Do you assemble things, recipes, bookcases, etc. without reading the instructions? Yes, that’s me, sometimes. I’m not known to be an impulsive person, but I do know how to cook and I consider myself a good cook. But, when learning something new in the cooking world, I tend to think “Oh, I can handle that!” because I know the basic assembly of most recipes.
I love reading David Lebowitz’s blog at www.davidlebovitz.com and came across a post he had about the baguettes he buys in Paris. You can read his post here: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2013/01/in-praise-of-sesame-baguettes/ I have had baguettes here from various grocery stores and restaurants (I’m sure they are nothing like the ones he buys in Paris) and I wanted to see if I could reproduce them to get that crusty exterior with the soft texture inside. In actuality, I would love to be in Paris and taste the real thing.
So, off I went to my public library to find a good cookbook. I happen to live in a University town and the libraries here are excellent and up-to-date with all the latest books and resources. I could have looked for a recipe online, but instead chose to get a physical book, at least for now. I did find a book, Artisan Breads by Jan Hedh, published in 2011, checked it out and headed home thinking I would just whip up those baguettes in an afternoon. Well, that’s what I thought, lol. You can check out this book at http://www.amazon.com/Artisan-Breads-Practical-Detailed-Instructions .
I started skimming through the book, reading about the ingredients and methods. There were recipes and photos for beautiful artisan breads. It was a little confusing at first because the author writes about actual methods used in artisan bread shops in Europe and there were methods I was not familiar with. Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent book on baking artisan breads, but I finally figured out that the book was originally published in Sweden and of course translated into English and the ingredients and terms were not the same as what I use here in the US. I did a little research on the internet via Google and found a website on baking breads – http://www.thefreshloaf.com and did a search in their forums. I found a discussion about the difference in ingredient terms from one country to another. I thought I had gleaned enough information and picked a ‘poulish’ starter recipe to try.
I followed the instructions to make the starter using bleached all-pupose flour, set it to raise (which didn’t really raise much at all), came back and combined the starter with the actual baguette recipe ingredients and then started that raising, formed the loaves and baked them (alas they didn’t raise much at all either). This took hours to do, mostly because I was proceeding slowly. The end product of course was heavy and chewy, not the soft and crispy texture I was looking for. This was all because I used regular all purpose flour (hence operator error) . Heavy and chewy will work, I used it to make toast and even made dog treats for my pets, slicing off little rounds and seasoning them. My little papillon Jasper just loved them. They would make great croutons too or for spreading appetizers on. It sounds funny, but the pet treats are a definite way to use up one’s baking mistakes as long as the toppings are pet-healthy.
The type of flour I used is what caused the recipe to fail for me. The recipe book called for a ‘strong’ flour. Here we don’t use that term, and turning to the above mentioned website forum, I learned that in England, this term means a flour produced from wheat that is robust and hardy. Most UK flours are called ‘soft’ flours because the wheat there has a shorter growing season, it’s not as robust and when used, the gluten is not as good. The best wheat is grown in the Midwest US and the flour I should have used here was a bread flour.
The flour we here call ‘cake flour’ is similar to the all purpose flour in the UK. I have read that their all purpose flour is not as ‘strong’ as the US all purpose flour and should not be used for bread making, but rather for pastries, cakes, cookies, etc.
I returned to the store, bought the bread flour, came home and tried a recipe I found online at www.kingarthurflour.com. This recipe produced a lovely loaf of bread for me within a few hours, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Here is the recipe I used:
- 1/2 cup (113 g) cool water
- 1 cup (120g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
- All of the starter
- 3 1/2 cups (418g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1 cup (227g) lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1) Mix the starter ingredients till smooth, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight.
2) Next day, mix the starter with the remaining ingredients, kneading until the dough is nice and springy, but not totally smooth. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and again after 2 hours.
3) Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a rough oval. Wait 15 minutes, then fold each oval lengthwise, sealing the edge, and use cupped fingers to gently roll each piece into a long (about 17″) log. Place the loaves onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined pan, cover, and let them rise* till they’re puffy but not doubled, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F. VERY gently, use a sharp knife or razor blade to make three diagonal 1/3″-deep slashes in each loaf. Mist the loaves heavily with warm water. Bake the baguettes for 22 to 28 minutes, till they’re golden brown. Take the baguettes off the pan and place them right on the oven rack. Turn off the oven, crack the door open about 2″, and let the baguettes cool completely in the oven.
*For extra-crisp baguettes, cover the shaped loaves, let them rise for 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight. Next day, take them out of the refrigerator and let them rest at room temperature, covered, for about 3 hours, or until they’re nice and puffy. Then bake as directed above.
and a link to the recipe over at King Arthur Flour: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/french-baguettes-recipe It was tasty and delicious smeared with butter and homemade cherry jam. Unfortunately, I gained 5 pounds experimenting with these recipes!