Thursday, March 21, 2013

Homemade French Baguettes

My Dad drove up from Virginia today for a belated birthday visit.  He was supposed to visit the week before my birthday, but the original trip was postponed due to Winter Storm Saturn (when did they start naming snowstorms?).  A belated birthday visit meant belated birthday gifts - one of which was a baguette pan!

With the day off from work, I didn't waste any time testing out the pan.  During the inaugural use of the baguette pan, I also had my first experience baking with yeast.  I have an irrational fear of using yeast, so I've only experimented with quick bread recipes.  I don't really know what I was worried about - cooking with yeast was easy, although a good deal of patience was required while the dough was rising.  The bread came out beautifully! It turned golden brown after 10 minutes so I took it out of the oven early, but I should have left it in a few minutes longer to really crisp up the crust.  The inside of the bread still turned out to be extremely moist.  Between me, my Dad, and KK - we devoured the first loaf in a matter of minutes (as part of lunch, I swear!).  We'll see if the other loaf lasts until dinnertime!

One final warning: I used a Corningware dish as my oven-safe bowl, but thought it was a good idea to preheat with the dish in the oven. WRONG! After the bread finished baking, I removed the Corningware from the oven and noticed a large crack in the dish.  Thanks to Corningware's 1-year warranty that you don't need to register for, I'll be receiving another gift in 7-10 business days: a new casserole dish!

Homemade French Baguettes
Adapted from Cooking Channel TV
Time:1 hr 35 min
Yields: 2  12-14 inch baguettes

1 1/2 tablespoons dry active yeast
2 tablespoons honey
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
3 to 4 ice cubes

1. Combine the honey, yeast and 1/2 cup warm water.  Stir to combine and let the mixture stand about 5 minutes until the yeast activates and begins to foam.

2. Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl (KitchenAid if you have one!) with a dough hook and slowly add in the yeast mixture. Gradually add 1 cup warm water and mix until the dough comes together into a ball that is not too wet.  You might not need all of the water. If the dough is sticky, add a little bit more flour.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 2 to 6 minutes. To test if the dough is kneaded thoroughly - press in the dough with your thumb and it will bounce back when it's ready. 

4. Form the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly-oiled bowl.  Cover with a dishcloth, and let rest in a warm environment until doubled in size, 25 to 30 minutes. 

5. Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Shape into 2 baguettes by making a flat rectangle out of your dough, then folding the top and bottom towards the middle, like an envelope, and sealing the seam with your fingers. Keep repeating the folding and sealing, stretching the rectangle lengthwise as you go, until it's about 12 to 14 inches long and 2 inches wide. Fold and seal either end to round. Flip seam-side down and place on a sheet pan or baguette pan that has been dusted with flour. Score the tops of the loaves, making deep diagonal slits 1/2-inch deep.  Again, cover dough with a dishcloth and let rise in a warm environment until they have doubled in size, 25 minutes. 

6. Position your oven racks with one on the bottom and the other in the middle, then preheat to 450 degrees.

7. Once the oven is preheated and the dough is nearly ready, place an oven-safe (non-glass) bowl or pan on the bottom rack. 

8. When your bread has doubled for the second time, quickly remove the towel.  Simultaneously slide the sheet tray with the baguettes onto the middle rack while carefully throwing the ice cubes into the bowl on the bottom rack. The ice will create a burst of steam that will give you a nice crispy crust. Quickly shut the oven door so no steam escapes. Bake the baguettes until golden brown, 10-15 minutes depending on your oven.

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