Baguette by itself is obviously not Izakaya food but as more Western-style food is served in Izakaya, baguettes are often served (For example Marks’ book p95, Herb Garlic baguette served with Beef Intestine stew). I have posted few dishes served with a piece of baguette. Sometimes, we may start our home Izakaya feast with small bruschetta and end with pieces of baguette rather than rice or noodle dishes. Although good quality breads including baguettes can be had in many boulangerie or gourmet markets, we still like to make our own breads on occasional weekends. The smell of baking breads and tastes and textures of freshly baked breads are difficult to resist and can be only enjoyed if and when you bake them at home. I used to make all yeast breads and my wife made quick breads. I got a bit lazy recently and have not made a loaf of white bread or English muffins for some time. My wife got a bit impatient with me and started making some yeast breads including white bread (back of the picture) and English muffin loaf (with my helpful suggestions), which is very good (for me in particular) but she leaves baguette for me to make.
My baguette is very simple. I do not use any fancy natural yeasts or special flour, just bread flour either Gold Medal brand or King Aurthur. I do not have any secret, inherited starters. I am sure mine is not the quality of true artisanal breads but we like it, so I keep making it. There are only a few things which are very important in making decent baguettes at home. These are: a baking stone, a water sprayer, and a razor blade.
This is the rare occasion when I actually measure the ingredients rather pricisely. First I proof the yeast in a glass measuring cup (1 or 2 cup size). I add 1 package (1/4 oz) or 1 and 1/4 teaspoon of active dried granulated yeast (I use Fleischmann’s
or Red Star active dried yeast
) in 1/4 cup of warm water (about 110F or when you put your finger, it feels just tepid) in which 1/3 tsp of sugar has been dissolved. Mix well and let stand for 3-5 minutes to make sure the yeast is active as will be indicated by the surface bubbling up.
Mixing and Kneading: I start my dough in a food processor fitted with a dough blade (of course you could use your hands as well as a mixer fitted with a dough hook). For two bauguettes, I place 3 and 1/2 cup of bread flour in the food processor and add 1/2 tsp of salt. I then add cold water to the proofed yeast (above) to 1 cup mark and mix well. While the food processor is on (I use the low-speed setting), I add the yeast mixture in a steady thin stream. After I add one cup of liquid, I get 1/3 cup more water and keep adding to the flour until, a ball of dough is formed above the blade. You do not need all the additional 1/3 of water. I stop and open the bowl to touch the dough. It should be soft but not too sticky. The amount of water you have to add varies depending on the weather or the flour. You have to decide when you have added enough by the look and feel of the dough. I then let it stand for 5 minutes so that the moisture will more evenly distribute. After 5 minutes, I run the processor for 30 seconds or so until a single mass of elastic dough is formed. I flour a large Kneading board and hand knead the dough to finish using the heels of my hands for 5 minutes or more until the dough feels nice and smooth. I finish the kneading by making a nice tight ball.
Raising: I let the dough rise three times. You could do the first two in an oiled large bowl but I usually use a gallon size Ziploc bag sprayed inside with Pam
or a similar non-stick spray (just because I do not have to clean the bowl this way). After I place the dough in the bag, I squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag so that the dough will have a room to expand. I then wrap it using two or three towels and let it rise to double the size (about 1 hour but you should go by the volume not by the time as the room temperature, the potency of the yeast, the amount of salt etc change the time it takes to reach this point). I take the doubled dough out and deflate and fold it over several times and put it back to the Ziploc bag for the second rising (another hour or until volume doubles again).
Forming: After the second rising, I deflate and fold the dough over a few times and then divide into two identical cylindrical portions (weighing is the best way to make the two portions identical). It is not easy to describe how to form the loaves but I press using the side of my hand to indent a cut surface and the pinch them together. Stretch and fold over the dough along the long edge. Repeat this as you elongate the dough. If dough feels too elastic, you could let it rest for 10 minutes before forming baguettes. Cover with a floured dish towel and let it rise for the last time until the volume doubles. Move it to a peel (below) which is coated with corn meal (so that the dough will slide).
Using a sharp razor blade, make multiple oblique slashes on the top and spray water on the surface of the dough (see image below). This is to set the crust. I used to throw several ice cubes into the oven on a cookie sheet after I put the bread in. But I am afraid that this may have damaged the oven (my old oven was not working properly towards the end). So I changed to the spray method before putting the dough into the oven. It works reasonably well and forms a good crust.
I slide the slashed and sprayed dough in onto a hot baking stone (400F, should be preheated and left at 400F for at least 20 minutes so that the stone is throughly heated).
Bake it at 400F for 15 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350F and bake another 30 minutes. I let the bread cool on a cooling rack as seen in the first picture. As it cools the bread makes a cracking noise (“music of bread” as per Julia Child) as the crust contracts. Cool to room temperature before eating. We usually slice and freeze the portion we did not consume by the next day. I am not sure what causes the difference but many commercial baguettes from the grocery store have a crust but the inside is spongy or mealy in texture. (I suspect they use some kind of additive in the dough). Ours has a better crust and texture as well as a nice nutty toasted flour taste.