Back to the baking....I was sooo pleased to have received one of the Great Blogger Bake Off 'Star Baker' badges last week (for my Arlette bake) I decided to square up to the technical bake again and challenge myself with baking baguettes - just how difficult can it be? *Nervous chuckle! I do enjoy making bread, the smell is beautiful, though I'm not always successful.
So, the baguette. The Great British Bake Off episode explained that it should have a crisp crust which is achieved through the use of steam in the oven. It has an open texture, though less so than ciabatta. This is done through having quite a soft loose dough mixture (high water content) and by not knocking the mixture back after its first prove.
From the GBBO Celebrations book, accompanying series 6, I learnt that this dough is handled gently after the first prove and isn't knocked back. The plastic container which the contestants were supplied with helps the dough to form an oblong shape which is then harnessed to form the traditional baguette stick. The dough is gently shaped into long sausages before their second prove, and are laid between folds of strong linen (baker's couche) to help the bread keep its shape during the second prove. The baguettes are then baked at a high temperature with steam, which creates the desired crusty casing.
And the result? Yes, they do look like a baguette with a crisp crust and irregular shaped air pockets within. However, they certainly aren't 'perfect', such as the slashes across the top - I think it would have been better to use an actual baker's specific tool for that. As they say, practice makes perfect. However, for a first attempt I'm more than happy with the result - and they taste pretty damn good too, which, let's face it, is main thing!
So let's get to it and bake.
Yield: 4 baguette sticks
Serves: 4 adults
Difficulty: Moderate - Difficult
Time: hands on time 25 minutes; plus proving time of about 2 hours; 20 - 25 minutes bake time.
You will need:
1 oblong / square Plastic Container (c 2.5L capacity)
Bakers Couche or 2 clean tea towels
Grease Proof paper
Sided Roasting Tin
Very Sharp Knife
For the Dough
500g Strong White Bread Flour, plus extra for dusting
10g Fast Action Easy Bake Yeast
370ml tepid Water
Olive Oil for greasing
How to make them:
1. Make the dough. Place the flour in a good sized bowl, with the yeast to one side and the salt to the other. Combine the dry ingredients with your hand. Make a well in the centre and pour in ¾ of the water. Using your hand, mix the flour with the liquid, adding more water to make a fairly loose dough. You should need all of the water. Bring the dough together, cleaning the bowl as you do so. Place the dough onto a clean work surface and knead for 10 - 12 minutes, avoid adding any extra flour. The dough will become stretchy, soft and silky. Perform the 'window pane' test to ensure the dough has been kneaded enough.
2. Set aside to rise. Place the dough in the oiled plastic container. Cover it and set aside until it has at least doubled in size. The length of time this take depends on the temperature of the room, though ours took just over an hour. Try not to rush this process, as the slower rise will develop more flavour.
3. Prepare the baker's couche. Lay the baker's couche (or clean tea-towels laid on top of one another) on the work surface near to where you are going to shape the bread. Dust liberally with flour. Lay a chopping board (or similar) along one of the short ends to prevent it from moving. Create a fold in the material so that the first baguette is not butted against the chopping board.
4. Shape the dough. Tip the dough onto a floured work surface. Use a sharp knife, dusted with flour, to gently divide the mixture into 4 equal strips. Shaping one baguette at a time, gently flatten the dough into an oblong. Lay the long edge furthest from you along the centre line, do the same with other long edge. Nip the two edges together gently. Roll the dough gently into a sausage shape, about 30cm long (or no longer than the baking sheet you have), trying not to apply much pressure but enough so the dough creates the classic baguette shape.
5. Lay the shaped baguette on the baker's couche. Place the shaped dough, seam side down, onto the baker's couche (or tea-towel) so that it is parallel to the chopping board that you positioned against the short edge. Create another fold in the material alongside the baguette you have just laid down. Shape the next baguette and lay it next to the first baguette, with the fold of material between the two. Continue until all 4 baguettes are shaped. Position another board (or similar) along the short edge next to your 4th baguette, though not too close so that it impedes its prove.
6. Prove. Cover the shaped dough with a clean tea-towel to prevent the air from developing a skin on the dough thus preventing the it from rising again. Leave for about an hour. They will be ready to bake when the dough springs back quickly after touching it.
7. Pre-heat the oven. Place a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven to 240c / 220 Fan / Gas 9.
8. Transfer to the baking sheet. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Gently roll the baguettes on to the tray. Avoid lifting them as this will alter their shape. Use a very sharp knife to quickly create 4 or 5 diagonal slashes across the top of the dough.
9. Create the steam & bake. Quickly pour a pint of water into the heated baking tray and place the tray of shaped baguettes into the oven. Bake for 20- 25 minutes, until they are a lovely golden colour, the crust is crisp and the underside of the baguette sounds hollow when tapped. Transfer to a cooling rack.