I decided to start a group cooking night with a group of friends so that we could all experience cooking together in one place, while trying different foods each time. The first cooking night was Italian themed.
We planned to have supper prepared by 7PM. Most of the people coming to help cook arrived around 5PM. Since I wanted fresh themed bread, I went back to a standby recipe for Baguettes. I have tried other recipes but this one works. After having some mixed results with others, it may take some time before I venture to another one. This recipe is easy to vary and the directions (while long) are not really complicated, just detailed. I can appreciate that. I do not know the exact amount of time it takes to make this recipe. I know that you have to allow for at least 2 risings each lasting at least an hour. I started at 1PM. That way, if the bread was ready early (and it was) it could hold until I was ready to bake without a problem. If you will be in a hurry the day of cooking, I recommend starting the bread the day before and getting it either to one rising point or other and placing it in the fridge. Prior to baking, sit the bread out on the counter for at least 30 minutes to reach room temperature.
I apologize for the lack of photo. As soon as the bread came out of the oven, the response was wow, it looks great, lets try it...so it was promptly sliced. It didn't cross my mind to take a picture until well after the fact. However, the upcoming posts will have images of the sliced bread in them.
The following recipe came from Better Homes and Garden magazine when they did a segment on Old World Breads. I have had the recipe since I was in high school or undergrad and don't have a good idea of how old it was when I acquired it.
2 1/2 c. cool water (70-75F)
2 pkg. Active dry yeast
6-6 3/4 c. bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 egg white 2 Tbsp. water
Bread flour, toasted sesame seed, and/or toasted wheat germ
**(optional: cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella or other cheese for cheesy Baguettes)
In the large mixing bowl stir together the 2 1/2 c. water and yeast. Let stand about 3 minutes or till mixture looks creamy. With a freestanding electric mixer or by hand with a spoon, add 3 to 4 cups of the flour, a little at a time, mixing on low speed at first and then on medium speed. (This will take about 10 minutes.) Sprinkle the salt over the dough during the last minute of mixing.
If your mixer has a dough hook, continue to add flour, 1/4 c. at a time, till the dough clings together and cleans the side of the bowl. Continue mixing on medium speed about 5 minutes to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Or, to knead by hand, with a spoon stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes total).
Shape the dough into a ball. Place dough in a large greased bowl; turn once to grease surface of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place till double (1 1/2 to 2 hours). Or, cover and chill overnight.
Punch the dough down and knead gently in the bowl just a few strokes. Cover and let rise again till nearly double (3/4 to 1 hour in a warm place, or 1 1/2 to 2 hours in the refridgerator). Punch dough down again and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 4 equal portions. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
To shape loaves, work with 1 portion of dough at a time, leaving others covered. Flatten 1 portion with the heel of your hand to about an 8x4-inch rectangle, pressing out air bubbles as you go. Bring up the long edges of the dough and pinch together to close the seam, gently stretching the loaf lengthwise as you work. Pat the dough flat again, then repeat pinching and stretching to make a 17 inch long loaf that is about 2 inches in diameter. If the dough becomes too bouncy and shrinks back as you work with it,let it rest for 5-10 min. and continue with another portion of dough. (The dough will be easier to shape after it rests.) Place each loaf, seam side down, in a greased baguette pan or place loaves 3-4 inches apart on grease baking sheets. Cover with a kitchen towl and let rise in a warm place till nearly double (3/4 to 1 hour).
Preheat oven to 450F and adjust 2 oven racks so that one is in the lowest position and the other is in the middle of the oven. With a sharp knife, cute 4 or 5 diagonal slashes in each loaf, about 1/4 inch deep. Combine egg white, and the 2 tables spoons of water; brush atop loaves. Dust with flour or sprinkle with other toppings.
Place bread in the oven on the middle rack. (If you don't have room to bake all loaves at once, place the others, covered, in the refrigerator, removing 10 minutes before baking time. Repeat heating broiler pan and adding water for each batch. Bake for 20-25 minutes or til loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. The water in the pan wil evaporate after about 10 min. baking time; remove dry pan to prevent warping.
Transfer loaves to wire racks; cool completely. Servce within 12 hours or wrap in freezer wrap and freeze up to 3 months. Makes 4 baquettes.
To reheat and crisp bread: Thaw, if frozen. Unwrap and place directly on the rack in a preheated 400F oven. Bake for 10 min. or til crisp and heated through.
Specially designed baguette pans give the loaves their round shape. Bake sheepts give the same delicious results, but produce loaves with flat bottoms.
**If you want cheesy baguettes, when shaping loaves, place strips of cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, etc. along the middle as you shape. Garlic and oil can be added into the middle at this point, as another option.
If you decide to bake baguettes ahead of time, allow them to completely cool without being wrapped up by anything. Wrapping a hot baguette completely ruins the texture and you will be disappointed.
We made a dip for the bread using olive oil, garlic (of course), and rosemary. It went quite well with the soup...