I love bread. I also love cheese, but you don’t see me trying to make it. Yet, I feel the need to try and make bread. When the kids were younger, and I was making 5 sandwiches a day, I tried my hand at making bread with my bread machine. Trying to save a buck. It was okay. Not great. I could never slice it evenly and sometimes one of the kids had a Flintstone kind of sandwich. Oh. Well. I eventually stopped looking for that perfect sandwich bread recipe even after I bought a Pain de Mie pan. The bread tasted good, but never held up like store bought bread.
A few years ago I was introduced to the “No Knead Bread” recipe from the New York Times. I found my place in the bread world. “Artisan” bread gives you more liberty. The less perfect looking the bread is, the more artsy you appear. Perfect. Less perfect is my “thing”. The menfolk love this hunk of bread concept. So, we noshed a lot of this bread with soups and meals through the cold winter months.
Recently I saw something on Food52 that peaked my interest in bread making again…..4-hour baguettes. Sigh. Baguettes. Mais oui; je voudrais un peu de pain. Fresh baguettes slathered with sweet butter. Sign me up! This recipe is wonderful. I decreased the salt to 1 ¼ tsp. from 4 tsps. That was way too much salt. Now, I won’t pretend it’s just like bakery baguettes, because it’s not. I think using an industrial oven makes a huge difference in bread making. But this bread is still delicious and it’s fun to make. You also know all the ingredients in this bread; no preservatives. So, make this bread, grab a hunk of cheese and nosh away.
1 ½ cup tap water, heated to 115 degrees F
1 tsp. active dry yeast (I used the rapid rise yeast with great results)
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. Kosher salt
Canola or vegetable oil for greasing bowl
½ cup ice cubes
- Whisk together water and yeast in a large bowl. I used my KitchenAid mixer for kneading, so I put the water and yeast into that bowl. Even though I used the rapid rise yeast, I followed these directions. Do check your water temperature with a thermometer. You don’t want to kill the yeast. Add four, and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes. Add salt, then transfer dough to a light floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. I used my KitchenAid with the dough hook and let the machine knead the dough for 10 minutes. It is a beautiful and smooth dough; but it’s sticky. Transfer dough to greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and place in cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. If you opt to place it in your oven, remember it’s there. Don’t start to use the oven for something else.
- Transfer dough to a light floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. You can use your floured hands to press it into the rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap again, and return to the oven or microwave. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast-iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven, position another rack above the skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down sheet pan or rimless sheet pan on it. You are going to preheat the baking sheet and pan. The oven safe pan is for ice cubes. This will create steam to help with the crust.
- After the first rise, transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and cut into three equal pieces: shape each piece into a 14-inch rope. I, first, place a sheet of parchment on another cookie sheet and slip a rolled towel underneath the parchment. Instead of using fancy baguette pans for this rise, you will be placing a rolled towel between the three loaves. You want the bread to rise up, not out. The towels help achieve that. You could even roll newspaper. You don’t need a lot. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or another towel until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.
- With one cookie sheet and one oven safe pan already in the oven, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. The original recipe says 475 degrees. I’m pretty sure my smoke detectors will go off with heat that high and I will vaporize. I start the pre-heating process at about 30 minutes into the last rise. It should take about 15-20 minutes for the oven to preheat sufficiently.
- Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife bread lame or scissors, slash the top of each baquette at a 30 degree angle in four spaces. Not 29 degrees, but 30. Pull out the VERY HOT cookie sheet from the oven and place it onto the top of your stove. The first time I made the bread I just left it in the first sheet pan without inverting. I found cooking it on the inverted sheet does make a better crust. It’s not that hard actually to transfer the parchment paper and place it on the VERY HOT sheet pan. You can always adjust the loaves once they are on the hot sheet pan. Carefully slide the loaves into the oven. Place ice cubes in skillet. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving. I didn’t bake mine until “darkly browned”. Each time I’ve made this, I let it get a little darker than the last attempt. You certainly don’t want to under bake it because the inside of the bread will be doughy and not filled with steaming air pockets.
Please try making this bread. Pick a day you actually have more than 4 hours to attend to bread making. I still look at the recipe and say, “Wait, what….oh okay” about a dozen times. You don’t want to rush the process. I set timers and bring them with me while I do something else nearby. Like anything you bake, you have to pay attention to it, especially when it’s in the oven.
I hope you enjoy this bread. I plan on using the baguettes in this delicious bruschetta recipe this summer! I prefer to use Boursin cheese in this recipe. Enjoy!