Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Barczak Boulangerie

In France, by traditional law a baguette can have only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. But I beg to differ, in fact I think ever neighborhood boulangerie (bakery) added a little bit of sweat and a lot of heart. Corny, yes but oh so true.

baguette1.jpg (JPEG Image, 300x100 pixels)
courtesy of

Baking any bread is a labor of love. For the amateur baker, yeast can be intimidating; it's actually alive and at times uncooperative. Bread rises because as the yeast feeds on the sugars in the flour it creates a gas. This gas gets captured in the flour's gooey gluten web and forces the bread upwards, not unlike a hot air balloon. For me, the prospect of attempting the archetypal cheese and wine French bread is daunting. (Though the shape actually originated in Vienna!)

Attempts 1 and 2: I love Amy's Bread, a great book from a great bakery in New York. My first two loaves from batch one did not rise nearly enough. The flavor was good, but the density detracted from my overall experience. Also, I didn't have cake flour so I subbed all purpose. I tackled the rising problem first, allowing the second batch to sit outside. The Minnesota summer temperature turned out to be ideal. This change in climate and the cake flour created a holey inside and crunchy crust. The paraphrased recipe is below.

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cups very warm water
3 cups all purpose flour (unbleached)
1 cup cake flour
2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon cool water

Extra Tools: Baking Stone (pizza stone) Cookie sheet or baking peel, and water spray bottle.
  1. Combine yeast and warm water in small bowl and stir until yeast dissolves. Let it sit for 3 minutes.
  2. Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. Then slowly pour the cool water and yeast mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with your fingers until the dough resembles a shaggy mass of gooey excellence.
  3. Pop the big flour mess on to a lightly floured work surface and kneed for 4 minutes. It will be "supple and resilient" but not smooth yet. Don't get flustered and over kneed. Over the little ball with a towel and let sit for 20 minutes. This is called the autolyse.
  4. Kneed dough for another 6 minutes until smooth and stretchy.
  5. Place your dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm temp 77 degrees (ish) for almost 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Deflate the risen dough gently, and allow to rise again until doubled. (1.25 hours)
  7. Deflate again and let rise a third time for 1 hour.
  8. Now, this step is tricky so watch the video. Divide the dough in three pieces, then stretch into a rectangle, fold like a business letter, swivel letter 1/4 turn then fold again.
  9. Now, elongate each "envelop" with both hands rolling from the center outward until baguette reaches desired length. Place finished loaves on baking peel or upside down cookie sheet covered in cornmeal. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let them sit for 40 minutes. Final rise is short because bread will poof up in the oven .
  10. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees 30 minutes before baking time. Place your baking stone in the oven and a shallow pan for water on the grate below.
  11. Ten minutes before baking, slash the breads 4 times diagonally cutting 1/4 inch deep. This helps the rising process. The cuts will pop open in the oven and become beautiful! This is called "scoring."
  12. With the help of the cornmeal, gently slide the loaves off the baking peel and onto the hot stone. As soon as you can pour a cup of very hot water into the pan and quickly close the door (careful, you might want to ask for another set of hands). This helps create steam and encourages the bread to rise.
  13. In two minutes, open the door and spray the oven walls with water (a plant sprayer will do).
  14. After 10 minutes at 500, reduce the temp to 425 and bake for 12 to 16 minutes. When they are golden brown and crisp they are done!
I am still not entirely satisfied. I'm going to try the Cooks Illustrated version, which takes much longer....overnight even. I'll report back. Bake to the boulangerie!


Zoe Francois said...

Your baguette looks lovely. Obviously a lot of heart went into it!

Y said...

Gorgeous looking baguettes. Nothing beats home baked :)

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Looks great! I will be trying your recipe this weekend. :) Thanks for sharing.

Kimmy said...

Can I buy those Baguettes from you?