Yesterday morning I woke up with the intentions of using my fairly free afternoon and evening to whip up something new and delicious. I grabbed my amazing Nordstrom Flavors cookbook and began flipping through for something I couldn’t resist. It was a gift from my mom a few years back and has not been put to use enough.
I stumbled upon a recipe for baguettes. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be all chic and European, and with all but one of the ingredients on hand at home I had made my decision. In the frenzy of imagining how delicious my warm, homemade baguettes would taste, I failed to read through the entire recipe and rushed off to get my final ingredient.
It wasn’t until I had already begun whipping up all of the ingredients that I realized I had embarked on quite a task. Although the preparation and baking weren’t difficult, the waiting between the steps was brutal. From start to finish, the recipe takes about 27 hours to make. Of course the great majority of that is simply leaving it at rest, but it does require intermittent attention.
The following is the recipe from the cookbook, and I followed it directly. Unfortunately there is no recipe to link to online, so here is the whole long thing!
Jarod’s Crisp French Baguettes
5 cups (1 1/2 pounds) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 cups warm (105-115 degrees F) water, 2 packages (2 1/4 teaspoons each) active dry yeast.
The day before you plan on baking the bread, in a large bowl, whisk together 5 c. flour and salt. In a separate large bowl pour in the warm water, then sprinkle the yeast in, allowing it to stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). Whisk until the yeast is dissolved.
One cup at at time whisk the flour mixture into the yeast mixture, whisking after each addition so that the batter is smooth before adding more. After 3-4 cups the mixture becomes too thick for the whisk, and it’s easiest to switch to a wooden spoon. It should become a thick, but moist dough.
On a floured work surface, knead the dough forcefully by hand, adding a bit more flour as needed to prevent it from sticking. Pick up the dough and smack it firmly on the surface occasionally. Knead, about 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Form the dough into a ball and toss it back into a bowl large enough to accommodate the dough rising to triple its original size. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let stand at room temperature, until it has doubled in size. This should be about 4 hours.
Punch down the dough, cover it tightly with plastic wrap once again. Refrigerate it for a minimum of 12, but no more than 18 hours.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to stand and return to room temperature and begin to rise. This should take 3-4 hours. Punch down the dough and cut into 3 equal portions. Form each of these portions into a ball. Put the balls on the work surface and cover with a damp towel.
On a clean work surface, press 1 ball of dough into a 7-inch square. Starting at the top of the square roll the dough toward you, forming a tight cylinder about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place that cylinder under the damp towel to relax for about 5 minutes, and repeat with the other two.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with a bit of flour. Return to the first cylinder formed and using your fingertips, roll the cylinder back and forth, applying moderate pressure while gradually lengthening and evening the dough until it is roughly 14 inches long. Repeat with the other 2 cylinders and place them on the baking sheet at least 1 1/2 inches apart. Once again cover them in dampened, lightweight kitchen towels. Let stand in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.
Preheat the over to 475 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slash each loaf with 4 shallow cuts. Fill a spray bottle with water and with a fine mist evenly spray the tops and sides of the loaves.
Place in the oven and immediately drop the temperature to 425 degrees. Bake for 3 minutes, then very quickly mist the loaves with water again. Continue baking, spraying the loaves every 5 minutes and rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through baking, until the loaves are lightly, evenly browned. About 20 minutes.
If you can control yourself, allow them to cool on wire racks. But who are we kidding … why would anyone want room temperature bread? Allow them to cool just enough as to not get burnt, then swipe on some butter and go to town!
While I had my doubts about 22 hours into the process, with one bite of the soft, warm, fresh out of the oven baguettes, I was on cloud nine. In my mind I imagine it’s something like child labor, which I personally know nothing about. Everyone says the moment you hold your newborn baby you forget all of the long hours of labor, and are completely filled with love. Yep … I’m comparing my experience with this bread to labor and the love of a child. It’s that good.
And while a little part of me wanted to hole up and eat all three steaming hot baguettes in one sitting, I knew that wouldn’t be fair. So I wrapped up a loaf in parchment paper and headed off to work to make a delivery.