Thursday, March 1, 2012

French bread....and LIARS!!!

So, I love to make bread. Almost any type of bread really...I like quick breads (muffins) and as I call them "slow breads" (sour dough) and all in between. If it has flour, chances are I've thought about trying to master it. But for years there is one thing that has alluded me....french bread that looks and tastes like the store bought baguettes (yeah, after 6 years of French lessons I still had to spell check that word)
Speaking of my years of French language education, when I was in college my French teacher gave me a recipe to make for a class party. It really was my first ever attempt at a yeast bread that I can remember. And I followed the instructions to the T. I added the yeast to the water, let it sit. Then the salt and the flour. I kneaded the best I could, let it rise and then punched it down and formed it into free standing "loaves". Let it rise again and then baked it......what came out could have been used as a prop on one of the planets on the original Star's looked "Ok" for my first attempt . Not professional, but not tooo bad (everyone told me so...the LIARS!) .... I also took comfort in the fact that it was going to be cut up into chunks for dipping. As the day went on, I was actually feeling pretty cool about how I "made" my own french bread....Until.....

She (My French teacher) brought them to class still warm from the oven....fresh and golden brown. Two beautiful, crunchy crusted, spongy centered thin baguettes....My spirits were dashed! My accomplishment made to look like someone named Brunhilda next to Bell from Beauty and the Beast. (In fact, it reminded me of the "cookie" incident from a year earlier. But that's another post)  Oh, she was very humble about it. I asked her what she did differently and the only thing she could tell me was that I needed baguette pans and it would be just like hers the next time...oh look another Liar!

Fast forward a few years...I now had a professional baguette pan...Industrial really (thank you Ebay). It was so professional that my Dad had to cut the one end off so it would fit in my standard oven. (thank you Daddy!:D) Anyway, I was ready to try again! I combined all the ingredients and went through the whole process, knead, rise, etc. And then I got to the hard part....the shaping.

Side story: I can't roll out things very well. I will never be able to fulfill my dream of working for Auntie Anne's Pretzels because even though I have great customer service skills,and can pull off a hair net, I can't roll an even straight's always been like this, ever since I was little I couldn't even make "logs" from play dough. Oh sure, every once in a while the stars would a line and things turned out even, but most times than not, I usually just end up with what looks like an uneven broken turd. Those who have seen this in person try to give me the same advice. "You just need to press down with the same amount of pressure and keep your hands moving as you move it out/along." 
(once again) LIARS! Maybe my left hand is heavier than my right? I don't know. Either way, it just wasn't in my bag of skills I was born, back to the bread.

So I "log rolled" it out and even though it looked uneven and lumpy I placed it on my new pan and waited for it to do its magic.....hhmmm, I think my dad cut off the magic portion of the pan...
Because while it came out in a more baguette shape it still was not very nice to look at and tasted very very bland. So I decided to scrap the whole endeavor.  There were plenty of other breads to make that had cinnamon and berries and stuff that were much more compliant...I don't need the stupid yummy French bread! I can always just buy one at the store.....stupid baguette! :( I DON'T NEED YOU!!

Fast forward even more years to yesterday....We had spagetti and meatballs planned and I wanted to make some yummy bread to go with it. Not really remember my last attempts and armed with the past few years of experience I thought this would be easy peasy....nope.
It pretty much turned out like the last tragedy. Long, lumpy, tasteless and hard as a rock. Even my husband, who will eat almost anything (bless his heart) took a bite and  said "eh, it's not too bad." Then made a bit of a face. I told him he didn't have to eat it. For which he looked quite the end even my carb loving dog wouldn't touch it. Hopefully the birds aren't so picky.....
"Spock! I've never seen a barren planet that shape before! Mr. Sulu, what do you think?" "Oh my!"

Needless to say I was put out. After all these years of making great bread and thinking I knew my stuff I still couldn't get it! So I woke up this morning with a goal...I was going to try it again with a different recipe! (cue "Eye of the Tiger.") So I turned to trusty Google and looked up recipes...Ugh! They were pretty much alll the same. Water, yeast, flour and salt. And all pretty much in the same how could I be messing this up?! It was then that I read the instructions from one of the relation on how to shape the loaf. (add Fireworks to "Eye of the Tiger")

So now, without further ado! After a really long story! I bring to you my French bread recipe...

1 cup warm water
1 TBS instant Yeast
1 1/2 tsp. Sugar (optional, it helps the yeast grow)
3 cups Bread Flour
1 tsp Salt

1 Egg beaten or Egg White (for Egg wash, optional)

(This recipe will make 1 baguette. The original recipe was doubled so the flour was 6-7 cups just FYI. And if you are going to double it, chances are it won't fit in you bread maker)

- In your bread maker or in a large mixing bowl.Add the yeast to the water and let it start to get frothy. You can also add the Sugar at this time if you want it.

- Add 1 cup of the flour and swirl it around a bit just to incorporate it.

- Add the rest of the flour

-Add the Salt Last! Salt, while important in bread, it actually hiders yeast growth if it's added before the flour. ( I think it's funny how in most recipes they add the salt before the flour. Maybe they just don't want you to succeed as much..just a thought)

- Either put in your bread maker on the "Dough" setting and then walk away  OR you can use a mixer with a Dough Hook OR you can get your exercise and mix it by hand i.e. Knead for about 10 minutes until it's smooth or your arms fall off which ever happens first.

- If not using a bread maker. Place in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that's been sprayed with cooking spray and then put a kitchen towel over the whole thing.

-Wait about an hour or until it's doubled

-Punch it down, let it rest another 5 minutes or so and start the shaping (my nemesis)
You can shape it any way you really want to. It's your dough. But there are traditionally a few ways to do it. Free standing or using a Baguette pan.

Free standing you just knead it a little bit and then shape it into an oval, tucking up and under. Put some corn meal down on a cookie sheet and then put it on ,ugly seem side down.

Baguette pan shape. (Here comes the "oh DUH!" moment I learned today) What you need to do is take your ball of dough and using a rolling pin Roll it out into a long rectangle shape and then roll it up Hot dog style and then tuck the ends in a bit...Viola! An actual baguette shape!!! Then you just spray you pan with cooking spray and place your lovily seems side down.

From here you just put the plastic wrap back over it along with the towel and let it rise again for about an hour.

Once it's risen take a sharp knife very carefully and make a few slashes about 1/4- 1/2 deep on top to let the steam out. (On my previous attempts I had so many holes in the dough, I didn't need to this. It would just escape through one of the craters )

You can brush it with an egg wash (beaten egg) but only if you want to. It gives it a shine and a chewy texture on top. Brush it on just before it goes in and at about 10 minutes before it's done.

Bake it at 375 degrees for about 24 minutes.

Now, if all goes well. Yours should look something akin to THIS!

this one is missing the end piece...resistance was futile!

Oh? You want to see the difference again? Well, alright.

 And this is how you know that it is good
You can see the remnants of crust behind her..she saves them for me.

And here are some suggested condiments to enhance the flavor even more....

All in all, I can't tell you why it tastes better once it was shaped better (maybe it had self esteem issues) but I can tell you that it worked! mmmmmm mmmmm mmmm.

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