Monday, August 15, 2011

Quick French Baguette

My favorite French bread recipe by far is the one by Cook's Illustrated.  The flavor and texture are incomparable.  But, it requires more than a full 24 hours of prep work and rising and baking time.  The results are totally worth the effort and the wait, but sometimes you just don't have that much time.  Sometimes you need a loaf for dinner tonight.
Well, when that happens, I have a backup recipe.  It's quick and easy and yields a really tasty bread.  This recipe is adapted from one by Jane Smiley on epicurious.

Quick French Baguette
Adapted from epicurious

2 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 2/3 cups warm water (110° - 115°)
4 cups unbleached flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp white vinegar
Olive oil

1.  Stir the yeast and 1/3 cup of the water together in a small bowl.  Let stand for five minutes to allow the yeast to bloom.

2.  Meanwhile, pulse the flour, salt, and vinegar together in the bowl of a food processor.

3.  Pour the yeast mixture over the dry ingredients.  Add 1 1/4 cups of the remaining water.

4.  Pulse to combine the ingredients.  Process until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  The dough should be very soft and slightly sticky (but not so sticky that you cannot remove it from the bowl).  If the dough is too dry, add up to 2 tbsp more water to reach the proper consistency.

5.  Oil a large bowl with olive oil.  Transfer the dough to the bowl.  Turn to coat.  Cover and let rise until doubled in volume - about an hour.

6.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (alternately, you can use baguette pans).

7.  Gently press to deflate the dough.  Divide the dough in half.  Keep one piece covered while working on the other.  

8.  Roll the piece of dough into an 8" X 10" rectangle.  Fold the two shorter sides in to meet in the middle.  Pinch the edges together and turn the dough seam-side down.  Roll and stretch to form a 15" cylinder.

9.  Place the dough diagonally on the baking sheet, seam-side down.  Spray or brush with oil.  Let rise, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Repeat Steps 7-9 for the second piece of dough.

10.  Move one oven rack to the bottom and one to the upper third of the oven.  Put a baking dish or roasting pan with about one inch of hot water (heated to boiling is preferable) on the lower rack.  Preheat the oven to 450°.  Water needs to be steaming before you bake the bread.

11.  With a razor or very sharp knife, make three diagonal cuts in the top each loaf.

12.  Optional: mist the loaves lightly with water (using a clean spray bottle).

13.  Bake the loaves (one at a time if your oven cannot accommodate both baking sheets on the top rack) until they reach an internal temperature of 208°.

14.  Transfer loaves to a rack to cool.  Serve!

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