Karina, a friend from culinary school, used to work at a boulangerie here in Paris. I was telling her how awesome it was for me to be able to walk down the street while I'm here and get a delicious baguette. In the East Bay in California there is only one place, the Model Bakery in St. Helena and Napa (and this is actually the North Bay), that makes great bread like the French. After hearing my complaints about the state of bread in my area, Karina asked, "Why don't you make your own baguettes?" She said this in the same way someone would ask, "Why don't you open the door?" Like it was that easy. Working in a pastry kitchen, I got plenty of comments from the savory side of the kitchen about how "scientific" pastry making is. I always replied that it's bread baking that's truly scientific, and one might need to be pretty close to a rocket scientist to make some good bread. "Suuuuure, Karina, I'll get right on that." She insisted that it was really easy, just flour, water, yeast and salt, no problem. Really? Even in a home kitchen? She assured me we could do it, and even got me to believe.
We made plans to have a bread baking day, and I had visions of making baguettes the likes of Eric Kayser or Quartier du Pain, two of my favorite bread bakers here. I fantasized about baking bread that was so good, when I got back to the states, I would have a line at my front door with people begging me to sell them a baguette....at any price.
Today, was the day. I woke up ecstatic and eager to start making bread. I think I was more excited today than the day I left for this six month journey I'm now on. What can I say, I'm a pastry geek. (I've been known to spend a Friday night or two with my fellow pastry kitchen geeks workers going gaw gaw over "PH10"--Pierre Herme's cookbook covering 10 years of his career--or other renowned Pastry chefs' books. Seeing how our recipes and methods compared to theirs. Yes, I'm a pastry geek. ) And, I couldn't wait to get started making bread and possibly becoming a bread baking geek, too.
(Karina separating and weighing the dough to make the individual baguettes)
Yes, there are few ingredients, but the technique, ratios, and temperatures must be perfect and exact to get a good baguette. We made the baguettes a little less than half the size of a baguette you'd purchase at the boulangerie. We made them smaller so they would fit into Karina's oven. It was fairly easy. Although they were far from the best baguettes in Paris. It's a start, and you can be assured I'll be in the kitchen when I get back exacting this recipe and method. As you can see from the pictures, I can use some practice in forming them. Before they go in the oven, they should all be exactly the same size and shape. We stopped the proofing (letting the dough rise) at 21 degrees celsius/ 69.8 degrees F), and should have waited until the temperature of the dough was 24 celsius/ 75.2 degrees F (yes, we took the temperature of the dough).
(The baguettes scored and ready for the oven)
(Her cat, Pushkin, is also waiting patiently for the bread to bake.)
The bread was pretty good but was a little denser than I would have liked. I had one of the loaves for dinner along with some cheese.
I've added the recipe below for those who want to try it and/or want to join the bread baking geeks club. The recipe is in metric weight. I'm leaving it that way because if I change it based on a computer translation, I'm afraid the rounding into ounces will alter the recipe. If you try the recipe, please let me know how it comes out.
from Karina's Kitchen
Makes 6 regular sized baguettes or 12 "short" ones
For the starter
439 grams bread flour
439 grams water
2.2 grams fresh yeast
For the dough
936 grams bread flour
458 grams cold water (2 degrees celsius/ 35.6 degrees F)
12 grams yeast
25 grams salt
Make the starter by mixing the flour, water, and yeast together. Refrigerate covered for 18 hours.
To make the dough, crumble the yeast into the flour and add the starter. Mix together a little, then slowly add the water. The humidity in the air will affect the amount of water you will need. It was fairly arid when we made the bread today. You should use enough water so that you can bring the dough together and it is slightly sticky. Mix together until a dough is formed, then add the salt and begin kneading until all the ingredients are well combined. You may need to lightly flour the work surface while you are kneading the dough. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.
Begin kneading the dough again until the dough becomes elastic (when you stretch it, it stretches without breaking), about 15 minutes by hand. Cut the dough in half and place each round of dough in a lightly floured bowl. Lightly flour the top of each ball of dough and let rise for one hour.
After one hour, place the dough onto your work surface and tap down the dough with the heel of your hand. Fold it into an envelope. First by folding into thirds like a letter then folding the sides in. Put back into the lightly floured bowls and let rise about another hour until the dough's internal temperature reaches 24 degrees celsius/ 75.2 degrees F.
Roll the dough onto the work surface and tap it down. Cut the dough into six pieces, each weighing 380 grams. (If you are making 12 small baguettes, you should have 12 pieces, each weighing 190 grams.)
Form the dough by tapping it into a semi-rectangle, folding it over, and tapping it together to seal the crease. Repeat this two more times, then roll it into a log of approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Press down on the ends to form points at each end and place on a baking sheet (a bread baking sheet would be preferred). Once all the baguettes are formed, score each baguette with a razor blade. Each score should be about 1/4 inch deep and be at an angle.
Place in the oven and spray with water (this helps develop a crunchy crust). Bake at 450F for 15 to 20 minutes. The baguettes should be a deep golden color and when you tap the bottom, they should sound hollow.