Baguettes

Baguettes will always hold a special place in my heart as the perfect side to pasta dishes, or even salads. I grew up eating them just plain with butter, as well as with all kinds of cheese on top. Sometimes I even toast thin slices to put jam on for breakfast.

Today I made these baguettes for a family (and friend) dinner, since I’m only home from school for one week out of four months. So to go along with the lasagna I made, I thought I would give making baguettes another try. For those of you who read my skolebrød recipe, this is another recipe that has been based on the book I got from a Norwegian bakery while in Oslo. So, again, I had to translate it from Norwegian and the recipe gives measurements in grams and milliliters, but I will also throw in a rough translation to cups/teaspoons.

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I find it interesting that the recipes in this book don’t ever seem to begin by mixing warm water, sugar, and yeast. Instead, they just throw everything together while kneading and wait twice as long for it to rise. Hopefully after trying it a few different ways and doing some research, I can find out if the warm water-sugar-yeast trick is a result of people being impatient, or if it more often yields better results.

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On a similar note, I sometimes run into a little trouble (especially with it being winter here) with getting the dough to rise. When that happens, I turn the oven on as low as about 100°F, and put the bowl of dough on the middle rack with a shallow tray of water underneath. This way the heat and moisture really help it rise. Of course, you should try to let it rise on its own in a warm room over the hour first, but if it’s not working then this should do the trick. And just in case you need me to tell you- certainly don’t leave it in the oven for an entire hour! Just let it rise until doubled. If you’re using this method, it shouldn’t take that long.

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When I first started out making things with dough, I was never really able to see any results with the rising. Especially the kind that happens after the initial hour or so of rising to double it. This time around, you can see in the above picture what the hour of rising left me with. This one really paid off! Similarly, today I even got good results with the rising that you have to do once the dough is divided into four. Take a look:

IMG_3793Here is the dough I divided into four pieces. Then, I covered it with a tea towel and left it for a half hour. I didn’t expect to notice much of a result. But I got this:

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It may be a little hard to tell from the picture, but they definitely filled out some more. At the very least take my word for it, it came out well! Using warm water and doing the initial rise in a warm place is really key. I really love really puffy dough, it’s so fun to work with- not that I play with my food…

In the recipe, it describes how to fold the dough to roll the baguette into shape. Here are the steps with pictures for those of you who may need an extra hand.
Start by pressing the dough out into a rectangle:img_3796.jpg

Then fold the farthest third of the dough horizontally into the center:img_3797.jpg

And then the closest third also gets folded into the center:img_3798.jpg

Press down on the overlap, and push out to the sides while doing so to lengthen the baguette, and repeat the process to get to the desired length:img_3799.jpg

When you’ve reached the length you want, pinch the seam closed and roll the bread a bit to shape it. (In this photo, the seam is now on the bottom)img_3800.jpg

Another important step is scoring the bread. The first time I made baguettes, I didn’t score them and the sides broke open to allow for the rising. It didn’t change the taste, but if you want a well shaped and presentable baguette, scoring isn’t avoidable. Since I am very much the typical ever-traveling college girl, it’s not practical for me to own a lame yet. So I actually used an X-Acto knife from my family’s office- which I very, very thoroughly cleaned first- instead. Sometimes you have to make do! It worked just fine because it’s so sharp, but a thinner blade would have given a nicer cut. Looking back, I should have made sure to cut at a shallower angle with a quicker and surer hand. The technique is elaborated upon some more in the recipe, but you should essentially get something that looks like this:

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(I definitely do not claim to be a master here, this is just for guidance)

One more note on the recipe:
Today I jumped right into making these without really intending to beforehand. So I didn’t have the rye flour for dusting that the recipe includes. If it’s not something you have on hand, but you’d really love to bake some baguettes, don’t sweat it! Go right ahead.

With all that in mind, let’s finally get started!

Baguettes:
(Makes 4 baguettes)

Baking temperature: 230°C   (445°F)
Bake time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 750 g flour (6 1/2 cups) plus extra as needed
  • 600 mL water, warm (2 1/2 cups)
  • 25 g yeast (3 1/2 packets, unfortunately- you can scale the recipe if you don’t want to just use a half packet)
  • 15 g salt (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • Fine rye flour for dusting the bread
  • Yellow cornmeal for dusting the pan

Method

  1. Mix all the flour with 500 mL (just over 2 cups) of water, and stir together in a large bowl until everything is fully combined. Once no dry flour remains unmixed, add in the yeast and salt. If you’re using a mixer, knead the dough on a low setting for about 5 minutes. Alternatively, knead by hand on a floured surface. Then slowly mix in the rest of the warm (not hot) water while kneading continuously for 5-10 minutes. Learn to recognize when the dough is ready: it should have a smooth surface, and you should be able to stretch out a dough window with your fingers. (If you’re not sure what I’m saying, do a search for the “Windowpane Test.”)
  2. Lightly grease another large bowl with a small amount of oil, and place the dough inside. Cover with a dish towel and let it rise in a warm room for 45 minutes to an hour until doubled.
  3. Punch down the dough and divide it into four even balls, about 300 g each. Let them rest under the towel in a warm and draft-free space for half hour.
  4. Sprinkle a thin layer of flour on your baking bench and put a dough ball in front of you. Press it gently into a flat rectangle, and fold the farthest 1/3 of the dough toward you to the center. Then fold an equivalent amount away from you to the center. Press both folds gently together, lightly pushing out lengthwise at the same time to make your new rectangle a bit wider. Repeat as many times as necessary. This process rolls the dough out gently to the desired thickness and length, which in a typical home oven will be a maximum of 38-40 centimeters, or around a foot and a quarter. For help understanding this process, see the pictures and steps described in this post before the beginning of the recipe.
  5. Sprinkle some yellow cornmeal onto a baking tray and place the pre-shaped baguettes on with the seam down. Dust with fine rye flour, and let them rise for 15 minutes under a tea towel. Preheat the oven to 445°F.
  6. Now you need to score the baguette. If you don’t have a lame, use the sharpest clean blade you have. A curved blade is preferable. Hold the blade at a 30 degree angle to the surface of the dough, and make at least three long diagonal cuts that “overlap” along the length of the bread. These cuts should be 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  7. Bake the baguettes on the lowest rack of the oven for 20 minutes or until they appear golden brown. Immediately take them off of the tray and place them on a wire rack to cool.

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Enjoy! Let me know what you think, or if you make them, in the comments.

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