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from Tracey G.

After the simple, but what felt like many steps of last month’s Bakealong Challenge, I was really excited to see this month’s Bakealong Challenge: a Classic Baguette. The Classic Baguette is something that was on my list of “will try” – but with no specific time-frame in mind, so this pushed me into it. And I was ready!

I read the recipe, “Classic Baguette” and read through the Bakealong Baguette Walk-Through, and was itching to get started, this looked like a fun project. Any time I can create something at home, that I only usually buy in a the grocery store, I’m all for it. That makes it a fun challenge all the way around!

This recipe is easy and it’s simple in terms of ingredients – flour, yeast, salt and water. The only “extra step” is making a simple overnight starter out of flour, yeast and water. You have to let that sit for about 14 hours or so, so it works out really well to make it before bedtime and let it sit at room temperature overnight.

The next day you’re ready to rock! I mixed it all as directed, but then I followed the “slow rise” directions in the “Tips” section. Instead of almost 2 hours, I let it go 3. The rest I followed right along. The shaping was fairly simple too, I was pleased with my results for my first time ever making this classic bread!

As for the steam-baking, I didn’t use a cast iron pan in the bottom of my oven for the “steam factor”, as I’ve read a few things that it can ruin the seasoning on your pan. So unless you have a cast iron pan you’re willing to let serve the purpose without regard to it, give it a go! I used a cheap disposable foil 13×9 inch pan.  Seemed to work well!

Once my bread cooled, I couldn’t wait to try it! I sliced off a few pieces and was so excited and happy, not to mention astonished I’d made this in my OWN oven!! In my kitchen! Yeah!! You can bet I will be making these often, I think I at almost one whole loaf myself, plain, with nothing on it whatsoever. Just enjoying the taste of the bread!

This was a fun and instructional Classic Baguette Bakealong Challenge, I feel I now have a whole new skill, thanks to King Arthur Flour!

from Kris B.

Like Tracey, I was excited to try the Classic Baguette that is this month’s King Arthur Bakealong Challenge.  Baguettes in France are like tortillas here in Texas.  They are a simple bread that is served with almost every meal.  I remember when I visited France being thrilled by the fact that I could walk down the street and find a vendor selling baguettes in front of every market and on almost every street corner.  Sometimes they were even stuffed with hot dogs! The free-flowing baguettes and the street vendors who sold crepes with Nutella were some of my favorite things to see in France, only slightly less thrilling than Notre Dame and Chartres Cathedral.  Lol!  Yes.  Travel is all about the food as far as I am concerned!

Back to this week’s baguettes…

As is usually the case, Tracey read the entire recipe before I did and gave me the heads up about needing to make the poolish, or starter, ahead of time.  It is simple to make, consisting of flour, yeast, and water that are mixed together and then sit at room temperature for at least 14 hours.  Mine probably sat closer to eighteen hours before I made my baguettes.

As Tracey said, baguettes require a minimum of ingredients – only flour, salt, yeast and water, and the starter that was made ahead – making them a perfect bread for everyday.  All of the ingredients are mixed together and then kneaded.  I used the dough hook on my mixer and kneaded for about four minutes as suggested in the King Arthur Flour recipe.

Just so that we had a means of comparison, I used the shorter rise times for my baguettes.

As you may have figured, it is the shaping of the dough that makes it a traditional baguette, though interestingly, the lean dough (i.e. containing no fat) is dictated by French law, not the actual shape of the loaves.  The word “baguette” means stick or wand.  Traditionally, French baguettes are 2 – 2 1/2 inched in diameter and are usually about twenty-six inches in length, though they can be made as long as a meter, or thirty-nine inches.  King Arthur’s Bakealong Challenge recipe makes three fifteen inch baguettes because most of us don’t have ovens big enough to bake thirty-nine inch loaves of bread!  If you prefer, you can also make six smaller (7-8 inch) baguettes.

After the initial ninety minute rise, the dough is separated into three (or six) pieces and rests for fifteen minutes before the long loaves are shaped.  Each of my pieces was 12 5/8 ounces.

I was a little concerned that I might have trouble shaping my loaves correctly.  As I have mentioned before, my oldest daughter is a trained pastry chef.  I asked her if she had any helpful suggestions.  I should know better than to ask Brooke for help.  Though she is excellent at baking she is even better at sarcasm.  Her words of wisdom were, ” Make sure that your loaf doesn’t look like a snake that swallowed a rat.”  Umm…OK.  I take that to mean that the loaves should look like hungry snakes, long with an even thickness along the entire loaf.  The King Arthur walk-through shows exactly how to fold and then shape the dough.  I then used a baker’s lame, for the first time, to make the slits in the top.  Every now and then my daughter let’s me play with her toys.

A Lame (pronounced LAHM, meaning “blade” in French) is typically a long thin stick made to hold a metal razor used to cut, or score, bread dough to help control the expansion of the loaf as it bakes.

I always like it when I learn something new, however, scissors or a sharp knife will also work just fine!

When I baked my loaves, I also was not willing to sacrifice the seasoning on my cast iron skillet so used a disposable pan for the water for the steam.  The steam is necessary to get the crackling crust associated with artisan loaves.

The bake time suggested in the recipe is 24-28 minutes.  I baked mine 25 minutes and they were plenty done.  I mention this because I often have to cook things for the maximum suggested time in my oven.  I was concerned that the tops of the loaves would get over-browned had I baked them any longer because I had my oven rack set a notch higher than I normally would for bread to accommodate the pan of water.  In the end, all worked out fine.  Like Tracey, I claim success with the King Arthur Flour Classic Baguettes Bakealong Challenge!

Though this recipe requires a bit of forethought because of the need to make the poolish ahead of time, the ingredients are ones that I always have on hand so I can see homemade baguettes becoming a frequent accompaniment to meals at our house.  Whether a cool salad in the summer or hearty soup during the winter, they are the perfect bread.

And if you choose not to eat all three baguettes at once, they can be frozen and reheated right before serving.  We had one left to freeze. 🙂

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