Isn't is amazing how 4 simple ingredients, when combined, produce one of life's greatest pleasures? What would that be, you ask? Mais bien sûr, it is the Baguette ordinaire or the Baguette parisienne!
Flour, water, salt and yeast. That's all. That's the law. The shortening is to rub on the baking pans I use. It's not part of the bread itself.
In a heavy duty stand mixer with the paddle, or flat beater, stir the salt, warm water and yeast together until combined then add 3 cups of the flour. Try to stay within the range of 105° to 120° with your warm water; get it too hot (like 130° to 140°) and it will kill the yeast. You will be committing murder of a living organism.
Cup by cup, add 3 more cups of the flour and keep incorporating it. You will have a big gloppy mess but that's OK. You'll take care of that in the next step. One thing to watch, especially if you have a KitchenAid, is to avoid letting the dough ride up the paddle/flat beater all the way to the beater shaft. It's a mess to clean up. Please don't ask me how I know this to be true.
Throw some flour on your work space, throw the dough down and sprinkle some flour on top of the dough as well as your hands. Begin to knead and work in the flour. You will probably work in another full cup of flour.
To knead the dough, push the dough out front, away from you with the heel of your hands, fingers spread out (like you're 'high-fiving' someone). Slip your right hand under the far right edge of the dough and fold it back on itself to the left.
At the same time you are folding turn the dough a quarter turn to the left. Begin kneading again pushing away from you then folding the right side over the left while turning. Keep doing this and sprinkle flour whenever the dough becomes sticky and dough sticks to your hands.
Eventually you will have a smooth, pliable mound of dough that is silky. This may take ten minutes. To break up your push-fold-turn routine of kneading, pick up the ball of dough and throw it hard against the work surface. Then start kneading again. Believe me, the dough loves this and you can get rid of all sorts of frustrations by doing this. This is one reason I love making bread and kneading by hand; it's therapeutic.
Another reason is that I like to be able to tell by touch that the dough is ready. One way to judge is to press the palm of your hand on top of the dough. If dough doesn't stick to the surface of your palm, it's good to go. There is nothing wrong with kneading in your mixer using the dough hook. I do this when I'm not in the mood to knead and allowing your dough hook to do all the work produces a fine product too.
Rub some Crisco around the inside of a large bowl. Roll the ball of dough around to lightly coat all sides. Cover with a damp tea towel and set in a warm (ideally, 85° to 90°F) draft-free area and let the dough double in size. The 1st rising time will be around 2 hours. Since Lovey and I like to keep the house fairly cool during the winter, I put my bowl in the oven (no heat turned on). Don't worry if you don't have a warm place to let the dough rise; it will just take longer to double.
While the dough is rising, grease your pans if necessary. My pans are dimpled and the manufacturer instructions suggested they be greased. I use Crisco shortening. Get your fingers in there and rub it lightly over the interior of your pans.
When the dough has doubled punch it down right in the bowl.
Fold it over a couple of times.
Dump the mound of dough out onto a work surface to begin the shaping process; don't use any more flour from this point. With a knife or a pastry scraper divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, because this recipe will make 4 baguettes. I know, the math is quite advanced. Please stay with me.
Mine weighed out to around 12.5 ounces each. Allow your pieces of dough to rest for about 5 minutes.
Working with one piece at a time, squeeze it while shaping it into a piece of rope. Lay it down on your work surface and roll it back and forth between your outstretched palms, working the thick spots towards the thinner spots until your whole loaf is more or less uniform in diameter and about one inch shorter than the pan on both ends.
Scoring the bread. This little tool is referred to as a lame (pronounced “lahm.”) It's simply a French word that means “blade.” You don't have to have one of these tools. You can use any razor blade or very sharp knife. Sometimes I use a serrated knife.
My slashes aren't the prettiest today and they could have been angled a little more towards the length of the baguette. Oh well, who cares? Just don't slash them directly across the width of the baguette.
These are the loaves after they have risen in their pan. Be sure to let them rise enough so they fill the pans and the tops are well above the edge of the pan.
Allow the loaves to cool with air circulating around them.
The more holes in the texture, or crumb, of your bread the better. I'm sure it's recorded in the annals of French law that upon removal from the oven, you immediately tear off a piece of your hot bread and slather it with sweet cream butter. All those holes in your crumb are made to be filled up with butter.
A fresh baguette can go stale within 2 to 3 hours so you will want to freeze what you don't eat. I halve the leftover loaves because they fit in my freezer easier this way. Wrap securely in foil and freeze. When you are ready to eat the frozen loaves, heat the wrapped loaves in a 350°F oven for 15-20 minutes or when the bread is soft when you squeeze it. Unwrap it when you take it out of the oven so it can cool similarly to how you cooled the loaves when you first baked them.
You can also give a loaf or two to a neighbor. You will be their new best friend.
Produces 4 loaves around 22" long
1 Tbsp salt
2-1/2 cups warm water (100° - 120°)
1 - .25 oz. packet (or approx. 2-1/2 tsp) instant yeast
7 cups all purpose flour, divided
In a heavy duty stand mixer with the paddle, or flat beater, mix the salt, warm water and yeast. Try to stay within the range of 105° to 120° with your warm water; get it too hot (like 130° to 140°) and it will kill the yeast. Stir until combined then add 3 cups of the flour.
Cup by cup add around 3 cups more flour. By now your dough should be a big sticky glob; but that's the way you want it.
Measure out 1 cup of flour into a pile to the side of your work space. Sprinkle some flour in the area you will be kneading the dough and turn the dough out onto the work surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top fo the dough and on your hands.
Knead your dough, adding flour as you go. You will probably use the cup of mounded flour you measured on the side. As you knead (could be as long as 10 minutes) the dough will start to feel more like dough than a sticky blob. Then it will take on a different feel; more elastic.
Rub some shortening or vegetable oil around the inside of a large mixing bowl. Roll the dough around 2 or 3 times to coat with the shortening. This will keep the surface of the dough from crusting over. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel (squeezed out very well) and place in a warm, non-drafty place to rise.
While the dough is rising, lightly grease your pans with shortening. I use Crisco.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch down several times then turn out on the work surface (no more flour from this point). Knead a couple of times then divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (weighing is a good idea). Form in rounds and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
To loave, work with one piece of dough at a time and work it with your hands until it's shaped like a piece of rope. Lay it down on your work surface and with outstretched palms roll the dough back and forth working the thick spots into the thinner until you have a somewhat uniform shape in diameter and that is one inch shorter than the pan on each end. Lay it in the greased pan. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.
A note here on handling the dough. Don't be timid about manhandling the dough. The rougher you are with it the more tender your bread will be.
Take a lame, very sharp knife or a razor blade and make 4 to 5 slashes on each loaf. Your slashes should be long and diagonal and 1/8 to 3/8 inches deep.
Set the pans back in the warm place for the loaves' final rising. All the loaves to rise until they fill the pans and the center stands well above the edge.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 350°F. and continue baking for another 30 minutes.
Remove the loaves from the oven and pop them out of the pans. Lay the loaves across the pans or on a cooling rack and allow them to cool with air circulating around them.
Bread not eaten will go stale in 2 to 3 hours. Wrap the loaves tightly in aluminum foil and freeze. To refresh, heat up the wrapped loaves in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, or until they are soft to oyour squeeze. Unwrap and let it cool with good circulation.