For our picnic last weekend I made these baguettes
These soft and chewy, crispy crusted, perfect textured pieces of deliciousness. It's the kind of bread that you taste and can't believe that you baked it yourself.
Although you do have to be careful not to de-gas the dough there is the upside of the baguettes requiring hardly any kneading or shaping.. you just mix, rise, chill, cut, and bake.
The reason the baguettes have so much flavor packed into them is because the yeast growth is slowed down with cold water in the dough and then a long cold rise in the fridge. This gives the wheat a chance to ferment a bit and free its sugars thus releasing more flavors than if the yeast grew at a quicker pace.
Then the dough sits for five minutes to ensure that all the flour is hydrated. Then mixed briefly again before being transferred to an oiled work surface (not floured.. you want to avoid adding flour to the dough at this point)
With wet or oiled hands the dough then gets stretched and folded. Each side of the dough is stretched out and then folded over itself. I usually do one side at a time and then flip the dough over to rest which makes it into a ball(ish) shape.
There are three more stretches and fold each with ten minute rests between them. Resting between stretching and folding lets the gluten relax and stretch out more for the next time you stretch and fold. To keep the dough from drying out during the resting periods a piece of plastic wrap or a plastic bowl over top works perfectly.
Once the dough has been stretched and folded a total of 4 times it gets put in a clean oiled bowl, covered tightly with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to rise overnight. You can leave it in there for up to four days if you like.
On the day that you are baking the baguettes the dough needs to come out 1 hour before you plan on putting them in the oven to allow for it get some of the chill off. The dough will be looking a lot smoother than before after rising in the fridge.
While the dough is sitting around warming up its time to preheat the oven to 550F (288C) with one oven rack in the middle position for the dough and the lower rack with a cast iron pan or heavy cookie sheet on it. The pan or sheet preheats with the oven and acts as a steam pan to help make a crispy crust on the baguettes. After the baguettes go into the oven 1/2 a cup of hot water is carefully poured into the pan to turn the oven into a mini steam oven.
To make sure that the oven is hot hot hot and so is the steam pan its best to start pre-heating the oven about 45 minutes before baking.. so 15 minutes after you take out the dough from the fridge
Shaping the baguettes consists of patting the dough very very gently into an 8x8 square on a very floured surface, sprinkling flour on top, and the using a sharp knife or a pastry scraper to cut the dough into strips. The strips get gently (gently!!) rolled in the flour to prevent sticking and moved to a sheet pan. You can score the dough if you wish but if you are worried about de-gassing it the scores are not necessary.
I only cut as many baguettes as I could bake on the sheet at a time (which was two.. I have a teeny tiny sheet pan) while keeping the remaining dough uncut and loosely covered with plastic wrap on the counter.
These were easily the some of the best baguettes I've ever had. I don't know if I'm even going to try the other baguette recipes that I have on my to-do list. Other people that have tried this dough seem just as taken with it as I am because it skips all the complicated pre-ferment, wild-yeast-starter, long periods of kneading, and multiple rise steps but still delivers all the flavor.
Makes six mini baguettes
(Recipe from the amazing Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day)
4.5 cups (20 ounces/ 567 grams) unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 tsp (0.4 ounce/ 11 g ) salt
1 1/4 tsp (0.14 ounce/ 4g) instant yeast (it must be instant yeast, not just active dry yeast. The active dry yeast doesn't work with the cold water and cold rise.)
2 cups (16 ounces/ 454 g) chilled water ( our tap water wasn't very cold so I iced it then measured it out
Step one: MIXING
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix on your lowest speed for one minute. Let the dough rest for about five minutes then mix for another minute.
Step two: STRETCH AND FOLD
Lightly oil a work surface and scrape the wet coarse dough out onto it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for ten minutes.
With wet or oiled hands stretch one side of the dough up over itself. Turn the dough and repeat on the next side. After all four sides have been stretched up and folded in place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for ten minutes
Repeat the stretching and folding three more times with ten minutes between each stretch and fold. (so four stretch and folds = 40 minutes)
Step Three: OVERNIGHT RISE
As soon as the final stretch and fold is complete return the dough to the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise overnight in the fridge, up to four nights,
Step Four: BAKING DAY
Take the dough out of the fridge one hour before baking.
15 minutes after the dough comes of the the fridge (45 minutes till baking) place a heavy pan (cast iron works great) on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat oven to 550F
After the oven has preheated generously flour a working surface and gently gently pat out the dough into an 8x8 square making sure not to de-gas the dough. Sprinkle flour on top of the dough and cut off a strip of dough about 1.5 inches wide. Gently roll in flour to prevent sticking and carefully transfer it to a baking sheet. Repeat with as many strips as you can fit on one sheet
Cover remaining dough with plastic
Put sheet tray with baguettes in the oven.
To make steam: Cover the inside of the glass on the oven door with a towel (to protect it from getting any water on it. Water on hot glass can cause it to crack) , pull out the oven rack with the preheated pan on it, carefully pour 1/2 cup of hot water on the pan (careful of the steam!!!). Push the oven rack back in. REMOVE THE TOWEL (you'll be sad if you bake your towel along with the baguette...) . Shut the oven door to trap the steam.
After you shut the oven door lower the temperature to 475F (246C) and bake for 12-19 minutes until rich brown and slightly puffed. cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes.
Repeat with remaining dough letting your oven heat back up to 550 before putting the next batch in