My husband has declared his intention of being our family’s bread baker and therefore my apprentice for the next year. He is very excited and so am I, as it will be one more thing to share. I adore bread baking. It is probably my favorite culinary endeavor. So, I will pray for the patience of a saint as we begin.
Fortunately, Peter Reinhart has written “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” (published by 10 Speed Press) and from this tome, I am confident that together we will have the very best bread a home baker could ever hope for.
Peter leaves little or nothing to guesswork. Prior to his current teaching profession, he was a commercial baker. He knows, it seems, bread down to the molecular and cellular level. And, he weaves this technical information into his book with deftness… in the same manner as a good bread baker kneads dough smoothly and with personal rhythm.
This book won Cookbook of the Year from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It is wonderfully written, has more than 100 step-by-step photographs and includes the most innovative and practical techniques that Peter has developed over the past 20 years, including those of a full-time baking instructor at the famous Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.
How to begin: Read everything first. Make a list of ingredients and equipment that you may need and then a timeline of how the bread is mixed, rests, shaped, rising time and baked and cooled.
Peter lists 12 steps to good bread. I have summarized them through the recipe. Specific parts, such as preparing the oven and shaping the bread, have been isolated, as these techniques are referred to in many of his recipes, not simply the baguettes of today.
Might your first batch be less than perfect? Most likely! However, it is also likely that it will be edible and ever so satisfying. Will your 20th batch be better? Most likely! The key is to get started… just as we’d done here at home.
Peter’s French Baguettes begin with a master recipe for Pate Fermentee. This is repeated the next day and incorporated into the whole batch. He says this double-batching is likely to make the best “bakery-quality” baguette at home… you’ll see.
1 1/8 cups (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (5 oz.) unbleached bread flour
¾ tsp. (0.19 oz.) salt
½ tsp. (0.055) oz.) instant yeast*
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp. (6-7 oz.) water, at room temperature
1. Stir together flours, salt and yeast in a 4-qt. bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer). Add ¾ cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)
2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be about 77-81 degrees.
3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour or until it swells to about 1 ½ times its original size.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to de-gas and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.
16 oz. Pate Fermentee
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups unbleached bread flour
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. instant yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp. water at 90-100 degrees
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
1. Remove “Pate Fermentee” from refrigerator l hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.
2. Stir together flours, salt and yeast and “Pate Fermentee” pieces in a 4-qt. bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier by adding more flour during kneading. It is hard to add water once the dough firms up.)
3. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer dough to the counter and begin to knead (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes (6 by machine) or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky, and all the pre-ferment is evenly distributed. The dough should register 77-81 degrees. If the dough seems properly developed but is still cooler than 77 degrees, you can knead a few minutes longer to raise the temperature or simply allow a lengthier first rise. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to boast it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
To prepare oven for hearth baking
Place a heavy-duty sheet pan or cast-iron frying pan in the top shelf of the oven as the oven is preheating. Heat a pan of water to simmering. As the bread is placed in the oven on lower oven shelves, pour a cup or so of hot water into the preheated pan at an angle, using a hot pad or thick mitts to prevent steam burns. Close door and then begin the misting routine as described in the recipe.
4. Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size. If the dough doubles in size before the 2 hours have elapsed, knead it lightly to de-gas and let it rise again, covered, until it doubles from the original size.
5. Gently remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured counter. For baguettes, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces with a pastry scraper or a serrated knife. Again, take care to de-gas the dough as little as possible. Form the pieces into baguettes or whatever shape you prefer. Prepare for proofing.
6. Proof at room temperature 45 to 75 minutes or until the loaves have grown about 1 ½ times their original size. They should be slightly springy when poked with a finger.
7. Prepare the oven for hearth baking with an empty steam pan in place (see box: Oven). Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Score baguettes with serrated knife or safety razor on an angle that is almost parallel to the surface of the bread, letting the knife do the work, resisting the urge to press down on the dough.
8. Generously dust a peel (or pizza paddle) or back of a pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and very gently transfer the baguettes to the peel or the pan. Transfer the baguettes to the baking stone. Or, bake directly on the sheet pan. Pour one cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the oven door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, lower oven setting to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees, if necessary, for even baking and continue baking until the loaves are a rich golden brown and register at least 205 degrees at their center. This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven and how thin the baguettes are. If they seem to be getting too dark but are not hot enough internally, lower the oven setting to 350 degrees (or turn it off) and continue baking for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
9. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 40 minutes before slicing or serving.
* Instant yeast: In the commercial baking industry there is a formula for yeasts: 100 percent fresh yeast = 40 to 50 percent active dry yeast = 33 percent instant yeast. If you choose to use active dry yeast you will need to hydrate it with warm water (follow package directions) prior to using and follow the formula above, increasing the amount of yeast by about 17 percent.
To shape baguettes
Use very heavy white linen cloth. Spray lightly with oil and dust the cloth well with flour. Line the loaves up on the cloth with room between each to bunch the cloth between the pieces of dough to form walls and cover lightly with cloth or plastic wrap.
Or, if you will be using a baking stone in your oven, you may wish to prepare baking parchment: mist with spray oil, then dust with cornmeal or semolina flour, place baguettes onto prepared parchment and cover loosely with plastic wrap or slip into a food-grade plastic bag. Food-grade plastic bags are designed to store food without leaching any petrochemicals into it.