What is more romantic than baking a baguette for your valentine? It requires some finesse but results in a wonderfully crunchy crust and a soft, chewy crumb.
Because this bread is a bit technical, it is recommended to use a kitchen scale for precise measurements.
First, create a poolish, a type of fermentation starter. Combine equal parts water and flour in a bowl – 190 grams, or about 1 ⅓ cup, for this recipe – and a small pinch of active dry yeast. Mix with a spoon into a wet, stretchy paste. Cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight at room temperature, for about 12-18 hours.
When the poolish is ready, it will be very active and full of air bubbles. Gently scoop the poolish into 215 grams (about 1½ cups) of cool water. Add an additional 2 grams (a little less than ½ a teaspoon) of yeast. If you can find it, add 10 grams (about 2½ teaspoons) of diastatic malt powder. This is optional, but it promotes crust browning, a strong rise and good crumb texture.
Next add 380 grams (just over 2¾ cups) of bread flour. On top of the flour, add 10 grams of salt. Stir until the mixture is hydrated and shaggy. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Remove the dough with your hand or a bench scraper and place it on the counter. This dough will be very hydrated and sticky, so use the slap and fold method for hand kneading. To do this, wet your hands and scoop up the dough, holding it around its middle. Pick it up, then slap its bottom half on the counter, pulling the top half forward and folding it over the bottom of the dough. Turn it 90 degrees, then repeat. Repeat this for a few minutes until the dough is tight and shiny. Roll it into a ball, then put in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and rest for one hour.
Keep the dough in the bowl, and using a wet hand, grab one edge of the dough and fold it over in half. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat three more times so that all edges have been folded in. Cover and rest for another hour.
Place the dough on the counter top and divide with a bench scraper or knife into 200-gram pieces. This should yield about five pieces.
Shape the pieces into balls, then let rest for 15 minutes. For the final shaping, lightly flour your work surface. Slap the ball face down, then gently flatten. Fold it toward you, about two-thirds of the way to leave a small lip, pressing gently to stick the fold together. Turn 180 degrees and repeat.
Hand roll on a clean surface (no flour), starting in the middle with gentle pressure, then moving toward the edges using increasingly firm pressure to create the tapered ends. Once shaped, place on a floured towel or work surface. Cover with a towel and let proof for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 460 degrees on the conventional setting with no fan. Place a baking stone or sheet in the oven, alongside another baking sheet.
Place the one or two baguettes on a baker’s peel or upside-down baking sheet. Score the baguette with three diagonal slashes or one slash down the length of the bread. Slide the baguettes onto the stone or tray. Toss about ½ cup of water onto the other tray, then quickly shut the oven door. This steam helps create a soft, chewy crumb and good rise.
Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the tray with the water. Bake again for 10 to 15 minutes until the baguettes are deep golden brown and crunchy.
Rachel Baker can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or email@example.com
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