Friday, February 23, 2018

FLOUR, WATER, YEAST, SALT

That is all we need for a wonderful french baguette. It is very simple. Remember the wise words of Julia Child though. Simplicity demands perfection.

I started the morning making those two beauties. They got snatched up fast. I went with a friend to an AA meeting this afternoon and we took a loaf of the bread, still hot from the oven. It's been pretty cold here in Palm Springs, and a lot of the folks we see in our meetings are street people. I don't think they have had a chance to eat bread fresh from the oven, and on a cold day that is a real treat. The bread lasted about ten minutes. After the meeting I gave the second loaf to my friend. I like giving bread I make to my friends. You should try it, it's fun.

INGREDIENTS

3 1/2 cup all purpose, or bread flour
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 Tablespoon instant yeast
2 1/4 teaspoon salt

(one egg white whisked with a small splash of water)
That's all.

Take two cups of the flour, the yeast, and the salt to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
With it set to the slowest setting, mix the dry ingredients together. While still stirring slowly, add in the cup and a half of warm water. I use water straight from the tap. Our city water percolates through several thousand feet of granite in the mountains directly to our west. It's so good that Nestle has a pumping station up there so they can steal our water (their permits for this have been out of date since the fucking 70s they don't care) to sell to the unsuspecting at $4 a bottle. Fuck Nestle. But, I digress.
This will form a ragged, loose dough. You want to mix thoroughly at this point. You want zero lumps of flour. Smooth babies, smooth.
Switch out to the dough hook now, and 1/4 cup at a time add in the rest of the flour. I know I went to the trouble of listing exactly how much of each ingredient but, at this stage, we have to also go by sense and feel. What we are looking for is dough that holds together smoothly in a ball. To touch, a little sticky is OK. What we want is a dough that is supple, stretchy, and has a tendency to snap back to place when pinched. You can also see how the dough begins to clean the side of the bowl. Knead, on the lowest setting with the hook, eight minutes. A full eight minutes. What you do in the kneading is to disturb and agitate the long strands of gluten. That is what gives the bread that beautiful, chewy, but tender, consistency and mouth feel. You can also do the kneading by hand. I do when I'm upset or angry. It's therapy.
That goes into a bowl that's been greased with olive oil. Not any fru fru EVOO, get the peasant shit ya spalpeen. Cover with a towel or plastic, put in a warm place, and wait for it to rise until it has tripled in size. It takes anywhere from two, to three hours. Now, snatch it out, and pummel the shit out of it. We want to break up any pockets of air, and reagitate the gluten.

Shape the loaves. Lots of folks get all involved and stuff with this part. I don't. I separate into two halves, shape them into long skinny loaves by hand and put them in my special, tricked out baguette pans. They have indentations to perfectly hold the loaves, and the are also perforated to allow the hot oven air ample access to the bread.

In essence what we are going to do is to take this:
and make it look like this:
Cover it back up, return it to its warm cozy place, and wait for it to double in size. Half an hour to forty minutes is about what it takes.

Now it gets real. Crank the oven to 425. Take a spray bottle of chilled water and spritz the inside of the oven. This generates steam action. Steam action is what sets our crust. Using chilled water makes more steam fast. More steam, more bettah. Cook ten minutes. Spritz. Ten more minutes. Spritz. Now separate out your egg white, give it a splash of water and brush the egg wash over your loaves. Don't forget to turn your pan 180 degrees so you can brush the other side thoroughly.

Give it five more minutes, and out they come.

Flour. Water. Yeast. Salt. The only other things you need are time and patience.

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