Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Classic French Bread - A Baguette (kind of...)


OMG!! I'm sitting here at the keyboard chewing on a baguette (or as close as I've ever gotten) stuffed with really spicy salami and slathered with hot Dijon mustard. The bread doesn't really get bitten off but more like torn. It's that chewy. I'll try not to get saliva on the keyboard. It's that good. Really.

This is not one of your usual breads that take 3-4 hours start to finish. This bread is a two-step process using a starter, called pate fermentee (literally fermented dough, in French). Don't despair. It really is not ac complicated as it sounds. Just remember that one of the tools we have at our disposal to bring out even more flavor from the dough is time. By increasing the time it takes to proof the dough we can bring out lots and lots of flavors trapped in the flour even when we have the simplest ingredients. This dough, for instance has no sugar at all. No oil (except in the oiled bowl used for proofing). No nuts or seeds. Nada.

I have been reading a lot lately about 'starters' used to enhance flavor in bread dough. Essentially there are three main types called poolish, biga and pate fermentee, used here. It is actually dough that is nade up the night before and allowed to ferment slowly (in the refrigerator) overnight. After that the recipe is fairly easy.

Here's what you'll need for the starter:
1 1/8 cups (5oz or 150g) AP flour
1 1/8 cups (5oz or 150g) bread flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp yeast
3/4 cup warm water


1. Mix the flours, yeast and salt together then add the water. Mix to form a 'shaggy' dough.
2. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth.
3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let is rise, covered, until doubled in bulk.
4. Gently de-gas the dough. Then form it into a ball and place it back in the bowl, covered.
5. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.


The next day...
Here's what you'll need for the bread:
3 cups of the starter (all of it actually)
1 1/4 cups AP flour
1 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp yeast
3/4 cups warm water


By now you've noticed its the same recipe except the dough from yesterday has fermented overnight.
1. Remove the pate fermentee from the refrigerator, cut it into about 10 equal-sized pieces and leave it, covered to come to room temperature.
2. Mix together the flours, yeast, salt and pate fermentee with the water until it is evenly distributed and a nice soft, pliable smooth dough is formed. Knead it for a few minutes to achieve this.
3. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl and let this mixed dough ferment at room temperature, covered for 2 hours.
4. Gently remove the dough from the bowl to a lightly floured surface being careful to de-gas the dough as little as possible.
5. Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces then, gently roll the dough to the desired length and thickness. 




6. Place each piece on a floured baking peel or a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover and let it rise, at room temperature until about 1 1/2 times in size.
7. In the meantime, about 30 minutes before baking time, pre-heat the oven for hearth baking, to 500 F (230 C) or as close as you can get in a home oven. Place an empty loaf pan in the oven for steam.
8. When the oven reaches the temperature (it will be more stable if you have a baking stone), quickly open the oven door and pour about a cup of boiling water into the loaf pan and close the door. After about 1 minute, use a spray bottle to spray the sides of the oven with water and close the door quickly. Be careful not to spray the glass!!. Do this twice more a minute apart so that steam builds up in the oven. 
9. Only after this place the dough in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 F (220 C). After 10 minutes turn the bread 180 degrees to ensure even baking and bake another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. 


10. Cool on a rack waiting at least 40 minutes before slicing open to eat. (If you can manage to wait that long). The crust will be chewy and the crumb will be soft with nice sized holes. And the flavor... the tang is incredible!


This is a little intensive but believe me, well worth the effort!

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