As a change from my usual sourdough loaf, or rather, as an expansion to my repertoire, I wanted to make baguettes.
I'd put this off because I don't have a couche - the french linen strip that is used to hold baguettes whilst they are proving. Of course you can make your own using a floured linen teatowel...
So last week I cut off a small piece off my sourdough loaf before shaping, rolled it out to a baguette and left it to rise for a few hours in a folded teatowel. Note to self - this is not how you make baguettes!
The result was a pretty dismal failure. Not sure if you want a photo?
Then a few days ago a blog I follow, Them Apples, posted about making French Baguettes! So I quickly made a batch on Friday evening, put it in the fridge, and baked them this afternoon. The mix can stay in the fridge for up to 4 days, so no need to rush into it, though take my word for it, they are so delicious you should make a batch and cook them NOW (well now and tomorrow, as that is the beauty of this recipe!).
If you read the recipe you will see that it takes a couple of days to make this bread, but you don't really do anything but get on with your day while you are waiting.
I made the dough at 5.30 on a Friday evening, had it in the fridge by 6, and baked the baguettes the next day at noon. At 4pm I delivered a couple to friends, to rapturous applause.
(from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day), and with grateful thanks to Richard at Them Apples.
680g strong white flour
454 gms lukewarm water
7g instant yeast (1 sachet)
14g sea salt
Place all ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook on the lowest speed until the ingredients come together into a rough dough. Scrape off the dough hook and mix again on low-medium speed for 2 minutes.
Tip onto a lightly floured bench and work by hand for 1 minute. Here is a video showing how this is done - the fold and slap technique.
Plop this into a lightly oiled bowl (it is going to double overnight so make it a biggish bowl) and cover with plastic wrap. Put in the fridge and leave for up to 4 days.
When you are ready to bake, BE GENTLE.
Tip the dough gently onto a lightly floured bench. Cut it into 4 equal pieces (weigh them - if they are equal then they will all cook at the same time).
Press each piece of the dough out into a thick rectangle GENTLY with your fingertips, then fold the bottom edge up onto the centre and press the seam down lightly. Next, fold down the top edge over that seam, right to the bottom and again seal it with the side of your hand. The overlapped dough should be firm and tight.
Here's a video again, from Theresa at Northwest Sourdough.
Leave the 4 of them to rest like this, as batards, for 10 minutes.
Now roll them each gently so they are a bit longer and a bit slimmer. Place on a floured sheet of baking paper on an oven slide, but they should not touch. In fact you can fold the paper up a little between them so that they can't touch. Cover with a floured teatowel and leave for about an hour or so (no longer than 2 hours from out-of-the-fridge to into-the-oven). (I didn't read the instructions properly and laid mine on a floured teatowel, but then I had to pick them up at the end to put them on the baking sheet - bad idea!)
Heat your oven to 250C. If you have a pizza stone, put that in the centre of the oven. Put a shallow pan at the bottom of the oven also. It will take about an hour to heat the pizza stone, so you can turn the oven on when you have put the baguettes onto the baking paper.
When the oven and the stone are hot enough, fill a cup with water. Decide whether you are going to cook all 4 at once, or 2 at a time (which is what I did, as my pizza stone isn't that large).
If cooking 2 at a time, then cut the paper to separate the 4 of them, and slide 2 off the baking sheet and leave them aside to keep resting. Sprinkle the ones that are going to be cooked with a little flour and gently smooth it over the top. Now slash the tops of the ones being baked with 3 diagonal slashes to a depth of about half an inch.
Open the oven, slide the bread off the oven slide and onto the pizza stone (it's OK to slide the paper onto the stone), and pour all the water quickly into the shallow tray on the bottom of the oven, to create a quick burst of steam. It's not a bad idea to quickly spray the loaves themselves with a few squirts from a spray mister. Close the door and reduce the temperature to 230C.
(If you don't have a pizza stone then just cook the bread on the oven slide/cookie sheet.)
Bake for 12 minutes.
Open the oven and rotate the baguettes/trays.
Reduce the heat to 200C and cook for a further 15 mins, though check after 10. If they are golden brown and sound hollow when rapped, they are ready.
If cooking in batches, heat the oven back up to 250 before doing the next batch, following the same procedures as above.
Let the baguettes cool for 45 minutes before eating!!
They are absolutely delicious, with a crispy crust that is not too thick and a lovely light texture.
Do yourself (and your family and friends) a favour and bake some today!