Wednesday, October 17, 2012

French Baguette

Right out of the oven
I love all kind of breads. White, Whole wheat, Focaccia, Baguette, Sour dough bread etc etc. Two days back, I had Panera Bread's garden vegetable soup for dinner. I always go for Whole wheat baguette for side instead of chips. Their breads are always warm, fresh, dense but soft with crunchy and chewy crust. This time was no exception. I usually don't feel like sharing the bread with anyone, but this time Srishti (my 20 months old) wanted to eat the bread dipped in the soup. I couldn't say no:) I split the bread, took off the crust, and gave the entire bread to her:(.
Since that day, I have been thinking of making the same bread at home. I tried to look for recipes for panera bread style baguette, but couldn't find anything. So I read different articles on how baguettes are made, and tried to make it on my own. The bread turned out very good, with thin and crunchy crust. It tasted great right out of the oven. But the crust softened after a few hours. I will have to experiment with different oven temperature/time ratio to get the crust to stay crunchy for hours.
Here is my recipe for making french baguette.

3-1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1-1/2 Teaspoon Yeast
1 Teaspoon Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
1-1/2 Cups Warm Water (Not hot),
1/2 Teaspoon Oil
Cooking Spray

Mix the yeast and sugar with the water. Stir well to dissolve the yeast and the sugar. Keep it aside for 10 minutes. Mix the flour and salt. Now add the yeast water mixture. Apply the oil to your palms and knead the dough. The dough will be a little sticky. Don't add flour yet. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. (If the dough is still sticky, add a teaspoon of flour and knead again).  Knead util the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
Very lightly spray a glass bowl with cooking spray. Transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with a lid or a plastic wrap and keep it in warm place for 1 hour. The dough will have doubled in volume.

Sprinkle some flour on a kneading surface and take out the dough from the bowl. Divide it into two equal sizes. Cover one portion with the plastic wrap. Take the portion and knead it for a minute or so. Then with the heel of your hands, press lightly on the dough to flatten it. With your fingers, spread the dough to about 6 X 4 inch rectangle  Now lift one of the longer sides and fold it to the center and lightly tap with your fingers to seal it. Lift the other side, and fold it to the center and lightly tap with your fingers to seal it. Now, you have two sealed edges in the center. Fold the longer side again, this time to the end of the other longer side, creating one seal at the end. Lightly tap again to seal it.

Keep the sealed side down, and lightly roll the dough 1/2 way thru with both of your hands to give it a log(tube) like shape. While rolling, move your hands to the outside edges while applying pressure. This creates uniform thickness on the log. Do this until your roll is about 10-12 inches long. Your seal should get better each time your roll the dough. Just keep in mind to keep the sealed surface down.

Lightly sprinkle the base of a baking tray with little flour. Place the log in the baking tray. Cover with a plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes. Follow the same process and make a log from the other portion of the dough.

Fill an oven safe deep dish/pan with 2 inches of water. Place the pan under the rack on which the bread will be baked. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Remove the plastic wrap from the baking sheet. Just before placing the bread in the oven, make slanted cuts on the top surface at about 4 inches distance. The cuts shouldn't be more than 1/4 inch (5 mm) deep.

Place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes. Then carefully take out the water filled pan from the oven. The water will be boiling hot. Be very careful while handling the pan otherwise the water will splash everywhere. Wear thick rubber gloves, gently take the pan out. Discard the water and keep the pan away. Close the oven door and bake the bread for another 12-15 minutes.

Turn off the oven. Take out the bread. Enjoy hot, right out of the oven, with some hot soup. You can also have it as is with butter. OR Let it cool down completely and make sandwich. It tastes great either way.

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