Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I have learned a few things about bread. First, while my KitchenAid mixer's dough hook saves a lot of time and elbow grease, it makes for a tougher loaf of bread. Kneading by hand really is best. Secondly, when it comes making a chewy loaf of bread with a crispy crust that crackles when you press it, it's all about the humidity. Commercial steam ovens make this possible for bakery bread, but you can still make some nice bread at home. Thirdly, making great bread takes time. The longer starters and doughs sit, the better they taste. Lastly, making bread is part science, part art. Trial and error and learning to know when a dough is perfect comes with time. I was really happy with the way these baguettes came out--tender and chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. They really aren't that hard to make; they just take a little time.

- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp lukewarm water

1. Sift flours and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk yeast into water in a large bowl, then whisk in half of the flour mixture to make a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 3 hours. (It is easiest to do this part of the bread before you go to bed the day before you will be baking the bread. Just cover and leave on the counter over night.)
2. Add the rest of the flour to the batter and bring together into a rough dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Dough should be slightly tacky, but not sticky. Put in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat dough in oil. Cover and let rise for an hour, or until just about doubled in bulk.
3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide in two. Shape into balls.
4. Flatten each ball into a small rectangle. Fold bottom third up, then top third down. Seal edges, and flatten again into a bigger rectangle. Fold as before, and seal edges. Repeat until loaf is about 14 inches long. Make sure seam and edges are well sealed.
5. Place each loaf on a large baking sheet between the pleats of a floured towel and let rise for an hour. (See here if you have no idea what I am talking about. Or, better yet, watch this video with Julia Childs.)
6. Heat convection oven to 450 degrees (475 for non-convection). Five minutes before baking the bread, place a 9 x 13 pan of boiling water on the bottom rack of the oven (be careful of escaping steam when you open the oven door to bake the bread). Gently roll loaves onto a baking sheet and slash top of loaves with a sharp knife (make long and deep slashes--about 1/3 of the way through the loaf). Bake for 10-12 minutes (12-15 for non convection), until loaves are golden and sound hollow when you knock on the bottom.

I made up this split pea soup from Fat Free Kitchen for dinner tonight to go with the bread. Awesome!