I'm thinking about starting a 12--step program for those of us afraid to use yeast. However, I would be able to come to group saying I am on step 2, I think. A challenge was put before me, and I kind of conquered. And if you're also afraid of baking with yeast, maybe you should conquer the French baguette, too. And you should be proud, because apparently even the French do not make their baguettes from scratch. Instead, they go to the local artisan bakery because those guys have fancy brick ovens. Even without a brick oven, we can do this!
Makes 2 loaves
Guidance from The Joy of Cooking, page 601 in my version
Total time needed: 3 hrs, 30 minutes (You will only need 15 active minutes, the rest is letting it sit or bake.)
4 cups all-purpose flour + more for dusting
2 teaspoons salt
1 package (2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water at room temp
1 cup hot water
One large bowl + wooden spoon OR 1 Elec. mixer
1 clean kitchen towel
1 baking pan with parchment paper/baking liner
1mix it: In a large bowl or your mixer, combine 4 cups flour, salt, and yeast packet. Then create a little well in the center of the mixture and pour in 1 1/2 cup water, at room temp. Stir for about 12 minutes on low speed (by hand or mixer), until dough is soft and elastic. Look at that dough, isn't it a beauty?
2leave it: While dough is still in the bowl, cover it with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm place (75--85 degrees). This will take 2 hours, and the dough will double in size. Oo-lala. Go watch a movie, or run an errand, or get some work done.
3form it: Punch down the dough. To shape the dough into two baguettes, split dough in half and pat each section into a rectangle on a floured surface. Then roll the dough out away from you; continue rolling, pressing outward with your hands and tapering the dough toward the ends until you have a long, thin loaf. This will take 5 minutes, tops. Once you've formed the two loaves, it's time to let them rise (proof) again. On a non-stick baking pan (you can grease it, parchment paper it, or baking liner it), transfer the two loaves, giving them plenty of space to double in size. Cover them with a towel and wait 30 minutes.
4steam it: The waiting it over. Preheat your oven to 400 and grab a lined baking pan, putting it in the bottom oven rack. When the oven has reached 400 degrees, pour 1 cup of hot water into that preheated pan. Be careful because steam will quickly rise. Then uncover the loaves, score them (take a knife or blade and cut at least 5 3-inch slices into the bread) and put them in the top rack of the oven. See the photos above for an example of how to score the loaves.
5bake it: Bake the bread at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then decrease temperature to 350 and bake for 25 more minutes. If you want to add an egg wash, mix 1 egg white with 1 tablespoon of cold water. Brush it on the top of the bread at this point and put it back into the oven for 5 more minutes. If you don't want the egg wash, just bake 5 more minutes (a total of 45 minutes in the oven). When it is fully baked, the crust should be golden brown, and the bottom will sound hollow when tapped. Try not to burn yourself when you slice open the enticing, fresh bread.
This was tasty with a broccoli soup I made. The recipe will follow tomorrow. :)