Make your own Baguettes

March 07, 2000|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

Give instant yeast a try

Many people try to activate their yeast in 120-degree water, but yeast starts dying at 100 degrees, according to Marda Stoliar, director of International School of Baking in Bend, Ore.

While that yeast scent is so inviting, once you can smell it, it's dying.

To prevent that process from starting too soon, Stoliar recommends using instant yeast that can be mixed in with the flour in bread recipes without first touching water. Then let the dough rise in a cool place, like the refrigerator, she says.

Following these rules, the only time your nose will indulge itself in the refreshing smell of yeast is when it's baking. Isn't that when you want to smell it anyway?

See also: Bread recipes for Wednesday, March 8

With the right flour and yeast and a few ounces of patience, you can create those savory baguettes on which delicatessens build hearty sandwiches.

cont. from lifestyle

"You have to be dedicated," says Richard Coppedge Jr., a certified master baker and an associate professor at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Before the kneading and fermenting can begin, some core ingredients need to be available.

"The key thing is the flour," says Coppedge, who recommends unbleached, unbromated varieties.

Marda Stoliar, director of International School of Baking in Bend, Ore., suggests bakers use two kinds of flour in the dough to ensure their baguettes have a crusty exterior and soft interior. She recommends using 50 percent all-purpose flour and 50 percent flour labeled "best for bread." Or you could use 90 percent bread flour and 10 percent cake flour, she says.

Coppedge suggests using kitchen scales rather than cups and teaspoons to measure the ingredients, as the same amounts can have a different weight on a different day.

When it comes to choosing yeast, Coppedge says fresh yeast, which can be found in the dairy section, is superior to dry.

Stoliar advises against using fresh yeast unless it's manufactured nearby because it could lose its freshness in shipping. She also does not recommend rapid-rise yeast.

Instant yeast, which can be mixed with flour without first being dissolved in water, comes highly recommended by Stoliar.

To ensure the yeast is used to its full potential, let the dough rise in a cool place, like the refrigerator.

"The first thing you want to do is keep your dough cold," says Stoliar, also a baking consultant for U.S. Wheat Associates.

During the fermenting stages, she recommends storing the dough either in a container covered with plastic wrap or in a plastic bag. Covering a bowl containing yeast with a towel wicks away moisture and leaves a skin on the dough that prevents proper expansion, Stoliar says.

"The hardest part of it is just being patient with it," says Perry Sanders, owner of Sanders Cookie Jar Bakery in Hagerstown.

Baguette bakers need to give the dough plenty of time to ferment and rise so it develops the proper texture, he says.

The baking process

Heat the oven as high as it can go, usually between 450 degrees and 500 degrees, Stoliar says. When you open the oven door to put the bread inside, the temperature inside drops about 200 degrees, she says.

A steamy oven creates a healthy environment for baguettes to reach their highest quality.

To create steam, Coppedge suggests putting a pan of water in the oven and placing a piece of heated metal inside it. Another option is to heat an old skillet on the stove, then place it in the oven with an ice cube in it. Remove metal after about five minutes of baking.

Or spray a mist of cold water in the oven, being careful not to get the light bulb wet, Coppedge says.

Stoliar takes a different approach. She advises bakers to put the loaves in the oven, soak them with water from a pump sprayer until they shine and quickly shut the oven door.

When the oven reaches the high temperature again, reduce it to 350 degrees for a convection oven and 375 degrees for a conventional oven, Stoliar says.

Another method of creating steam in the oven is to fill a cake pan about 1/3 full and put it on the bottom shelf of the oven, Sanders says. Remove the pan after the baguettes have baked for 15 minutes, he says.

If making baguettes for sandwiches, Coppedge recommends baking them for a shorter period of time or at a lower temperature to prevent the bread from becoming too crunchy, unless you don't mind a pile of crumbs in your lap after the first bite. If creating them as an accompaniment to dinner, make them extra crispy, he says.

"A baguette should have a crust," Coppedge says.

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