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French Bread (Baguette)
Note: This recipe calls for using the steam generator and oven insert available at www.steambreadmaker.com. Injecting steam at the start of baking provides a professional quality thin crispy crust to your bread. The recipe will make delicious French bread with or without the steam generator and oven insert.
This recipe is given both in terms of ingredient weight and volume. Weight will give you a more precise measurement of ingredients, and inexpensive digital scales are available from a variety of home kitchen supply stores and catalogs.
I suggest the use of a starter to add a level of complexity to the bread’s flavor. The easiest starter is a Poolish made as follows:
Unbleached, unbrominated flour – 100 grams (3/4 cup)
Water at room temperature – 100 grams (3 ½ ounces)
Pinch of yeast, either active dry or cake.
Mix all ingredients with a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap in a non-reactive bowl. Leave at room temperature for at least 24 hours. I have left a polish at room temperature for up to 48 hours.
- Water at 80-90 degrees - 225 grams (1 cup)
- Unbleached, unbrominated flour - 400 grams (3 cups)
- Poolish from above. If you are not using a starter, add the weight of ingredients from the starter to insure the correct proportions of water to flour.
- Yeast – one package of active dry, or 4 grams of cake (4 grams of cake yeast is about ¼ inch sliced off the 1 inch square cake available at my local supermarket - look in the refrigerated section).
- Salt – 10 grams (3 level teaspoons)
- 1) Mix water and flour and poolish, let stand for ten minutes. For this step, you do not want to begin kneading the dough. Just mix until the water is fully absorbed into the flour.
- 2) Add the yeast and knead by hand for 15 minutes or by machine for 10 minutes. You can tell when the bread is sufficiently kneaded by employing a test called windowpane. Stretch a section of the dough until it forms a very thin sheet that is translucent. The dough is done when you can stretch a thin translucent “windowpane” without the dough breaking. The dough should be wet. If the dough is too dry, add a little water.
- 3) Add the salt and knead for an additional 2 minutes or so to disperse the salt through the dough.
- 4) Place the dough in an oiled non-reactive bowl cover with plastic. Lift one corner of the plastic and mist the dough with water.
- 5) Let the dough rise until it has approximately doubled in size. Fold the dough over four times by turning the bowl ninety degrees and pulling the edge of the dough furthest way from you over the top of the rest of the dough. After the fourth fold, lift the entire ball of dough and turn it over in the bowl. Cover and mist again and let rise another hour or so. I have experimented a fair amount with rising time. The amount of time required for the bread to double in size will depend on the temperature of the room and the dough, and on the condition of the yeast you use. Also, if you like an airy loaf, you will want to allow for longer rise and proofing time.
See Step 5 Above
See Step 7 Below
- 6) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Add as little flour as possible to the dough at this stage. Divide dough into three or four equal parts. If you have the full size bread baker, you can bake three loaves at the same time. If you have the 2/3 size baker, and will need to bake in two batches, 2 loaves each batch.
- 7) Form dough into crude loaves by flattening dough into a square pancake about 4-5 inches on a side. Fold the third of the dough furthest away from you over onto the middle third and press the edge into the underlying layer of dough. Repeat by folding the double layer section over the third of the dough closest to you, pressing the edges together again. See series of photos. Press each layer lightly into the underlying layer. Do not knead the dough at this stage, as we want to keep as much air as possible in the dough.
See Step 7 Above
- 8) At this stage, we want to form the loaves into their final elongated shape. The loaves should end up about 16-17 inches long, if you are using the full size baker (www.steambreadmaker.com), 10-11 inches long if you are using the 2/3 size baker. The way we shape the loaves is form a crease along the center of the bread in the long directions. Fold the dough over the crease and press at the edge to seal. Repeat it over the entire loaf a second time. To form the loaves to their final length and shape, roll the loaves gently under both palms for final shaping.
See Step 8 Above
- 9) Place the loaves on parchment paper square.
- 10) Cover the loaves loosely with plastic wrap. Mist the plastic wrap with water to keep the loaves moist as well as to prevent the plastic from sticking to the loaves. Let proof for about an hour. We suggest that you preheat the oven to 425-450 degrees from the time you start this final proofing. This will insure the baking stone is at oven temperature when you load the loaves.
- 11) When it is time to bake the loaves, remove the plastic wrap and score the loaves with a very sharp knife or razor blade. I like three diagonal cuts along the top of the loaves.
- 12) Load and steam loaves according to the procedure at (www.steambreadmaker.com). Injection of steam at the start of baking retards gelatinization of the crust of the bread, resulting in a good spring in the oven and a thin crispy crust. Bake the loaves for 25-30 minutes (including 7-10 minutes in the steam chamber). Half way through the uncovered baking time, turn the baking stone or the parchment paper 180 degrees to insure even baking. If you are not using the steam generator and oven insert, you will probably need to reduce total baking time by a few minutes.
- 13) Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.