Monday, August 22, 2011

The Joie of Baking

I love to bake! I really, really love the smell of fresh from the oven bread. The process of baking bread brings me joy. There are long periods of waiting, short bursts of kneading, patience and care, all leading up to a fantastic reward.

It has been a little while since I have last made bread. First thing this morning, I was in the kitchen creating a starter (dry active yeast, warm water and a very, very light sprinkle of sugar). Today I made French Baguettes from this recipe which according to the recipe poster is from the bestseller, French Women Don't Get Fat. Here is the gist of it (produces four thin loaves).

1. First, gently stir in 1 tsp. of active dry yeast into a half cup of warm water (i also sprinkle in a pinch of sugar to get the yeast really going). Wait about 10 minutes, watching for the yeast to bubble to life. In a large bowl, stir together 4 cups of all-purpose flour and two tsp. of salt. Add in the yeast mixture (should look like a beige slurry). Mix together until smooth and sticky.

2. Knead dough pushing and folding the dough for about 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface. You may end up adding up to a full cup of flour if our dough is too sticky. It should be glutinous but not sticking all over your fingers. Form it into a ball.
Just moments before, this bowl had a magnificent dome.

3. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl (I actually spray a sheet of plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray, placing the dough blob on top of it while I wash and then spray the same bowl I mixed it in). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or damp tea towel and let it rise, doubling in size. I usually put mine outside on the patio for two hours so the heat amplifies the bubbling power of the yeast during the warmer months or leave on the stove in the kitchen for up to three hours in colder times.

4. One your dough has puffed up sufficiently, uncover and punch it down a couple times, releasing some of the air. Line two cookie/baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide your dough ball into four equal parts. Roll each mini dough ball into the familiar baguette shapes. Let them rise again on the baking sheets for about a half hour, on the stove top as you preheat the oven to 450 degrees. They should have doubled in size.
Work in Progress

5. In a small bowl, mix together an egg and 1 Tbsp. of cold water. Score the tops of the loaves diagonally with a sharp time several times, then brush with the egg mixture. Sprinkle your favorite herbs, sesame/flax/sunflower seeds, rock salt, any topping you desire. **I topped one with Herbs de Provence, one with sesame seeds, kept one plain, and the other with a light dusting of rock salt. Place two ramekins filled with water on the baking sheet before placing it on the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Then drop the temperature to 400 degrees, baking another 5-10 minutes. Repeat with second pair of loaves. 

You can wrap, bag and freeze the bread for quite some time, defrosting on the counter top just before you are ready to slice up and enjoy. Soups, salads, dinners, bruschettas, mini sandwiches will resonate with the love you put into it.

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