Baking & Beer | Baguettes!
Updated: Aug 4
So we are a day off of our normal Friday Baking & Beer edition, but it's been a weird week. With all the snow that hit the East coast, I ended up having to walk to work every day, which caused me to arrive late, thus I stayed late, and therefore I missed important blog deadlines. But no amount of snow or evening meetings in the suburbs of Philadelphia could stop me from baking for you, and, boy, do we have an exciting Beer & Baking to jump into today.
As anyone who has ever done as little as crossed through French air space knows, the thing you miss the most immediately and ferociously about that crazy country shaped like a hexagon is its bread. What is the rest of the world doing wrong that our bread can't be as perfect as France's? It just doesn't make sense - all it is is flour, yeast, water, and salt. You can talk big game about the terroir, but at the end of the day... fllour, yeast, water, and salt! Come on!
I have shared with you all here that I found pastries to adequately satisfy my flakey carb cravings in the hallowed halls of Elixr Coffee. That have done a topnotch job of sourcing the best Vienoisserie in the Philadelphia region. I have not, however, been able to find a baguette that met my expectations, and this has been a constant shroud tainting everything I do here.
What are my expectations, you ask? A proper baguette should have a crispy, crunchy crust and a moist, fluffy middle. When you squeeze the baguette, it should be soft enough on the inside to give under the pressure, but crisp enough on the outside that you hear the sound of a thousand tiny fractures as your squeeze. It should be a mix of brown, yellow, and gold, and the inside should be cream color. That is what makes a perfect baguette, and that is what I have been missing in my life.
Well, as a wise woman once said, "You have your whole life to do something, and that's not very long," so today we are making our own damn baguettes! We are taking matters into our own hands and seeing if we can't make our own dreams come true. Are you ready? You are. You were born ready. Ugh, I love what a badass you are.
Did you know that "baguette" just means "stick?" And the full name of this French staple is, "baguette de pain," which literally translates to "bread stick." Yep, we're making bread sticks. Baguette is also used to mean chop sticks (des baguettes), conductor's baton (baguette de direction), and magic wand (baguette magique). It's amazing how such a flexible word can make me feel such a specific desire.
Ok, let's start. Here is what you need:
2 hours of your day split into 4 consecutive half hour segments
4 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 packet of dry active yeast (2 teaspoons)
Ok, to make this super easy on yourself, you can do the whole recipe in a food processor or a Kichtenaid with the hook attachment. Or you can do this by hand! Totally up to you. You're the boulanger in your house.
1.) Mix the flour, salt, and vinegar together
2.) Great. Now put the yeast in a small bowl and mix it with 1/3 cup warm water. Mix until the yeast is dissolved and let it rest 5 minutes. The yeast is supposed to foam up, but this is as foamy as I have ever gotten the yeast, and I think those are just air bubbles from mixing. Nevertheless, my bread has turne out great, so I'm not too worried.
3.) Ok, now take your yeast mixture and another 1 1/3 cups of warm water and pour into the flour. If you are using your food processor of Kitchenaid, pour the liquid in with the motor running. If you are working with your own bare hands, just mix like the champion you are.
In with the yeast!
In with the water!
Stop mixing when a ball of dough forms and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. This totally looks like a brain in my food processor. Cover the bowl with a cloth or just cover the feed tube of your food processor.
4.) Now we wait. Do something else for half an hour. This is a great opportunity to do some nail art. Put a base coat on right now, then come back to put the design layer on during the next 30 minute proofing period. You could also catch up on your reading for your book club or call your parents. How about write a letter to that friend you haven't seen in a while? You could also go back and read Queer Martha posts you missed.
Anyway, after 30 minutes, your dough should have expanded significantly and look more or less like this:
5.) Pulse your food processor or punch the dough down vigorously a few times to deflate it. I don't know why we do this. It seems cruel. But that is what the bread gods decree, so.
6.) On a work surface, splint the dough into two parts and stretch them into long rectangles (the rectangles should be the size you want the bread to be).
7.) Now pinch the opposite long edges of the bread togtether to form long tubes of dough. The dough should just stick together no problem.
8.) Roll the tubes out a little bit to make the seams fade into the dough. Some bakers make the tips of their baguettes pointy, but I really hate that. I've cut my mouth one too many times on pointy bread tips. I like my baguettes with nice, rounded heels, but I encourage you to follow your heart on this one. Brush oil over both sides of the dough. Olive oil is recommended, but I put truffle oil on one of mine and it was killer. Make sure the bread ends up seam side down.
9.) At this point, start preparing your oven. Put an oven rack in upper third of oven. If you have a gas oven, remove the second rack and put a large roasting pan containing 1 inch of water on bottom. If you have an electric oven, put the second rack as low as it can go and put the roasting pan on that. The water in the roasting pan will create steam in the oven that will give your bread a lovely, crispy crust. Preheat oven to 450°F.
10.) Transfer the dough tubes to a cookie sheet keeping the seam side down. If you have fancy baguette pans, you should definitely use them. This is, after all, what they are for. If you don't have fancy baguette pans, don't worry, we're in this together and it's going to be awesome. I've seen bakers use a "couche" for proofing and baking bread, so I thought I'd pretend to have one of those. I know this is 100% not the same thing, but folding parchement paper in the shape of a couche made me feel really authentic. You can also just put your bread on a flat piece of parchement paper and you will be just fine. Put the cookie sheet with the dough in a warm place (on top of the preheating oven, perhaps) and let sit oncovered for another 30 minutes. Put the second coat on your nails, finish the chapter of the book you were reading, etc.
In 30 minutes, your bread babies should be puffed up again and looking like they are dying to get in the oven. This just got weird and sexual.
11.) Before you pop those guys in the oven, make a series of slashes across the top with a sharp knife.
12.) Put your baguettes in the oven for 30 minutes.
13.) Take your baguettes out of the oven. See the swirls of yellow, brown, and gold. Smell the nutty, bready, glory. Squeeze the loaf and feel it squish, hear it crackle.
Taste how amazing your baguette is! Why wait?
Now that you have engaged all 5 senses, let's talk about what we've just done. I've made this recipe twice now, and both times the baguettes have turned out perfectly. Not just perfectly - better than any baguette I've experienced outside of France. Maybe this is because commercial bakers in the US need to put in preservatives or something, but I don't think I will be buying bread out of the house anymore. Two hours is seriously not that long to make the best bread in the western hemisphere. I am freaking out that this worked so well, and I am happy that you can share in my joy.
Thanks for joining me on this very exciting Beer & Baking adventure. Maybe next week we'll get back on track, but who knows? This is Queer Martha. We do what we want.