Homemade bread is one of my all-time favorite things to bake. Yeast doughs are alive!
Yes, they can be tricky to work with, at times, but nothing is as satisfying and exciting as successfully baking a delicious loaf of bread.
The aroma that fills the air from freshly baked bread is uplifting and heartwarming in every way. For many, bread baking evokes many cherished memories.
Our connection to bread has a long history. Sharing freshly baked bread goes back to the beginning of mankind. Manna (bread) has had many religious associations. It has been celebrated as a miracle in times of famine and hardship.
A guaranteed way to spread happiness is to share home-baked bread. Bread baking touches the very soul. Baking bread from scratch takes time and care; it needs to be nurtured.
The hands-on process brings an ever so gentle life-force to the dough, resulting in a crunchy crust and steaming, soft interior – deliciously edible!
My French baguette recipe below is fool-proof. Shaping bread by hand takes a bit of practice, but I’m sure you will master it after a few tries. It’s so worth it!
The real trick is to proof (process which brings the dry yeast to life) the yeast properly and just have fun. It’s simply bread. Bread and mankind are old friends that “knead” each other!
Franco’s Baguette Recipe
( yield: 4 baguettes )
Ingredients: Pre-fermented starter ( poolish )
- 1 -1/2 cups ( 7-oz ) – Bread flour
- 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons ( 7.4 oz ) – Water
- 1 pinch – Active dry yeast.
Method ( poolish )
Mix all three ingredients into a loose slurry and then allow to sit, covered, on the counter overnight, to allow the flavors to develop. If you do this, be sure that the container is large enough to contain the expanded poolish.
If time is of the essence, you can age the poolish on the counter for 2 to 3 hours, then continue with the recipe. (The flavor will not be as intense.)
If leaving it on the counter overnight is not suitable for you, then try leaving it out for 1/2 hour, then place it in the refrigerator overnight.
Whatever method you use is perfectly fine. Try all three and see which one serves your needs best!
Final dough (machine method )
- 3 1/4 cups ( 14.4 oz ) – Bread flour ( can remove 2 tablespoons and replace with 2 of whole wheat )
- 3/4 cups ( 6.7 oz ) Water ( lukewarm )
- 1 teaspoon – Yeast
- 1 3/4 teaspoon – Salt
- Ascorbic Acid ( vitamin C ) – 1 knife point (optional)
Then add the yeast, stir well, cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let proof in a draft free, warm place in your kitchen.
Once the mixture begins to bubble and rise you can proceed. The proofing process should take 15-20 minutes.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine all dry ingredients.
- Once the yeast has proofed, add it to the flour mixture.
- Add the poolish. Using the paddle attachment, mix on first (low) speed for 2-3 minutes. Once the mixture is slightly combined, remove paddle and let dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes. You can add the ascorbic acid at this point, if using.
- After the rest period, change to the dough hook on the machine and mix 3-4 minutes on first speed.
- Stop mixer, scrape down the bowl.
- Continue to mix in second speed for 3-5 minutes more.
- The dough, at this point, should be elastic and smooth.
- Continue to mix for 30-40 second intervals on speed 3 until the dough is now very elastic.
- The internal temperature of the dough should be 78-79 degrees F. ( 25-26 C )
Place the dough on a lightly flowered board or smooth surface. Knead, by hand, for 3-5 minutes.
Form the dough into a tight ball. Then, lightly oil a bowl large enough to accommodate the dough and allow it to double in size.
With your hands, lightly coat the ball of dough with oil, as well, and place in the bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for one hour.
- After one hour, remove the ball of dough from the bowl.
- Punch down the dough and shape into a ball again.
- Place back in the bowl
- Cover, and let rise again for one more hour.
Dividing and Bench resting
Flour your work surface and divide the dough in half. Then divide each half in half again.
Pre-shape the dough into rough logs or balls.
Bench rest the dough for 20-30 minutes covered with a damp cloth.
For the baguette shapes, flatten the bench-rested dough into a rough square.
Fold the bottom half of the dough to the center and press seam to seal well with you thumb.
Next, fold over the top half to the bottom half and seal well, again, using thumb and fingers to close tightly.
With the palms of your hands, roll the dough into a 13-14 inch baguette shape.
Do this by placing your hands side-by-side in the center of the dough, and as you roll the dough back and forth, gently move your palms to the ends of the dough. This might take some practice, but eventually you will master this. Just try your best and don’t get too stuck on this step – just have FUN!
Once rolled out, place on a bakers couche ( a canvas cloth used to create fabulous, crusty baguettes) or a clean kitchen towel. Let the baguettes rest on the couche for one hour covered with a damp cloth.
Set oven to 445-450 F. 1/2 an hour before baking. Place a steam pan in the bottom portion of your oven. Then, set an oven rack in the center portion of the oven to bake the baguettes on.
If using a baking stone, set it in the oven on the middle rack at this time. If using a baking tray, set it in the oven at this time, as well.
Roll the baguettes off the couche and onto a floured pizza peel or cutting board. Adjust the baguettes at this stage to insure that the seam side is down. Score the tops with a knife on a 45 degree angle in 5 areas approximately 2 inches apart. Open the slits with you hand if necessary.
Place the scored loaves on the baking stone or tray. Quickly add one cup of water to your steaming tray below the breads and close the oven door quickly.
- After a minute has passed open the oven door and spray the walls with water using a spray bottle. (Being careful as to not spray the oven light! )
- Continue to spray the walls 30-40 seconds apart, two more times.
The baguettes should be a beautiful, golden brown all around and sound hollow when tapped with your finger.
If not, continue to cook in 5-minute intervals longer until the correct doneness is achieved.
By now your home will be filled with a heart-warming aroma of freshly baked bread. Feel good! Now, it’s time to eat, enjoy and share. And remember mankind and bread knead each other!