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Friday, July 26, 2013

French Baguettes

I took advantage of an unusually cool summer day this week.  Bread is not something I usually bake during hot weather and chicken soup is something else that is rarely on the menu during the summer months.  It just seemed the right combination with the fall like weather for a day in the month of July.
It’s amazing how such simple and few ingredients produce something that’s enjoyed in various shapes, sizes and textures globally.
We basically grew up on Italian style bread.  As a child I remember the bread truck stopping by the house and delivering large loaves of crusty Italian bread.  I also remember the bread man that would show up daily at our non-Italian neighbour's house. 
It’s an image I am not likely to forget.  Dressed in a light brown uniform with matching cap I still remember the size and weave of his basket and the neat display of the various baked goods.  Often wondering why our bread man carried such minimal variety I secretly hoped that our neighbor’s bread man would visit our house one day…he never did.
This recipe for French Baguette has been a favourite for many years.  The crisp yet chewy crust and soft interior makes a perfect accompaniment to any meal.  We love our Italian style bread but the French Baguette is a pleasant change from the usual.
Gone are the bread delivery men of yesteryear with their charming wicker baskets and tidy uniforms although the variety of breads available today are boundless and could never be contained in a bread basket.

French Baguettes
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
about 5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons soft butter
1 teaspoon corn starch
2/3 cup water
  1.  Dissolve sugar in warm water and let stand about 10 minutes or until yeast foams.
  2. Place 2 cups of the flour into a large bowl, make a well in the flour and add the yeast mixture, butter and salt.
  3. Beat with a wooden spoon or electric mixer at low speed until smooth and elastic.
  4. Stir in about 3 cups of remaining flour gradually adding enough flour to make a stiff dough.
  5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 5 to 10 minutes using as much of the remaining ½ cup of flour until dough is no longer sticky.
  6. Place dough into a greased bowl turning dough over to grease top and cover with a clean tea towel.
  7. Let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
  8. Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll dough out into a 9X12 rectangle.
  9. Cut dough into 4 equal strips.
  10. Fold each strip in half and seal edges together.
  11. With palms of hands roll the strip of dough until approximately 18 inches in length. Repeat with remaining strips of dough.
  12. Place baguettes on a greased baking sheet and allow to rise until puffy but not doubled, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  13. Heat cornstarch and water together until boiling, allow to cool slightly, brush loaves with cornstarch mixture.
  14. Using a very sharp knife make slanting slashes across loaves about ½ inch deep at 2 inch intervals down entire length.
  15. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for 15 minutes then brush again with cornstarch mixture.
  16. Bake an additional 15 minutes and brush again then bake 10 minutes until golden brown.
  17. Place on rack to cool.

 Notes, Tips and Suggestions
  • I find that the 18 inch loaves are a bit too long for my oven unless baking them one at a time placed diagonally on a baking sheet.  Instead, four 15 inch loaves can be more easily accommodated.
  • The recipe has been posted in its original form however I reduced the salt to 2 teaspoons instead of 1 tablespoon which in my opinion gave a better balance.
  • This bread is best eaten the day it's made, freeze the rest for another day.
  • Panzerotti anyone?  This dough works very well.

French Bread Pan
This bread pan turns out authentic looking French bread with rounded bottoms and dotted pattern made from the tiny perforations on the pan.  It's not a must but the loaf is an absolute joy to admire when it comes out of the oven!

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