Baguettes are, quite possibly, the western world’s most-loved bread. The reason being that this starchy good, with its morish texture and savoury crumb is simply and utterly divine…It’s the ideal accompaniment to any cheese and cold cut of meat, it’s best friend with terrines and pâtés and it doesn’t fail to impress when married with jams or chocolate spreads. It’s practically perfect in every way…Apart from the fact that, unless you are in France or you own an industrial strength oven and proving cell, it is very difficult to re-create at home. Lucky for you, I am a bread-obsessed woman, and I have spent the last few weeks attempting to adjust various baguette recipes to suit my very normal oven and kitchen appliances. I have had many disappointments, and then eventually, last Sunday..Eureka! I cracked it. I cannot wait to share this with you, bread-lovers worldwide. For those of you as obsessed (read “insane”) as I am, I have worked out a recipe that uses natural sourdough yeast. But I have not forgotten the rest of you, probably a much saner percentage of readers, who will never go through the trouble of cultivating natural yeast for weeks and would rather use the readily available dried one. It’s good news all round: the bread will turn out incredibly good, no matter which rising agent you decide to use.
Where’s the catch?… You have to be patient and let the dough prove for, at least 8 hours. Mix it at night before you go to bed, forget about it, than shape your sticks in the morning, prove them for another couple of hours, and for your Sunday lunch you will have your much deserved reward.
220 gr (1 cup) of sourdough starter or 1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast
410 gr (3 1/2 cups) flour (baker’s or 00)
210 ml (3/4 cup) of filtered water, at room temperature
1 teaspoon of diastatic malt powder (or barley malt syrup, or honey)
2 teaspoons of salt
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
semolina flour for dusting
1. In a large non-metallic bowl, mix the sourdough starter or the dried yeast with flour, a teaspoon of diastatic malt (or barley malt syrup -or honey-) and water.
2.When the starter/yeast is well incorporated add salt and oil.
3. Mix it with a wooden spoon just so the ingredients are amalgamated. The dough shouldn’t be too smooth, nor elastic. In fact, it should feel a little rough and slightly damp.
4. Cover the bowl with a lid or with cling wrap. Prove at room temperature for 8 to 14 hours. You will observe that in very warm climate, and if using dried yeast, the dough will bulk prove quicker than in colder climate.
5. When the dough has tripled in size and looks bubbly, gently tip it onto a floured surface. It will feel quite sticky. Do not panic! Grab a small handful of flour and delicately work the dough to turn it a bit more pliable, being mindful never to actually knead it. It is important not to over work the gluten in the flour otherwise your bread will turn out too dense. Also, you don’t want to knock out those precious air bubbles as they hold the secret to a light-as-a-feather crumb and crunchy crust. Gently flatten the dough with the palm of your hand then roll it onto itself, lenghtways, and form a long sausage shape, seam side down and slightly narrower at the extremities. At this stage, you can sprinkle them poppy or sesame seeds, if that takes your fancy.
6. Prove for two hours at room temperature, on a tea towel dusted with semolina flour, and well covered. Then, carefully tip the logs into a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Rest for another 20 minutes and bring your oven to 200 Celsius (390 Farenheit). Place a metal bowl in the oven to heat up.
7. Score the sticks with a sharp knife quickly, yet gently, place the tray into the oven and pour a cup of cold water onto the metal bowl, to create steam. Close the oven door immediately after. The steam will favour the creation of a moist crumb and a crackly, bronzed crust.
Bake for 25/30 minutes or until the top looks crusty and golden and the bottom looks sunburnt and slightly rusty in colour.
Your home will smell like like a French bakery…
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