Homemade bread is such a treat – the delicious smell when its baking, the crackle of the crust when its cut, and my happiness when I see Eric gobbling it up!
I haven’t made baguettes for a while, but when I went grocery shopping on Monday, I couldn’t pass up a great deal on fresh mozzarella – $1.80 for 8 ounces! Fresh mozzarella deserves fresh bread, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
I used Farmgirl Fare‘s 4-hour Parisian baguette recipe here, which I’ve made before and love. Ingredients are simple: flour, instant yeast, water, and salt. I also used a large mixing bowl, a baking stone (you can always use a baking tray), a plastic scraper (you’ll need it), parchment paper (again, you’ll need it), damp kitchen towels, and ice cubes.
I began by combining bread flour and yeast, mixing it with the scraper, and adding the water. It formed quite a sticky, clumpy mass. I sprinkled the salt over it, gave it a quick mix, and covered it with a damp towel to rest. This allowed the gluten to form, which helps give the bread its shape and texture, and the damp towel kept it from drying out.
When I came back after 20 minutes, the dough had softened somewhat. I used the scraper for the bits still stuck to the sides of the bowl, then dumped it onto a lightly floured surface.
I kneaded the bread for ten minutes (here’s a how-to video). I don’t worry too much about technique – as long as you’re manipulating it somehow, it will work. I knew it was done when the dough formed into a firm, smooth, heavy, sticky ball. I put it back in the greased mixing bowl, covered it with a damp kitchen towel, and let it rise for 45 minutes. When I checked on it, it had nearly doubled in size (it was a warm day).
I gave it a quick turn and let it rise for another 45 minutes. The “double-rise” technique is a necessity of bread making, as it develops the gluten structure and prevents so many gaping holes caused by the air in your bread.
After the second rise, I preheated the oven to 500 degrees with the baking stone and cast iron skillet inside. I shaped the baguettes, using the technique at the bottom of the page of Farmgirl Fare’s recipe. (Sorry, the top baguette is a little lopsided haha.) I formed the couche using the parchment paper and kitchen towels and let the bread sit for another 30 minutes. The couche is essential because your bread will rise and expand, and the couche prevents the baguettes from sticking together and keeps their shape.
Time to bake! I quickly scored the loaves (the knife marks you see) and transferred them onto the baking stone, using the parchment paper. I very carefully stuck a handful of ice cubes into the skillet to create steam inside the oven, which helps the loaves develop a nice crackly crust. Lastly, I turned the oven down to 450 degrees. After 20 minutes, they turned a lovely golden brown.
The loaves turned out wonderfully. I cut them right away and served them with the fresh mozzarella, basil, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette, and olive oil.
Yum! They were also just as good the next day.
Have you guys ever made bread before? What were your experiences?