We’ve had a rainy couple of weeks here in Byron Bay. Plenty of sun in there too – it’s still summer, and it’s still Australia – but lots of those big, tropical showers. Which can really ruin a beach day, but which make the thought of baking a lot more palatable. Have you ever tried to make cookies in 30+ degree heat? I have to apologize to my flatmates before I turn on the oven, and then I have to stand there in the kitchen and sweat for however long the baking takes. Not exactly a sob story, I know, but if you were wondering at my infrequent posting, that is the explanation.
On a rainy day, though, there is nothing better than some nice, quiet baking. I’ve been making a lot of brownies, and a couple different types of cookies, and as soon as I get my ever-volatile computer situation under control I will be able to post about all that. In the meantime, I baked some baguettes and I think you should, too.
Apparently baguettes are another Too Hard Basket recipe for a lot of bakers? To be honest, I am by no means a bread connoisseur and I don’t really understand what’s so special about baguettes in particular as opposed to any other nice French bread. However, for those of you who know more than I do and find the thought of making baguettes daunting, apparently this is a nice, easy recipe. So you’re welcome, I guess.
(Adapted from Food52)
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water, heated to 115° F
1 teaspoon (1/8 ounce) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 1/4 cups (14 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon chunky sea salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
1. Heat your water to 115° Fahrenheit (46 Celsius). (For those of you without a thermometer, that means warm-but-not-hot. Don’t want to kill your yeast.) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and yeast. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the flour and stir in thoroughly with a fork. Let sit for another 20 minutes to hydrate the flour.
3. Add salt, then knead the dough, either in the bowl or on a lightly-floured work surface, until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Form the dough into a ball, place in a lightly-oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with cling film. (I like to lightly oil the dough on top, too, to keep it from sticking when I cover it.) Put the bowl in a cold oven or microwave until doubled in size. This should take about 45 minutes.
4. After the first rise, transfer the dough back to your floured work surface. Stretch and spread it into a rectangle, roughly 8 by 6 inches. Fold the long sides into the center, then the short sides over that. Like this:
Place the folded dough back in the bowl with the seam side down. Cover again and return to the oven to double a second time. This should take about 1 hour.
5. Remove your dough from the oven and place either a baking stone, a rimless baking sheet, or an upside down regular baking sheet on a rack in the middle. Return your dough to the floured work surface and cut into three even pieces. Roll and stretch each piece into a 14-inch rope. Place a sheet of baking parchment on another rimless or upside down baking sheet and lightly flour the parchment. Place the three loaves, evenly spaced, on the paper. Lift the paper between the loaves up to keep them separate, and place two tightly rolled kitchen towels along the long edges as supports. Like this:
Cover loosely in cling film and let it sit until doubled in size (this should take about 50 minutes). Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 475° Fahrenheit (245 Celsius).
6. Once the baguettes have risen, remove the cling film and towels and flatten the baking parchment. Using a sharp razor, knife, or scissors, cut the top of each loaf. The original recipe suggests that these slices be at a 30-degree angle in four spots, each about 4 inches long. I did mine somewhat at random, which was fine.
7. Working very carefully (your oven is very, very hot), pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and slide the loaves, still on the baking parchment, onto the stone/baking sheet. Lead with one of the corners of the baking parchment. This is a little tricky, but completely doable.
8. Place the ice cubes in the bottom of your oven. I always just put them straight into the oven, but you can use a skillet or baking pan if you’d rather. You just want them somewhere below your baguettes so they can steam up the oven, allowing the loaves to rise more before a crust forms. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20-30 minutes. Let cool completely.