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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Homemade Baguette - not gluten free

A baguette is an incredibly easy yeast bread to make with no complicated ingredients.

The first bread I made was "white bread" and that had a fairly long list of ingredients. This is much simpler. This is the bread that Daisy made to go in her pineapple bread pudding for youth fair.

Daisy used my beloved Kitchen Aid stand mixer with its dough hook, but you can do it by hand. I actually enjoy kneading bread when I have the time.

The recipe calls for a "packet" of yeast. I buy the jars of yeast and store it in the freezer, it keeps a long time that way. As long as you "proof" the yeast, you will know if it is still good or not.

So the first step is to proof the yeast.

Pour up 1 1/2 cups of warm (105 - 115 F) water into the mixing bowl and add the packet of yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar. In about 5 minutes, the yeast/water should be foamy or at least have bubbles. If it doesn't, your yeast is too old and you need to get fresh yeast.

Blend in 2 cups of all-purpose flour until it is combined with the water.

Add in another 2 cups of flour and 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Blend well. When all the flour is off the sides of the bowl, stop the mixer and feel the dough. If it is sticky then you need more flour. Add up to another half cup, slowly.

Then let the mixer kneed the dough for a few minutes. If you walk off and leave it for a long, long time you could over kneed it. But I get bored before it gets anywhere close to being over kneeded.

Here is what you are doing, when you look at bread you see lots of holes. Those holes are from gas that the yeast let off. But you have to have something to hold the air bubbles in, or they would just float right out. That is where the gluten comes in.

Gluten acts like bubble gum for the air bubbles. Just like bubble gum, it needs a bit of work before it is ready to hold a bubble. With gum you chew it for a bit, with bread you kneed it for a bit.

Ok, so the bread has been kneeding for a few minutes (about 8 if you are doing it by hand). You transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, flip it over so the dough is coated in oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp (clean) dishtowel. Let it rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Turn your oven on to 475-500 F and then "punch down" the dough. You do this by folding and refolding the dough to break up the air bubbles. Shape the loaf into a baguette shape about 21 inches long and 3 inches wide - or you can make it shorter and wider - or make individual mini loaves - whatever you want.

Put loaf diagonally on a large or 17 x 14-inch baking sheet and let rise, uncovered, about 30 minutes. You can grease the baking sheet, but I don't really bother.

After you let it rise cut diagonal shallow slashes with a sharp knife or razor and brush top with cool water.

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes or until the bread is golden brown. You can also tap the bread and it will sound hollow when done.

Let it cool some before cutting.

For a chewy interior and perfect, crusty exterior, place a oven-safe dish filled with water in oven as it preheats for about an hour. The humidity will ensure the texture comes out right.

So to recap:

Homemade French Baguette

1 (1/4 ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups water (105 -115 F)
4-4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt

In a large bowl sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
With a wooden spoon stir in 2 cups flour until combined.
Stir in salt and 2 cups of remaining flour until mixture forms a stiff dough.
On a lightly floured surface knead dough with lightly floured hands 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic, kneading in enough of remaining 1/2 cup flour to keep dough from sticking.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled deep bowl, turning to coat with oil, and let rise, bowl covered with plastic wrap, until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 475-500°F (My oven does best with 475°, but it runs hot).
Punch down dough and form into a long slender loaf about 21 inches long and 3 inches wide.
You can also form individual mini-loaves.
Put loaf diagonally on a lightly greased large or 17 x 14-inch baking sheet and let rise, uncovered, about 30 minutes.
(Baguette may be made up to this point 4 hours ahead and chilled.) Make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes on loaf with a razor and lightly brush top with cool water.
Bake loaf in middle of oven 30 minutes, or until golden and sounds hollow when tapped, and transfer to a rack to cool.

Notes: For a chewy interior and perfect, crusty exterior, place a dutch oven filled with water in oven as it preheats for about an hour.
The humid enviroment will ensure the texture comes out right.
Baking stones don't hurt either.
If you don't want to put water into the oven, you can use a spray mister to keep the enviroment moist as it cooks.

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