baking adventures: baguettes, revisited

by Stacy

Way back in June, I made my first, not-so-valiant attempt at baking baguettes. While they tasted great, shaping and slashing such a hydrated dough proved too much for me. I decided to try again, with still-delicious but much more attractive results.

pain a l'ancienne

Better, yes? The slashing wasn’t great, but even the recipe says not to bother if the dough doesn’t cooperate. Simply being prepared for the dough to be so slack and elastic made it easier to form. They were still a little lopsided, but I think it worked out ok.

Like last time, I only made half the recipe, enough for three baguettes. Other than the shaping, the recipe is really easy. Mix in stand mixer about 6 minutes, overnight rise in the fridge, rise on counter for a few hours, shape, and bake. Here they are before slashing, chillaxing on some parchment.

pain a l'ancienne

Not that I am any kind of baguette master, but I think a few more tries at this recipe and the shaping will greatly improve. I deflated the dough a bit more than I wanted, but despite getting smooshed, the crumb was still creamy with decent-sized holes.

pain a l'ancienne

We ate a loaf last night with some pasta and red sauce, and my husband was actually snacking on a second loaf today. Considering that I have a dozen cookies sitting out (recipe tomorrow) that I am partially convinced contain some kind of addictive drug, this is significant.

So if making baguettes scares you, try this recipe. You can also use the dough for pizza (which I have done with great success) or to make ciabatta bread (which I have not yet attempted). While “authentic” baguette recipes take hours with shaping and proofing, other than the overnight rise, this method needs very little hands-on time. It’s also delicious.

pain a l'ancienne

This time, I’ll even give you the recipe!

Pain a L’Ancienne

Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Makes 6 baguettes, 6-8 pizzas, or one 17×12 inch focaccia

Ingredients:
6 cups (27 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2¼ teaspoons (.56 ounces) salt
1¾ teaspoons (.19 ounces) instant yeast
2¼-3 cups (19-24 ounces) water, ice cold (40F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Directions:
1.) Combine flour, salt, yeast, and smallest amount of water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix using the paddle attachment on low speed for 2 minutes. Switch to the dough hook; mix on medium speed 5-6 minutes. Dough should release from the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom. If not, dribble in small amounts of flour or water until it does. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough using a scraper dipped in water to prevent sticking. Mist the dough with spray oil, cover with plastic wrap, and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.

2.) The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator. It will have risen slightly but not doubled in size. Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for 2-3 hours (or longer if the kitchen isn’t as warm) until doubled from its pre-refrigerated size.

3.) Once doubled, sprinkle the counter with about 1/2 cup of bread flour (it’s a lot, but the dough is really wet). Gently transfer the dough from the bowl to the floured counter using a scraper dipped in cold water or wet hands to assist. Try to deflate the dough as little as possible.

4.) Dry and flour your hands. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, as well. Gently roll the dough to coat it all in flour, and stretch it into a rectangle 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. Sprinkle with additional flour is dough is too sticky. Dip a metal pastry scraper in cold water and use it like a pincher (not a saw) to cut the dough in half length-wise. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

5.) Place a rack in the middle of the oven with a baking tray or baking stone, then another one directly below with an empty pan for steam. Preheat the oven to 550F (500F if that’s as hot as yours goes). Cover the back of two 17 by 12 inch sheet pans with parchment paper and dust with flour or cornmeal.

6.) Repeat the cutting process to cut the dough into 6 lengths (3 from each half). Using floured hands, carefully lift each length and pull it gently to the length of the pan, placing it on the floured parchment paper. Let the dough relax from the center as it is very elastic and stretches very easily. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have 3 lengths on each pan.

7.) Dip a serrated knife or razor in water to prevent sticking, then score the dough strips with three diagonal cuts. If the dough isn’t cooperating, skip this step. Heat up 1-2 cups of water.

8.) When the oven is preheated, take one pan and carefully slide the whole piece of parchment onto the preheated pan or baking stone. If the dough shifts, make sure the lengths aren’t touching each other. Pour 1 cup of simmering water into the steam pan and close the oven door. Wait 30 seconds and spray the oven walls with water. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the third spray, lower oven temperature to 475F.

9.) Check the bread after 8 or 9 minutes – it should be starting to brown. Rotate the pan 180 degrees if the loaves are baking unevenly. Continue baking for 10-15 minutes until bread is a rich golden brown and internal temperature is at least 205F.

10.) When bread is done, remove from pan and place on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes. If you are baking another batch, make sure to re-heat the oven to 500F first.

pain a l'ancienne

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