Thursday, March 9, 2017

Du pain - more about French Baguettes

The thing with making bread is that it's not all that hard, especially with a good mixer, it just takes all day. 

A few weeks ago, I posted about my ongoing saga of my attempts to get French bread right.

The saga is ongoing.

Basic recipe: 
20 fl. oz water (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 tsp salt
6 cups flour
4 tsp bread yeast
a splash of oil. Maybe a Tablespoon or so (after it's all mixed, just to coat the outside so it doesn't dry out while rising)

Yesterday, I used 5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 of cake flour and with a few other tweaks, got the closest I've come. Next time, I'll use a bit more cake flour. Remember, we're trying to not use a lot of gluten. Bread flour has more gluten. Don't use it. I'm going to experiment some more with whole wheat flour, but when I tried before, the bread didn't rise well.

I use a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook. Fancy.

Put water and salt in mixing bowl.
Plop all the flour on top.
Mix on low until the flour is pretty much all wet (NOT LONG)
Cover and let sit for a while. I don't know why, but the French website I got the recipe from said to and it might make a difference. Maybe.
Meanwhile, put the yeast and I dunno, maybe 1/8 cup water, plus a little blob of the dough in a bowl or something (I used the measuring cup) and let it get wet and get started.

Half an hour later:
Scrape the yeasty, viscous, bubbly liquid out of the cup and dribble it all over the dough in the mixing bowl.
Mix until everything comes together in a big ball o' dough. (I dunno. A minute or two). If it's super sticky, add a bit more flour. If it's just averagely sticky, don't. (Yes, this is the part that's going to be left up to your own judgment). Added water or flour at this point is really hard to mix in without going for full-on kneading either by hand or in the machine. Since we're not kneading this dough, be judicious with adding stuff.

Pour your splash of oil down the side of the pan and turn on the mixer for a couple of seconds, then scrape the dough off the hook and sort of roll it around in the oil so it's oily all over. Or if you're mixing by hand because you're a historical re-enactor or you haven't discovered the joy of KitchenAid, put some oil in the bowl and flop it around.

Cover and let rise for a good, long while. Mine sat in the cold oven for over 4 hours yesterday. It hadn't risen enough after 2.5 hours and then the school run happened.

A few hours later:
Cut the dough into 4 fairly even pieces. Roll out on a floured surface like a kid making a PlayDoh snake. Or dangle and tug and roll between your hands like a... um, I'm not going to finish that thought. Anyway, you're making long, skinny baguettes, so make them as long or longer than your bread pans, because when you let go, they're going to shrink a bit. Let's not finish that thought either, shall we?

I have the fancy pans that look like 4 parallel gutters with holes (completely useless as gutters). So lay your 4 floppy phallic loaves in the pans and -- oh shoot, I wasn't thinking the "phallic" thing through -- use an extremely sharp knife to cut 4 or 5 evenly spaced slashes on the tops. Make the cuts deep, like 1/4 to 1/3 of the depth of the loaf.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. The only second rising time this bread gets is the time for the oven to preheat, then it goes POOF in the oven.

I had been using a large jellyroll pan with water on the bottom rack, but wasn't very happy with how the bottoms of the bread weren't getting very brown. So yesterday, I used 2 bread loaf pans with water and placed them near the sides. They're aluminum pans and so don't heat as hot as the steel pan I used before, so there was less steam. Still working on this part.

Anyway, when the oven is hot, put the gutter pans on the middle rack and set the timer for 35 minutes, then warn your teenager middle child that since you'll be off taking your oldest kid to karate that he'd better listen for the timer and take the bread out. Maybe you could set an alarm on your iPod, hmmm?

Come home to a house that smells divine and to half your dinner ready and cooling. Good job, middle child!

My family is now officially spoiled (and my husband not supposed to be eating as much wheat, since it has a fairly high level of oxalates, which is one ingredient in kidney stones), as they only ate two of the loaves for dinner. 

I still didn't get the huge bubbles I really want, but the crust was pretty near perfect. I'm going to think about doing an egg wash on top to get it shinier and browner.

Needs bigger bubbles, but witness the cracking on the side, even with the deep cuts in the top.

As I said at the top, it's not hard, it just takes all day.

So go read some books about France.

They do eat bread in the Chateaux and Shadows series. I don't think they had long, skinny bread yet, then, but it's not clear from the small amount of research I've done. My next experiment will have to be with the big round loaves, les boules.

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