Julia Child once said, “How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
I agree wholeheartedly. If you’re lucky enough to have a good bakery nearby, one where you can taste the care and skill and love and one you can afford regularly, cherish it and the baker inside. They are a gift.
Likewise, if someone in your life can make a good crusty loaf which you get to look forward to, cherish them and don’t take it for granted. (And let them know!)
I bought my baguette pan at a little store in Paris about twenty-five years ago. And while it may not look like much, this old friend has served us well since then.
I spent several days that trip having lunch sitting on one of the benches in the park in front of the Louvre Museum. Always the same from a shop at the edge of the park: a demi-baguette with some assorted magical sandwich ingredients inside. We’d watch the various passerby, children and birds, and the old men playing bocce or chess. I can still close my eyes when I’ve got bread in the oven and bring it all back for a moment.
Oh, before we do anything, I know all about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It was almost the first bread I made on a regular basis. I’m a fan and if it works for you by all means keep at it. For me personally, however, this (along with several other recipes) is just as easy and better-suited for suppertime when it’s just a few hours away and I haven’t been thinking ahead.
Bread flour works best but you can get by with all-purpose if need be. Especially with a hard wheat flour brand like King Arthur or similar.
Make sure the water is warm (but not hot), add it and the yeast to the mixer bowl and wait a few minutes for it to start proofing. It should be somewhat frothy if everything’s good. If it doesn’t look like anything is happening, the yeast may not have activated.
Add the salt and the flour, mix slowly to incorporate, then increase speed to medium and let it knead for a good five minutes.
Yes, I’m using a stand mixer to do the work. I’ve made many a hand-kneaded loaf over the years and confess it can be a wonderful meditative and zen-like activity that I enjoy. But much of the time, I have other things to do and am happy enough to let this little marvel do the work.
Transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled bowl, cover, and allow to rise until it doubles in size — about 2 hours in a 70°F kitchen.
Onto a floured surface.
Divide into two length-wise.
Roll each into a cylinder about 18 inches long.
Dust your pan with a bit of corn meal to help keep the bread from sticking.
Transfer to a baguette pan or a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Cut several diagonals in the top of the loaf (you can get quite fancy if you wish). Dust lightly with a bit more flour.
Add a bit of water (see recipe) to up the humidity in the oven.
And bake for 35 – 40 minutes. It should be crusty on the outside and light on the inside when done.
Allow it to cool. Really, it’s very hot and will continue to cook a bit. Besides, you want to leave time for people in the house to smell it and wander innocently through the kitchen.
Simple French Bread Baguette
A bread which reminds me of a trip to Paris, having lunch in the park in front of the Louvre, and enjoying the passage of time. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 2 cups water, 100°F - 110°F
- 1 envelope active dry yeast 2 1/4 teaspoons
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt equals 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1 1/2 pounds bread flour about 4 1/2 cups
- cornmeal, for dusting
Pour warm water (100°F - 110°F) in bowl of stand mixer.
Add the yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes to proof. It should be a bit frothy when done.
Add the salt.
Lastly, add the flour.
- Mix on SLOW SPEED with dough hook of stand mixer until flour is incorporated. (At high speed, the flour goes everywhere!)
Increase speed to medium and let knead for 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth and will have cleaned the sides of the bowl.
Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and divide into two loaves. Roll back-and-forth as needed until you have two cylinders about 18 inches long.
Dust with corn meal both sides of a baguette pan or a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Place the dough on the pan, dust lightly with some additional flour, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise again for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 425°F. If you do not have a bottle to spray water with, place a small metal baking pan on a lower shelf of the oven to preheat as well.
Make several diagonal cuts in the top of each loaf with a serrated knife or a razor blade.
If using a pan for steam, pour a cup of water into the preheated pan just after placing bread into the oven. Otherwise, spray a few mists of water into the oven over the bread.
Bake at 425°F for 35-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
- Allow at least 10 minutes to cool. Transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.