Ideas for dinner tonight. Household and kitchen tips, recipes, tweaks. What's worked great, and not so great.
Ah, French bread. I could easily live on bread alone. Ok, a little cheese too. Oops forgot the fruit, chocolate, and wine! Of course, anyone who truly knows me knows I can’t live without Alaskan King Crab Legs. Now that’s perfection!
I bought the May issue of Saveur Magazine and am thrilled to try out the recipes. It has extremely interesting articles regarding the science of bread baking, and I’m eager to try the recipes out. I’ve baked bread pretty much all of my life, I’m no expert by any means, but I enjoy it, and my loaves have always turned out good. I have made it both by hand and machine. I always prefer the hand method, but the machine sure works in a pinch. A machine gives you the opportunity to enjoy homemade bread when you don’t have the time to stay at home all day, or half of the day. The recipes in the Saveur issue are all crafted by hand, and I decided to begin with the easy one, the french baguette. I have made french baguettes before, and I thought they turned out pretty good. This one was really a bit better. I do not have a baking stone, but one is on order! I purchased a custom fit stone, because I have a convection oven with a big fan in the back, and my rack has quite a lip on it. The standard size stone is just a tad too deep for my oven. After much searching for the perfect size, I found a place online to give a try…Bakingstone.com. While on the phone with them, they were very helpful, considerate and accommodating. I placed my order online with them and am excitedly awaiting my new baking stone!
The bread I made was good, but with the stone I know it will be better.
While following the recipe in Saveur, I noticed right off the bat a few things that I didn’t ever do before, mainly being whisk the yeast into the 115 degree water. I have always been taught to heat the water to no more than 110 degrees, and to just sprinkle the yeast atop the water to let it gently activate and foam. This did not foam. I thought, maybe my yeast was too cold, being it was in the refrigerator. I thought maybe I didn’t bring it to room temperature. I threw out the water, and tried again. It’s supposed to foam after about 10 minutes. Nothing. Threw it out again. Maybe my yeast was too old. I opened a new jar of Fleishman’s Bread Machine yeast. Tried it again. 115 degree water, check. 1t of yeast, check. 10 minutes..15 minutes. Nothing. Flat water. No bubbles, foam nor anything that could somewhat resemble anything active. What the heck!? This has NEVER happened. Maybe it was the whisking I thought. Ok, try again, 115 water, sprinkle the yeast. Flat. I tried yet again thinking the water was too hot after all. Let’s do the 110 degree water. Nope, nothing. I’m really confused, and wondering what the heck is going on. I go to the store, and buy 3 new types of yeast. Another jar of Fleishman’s, envelopes of Fleishman’s regular yeast, and a package of Red Star. I’d heard Red Star was exceptional yeast, have used it before with great results, but this was rapid rise, and I wanted to try the regular, to make it true to this recipe. I bought it anyway. Ok, back home and try again. I wanted to follow the directions perfectly. 115 degree water, whisk the new Fleishman’s Bread Machine yeast. Wait 10 minutes. Nothing. It smells good, the yeasty scent I’m used to smelling, but not a bubble in sight. I read the label, and it says to avoid contact with water and salt. What!? I KNOW I’ve done this before with this yeast, but ok, I’ll do it with the regular yeast this time. Throw out yet another batch. Regular non rapid yeast, 115 degree water. At first I thought it was activating nicely, but then it was flat as a pancake again. The scent was strong, so I knew it HAD to be good yeast. I decided to go ahead with the rest of the recipe. I’ve already blown pretty much an entire a day on this, and I can’t imagine for the life of me why this isn’t working. I still have no clue. But anyway, on with the rest. I followed the directions to the tee, something I’m not used to doing! I weighed the flour, the yeast, the salt. Weighing is what they recommend due to altitude, humidity, etc. Every direction in the magazine. The bread turned out good. I’m not sure it had risen as much as it should have, but maybe. I tried the ice cubes in the cast iron pan. That was FUN! It made amazing steam, and I think it really did a nice job on the crust. Just wish I had the baking stone. My concerns of the ice cubes exploding in such a hot pan were for naught. Nothing bad happened, no explosions, no jumping out of the pan, nothing but great steam. This recipe made 3 baguettes, which have mysteriously disappeared already! So, I guess they ARE good! Here’s the recipe for French Baguette.
1 1/2 c (12 oz) tap water heated to 115 degrees
1 t. (1/8 oz) active dry yeast (I may use a little more next time)
3 1/4 c (14 2/3 oz.) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. (3/8 oz) kosher salt
Canola oil for greasing bowl ( Pam will work too)
1/2 c ice cubes
Whisk together water and yeast in large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes till foamy. (Yeah, right!)
Add the flour, stir with a fork until all flour is absorbed. Let dough rest for 20 minutes. Add salt, and transfer to lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place dough in lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, place bowl in a draft free place, (magazine recommends a cold oven) and let rest till doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Transfer dough the lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8×6 rectangle. Fold the 8″ sides toward the middle and then fold the shorter sides towards hte center. Return dough, seam sid down to the bowl, cover again with the plastic, and return to oven till doubled in size, about and hour.
Remove the dough, transfer back to the floured work surface, and cut into 3 equal pieces.
Shape each piece into a 14″ rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet: place ropes evenly spaced on the parchment, and lift paper between loaves to form a pleat. Support the outside edges with a tightly rolled dish towel to support the loaves and assist in keeping their shape. Cover loosely with plastic and let rest till doubled, about 50 minutes.
After the dough has rested in this last phase for about 20 minutes, preheat your oven to 475 degrees, and place the cast iron pan on the bottom rack. If you have a baking stone, place it on the rack above the cast iron pan. If you don’t have a baking stone, put a baking sheet in the oven about 10 minutes prior to baking the dough.
When the baguettes have risen for 50 minutes, remove the towels and flatten out the paper to space out the loaves. Using a paring knife or razor, slash the top of the baguette with a 30 degree angle, about 4 inches long in four spots. If you have a baking stone, slide each baguette off the parchment onto the stone. If no stone, gently slide if you can, (otherwise get a large spatula and gently place it) onto the baking sheet. Place the ice cubes into the cast iron pan, shut the oven door and don’t reopen it. Bake for about 30 minutes until the loaves are golden.
Enjoy your nice hot crusty bread!