread

     A real French Baguette dough only requires a few ingredients and it is one of the simplest doughs to make.  It is the techniques used to make this bread that makes a baguette great.  "Practice makes perfect" as the old saying goes and with practice, anybody can make baguettes that rival those found at a French bakery.   
     A few things to keep in mind are: 
     • High gluten flour is best for this recipe.  Bread flour is the next best choice.  All purpose flour should not be used to make Baguettes. 
     • The exact amount of flour needed depends upon many variables.  Altitude, humidity, low barometric pressure and arid conditions are variables that make slight adjustments necessary for the total flour measurement.  It is best to first add the bulk of the flour (enough to make a moist dough) then add small increments till the dough is the right consistency.  Recording the total amount of flour used will make it easier to duplicate the perfected baguette recipe at a later time.  
     • No fat, oil or butter is used in a baguette recipe.  Baguette dough is not enriched.  Some modern bakeries add ascorbic acid and/or modifiers to enhance texture, but this is just a crutch.  A great texture can be created with the bare natural ingredients.    
     • A humid steamy oven is required during the first few minutes of baking to create the crisp crunchy crust that baguettes are famous for.   Some ovens have a "steam-shot" feature built in.  Most ovens do not.  When the sheet pan of baguettes are place in the oven, ice cubes can be tossed on the pan to create steam.  Ice cubes can also be tossed directly on the bottom of a gas oven.  Tossing ice cubes into an electric oven is not a good idea for obvious reasons!    
     • In France, a true baguette is never be longer than 14" in length, but everybody knows that baguettes are offered in a variety of lengths.  Extra long baguettes should still never be more than about 4" wide.

     French Baguette Bread:   
     This recipe yields 3 medium size (14") baguette loaves.   
     This recipe is written for a metal gear drive dough mixer with a dough hook attachment!      
     Step 1:  Add 2 tablespoon of fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon of dry yeast to 16 ounces of lukewarm water (112ºF) in a mixer bowl. 
     Place the mixer bowl in a warm place, like on top of a low temperature oven.
     Wait for the yeast to activate.  (About 10 minutes)
     Step 2:  Add 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar.   
     Add about 4 cups of flour and do not stir.  Let the flour float like an island.  
     Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt, so the salt lands on the floating flour island.
     Step 3:  Place the mixer bowl on the mixer and attach the dough hook.
     Mix at low speed, till a loose moist dough forms.
     Step 4:  Start adding a little bit of flour at a time (about 1/4 cup per addition), till the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. 
     *You will be able to see when the dough is starting to become elastic.  
     Continue mixing till the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a dough ball that clings to the dough hook.
     Step 5:  Turn off the mixer.
     Drop the bowl to the low position.
     Unlock the dough hook and leave it in the mixer bowl with the dough.
     Cover the mixer bowl with a dry pastry towel.     
     Allow the dough to rise more than double.
     Step 6:  Remove the towel.
     Re-attach the dough hook.
     Raise the mixer bowl. 
     Turn the mixer on low speed for about 10 seconds to beat the dough down.
     Step 7:  Remove the dough hook and set the mixer bowl of dough aside.  
     Place the dough on a floured counter top.
     Knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes.

     Cut the dough into 3 equal size portions for medium size baguettes. 

     Step 1:  Roll a dough portion dough back and forth, till it becomes a 10" long cylinder shape.
     Step 2:  This step adds texture and eliminate large gas bubbles.
     Use the fingertips on both hands to press and tuck the dough into itself along the length of the cylinder shape.  This will create a seam that runs the length of the baguette dough. 
     Pinch the seam shut.
     Step 3:  Roll the cylinder shape dough back and forth, till the surface becomes smooth and the dimensions of the cylinder shape are about 3" wide and about 14" in length.  
     Step 4:  Place the shaped baguette dough on a large sheet pan that is lined with parchment paper.  The seam side of the baguette must face down!
     Use a knife to score a few diagonal slashes on the dough, so the dough releases steam when it is baked. 

     Place the baguette pan in a warm area or on top of a low temperature oven.
     Allow the shaped baguette dough to rise to about 1 1/2 times its original size. 

     Steam is needed to give a baguette its crisp crunchy crust!
     Step 1:  Heat an oven to 425ºF.  
     Place a roasting pan on the bottom of the oven and let it get hot.  
     Step 2:  Place the baguette pan on an upper rack in the oven.
     Place 3 cups of ice cubes in the hot roasting pan that sits on the bottom of the oven.
     Immediately shut the oven door, so the steam is sealed in.   
     Step 3:  Bake till the baguette crust is crispy golden brown.  
     Cooling and Staling:  
     Place the baguette sheet pan on a cooling rack, so air can circulate underneath. 
     Allow the baguette to stale for 30 minutes, so the pith does not gather when the bread is sliced. 

     Unfortunately the photos of the finished baguette loaves could not be found, but there are thousands of baguette pictures on the internet.  The baguettes were bias sliced at a thin angle to make the long crostini for the party platter in the photos above.  As one can see, the texture of the bread pith was right on the money!     

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