Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I don't bake much.  I'm a cook, not a baker.  I make pizza regularly, and the usual pies and whatnot, but there is one thing I'm pretty good at -- baguettes.  These aren't like the baguettes I got used to in New Orleans (they're denser), so you can call them something else if you like, but they're very good.

The trick is to make the dough days in advance of baking.  That's very important.  The flavor develops and is at its best the third, fourth, and fifth days after mixing the dough.  So I make enough dough for several baguettes, and then take out as much as I need for a baguette that night, and let the rest keep aging.  Nothing else - not how long you let the dough rise after you take it out of the fridge before baking, not how much it's kneaded - makes as much of a difference as letting it age in the fridge for a few days.

This is the bread I use for poboys, for garlic bread, etc., my go-to homemade bread.


The night before, mix:

1/2 cup water

1 cup flour

pinch of yeast

and let them sit on the counter overnight.

I use the bread machine to do my kneading, so then add that starter to the bread machine with:

1 cup water

3 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

teaspoon yeast

You can add a tablespoon of Tabasco sauce for a spicy baguette (something I picked up from the McIlhennys), or a very little cornmeal or semolina for a more rustic texture, or even fold in chopped salami, olives, and cheese.  And put it all on the dough cycle, which kneads it.  Or if you don't use a bread machine, knead all that by hand.

Drop a little oil in a mixing bowl, drop the dough in it, flip the dough over, cover with a wet (not merely damp, unless you live in a very humid climate) kitchen towel.  Put it in the fridge.  Wait a few days.

When you're ready to bake a baguette:

Preheat the oven to 450.

Remove some dough and shape it into a baguette, on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal or semolina.  Let it come to room temp and rise.  Dust top of baguette with cornmeal or semolina too, if you like.

Spritz liberally with water, to the extent that water is pooling up on the pan - this helps form a crust.

Bake for half an hour.  Let cool and listen to the bread "sing" as the crust forms.

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