We have a long weekend in the UK this weekend. I'm not Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen, jumping over a bonfire or even drinking one of P.G Wodehouse's May Queen cocktails. I'm mostly having a relaxing time. But I did think it was time for a little culinary challenge.
I've made baguettes before but they've never been quite right. The crumb has been too stodgy or the crust has been too thick. They've been baguette-shaped but without the characteristic thin, crackling, slightly blistered crust and soft, irregular crumb. So I thought I would have another go.
Problem is, getting those bits right seems to be quite tricky. Various bits of advice including using French flour (lower protein, apparently), adding ice or warning not even to attempt it without a commercial steam oven were a bit off-putting. Julia Child's classic recipe was even more so.
Eventually I found this recipe. I've never used King Arthur flour (I don't know that it is available over here) but their recipes have a pretty good reputation, and the method seemed reasonably straightforward.
Of course, when I set out I didn't actually calculate how long the process would take.
Fourteen hours for the pre-ferment (of course, that was the yeast putting the hours in, I slept for ten of them). Three hours for the first rise, with gentle knocking back every hour. Then dividing, resting for fifteen minutes, then shaping, then a second rise for an hour and a half, THEN baking. And then the torment of waiting for it to cool.
No wonder bakers have to get up so early.
I had quite high expectations after all that carry on. I did mess with the recipe just the tiniest bit. After seeing all the stuff about the softer French wheat, I used a mixture of 2/3 strong white flour and 1/3 regular soft plain flour.
|Apparently it's supposed to be seven slashes, but this wasn't as long as a proper one|
The only other change I made was not spritzing the dough with water. Instead, I put a metal pan in the bottom of the oven when I preheated it, and just as I was about to bake I poured some boiling water into it - which of course erupted into clouds of steam.
The results were very, very pleasing. Because baguette has a reputation for going stale very quickly, when I divided the dough into thirds I froze two portions. I know whole cuisines have been founded on the things to do with stale bread but mostly I'd rather eat mine fresh. We'll see if the remaining portions rise as nicely when they are thawed and baked.
While the bread cooled, I cooked a steak and cut a few slivers of onion. Then lunch was served.